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Donald Trump just called himself an environmentalist. Wait, what?

President Trump was in Las Vegas on Thursday evening headlining Nevada Senator Dean Heller’s reelection event. Heller is currently high on the list of endangered GOP members up for reelection this fall, so Trump flew down there to save him. Speaking of endangered species, the president just unveiled a proposal to severely weaken the Endangered Species Act, but I digress.

At the rally, Trump said something that will shock the pants off of anyone who has been even remotely attuned to the myriad ways in which this administration has undermined environmental regulations. He said, AND I QUOTE, “I’m an environmentalist.” Sir! This actually isn’t the first time Trump has tried to tell people that he’s a champion of the environment. In 2017, he said, “I’m a very big person when it comes to the environment.” Watch the Vegas clip:

No offense, my guy, but you’re an environmentalist if today is opposite day on the planet Mars. Trump went on to say that we have the cleanest air and water — as coal ash spills threaten rivers in North Carolina, students can’t use the drinking fountains in Detroit due to lead contamination, and the air quality in parts of the Western U.S. was the worst in the world this summer due to smoke from climate-worsened fires.

Want more proof that the Trump administration has launched targeted attacks on public lands, renewable energy, climate science, and more? Here’s the short list:

Remember when the president appointed Scott Pruitt, grifter-in-chief at the EPA and dedicated chore-boy for the fossil fuel industry? Yeah, Pruitt wasn’t great for the environment.
What about that time Trump decided to shrink two enormous national monuments, opening up sacred indigenous land and acres of important animal and plant habitat for resource extraction?
Or, hey! How about when he announced plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement? Or what about that year when mentions of climate change essentially disappeared from government websites (and they’re still MIA!)?
Wait! One more. How about that time he repealed Obama’s Clean Power Plan with a “coal-at-all-costs” plan?

I guess everyone can just say that they’re whoever they wanna be now. By Trump’s logic, I am now a Midwest ostrich farmer. You can be one, too! There are no rules.

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Donald Trump just called himself an environmentalist. Wait, what?

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Trump and Cruz Show All Politics Is No Longer Local

Mother Jones

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Ted Cruz spent the few days between the South Carolina and Nevada nominating contests pandering to the Cliven Bundy crowd in the Silver State, promising to give all lands owned by the federal government over to the state. When he stopped on Sunday in Henderson, a town nestled among the mountains outside Las Vegas, he spoke before a backdrop proclaiming “Return Our Land.” He ran negative ads against Donald Trump on the subject.

“Donald Trump has explicitly come out against transferring the land from the federal government back to the state of Nevada or the people of Nevada,” Cruz said in northern Nevada on Tuesday, the day of the caucuses.

Meanwhile, Trump mostly dismissed the issue. At a rally at a Last Vegas casino on Monday night, Trump called it a silly concern that Cruz was making too much hay out of. “He’s got an ad,” Trump said of Cruz, “something to do with, I want to take away your land, and I want to keep it with the federal government. I don’t even know what the hell they’re talking about. It’s a Cruz ad. It’s a Cruz scam.”

What did Cruz get for his appeal to local concerns? A third-place finish here in Nevada, 24 percentage points behind the victor, Trump.

That dynamic was flipped during the first contest of the election. While campaigning in Iowa, Cruz regularly faced questions about his opposition to the renewable fuel standards that drive the state’s ethanol industry. Iowa’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad, made it a mission to tear down Cruz for daring to question the state’s best crop. “I think it would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him,” Branstad said in January, adding that he’d like to see the Texas senator defeated to send a message to all future presidential candidates that they can’t waver from supporting the state’s economic priorities. “He’s heavily financed by Big Oil,” Branstad said. “So we think once Iowans realize that fact, they might find other things attractive, but he could be very damaging to our state.”

Trump quickly latched onto Branstad’s statements, regularly criticizing Cruz over ethanol on Iowa campaign stops and embracing Branstad’s views as though the governor had endorsed him.

