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Advocate of Saddam/Al Qaeda Conspiracy Will Save Us From Fake News

FAIR - 5 hours 5 min ago

The New York Times promotes an unlikely champion of the cause of truth.

The New York Times‘ Jim Rutenberg (3/26/17), alarmed by right-wing websites with “no commitment to truth,” is eager to balance them out with some respectable conservative journalists—and seems to think he has found one in Weekly Standard editor-in-chief Stephen Hayes.

Hayes, writes Rutenberg, is following in the tradition of William F. Buckley:

Mr. Buckley designed National Review to win the larger argument through “logic and superior command of the subject,” as his biographer Sam Tanenhaus (a former writer for the New York Times) told me last week — through facts. And it inspired successive generations of conservative journalists to get in the game, too.

One of them was Stephen F. Hayes….

Unfortunately, as Rutenberg tells it, not everyone in right journalism shares Hayes’ self-proclaimed commitment to “basing our arguments on facts, logic and reason”:

The movement he joined had succeeded in breaking the mainstream news media’s informational hegemony (something the mainstream media had a hand in, too, he said). But as it evolved, grew and splintered, something else broke: any universal sense of truth.

“That’s a problem for our democracy,” he told me last week….

There are right-leaning voters who “don’t believe what they’re getting from the networks and the left-leaning cable outlets” and therefore may be open to false or unsubstantiated content that provides affirmation at the expense of true information, he said.

Aside from the false frame that mainstream media once represented a “universal sense of truth,” or that corporate media don’t themselves provide affirmation (of neoliberal economic dogma, for instance) at the expense of “true information,” this relay race of responsible right-wingers passing along the torch of truth-committed journalism falls down at both ends. For one thing, Buckley was kind of a monster—a supporter of eugenics, Jim Crow, apartheid, fascism (in the form of Spain’s Francisco Franco), McCarthyism, nuclear war (against China and Vietnam) and the tattooing of people with HIV (Extra!, 5–6/08). It’s not clear that he arrived at these positions through “logic and superior command of the subject.”

Even more problematic for contemporary journalism is offering Stephen Hayes as a model of fact-based journalism. Hayes is the reporter who famously used the Weekly Standard as a platform for recycled claims of a connection between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Al Qaeda—an article that FAIR’s Seth Ackerman (Extra!, 1–2/04) characterized as being based on pieces of evidence “so painfully flimsy it’s hard to believe they found their way into an official memo or a national magazine article.”

The New York Times is suggesting the guy who wrote this will lead the fight against “false or unsubstantiated content that provides affirmation at the expense of true information.”

Hayes went on to publish a book on the claim—called The Connection: How Al Qaeda’s Collaboration With Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America. The Times‘ review of Hayes’ book (9/19/04), by Foreign Affairs‘ Gideon Rose, said that

Hayes cannot bear to let his pet theory fall by the wayside, whether it is borne out by the facts or not…. He tries to make the facts fit his theory, rather than his theory fit the facts.

So it’s odd to see a profile of Hayes in the Times bearing the headline, “The Weekly Standard’s Arsenal to Fight Falsehoods: ‘Facts, Logic and Reason.’”

The Weekly Standard, lest we forget—as Rutenberg clearly has—was second to no publication in using shoddy journalism to sell a war that would leave countless hundreds of thousands dead. As Michael Corcoran wrote in Extra! (9/09):

Following the [9/11] attacks, the Standard advanced what became virtually all the noteworthy tactics of the Bush administration’s “war on terror”: focusing the response to 9/11 on Iraq using flawed and flimsy evidence (11/24/03), widening U.S. foreign policy interventions far and wide (11/01/04), dismissing all calls for even partial withdrawals of US troops (5/10/07), shunning the recommendations of the realist-dominated Iraq Study Group (12/11/06) and escalating troop levels in what became known as “the surge” (1/21/08).

The rhetoric in the Standard’s editorials and articles was often indistinguishable from that of the administration, as it downplayed war crimes committed by US troops (6/12/06) and labeled antiwar activists and legislators as anti-American (8/14/06).

Although US intelligence had found little evidence that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks (McClatchy, 9/22/01), the first Standard released after 9/11 (9/24/01) tellingly featured a cartoon of Saddam Hussein and immediately began making the case for targeting his government: “While it is probably not necessary to go to war with Afghanistan, a broad approach will be required,” wrote Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly. Despite acknowledging that Hussein “might not” have been involved in the 9/11 attacks, “the larger campaign also must go after Saddam Hussein,” said the authors. Weeks later, Max Boot (10/15/01) asked, “Who cares if Saddam was involved?” as he pushed for regime change.

One can understand why Rutenberg, unnerved by the likes of Breitbart and InfoWars, would be looking for signs of hope on the right. But expecting a journalist and a magazine that led the most disastrous journalistic scam of the 21st century to restore honesty to conservative media is not hopeful—it’s delusional.

Jim Naureckas is the editor of FAIR.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @JNaureckas.

You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com  (Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Trump Team Continues to Act Guilty Over Russia Ties

Mother Jones - 5 hours 30 min ago

One of my complaints about Hillary Clinton during the email affair was the fact that she sometimes acted guilty even when she wasn't. Now it's Donald Trump's turn. Here is the Washington Post today:

The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post has learned, a position that is likely to further anger Democrats who have accused Republicans of trying to damage the inquiry.

....Yates and another witness at the planned hearing, former CIA director John Brennan, had made clear to government officials by Thursday that their testimony to the committee probably would contradict some statements that White House officials had made, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The following day, when Yates’s lawyer sent a letter to the White House indicating that she still wanted to testify, the hearing was canceled.

Yates, you'll recall, was the acting attorney general left over from the Obama administration who Trump fired for refusing to defend his first immigration order in court.

This whole Russia thing is crazy. Whenever I start believing there's really something there, I feel like I'm turning into a nutball conspiracy theorist. But if there isn't anything there, it's plenty odd that the Trump team keeps acting as if there were.

How to protect your online history now that Republicans want to let internet providers sell it

VICE News - 5 hours 53 min ago

Internet service providers will soon be able to sell information like what websites you visit to third-party advertisers, if all goes according to House Republicans’ plan Tuesday. But not all is lost – or public.

Because the Senate last week approved this bill, and because the Republicans supporting the bill control both chambers of Congress, it is widely expected that this rollback of Obama-era privacy protections will be signed into law.

The reason that ISPs want to be allowed to collect and sell this data is fairly straightforward: They want to make more money. Facebook and Google, which together have a de facto duopoly on digital advertising dollars, already collect this sort of information and use it to help advertisers better target users. Internet providers want a slice of that pie.

Though state governments are considering maneuvers to protect customer data, there are other steps that privacy-minded internet users can take on their own to conceal their information.

The easiest way is a VPN – virtual private network – which is kind of software that allows the user to mask what they are doing online. It’s not a protection against sustained, malicious hacking, but it can offer protection against mass surveillance and data collection. Outside the U.S., VPNs are commonly used to shield users from government monitors and to trick streaming services like Netflix into thinking that you’re in a different country.

VPNs do not offer complete security, and you should be careful about which VPN you trust; theoretically, a VPN could protect your data, only to collect information itself and then sell to others. And, as Electronic Frontier Foundation civil liberties experts noted earlier this month, “the only way to protect your privacy from your ISP is to pay for a VPN” — meaning you shouldn’t use freebie services.

If you’re interested in using a VPN, here are a few strong options to look at:


  • Hotspot Shield (Elite version): One of the most popular VPNs — and one of the more highly priced ones — parent company AnchorFree talks a big game about protecting users from government surveillance.
  • IPVanish: Another popular, paid service that offers extensive support options including for mobile.
  • NordVPN: A popular option that’s generally cheaper than the competition.


