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The world is a giant trash pecan and now there’s a Ben & Jerry’s flavor for that

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What a week: 11 people dead in Pittsburgh, the election of the Trump of the Tropics, fear mongering over migrant caravans, and a sudden push to end birthright citizenship. Wait, it’s only Tuesday? If you’re in need of a midweek pick-me-up, the folks over at Ben & Jerry’s have a new flavor for you: PECAN RESIST (those guys love a good pun, bozos after my own heart).

The company is using the flavor to raise awareness and money for organizations that combat Trump’s agenda. Ben & Jerry’s announced it’s banana splitting $100,000 between four social justice and environment groups: Color Of Change, Honor the Earth, Women’s March, and Neta.

The new flavor, by the way, is chocolate ice cream with chunks of fudge, fudge-covered almonds, pecans, walnuts. The pint’s art was designed by Favianna Rodriguez, a member of the 2018 Grist 50, who runs her own nonprofit, CultureStrike. In a Q&A, Rodriguez told Ben & Jerry’s that she wanted the colors on the carton to “invoke the natural world.” She added: “Our fight for the environment is connected to our fight for human rights.”

Look, I’m not saying that buying a pint of ice cream will single-handedly stop Chunky Monkey Trump. But, if you feel like ice-screaming after reading these headlines from hell, do so responsibly.

And, since Ben & Jerry’s seems to be doubling down on politically themed ice cream flavors, we have some ideas: Down With the CaramAlt-right!, Half Baked at 1.5 Degrees, Cherry-pickin’ Climate Data Garcia, Something’s Phishy about Georgia’s Voter Registration.

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The world is a giant trash pecan and now there’s a Ben & Jerry’s flavor for that

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Fracking harms the health of babies, study shows

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

The practice of drilling into the ground to release natural gas — known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking — first made national headlines in 2011 when drinking water taps in fracking towns in Pennsylvania began catching fire because flammable methane was seeping into water supplies.

Since then, fracking has been linked to earthquakes in Oklahoma and a myriad of health issues. Proponents of fracking say the practice has reduced energy costs and has created thousands of jobs. But environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, say that for people living near sites, fracking can have severe health affects such as respiratory illnesses and cancer.

A new study from the journal Science Advances found that infants born to women living near fracking sites in Pennsylvania were especially vulnerable to adverse health outcomes. “As local and state policymakers decide whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in their communities, it is crucial that they carefully examine the costs and benefits,” said Michael Greenstone, a coauthor of the study and the director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, in a press release. “This study provides the strongest large-scale evidence of a link between the pollution that stems from hydraulic fracturing activities and … the health of babies.”

The researchers analyzed vital statistics of more than 1.1 million births in Pennsylvania between 2004 and 2013. They studied infants born to women living 1 kilometer (or slightly over half a mile) away from fracking sites, as well as women living within 3 kilometers (or less than 2 miles), and women living between 3 to 15 kilometers (or less than 2 miles to 9 miles) away.

They found that fracking reduces the health of infants born to mothers living within 3 kilometers from a fracking site. But for mothers living within 1 kilometer, the affects were acute. The probability of low infant birth weight, meaning the infant weighs less than 5.5 pounds, increased to 25 percent.

Studies show that low birth weight can lead to infant mortality, asthma, lower test scores while school-age, and lower earnings as adults. The study also found that mothers whose babies may have been exposed to nearby fracking sites tend to be younger, less educated, and less likely to be married — factors that can also lead to poor infant health.

But there are significant differences between the mothers who give birth close to fracking sites and those who don’t. Black mothers included in the study were more likely to live nearest to fracking sites, exposing their infants to higher risks of pollution. “This difference arises because over time, more wells were drilled near urban areas such as Pittsburgh, where higher numbers of African Americans live,” the authors wrote. Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, has 63 active fracking wells. Many other fracking sites are located in lower-income communities.

Nationwide, between July 2012 and June 2013, as many as 65,000 infants were exposed to pollution from fracking, because their mothers lived within 1 kilometer of a fracking site.

“Given the growing evidence that pollution affects babies in utero,” said coauthor Janet Currie, who is a economics and public affairs professor at Princeton University, “it should not be surprising that fracking has negative effects on infants.”

