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American Kids Are About to Get Even Dumber When It Comes to Climate Science

Mother Jones

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

The debate surrounding science education in America is at least as old as the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial,” in which a high school science teacher was criminally charged for teaching evolution in violation of Tennessee law. But bills percolating through state legislatures across the US are giving the education fight a new flavor, by encompassing climate change denial and serving it up as academic freedom.

One prominent example, South Dakota’s Senate Bill 55, was voted down Wednesday, but others are on the docket in three states, with possible others on the way. Advocates say the bills are designed to give teachers additional latitude to explain scientific theories. Opponents say they empower science denial, removing accountability from science education and eroding the foundation of public schools.

In bills making their way through statehouses in Indiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, and a potential measure in Iowa, making common cause with climate change denial is a way for advocates to encourage skepticism of evolution, said Glenn Branch, deputy director for the National Center for Science Education, an advocacy group.

“The rhetoric falls into predictable patterns, and the patterns are very similar for those two groups of science deniers,” he said.

Science defenders like the NCSE say science denial has three pillars: That the science is uncertain; that its acceptance would have bad moral and social consequences; and that it’s only fair to present all sides. All three are at work in the latest efforts to attack state and federal education standards on science education, Branch said.

According to a survey published last year, this strategy is already making headway. The survey, in the journal Science, found that three-fourths of science teachers spend time on climate change instruction. But of those teachers, 30% tell their students that it is “likely due to natural causes,” while another 31% teach that the science is unsettled. Yet 97% of scientists who actively study Earth’s climate say it is changing because of human activity.

In South Dakota, state Rep. Chip Campbell, R-Rapid City, said the bill would have enabled broader discussions in the classroom, according to The Argus-Leader.

“In science it is imperative that we show not only the strengths but also the weaknesses of theories,” he said. “Weaknesses, not strengths, are the key to finding the truth.”

Many of these bills are being pushed in response to recently adopted federal standards for science education. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), developed by 26 states, were finalized in 2015. As of November 2016, 16 states had adopted them, and the guidelines are under consideration in several others.

Efforts to undermine science education are often related to adoption of the new standards. In West Virginia in 2016, for example, lawmakers removed language in the standards that said human activity has increased carbon dioxide emissions and affected the climate. In Wyoming, lawmakers passed a statute banning public schools from teaching climate change is caused by humans, though that was later repealed. Also in 2016, Idaho lawmakers passed a bill permitting the use of the Bible in public schools as long as it was in connection with astronomy, biology, and geology. The bill passed in a modified form without referencing those scientific topics, but it was later vetoed.

“The concerns of these anti-science officials aren’t rooted in peer-vetted science. They are rooted in opposition to learning the truth about climate change,” said Lisa Hoyos, the director of Climate Parents, an offshoot of the Sierra Club that supports climate education. “The purpose of these bills is to create space for peer-reviewed, evidence-based science to be challenged based on teachers’ political opinions.”

It’s part of a third wave of anti-science legislation at the state level, according to Branch.

The first wave, specifically targeting evolution, dissipated after 1968, when the Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas that prohibiting the teaching of evolution was unconstitutional. The second wave focused on “intelligent design,” a branch of creation theory that postulates a higher power guides and shapes the process of evolution. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, anti-evolutionists focused on bills that would require teachers to say evolution was controversial, while staying silent on possible alternatives, Branch said. Later Supreme Court cases also rejected these policies on various First Amendment grounds.

The newest wave, which began around 2004, focuses on “academic freedom—teach the controversy, talk about theories’ strengths and weaknesses,” Branch said.

“They all have the same effect, which is to free teachers from having to teach evolution as accepted science, and to prevent state and local officials from doing anything about it,” he said.

The bills initially targeted evolution, but later, advocates came up with a standard list: biological evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning are considered the controversial topics in science education, Branch said.

He and Hoyos both noted that the bill would have protected teachers who wanted to teach anything at all, not just skepticism of climate change and evolution.

