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We broke down Trump’s baffling speech on the “solar wall.”

The nation’s largest privately owned coal company, Murray Energy, just filed a lawsuit against the Last Week Tonight host over the show’s recent segment. Oliver had criticized the company’s CEO, Robert Murray, for acting carelessly toward miners’ safety.

Murray Energy’s complaint stated that the segment was a “meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character and reputation” of Murray by broadcasting “false, injurious, and defamatory comments.”

Oliver shouldn’t be too concerned, according to Ken White, a First Amendment litigator at Los Angeles firm, who told the Daily Beast that the complaint was “frivolous and vexatious.”

The lawsuit is hardly a shocking development. Before the show aired, Oliver received a cease-and-desist letter from the company. He noted that Murray has a history of filing defamation suits against news outlets (most recently, the New York Times).

Oliver said in the episode, “I know that you are probably going to sue me, but you know what, I stand by everything I said.”

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We broke down Trump’s baffling speech on the “solar wall.”

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Just as John Oliver predicted, a coal tycoon is suing him.

The nation’s largest privately owned coal company, Murray Energy, just filed a lawsuit against the Last Week Tonight host over the show’s recent segment. Oliver had criticized the company’s CEO, Robert Murray, for acting carelessly toward miners’ safety.

Murray Energy’s complaint stated that the segment was a “meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character and reputation” of Murray by broadcasting “false, injurious, and defamatory comments.”

Oliver shouldn’t be too concerned, according to Ken White, a First Amendment litigator at Los Angeles firm, who told the Daily Beast that the complaint was “frivolous and vexatious.”

The lawsuit is hardly a shocking development. Before the show aired, Oliver received a cease-and-desist letter from the company. He noted that Murray has a history of filing defamation suits against news outlets (most recently, the New York Times).

Oliver said in the episode, “I know that you are probably going to sue me, but you know what, I stand by everything I said.”

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Just as John Oliver predicted, a coal tycoon is suing him.

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Housing Prices Are Booming in Southern California

Mother Jones

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From the LA Times today:

The median home price in Los Angeles County has reached the all-time high set in 2007, a milestone that follows five years of steady recovery but comes amid renewed concerns over housing affordability. Home prices rose nearly 6% in April from a year earlier, hitting the $550,000 level where the median plateaued in summer 2007 before a sharp decline that bottomed out in 2012.

….Orange County surpassed its pre-bust high last year, and in April set a new record of $675,000. San Diego County also exceeded its pre-bust peak for the first time last month, as the median price — the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less — climbed 7.4% to $525,000.

Inflation has risen 20 percent since 2007, so this means home prices in Southern California haven’t really set a record. They’re still 20 percent away from that. Here’s how CoreLogic scores the current housing market compared to its bubble peak:

So things look OK. Loan delinquencies are low, credit scores have remained high, and national housing prices are high but not stratospheric.

And yet…Southern California, Arizona, and Florida are all overvalued. That’s three out of the four states that led the bubble in 2006. Even Texas, which avoided the last bubble, is looking high. And anecdotally, homes are selling pretty fast around here.

This is the kind of thing that makes me think we might be back into a recession by 2018. The expansion is nine years old, unemployment is about as low as it can get, housing prices are increasing at a good clip, auto sales are anemic, and corporate profits are rising steeply. On the other side of the ledger, economic growth and wage growth are pretty modest, and there are no signs of an oil price spike around the corner.

I dunno. Things just feel a little fragile right now. But maybe I’m off base.

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Housing Prices Are Booming in Southern California

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LAPD Adopts New Policy: De-Escalate First, Shoot Later

Mother Jones

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This is from the LA Times yesterday:

The Los Angeles Police Commission voted Tuesday to require officers to try, whenever possible, to defuse tense encounters before firing their guns — a policy shift that marks a significant milestone in the board’s attempts to curb shootings by police.

Wait. This is new? This hasn’t always been LAPD policy? Apparently not, and apparently not much of anywhere else, either:

As criticism of policing flared across the country, particularly after deadly shootings by officers, law enforcement agencies looked to de-escalation as a way to help restore public trust. Like the LAPD, other departments have emphasized the approach in training and policies.

The Seattle Police Department requires officers to attempt de-escalation strategies, such as trying to calm someone down verbally or calling a mental health unit to the scene. Santa Monica police have similar rules in place, telling officers to try to “slow down, reduce the intensity or stabilize the situation” to minimize the need to use force.

….The focus on de-escalation represents a broader shift in law enforcement, said Samuel Walker, a retired criminal justice professor and expert in police accountability. Now, he said, there’s an understanding that officers can shape how an encounter plays out. “This is absolutely the right thing to do,” he added.

