Category Archives: Landmark

5 Things We’ve Learned About Neil Gorsuch So Far

Mother Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Things We’ve Learned About Neil Gorsuch So Far

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In Fox’s New Police Shooting Drama, Even the Extras Cry

Mother Jones

Shots Fired—a 10-part drama series that premieres on Fox on March 22—is a gripping examination of police violence and racial injustice in America. The show stars Stephen James (Race, Selma) and Sanaa Lathan (Love and Basketball, Alien vs. Predator) as Department of Justice officials called by the governor into a fictional North Carolina town to look into the fatal shooting of a young white man by a black sheriff’s deputy. The conflict escalates when the pair learn of another killing—of a black teen whose mother was warned by sheriff’s deputies to keep quiet—that has gone all but unnoticed by the town’s white residents. As the dual investigations unfold, the show offers sharp commentary on the human toll of violence and the role of race in the criminal justice system.

The series was created, written, and directed by husband-and-wife duo Reggie Bythewood (who most recently directed the TV series Gun Hill) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (director of Love and Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees). I caught up with Reggie earlier this week to talk about who inspired the show and what will happen to police accountability under the Trump administration. Watch the trailer, and then we’ll talk.

Mother Jones: Okay, this seems obvious, but I’ll ask anyway. What made you want to do a show about police shootings?

Reggie Bythewood: We have two boys. In July 2013, as the George Zimmerman verdict was being announced on TV, I sat down with my oldest son, then 12 years old. He got emotional when the verdict came back not guilty. Instead of hugging and consoling him, I pulled up an Emmett Till documentary on YouTube and made him watch it. Then I talked to him about the criminal justice system and how in many cases it doesn’t work.

It was the first real man-to-man talk we had. It was also the first time Gina and I felt like we wanted to be a part of the conversation. Not just as parents and black people, but as artists. We had been thinking about making a movie since then. But after Ferguson, Fox approached us about doing a series. We jumped at the idea, because a movie would have been a 90-minute version of the story instead of the 10-hour series we created.

MJ: One of the two shootings investigated on the show involves a white victim and a black cop. Usually we see the opposite. Why did you flip it?

RB: I want to stress that Shots Fired is not about a black cop who kills a white kid. It’s about the shooting of an unarmed white guy and an unarmed black guy. We wanted to create a narrative where we could look at both cases. But to answer your question, there were a lot of people who never saw Trayvon Martin as a kid. He was painted as the victimizer. And Zimmerman got donations from all over the country. So in doing a show that deals with police violence, the question was how do we make those people who sent in the donations see this kid as a human being? One of the things we came up with was to just make one victim white.

MJ: In Jesse’s case—he’s the white kid who is killed—you have these themes of grief and injustice projected onto a white family that are more familiar to a black audience. Then you have a black cop whose life is thrown into disarray—a notion that might resonate more with people who empathize with the police—and that idea is projected onto a black family. That seems instructive for people on both sides of the fence.

Reggie Bythewood created, wrote, and directed Shots Fired along with and Gina Prince-Bythewood. Courtesy Fox

RB: We wanted to let people understand what a mother feels when her son is killed and is painted as the victimizer. We also wanted every character to be three-dimensional and human. Some people are coming into it seeing things from the cop’s point of view who would not ordinarily think that way, but that’s an unintended consequence of the way we approached our primary goal.

MJ: Your research process has been grueling. Tell me about it.

RB: Our writers read articles. We watched the Jordan Davis documentary and several others. We had a two-hour Skype meeting with former Attorney General Eric Holder. We spoke with Ray Kelly, the former police commissioner of New York. He’s a proponent of stop-and-frisk—I’m not. But if you really want to do a good job, you can’t just talk to people who share your point of view. We spoke with Michelle Alexander author of The New Jim Crow, and we read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. We talked to people who have been victims of police misconduct. We talked to black cops and white cops. One of our staff writers, J. David Shanks, a black guy, was a police officer in Chicago for six years. One of the people whose words really resonated with us was Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant.