“A teacher could, on the public dime, teach creationism, flat-Earthism, white supremacism, and there would be nothing that the taxpayers could do about it,” Branch said. “It’s not that science teachers shouldn’t have some freedom to do what they do; but all of these states already have all various kinds of regulations, policies, and informal practices that give a reasonable degree of freedom.”

Similar active bills include Indiana’s Senate Resolution 17, Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 393, and Texas’s House Bill 1485, Branch said. Because Indiana’s is a resolution, it would have no legal effect other than to express the intent of lawmakers, which Branch said was an “interesting variant.” In Iowa, lawmakers are discussing a measure that would make the next generation standards optional, he said.

To date, South Dakota’s was the only measure to have been passed by a chamber of the legislature; the state Senate passed it in January. It’s also the first measure to die. It lingered in a House education committee before a hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, and it was defeated, 11-4. Its sponsor, Republican Sen. Jeff Monroe of Pierre, had introduced different versions of the bill for the past four years, but it never made it as far as it did in 2017, Hoyos said.

“Perhaps that’s because of the political climate we’re in, with the president actively opposing climate science,” she said. “From the president on down, there are some political forces in our society who think it is open season to attack climate science.”

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American Kids Are About to Get Even Dumber When It Comes to Climate Science

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Russian Hackers May Now Be Mucking With European Elections

Mother Jones

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When the US intelligence community released a report in early January laying out the evidence for Russian meddling in the US election, US officials warned that this wasn’t a one-off attack, and that Russia could soon set its hacker corps loose to disrupt elections in other countries. “Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future efforts worldwide,” the report said, “including against US allies and their election processes.”

Putin didn’t wait long to fulfill that prediction. On February 22, the Moscow Times reported that the Russian government had “created a new military unit to conduct ‘information operations’ against Russia’s foes.” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, when announcing the unit, that “propaganda should be smart, competent and effective.” There’s no concrete evidence yet, but it appears that Russia may be now attempting to weaken NATO and to divide Europe by destabilizing elections in France and Germany, two of the EU’s strongest members.

“This form of interference in French democratic life is unacceptable and I denounce it,” Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s minister of foreign affairs, said on February 19 in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, a French newspaper. “The French will not accept that their choices are dictated to them,” he said while discussing Russian actions in Europe and attempts to weaken non pro-Russian candidates ahead of the country’s presidential election in May.

Ayrault was responding to reports that the Russian government may have been targeting the campaign of Emmanuel Macron, a centrist “pro-liberal and pro-Europe” candidate who has a chance of defeating Marine Le Pen, a right-wing nationalist, in the hotly contested French presidential elections this May. Le Pen has promised to pull France out of the European Union, and, much like Donald Trump, has advocated a better relationship with the Russian government. Macron’s campaign has said its computer systems have been attacked, and that “fake news”—that include allegations of a homosexual affair and attempts to connect Macron with American financial interests and Hillary Clinton—has been spread throughout France by Russian-owned media, such as Sputnik and RT.

Daniel Treisman, a professor of political science at UCLA and an expert on Russian politics, says “it certainly seems plausible” that the Russian government would attempt to interfere in the European elections, as it’s alleged to have done in the US.

“Putin is quite skeptical about the possibility of building strong friendships or cooperation in the future with the elites of western Europe,” Treisman tells Mother Jones. “He feels that they’ve taken a very anti-Russian line, so he’s reaching out to other forces who are also opposed to the European elites.” Among those so-called Western European elites, are German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and Macron in France. Part of Putin’s plan could be to keep the west distracted “with its own problems” so it is “less able to cohesively oppose what he’s done in Ukraine,” Treisman says.

The French government’s top figures reportedly had internal discussions about cyber threats to its presidential election, and earlier this year the official in charge of security for the nation’s ruling party told Politico that the country’s leading politicians and political campaigns “have received no awareness training at all about espionage and hacking,” and that “we are not at all up to the level of the potential threat.” The Russian government has denied that it is working to meddle in the French elections, just as it denied meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

“We didn’t have, and do not have, any intention of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries,” Kremlin spokesman Dmirtry Peskov told reporters on February 14. “That there is a hysterical anti-President Vladimir Putin campaign in certain countries abroad is an obvious fact.”