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Fracking harms the health of babies, study shows

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Pittsburgher to Trump: You got me all wrong

There are truly too many things to denounce in President Trump’s Thursday speech that pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement. There’s the utter disregard for future generations, the blatant lack of understanding of the modern economy, the failure to grasp what climate change is — and then, the part where he forgot that Pittsburgh is the Paris of Appalachia! It’s like, where even to begin?

Yes, we’re here to discuss the much-trumpeted “I was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris” line of Trump’s Rose Garden speech. Like many Trump lines, it’s so baffling that it takes a few moments and several hard cigarette drags to process, but it actually touches on the president’s crucial misunderstanding of the rift between rural and urban America. Let’s break it down.

Many, many people — including Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto — have rushed to tell Trump that he was not elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, because the city of Pittsburgh voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. But the electoral college did elect Donald J. Trump as president of the United States, of which Pittsburgh is a strange, small, but critical member — much like Steve Buscemi pre-Boardwalk Empire. Therefore, Trump was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, because that’s how federal elections work. He said a true thing!

Trump’s actions, however, are no representation of what Pittsburghers truly want. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 70 percent of Allegheny County residents (which includes Pittsburgh) say they want 20 percent of their electricity to be renewably sourced; 80 percent support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant; 74 percent support setting strict limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants.

These policies would be more ambitious than what was called for in the United States’ proposed commitments in the Paris Agreement. In other words, many Pittsburghers think that the climate pact Trump just scrapped was too lax.

After Trump’s talk, Mayor Peduto held a press conference on the subject of his Tweet heard ’round the world, which promised that Pittsburgh would continue to commit to the Paris Agreement. The room — because it was in Pittsburgh — was basically empty. That’s unfortunate, because Peduto addressed an essential misstep in Trump’s alliteration of two cities: That urban centers tend not to share beliefs, values, or even needs with the rural areas that surround them.

“There’s the city of Pittsburgh, which I represent, and then there are the surrounding areas,” Peduto said. “Maybe he should have a speechwriter that understands difference between ‘city’ and ‘region’ … This city doesn’t support his initiatives. For him to then use this city as an example of who he is elected to represent — he’s not representing us at all.”

Peduto then added that he was “offended” by the mischaracterization, an assertion that was quickly broadcast by local conservative media.

Pittsburgh is a deep blue city in a very red state. Those unfamiliar with the city would be surprised by how suddenly upon exiting its limits that one enters into Trump territory. Pittsburgh is surrounded by old coal and steel mill towns, long-dormant and depressed, where support for Trump runs high. Peduto addressed the disparity between the two poignantly:

“The areas that voted for him, the areas in the Rust Belt that see an opportunity in the past as the only opportunity for the future — he is giving them false hope.”

The stereotypical impression of Pittsburgh — and one that I encounter frequently as a proud but expatriated native — is that it’s a filthy, dark, depressed steel town. This impression is so outdated that it describes a place I’ve never seen. Pittsburgh’s primary industries have long been education and healthcare. More recently, and controversially, it’s become a bit of a tech hub. There’s not a speck of coal dust to be found — in fact, anyone with the privilege of visiting Pittsburgh notes that the city is uniquely lush and verdant.

Peduto said that Trump “used us as an example of a stereotype in order to make a point, and it missed completely.”

Pittsburgh’s success, Peduto emphasized, is a result of the city slowly weaning itself off a fossil fuel-based economy. Peduto himself attended COP21 in 2015 as part of an international coalition of mayors, and said he still plans on trying to hit the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement. (Peduto released an executive order this morning to this end.)

And yet the outlying, fading towns threaten to be left even further behind, as even the economic forces behind a fossil fuel-driven economy show signs of faltering.

Who would have thought that a president given to graceless, often indecipherable public statements could capture such a delicate facet of a split America in a single sentence! It’s been a very weird week.

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Pittsburgher to Trump: You got me all wrong

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A crucial crack in an Antarctic ice sheet grew 11 miles in only 6 days.

Some highlights:

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Pittsburgh’s votes went mostly to Hillary Clinton. She won 55.9 percent of votes in Allegheny County. Note that the Paris Agreement encompasses people from nearly 200 countries, not just the city where it was drafted.