This is especially important in Los Angeles:

African Americans continue to represent a disproportionate number of the people shot at by officers. Nearly a third of the people shot at last year were black — a 7% increase from 2015. Black people make up about 9% of the city’s population but 40% of homicide victims and 43% of violent crime suspects, the report noted.

The LAPD also topped a list of big-city agencies with the highest number of deadly shootings by officers. Police in Los Angeles fatally shot more people than officers in Chicago, New York, Houston and Philadelphia did, the report said. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department came in second, with 15 deadly shootings.

Go ahead and call me naive, but I would have figured that de-escalation was standard protocol everywhere. Not always followed in practice, of course, but at least theoretically what cops are supposed to do. But apparently not. It sounds like it started to catch on after Ferguson, and is only now being adopted as official policy in a few places.

Better late than never, I suppose, but I wonder what’s stopping this from being universally adopted? What’s the downside?

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LAPD Adopts New Policy: De-Escalate First, Shoot Later

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The Trump administration is about to officially OK the Keystone XL pipeline.

Nanette Barragán is used to facing off against polluters. Elected in 2013 to the city council of Hermosa Beach, California, she took on E&B Natural Resources, an oil and gas company looking to drill wells on the beach. Barragán, an attorney before going into politics, learned of the potential project and began campaigning for residents to vote against it. The project was eventually squashed. In November, she won a congressional seat in California’s 44th district.

To Barragán, making sure President Trump’s environmental rollbacks don’t affect communities is a matter of life or death. The district she represents, the same in which she grew up, encompasses heavily polluted parts of Los Angeles County — areas crisscrossed with freeways and dotted with oil and gas wells. Barragan says she grew up close to a major highway and suffered from allergies. “I now go back and wonder if it was related to living that close,” she says.

Exide Technologies, a battery manufacturer that has polluted parts of southeast Los Angeles County with arsenic, lead, and other chemicals for years, sits just outside her district’s borders. Barragán’s district is also 69 percent Latino and 15 percent black. She has become acutely aware of the environmental injustices of the pollution plaguing the region. “People who are suffering are in communities of color,” she says.

Now in the nation’s capital, Barragán is chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s newly formed environmental task force and a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, which considers legislation on topics like energy and public lands and is chaired by climate denier Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican. She knows the next four years will be tough but says she’s up for the challenge. “I think it’s going to be, I hate to say it, a lot of defense.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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The Trump administration is about to officially OK the Keystone XL pipeline.

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Raw Data: Here’s What Violent Crime Really Looks Like Over the Past Decade

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump keeps saying that the murder rate is the highest it’s been in 45 years. This is wildly untrue, but other people are joining the bandwagon anyway. Jeff Sessions says the current rise in crime is a “dangerous permanent trend.” Talk show hosts agree. America is a dark and dangerous place, and it’s getting more dangerous all the time.

Aside from outright lies, a lot of this is based on cherry-picked statistics. The murder rate in Chicago has skyrocketed over the past three years. Los Angeles has seen a substantial rise in its violent crime rate. Etc. But if you’re interested in the whole picture, I have it for you below, complete and un-cherry-picked.

You’re all used to seeing long-term crime charts from me because I’m usually illustrating the effect of lead on crime over the past 50 or 60 years. Those charts show national crime rates plummeting in the 90s and early aughts. This time, though, the chatter is all about recent increases in murder and violent crime in big cities. For starters, then, here are the basic numbers for the past decade on violent crime in large cities from the National Crime Victimization Survey:1

The data goes through 2015,2 and shows that big-city violent crime did tick upward slightly in 2015. More generally, though, violent crime has displayed a noisy but steadily downward trend over the past decade. In 2015, violent crime in big cities was nearly a third lower than it was in 2007.

Next up is violent crime from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. This is based on reports from police departments, and includes detailed data at the city level. Here are violent crime rates in America’s ten biggest cities3 through the first half of 2016:4

Some big cities have indeed shown worrying upward trends: Chicago, San Antonio, and Los Angeles are all up over the past two or three years. At the same time, Philadelphia, New York City, and San Diego are all down. More generally, except for San Antonio every single one of these cities has a lower violent crime rate than in 2006, ranging from 4 percent down (San Jose) to 40 percent down (Dallas and Philadelphia). The overall violent crime rate for all big cities is up over the past two years, but still lower than it was in 2006.

Finally, here are the murder rates in our ten biggest cities:

Chicago, obviously, is a big outlier, with a high and rising murder rate (up 53 percent over the past two years). The three biggest cities in Texas have also seen big recent increases. Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York City are down compared to 2015.