Yet when the Iowa caucus results came in on February 1, Cruz outperformed the polls and sailed to a win.

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Trump and Cruz Show All Politics Is No Longer Local

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The Price Is Right for Bernie Sanders in Nevada

Mother Jones

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The Price Is Right is one of the most overtly capitalist shows on TV, a prolonged infomercial that rewards contestants for their knowledge of the prices of various name-brand consumer goods. But Marco Antonio Regil, the former longtime host of the show’s Mexican counterpart Atínale Al Precio, is doing all he can to support Bernie Sanders, a socialist who rails against capitalist greed at every opportunity.

On Wednesday, Regil stopped by a small Sanders phone-banking operation to reach Spanish-speaking voters in Las Vegas. The phone bank was as much a photo-op for the media as it was a full-scale get-out-the-vote drive. Volunteers barely outnumbered reporters—hailing from the New York Times, NPR, CNN, and others—who piled into the house of Jackie Ramos, an enthusiastic Sanders supporter. While volunteers worked through their call sheets, state communications director Emilia Pablo teased them before Regil’s arrival. “I know the ladies are waiting for him,” she said of the handsome TV star, who has also hosted Spanish-language versions of Family Feud and Dancing With the Stars and the Miss Mexico pageant .

When Regil arrived, he huddled for photos with the fangirl volunteers, and then offered a brief speech detailing why Sanders was his candidate of choice. He described his childhood in Tijuana, when he revered the middle class in the United States that he saw lacking in Latin America. “The class divides in Latin America were one of the saddest thing I grew up experiencing,” he said. But that’s slipping away, he said, hence the need for Sanders. “I know what happens when income inequality and the classes start dividing, and the gap becomes so big: Poor people start struggling, they cannot survive, and they start getting violent. They start mugging other people.”

But he was quick to caution that the socialism that Sanders offers isn’t the same as the Latin America version put forward by politicians like Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro. “He calls it Democratic socialism,” he said. “I don’t like using that word, I prefer using conscious capitalism.”

“And I want Elizabeth Warren to be vice president,” he shouted to the reporters who followed him out.

On Saturday, Nevadans will pick their candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in the state’s caucuses. In the surprisingly tight race, the Latino vote will be critical. Latinos make up 27.8 percent of the state’s population, despite the Hillary Clinton campaign’s attempts to downplay expectations for the state by describing it as dominated by white voters, who have tended to support Sanders.

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The Price Is Right for Bernie Sanders in Nevada

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These Photos of the Vegas Fight and the Baltimore Protests Perfectly Sum Up Inequality in America

Mother Jones

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On Saturday night, the biggest news story in America was the welterweight championship fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, in Las Vegas (Mayweather won). The second biggest was probably the continuing demonstrations across the nation over the death of Freddie Gray: Police in Baltimore deployed pepper spray and arrested protesters defying a 10 p.m. curfew.

The two events are completely unrelated, of course, unfolding on opposite sides of the continent. But it’s hard to resist making some simple comparisons, especially when you see a photo like this one posted on Twitter by Los Angeles sports reporter Liz Habib. Just look at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas:

So much expensive hardware was heading into Las Vegas this weekend that the airport itself urged private plane pilots to consider alternative places to land.

In attendance at the match on Saturday night was a heady mix of the superwealthy, like the CEO of CBS, Leslie Moonves—whose compensation package was worth $57.2 million in 2014, according to the Wall Street Journalalong with the usual actors and models. The match-up itself, at Las Vegas’s MGM Grand Garden, was expected to bring in more revenue than the GDP of 29 countries.

Meanwhile, protesters across the country were taking on what President Obama himself has described as decades of income inequality, lack of opportunity, and conflicts with police. Saturday night, there were more scenes of tension as demonstrators refused to comply with the city-imposed curfew:

A man was arrested and hit with pepper spray as police enforced a 10 p.m. curfew. David Goldman/AP

A woman is loaded into the back of a van after being arrested in Baltimore, Saturday night. David Goldman/AP

The timing is coincidental. But the two unfolding events starkly illustrated what could be a major theme of the 2016 elections.

