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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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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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This Report Card for Betsy DeVos’ Favorite Education Policy Is Pretty Bad

Mother Jones

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Students in Washington, DC’s federally funded voucher program performed worse academically, particularly on math test scores, after a year of private school, according to a new federal analysis released Thursday.

The study, conducted by the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, found that students who left public schools as part of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program performed significantly lower on math scores than those who did not. (They also scored lower in reading, but researchers noted that those results were not statistically significant.) In 2010, when the DOE’s research division previously evaluated the voucher program, it found that it had no significant impact on reading and math scores but a significant increase in high school graduation. Notably, Thursday’s study found that parents in the voucher program were more likely to feel like their child’s school was safe.

US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences

The analysis comes as President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continue to promote the expansion of school choice at the national level. The administration has proposed a $1.4 billion investment toward school choice programs for the coming fiscal year, including $168 million in spending for charter schools and $250 million in school vouchers for families.

While decades of research has shown voucher programs have had little to no effect on student achievement, studies of newer programs in the last two years have mostly revealed worse academic outcomes for participating students:

A November 2015 study of Indiana’s voucher program determined that students who attended private school through the program scored lower on math and reading tests than kids in public school.
In Louisiana, students who attend private schools through the voucher program showed significant drops in both math and reading in the first two years of the program’s operation, according to a February 2016 study by researchers at the Education Research Alliance of New Orleans. The program had no impact on students’ non-academic skills.
Researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, concluded in a July 2016 study of Ohio’s voucher program that students who took part in the voucher program fared worse academically than those who attended public schools.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program, created by Congress in 2004, provides tuition vouchers for 1,100 low-income students who transfer from public schools to private ones in the nation’s capital. Earlier this year, House Republicans filed legislation to renew the DC voucher program, even as a majority of city council members submitted a letter in March expressing “serious concerns” about the use of public funds to send kids to private school. Mayor Muriel Bowser split from the council, saying at the time she supported the program’s extension. Last year, Sen. Ted Cruz filed a bill that would expand the voucher program to cover the entire school district.

In response to the study, DeVos said in a statement that people should look beyond its one-year assessment, arguing that voucher programs didn’t hurt public schools. “When school choice policies are fully implemented,” she said, “there should be no differences in achievement among the various types of schools.” But Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who serves as ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, slammed the DC voucher program in a statement to the Associated Press. “We know that these failed programs drain public schools of limited resources,” he said, “only to deliver broken promises of academic success to parents and students.”

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This Report Card for Betsy DeVos’ Favorite Education Policy Is Pretty Bad

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The Most Important Free Speech Question Is: Who Decides?

Mother Jones

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Like everyone, I’ve been watching as the free speech debate on college campuses has morphed from its usual steady background hum into a Big Issue Of The Day. First there was Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley. Then Charles Murray at Middlebury. Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna. Ann Coulter at Berkeley. The right is naturally outraged that these speakers were harassed or banned, and the left is—well, what is the left’s reaction to all this? At first, it was mostly a matter of not really sticking up for free speech rights on campus. That was bad enough, but then the conversation changed. Instead of a collective mumble, I began reading affirmative arguments that there was absolutely nothing wrong with “no-platforming” these folks. For example, a few days ago a New Republic article showed up in my Facebook feed and got high fives from several people I follow. Here is Aaron Hanlon:

When departments or groups arrange for a speaker, invitations are usually authorized by small committees or localized administrative offices without a campus-wide discussion or debate….Instead of community-wide discussion and debate over the merits of bringing a given speaker to campus, the debate happens after the invitation, giving the misleading impression that no-platforming is about shutting down speech.

….But no-platforming is better understood as the kind of value judgment that lies at heart of a liberal arts education….This has always meant deciding what people needed to know, but also what they don’t need to know—or at least which knowledge and skills deserved priority in one’s formal education.

….No-platforming may look like censorship from certain angles, but from others it’s a consequence of a challenging, never-ending process occurring at virtually all levels of the university: deciding what educational material to present to our students and what to leave out. In this sense, de-platforming isn’t censorship; it’s a product of free expression and the foundational aims of a classically liberal education.

The sophistry here is breathtaking. If it’s just some small group that invites someone, then it’s OK if the rest of the university blackballs their choice. After all, universities are supposed to decide what students don’t need to know. It may “look like censorship from certain angles,” but it’s actually the very zenith of free expression. Juliet Kleber followed up today:

As Aaron Hanlon argued in the New Republic earlier this week, choosing not to host Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos on campus is not a suppression of their free speech. Academia certainly has an important place in selecting and elevating certain voices to relevance in a broader culture, but let’s not forget that a college isn’t a town hall: it’s a particular community of people engaged in intersecting missions of education. Coulter is not a member of that community and she has no claims upon it. Campus life is curated, and none of us outside of it are guaranteed access to that platform.