“The bottom line is the Paris accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States.”

Other countries think U.S. involvement is extremely fair. The United States blows every other country away in terms of per capita emissions.

“This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining an economic advantage over the United States.”

Actually, the economic advantages of combating climate change are well documented. Companies like Exxon, Google, and even Tiffany & Co. asked Trump to stay in the agreement.

And, just for fun, a comment from Scott Pruitt:

“America finally has a leader who answers only to the people.”

Nearly 70 percent of Americans were on board with the Paris Agreement. Only 45 percent voted for Trump.

This story has been updated.

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A crucial crack in an Antarctic ice sheet grew 11 miles in only 6 days.

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PizzaGate Shooter Read Alex Jones. Here Are Some Other Fans Who Perpetrated Violent Acts.

Mother Jones

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When Edgar Maddison Welch stepped into the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria Sunday armed with an AR-15, he told police he was there to rescue children from a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief, John Podesta. Fortunately, when he found no such children, Welch surrendered to the police without shooting anything but a locked door, and no one was injured. But that particular fake-news conspiracy theory, which began on 4chan shortly before the election, was widely promoted by Alex Jones, the controversial radio host and founder of Infowars, his conspiratorial website that often publishes fake news. Jones and Infowars also heavily promoted the candidacy of President-elect Donald Trump, who has appeared on Jones’s internet TV show and promoted some of his site’s content. At the end of an interview with Jones in 2015, Trump told him, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”

Welch was also a fan: He “liked” both Jones and Infowars on his Facebook page, and he told the New York Times after he was arrested that he also listened to Jones’ radio show. “He’s a bit eccentric,” Welch said. “He touches on some issues that are viable but goes off the deep end on some things.” He also told the Times that the 9/11 terror attacks called for further investigation—a common refrain from Jones. And while Welch joins more than 2 million people who “like” Jones and Infowars, he also is part of a much smaller number of Jones’ fans who have committed acts of violence in the pursuit of a kooky political theory given currency by Jones. Among other things, Jones believes the US government was behind the 9/11 terror attacks. He has called the mass shooting of children at Sandy Hook elementary school “a giant hoax“; believes the government has set up hundreds of FEMA concentration camps and is deploying juice boxes to “encourage homosexuality with chemicals so that people don’t have children.” A number of high-profile shooters are known to have had a fondness for Jones’ work and some of his favorite conspiracy theories. At least three were active commenters on Infowars. That’s not to say Jones caused the violence or even encouraged it. (He did not respond to requests for comment.) But the shooters do appear to share similar tastes in political news and opinions.

Here are some of them:

Richard Poplawski: In 2009, the ex-Marine killed three Pittsburg police officers who responded to a call about a domestic dispute with his mother. He had baited the police, meeting them wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying an AK-47. He opened fire as soon as he opened the door to the officers. In the months leading up to the attack, Poplawski had ranted online about the growing police state and the coming collapse of the economy. Before the shooting, he also promised to ramp up his activism and talked of revolutionaries. He claimed to have cased post-Super Bowl parties after the Pittsburgh Steelers won, to “survey police behavior in an unrestful environment.” Poplawski was a believer of conspiracy theories, especially those involving FEMA camps, and a reader of anti-Semitic websites such as Stormfront. But he also frequented Infowars, where he was a commenter. In a research report on Poplawski, the Anti-Defamation League wrote:

One of Poplawski’s favorite places for such conspiracy theories was the Web site of the right-wing conspiracy radio talk show host Alex Jones. Poplawski visited the site, Infowars, frequently, shared links to it with others, and sometimes even posted to it. One of his frustrations with the site, though, was that it didn’t focus enough on the nefarious roles played by Jews in all these conspiracies. “For being such huge players in the endgame,” he observed in a March 29, 2009 posting to Infowars, “too many ‘infowarriors’ are surprisingly unfamiliar with the Zionists.” Another time he was more hopeful, noting that “racial awareness is on the rise among the young white population.”

Jones took issue with the ADL report and news stories linking him to Poplawski. He has said Poplawski came to his site to comment specifically because he disagreed with Jones, and he denied having any responsibility for the shooting. He told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that “If anybody should be blamed for this it’s the Marines—they’re the ones who trained him to kill.” Poplawski is now on death row awaiting execution.