Worries aren’t limited to the French elections, which will be held in April and May. The head of the German foreign intelligence service said in November that its next election cycle could be buffeted with the same sort of misinformation and cyber-attacks that plagued the US elections. “We have evidence that cyber-attacks are taking place that have no purpose other than to elicit political uncertainty,” said Bruno Kahl, the president of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (the German foreign intelligence service), according to the Guardian. Angela Merkel said at the time that “such cyber-attacks, or hybrid conflicts as they are known in Russian doctrine, are now part of daily life and we must learn to cope with them.” Merkel’s hard line against Putin in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and strong support of the European Union are among the reasons that she could be targeted by Russia before her reelection vote in September.

And in the Netherlands, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told Politico on January 12 that he didn’t have “concrete evidence” interference had taken place, but he wasn’t “naive” to the fact that it could happen at some point ahead of that country’s March 15 election, wherein Rutte is being challenged by Geert Wilders. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that the Russian government, among other countries, had “tried hundreds of times in recent months to penetrate the computers of Dutch government agencies and businesses.”

Far-right MP Wilders—a vehement opponent of Islam and a strong contender to be the Netherlands next prime minister—has also called for leaving the EU, but he may not be as pro-Putin as Le Pen and Trump. Nevertheless, Dutch officials have said they will count all election ballots by hand due to worries about manipulation of electronic vote counting machines.

Treisman says what happens next in terms of Russia and the European elections is “all up in the air, in part because we don’t know what the US administration is going to end up doing” with regard to its policy toward Russia.

Trump has repeatedly said that he’s hoping for a good working relationship with Putin, but offered mixed and confusing signals during the campaign about what he thought about Putin’s actions in the Ukraine and his annexing of Crimea in 2014. During her first full day on the job, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley condemned Russian violence in eastern Ukraine and called for “an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea.” Trump has rattled European allies by praising Brexit and calling NATO “obsolete,” but members of his cabinet have reaffirmed the US commitment to a strong NATO, which is one of Putin’s main points of contention with the west.

While it makes sense to watch all of this and try to discern a pattern in Putin’s strategy, Treisman says, “I don’t think he has this clear over-arching agenda, that he’s out to expand Russia’s borders or achieve anything very concrete. I think he’s just looking for ways to resist pressures he sees coming from the west and increase his influence, and his options, and his friends worldwide.”

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Russian Hackers May Now Be Mucking With European Elections

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Donald Trump Edits a Tweet

Mother Jones

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At 4:32 pm, President Trump put up this tweet:

It was quickly deleted and 16 minutes later it was replaced with this:

Fascinating! Here are the edits Trump made:

  1. Changed “and many more” to the more specific @ABC and @CBS.
  2. Eliminated the ugly extra spaces after the parentheses.
  3. Capitalized the P in “people.”
  4. Removed “SICK!”

What can this mean? Did someone tell Trump that his tweet sounded like something Hitler might have written and he should probably revise it? No one has ever told him this before, so it seems unlikely this time too. Presumably he made these changes all on his own. Let’s do a little Kremlinology here:

  1. It’s obvious that Trump’s real enemies are CNN, NBC, and the Times. Then, later, he tossed in CBS and ABC. Was this to cover his tracks? Nah. He doesn’t care what us overeducated elitists think. More likely it’s because he decided his fans1 wouldn’t automatically fill in ABC and CBS, so he needed to be more explicit about it. After all, he wants his fans to distrust all the media they consume except for Fox, so it makes sense to be very clear about this.
  2. Eliminating the spaces is either because Trump has a love of neatness we’ve never seen before, or because they pushed his tweet over 140 characters. However, the tweet is only 123 characters long, so I guess it must have been a purely esthetic bit of editing.
  3. Hmmm. American people vs. American People. That’s a tough one. The latter is more Germanic, which might have appealed to him. In English, though, it’s also less literate. That might have appealed to him too. Or, maybe Trump just capitalizes stuff randomly and there’s nothing to this.
  4. This is the real chin scratcher. Did he think that SICK! was going too far? I can’t imagine why. And the one-word adjective at the end is standard Trump Twitter grammar. We do know that Trump is a germaphobe, so maybe he doesn’t even like typing the word. However, a quick search shows that he’s called several people sick in the past year (Karl Rove, Megyn Kelly, failing New York Times). So what is it? WHY DID DONALD TRUMP REMOVE THE WORD “SICK” FROM THIS TWEET???

Oh, and by the way, calling the press an enemy of the people really is pretty Hitleresque. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that an awful lot of Trump’s supporters might not consider that such a bad thing.

1As always, remember that his supporters are the audience for his tweets, not you or me.

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Donald Trump Edits a Tweet

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Government Ethics Watchdog Urges Trump to Investigate Conway and Consider Disciplining Her

Mother Jones

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The government’s top ethics watchdog sent a letter to the White House on Tuesday stating that Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, almost certainly broke ethics rules by promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line and that the administration should investigate her and consider disciplinary action.

Conway appeared on Fox & Friends last week to discuss the decision by the retail chain Nordstrom to drop Ivanka Trump’s clothing line from its stores. Standing in the White House briefing room in front of a presidential seal, Conway bragged that she owns Ivanka Trump clothing and urged viewers to purchase items from the president’s daughter’s line.

In the letter to Stefan Passantino, deputy counsel to the president and the White House’s designated ethics officer, Office of Government Ethics executive director Walter Shaub cited a rule forbidding executive branch employees from endorsing commercial products and pointed to a hypothetical example written into the regulation that’s nearly identical to Conway’s behavior.

“I note the OGE’s regulation on misuse of position offers as an example the hypothetical case of a Presidential appointee appearing in a television commercial to promote a product,” Shaub wrote. “Ms. Conway’s actions track that example almost exactly.”

While Democrats in Washington have criticized the Trump administration for a string of potential ethical lapses, Republicans have generally kept quiet. Conway’s comments, however, led to quick criticism from congressional Republicans, including House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, who together with the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, sent a letter to Shaub recommending that he review the incident.

Last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Conway had been “counseled” on the incident, but he did not elaborate on what that meant. Shaub, in his letter, said he has not been notified by the White House of any disciplinary action against Conway.

“Under the present circumstances, there is strong reason to believe that Ms. Conway has violated the Standards of Conduct and that disciplinary action is warranted,” Shaub wrote.

The decision on whether to discipline Conway rests with the White House. Shaub requested notification by February 28 of any disciplinary action. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Government Ethics Watchdog Urges Trump to Investigate Conway and Consider Disciplining Her

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Raw Data: Deportation of Criminal Aliens, 2000-2016

Mother Jones

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Last week, ICE coordinated a set of raids in several cities that ended with the arrest of nearly 700 undocumented immigrants. ICE claims this was business as usual. President Trump says it was all part of keeping his campaign promise to get tough on criminals who are in the country illegally. “Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!” he tweeted. Who’s right?

One set of raids isn’t enough to tell. In terms of raw numbers, there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual going on. However, ICE doesn’t generally conduct raids in multiple cities over the course of just a few days. That suggests that maybe there was something unusual going on.

My guess: the arrests themselves were fairly routine. However, they were deliberately conducted in a way to maximize publicity. This would certainly gibe with Trump’s usual way of doing business.

We won’t get a real answer about this until the end of the year, when ICE releases total removal numbers for FY2017, which ends September 30. That will tell us whether ICE is deporting more people, and in particular, whether they’re targeting criminals more vigorously than in the past. For comparison, here are total removal numbers for criminal aliens since 2000:

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Raw Data: Deportation of Criminal Aliens, 2000-2016

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