And if you’re more technically inclined, or want to avoid using a corporate VPN, you can set up your own VPN for your home internet network using open source tools. Here’s a how-to guide.


Oil is now flowing into the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe

VICE News - 5 hours 54 min ago

Oil is flowing into the Dakota Access Pipeline below Lake Oahe, the main point of contention in a months-long battle against the controversial project.

“Dakota Access is currently commissioning the full pipeline and is preparing to place the pipeline into service,” the company behind the project states in a status update filed late Monday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“We estimate that the line fill process will be complete in the next several weeks which allow us to put the Dakota Access Pipeline into service,” a spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, told VICE News. Once complete, the $3.8 billion pipeline will move up to 570,000 barrels of oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

The section of proposed pipeline under Lake Oahe drew an estimated 10,000 people to camps nearby last November. They opposed the pipeline in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who said the flow of oil under the lake threatened their water downstream.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe along with three other Sioux tribes is currently fighting the pipeline in U.S. District Court. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, an intervenor in the case, said in a statement Monday the pipeline “endangers waters the Tribes rely on for their very existence,” but that they are “undeterred” by Monday’s news that oil is in the pipeline under Lake Oahe.

“My people are here today because we have survived in the face of the worst kind of challenges,” Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier said in a statement. “The fact that oil is flowing under our life-giving waters is a blow, but it hasn’t broken us. Our legal fight is very much alive and we believe that ultimately we will prevail.”

In their court filings, the tribes allege the Army Corps of Engineers ignored federal statutes and treaties when it approved the easement under Lake Oahe at the order of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Leverage and Liquidity Are the Keys to a Strong Banking System

Mother Jones - 6 hours 11 min ago

I'm a big fan of higher capital ratios (i.e., lower leverage) as a way of making the banking system safer, so I was disturbed when Tyler Cowen pointed to a new paper suggesting that high capital ratios don't reduce the likelihood of financial crises. Instead, a team of researchers suggests that what's more important is the type of capital. Deposits are the most stable source of funding for any bank, and liquidity is king. Put these together, and what's important is the loan-to-deposit ratio:

As you can see, the LtD ratio rose steadily in the postwar era, doubling from 50 percent to over 100 percent by 2008. This indicates that credit was expanding, with banks making more loans for every dollar in deposits they took in. This, the authors say, is a better predictor of financial crises than raw leverage:

In this triptych, capital ratios are in the middle, and they don't change much before and after a financial crisis (denoted by Year 0). However, right before a financial crisis there's a steady decline in deposits as a percentage of total assets (which indicates a decline in the quality an;d stability of a bank's capital base) and a steady rise in the loan-to-deposit ratio. These are the indicators that seem to be associated with financial crises.

So is there any point to higher capital standards? Yes indeed: they may not prevent financial crises, but they make recovery from a financial crisis much quicker. Just compare the green line and the red line in the charts below:

Both of these charts show the same thing: in countries with higher capital ratios, recovery from a financial crisis was far faster. Five years out, the difference was a full 13 percentage points of GDP per capita.

If these researchers are right—and I'll add the usual caveats about this being only one study etc.—then the key to a strong, resilient banking system is twofold: a low loan-to-deposit ratio produces a liquid capital base that helps avoid financial crises, while a low leverage ratio produces the necessary capital to recover quickly if a financial crisis hits anyway.

Leverage and liquidity are key. In one sense, this is nothing new, since anyone could have told you that. But this paper suggests that they're important for slightly different reasons than we thought.

Where in the world is Kim Jong Un’s dead half brother?

VICE News - 6 hours 14 min ago

It’s been more than a month since a pair of female assassins killed Kim Jong Un’s half brother with a toxic nerve agent in Kuala Lumpur’s airport, and Malaysian authorities are still trying to decide what to do with his dead body.

In the weeks since the death of 45-year-old Kim Jong Nam on February 13, the corpse of the North Korean leader’s estranged elder sibling has been kept in a hospital morgue in Malaysia’s capital. On Tuesday, however, Malaysia’s New Straits Times newspaper reported that preparations were underway to put the body on a plane to Beijing, where it make a stopover before heading to Pyongyang.

But it looks like that hasn’t happened — at least not yet. Local media outlets have offered conflicting accounts of what’s going on with the corpse.

Malaysia’s China Press reported Monday that the body was removed from the morgue and possibly sent to a crematorium, but reporters from New Straits Times spotted medical officers bringing a coffin back to the hospital on Tuesday “wrapped tightly in plastic with a red ‘fragile’ sticker on it.”

Meanwhile, Malaysian Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam insisted that it would only hand the remains over to Kim Jong Nam’s next-of-kin.

Hospital workers move a body cart to the gate of the forensics wing of the Hospital Kuala Lumpur, where the body of Kim Jong-Nam is being held, in Kuala Lumpur on March 21, 2017. MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Sathasivam said Malaysian authorities are awaiting instructions from “those responsible for the body,” before deciding how to proceed. He said Kim Jong Nam’s family members, who reside in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau, “have not come forward to provide assistance on how the body is to be treated.”

“We have to check with the forensics department if there was any requirement to bring the body out, but as far as we are concerned there is no change in status quo,” Subramaniam told reporters on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

In addition to the fate of the dead body, actual lives might be stake. Ever since Malaysian authorities accused North Korean agents of masterminding the plot to kill Kim Jong Nam, nine Malaysian citizens have been held in Pyongyang and blocked from leaving the country.

The situation arose after Malaysia ignored protests by North Korea and conducted an autopsy that determined Kim Jong Nam had been poisoned with VX nerve agent, a chemical weapon that North Korea is thought to possess. Two young women from Vietnam and Indonesia claim they were duped into carrying out the assassination, but Malaysian police are still seeking seven North Korean suspects in connection with the killing, including three hiding in the country’s embassy in Malaysia.


No, Obamacare Isn't Exploding. But Trump Could Still Blow It Up.

Mother Jones - 6 hours 20 min ago

After Republicans abandoned their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act Friday, party leaders all but conceded that Obamacare is here to stay—at least for awhile. "We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future," House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said at a hastily arranged press conference half an hour after he yanked the bill. President Donald Trump sounded a similar note, saying that it's time for Congress to move on to tax reform.

Both Ryan and Trump warned that the failure of their bill was devastating news for the US health care system—though not necessarily bad news for the GOP. Obamacare, they argued, would inevitably fall apart, and Democrats would be blamed for its downfall. "I've been saying for the last year and a half that the best thing we can do politically speaking is let Obamacare explode," Trump said from the Oval Office Friday. "It is exploding right now."

"It will be dead soon," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday afternoon.

The idea that Obamacare is in a death spiral was central to Republican efforts to destroy the law. They point to rising premiums for individuals on Healthcare.gov and insurers fleeing some markets. Thirty-two percent of counties now have only one insurance provider, up from 7 percent of counties in 2016

But the truth is more complicated than the GOP wants you to believe. Yes, in some states there are problems with the individual insurance marketplaces created by the law. But those problems don't exist everywhere in the country, and experts expect even the problematic markets to stabilize. That isn't to say Obamacare is completely out of the woods, and perhaps the biggest danger facing the law comes from Trump himself. There are plenty of ways the administration could use its regulatory power to blow up the program—more on that below.

To understand the problems facing Obamacare's marketplaces, you first need to understand what the law actually does. Before the ACA, there was a mishmash of incomprehensible plans in the individual market. For consumers, it was often extremely difficult to figure out what the plans would actually cover, and insurers were free to reject applicants or jack up prices to astronomical rates for people with preexisting conditions.