You can draw different conclusions from this data depending on what you look at.5 However, this is the best data we have. This is reality. Whatever you decide to say about violent crime, it needs to be based on this.


1The NCVS data on violent crime doesn’t include homicide because, obviously, you can’t call up people and ask if they’ve been murdered in the past year. Generally speaking, however, violent crime as a category includes murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.

2Unlike the other charts in this post, this one starts in 2007 because the Bureau of Justice Statistics warns that a change in methodology in 2006 makes it difficult to compare 2006 to other years.

3Because of a dispute over methodology, Chicago has no official numbers for forcible rape before 2015. Because of this, it also has no official numbers for violent crime. However, it’s pretty easy to create a close estimate of the rape rate and then use that to recreate the violent crime rate. That’s what I’ve done here.

4I’ve annualized the rates for the first half of 2016 so they’re comparable to the other years.

5It’s worth mentioning that property crime is also down over the past decade. Ditto for crime in smaller cities and towns. I haven’t shown any of that here because big-city violent crime seems to be the topic of the moment. However, you might be interested in a little-known bit of crime trivia that will surprise most people: violent crime in big cities has fallen so much that it’s actually lower than anyplace else. The safest places in America are the biggest and smallest cities. It’s the medium-sized cities that now have the biggest violent crime problems.

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Raw Data: Here’s What Violent Crime Really Looks Like Over the Past Decade

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The Trump Deportation Regime Has Begun

Mother Jones

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Early Thursday, immigration attorneys in Los Angeles started getting calls from clients across the city. Some callers reported being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at their homes. Others were caught at their workplaces, including one man detained at a Target store. The first round of Trump-era deportation sweeps had begun.

The news quickly filtered back to immigrant rights activists, who confirmed the detentions and alerted their networks. According to Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), as many as 134 immigrants were detained in the sweep. Based on her conversations with lawyers, many of those detained had outstanding orders for deportation—and some were sent back to Mexico as early as Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday evening, activists held a vigil at ICE’s downtown Los Angeles field office. Later, an estimated 100 to 150 protesters blocked a nearby highway on-ramp:

In a Friday afternoon press release, ICE said 160 immigrants were arrested during what it called a “five-day targeted enforcement operation” in Southern California that was “aimed at at-large criminal aliens, illegal re-entrants, and immigration fugitives.” Of the 160, ICE claimed that 150 had criminal histories, and that 5 of the remaining 10 had final orders of removal or had been previously deported. While the release said “many of the arrestees had prior felony convictions for serious or violent offenses,” ICE did not give a full breakdown of those convictions.

Earlier Friday, an ICE spokeswoman told Mother Jones that “enforcement surges have been part of our operational play book for many years.” The subsequent press release echoed that line: “The focus was no different than the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis.”

The sweep was the second high-profile ICE action in two days. On Wednesday night, immigration agents in Phoenix found themselves swarmed by protesters when they attempted to deport Guadalupe García de Rayos, a 35-year-old Mexican immigrant with two teenage children who are American citizens. García de Rayos had been caught using a fake Social Security number during an ICE workplace raid in 2008.

García de Rayos’ deportation sent shock waves through the immigrant rights community and dominated Spanish-language media on Thursday. Ever since the 2008 raid, she had checked in annually with ICE to review her case—brief meetings that always resulted in her walking free, even though she had been convicted of a felony and later had a deportation order against her. This partly reflected the Obama administration’s emphasis on deporting serious criminal offenders. But her deportation to Nogales, Mexico, signals that the Trump administration plans to follow through with its plans to remove all undocumented immigrants who’ve committed “acts that constitute a chargeable offense”—which, as Vox‘s Dara Lind has pointed out, could include everything from entering the country illegally to driving without a license. (In a statement to reporters Thursday, ICE said it will “focus on identifying and removing individuals with felony convictions who have final orders of removal.”)

Indeed, social media was abuzz Friday with rumors of deportation raids throughout the country. On a conference call late in the day, Dave Marin, ICE’s LA field office director for enforcement and removal operations, confirmed that there were also operations in Atlanta, Chicago, and New York during the week. And Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) tweeted Friday afternoon about additional ICE activity in South and Central Texas:

“A lot of things have changed since January 20,” says CHIRLA’s Salas. She notes that during the Obama years, ICE would typically give groups like CHIRLA basic information such as names and the number of people detained following any large sweep or workplace raid. But Salas says she finds it troubling that following Thursday’s actions, there was little to no communication with the agency. “It’s important that we don’t get used to the idea that they don’t have to give out this information,” she says.