Oscar Ortega: In 2011, the Idaho Falls man traveled to Washington, apparently in the hopes of assassinating President Barack Obama, whom he believed was the anti-Christ. He shot a semi-automatic weapon at the White House from the window of his car and was arrested. In trying to explain Ortega’s behavior, a friend told the New York Times that Ortega had watched The Obama Deception: The Mask Comes Off, a film Jones wrote and produced. It claims Obama is helping create a “New World Order” and turning the US into Nazi Germany, using FEMA camps, among other tools. He pleaded guilty to terrorism and weapons charges and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Infowars suggested that the media was simply trying to “link anti-government opinion” with the shooting in order to chill political free speech.

Byron Williams: After being stopped for speeding in 2010, this former bank robber engaged in a 12-minute shootout with police on the Oakland freeway in California. Two officers were injured but no one was killed. Williams claimed he was on his way to start a right-wing revolution by killing people at the ACLU and the liberal Tides Foundation in San Francisco. In an interview with Media Matters after the shootout, he cited Jones as an influence on his political thinking. In 2014, as a repeat offender, Williams was sentenced to more than 400 years in prison for premeditated attempted murder of a police officer and weapons charges. Jones pushed back on stories linking him to Williams, telling Media Matters, “This goes to a classic lie that has been retreaded that this fellow follows Glenn Beck and Alex Jones. This is a classic guilt by association tactic,” Jones said. “It is just more of an attempt to imply that anyone who criticizes corruption is contributing to an atmosphere that will cause another Oklahoma City bombing.”

Tamerlan Tsarnaev: Along with his brother Dzhokhar, the Chechen immigrant orchestrated the Boston marathon bombings in 2013, setting off pressure cooker bombs that killed three people and injured more than 260 others. They also killed an MIT police officer and a Boston cop, who died of his injuries a year after the shooting took place. Tsarnaev was known to read a host of extremist materials, including jihadi websites and an English-language publication put out by Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. But he was also hostile to the American government and interested in conspiracy theories. One of his relatives told the Associated Press that before the bombings, he “took an interest” in Infowars. (Jones has said the Boston marathon bombing was a plot hatched by the FBI.) Tsarnaev was killed during the post-bombing manhunt after his brother Dzhokhar drove over him in an SUV while trying to escape the police.

Jerad and Amanda Miller: The married couple went on a 2014 shooting spree in Las Vegas that started with an ambush of two police officers in an attempt to start an anti-government revolution; they were kicked out of the one they thought was starting at Cliven Bundy’s ranch during anti-government protests there. Jerad Miller said the Bundys booted them off the ranch because he was a felon illegally carrying a gun, but Ammon Bundy said they were asked to leave because they were “too radical.” The spree left five people dead, including the shooters. Both Jerad and Amanda were regular commenters on Infowars, where Jerad once speculated about when it would be appropriate to kill police officers. Jerad and Amanda embraced the site’s conspiracy theories about government mind-control, “chemtrails” and the notion that the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks. As he did after the Comet Ping Pong incident, Jones dismissed the Las Vegas killings as a “false flag” operation, this one set up by the Obama administration to blame the shootings on right-wing extremists.

Jared Loughner: In 2011, the mentally disturbed young man killed six people, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl. He shot and injured 13 others, seriously wounding Rep. Gabby Giffords, his original target, who’d been speaking at a Tucson event. Loughner had espoused anti-government views about the New World Order and conspiracy theories about the US government being responsible for the 9/11 attacks, echoing Jones. After the shooting, one of Loughner’s friend’s told Good Morning America that Zeitgeist, a trio of conspiracy films about the international monetary system that borrowed heavily from Jones’ work, had “a profound impact on Jared Loughner’s mindset and how he views the world that he lives in.” Loughner was also apparently influenced in his thinking about the government by the Loose Change, a cult classic among people who believe 9/11 was an inside job. Jones was its executive producer. Loughner is now serving life in prison.

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PizzaGate Shooter Read Alex Jones. Here Are Some Other Fans Who Perpetrated Violent Acts.