Obamacare simplified that all. Insurers would no longer be allowed to reject people because of preexisting medical conditions. In order to make that financially feasible for insurance companies, the law included an individual mandate requiring people—including young, healthy people with few medical expenses—to sign up for insurance or pay a penalty. Insurance plans would now have to meet a set of standards, and there'd be tiers of plans—Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum—which offered predictable benefits. And the government would offer subsidies to help lower-income families afford coverage.

The vast majority of the laws' provisions—ending lifetime limits for coverage, allowing children to stay on their parents insurance until they're 26, capping patients' out-of-pocket expenses, blocking insurance companies from screening out preexisting conditions—have quietly become popular. But the high-visibility individual insurance market, on which 7 percent of the country now gets health insurance, has run into trouble. More sick people have bought insurance than expected, and costs have risen as fewer young people than predicted have signed up. Insurance is basically just cost-sharing between large groups of people, so having a pool of sicker, more expensive people creates a vicious cycle that causes the cost of premiums to increase, which further discourages healthy people from participating.

Over the past year, the costs of premiums spiked and insurers left the market. That's left people afraid that massive rate jumps are the new norm, and that skyrocketing premium costs will cause consumers to flee. But that isn't as large of a problem as politicians and some in the media have suggested. When the markets first opened in 2013, insurance companies initially priced their plans far below expected, so the sudden increase is actually bringing costs closer to what the architects of Obamacare expected back when they were crafting the bill. And the vast majority of people buying insurance on those markets have been insulated from those premium increases. Of the 12.2 million who bought into the 2017 open enrollment, 10.1 million received some assistance from the government to offset those costs. The government caps how much these people have to pay, as a percentage of their income.

While premiums for 2017 were projected by the government to jump 22 percent, most people won't see that increase themselves. As Kaiser Family Foundation pointed out, for a 40-year-old making $40,000 in Birmingham, Ala., the cost of premiums for a Silver plan without subsidies jumped from $288 per month in 2016 to $492 in 2017. But that 40-year-old's personal responsibility after the subsidies kick in stayed essentially same: $208 per month in 2016, $207 in 2017.

Jon Gabel and Heidi Whitmore, a pair of researchers writing at Health Affairs last month, dug into the stats on these rising premiums and speculated that the rate increases could be a natural part of the "underwriting cycle," with insurers struggling to properly estimate their costs and then overcorrecting. Gabel and Whitmore argued that a full death spiral is unlikely since most people buying insurance on the marketplace receive subsidies to offset premium spikes. "Premium growth for 2018 might be modest," they write. "Many insurers would be expected to re-enter the marketplaces once premiums are set at a level that permits modest profits."

According to the Congressional Budget Office, when it scored the GOP's repeal plan, Obamacare's individual markets should remain stable going forward: "The subsidies to purchase coverage combined with the penalties paid by uninsured people stemming from the individual mandate are anticipated to cause sufficient demand for insurance by people with low health care expenditures for the market to be stable."

Moreover, the problems are not equally distributed across the country. One major reason appears to relate to Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid. The ACA pushed states to enroll everyone below 138 percent of the federal poverty line into Medicaid, which is separate from the individual insurance marketplaces. The federal government pays for the vast majority of Medicaid expansion costs. But after the Supreme Court said states didn't have to adopt the expansion, a number of Republican-controlled states rejected the program. So far, only 31 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid through Obamacare.

There's a direct correlation between the cost of insurance premiums and whether or not a state has adopted Medicaid expansion. A 2016 study found that premiums were 7 percent higher in non-expansion states after controlling for other factors. In the non-expansion states, people who would otherwise end up on Medicaid buy insurance on the individual market—they're about 40 percent of the marketplaces in these states. And since poor health has been tied to lower incomes, this group ends up driving up the cost of individual insurance for everyone else. Now that Obamacare is more settled as the law of the land, it wouldn't be surprising to see a few more Republican states adopt the federal funding for expansion to shore up their marketplaces. (Republicans lawmakers in Kansas are currently pushing a bill to do just that, despite a veto threat from the state's GOP governor.)

So Obamacare probably isn't destined to explode, but that doesn't mean Trump's prediction won't come true. It'll just be his fault if that happens, not Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi's. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has wide discretion over a number of ACA provisions that that could allow him to sabotage the law. At Politico last week, Dan Diamond wondered, "Is Trumpcare already here?" He pointed out that the Trump administration has already begun to implement its agenda through executive action.

The president's team started early in its Obamacare assault, canceling ads in late January encouraging people to sign up for insurance on the marketplaces during open enrollment, despite the fact that the ads had already been paid purchased. It was a clear attempt to decrease participation in the program. The people most likely to sign up without inducement are people in worse health who need insurance to pay for their care, so these sort of ads boosting enrollment are essential for attracting the younger, healthier groups necessary to spread out the cost and keep premiums low.

But if the Trump administration continues to attempt to undermine the law, it likely won't go unnoticed. Last week, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced that at their request, the inspector general at HHS is reviewing the decision to cancel the paid ads at the last minute.

"I'm glad that there will be an independent review of the Trump Administration's decision to cut off efforts to enroll people in the ACA," Warren said in a statement. "President Trump and congressional Republicans have made clear that their priorities include destroying the protection that ACA gives millions of families. HHS's move to halt outreach for ACA enrollment could contribute to weakening health care marketplaces and raising costs for hard working people across the country."

Rust Belt despair translated into support for Trump — and Putin

VICE News - 6 hours 39 min ago

The mysterious warmth between Donald Trump and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin was one of the odder elements of the 2016 presidential race. But Trump’s affection for the former KGB officer — not generally a figure of great appeal to Americans — also spread to his supporters.

In late 2016, approval of Putin was up sharply among Trump voters, reaching 35 percent in December, compared to 21 percent for the country as a whole and just 8 percent among Clinton voters, according to research by polling firm YouGov.

It’s not completely clear what led Trump voters to suddenly see the sunny side of one of the U.S.’s top global adversaries, but the ideological ground had already been softened up by years of favorable right-wing coverage of Putin’s social conservatism and Syrian military adventures, set against a supposedly feckless Obama administration.

The blending of outright pro-Trump Russian propaganda from entities like Russia Today into the polarized media diet of right-wing Americans likely also played a role, as did Trump’s bizarre and relentless positivity toward Putin, with whom he shares authoritarian tendencies.

But the growing willingness among Americans to see the bright side of non-democratic systems predates Trump. An attention-getting paper in the Journal of Democracy last year found rising support for authoritarian alternatives to democracy among well-established democratic nations. In the U.S., for example, the share of people who agree that it would be better to have a “strong leader” who didn’t “bother with parliament and elections” rose to 32 percent in 2011 from 24 percent in 1995.

I couldn’t help but think about those shifts of political sentiment while reading through the devastating new paper from Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton and Princeton health economist Anne Case.

In the already dismal science, the husband-and-wife team have broken depressing new ground in recent years, sifting through U.S. mortality data and spotlighting a truly shocking rise in deaths among middle-aged white Americans who don’t go to college, a trend that stands in sharp opposition to overall trends among most countries, as well as declining death rates among better-educated whites and Americans of color who are the same age.

In their new paper out last week, Case and Deaton update and expand their original analysis — which went through 2013 — to 2015, finding that death rates for middle-age, working-class whites continued to rise relentlessly in the most recent data. The result? In 1999, the mortality rates of whites aged 50 to 54  without college degrees were 30 percent lower than blacks in the same age group. In 2015, the white mortality rate was 30 percent higher, driven by jumps in drug overdoses, suicides, and alcohol-related liver disease.

