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The Feds are leaving Puerto Rico — and offering to take Maria survivors with them.

Kathleen Hartnett White, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, stammered through her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

When Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Democrat, asked if she believes climate change is real, she wavered but settled on the right answer: “I am uncertain. No, I’m not. I jumped ahead. Climate change is of course real.”

That’s a surprise. Hartnett White, a former chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has a long history of challenging climate science and promoting fossil fuels. Notably, she has said that carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant.

But that’s not to say she’s made peace with established science. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, quizzed Hartnett White over how much excess heat in the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans. “I believe there are differences of opinions on that,” she said, “that there’s not one right answer.” For the record, the number is about 90 percent.

Then things got bizarre. Appearing frustrated with equivocating answers, Whitehouse pressed her on basic laws of nature, like whether heat makes water expand. “I do not have any kind of expertise or even much layman study of the ocean dynamics and the climate-change issues,” she said.

Watch below, if you dare:

After the hearing, Whitehouse tweeted, “I don’t even know where to begin … she outright rejects basic science.”

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The Feds are leaving Puerto Rico — and offering to take Maria survivors with them.

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Nearly all of Puerto Rico is without power AGAIN after a line repaired by Whitefish fails.

Kathleen Hartnett White, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, stammered through her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

When Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Democrat, asked if she believes climate change is real, she wavered but settled on the right answer: “I am uncertain. No, I’m not. I jumped ahead. Climate change is of course real.”

That’s a surprise. Hartnett White, a former chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has a long history of challenging climate science and promoting fossil fuels. Notably, she has said that carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant.

But that’s not to say she’s made peace with established science. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, quizzed Hartnett White over how much excess heat in the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans. “I believe there are differences of opinions on that,” she said, “that there’s not one right answer.” For the record, the number is about 90 percent.

Then things got bizarre. Appearing frustrated with equivocating answers, Whitehouse pressed her on basic laws of nature, like whether heat makes water expand. “I do not have any kind of expertise or even much layman study of the ocean dynamics and the climate-change issues,” she said.

Watch below, if you dare:

After the hearing, Whitehouse tweeted, “I don’t even know where to begin … she outright rejects basic science.”

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Nearly all of Puerto Rico is without power AGAIN after a line repaired by Whitefish fails.

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Trump’s pick for environmental adviser got grilled on climate change. It was a trainwreck.

Kathleen Hartnett White, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, stammered through her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

When Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Democrat, asked if she believes climate change is real, she wavered but settled on the right answer: “I am uncertain. No, I’m not. I jumped ahead. Climate change is of course real.”

That’s a surprise. Hartnett White, a former chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has a long history of challenging climate science and promoting fossil fuels. Notably, she has said that carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant.

But that’s not to say she’s made peace with established science. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, quizzed Hartnett White over how much excess heat in the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans. “I believe there are differences of opinions on that,” she said, “that there’s not one right answer.” For the record, the number is about 90 percent.

Then things got bizarre. Appearing frustrated with equivocating answers, Whitehouse pressed her on basic laws of nature, like whether heat makes water expand. “I do not have any kind of expertise or even much layman study of the ocean dynamics and the climate-change issues,” she said.

Watch below, if you dare:

After the hearing, Whitehouse tweeted, “I don’t even know where to begin … she outright rejects basic science.”

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Trump’s pick for environmental adviser got grilled on climate change. It was a trainwreck.

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Is the end near for the green biofuel dream?

Kathleen Hartnett White, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, stammered through her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

When Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Democrat, asked if she believes climate change is real, she wavered but settled on the right answer: “I am uncertain. No, I’m not. I jumped ahead. Climate change is of course real.”

That’s a surprise. Hartnett White, a former chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has a long history of challenging climate science and promoting fossil fuels. Notably, she has said that carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant.

But that’s not to say she’s made peace with established science. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, quizzed Hartnett White over how much excess heat in the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans. “I believe there are differences of opinions on that,” she said, “that there’s not one right answer.” For the record, the number is about 90 percent.

Then things got bizarre. Appearing frustrated with equivocating answers, Whitehouse pressed her on basic laws of nature, like whether heat makes water expand. “I do not have any kind of expertise or even much layman study of the ocean dynamics and the climate-change issues,” she said.

