Category Archives: Radius

Revisiting the Rodney King Verdict 25 Years Later

Mother Jones

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On April 29, 1992, Los Angeles was engulfed in flames after a jury acquitted four LAPD officers who had been charged in the beating of Rodney King, an African-American motorist. Videos and images of King’s brutalization were widely circulated, provoking an immediate call for justice. When that call went unheeded, the ensuing unrest ignited a wave of violence, death, and financial loss in America’s second-largest city. Fifty-four people were killed in the riots, nearly 12,000 were arrested, and the city incurred more than $1 billion in damages. (The following year, two of the officers were convicted in federal court of violating King’s civil rights; the other two were acquitted once again.)

The parallels between modern-day police brutality and the 1991 King beating serve as a grim reminder of how little has changed today, despite efforts to reform law enforcement. Here are four documentaries and television specials that offer a window into the enduring legacy of the King verdict:

  1. LA Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later
    Despite being a retrospective, A&E’s special does not allow readers to retreat from the present-day, unfurling images of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin at the start of the two-hour film. LA Burning spins through first-person recollections from a week of dark, incendiary nights in Los Angeles. The grievances and discontent of rioters are visible onscreen, and notable interviewees include George Holliday, the photographer whose video of King’s beating went viral in the pre-Internet age. The special is available to stream on A&E’s website.
  2. LA 92
    At a midnight speech in Sacramento, California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) declares a state of emergency in LA: “This is a matter that needs to be settled in the courts and not in the streets,” he tells residents. Using archival footage, LA 92 is National Geographic Channel’s reconstructed glimpse into the turbulence roiling the city during the riots. We shuttle from images of the California National Guard on standby duty to moments of quiet calm at the First AME Church, where African-American city council member Rita Walters tells crowds, “Tonight we must tell our children one more time: Stay cool, be calm…that for African-American children and adults, freedom is not yet a reality in the United States.” The film premieres on Sunday, April 30, on National Geographic.
  3. The Lost Tapes: LA Riots
    As conflagrations spread across Los Angeles, first responders, dispatchers, and law enforcement agents scrambled to ensure the city did not fully descend into flames. Their voices are among those highlighted in this program from the Smithsonian Channel, which stitches together raw footage and homemade videos capturing the riots at the height of their intensity—some of it rarely-seen footage. “I can smell the fires,” one resident phones into a local radio station. “I’m really angry, and I’m really very scared. I just spent the last 10 years of my life in college. But it doesn’t really matter because even with a briefcase in my hand and suit on my back, I’m still just another nigger to the cops out there.” The episode is available online.
  4. Burn Motherf*cker, Burn!
    Showtime’s 99-minute documentary evaluates the events preceding the King beating, outlining the LAPD’s long history of systematic racism. The Sacha Jenkins film revisits the 1965 Watts riots, which were sparked by the arrest of African-American driver Marquette Frye. The six-day rebellion that followed in this largely African-American LA neighborhood killed 34 people and led to approximately 4,000 arrests. It was the costliest urban riot of its period, and it served as a precursor to the 1992 riots. The documentary also examines California’s Simi Valley, the predominantly white community to which the King trial was moved after fears of media saturation led to a venue change. No black citizens served on the Simi Valley jury that acquitted the officers. The full film is available on Showtime’s website.

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Revisiting the Rodney King Verdict 25 Years Later

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You’ve Probably Forgotten Half the Terrible Things Donald Trump Has Already Done to Our Planet

Mother Jones

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It’s been an eventful 100 days.

Since taking office, Donald Trump has done his best to fulfill his campaign promise to roll back environmental regulations and liberate business from what he insists are job-killing, growth-impeding, unnecessary constraints. During a Republican primary debate in Michigan, he articulated his vision for the Environmental Protection Agency this way: “Department of Environmental Protection. We are going to get rid of it in almost every form. We’re going to have little tidbits left, but we’re going to take a tremendous amount out.”

So now at the 100-day mark, if not mission accomplished, he has certainly gone a long way towards fulfilling that dream.

Since 2009, Climate Desk, a collaboration among 14 news organizations—Mother Jones, CityLab, Wired, Slate, Reveal, The Atlantic, the Guardian, Grist, HuffPost, Fusion, Medium, the New Republic, Newsweek and High Country News—has tried to fill a void in climate coverage and explore climate change in all its complexity. And while the previous seven years have certainly had their fill of complexity, the Trump administration, with its the potential to unravel hard-won climate agreements and undo a generation or environmental protections, poses even greater challenges for journalism. Or, to borrow a line from Trump, this is more work than our previous life.