The uptick in such “deaths of despair,” as economists call them, is often thought to be rooted to stagnation in economic opportunities. And there is likely some link. But it can’t be the whole story, as incomes among black Americans stagnated in similar ways over the same period, but they saw no spike in death rates. The broader story, Case and Deaton write, is related to “the collapse of the white, high school–educated, working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline.”

In other words, the spike in death rates is related to the end of an era.

And it’s hard to overstate the significance of an uptick in mortality along these lines. Few examples in modern times — such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic that pushed mortality rates sharply higher in sub-Saharan Africa — seem comparable. But there is one comparison worth thinking about.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was followed by the worst economic crisis the world has seen since the Great Depression. Estimates said the GDP of the former Soviet states collapsed by as much as 40 percent, in a chaotic process of privatization, corruption, currency collapse, and violence. Seemingly overnight, the old order disappeared. And while it had been rife with inefficiencies, corruption, and repression, at least the old order was some kind of order.

Lost amid the American triumphalism of the period was the fact, for an entire generation of Russians raised in the certainty of the Soviet system, the end of the USSR was not only a personal financial disaster, it was profoundly painful and socially disorienting. The costs of the transition to capitalism, in terms of human life, were incredibly high.

Between 1990 and 1995, the spike in mortality rates above trend was roughly equivalent to over 2 million additional deaths. Russians lost five years of life expectancy between 1991 and 1994. The surge of deaths was mostly concentrated in those between the ages of 30 and 60, and largely due to increased alcohol consumption. The worst of the crisis was over by 1995, after which mortality rates stabilized. (Though life expectancy in much of the former Soviet Union didn’t return to 1989 levels until 2013.)  

But in retrospect, the trauma of the post-Soviet transition largely doomed Russia’s fledgling democracy. By 1999, a relatively unknown former KGB agent named Vladimir Putin had maneuvered himself into position as the acting president of the Russian Federation. His grip on power has only tightened since then, as he’s refined his trademark brand of authoritarianism, press repression, nationalism, and heavy surveillance, packaged under a thin veneer of democratic legitimacy.

Which is not to say that Putin isn’t genuinely popular. He is. Largely because his rule has coincided with rising living standards and sharp downturns in the mafia-driven violence that dominated the early 1990s. Putin is seen as a guarantor of order and economic prosperity, and, thanks to a series of audacious international gambits— including the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s bold-faced interference in the U.S. presidential election — he’s the man who has put Russia back on the map in terms of national dignity.

My point is you can see the appeal of strongman to a culture that’s gone through the social stress of an economic collapse that erased the old order and the way of life that went with it.

True, the decline of the U.S. industrial economy hasn’t been as dramatic as the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the entry of China into the world economy, cemented by its arrival into the World Trade Organization in 2001, was a clear tipping point.

Before that, U.S. manufacturing employment was largely flat, though shrinking as a share of total employment. Since then some 5 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and that’s having profound implications on communities and human lives. There’s a lot of desperation out there.

And it seems some of that desperation translated to support for Trump. A recent research brief by sociologist Shannon Monnat showed that Trump performed much better than Mitt Romney did in counties with higher rates of suicide and alcohol and drug deaths.

That despair drove some not only to Trump, but — if their views on Putin are any guide — to something other than traditional American democracy.

Trumptax might split Republicans just like Trumpcare did

VICE News - 6 hours 43 min ago

Trumpcare is out, Trumptax is in.

That’s the message from the Trump administration and most Republicans in Congress this week in an effort to move on from their failure to achieve consensus on a plan to replace Obamacare last week.

“Working with this Congress, President Trump is going to pass the largest tax cut since the days of Ronald Reagan,” Vice President Mike Pence told a crowd in West Virginia this past weekend.

Asked when Trump would touch health care reform again, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “When it breaks.”

But Trump’s moving on from Trumpcare doesn’t leave behind the Republican divisions that undid that vote.

Already there is sniping within the Republican conference over House Speaker Paul Ryan’s tax reform proposal. The criticism centers on the border-adjustment tax that would levy a 20 percent tax on imports from all countries, a protectionist measure that would also help pay for other tax cuts. While most members of Congress have yet to take a position, outlines like we saw in the health care debate are already appearing.

Speaker Ryan and some of his close allies, like Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, are again on one side of the debate supporting the tax as President Trump shows openness and mild support. Brady is convening Republicans on his committee Tuesday in the hopes of achieving some consensus.

That may be difficult since conservative groups aligned with GOP mega-donors the Koch brothers, like Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, are against the tax. Republican senators are openly hostile to it. And Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a member of the Freedom Caucus, has said he has a “natural hesitancy” to support the tax.

Democrats, emboldened by Trump’s defeat on health care, again look poised to be unified against Trump tax reform, making Republican unity critical for passage. “The American people are not crying out for tax breaks on the wealthiest Americans,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday. “God bless the wealthy. They’re doing just fine without the tax breaks.”

These same intra- and interparty divisions will also be tested in the coming weeks and months by more than just tax reform. By April 28, Congress must pass a budget, or the government will shut down. Many conservative members of the House have suggested that the budget must cut funding for Planned Parenthood, but such a budget will almost certainty not pass the Senate. But without cutting Planned Parenthood funding, it’s uncertain whether the budget can pass the House.

And then there’s the debt limit, which is the amount of money the United States is allowed to borrow to keep meeting its financial obligations. Some time in the fall, it will have to be increased so the government can pay the bills.

Members of the Freedom Caucus have been reluctant to raise the debt ceiling before, and if they are again — President Trump and Paul Ryan may have no choice but to try to make a deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, which would further erode the relationship with the Freedom Caucus. Plus, the Democratic Party’s base is pressuring their representatives in Congress to not cut any deals with Trump.

In other words, Trumpcare may be just the opening salvo of many fights to come.


Obamacare Is the Law of the Land, and Kansas Republicans Couldn't Be Happier

Mother Jones - 7 hours 22 min ago

Many Republicans politicians are already moving on from Paul Ryan and Donald Trump's failure to repeal Obamacare—and in one state, they're accepting that reality by embracing a key measure in the Affordable Care Act.

On Monday evening, the Kansas state Senate voted to accept the ACA's Medicaid expansion, a policy that allows states to enroll anyone earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line in the government's health insurance program for the poor. The feds will provide the vast majority of the funding for these new recipients.

A coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate supported the measure, which passed by of vote of 25-13. The state House voted overwhelming for Medicaid expansion earlier this year. Ryan and Trump's Obamacare repeal bill would have effectively barred Kansas from signing up for the program. After the national GOP's bill failed Friday, Kansas Republicans wasted little time moving forward.

Medicaid expansion still faces a major obstacle in Kansas. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has repeatedly signaled his opposition and is expected to veto the bill. The state legislature could override that veto—as they came close to doing with a tax reform measure earlier this year—but that requires a two-thirds majority in each chamber. In the state House and Senate, Medicaid expansion was two and three votes shy, respectively, of that super-majority.

Kansas is one of 19 states that have rejected the ACA's Medicaid expansion, costing the state nearly $1.8 billion in federal funding to date. A study by the Kansas Health Institute projects that more than 150,000 people in the state would sign up if expansion is implemented.

Kansas wheat farmers look to Cuba to solve U.S. agriculture crisis

VICE News - 7 hours 49 min ago

This segment originally aired March. 20, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO. 

A surplus of wheat and a strong U.S. dollar have created the worst economic downturn in American agriculture in decades. The market slump is clearly affecting the farming community of Claflin, Kansas, where stores are going out of business and banks have slowed on lending.