Watch below, if you dare:

After the hearing, Whitehouse tweeted, “I don’t even know where to begin … she outright rejects basic science.”

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Is the end near for the green biofuel dream?

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‘Flash drought’ could devastate half the High Plains wheat harvest

It’s peak hurricane season, but the nation’s worst weather disaster right now is raging on the High Plains.

An intense drought has quickly gripped much of the Dakotas and parts of Montana this summer, catching farmers and ranchers off-guard. The multi-agency U.S. Drought Monitor recently upgraded the drought to “exceptional,” its highest severity level, matching the intensity of the California drought at its peak.

The Associated Press says the dry conditions are “laying waste to crops and searing pasture and hay land” in America’s new wheat belt, with some longtime farmers and ranchers calling it the worst of their lifetimes. Unfortunately, this kind of came-out-of-nowhere drought could become a lot less rare in the future.

“The damage and the destruction is just unimaginable,” Montana resident Sarah Swanson told Grist. “It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in decades.”

Rainfall across the affected region has been less than half of normal since late April, when this year’s growing season began. In parts of Montana’s Missouri River basin, which is the drought’s epicenter, rainfall has been less than a quarter of normal — which equals the driest growing season in recorded history for some communities.

“It’s devastating,” says Tanja Fransen, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s office in Glasgow, Montana. Just six years removed from 2011, one of the region’s wettest years on record, eastern Montana is now enduring one of its driest.

“We’re at the bottom of the barrel,” Fransen says. “For many areas, it’s the worst we’ve seen in 100 years.”

In a matter of weeks, the area of Montana in drought conditions has expanded eightfold.U.S. Drought Monitor

Wheat production worries

The drought already has far-reaching effects. In eastern Montana, America’s current-largest wildfire continues to smolder; the 422-square-mile Lodgepole complex fire is one-third the size of Rhode Island. It’s Montana’s largest fire since 1910.

Across the state, 17 other large fires are also spreading. “We haven’t even hit our normal peak fire season yet,” Fransen says.

Recently, as the climate has warmed and crop suitability has shifted, the Dakotas and Montana have surpassed Kansas as the most important wheat-growing region in the country. The High Plains is now a supplier of staple grain for the entire world. According to recent field surveys, more than half of this year’s harvest may already be lost.

The economic impact of the drought and related fires may exceed $1 billion across the multi-state region by the time the rains return. Donations of hay for beleaguered farmers and ranchers have come in from as far away as West Virginia.

Farmers in the region are also worried because the Trump administration has targeted a key federal crop insurance program for hefty cuts. The governors of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana have all declared states of emergency to speed aid and open some normally protected areas for livestock grazing.

Abnormally dry conditions now cover 100 percent of South Dakota.U.S. Drought Monitor

It came out of nowhere

Droughts are often thought of as creeping, slow-motion disasters. They usually don’t grab headlines like hurricane landfalls, even though they represent the costliest weather-related catastrophe worldwide.

But this drought is an anomaly, a “flash drought.” It essentially came from nowhere. It didn’t exist just three months ago.

The frequency of these rapid-onset droughts is expected to increase as the planet warms. A recent study focusing on China found that flash droughts more than doubled in frequency there between 1979 and 2010.

Droughts like these are closely linked to climate change. As temperatures rise, abnormally dry conditions across the western United States are already becoming more common and more intense. And as evaporation rates speed up, rainfall becomes more erratic, and spring snowmelt dries up earlier each year.

Future summers in North Dakota are expected to be even hotter and drier, on par with the present-day weather of south Texas.

Taking heavy losses

On Whitney Klasna’s ranch in Lambert, Montana, the spring rains “just didn’t come this year.” Klasna has already seen 60 to 80 percent crop losses in her fields, and now she’s making calculations about which of her cattle she can afford to save. She and her crew are working to drill an additional water well and install a pipeline to keep as many alive as possible.

Now they’re worried that, if the rains do come, they’ll lead to flash flooding; the ground has essentially been transformed into concrete.

Klasna calls the drought a “perfect storm of bad luck” and expects its impacts to last for years.

The drought in western North Dakota is now just as severe as California’s was at its peak.U.S. Drought Monitor

Further west, near where the Lodgepole complex is burning, Sarah Swanson runs a John Deere dealership, one of the biggest businesses in her community. She hears heartbreaking stories from across the region, with many farmers and ranchers working together to fight the fire with their own equipment.