MJ: What did she say?

RB: She came to the writers’ room and talked to us about what it’s like as a mother to see your child become a symbol—of civil rights for some, and of anti-law-enforcement, of hate, for others—and watch people lose sight of the fact that this is a human being. So part of our goal was to make the victims—all the characters, really—human, and to make people empathize.

MJ: The DOJ launched investigations into two police shootings while you were filming last summer—Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Did that affect production at all?

RB: It was emotional on set when these incidents happened. There was a day when we had a prayer circle because it was hard to continue with the subject matter. It was amazing to see the extras crying on set. But those shootings reminded us that we had a cause. Yes, we’re artists. Yes, we’re doing a TV show to entertain. But this is all for real.

MJ: Now we have an attorney general—Jeff Sessions—who indicates that the Department of Justice will pull back on investigating police abuses. Yet your main characters are DOJ people doing exactly that.

RB: We assumed Hillary Clinton would be the next president and that there wouldn’t be a drastic shift at the Department of Justice. But I think the show is more relevant now in a way that we didn’t expect, because it highlights the importance of having a DOJ that listens to the people it serves, the urgency of these cases, and the need to have a responsive DOJ. I hope we expand that conversation.

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In Fox’s New Police Shooting Drama, Even the Extras Cry

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The Crazy Theory About Smog That’s Gaining Ground in the White House

Mother Jones

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

It was known as the Great Pea Soup. In 1952, a thick, greenish-yellow fog smothered London, halting traffic and daily life. At the time, when households burned cheap coal for heat, factories spewed unregulated smoke, and buses burned diesel fuel, Londoners were used to a certain degree of greasy haze. But the Great Smog or Big Smoke, as this 1952 pea-souper was also known, was unprecedented. Bitterly cold air “soaked up the pollution and held it like a blanket over the city” for four days straight, according to the Daily Mail. Twelve thousand people died.

Sixty-five years later, our scientific understanding of air pollution has advanced immeasurably. We now know—because of events like the Great Pea Soup, but also a groundbreaking 1993 Harvard University study of smog-ridden U.S. cities and countless research papers since then—that short-term and long-term exposure to air pollution can kill people, particularly those with pre-existing conditions. “The evidence is so large,” said C. Arden Pope, a professor at Brigham Young University world-renowned researcher of air pollution’s impacts on human health. “There are very few people conducting this research and publishing it in the peer-reviewed literature who don’t think fine particles pollution can lead to death.”

There are, indeed, very few people who believe air pollution—specifically “fine particulate” pollution, or PM2.5—doesn’t cause death. Those who do, however, are getting louder and gaining influence in conservative political circles and inside President Donald Trump’s administration. These air-pollution deniers have just one hope: the repeal of clean-air regulations that have long protected Americans’ health.

At last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), during a little-noticed panel on climate change and environmental regulation, air pollution denial was rampant and went unchallenged. Steve Milloy, formerly a paid flack for the tobacco and fossil fuel industries and member of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team, argued that excessive air pollution is not linked to premature death. “My particular interest is air pollution,” Milloy said, alleging that EPA’s scientists are inherently biased. “These people validate and rubber-stamp the EPA’s conclusion that air pollution kills people.” Milloy also said, baselessly, that EPA scientists are “paying for the science it wants,” and that Trump must change the research process at the agency.

It is extensively proven, and widely accepted, that air pollution can harm humans, which is why the government regulates it. PM2.5 refers to tiny particles that are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter—small enough to penetrate deep into the circulatory system and potentially infiltrate the central nervous system. The particles range in composition, originating anywhere from cement dust to tobacco smoke to pollen. They are currently regulated under the Clean Air Act, a widely popular law passed in 1963 that has seen major amendments receiving unanimous or overwhelming support in the Senate. The CAA currently requires Congress to set what’s known as National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter.