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Why Ben Carson’s HUD Confirmation Hearing Should Probe His Tie to a Felonious Dentist

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump’s selection of Ben Carson as the new secretary of housing and urban development is puzzling. After all, Carson was a world-renowned brain surgeon who has never held a government job before. Recently, a top adviser to Carson noted that the retired doctor was not interested in joining the Trump administration because “he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency.” Yet Carson two weeks ago did claim he had sufficient experience for the HUD job, saying, “I know that I grew up in the inner city and have spent a lot of time there, and have dealt with a lot of patients from that area.” But his campaign website’s issues page made no mention of housing policy. And the extent of his public pronouncements on housing seems restricted to an odd statement in which he compared attempts to desegregate public housing to “failed socialist experiments.”

Yet Carson does have experience with real estate and home building, thanks to his association with an investor who once pleaded guilty to committing fraud.

Much of Carson’s personal wealth, estimated to be at least $8 million, is tied up in a handful of real estate deals. These deals were engineered with the assistance of a close friend named Alfonso Costa. Costa was once a successful Pittsburgh dentist, but he went into the real estate game full time after pleading guilty to a conspiracy to commit health insurance fraud. Now Costa runs a successful commercial and high-end luxury real estate empire with properties in Pennsylvania, Florida, New York, Italy, and elsewhere. Costa also heads the Pittsburgh office of Carson’s charity, and he appears to have managed Carson’s real estate investments.

An investigation by Mother Jones last fall showed that Carson’s investments included ownership of a commercial office building in suburban Pittsburgh that netted Carson and his wife between $200,000 and $2 million in 2015. The holding companies used to buy this building were registered at Costa’s home, and Costa managed the buildings on behalf of Carson.

But that’s not Carson’s only apparent involvement with Costa. On his most recent personal financial disclosure forms, Carson listed owning a plot of land in Palm Beach County, Florida, which seems to be a rather grand horse farm:

But according to property records, the estate was actually owned by Costa’s real estate development company. For more than a year, it was listed for sale at $10 million, but records show it has never been sold. Sotheby’s currently lists the farm, which includes a riding ring, 22-stalls, brick floors, tack rooms, and a small apartment for a caretaker, for rent at $330,000 a month. Carson’s campaign refused to confirm his role in the investment.

In response to questions from Mother Jones about Costa, Carson a year ago said:

Al Costa is my best friend. Al Costa is my very best friend. I know his heart. I am proud to call him my friend. I have always and will continue to stand by him. That is what real friends do!

Carson’s relationship with Costa dates back to before Costa’s 2007 arrest and indictment on the health care fraud charge. In a 2013 book, Carson wrote that doctors who commit health care fraud should get “the Saudi Arabian Solution,” although he allowed he “would not advocate chopping off people’s limbs.” But years earlier Carson had appeared in court as a character witness for Costa and had asked the judge to impose a lenient sentence on his friend. At that time, he wrote in a letter to the court, “Next to my wife of 32 years, there is no one on this planet I trust more than Al Costa.”

Carson and Costa have vacationed together, and Carson has spent time at a luxury villa owned by Costa on the Amalfi coast of Italy.

In years past, HUD has been an agency prone to cronyism and corruption. So it might be worthwhile for senators involved in Carson’s confirmation to vet Carson closely and to examine his relationship with a convicted felon.

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Why Ben Carson’s HUD Confirmation Hearing Should Probe His Tie to a Felonious Dentist

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Trump gives his classic right-wing energy plan a scary historical name

What’s in a name?

Trump gives his classic right-wing energy plan a scary historical name

By on Sep 23, 2016 12:51 pmShare

Donald Trump gave another speech on Thursday promoting his old energy ideas — not just the same ones he’s been talking about for months, but the same ones Republicans have been talking about for years. While the substance might be standard GOP fare, he’s given it a name that harkens back to a reactionary movement most Republicans would rather forget: the America First Energy Plan.