“We have to be honest about gaps that exists across out country, the inequality that stalks our streets,” Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday, in a wide-ranging speech about policing, race and class. And in January, Senator Ted Cruz told Fox News that “we’re facing right now a divided America when it comes to the economy.” (He blamed President Obama.)

With images like these flashing across our screens, it’s hard to imagine this topic going away anytime soon.


These Photos of the Vegas Fight and the Baltimore Protests Perfectly Sum Up Inequality in America

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Don’t Call Them "Climate Deniers." Call them "Climate Optimists."

Mother Jones

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This story originally appeared in Slate and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Las Vegas is parched. A 14-year drought has left Lake Mead, the local water source, dangerously low. It has dropped 100 feet in the past decade. If it drops 12 more feet, federal water rationing rules will kick in. Some climate scientists predict that will happen in the next year. And most believe the situation will only worsen over time.

The view from inside Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, however, is considerably rosier. That’s where scientists, activists, and bloggers have assembled this week for the Heartland Institute’s 9th International Conference on Climate Change, which I’ve been following via live stream. It’s the world’s largest gathering of “climate skeptics”—people who believe, for one reason or another, that the climate change crisis is overblown.

It’s tempting to find irony in the spectacle of hundreds of climate change deniers staging their convention amid a drought of historic proportions. But, as the conference organizers are quick to tell you, they aren’t actually climate change deniers. The majority of this year’s speakers readily acknowledge that the climate is changing. Some­ will even concede that human emissions are playing a role. They just think the solutions are likely to be far worse than the problem.

“I don’t think anybody in this room denies climate change,” the Heartland Institute’s James M. Taylor said in his opening remarks Monday. “We recognize it, but we’re looking more at the causes, and more importantly, the consequences.” Those consequences, Taylor and his colleagues are convinced, are unlikely to be catastrophic—and they might even turn out to be beneficial.

Don’t call them climate deniers. Call them climate optimists.

They aren’t an entirely new phenomenon. Fossil-fuel advocates have been touting the advantages of climate change since at least 1992, when the Western Fuels Association put out a pro­–global warming video called “The Greening of Planet Earth.” (It was a big hit with key figures in the George W. Bush administration.) Naomi Oreskes, co-author of Merchants of Doubt, traces this line of thinking even further back, to a 1983 report in which physicist Bill Nierenberg argued that humans would have no trouble adapting to a warmer world.

As global warming became more politically polarized, however, coal lobbyists and their shills largely discarded the “global warming is good” approach in favor of questioning the science behind climate change models. These days the liberal stereotype of the climate change denier sounds more like James Inhofe, the Republican senator from Oklahoma who dismisses “the global warming thing” as “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” (He still appears to believe that.)

There are still a good number of Inhofe types at the Heartland Institute’s conferences. But the pendulum of conservative sentiment may be swinging away from such conspiracy theories. Over the past few years, a concerted campaign by climate scientists and environmentalists, backed by mountains of evidence, has largely succeeded in branding climate change denial as “anti-science” and pushing it to the margins of public discourse. Leading news outlets no longer feel compelled to “balance” every climate change story with quotes from cranks who don’t believe in it. Last month, the president of the United States mocked climate deniers as a “radical fringe” that might as well believe the moon is “made of cheese.”

The backlash to the anti-science movement has left Republican leaders unsure of their ground. As Jonathan Chait pointed out in New York magazine, their default response to climate change questions has become, “I’m not a scientist.”

It’s a clever stalling tactic, allowing the speaker to convey respect for science without accepting the scientific consensus. But it’s also a cop-out, and it seems unlikely either to appease the right-wing base or to persuade the majority of Americans who have no trouble believing that the climate is changing despite not being scientists themselves. At last count, 57 percent told Gallup they believe human activities are to blame for rising global temperatures. That’s up from a low of 50 percent in 2010.