Enough. I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to the latest outrages on college campuses because college campuses are teeming with smart, verbal, overconfident 19-year-olds. Of course they do stupid things. We all did stupid things at that age. I’m generally happy for all these micro-outrages to remain local controversies handled by local administrators.

But now everyone is weighing in, and here on the left we’re caving in way too often to this Hanlon-esque lunacy. Is some of the speech he’s concerned about ugly and dangerous and deliberately provocative? Of course it is. But that’s not a reason to shut it down. That’s the whole reason we defend free speech in the first place. If political speech was all a harmless game of patty-cake, nobody would even care.

Speech is often harmful. And vicious. And hurtful. And racist. And just plain disgusting. But whenever you start thinking these are good reasons to overturn—by violence or otherwise—someone’s invitation to speak, ask yourself this: Who decides? Because once you concede the right to keep people from speaking, you concede the right of somebody to make that decision. And that somebody may eventually decide to shut down communists. Or anti-war protesters. Or gays. Or sociobiologists. Or Jews who defend Israel. Or Muslims.

I don’t want anyone to have that power. No one else on the left should want it either.

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The Most Important Free Speech Question Is: Who Decides?

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Texas Is About to Crack Down on Undocumented Immigrants

Mother Jones

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Texas is about to become the second state to outlaw sanctuary cities, jurisdictions that refuse to fully comply with federal enforcement of immigration laws. On Thursday, lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives gave approval to legislation that would make it a misdemeanor crime for local law enforcement to not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, with penalties of up to $25,500 in fines for local governments and jail time for individual law enforcement officials who maintain sanctuary cities. The legislation would also allow local police officers to inquire about someone’s immigration status during routine encounters such as traffic stops. A slightly different version of the bill already passed in the state senate, and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has made passing legislation banning sanctuary cities a top priority this legislative session, will likely sign the final measure.

Texas became one of the battlegrounds in the national debate over sanctuary cities when Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, after taking office earlier this year, instituted a new policy for her department to not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Gov. Abbott cut off funding in retaliation and even threatened to oust the sheriff. In a parallel effort, the Trump administration is also trying to cut off federal funding to jurisdictions that refuse to fully cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Thursday’s vote followed an initial 16-hour overnight hearing on the House floor. State Rep. Mary González, a Democrat who was once an undocumented immigrant herself, told her colleagues that she was a victim of sexual assault, and that the proposal would actually make Texas less safe by discouraging immigrants from talking to the police when a crime has been committed. “We aren’t exaggerating when we say the people empowered by this piece of the amendment will be criminals,” Gonzalez said. “We aren’t exaggerating when we say the people who will feel the biggest effects of this are the most vulnerable—the women and children who are victims of rape, sexual assault, human trafficking.”

González also beseeched other lawmakers to limit questioning about immigration status to those who were under arrest. “If you ever had any friendship with me, this is the vote that measures that friendship,” González pleaded during the hearing.

According to the Texas Observer, hundreds protested in the Capitol rotunda, where their chants opposing the legislation could be heard during the marathon debate. The protest didn’t dissuade Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer, who added language to the bill that would allow police to check someone’s immigration status during routine “detainments” like traffic stops. “This was about making sure that our law enforcement officers can continue to do what they have a duty to do, which is to make sure that we’re safe,” he said. “That means using every reasonable tool available under the law to inquire about criminal activity.”

State Rep. Ana Hernandez, a Democrat who was also undocumented as a child, fought back tears as she described her fears growing up. “I knew I wasn’t a U.S. citizen, and I feared the reactions from my classmates if they knew I wasn’t a citizen,” Hernandez said. “I see myself in many of those students now that share the same fear of being deported, or having their parents deported.”

Sanctuary city legislation is expected to head to the governor’s desk soon, but local leaders and civil rights advocates opposing the bill say the fight is only getting started, and they plan to file lawsuits challenging the legality of the measure. “The legislature is attempting to blackmail cities into violating our own resident’s constitutional rights,” Austin City Council member Greg Casar said on a press call. “I believe we have no responsibility to follow an unconstitutional law, and we should not be complying with a law that is so discriminatory and dangerous in its mandate.”

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Texas Is About to Crack Down on Undocumented Immigrants

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