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How to watch the eclipse without trashing the Earth

The moon will pass in front of the sun on Aug. 21, cutting a swath of shadow across the country and blocking our nearest star for about two minutes in the middle of the day. Millions of Americans are traveling just to stand in the passing darkness.

The problem is, all those humans (as many as 7 million by one estimate) could do a lot of damage. The official eclipse website compares the event to “20 Woodstock festivals occurring simultaneously across the nation,” which sounds rambunctious indeed. Max Yasger’s farm took more than a month to clean up.

So here are some tips for making your Great American Eclipse as low-impact and environmentally friendly as possible.

Watch out for cars

As small towns prepare for a once-in-a-lifetime level of crowding, the potential for real emergency is high. Traffic jams are predicted for Charleston, South Carolina, and Salem, Oregon, which could make it harder for emergency services to respond to accidents in the hours surrounding the solar eclipse. Plus, hours of inhaling all those exhaust fumes take a toll on your health.

Taking a plane, train, or automobile? Looks like it’s time to research some carbon offset plans. If not, consider giving yourself and the planet a break by taking a bike or bus to your viewing site.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

It’s wildfire season in the West, which means popular eclipse viewing sites in Oregon — where as many as a million visitors are headed — could be near an active blaze. Multiple wildfires are burning in the state.

Officials expect small fires from eclipse enthusiasts, whether from careless campers or from cars pulling over into tall, dry grass at the edge of the road. The long, wet winter has given way to a hot, dry summer, which means conditions are prime for wildfire. Even a few small fires could get out of control quickly, and evacuation routes will be clogged with tourist traffic.

All of this means officials have placed the risk of a major wildfire emergency at “moderate to high.” One fire scientist wrote: “In short, I fear a disaster; an eclipse apocalypse. I really hope I’m wrong.”

Yikes. You should check wildfire conditions near you before you head to your viewing site. And if you’re camping out for the eclipse, abide by any fire bans and make sure to put out all fires completely. For more information, the Oregon Department of Transportation has a complete guide on how to avoid starting a fire here.

Don’t be trashy

With so many eclipse chasers flocking to small towns and campgrounds along the eclipse route, a lot of garbage will be left behind. Residents of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, are already calling for volunteers to help tidy up. Some towns are putting trash cans and port-a-potties near major access routes, but even these emergency facilities are sure to be overwhelmed. Pro tip: Take your trash with you; bonus points for separating out the recyclables. Basically, don’t make a mess wherever you are. You know, just like any other day.

Be remote

Of course, the lowest-impact way to watch the solar eclipse is from afar. Even though only 14 states will experience the total eclipse of the sun, all of the lower 48 will see some degree of partial eclipse. So pick up some eclipse glasses (even more important if you’re not in the path of totality) and go stand outside on Monday.

NASA will also live-stream the entire event from multiple space crafts and weather balloons, ensuring you get a prime view, minus the traffic jams and carbon emissions. Just pretend you planned it this way all along.

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How to watch the eclipse without trashing the Earth

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Europe is going all in for batteries.

Though the official release is planned for Tuesday, leaked versions of the 2018 budget proposal show dramatic funding cuts for environmental programs — even those supported by the president’s own party.

The budget, which still needs congressional approval, would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 35 percent. It also slashes funding for cleanup programs like Superfund, but adds cash for water infrastructure.

After submitting an original budget blueprint, the Trump administration faced backlash from Democrats and environmental groups about the drastic cuts. But Republicans are wary of what President Trump might propose, too.

Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, has said she opposes the elimination of programs like Energy Star and ARPA-E, which funds energy technology research. Both were cut in the draft budget. Republicans have also defended regional water programs that Trump proposed cutting.

Murkowski, along with five other Republican senators, urged Trump to set aside money for the Department of Energy’s research in a May 18 letter. “Governing is about setting priorities, and the federal debt is not the result of Congress overspending on science and energy research each year,” they wrote.

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Europe is going all in for batteries.

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Road to Riyadh, Starring Donald Trump

Mother Jones

President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia is going great! Here’s the first family arriving in Riyadh:

At least Melania isn’t kowtowing to sexist Muslim custom by wearing a headscarf. Oh wait:

Fine. But Trump himself is standing up for masculine American values, right?