Eventually, then, top Republicans are going to need a stronger answer. And they might find it in the pro-science, anti-alarmist rhetoric exemplified by the climate optimists. Those include Richard Lindzen, the ex-MIT meteorology professor who spoke at the institute’s 2009 conference and is now a fellow at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.

In a 2012 New York Times profile, Lindzen affirmed that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and called those who dispute the point “nutty.” But he predicts that negative feedback loops in the atmosphere will counteract its warming effects. The climate, he insists, is less sensitive to human emissions than environmentalists fear.

Fellow climate scientists have found serious flaws in his work. Yet it retains currency at events such as the Heartland conference, where skeptics’ findings tend not to be subjected to much skepticism themselves. (While several of the speakers are in fact scientists, few are climate scientists, and their diverse academic backgrounds make it difficult for them to engage directly with one another’s research methods.)

And the idea that the Earth’s climate is too powerful a system for us puny humans to upset holds a certain folksy—not to mention religious—appeal. Still, the Heartland crowd is careful to frame its arguments in terms of science and skepticism rather than dogma.

The climate-optimist cause has been aided immeasurably by a recent slowdown in the rise of the Earth’s average surface temperatures. There are several potential explanations for the apparent “pause,” and most climate scientists anticipate that it will be short-lived. But it has been a godsend for those looking for holes in the prevailing models of catastrophic future warming.

“Skeptics believe what they see,” said Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast. “They look at the data and see no warming for 17 years, no increase in storms, no increase in the rate of sea-level rise, no new extinctions attributable to climate change—in short, no climate crisis.”

Meanwhile, the optimists point out, more carbon in the atmosphere means greater plant productivity and new opportunities for agriculture. In fact, Heartland communications director Jim Lakely told me in a phone interview, “The net benefits of warming are going to far outweigh any negative effects.” Indeed, the institute recently published a study arguing just that.

The climate-optimist credo aligns neatly with public-opinion polls that show most Americans believe climate change is real and humans are causing it—they just don’t view it as a top priority compared with more tangible problems like health care costs. You can imagine how eager they are to be reassured that their complacency won’t be punished.

Again, not everyone at the Heartland conference is a climate optimist. Many are still focused on disputing the basic link between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures. As I watched the conference, it became clear that some have little trouble flipping between the two viewpoints. “This is what they always do,” Oreskes told me in an email. “As the debate shifts, they shift.”

That makes it easy for liberals to dismiss self-professed climate skeptics as industry shills in scientists’ clothing, especially since many of them, like the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels, do in fact receive funding from the fossil-fuel industry. For their part, the Heartland academics tend to view most mainstream climate scientists as conflicted by their reliance on government grants.

In fact, it’s not unreasonable to see the climate fight as part of a much broader ideological war in American society, says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. The debate over causes is often a proxy for a debate over solutions, which are likely to require global cooperation and government intervention in people’s lives. Leiserowitz’s research shows that climate deniers tend to be committed to values like individualism and small government while those most concerned about climate change are more likely to hold egalitarian and community-oriented political views.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that the evidence on both sides is equal. There’s a reason the climate deniers are losing the scientific debate, and it isn’t because academia is better funded than the energy industry. All of which helps to explain how climate optimism might be a more appealing approach these days than climate denial. Models of how climate change will impact society and the economy are subject to far more uncertainty than the science that links greenhouse gas emissions to the 20th-century warming trend. The costs of mitigating those emissions are more readily grasped: higher energy bills, government spending on alternative energy projects, lost jobs at coal plants.

There are, however, a few pitfalls for conservatives who would embrace climate optimism as an alternative to climate change denial. Touting the recent slowdown in global average surface temperatures, for example, implies that such temperatures do in fact tell us a lot about the health of the climate. That will become an awkward stance in a hurry if the temperatures soon resume their climb.