The Kansas Wheat Institute is looking for a way out of the crisis, and researchers there think the solution to the surplus lies on an island 1800 miles away.

“Wheat farmers would love to resume trade with Cuba” Aaron Harries, Vice President of Research and Operations at Kansas Wheat told VICE News.

But the solution won’t be easy. At a G20 Summit earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin refused to sign the group of 20’s stance against economic protectionism, opening the door for the Trump administration to levy tariffs or import taxes against other countries.  That aggressive trade position could make things harder for U.S. exporters – including the wheat farmers in Kansas who were hoping to unload their surplus in a new foreign market.

Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran has clashed with his party for nearly two decades by advocating for open trade with Cuba. He believes the embargo only hurts American farmers since Cuba continues to receive wheat from Canada and Russia. “In rural America, in ag country, America first would mean the sale of what we produce here around the globe” Moran told VICE News.

In West Virginia, a state financial crisis poses the greatest threat to public media

Columbia Journalism Review - 10 hours 30 min ago
WHILE PUBLIC RADIO STATIONS across the country fret over the threat of federal-level funding cuts, West Virginia Public Broadcasting has its mind on other matters. A state-level proposal to zero out half of its $10 million budget had the network on the defensive this month. In West Virginia, which national media often portray as Trump Country […]

Westminster killer’s family apologize to victims of London attack

VICE News - 10 hours 45 min ago

The wife of the man who killed four people in an attack on the U.K. Parliament last week said Tuesday that she was “shocked and saddened” by the actions of Khalid Masood, expressing her condolences for the victims and their families.

In a statement issued through the police, Masood’s wife, Rohey Hydara, said: “I am saddened and shocked by what Khalid has done. I totally condemn his actions. I express my condolences to the families of the victims that have died, and wish a speedy recovery to all the injured. I would like to request privacy for our family, especially the children, at this difficult time.”

Hydara is thought to have lived with Masood since 2010. She was among those arrested in the wake of the attack but has since been released and completely cleared of any involvement in it. The Telegraph reported on Sunday that Masood, killed by police in the attack, had lied to Hydara, telling her he was traveling to Saudi Arabia before carrying out the attack.

Masood, born Adrian Elms and also known as Adrian Ajao, took just 82 seconds to kill four people in the attack last week. He drove across Westminster Bridge in a hired car, knocking down and injuring 50 people before driving the car into the fence surrounding the Houses of Parliament. He then fatally stabbed a policeman before being shot dead by another officer.

Hydara’s comments follow those of Masood’s mother, Janet Ajao, who said Monday she was “deeply shocked, saddened, and numbed by the actions my son has taken that have killed and injured innocent people in Westminster.” She added that she had “shed many tears” for the victims, and said she did “not condone his actions or support the beliefs he held that led to him committing this atrocity.”

The so-called Islamic State initially claimed credit for the attack, but Scotland Yard Monday ruled out any direct link between Masood’s actions and the terrorist group. The deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Neil Basu, who is also the senior national coordinator for U.K. counterterrorism policing, said that there was no evidence Masood had discussed the planning of his attack with anyone else.

Basu added that the main line of inquiry now was the messages the attacker sent just prior to carrying out the atrocity. According to reports, Masood was active on WhatsApp just before he drove onto Westminster Bridge, and on Sunday U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd called on Facebook — which owns WhatsApp — to stop giving terrorists a “secret space to communicate.”

Basically, the Arctic Is Melting, the World Has Gone Crazy, and It's All Our Fault

Mother Jones - 11 hours 35 min ago

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

The fingerprint of human-caused climate change has been found on heat waves, droughts and floods across the world, according to scientists.

The discovery indicates that the impacts of global warming are already being felt by society and adds further urgency to the need to cut carbon emissions. A key factor is the fast-melting Arctic, which is now strongly linked to extreme weather across Europe, Asia, and North America.

Rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have long been expected to lead to increasing extreme weather events, as they trap extra energy in the atmosphere. But linking global warming to particular events is difficult because the climate is naturally variable.

The new work analyzed a type of extreme weather event known to be caused by changes in "planetary waves"—such as California's ongoing record drought, and recent heat waves in the US and Russia, as well as severe floods in Pakistan in 2010.

Planetary waves are a pattern of winds, of which the jet stream is a part, that encircle the northern hemisphere in lines that undulate from the tropics to the poles. Normally, the whole wave moves eastwards but, under certain temperature conditions, the wave can halt its movement. This leaves whole regions under the same weather for extended periods, which can turn hot spells into heat waves and wet weather into floods.

This type of extreme weather event is known to have increased in recent decades. But the new research used observations and climate models to show that the chances of the conditions needed to halt the planetary waves occurring are significantly more likely as a result of global warming.

"Human activity has been suspected of contributing to this pattern before, but now we uncover a clear fingerprint of human activity," said Michael Mann, a professor at Pennsylvania State University in the US who led the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Kai Kornhuber, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany, and another member of the research team, said: "We looked into dozens of different climate models, as well as into observational data, and it turns out that the temperature distribution favoring planetary wave stalling increased in almost 70 percent of the simulations."

Large scale wind patterns are largely driven by the temperature difference between the poles and the tropics. But global warming is altering this difference because the Arctic is heating up faster than lower latitudes and because land areas are heating up faster than the oceans.

Recent changes in the Arctic are particularly striking, with record low levels of ice cover and extremely unusual high temperatures. "Things in the Arctic are happening much faster than we expected," said Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, also at PIK.

"It is not just a problem of nature conservation or polar bears, it is about a threat to human society that comes from these rapid changes," he said. "This is because it hits us with increasing extreme events in the highly populated centers in the mid-latitudes. It also affects us through sea level rise, which is hitting shores globally. So these changes that are going on in the Arctic should concern everyone."

Other climate research, called attribution, is increasingly able to calculate how much more likely specific extreme weather events have been made by global warming. For example, the heat wave in south-eastern Australia in February was made twice as likely by climate change, while Storm Desmond, which caused heavy flooding in the UK in 2015, was made 40 percent more likely.

How the Arctic can lead to extreme weather

Meal Kits Make Money on Razor-Thin Margins. So This Shocked Us.

Mother Jones - 11 hours 35 min ago

Several years ago, the California meat entrepreneur Bill Niman began applying an extremely old idea to his ranch on the Northern California coast: He would treat beef as a seasonal delicacy, only slaughtering cows fattened while the grass is lush and green, from late spring to fall. As my colleague Maddie Oatman noted in a 2013 piece, the practice harkened back to a time before the rise of the modern corn-centered feedlot, which severed beef's "tie to grass growth cycles," Maddie wrote. When grass-based ranchers indulge the modern appetite for year-round beef by slaughtering hay-fattened cows in the winter, the meat is inferior in quality and taste, hurting grass-fed beef's reputation, Niman argued.

Now, Niman is applying an up-to-the-minute idea to his old-school ranch: He has sold his operation to the meal-kit company Blue Apron. Niman will stay on as CEO of BN Ranch, now a subsidiary of Blue Apron.

The news stunned me. Blue Apron is a fast-growing company with $800 million in annual sales. Niman's previous company, Niman Ranch, is a sizable producer—but Niman himself hasn't been associated with it for years, and it's now owned by chicken giant Perdue. "I left Niman Ranch because it fell into the hands of conventional meat and marketing guys as opposed to ranching guys," Niman told Business Insider in 2015. "You can't really ferret out how [the cattle] are being raised [now]." I had thought Niman's new company, called BN Ranch, was a tiny niche operation, more suited to supplying Northern California foodie temples like Chez Panisse than providing fodder for a galloping "unicorn" (Silicon Valley-speak for a startup valued at $1 billion or more) that delivers more than 8 million meals per month.