And here’s the official readout of Trump’s visit with the Saudi king:

What kind of pusillanimity is this? “Violent extremism” is an Obama-era euphemism used by people who refuse to look reality in the eye:

If Trump isn’t even willing to name the problem when he meets with the Saudi king, how can he possibly fight it?

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Road to Riyadh, Starring Donald Trump

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Dropping Shoe Watch: "Every Day He Looks More and More Like a Complete Moron"

Mother Jones

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The Daily Beast has talked to a bunch of folks close to Donald Trump, and as usual they can’t help themselves:

“Okay, he fired Comey,” the official conceded. “With a semi-competent comms operation, that would blow over in 24 hours. And that’s the worst part: he has a competent comms staff. But they can’t do their jobs because he keeps running his mouth.

….Trump’s repeated media missteps have frustrated even longtime supporters. “Every day he looks more and more like a complete moron,” said one senior administration official who also worked on Trump’s campaign. “I can’t see Trump resigning or even being impeached, but at this point I wish he’d grow a brain and be the man that he sold himself as on the campaign.”

Asked whether an administration staff change-up would ameliorate this latest crisis, a Republican source formerly involved with a pro-Trump political group told The Daily Beast, “yes, if it comes with a frontal lobotomy for Trump.”

Remember, these are people who are on Team Trump. Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Trump is already working on ways to sabotage its own special counsel:

The Trump administration is exploring whether it can use an obscure ethics rule to undermine the special counsel investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia, two people familiar with White House thinking said on Friday.

….Within hours of Mueller’s appointment on Wednesday, the White House began reviewing the Code of Federal Regulations, which restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating their prior law firm’s clients for one year after their hiring, the sources said….Mueller’s former law firm, WilmerHale, represents Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who met with a Russian bank executive in December, and the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is a subject of a federal investigation.

Hmmm. Preventing the special counsel from investigating Manafort hardly seems worth the trouble. He’s not close enough to the White House to cause too many problems even if he does turn out to be involved in something fishy. So that leaves Kushner. Is he the guy the Trumpies are trying to protect?

On the bright side of all this, if you have some embarrassing news you’ve been waiting to release, now would be a good time. It’s almost sure to be forgotten as soon as the next Trump shoe drops, which will probably take no more than a few hours.

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Dropping Shoe Watch: "Every Day He Looks More and More Like a Complete Moron"

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Trump Told Russians That Comey Was a "Nut Job," as FBI Investigation Inches Closer to the White House

Mother Jones

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Two bombshell reports on Friday afternoon shed more light on President Donald Trump’s rationale for firing FBI Director James Comey and showed just how close the FBI’s Russia investigation is getting to Trump’s inner circle.

The day after he fired Comey, Trump met with top Russian diplomats in the Oval Office. There, the New York Times revealed Friday afternoon, he badmouthed Comey and seemed to imply that his firing was prompted by the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. “I just fired the head of the FBI,” Trump said, according to the Times. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not dispute this account.

Moments later, the Washington Post reported that a current White House official in Trump’s inner circle is now under scrutiny in the Russia investigation:

The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.

The senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official.

The White House did not dispute this report either. Both reports came out shortly after Trump departed for his first overseas trip as president.

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Trump Told Russians That Comey Was a "Nut Job," as FBI Investigation Inches Closer to the White House

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It’s Crunch Time for the Republican Party

Mother Jones

How the world works, 2017 edition:

July 2016: Republicans are united in outrage when James Comey declines to recommend charges against crooked Hillary Clinton despite mountains of evidence that she is totally guilty.

Today: Republicans are united in disappointment at Comey’s decision to harm poor Hillary Clinton by breaching agency guidelines against commenting on investigations and interfering with an upcoming election. Thank God he’s finally been fired.