To mark the first 100 days of the Trump era, Climate Desk partners have put together a series of stories examining what’s changed so far. In New Republic, Emily Atkin writes that Trump has already “done lasting damage to the planet” by issuing executive orders, initiating regulatory rollbacks, and approving oil pipelines. This article by Jonathan Thompson of High Country News looks at Secretary of Energy Rick Perry’s efforts to protect the coal industry as it faces increased competition from natural gas, wind, and solar power. In a memo earlier this month, Perry warned that “regulatory burdens” were endangering the nation’s electricity supply. “Judging by Perry’s memo, and by much of the Trump administration’s rhetoric and actions during the first 100 days, they yearn for a time when such memos were pounded out on manual typewriters,” writes Thompson.

Karen Hao in Mother Jones gives us a historical perspective on the EPA, returning to a very different 100-day mark: the first 100 days of the agency’s existence. In a look at what the Trump administration has done to the Office of Environmental Justice, created during the George H.W. Bush administration, Nathalie Baptiste explores what has happened to a program which defined its mission as reducing the disproportionate impacts environmental problems have on minority, low-income, and indigenous people. And Rebecca Leber examines how Trump’s assault on environmental regulations could be considered one of the greatest successes of his administration—at least according to his standards.

But before exploring some of these stories, take a look at a brief but revealing timeline of some of the highlights of the assault on the environment during the first 100 days of the Trump administration:

Jan. 20: Within moments of Trump’s inauguration, nearly all references to climate change disappear from the White House official website. While there’s nothing unusual about a new administration changing the website, the new language is telling. “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the US rule,” reads the new site’s only reference to climate change. “Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.”

Jan. 23: The EPA receives a gag order on external communication, including press releases, blog posts, social media and content on the agency website. A former Obama administration EPA official describes the action as “extreme and very troubling.”

Jan. 24: Within days of becoming president, Trump signs an Executive Order that reversing environmentalists’ hard-won efforts to block the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. On the same day, Trump meets with three Detroit auto industry executives and promises big regulatory rollbacks.

Jan. 25: The Trump administration reportedly mandates that all EPA studies and data be reviewed by political staffers before being released to the public. These restrictions far exceed the practices of past administrations, according to former EPA staffers.

Feb. 7: The House Science Committee, led by climate denier Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), holds a hearing titled “Making EPA Great Again.” Smith attacks the agency, accusing it of pursuing a political agenda and using questionable science to burden Americans with regulation.

Feb. 17: Scott Pruitt, Trump’s controversial EPA pick, is confirmed by the Senate. In his former career as attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times.

Feb. 28: Trump signs another executive order to dismantle the Waters of the US rule, a controversial Obama-era policy intended to protect waterways and wetlands from pollution.

Mar. 9: In a television appearance, Pruitt dismisses the basic scientific understanding that carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of climate change. He then questions the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions. His comments are condemned by scientists, environmental activists, and Obama EPA administrator Gina McCarthy. That same day, the head of EPA’s Office on Environmental Justice, Mustafa Ali, resigns from his post after a 24-year career, saying he had “not heard of anything that was being proposed that was beneficial to the communities we serve.” He adds, “That is something that I could not be a part of.”

Mar. 16: Trump proposes slashing the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, as well as cutting spending on climate change programs across the State Department, NOAA, NASA, and the Interior Department. “We’re not spending money on that anymore,” says White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney during a press briefing.

Mar. 27: In his most significant environmental order yet, Trump begins begins the process of gutting Obama’s landmark Clean Power Plan and other Obama-era climate policies.

Apr. 26: Trump signs another executive order, this time in an attempt revoke national monuments created by Obama and Clinton. It’s uncertain whether this is even legal.

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You’ve Probably Forgotten Half the Terrible Things Donald Trump Has Already Done to Our Planet

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Donald Trump’s First 100 Days Have Been an Incredible Success…For Climate Change Deniers

Mother Jones

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Environmentalists were braced for President Donald Trump’s first 100 days. They expected the executive orders. They expected Congress to pass a flurry of bills rolling back agency regulations. But even the most seasoned veterans of green wars didn’t quite anticipate the scale and scope of Trump’s all-out attack on the environment.

Now, activists like Erich Pica, Friends of the Earth president with 20 years of experience in the environmental movement, use the word “unprecedented,” a lot.