The phrase “America First” has a chilling history. It was a rallying cry in the 1930s for fascists, isolationists, and anti-Semites who didn’t want the United States to join World War II. Whether Trump intends it as a dog whistle to the far-right or not, the label is accurate: Trump is disregarding the needs of everyone outside of America (not to mention everyone inside America who isn’t in the fossil fuel business). Climate change is a global problem, and Trump wants to make sure the U.S. is not part of the global solution. On top of his plan to dramatically increase dirty energy production, he wants to pull the U.S. out of the international Paris climate agreement.

Lying about Clinton’s energy agenda

Trump added another new bit to his shtick on Thursday, while speaking at a fracking conference in Pittsburgh: He totally misrepresented Hillary Clinton’s energy agenda.

“She plans … the aggressive restriction of American energy production,” Trump said. “Her plan will help only her wealthy donors, and global special interests, who benefit from the rigged system. Hillary Clinton wants to put the coal miners out of work, ban hydraulic fracturing in most places, and extensively restrict and ban energy production on public lands and in most offshore areas.”

Does Clinton really want to make America as unenergetic as Jeb Bush? No. Trump’s caricature is filled with falsehoods.

Clinton does not propose to restrict American energy production. She plans to restrict American dirty energy production while increasing solar energy capacity by 700 percent — adding jobs to an industry that already employs more people than oil and gas.

She does not propose to ban fracking in most places — much to the consternation of many environmentalists. Rather, she proposes to regulate fracking to better protect public health and safety.

She does not propose to end energy production on public lands or offshore areas. She has pledged to reform fossil fuel leasing policies so companies have to pay a more fair price to taxpayers for what they extract from federal property. And she plans to increase wind and solar energy production on public land tenfold.

Whatever one thinks of Clinton’s energy agenda — climate activists think it doesn’t go far enough, conservatives think it’s bad for the economy — it’s just bizarre and nonsensical to claim it will only benefit “her wealthy donors.” Who are these titans of wind and solar energy Trump is talking about? Whoever they are, their ability to donate to campaigns and influence politics is much smaller than the oil, gas, and coal executives that Trump is sucking up to — like fracking magnate Harold Hamm, who even got a shout-out in Trump’s speech.

Changing his mind about the EPA

Trump made one more tweak to his agenda in his speech yesterday: He no longer wants to abolish the EPA. That’s a marked shift from his previous campaign rhetoric. “I will refocus the EPA on its core mission of ensuring clean air, and clean, safe drinking water for all Americans,” he said.

That might sound good, but Trump is still proposing to get rid of key regulations that make it possible for EPA to achieve that core mission. He pledged yet again to “eliminate” the Waters of the U.S. rule, which protects water supplies, and the Clean Power Plan, which would rein in not just climate pollution but the air pollution that directly harms people’s health. Essentially, he’s come around to the standard Republican position: keep the EPA, but don’t let it inconvenience business interests.

Despite the conventional wisdom that Trump represents a new, populist kind of Republican, his energy plans are the same old fossil fuel industry giveaways.

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Trump gives his classic right-wing energy plan a scary historical name

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This Supreme Court Case Show the Perils of Appointing Prosecutors as Judges

Mother Jones

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The US Supreme Court heard arguments last week as to whether Ronald D. Castille, former chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, should have stepped aside from considering the appeal of a death penalty case he personally greenlighted when he was Philadelphia’s district attorney.

It seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? “He made the most important decision that could be made in this case,” Justice Elena Kagan commented during oral arguments.

Castille didn’t think so. Back in 2012, public defenders for Terrence Williams—who was convicted and sentenced to death at age 18 for murdering a 56-year-old named Amos Norwood—asked Castille to step aside because he oversaw the prosecutors who handled the case. The judge explained to the New York Times that he was merely functioning as an administrator. “I didn’t try the case,” he said, according to the paper. “I wasn’t really involved in the case except as the leader of the office.”

But Castille had additional baggage that raise questions about his involvement.

An appeals judge found that Andrea Foulkes, the prosecutor who tried Williams on Castille’s watch, had deliberately withheld key evidence from the defense—and thereby the jury. Norwood, the victim, had started a relationship with Williams when the boy was 13, and abused him, sexually and otherwise, for years. Although the details weren’t known at the time, the prosecution suppressed trial evidence suggesting that Norwood had an unnatural interest in underage boys.