“Right now, I don’t think anybody has time to feel scared,” Swanson says. “I think the emotions will probably start once they have time to get the fire out in a week or two.”

Last week, Swanson wrote a personal letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Montana native, asking him to ease grazing restrictions on a nearby wildlife refuge. Two days later, he did so.

“We’ll be able to continue on,” Swanson says. “I wish I could say that for all the Main Street businesses in eastern Montana, but I don’t think I can. The effects are already being felt by restaurants and retail shops and gas stations, and there will be some that can’t sustain this.”

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‘Flash drought’ could devastate half the High Plains wheat harvest

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About That New Lead Study….

Mother Jones

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A new study was released recently about the effect of childhood lead poisoning on future academic performance. After reading it, I decided not to post about it, but since it’s getting some attention I should probably explain why. This will take a while, so be patient.

First things first: The basic idea here is uncontroversial. We’ve known for decades that childhood lead exposure reduces IQ, stunts academic development, and leads to lower test scores. But most of the original studies in this area were done a long time ago, when childhood lead levels were much higher than they are now. Blood lead levels are measured in micrograms per deciliter, and kids in the 70s and 80s frequently had levels as high as 20 or 30. Today that’s rare, so this paper focuses on something different: small changes in children who already had fairly low lead levels. For example, what would be the effect of a drop from 4 to 3?

To measure this, they rounded up records for nearly every third-grader in Rhode Island. These records included both blood lead levels in infancy and academic performance later in childhood, which is just what you need. The problem is that you can’t just compare those two things. It’s common knowledge that kids with high lead levels also tend to be poor, have less educated mothers, belong to minority groups, etc. Since all of these things are correlated with poor academic performance, you have to control for them somehow. It’s very difficult to do properly since you can never be entirely sure there isn’t something you haven’t overlooked.

So the authors looked at another variable unique to Rhode Island. Starting in 1997, Rhode Island required landlords to certify their rentals as lead-free. Kids who live in certified housing are likely to have lower lead levels, which means you can compare that to academic performance instead. Unfortunately, you run into the same problem: people who live in certified housing are unlikely to be a random subset. You have to control for different stuff, but you still have to run a lot of controls.

To address this, the authors used an instrumental variables approach. They constructed a remarkably complex variable that models “the probability that a child’s home was certified at the time of birth as a function of the number of certificates that had been issued in their census tract as of their year of birth, as well as family characteristics, and tract, year, and month of birth fixed effects.” After all that, though, they found only small effects:

The estimated effects of lead in these models are strongly statistically significant but relatively small: The column (4) estimates suggest that a one point increase in mean BLLs is estimated to reduce reading scores by .306, and math scores by .193.

So going from a lead level of 4 to 3 raises test scores by less than a third of a point on an 80-point scale. A 3-point reduction—which is fairly large these days—would raise test scores by about a point in reading and half a point in math.

But that’s not the end. There are two ways of measuring lead levels: venous (a standard blood draw) and finger pricks. Venous is more accurate, but finger pricks are more common. The venous measures show a stronger effect from lead exposure, so the authors constructed yet another instrumental variable to take this into account, and that produced a bigger estimate of lead on test scores: about half a point for reading and a third of a point for math.

But we’re not done yet. The authors then generate another instrumental variable, along with all the usual controls, and this produces an even bigger estimate: about one point for reading and 0.4 points for math. In both cases, however, the standard errors are quite large and the correlation coefficients are minuscule. In the case of math, the results are not statistically significant even at the 10 percent level.

This is the point at which I emphasize that I’m no expert in the design of studies like this. Controls are perfectly legit. Instrumental variables are perfectly legit—though you have to be careful not to get over-clever about them. Trying to correct for measurement problems is perfectly legit. And yet, when you put this all together it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There are lots of controls. The main instrumental variable might be appropriate, but I couldn’t quite convince myself of that. It’s also a very complex instrument, which makes it hard to evaluate. The measurement stuff looks suspiciously like a post-hoc way of generating a bigger effect. It all feels very fragile. And even after all this, the statistical value of the results is weak.

I may be wrong about every aspect of this. It will take a real expert to go through the paper and make an informed judgment. In the meantime, though, I’d take it with a grain of salt. There’s no question that childhood lead exposure reduces academic performance, but for now I’d say I’m skeptical that the effect is as large at low levels as the authors suggest.