Yet the sheer sweep and effectiveness of Trump’s achievements in undermining decades of progress in this issue has sometimes been obscured by the frenzied news cycles of the last 100 days, with a failed Affordable Care Act repeal, a confirmed Supreme Court nominee, the thwarted Muslim travel ban, his Russia scandal, and more.

“He’s done so many things simultaneously that I don’t think the environmental story has been adequately told,” Pica says. “I don’t think there’s been that one moment yet where a lot of people were impacted at one time.” But “collectively, he’s in the process of perpetuating one of the most devastating attacks on our environmental laws.”

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to ax any and all environmental regulation. “These ridiculous rules and regulations that make it impossible for you to compete,” he said to a crowd of coal miners in 2016, “so we’re going to take all that off the table, folks.”

Coal miners aren’t getting their jobs back, and Trump can’t change the types of fuels we rely on, which are driven by more complex economics than what the president controls. Even the things he could conceivably get done, like weakening climate change regulation, will take years of agency work, not to mention potentially protracted litigation.

Given his strident anti-environmental agenda, this has been the real so-called success story of Trump’s first 100 days: He’s still managed to deliver on his pledge to remake federal environmental policy and, in the process, will inflict long-term damage.

First and most obviously, there is his cabinet, which includes the former CEO of ExxonMobil as the Secretary of State, a pro-oil Texan in charge of the Department of Energy, and the anti-EPA lawyer now in charge of the agency he frequently sued. Trump has been slow to put forward any names for candidates to fill the many empty slots at these agencies. Many of the new appointments have already clashed with agency career staff, but nowhere has the animosity been more apparent than at the EPA, where the staff have described an atmosphere of confusion, secrecy, and distrust of administrator Scott Pruitt, which has stifled their work.

“I have worked under six Administrations with political appointees leading EPA from both parties,” a Seattle EPA worker Michael Cox wrote in his resignation letter addressed to Pruitt. “This is the first time I remember staff openly dismissing and mocking the environmental policies of an Administration and by extension you, the individual selected to implement the policies. The message we are hearing is that this Administration is working to dismantle EPA and its staff as quickly as possible.”

Retirements, buyouts, and the loss of prospective talent are not changes that can be easily undone by future administrations.

Mustafa Ali, the longtime head of the EPA’s Environmental Justice office, left the agency in March because Pruitt’s priorities did not include promoting environmental protection through the lens of combating racism and discrimination. In Trump’s budget, there is no funding for an Environmental Justice office. Even with Trump’s budget likely dead on arrival in Congress, the EPA can shift resources or stifle work in offices such as this one, along with climate adaptation efforts all across the government. Pruitt already has closed the EPA’s climate adaptation office.

Add to this the damage from legislation. Through the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn regulations by a simple majority, Republicans have rolled back a series of Obama-era regulations. Once overturned, the law stipulates that the replacement regulation cannot be substantially similar, which means the agency is permanently handicapped in how it approaches future rulemaking. Trump signed one bill that overturned a rule limiting coal debris in streams, and another that forced oil companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments. One of the obscure CRA bills that received little attention prevents the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management from updating its rule that outlines how the department collects input from the community on uses for federal lands. Efforts to overturn Interior’s rule limiting methane on public lands have fallen short of votes in the Senate and have stalled, but public lands remain vulnerable.

Then there are the executive orders, which range from wishful proclamations that are being challenged in court (such as Trump’s attempt to roll back two regulations for every one regulation put forward) to wide-ranging attempts to reshape the government’s mission. He’s directed agencies to draw up a list of climate regulations he could repeal across the government, for instance, and declare that climate change is no longer a national security threat despite statements to the contrary by his Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Trump’s executive orders sends a clear message that resonates in policy: Climate change has no place in this administration. Nada Culver, BLM action director of The Wilderness Society, says, “What we could see in a year is that some of this filters down to concrete guidance” on using public lands to prioritize fossil fuels in its leasing decisions and planning.

The GOP’s attacks on science are just getting started, with bills moving through Congress to hamper the types of research the EPA can use to justify its rulemaking. Internally, Trump can cut off the public’s access to scientists and their research by changing communications policies, as was done during the Bush administration.

This is just a glimpse of Trump’s deeds in his first 100 days. The EPA has seen the most dramatic shift in a short period of time, but his directives have already put pressure on the State Department, Interior, Energy, and even the Pentagon to ignore the risks of climate change, even though his cabinet isn’t in lockstep on the issue. On the world stage, Trump is ensuring confusion and chaos for the recent Paris climate change agreement, even if he caves on his promise to officially pull the U.S. out, a decision that keeps getting punted past Trump’s promised deadline on the campaign trail.