Williams had previously killed another older man he’d been having sex with—51-year-old Herbert Hamilton. (Williams was 17 at the time of the crime.) The jury in that case, presented with evidence of their relationship, voted against the death penalty and convicted Williams of third-degree murder, a lesser charge. But Foulkes, who prosecuted both cases, told the Norwood jury that Williams had killed Norwood “for no other reason but that a kind man offered him a ride home.”

So there’s that. And then, as death penalty appeals lawyer Marc Bookman points out in an in-depth examination of the Williams prosecutions for Mother Jones, Castille was a big fan of the death penalty:

In the five years before the Williams case came onto its docket, the court, led by Chief Justice Ronald Castille, had ruled in favor of the death penalty 90 percent of the time. This wasn’t too surprising, given that Castille had been elected to his judgeship in 1993 as the law-and-order alternative to a candidate he labeled soft on crime…

“Castille and his prosecutors sent 45 people to death row during their tenure, accounting for more than a quarter of the state’s death row population,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted in 1993. “Castille wears the statistic as a badge. And he is running for the high court as if it were exclusively the state’s chief criminal court rather than a forum for a broad range of legal issues.” Castille was pretty clear about where he stood: “You ask people to vote for you, they want to know where you stand on the death penalty,” he told the Legal Intelligencer, a law journal. “I can certainly say I sent 45 people to death row as District Attorney of Philadelphia. They sort of get the hint.”

Castille also had it out for Williams’ defenders, with whom his old office was at odds. Bookman again:

Castille had a fraught relationship with the Federal Community Defender Office, a group of lawyers who represent numerous death row inmates, including Williams. Castille claimed that federal lawyers had no business appearing in state courts. He complained bitterly over the years about their “prolix and abusive pleadings” and about all the resources they dedicated to defending death row inmates—”something one would expect in major litigation involving large law firms.”

The defenders, for their part, routinely filed motions arguing that Castille had no business ruling on the appeals of prisoners whose prosecutions he had approved—particularly not in a case in which his office was found to have suppressed evidence helpful to the defense. But as chief justice, Castille had the last word. He denied all such motions, and accused the federal defenders of writing “scurrilously,” making “scandalous misrepresentations,” and having a “perverse worldview.”

It’s not too hard to predict which way the Supreme Court will rule—although whether their decision helps Williams get a resentencing is another matter. America’s justice system makes it unbelievably hard to get a second chance once you are convicted of a serious crime.

But all of this brings up a broader, question: Prosecutors like Castille are appointed to the bench in far greater numbers than former defenders—even President Obama has perpetuated this trend. Which is why it was so worthy of note that California Gov. Jerry Brown, under federal pressure to reduce incarceration in the Golden State, has broken with his predecessors and moved in the other direction. Northern California public station KQED recently pointed out that more than a quarter of Brown’s 309 judicial appointments have been former public defenders, whereas only 14 percent were once DAs (31 percent had some prosecutorial experience). From that report:

“We never had a tradition that said to be a judge you had to be a district attorney. That developed probably in the ’90s,” Brown said. “The judges are supposed to be independent. You want judges that have a commercial background, you want judges that have a prosecutorial background, city attorneys, or county counsel, or small practice, plaintiffs’ practice—you want a diversity, instead of kind of a one note fits all.”

When it comes down to it, politicians are still eager to appear tough on crime. But is it really good policy—financially or ethically—to stack the bench with judges who are accustomed to being rated according to the number of people they lock away?

“Most district attorney judges that I’ve experienced are unable to divorce themselves from their background once they become a judge,” Michael Ogul, president of the California Public Defenders Association, told KQED. “They are still trying to help the prosecution, they are still trying to move the case towards conviction or towards a harsher punishment.”

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This Supreme Court Case Show the Perils of Appointing Prosecutors as Judges

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In the Contest for Worst Automobile-Driving Species, the Winner is Homo Sapiens

Mother Jones

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A reader tells me this story seems right up my alley:

Google, a leader in efforts to create driverless cars, has run into an odd safety conundrum: humans.

Last month, as one of Google’s self-driving cars approached a crosswalk, it did what it was supposed to do when it slowed to allow a pedestrian to cross, prompting its “safety driver” to apply the brakes. The pedestrian was fine, but not so much Google’s car, which was hit from behind by a human-driven sedan.