Even Breitbart, the alt-right media organization with close ties to Trump, seems to accept that air pollution is bad for human health. It has published dozens of articles over the years—many from wire services, but some from its own contributors—that report, without opinion, about studies on the issue. “The chronic problem of pollution in China has been linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths,” Thomas D. Williams, Breitbart‘s Rome bureau chief, wrote in 2015. “The fine particles are believed to play a role in cardiovascular disease, lung problems, cancer, and emphysema.” Earlier this month, Breitbart senior editor-at-large Joel B. Pollack reported, “Air quality in some East Asian capitals is famously poor, with residents of Beijing taking extreme measures to avoid the health risks associated with heavy pollution.”

But Breitbart has also provided a platform for those leading the charge for air pollution denial. Last year, it published a column by Milloy titled, “How stupid is air pollution ‘science’?” And earlier this month, Breitbart columnist James Delingpole—who usually sticks to columns attacking climate science—joined the fray. In an article declaring that “The EPA’s Air Pollution Scare Is Just Another Fake News Myth,” Delingpole took issue with the most recent State of Global Air report, which found that air pollution contributed to 4.2 million deaths in 2015, because the study was partly funded by the EPA—while conveniently ignoring that it was also funded by 23 car companies and Exxon Mobil. Delingpole cited Milloy exclusively and extensively, linking to Milloy’s “fact sheet” on air pollution.

“Frankly, it’s full of stuff and nonsense,” said Janice Nolen, the assistant vice president of national policy at the American Lung Association, referring to Milloy’s fact sheet. “Particle pollution is one of the most researched topics in the scientific world, and has been reviewed extensively.”

There are pages of false claims in Milloy’s sheet, but a few are particularly egregious. He argues that two renowned air pollution studies that established the basic connection between PM2.5 and death—the aforementioned Harvard study and one by Pope, the BYU professor—have controversial methodologies that cannot be resolved because scientists refuse to make the raw data available. “For results to be considered to be scientifically credible, they must be capable of being independently replicated,” Milloy writes. This claim is the basis of a Republican-led bill currently being pushed through the House of Representatives.

There are several problems with this line of argument. The raw data Milloy seeks is private medical information on human subjects who were assured confidentiality when they participated in these studies. “There’s this issue if this data becomes public, will anyone be able to go and knock on these people’s doors?” said Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou, an environmental health professor at Columbia University. Long-term health data is also difficult to reproduce because the people who participated in the study have grown up; many likely have died. This is why, scientists say, many public health studies simply can’t be replicated. (The Harvard study, however, was successfully replicated in 2001 by the Health Effects Institute, which is funded by EPA, the motor vehicle industry, and the oil and gas industry. A similar reanalysis was published in 2005.)

Milloy and Delingpole also claim that “not one single” epidemiological or toxicological study has ever shown that particulate pollution directly caused a death, either in the short term or due to prolonged exposure. Kioumourtzoglou says this is a fundamental misunderstanding of how scientists classify cause of death. When people die, they are given an International Classification of Diseases (ICD) code to signify what happened, and there is no ICD code for pollution. “If you died of a heart attack, you get the ICD code for a heart attack,” she said. “If exposure to PM2.5 has caused a heart attack, on your death certificate, it would still say heart attack, not PM2.5.”

Pope, whose study was one of the first to establish the connection between short-term exposure to fine particulate matter and death, also said Milloy’s claim misunderstands the type of person who dies from exposure. A perfectly healthy person is not going to croak from a short jog through haze. But people who are already unhealthy—who have asthma, or cardiovascular or heart disease—should be worried. “We often refer to it as triggering,” Pope said. “Particulates will trigger these acute events, such as heart attack.”

This is not to say that the research on this subject is flawless. Kioumourtzoglou, unlike Milloy, has lead and published studies on problems with the scientific methods surrounding the impact of particulate matter pollution on human health. Scientists cannot strap pollution monitors onto humans and follow them around for years at a time, so sometimes they rely on models that predict air pollution concentrations at certain locations and times. “We have to rely on less than perfect measurements,” she said. “And these are known to induce error.”