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About That New Lead Study….

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The Obama Administration Is Stopping Cluster Bomb Sales to Saudi Arabia

Mother Jones

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In a rare display of wariness over civilian casualties in Yemen, the United States is halting the sale of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, according to Foreign Policy. Last week, an unnamed American official said that the move comes amid rising concerns that Riyadh’s US-backed air campaign in Yemen has been dropping cluster bombs “in areas in which civilians are alleged to have been present or in the vicinity.”

Saudi Arabia has been repeatedly accused of indiscriminately bombing civilian areas and civilian infrastructure in its conflict with Houthi rebels in Yemen, resulting in the death of hundreds of noncombatants, many of them children. Remnants of American-made cluster bombs have been found near civilian areas. Since the war in Yemen began in March 2015, the United States has sold weapons and provided intelligence, support, and aerial refueling to the Saudi-led coalition backing the government.

Cluster bombs contain submunitions, or “bomblets”, that spread over large areas before detonating. Bomblets that do not explode or self-destruct when they’re deployed become de facto land mines. They remain on the ground until, as Megan Burke, director of the Cluster Munition Coalition, told Mother Jones last year, “someone or something comes along and triggers that explosion.” In 2008, an international treaty banned the weapons. The United States and other major arms exporting countries refused to sign it.

A 2008 Pentagon policy directive states that the weapons can only be used against “clearly defined military targets.” But, Burke said, “Once you give a weapon to another country, you lose control over how they’re going to use it.”

The suspension of cluster munition transfers applies specifically to the CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon, manufactured by the Rhode Island-based Textron Systems. In 2013, Textron landed a $641 million contract to supply Saudi Arabia with 1,300 of the controversial weapons. In production tests, the CBU-105 cluster bombs met the Pentagon’s requirement that 99 percent of bomblets explode, but Human Rights Watch has documented unexploded CBU-105 submunitions, also called “skeets” in their case, in multiple areas in Yemen. “We have a photo with one of the canisters sitting on the ground with four skeets just sitting there. They never deployed,” Steve Goose, the director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch, told Mother Jones. “According to Textron, that could never happen.”

It is unclear whether the export hold will affect ongoing shipments from the 2013 arms deal or if it will only affect future requests from Saudi Arabia. Matthew Colpitts, a spokesman for Textron Systems, told Foreign Policy that the company “does not comment on delivery dates with our customers.” Neither does the United States government.

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The Obama Administration Is Stopping Cluster Bomb Sales to Saudi Arabia

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Here’s a List of People Obama Won’t Be Appointing to the Supreme Court

Mother Jones

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In the few days since Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia unexpectedly died, the media have been awash in speculation about whom President Barack Obama will choose to replace him. Most of the guessing isn’t based on anything the White House has done or said. One administration insider says the White House hasn’t even started leaking names as trial balloons. Still, as always happens, names start to emerge within media and political circles, and some floating about now are wildly unrealistic.

Here are some of the more fanciful ideas that, rest assured, Obama will not be adopting:

Anita Hill: Currently the focus of a Change.org petition demanding her nomination, Hill is famous for her role in the contentious 1991 nomination hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She accused Thomas of sexually harassing her when they worked together at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A Yale law graduate, like Thomas, Hill is now a law professor at Brandeis University—credentials that supporters say make her well qualified for the Supreme Court. As the late New York Times reporter David Carr used to observe, journalists have to “root for the story,” and a Hill nomination would be some story. It would, no doubt, cause a complete meltdown on the right. But this is more of a West Wing scenario than an Obama White House possibility.

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Here’s a List of People Obama Won’t Be Appointing to the Supreme Court

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The 10 Best Moments of the Democratic Debate

Mother Jones

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The Democratic presidential contenders met in Las Vegas Tuesday night for the first of six debates. With just four of those debates scheduled to take place before Iowans cast the first presidential primary votes in February, this was Sen. Bernie Sanders’ moment to show that he should be treated as a serious challenger to Hillary Clinton—and a rare chance for former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to move out of “Who’s That Dude” terrain.

It was generally a friendly affair, with the candidates largely agreeing on the major issues. But a few fault lines popped up. Neither Sanders nor O’Malley agreed with Clinton’s suggestion that there should be a no-fly zone over Syria, and both of those upstart challengers also questioned Clinton’s commitment to challenge Wall Street.