Turns out, I was wrong about the new Niman company's size. In a phone conversation, Niman explained that he has spent the past several years quietly scaling up BN Ranch using the same method he used during the original Niman Ranch's '90s/early 2000s heyday: by banding together with other ranchers along the West Coast who share his devotion to grass and seasonality, marketing their meat under the BN Ranch brand. In order to provide year-round product while sticking to his fresh-grass principle, Niman also sources from pasture-based ranches in New Zealand, which has a "perfectly complementary season to ours," he said. Niman calls it "following the global grass seasons." Niman said the butchered beef travels to the United States via boat, aging while en route, which he characterized as an energy-efficient process. 

Niman says BN Ranch started supplying Blue Apron two years ago, and now provides the meal-kit company with half its beef. The goal, he said, is to eventually provide 100 percent. Niman plans to continue growing the beef business, not by scaling up production at his own ranch, but by bringing in more farms both in the United States and in the southern hemisphere. Niman says he visits the farms in the network often, including the one in New Zealand.

I asked him how Blue Apron can possibly pay its rancher-suppliers an attractive price while also covering costs, much less turning a profit, given the company sells meals at a rate as low as $8.74 per eater, and a BN Ranch boneless rib eyes fetch $19.99 per pound retail. He said the relationship works for the meal-kit titan and for for ranchers, because Blue Apron buys the whole cow at a fair price, and "writes menus around every part of the animal." For the rancher, that's a great set-up, because it removes the burden of marketing—for every $20/pound steak sold, a rancher has to market several more pounds of less-fancy cuts. Blue Apron, for its part, gets access to top-quality beef at a much lower price point than it would get by buying individual cuts on the open market. And the variety of cuts works for a company that sends out as many as three recipes per week to millions of customers.

I left my conversation with Niman thinking the tie-up made sense. Yet I still have doubts about the meal-kit business model, which I aired here. In short, food businesses generally operate on razor-thin profit margins, and meal kits are no different. They don't have the huge real estate expenses that restaurants do, but they face the pricey task of shipping millions of hand-packed boxes stuffed with small amounts of lavishly cosseted perishable goods across great distances. The price they charge customers may not sound cheap at first glance, but it seems punishingly so to me when you consider all those expenses. I wasn't surprised last fall when workers at Blue Apron's Richmond, California, packaging complained of tough conditions and low wages last fall. Nor was I shocked in December, when Blue Apron delayed its much anticipated initial public stick offering, because  the company "has struggled to improve profit margins as much as management wanted in the face of more competition," as Bloomberg reported.

Yet Blue Apron's big move into the grass-fed beef business does suggest confidence about the future.

The Young Turks Really, Really Don't Want You to Compare Them to Breitbart

Mother Jones - 11 hours 35 min ago

Cenk Uygur bristles at the notion that the progressive media company he co-founded more than a decade ago, the Young Turks, is becoming the Breitbart of the left—that is, a pugilistic news outlet waging an ideological war with the establishment class. If you ask him, the comparison is backward. "Andrew Breitbart, when he was on my show before he passed away, said they emulated us, not the other way around," Uygur told me in mid-March, after finishing a panel at South by Southwest. "They get a lot of credit now because our idiot president reads them, but in terms of traffic, they're nowhere near us." Besides, he added, Breitbart had done it wrong. "The trick is to be honest, and that's the part they left out."

The comparison, though, was still on Uygur's mind a few days later. "We have 80 million unique viewers" a month, he said on his nightly YouTube show—a figure that's roughly double Breitbart's monthly readership. "Breitbart is a pimple on our ass."

Yet in the aftermath of the 2016 election, the 46-year-old Uygur, a longtime critic of the Democratic Party's political establishment, has ventured into an unfamiliar and uncertain place in Democratic politics. Fed up with the "sellouts" in Washington, Uygur has emerged as a leader of a coordinated progressive effort to unseat incumbent Democrats en masse in House and Senate primaries next year.

In December, Uygur, Kyle Kulinski, a Young Turks network colleague who hosts "Secular Talk," and a pair of top Bernie Sanders campaign staffers launched Justice Democrats, a political action committee that aims to recruit and fund a slate of primary challengers under an anti-corporate, progressive banner. Justice Democrats boasts 200,000 members and has raised more than $1 million. In March, it formally joined forces with another branch of the Sanders diaspora, Brand New Congress, which has vowed to run more than 400 progressive House and Senate candidates in 2018.

To further this effort, Uygur is preparing to deploy his show—which appears on YouTube and the Young Turks website—as a battering ram against Democrats who don't fall in line. He says he will offer airtime and fundraising help for progressive challengers.

The Young Turks (TYT) is the political opposite of Breitbart, Stephen Bannon's alt-right home page. But Uygur's platform increasingly shares one big thing in common with the combative right-wing site that unabashedly eggs on intra-Republican challenges and sells "RINO hunter" coffee mugs in its online store: a mission to make the establishment squeal.

"Let them keep thinking what they're gonna think," Uygur said of the Democratic Party's consultant class. "We're gonna rout them. It's a whole new world. And yes, new media will drive us to totally new results. It'll be a much more progressive future. They have no idea what's gonna hit them."

There is plenty of cause for skepticism. Liberals don't have much of a track record when it comes to knocking off Democratic incumbents. Their biggest success in recent years came in 2006, when Democrat Ned Lamont, an opponent of the Iraq War, beat Sen. Joe Lieberman, a prominent hawk, in the Democratic primary. Yet Lamont went on to lose to Lieberman in the general election, when the incumbent ran on the "Connecticut for Lieberman" ticket. Uygur, though, believes the progressives' lack of success in knocking off centrist or moderate Democrats has been partly due to mainstream media outlets depriving would-be challengers of oxygen. And that's where he comes in.

The Young Turks started as a radio show in 2002 and eventually grew into a YouTube-based media company with 11 shows. (Uygur also hosted a MSNBC show by the same name for six months in 2011.) It is a for-profit company that received a $4 million investment three years ago from a venture capital firm headed by former Louisiana Republican Gov. Buddy Roemer. (The partnership is not as strange as it sounds; Roemer has become a leading critic of the post-Citizens United campaign finance world.)

At the same time Uygur is gearing up to do battle in Democratic primaries, he's mounting a major expansion at TYT. Since the election, TYT has raised $1.4 million in crowd-sourced donations and hired eight new staffers and contributors. The new hires largely fit Uygur's combative model. One new recruit is Michael Tracey, a bomb-throwing former Vice writer who recently called the media's "bizarre new obsession with (allegedly) rising anti-semitism" a "moral panic." Other recent hires include Shaun King, the Black Lives Matter activist and former New York Daily News columnist, and Nomiki Konst, a reporter and commentator who was chosen by the Sanders campaign to serve on the Democratic National Committee's post-election unity commission. The Huffington Post's Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim signed on as a TYT commentator, as did David Sirota, a popular progressive journalist who has recently specialized in business reporting.

TYT is gleefully in-your-face, with an advocacy bent that's atypical for a news outlet. Last month, while Konst was covering the election of the Democratic National Committee's new chairman in Atlanta, she found herself in a Twitter skirmish with longtime Hillary Clinton adviser Neera Tanden, the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress. During this scuffle, Tanden criticized TYT for taking money from Buddy Roemer. Konst replied that her own position was crowd-funded, and then she pulled out a smartphone and filmed a TYT Facebook Live segment threatening to expose Tanden for "all the money you've taken and all of the things you've done." (Asked about this later, Konst would not specify what she was referring to, but said it would be the subject of an upcoming story.)