More broadly, shifting the climate change debate from causes to outcomes will put the “skeptics” in the Panglossian position of continually downplaying the costs of extreme weather events—like, say, the Las Vegas drought—even as their constituents are suffering from them. In the Heartland conference’s opening keynote speech, meteorologist Joe Bastardi scoffed at the devastating wildfires that have swept across the Southwest far earlier than usual this season. “We had the wildfires in San Diego, right?” he said in a derisive tone. “I think it destroyed 80 houses, 90 houses. They had a wildfire back in October 2007 that took out 1,500 houses…When people tell me things are worse now, I say, ‘You can’t be looking at what has happened before.'”

It’s one thing to tell people global warming isn’t the source of their misery. It’s a lot harder to look them in the eye and tell them their problems aren’t that bad—especially if you’re relying on them to vote you into public office.

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Don’t Call Them "Climate Deniers." Call them "Climate Optimists."

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Religious Right Fears the GOP Can’t Handle a National Convention in Las Vegas

Mother Jones

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Religious conservatives are urging the GOP to scratch Sin City off its list of potential locations for the 2016 Republican National Convention, the Dallas Morning News reports. According to the paper, advocates are concerned that Las Vegas’ reputation as a gambling and prostitution haven will discourage conservatives from attending the event and that the city is a “trap waiting to ensnare” convention attendees.

“The GOP is supposedly interested in reaching out to conservatives and evangelicals. Maybe that’s just a front, but if they really mean it this is not the way to do it,” James Dobson, founder of Family Talk, a Christian radio show that broadcasts across the United States, told the paper. “Even though Vegas has tried to shore itself up and call itself family-friendly, it’s still a metaphor for decadence. There’s still 64 pages of escort services in the yellow pages.”

Dobson, along with leaders of the American Family Association, Eagle Forum, the Traditional Values Coalition, and Family-PAC sent a letter to Republican chairman Reince Priebus warning him to choose another destination.

Las Vegas is considered a frontrunner for the 2016 convention. Other cities under consideration are Dallas, Denver, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Kansas City, Missouri. The Nevada city has never hosted a national political convention for either Democrats or Republicans, but it’s been aggressively courting the GOP. The city’s promotional video for the convention does not feature any gambling. Instead, it emphasizes Las Vegas’ hotels, sunshine, rock climbing, proximity to the Hoover Dam, NASCAR, places of worship, and the “growing Asian population.” The video pans to Disney’s logo.

Las Vegas has a strong lobbying campaign behind it. The team includes casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who spent over $98 million on GOP candidates in 2012, resort businessman Stephen Wynn, and Washington political strategists, according to the New York Times. Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition, told The Dallas Morning News that while she supports Adelson, she fears that with all of the escorts and prostitutes available in the Las Vegas area, she “can see all the setups that are going to take place.”

Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the conservative blog RedState.com, also expressed concern about the GOP choosing Las Vegas. “Good Christian delegates getting drunk, gambling, stuffing dollar bills in strippers’ g-strings, etc. will be the toast of not just MSNBC, but the front page of the New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, the Huffington Post, and more.” he wrote. Not to mention, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) might wake up with a tiger in his bathroom.


Religious Right Fears the GOP Can’t Handle a National Convention in Las Vegas

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Quote of the Day: Nuclear Talks With Iran "Will Not Lead Anywhere"

Mother Jones

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From Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, lowering expectations for the nuclear talks that start tomorrow in Vienna:

I am not optimistic about the negotiations. It will not lead anywhere, but I am not opposed either. What our foreign ministry and officials have started will continue and Iran will not violate its (pledge) … but I say again that this is of no use and will not lead anywhere.

Hmmm. Something tells me that when Khamenei says these negotiations won’t lead anywhere, it’s more than just an opinion. Probably more than just a suggestion, too. I think the Vegas odds on these talks just dropped through the floor.

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Quote of the Day: Nuclear Talks With Iran "Will Not Lead Anywhere"

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