Here were some of the debate’s best moments:

Clinton: “Save capitalism from itself.”

After quizzing Sanders on whether he is a capitalist (he identifies as a democratic socialist), moderator Anderson Cooper opened the question up to the rest of the Democratic contenders, asking if there was “anybody else on the stage who is not a capitalist?” Clinton eagerly jumped in. “I don’t think we should confuse what we have to do every so often in America, which is save capitalism from itself. And I think what Senator Sanders is saying certainly makes sense in the terms of the inequality that we have,” she said. “And it’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok and doesn’t cause the kind of inequities we’re seeing in our economic system. But we would be making a grave mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in this country.”

On her own political beliefs, Clinton identified as a certain brand of progressive. “I’m a progressive,” she said. “But I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.”

Sanders: “I’m not a pacifist.”

Cooper asked Sanders, a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, whether he is qualified to be commander in chief. In response, Sanders stressed his history of fighting for veterans’ benefits and his own willingness to go to war as a last resort.

“When I was a young man—I’m not a young man today—when I was a young man, I strongly opposed the war in Vietnam. Not the brave men like Jim who fought in that war, but the policy which got us involved in that war. That was my view then,” Sanders said.

“I am not a pacifist, Anderson. I supported the war in Afghanistan. I supported President Clinton’s effort to deal with ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. I support airstrikes in Syria and what the president is trying to do. Yes, I happen to believe from the bottom of my heart that war should be the last resort that we have got to exercise diplomacy. But yes, I am prepared to take this country into war if that is necessary.”

“Enough of the emails.”—Not the candidate you’d expect.

Cooper sure wanted to make a big deal about Clinton’s email scandal. Right after the first mid-debate commercial break, Cooper jumped into questioning Clinton’s email practices, wondering whether they showed a level of poor judgment that should trouble voters. After Clinton dismissed the email questions as a trumped-up Republican scandal, Sanders piped up. “Let me say something that might not be great politics, but I think the secretary is right,” Sanders said. That whole email kerfuffle? Bernie was having none of it. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” he said, sharing a handshake and smile with his opponent.

Clinton’s one-word answer to the emails question.

After Clinton and Sanders both agreed that the email scandal had become a sideshow, Chafee challenged Clinton on the email issue, saying the highest ethical standards should be a prerequisite for the next president. Next, Cooper turned to Clinton.

“Secretary do you want to respond?” Cooper asked.

“No,” Clinton responded.

The audience cheered loudly.

Is Sanders tough enough on guns?

Sanders and Clinton had their biggest rumble Tuesday night over gun control. Sanders defended his votes in Congress against gun control measures. When Clinton got a chance to weigh in, she did not go easy on her rival. Cooper asked her, “Is Bernie Sanders tough enough on guns?”

“No, not at all,” Clinton responded. “Senator Sanders did vote five times against the Brady bill. Since it was passed, nearly 2 million illegal purchases have been prevented. He also did, as he said, vote for this immunity provision. I voted against it. I was in the Senate the same time. It wasn’t that complicated to me. It was pretty straightforward to me that he was going to give immunity to the only industry in America—everybody else has to be accountable, but not the gun manufacturers, and we need to be able to stand up and say enough of that, we’re not gonna let it continue.”

Watch:

Don’t blame Lincoln Chafee for his votes.

When Chafee was asked why he voted to repeal Glass-Steagall—the Depression-era law separating commercial and investment banking that was overturned in 1999—the former senator couldn’t muster more than ¯_(ã&#131;&#132;)_/¯ to explain his vote. Chafee tepidly said he didn’t really know what he was voting for since he’d just arrived in the Senate, after being elevated to the post by Rhode Island’s governor after his father had passed away. “I think we all get some takeovers,” he said sheepishly.

Clinton defends Planned Parenthood.

Clinton deftly turned a question about big government into a takedown of the Republican Party’s attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. CNN moderator Dana Bash questioned Clinton’s support for a paid family leave policy by saying critics call it another expensive government program.

“When people say that—it’s always the Republicans or their sympathizers who say, ‘You can’t have paid leave, you can’t provide health care.’ They don’t mind having big government to interfere with a woman’s right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood. They’re fine with big government when it comes to that. I’m sick of it,” she said. The crowd applauded and she kept going.