Although TYT itself does not back candidates—and staffers such as Konst aren't involved with Justice Democrats—Uygur and Kulinski say they intend to use their shows and their social-media accounts to provide a platform and raise money for the candidates they endorse. This is not Uygur's first venture into direct political action. In 2011, he launched Wolf PAC, a group that aims to end corporate political influence by forcing a new constitutional convention of the states. The convention would then, in theory, pass a "Free and Fair Elections Amendment" limiting corporate donations. (Five state legislatures have backed his plan so far; 33 are needed to trigger a convention.) In February, Wolf PAC raised $55,000 for a Connecticut Democratic state Senate candidate, Greg Cava, who came up short in a special election in the state's most Republican-leaning district. The previous Republican had won by 36 points; Cava lost by 10. "So the message I had after the election was, 'If you're gonna vote against Wolf PAC, go ahead and do it, but you should make sure you have a 27-point lead,'" Uygur said.

Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress aren't the only progressive outfits that have sprung up to challenge their party's incumbents. Another group founded by Sanders campaign alumni, We Will Replace You, was launched in February with a similar intent. Unlike the other groups, We Will Replace You does not intend to recruit candidates; it is more focused on applying pressure on the Democratic lawmakers it considers most vulnerable, though it also plans to eventually aid candidates who fit its mold.

Co-founder Claire Sandberg, who was Sanders' director of digital organizing, is bullish about the idea of replicating the decentralized model of the Vermont senator's presidential campaign on behalf of other long-shot challengers. "We want to make it clear to Democrats that they need to pick which side they're on," she said. "They can either pick the side of Donald Trump and his Wall Street cronies, or they can pick the side of the people who are on the streets."

For now, Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress are putting in the behind-the-scenes work, recruiting and grooming a slate of candidates who will be rolled out later this year. The groups solicited the names of potential candidates from TYT viewers and progressive activists and received 8,000 suggestions. After four rounds of vetting, that list was whittled down to about 70 people. Of those, 30 candidates are currently being trained by Sanders campaign alumni. The first candidate the groups endorsed is Cori Bush, a pastor and nurse from St. Louis, who is running in a primary against nine-term Democratic Rep. Lacy Clay.

As for the Senate, Uygur and his allies' most immediate targets are moderate Democrats Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. (Manchin recently has dared progressive activists to primary him.) No progressive challenger has yet materialized to take on either of them, but Uygur is confident he will find contenders.

"I don't have a time frame on it, but I can guarantee you that it'll happen," he said. "But Manchin is the tip of the iceberg. Who cares about Manchin? We're going after the core of the party—he's just the symptom."

Trump Set to Take an Axe to Climate Change Rules

Mother Jones - March 27, 2017 - 11:55pm

This is all completely expected, but it's still depressing as hell. The Trump administration has already approved two new pipelines and said it will reconsider tougher fuel economy standards that Barack Obama put in place, but that was just the start. The LA Times reports that Trump's willful destruction of the planet will kick into high gear tomorrow:

President Trump on Tuesday will order the Environmental Protection Agency to dismantle his predecessor’s landmark climate effort, backing away from an aggressive plan to cut emissions at power plants that had been the foundation of America’s leadership on confronting global warming....The directive that administration officials said Trump will issue takes aim at the Clean Power Plan, a far-reaching initiative former President Obama signed in 2015.

....Trump’s plans to curb climate action also reach well beyond power plants. A pioneering EPA rule that sets a “social cost” for carbon, placing a dollar value on the long-term damage caused by each ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, will be eliminated. An Obama-era requirement that all government agencies factor climate effects into their decision making, particularly as they launch new projects, is also targeted. Trump will also lift a moratorium on coal leasing on federal land.

Oh, and apropos of Trump gutting climate change rules because climate change totally isn't a real thing, a paper published today suggests that climate change is permanently altering the jet stream in a way that produces conditions during the summer that are more favorable to long episodes of extreme weather. That means more extreme droughts, more extreme heat waves, more extreme rain, and so forth. No worries, though. Trump will be sure to take care of everyone affected by this stuff. You can count on it.

Kid Confuses Waterheater For Robot, Hugs "Robot," Shows World What Love Truly Is

Mother Jones - March 27, 2017 - 11:16pm

This is so intensely adorable.

And  I want you to know that I do not find most things adorable.

People might tell you that I find things adorable or that I may have found things adorable in the past but people lie. People LIE. It's what they do.

Liars, the lot of them.

Never in my life have I found anything cute or adorable.

Cynical! That's my bag, doll. I dance to the beat of a heartless drum. Sad, worn-out, on my own. When I was young I would go from town to town and witness all the things collected in the local papers that were said to be cute or adorable and I would be unmoved by them. The townsfolk, they would say, "here comes that unmovable machine who feels not for cute things. For he is the bane of our existence! Never admitting how adorable or cute our things are!" And I would try to explain to them that it wasn't personal. "It's a calling, not a job."

But they wouldn't hear. Or at least couldn't forgive.

Yet, here I am. Captain Cynical, voted most cynical 3 years running in the Blaine County (Idaho) Cynics' Fare, which you shouldn't try to look up because though it is a real thing that existed when I lived in Blaine County in the early aughts the records were destroyed in a flood. Don't look up the flood either. The records of the flood were destroyed in a fire—HEY MAYBE YOU SHOULD GET OFF MY BACK, YEAH?

I didn't come here for a Spanish inquisition. I came here on a mission from the Care Bears to warm your cold hearts.

Anyway, here's the video. I don't know anything about it. Could be fake. Maybe the kid is an actor. Maybe the robot is an actor. Maybe I'm an actor. Maybe acting is a construct. Maybe we should talk about this at Burning Man.

This little girl thought a broken water heater is a real life robot. It's just not fair how cute it is pic.twitter.com/TLbuKKEEbY

— Ben Tolmachoff (@bentolmachoff) March 27, 2017

Have a great night.

Trump Just Released His Plan to Gut Obama’s Climate Policies. It’s Worse Than You Thought.

Mother Jones - March 27, 2017 - 10:00pm

President Donald Trump will issue his long-promised executive order rolling back federal government efforts to fight climate change Tuesday.

The wide-ranging order, which will be accompanied by other environmental directives, targets Obama-era policies across the government, including in the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior, and the Department of Defense. It directs the EPA to revisit the Clean Power Plan, which limits carbon pollution from power plants and was considered the center-piece of former President Barack Obama's climate policy. Additionally, Trump is asking the Justice Department to stop defending the plan in court.

The president will instruct agencies to rescind a moratorium on coal leasing on public lands; rewrite limits on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry; and ignore the EPA's current calculation on the costs of carbon pollution. There are also broad directives reversing an Obama initiative requiring that federal departments consider climate mitigation strategy and the national security risks of global warming.

One of Trump's more notable "Day One" promises is missing, however: The United States will remain in the landmark Paris climate accord for the time being—despite Trump's pledge to "cancel" it.

Still, environmentalists are furious. "This is not just dangerous; it's embarrassing to us and our businesses on a global scale to be dismissing opportunities for new technologies, economic growth, and US leadership," Obama EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) called Trump's actions "a declaration of war on American leadership on climate change and our clean energy future" in his own statement.

Indeed, Tuesday's actions are just the start of a long fight over the federal government's role in confronting climate change. Undoing the regulations already on the books, from the Clean Power Plan to the methane rule, could take several years. And Trump will face fierce resistance throughout the protracted fight. Green groups are already threatening legal action.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and Trump himself have all stuck to a similar script while previewing the order. They insist it will create jobs and help the United States achieve energy independence (although the US wasn't "energy independent" before the Obama rules existed). At a recent Kentucky rally, Trump claimed the executive order would "save our coal industry." (It won't.)