….Dmitri Dolgov, head of software for Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, said that one thing he had learned from the project was that human drivers needed to be “less idiotic.”

That’s the spirit! And when Skynet takes over, humans will finally cease to be such a nuisance. Driverless car nirvana will be at hand.

Ahem. In reality, of course, this whole story is sort of silly. Of course the biggest problem with driverless cars is humans. What else would it be? Plop a few thousand driverless cars into an empty city and they’d get along swimmingly. No one is unaware of this, least of all Google.

But I suppose from Google’s perspective, stories like this are useful as ways to calm fears about driverless cars. And there is a good point to be made about that: driverless cars don’t have to be perfect to be useful. They just have to be at least as good as humans. So while the fact that humans are generally idiotic drivers might be a short-term annoyance, in the long run it’s a huge bonus for Google. They don’t have to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, just the local high school JV team.

This, by the way, is why I’m so generally bullish on artificial intelligence. It’s not because I have such a high opinion of computers, but because I have such a low opinion of humans. We really are just overclocked chimpanzees who have convinced ourselves that our weird jumble of largely Pavlovian behaviors—punctuated by regrettably rare dollops of intelligence—is deeply ineffable and therefore resistant to true understanding. Why do we believe this? Primarily for the amusingly oxymoronic reason that we aren’t smart enough to understand our own brains. The silicon crowd should be able to do better before long.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, I’m a lovely driver. It’s all you other folks who are causing so many problems.

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In the Contest for Worst Automobile-Driving Species, the Winner is Homo Sapiens

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Hillary Clinton Officially Launches Campaign for White House

Mother Jones

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There was the first, inevitable video announcement. Then, the media-phobic “Scooby” van tour through early primary states. Now, speaking today in front of a bright New York skyline, on an island in the middle of one of the most polluted waterways in America, Clinton officially launched her campaign for presidency.

The former Secretary of State hit every major talking point of her highly publicized campaign so far. Seriously, nothing was left out of this 45-minute populist, progressive speech outlining her campaign’s policies: mass incarceration reform, LGBT equality, climate change and alternative energy, income inequality, a constitutional amendment to overhaul Citizens United, paid family leave, immigration, universal pre-K… even broadband.

“You brought our country back, now it’s time, your time, to secure the gains and move ahead—and you know what? America can’t succeed unless you succeed. That is why I am running for president of the United States.”

The speech on Roosevelt Island, opposite the UN building, would have been difficult to give in the heat; once the clouds cleared, the stage would have certainly felt hotter than 81 degrees—maybe that’s one reason the crowd appeared at times somewhat muted. The luckiest supporters crowded under the European Littleleaf Linden trees along the waterfront, which park staff assured us were low allergenic. Nonetheless, the biggest applause lines came when Clinton spoke about marriage equality and women’s rights. While the “overflow” area—where a large screen had been set up seemingly in the hopes of bigger crowds—remained nearly empty, the live TV footage would have looked pretty great: billowing American flags, and soaring in the distance, One World Trade, once known as the Freedom Tower.

Danny Jestakom (L) and Philip Fry. James West

The diversity of the supporters here today represents the Obama coalition that Clinton surely hopes to recapture. Valerie Wakin, 29, from Brooklyn, liked that Clinton was focusing on pay equality as a campaign issue, and also felt that Clinton had broad appeal: “I don’t think she just supports African American rights, she supports everyone,” she said. Ahmad Nelson, 28, from Pittsburgh admitted that while “she does have some baggage” from a long life in the public eye, he will vote for Clinton to help raise the minimum wage across the country.

Valerie Wakin, 29, from Brooklyn. James West

Noticeable in the crowd was a large cohort wearing the rainbow flag version of Hillary’s much-derided logo. Danny Jestakom, 26 and Philip Fry, 24, who have been a couple for about a year, said Clinton’s embrace marriage equality appealed to then, as did her attempts to to let voters learn more about her personal story—evident in today’s speech, which drew heavily on her biography. “She seems like a real woman, a real person,” Fry said.

“I may not be the youngest candidate in this race,” Hillary joked, “but I’ll be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.”


Hillary Clinton Officially Launches Campaign for White House

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