“You know, we can do these things. We should not be paralyzed—we should not be paralyzed by the Republicans and their constant refrain, ‘big government this, big government that,’ except for what they want to impose on the American people.”

Watch:

Sanders would legalize weed. Clinton still doesn’t want to take a stance.

Nevada is set to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016. CNN’s Juan Carlos Lopez asked Sanders if he would vote to approve the initiative if he were a Nevada resident. Sure, Sanders replied. “I think we have to think through this war on drugs that has done an enormous amount of damage.”

What about Clinton? She’s still in a wait-and-see mode, happy to watch as states conduct their own experiments without legalizing weed nationwide, at least for now (though she is in favor of laws in favor of medical marijuana). Considering it another issue that she might be evolving on.

What’s the greatest security threat?

Each candidate described what they believe is the greatest security threat to the United States. For Chafee, it is the turmoil in the Middle East, which he says began with the Iraq War. O’Malley said a nuclear Iran; Clinton said nuclear proliferation; Webb mentioned China, cyber warfare, and the Middle East. But Bernie Sanders ran away with the question: climate change.

“The scientific community is telling us that if we do not address the global crisis of climate change—transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy—the planet that we’re going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be habitable,” he said. “That is a major crisis.”

Jim Webb: I killed a dude, what have these chumps done?

Cooper lobbed one last, seemingly lighthearted question at the candidates before their closing statements: Which person are you proudest to have made an enemy of? Chafee said the coal lobby, O’Malley said the NRA, Sanders listed Wall Street, and Clinton touted how much Republicans hated her.

But Jim Webb. Ohhhhh boy. He turned nostalgic, looking back on his tour in Vietnam, during which he won a Navy Cross in a true act of heroism. But his method of boasting about that was…awkward. “I’d have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me,” Webb said, with a smile creeping onto his face, “but he’s not around to talk to.”

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The 10 Best Moments of the Democratic Debate

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Get Ready for the Conservative Assault on Where Transgender Americans Pee

Mother Jones

If lawmakers in Florida, Texas, and Kentucky have their way, transgender people would be breaking the law when using the bathroom of their choice. Bills introduced in three states over the past month would make it illegal for an individual of one biological sex to enter a single-sex restroom or changing room designated for the opposite sex—even if the individual self-identifies as a person who belongs there.

The debate over which bathrooms transgender individuals can use isn’t particularly new: Lawmakers in 17 states and over 200 cities have passed laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity, while a handful of states and localities, like Colorado and Arizona, have attempted and failed to pass bills that restrict bathroom usage.

But the latest attempts have the benefit of support from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative legal advocacy group based in Arizona that has poured legal and lobbying resources into the issue over the past year. ADF, which has a $30 million annual budget and a network of over 2,000 attorneys, takes on many causes dear to the religious right, including opposition to LGBT rights such as marriage, military service, and adoption. ADF’s defense of “religious freedom” has included a determined, years-long fight to make homosexuality illegal in Belize.

The road to the rest room legislation often originates on the local level, with disputes in school districts. Last year, for example, Kentucky’s Atherton High School passed a policy that prohibited segregation of school spaces based on gender. After local parents, represented by an ADF lawyer, failed in their appeal, Republicans in the Kentucky Senate took notice and drafted a law aimed at overturning the policy.

In December, after school districts in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island established non-discrimination policies, ADF sent emails to school districts across the country. “Your school district may be facing an issue,” the email reads, “that an increasing number of school districts across the country are wrestling with: requests by students struggling with gender identity issues to use the bathrooms, locker rooms, or shower rooms of the opposite sex.” Schools are encouraged to adopt ADF’s model policy, which prohibits transgender students from using the restroom corresponding to their gender identity. If the school district encounters legal backlash, the letter says, ADF lawyers would take on the case, free of charge.

ADF declined to comment on its involvement with bills introduced in Kentucky, Texas, and Florida, but ADF’s counsel Kellie Fiedorek did say that it “has advised and is willing to advise policymakers and others leaders across the country on policies that protect the privacy, safety, and dignity of all citizens in restrooms and locker rooms.” She added that ADF sympathizes “with those that have difficult personal issues to work through,” presumably referring to transgender individuals.

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Get Ready for the Conservative Assault on Where Transgender Americans Pee

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