The official story about Comey’s firing goes something like this. On April 25, Rod Rosenstein was confirmed as deputy attorney general. It takes him less than two weeks to put together a memo arguing that: Comey was wrong to usurp the attorney general’s prosecutorial authority. He was wrong to hold a “derogatory” press conference about Clinton. He was wrong three months later to claim that keeping quiet about the Huma Abedin emails amounted to “concealing” them. He shouldn’t have said anything on October 28. Rosenstein concludes by saying that everyone from the janitor to the pope agrees that this was obviously egregious behavior on Comey’s part. Within hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommends Comey be fired and Trump immediately announces Comey’s termination. Comey hears about it on TV.

Needless to say, there is precisely nothing new in any of this. As Rosenstein says, these criticisms of Comey have been obvious from the start, and Trump could have used them as justification for firing Comey at any time. But he didn’t. Until now.

The difference between then and now, of course, is that then Comey was helping bury Hillary Clinton, and now Comey is investigating ties between Russia and Trump. So only now is it time for Comey to go.

So far, there are a tiny handful of Republicans who are “troubled” by Comey’s firing. Will they go any farther? Will any more Republicans join them? Or is everyone going to take one for the team and pretend that Comey really was fired because of how badly he treated Hillary Clinton?

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It’s Crunch Time for the Republican Party

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Trump Simmers and Priebus Lies: Just Another Weekend at the White House

Mother Jones

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Over at the Washington Post, Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker report on the Trump White House:

Trump was mad — steaming, raging mad….“He was pissed,” said Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax, a conservative media company. “I haven’t seen him this angry.”…At the center of the turmoil is an impatient president increasingly frustrated….Trump [] has been feeling besieged, believing that his presidency is being tormented in ways known and unknown by a group of Obama-aligned critics, federal bureaucrats and intelligence figures….The next morning, Trump exploded….Trump summoned his senior aides into the Oval Office, where he simmered with rage….In a huff, Trump departed for Mar-a-Lago….Trump was brighter Sunday morning as he read several newspapers, pleased that his allegations against Obama were the dominant story, the official said….But he found reason to be mad again.

That’s the president. Here’s his chief of staff, Reince Priebus:

As reporters began to hear about the Oval Office meeting, Priebus interrupted his Friday afternoon schedule to dedicate more than an hour to calling reporters off the record to deny that the outburst had actually happened, according to a senior White House official….Ultimately, Priebus was unable to kill the story. He simply delayed the bad news, as reports of Trump dressing down his staff were published by numerous outlets Saturday.

In other words, the president’s chief of staff spent a full hour of his time on Friday lying to reporters off the record. Why? To cover up for the fact that Trump routinely melts down when he gets bad press. The only thing that cheered him up was all the attention he got when he told an outrageous lie about Barack Obama.

Finally, this: “Some Trump advisers and allies were especially disappointed in Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who two days earlier had hitched a ride down to Florida with Trump on Air Force One.” This is truly their world view. Trump let Rubio fly on Air Force One, so Trumpworld expected Rubio to back up Trump’s lie. Transactional to the end.

And this: the Post’s story was based on 17 interviews with “top White House officials, members of Congress and friends of the president.” In other words, people who are basically sympathetic to Trump. What’s up with that? Do these people really think that painting Trump as a petulant two-year-old will make him look better?

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Trump Simmers and Priebus Lies: Just Another Weekend at the White House

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Chart of the Day: Obama Era Ends With 152 Million People at Work, an Increase of 9.9 Million

Mother Jones

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The American economy added 227,000 new jobs last month. Unemployment ticked up slightly from 4.72 percent to 4.78 percent, so the headline rate increased from 4.7 percent to 4.8 percent. The whole jobs report was a little strange, though, due to a whopping revision in BLS’s estimate of the total population of the country. Without the controls, 413,000 people re-entered the labor force and the total number of people employed rose by 457,000. Those are both excellent numbers, even if they did cause the official unemployment rate to rise slightly. The labor participation rate rose from 62.7 percent to 62.9 percent regardless of the population revision.

Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees went up at an annual rate of 2.3 percent. By coincidence, that’s also the average annual increase for the entire Obama presidency. In an era of low inflation, that’s OK but not great. Altogether, this is the last jobs report of the Obama era and the starting point for judging the economic policies of the Trump era:

Headline unemployment rate: 4.8 percent
U6 unemployment rate: 9.4 percent
Labor participation rate: 62.9 percent
Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees: $21.84

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Chart of the Day: Obama Era Ends With 152 Million People at Work, an Increase of 9.9 Million

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Here’s a New, Simpler Unemployment Rate For Our New, Simpler President

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump thinks the official unemployment rate is “fiction,” so Jordan Weissmann suggests we judge him by a different metric. Instead of a complicated measure that tries to divine whether someone “wants” to work, or whether they “want” full-time work but can’t get it, or any of that nonsense, let’s use a simpler measure for this new, simpler era:

The BLS even produces a data point that Trump himself might like: The employment-to-population ratio for adults between the ages of 25 and 54—or “prime-age EPOP.”…It gives us a raw look at the employment rate, without any fancy caveats about who is and isn’t part of the labor force. And because it only tracks workers 25 to 54, it isn’t really distorted by the wave of retiring boomers or growing college attendance. It’s a simple snapshot of the portion of the population we most need to worry about….Best of all, from Trump’s perspective at least, prime-age EPOP has plenty of room for improvement….If Trump wants to argue that Obama left him an economy that was still hurting, this is one stat that will easily help make the case.

Fine. But we don’t really want to know how many people are working, we want to know how many people aren’t working. So here’s the inverse prime-age EPOP, since 1990:

IPA-EPOP1 fell steadily during the postwar period as more and more women left the (unpaid) household workforce and entered the (paid) market workforce, but it’s been relatively stable since 1990. That means we can think of the period from 1990 until the start of the Great Recession as sort of a baseline for normal. The average during this period was 20.2 percent, and right now we’re still 1.6 percentage points away from that. As Weissmann says, this gives Trump some room to show improvement.

Now, naysayers are going to complain that this doesn’t really make sense. After all, this number includes lots of people who don’t want to work, mostly stay-at-home mothers and fathers. Shouldn’t we take them out of this calculation? Sure, we should, but then we’re back to that whole tedious discussion of who’s in the labor force and who’s just given up and all that stuff. We want simple: working or not working, end of story. And in fairness, when the economy is hot, wages go up and more stay-at-home parents are drawn back into the workforce. That makes this an OK measure of economic hotness.

So there you have it. Trump’s starting point is an IPA-EPOP of 21.8 percent. In four years we’ll see if he’s managed to bring that down.

1Rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?

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Here’s a New, Simpler Unemployment Rate For Our New, Simpler President

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John Kerry Plans to Give a Speech

Mother Jones

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In the aftermath of the UN vote condemning Israeli settlements on the West Bank, John Kerry plans to give a speech today:

In a last-chance effort to shape the outlines of a Middle East peace deal, Secretary of State John Kerry is to outline in a speech on Wednesday the Obama administration’s vision of a final Israeli-Palestinian accord based on bitter lessons learned from an effort that collapsed in 2014.

….Mr. Kerry, the official said, has long wanted to give a speech outlining an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal but was held back by White House officials, who saw it as unnecessary pressure on Israel that would anger Mr. Netanyahu. But that objection was lifted last week as Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry agreed the time had come to abstain on the United Nations resolution.

I don’t really understand the motivation at work here. This has nothing to do with my skepticism about the peace process in general, but with the pointlessness of the speech itself. It’s sort of like writing a piece of fanfic, where you get to demonstrate to your circle of friends how cleverly you’d tie up all the questions and loose ends in the original work. Except it’s not even fanfic: it’s more like an outline for a piece of fanfic, and without the opportunity to even display any cleverness.

Both Israel and the Palestinians are keenly aware of every issue separating them. Their inability to make a deal has nothing to do with the lack of a clever-enough plan. They just don’t agree with each other and they don’t trust each other. Actual negotiations, in which Kerry applied pressure to compromise and helped to build trust, were perfectly defensible even if I personally think there was never any chance of success. But a speech outlining a plan? Why bother?

I dunno. With everything in tatters and only three weeks left in the Obama administration, maybe Kerry feels like he can rip off the diplo-mask and give a truly bracing speech of the kind that no American has ever dared to give. I suppose that could have a modest effect. But what are the odds he has that in mind?

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John Kerry Plans to Give a Speech

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