CHIRLA is currently focusing on educating immigrant communities on civil and constitutional rights. According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, greater Los Angeles is home to 1 million undocumented immigrants—second only to the New York City area, which is home to 1.15 million. On Friday, the group ran hourly know-your-rights workshops, and it’s also holding legal clinics where immigrants can get advice. Similar efforts have been happening nationwide: Earlier this week, for example, public school educators in Austin, Texas, handed out flyers to students in English and Spanish about what to do in an encounter with immigration officials.

Salas says that organizers’ next step is to continue to engage elected officials. Notably, Rep. Ruben Gallegos (D-Ariz.) and California State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León have criticized ICE on Twitter over the last day.

“We have to set the tone,” Salas says, “that this is not acceptable.”

This story has been updated.

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The Trump Deportation Regime Has Begun

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The NFL Sucks So Hard

Mother Jones

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I don’t suppose anyone cares, but I just want to say for the record that I agree entirely with Bill Plaschke today:

Every relationship is built on honesty, so the San Diego Chargers should hear this as their moving vans are chugging up the 5 Freeway on their noble mission of greed.

We. Don’t. Want. You.

The NFL sucks so hard. They stayed out of Los Angeles for two decades desperately trying to prove that, by God, no city would get an NFL team unless they ponied up taxpayer dollars for a stadium. Now we’re about to have two teams, and for the exact same reason: to show San Diego that, by God, an NFL team won’t stay in a city unless they pony up taxpayer dollars for a better stadium. And not just any dollars. Enough dollars to satisfy the lords of football.

Did I mention just how hard the NFL sucks?

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The NFL Sucks So Hard

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Star Wars Actress Carrie Fisher Dies After Heart Attack

Mother Jones

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Actress Carrie Fisher has died after suffering a massive heart attack last Friday. She was 60 years old.

Fisher, who was known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise, starred in several films and TV shows and wrote books about her struggle with substance abuse, including the bestseller Postcards from the Edge. She went into cardiac arrest when she was flying to Los Angeles from London, where she was promoting her new memoir, The Princess Diarist. She died in the hospital today.

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Star Wars Actress Carrie Fisher Dies After Heart Attack

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California Water Bill Rewards Farmers, Screws Environment

Mother Jones

A controversial bill that would override environmental rules to supply farmers with more water from California’s ecologically sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta sailed through the House of Representatives on Thursday. The bill may come up for a vote as soon as today in the Senate, where it is being championed by California senior Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat and powerful ally of agribusiness interests.

California’s other Democratic US senator, Barbara Boxer, staunchly opposes the bill and has threatened to filibuster it, potentially keeping her fellow senators from leaving for the year. It would be a dramatic last act for Boxer, an ally of environmental groups who is retiring this year after working closely with Feinstein in the Senate for 24 years. “I guess that’s how it goes,” Boxer said on the Senate floor this morning. “You come in fighting, you go out fighting.”

The contentious California provisions, which also include policies that would make it easier to build dams, were added on Monday by Bakersfield Republican Kevin McCarthy as a rider to the sprawling Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, a popular bipartisan bill that would also provide aid to Flint, Michigan. The provisions reflect negotiations between Feinstein, California’s 14 Republican lawmakers, and a handful of Democrats.

The bill represents the culmination of a fight that has been brewing over the course of California’s six-year drought. It pits Central Valley farmers and Los Angeles area homeowners against environmental interests, fishermen, and farmers in the Delta region east of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Los Angeles Times‘ Sarah D. Wire summarizes the conflict. (Today she is following the hearings live on Twitter):

At issue is that the measure would allow officials at state and federal water management agencies to exceed the environmental pumping limits to capture more water during storms. Those limits have been a pet peeve of water contractors, including the Westlands Water District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which complained of water supplies “lost to the sea” during last winter’s heavy rains.

Federal biologists have said certain levels of water flowing through the delta are vital for native fish, which have suffered devastating losses during the state’s prolonged drought, and help maintain the quality of the delta’s freshwater supplies. In short, if fish are determined to have enough water, or are not near the pumps, the excess water could be sent to the south.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) characterized it as placing political wants above science to go around federal law.

“When an act of Congress specifically supersedes peer-reviewed biological opinions that are the very mechanism of how the Endangered Species Act gets implemented, that is a grave undermining of the act,” Huffman said.

Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee’s powerful energy and water panel, typically serves as the key negotiator on California-related water bills. Progressives often accuse her of ignoring environmental interests in favor of agricultural ones, particularly the billionaire California farmers Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who use more water than all the homes in Los Angeles combined. For more on Feinstein’s ties with the Resnicks, read our profile of them here.

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California Water Bill Rewards Farmers, Screws Environment

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