The error, however, is exactly the opposite of what Milloy claims. Kioumourtzoglou’s research has found that current air pollution measuring methods tend to understate the effects of air pollution. “In reality,” she said, “the effects are even worse than documented.”

The good news is, Milloy and Delingpole remain outliers in a sea of evidence. As ThinkProgress pointed out last month, “The Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institutes of Health, the American Lung Association, and the United Nations all link air pollution to increased risk of asthma, heart disease, and stroke. In 2013, the WHO even concluded that air pollution could be categorized as a human carcinogen.” Even Breitbart, as indicated above, has published uncritical articles about these organizations’ findings.

The bad news is, we already know that outliers can have disproportionate impact on policy. Just look at the debate surrounding climate change. Despite near-consensus in the scientific community, one third of Congress are climate change deniers, as are Trump and his new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt. What’s more, they’re using their fact-free ideology to dismantle policies that slow climate change. Trump is expected to issue an executive order this week undoing the Clean Power Plan, which regulates carbon emissions from fossil fuel plants. He is also considering withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, the landmark international accord to stop global warming.

Milloy and Delingpole surely would like air-pollution deniers to have a similar impact on national policy. Given Milloy’s closeness to Trump’s inner circle, and Breitbart‘s growing influence on the White House, and it doesn’t seem so far-fetched. But even if that doesn’t come to pass, these deniers have already succeeded in shaping—or rather, creating—a debate that no politician or scientist should rightly entertain. And that debate is now a public reality. Milloy’s “fact sheet,” for instance, is the first result in a Google search of “PM 2.5 science.” A legitimate scientific article is second.

Google screenshot

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The Crazy Theory About Smog That’s Gaining Ground in the White House

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Trump’s “skinny budget” may slash EPA funding even more than previously reported.

A self-described “anonymous environmental activist collective” spelled out “NO MORE TIGERS, NO MORE WOODS” in six-foot-high letters at the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

“It’s a protest piece against Trump’s administration’s handling of our environmental policies,” one of the activists told a local ABC affiliate, using a voice disguiser. “He’s been very aggressive in gutting a lot of the policies that we’ve had in place for a very long time. We felt it necessary to stand up and go take action against him.”

Plus the activists don’t like golf courses. “Tearing up the golf course felt justified in many ways,” one activist told the Washington Post. “Repurposing what was once a beautiful stretch of land into a playground for the privileged is an environmental crime in its own right.”

The Washington Post article originally called the action a “daring act of defiance.” Though accurate, the description irritated Eric Trump, the president’s second-oldest son:

The Post then changed its story to say the group “pulled off an elaborate act of vandalism.”

No comment from Tiger Woods, who has golfed with Donald Trump and said he plays pretty well for an old guy.

Originally posted here: 

Trump’s “skinny budget” may slash EPA funding even more than previously reported.

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For the first time ever, people have eaten chicken without killing a chicken.

A self-described “anonymous environmental activist collective” spelled out “NO MORE TIGERS, NO MORE WOODS” in six-foot-high letters at the Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

“It’s a protest piece against Trump’s administration’s handling of our environmental policies,” one of the activists told a local ABC affiliate, using a voice disguiser. “He’s been very aggressive in gutting a lot of the policies that we’ve had in place for a very long time. We felt it necessary to stand up and go take action against him.”

Plus the activists don’t like golf courses. “Tearing up the golf course felt justified in many ways,” one activist told the Washington Post. “Repurposing what was once a beautiful stretch of land into a playground for the privileged is an environmental crime in its own right.”

The Washington Post article originally called the action a “daring act of defiance.” Though accurate, the description irritated Eric Trump, the president’s second-oldest son:

The Post then changed its story to say the group “pulled off an elaborate act of vandalism.”

No comment from Tiger Woods, who has golfed with Donald Trump and said he plays pretty well for an old guy.

Original post: 

For the first time ever, people have eaten chicken without killing a chicken.

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