On a press call Monday night, a senior White House official also stuck to that script. That is, until reporters asked him whether administration staffers who worked on the order accepted the science behind global warming and sea level rise—and the research showing that climate change makes extreme weather worse.

"I would like to see" that research, said the official, who spoke on background to reporters. "Send it to me."

Asked whether the president and his staff all believe in manmade climate change, the official stumbled, "Um…again I think it's not a controversial statement. The key question is the extent over what frame of time." Asked whether the official personally believed climate change is manmade, he said, "Yeah, sure I do. That doesn't say much does it?"

It actually says a lot. Trump and Pruitt have both at times dismissed climate science—Trump infamously called it a Chinese hoax. Environmental lawyers think these pronouncements could strengthen their lawsuits. "It is possible that statements of that sort will come back to haunt them," Richard Revesz, a New York University environmental law professor, said. "It would suggest they prejudge the science before consulting with scientists. There is a pretty high burden for departing from an existing rule."

Here's the rundown of some of what Trump's executive actions will do:

Gutting the Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan was the Obama EPA's strategy for reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants 32 percent by 2030. Under this rule, states would have to submit plans to achieve customized emissions targets using a mix of renewables, natural gas, and energy efficiency. The Supreme Court put the rule on hold last year as attempts to block it wind their way through the court system, so the EPA's work on the program has ground to a halt.

Trump's order directs the EPA to revise the plan and review what it thinks is required under the Clean Air Act, which forms the basis for the power plant regulations. The moves will require an extensive public notice and comment period to justify any changes, and the administration has yet to make a timetable public.

Trump is instructing the EPA to revise the rule (and weaken it substantially)—rather than rescind it entirely—presumably because the Supreme Court told the agency in 2007 it must regulate carbon pollution if it finds carbon to be a threat to human health. The agency issued this so-called "endangerment finding" in 2009, and it was upheld in a 2012 appeals court case. As long as the EPA's finding that climate change poses a health danger remains in effect, the EPA is legally required to issue regulations based on the "best available science." While revoking the endangerment finding has long been a goal of some on the right, it would be a difficult feat that would likely involve convincing the courts that climate change is, as Trump contends, a hoax.

Adding more complication still, the DC federal court of appeals has yet to issue its opinion on the legality of the Clean Power Plan, after hearing the case on an expedited schedule last fall. As expected, Trump is now asking the Department of Justice to withdraw its defense of the plan.

Ignoring the Cost of Carbon

In 2007, a federal appellate court ruled that when performing a cost-benefit analysis on its fuel efficiency standards, the Bush administration had to account for the costs that carbon emissions inflict on society by contributing global warming and other problems. The court recognized that "while the record shows that there is a range of values [for the social cost of carbon], the value of carbon emissions reduction is certainly not zero.”

Of course, translating the impacts of carbon emissions and climate change into an economic "cost" that can be measured in dollars is a complicated undertaking. Obama's EPA ultimately worked out a formula for tabulating these costs and used it as a basis for its climate regulations.

Trump's order directs the EPA to ignore this calculation.

Ending the Moratorium on Coal Leases on Public land

In January 2016, Obama ordered a moratorium on new coal leases on public lands until Interior could update its badly outdated leasing program. Trump is now directing the department to reverse that moratorium. Unlike the Clean Power Plan, which was a formal rule that can only be undone through a drawn-out process, Interior can act on this directive immediately.

When that happens, environmental groups are ready to fight back. Earthjustice expects this to be the first in a long series of legal battles over Tuesday's order. The group says it plans to file a lawsuit within hours of the agency's action.

"We expect to challenge any action that allows coal leasing to resume before [an] environmental review is completed that evaluates whether the federal coal leasing program should be reformed (or scrapped altogether) in light of its significant climate impacts and failure to generate a fair return for US taxpayers," Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine said.

Rolling Back Methane Restrictions

The Obama administration finalized a series of regulations toward the end of his presidency limiting methane emissions. Among them was an Interior rule limiting excessive flaring and venting from oil and gas operations on public lands. Like the Clean Power Plan, this change will have to go through a formal rulemaking process in order for Trump to undo it. Trump will also rescind Obama's broad strategy, released in 2014, for reducing methane emissions.

Trump’s latest executive order guts Obama-era environmental protections

VICE News - March 27, 2017 - 9:59pm

With the swoop of a pen, President Donald Trump is set to dismantle what Barack Obama once hoped would be one of his administration’s defining legacies: aggressive environmental protection.

Trump will sign a sweeping executive order Tuesday that will require the Environmental Protection Agency to review the Clean Power Plan, a crucial Obama initiative that aimed to cut power plants’ pollution, a senior White House official said Monday. The order will also rescind several Obama-era environmental protections, such as a moratorium on leases for mining coal from federal land and the requirement that federal officials consider the “social cost of carbon” emissions when making decisions.

The goal of the order, the White House official said, was to further domestic energy production, protect jobs, and ensure that the EPA sticks to what the Trump administration believes to be its core mission: protecting clean air and water. It will serve as a blueprint for the Trump administration’s energy and environmental policies.

For the Trump administration, the Clean Power Plan goes beyond the EPA’s mission and puts American jobs at risk. Intended to reduce emission levels more than 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, the plan never actually took effect — thanks to a lawsuit brought in part by the now-EPA chief Scott Pruitt, the Supreme Court halted it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard arguments on the lawsuit back in November, but its judges have yet to issue an opinion.

But this order doesn’t mean that lawsuit is over, since the Clean Power Plan isn’t going to disappear overnight.

“For any [revision] of the Clean Power Plan, we would also expect a lengthy process by which the public has an opportunity to comment,” said Sanne Knudsen, an environmental law professor at the University of Washington. (The original Clean Power Plan received over 4 million comments.) “Those processes can take a few years… And then at the end of the process, we would expect to see judicial review and litigation.”

If the Trump administration instructs the Department of Justice to stop defending the Clean Power Plan in court, Sanne said, there are a number of states and environmental groups that could step up to maintain the legal battle. The White House is prepared for that possibility, the official said.

A drawn-out legal war seems all but certain, since many environmental groups are already protesting the executive order. “The safeguards Trump wants to shred — like the Clean Power Plan — are on a strong legal footing and the public will have the chance to voice its objections as the Trump administration tries to roll them back,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement.

States may also take steps on their own to improve their carbon emissions. Even without the Clean Power Plan, an Environmental Defense Fund analysis found that 18 states are already on track to hit the plan’s 2030 emissions reduction targets.

The order will also require a review of Bureau of Land Management regulations that limit hydraulic fracking on public lands.

Other parts of the order, such as ending the coal-leasing moratorium, will be easier to enact. Usually, executive orders, presidential memorandum, or administration directives don’t need to be reviewed — Trump can just rescind them immediately.

Many of the executive order’s directives will help Trump keep his campaign promise to bring coal industry jobs back, the White House official said. Thanks to cheaper natural gas and renewable energy sources, coal-fired plants shuttered across the country.

The order won’t address the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord, which saw 195 countries pledge to decrease climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the senior White House official. Though Trump campaigned on the promise that he would “cancel” the Paris agreement — and Pruitt called it “just a bad deal” on Sunday — the official said that the administration is still discussing what to do about it.

Yet if the EPA ends up rewriting or rescinding the Clean Power Plan, it may not matter. Even if the United States stays in the Paris agreement in name, ending the plan would effectively gut the country’s ability to meet its Paris pledge.


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