The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that is officially promoting a policy of climate change denial, and this is just what we’ve seen in his first few months. If the first 100 days are any sign, Trump is just getting started.

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Donald Trump’s First 100 Days Have Been an Incredible Success…For Climate Change Deniers

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Trump Names Anti-Abortion Activist to Top Health Care Job

Mother Jones

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Charmaine Yoest, the former president and CEO of anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, has been tapped to be the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, the White House announced on Friday.

Yoest, a long-time anti-abortion advocate, has helped orchestrate some of the anti-abortion movement’s most significant legislative victories. From 2008 to 2016, Yoest headed AUL, a small but mighty law firm whose goal is to end all abortion in the United States. Under her leadership, AUL helped spur a wave of anti-abortion restrictions around the country, writing model bills and distributing them to state legislatures. In 2011, for instance, 24 of 92 anti-abortion laws passed around the country originated with AUL. Before AUL, Yoest was the vice president for communications at the Family Research Council (another conservative group focused on abortion and family policy), worked on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign, and in the Reagan administration.

Read Mother Jones‘ 2012 profile of Americans United for Life.

In 2016, Yoest left AUL to be a senior fellow at American Values, a conservative group focused on “defending life” and traditional values. In 2012, Yoest said that she hopes to help create a “post-Roe nation” and touted the claim that abortion causes breast cancer, despite medical consensus to the contrary. Yoest has also questioned whether contraception access reduces the abortion rate, and told the New York Times that she opposes birth control and believes that IUDs “have life-ending properties.” Under her leadership, AUL did not take a position on birth control. Yoest explained why on PBS in 2011: “It’s really a red herring that the abortion lobby likes to bring up by conflating abortion and birth control.”

As a top communications staffer at HHS, Yoest will be instrumental in shaping the public persona of an agency that oversees a number of programs that enable reproductive healthcare, including contraception. These include Medicaid—which many low-income women use to obtain non-abortion services at Planned Parenthood—and the Title X family planning program, which offers grants to states to help subsidize the cost of non-abortion services such as contraception, cervical cancer screenings, STI testing, and other medical procedures for low-income men and women. Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress have sought to curtail both of these funding streams for reproductive healthcare. Bills to prohibit the use of Medicaid by patients at Planned Parenthood were introduced in both the House and the Senate and are still awaiting a vote. A bill allowing states to withhold Title X family planning funds from health care providers that offer abortion, like Planned Parenthood, was signed into law by Trump this month.

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Trump Names Anti-Abortion Activist to Top Health Care Job

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Arkansas Just Executed Its 4th Man in 8 Days—His Lawyers Said His Death Was “Horrifying”

Mother Jones

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Last night, Arkansas conducted the last of a series of executions in its rushed attempt to execute eight men in 11 days before its supply of midazolam, a controversial sedative that’s been behind several botched executions, expires at the end of the month. Kenneth Williams, a convicted murderer, was reportedly convulsing, jerking, lurching, and coughing for about 10 to 20 seconds after the officials administered the midazolam.

Kelly Kissel, a media witness, said he could hear Williams in the next room even after the microphone was turned off. J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, denied that the inmate had suffered and claimed that his movements were due to “involuntary muscular reaction.”

“There was no testimony that he was in pain,” he added. Davis was not in the execution chamber. Williams’ lawyers, however, are demanding an investigation; they described the execution as “horrifying.”

A series of legal setbacks halted four of the planned executions, but in the midst of public outcry, the state put four men to death in the span of eight days—three others have received stays, and one inmate received a stay after the parole board recommended clemency. Many of the men suffered from mental illnesses, were physically abused, and received substandard lawyering during their trials. Williams, who suffered physical abuse at the hands of his father was intellectually disabled and had an IQ of 70. At some point, doctors said he may have suffered brain damage. One expert noted, “His brain is not working the way it should.”

Williams escaped from prison in 1998, where he was serving time for the murder of Dominique Hurd. He first killed Cecil Boren and, during a police chase, he killed Michael Greenwood in a car crash. The family of Michael Greenwood, asked Gov. Hutchinson to spare his life. “I believe justice has already been served,” said Greenwood’s wife, Stacey Yaw. “He hasn’t been able to kill anyone else. Executing him is more of revenge.”

For his last meal, Williams asked to be served Holy Communion, and in his final statement, he apologized to the families of his victims he “senselessly wronged and deprived of their loved ones.”

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Arkansas Just Executed Its 4th Man in 8 Days—His Lawyers Said His Death Was “Horrifying”

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