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  • Obama Just Burned GOP Climate Deniers In "Anger Translator" Rant

    Towards the end of his annual speech to the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in the nation's capital Saturday night, President Obama got "angry." Aided by Luther, his "anger translator" (a character played by Comedy Central's Keegan-Michael Key, from the TV show Key and Peele), President Obama launched into an epic tirade against climate deniers on Capitol Hill.

    For those who aren't familiar with the set-up of the skit featured on Key and Peele: "No-drama Obama" (played by Jordan Peele) can't risk getting angry in public, so Luther translates what he's really thinking, behind all the political soft-ball rhetoric. It's quite brilliant.

    When the real Obama got around to mentioning the big challenge of climate change on Saturday, Luther chimed in, filling in Obama's supposedly unspoken rage: "California is bone-dry! It looks like the trailer for the new Max Max movie. You think Bradley Cooper came here because he wanted to talk to Chuck Todd? He wanted a glass of water! Come on!"

    Eventually, though, Obama didn't need his anger translator anymore:

    "Look at what's happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act," Obama said, pitch and volume rising. "The Pentagon says it's a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day, and instead of doing anything about it, we've got elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate! It is crazy! What about our kids?! What kind of stupid, short-sighted, irresponsible..."

    Luther finally intervenes:

    "With all due respect, sir? You don't need an anger translator. You need counseling."

  • Hillary Wants a Piece of the Elizabeth Warren Love Fest

    Hillary Clinton desperately wants liberals to redirect their adoration of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) toward her presidential campaign.

    Since the official launch of her 2016 run earlier this month, Clinton has done everything she can to cozy up to Warren and publicly channel the spirit of the Massachusetts senator. Clinton has bemoaned hedge funders paying lower tax rates and called out CEOs for earning outsize paychecks. She penned a fawning blurb about Warren for Time's list of the world's 100 most influential people. "Elizabeth Warren never lets us forget that the work of taming Wall Street's irresponsible risk taking and reforming our financial system is far from finished," Clinton wrote. "And she never hesitates to hold powerful people's feet to the fire: bankers, lobbyists, senior government officials and, yes, even presidential aspirants."

    Beyond this broad political rhetoric, Clinton so far has been unwilling to reveal where exactly her views align with Warren's. She launched her campaign by traveling to Iowa and New Hampshire for a "listening tour" of sorts, with detailed ideas promised to come later in the year. A spokesman for the Clinton campaign declined to say if Hillary Clinton would support a list of specific ideas proposed by Warren, such as breaking up big banks and imposing new taxes on financial transactions.

    "As Hillary Clinton said last week, Elizabeth Warren is a champion of working families and scourge of special interests," Clinton spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in a statement to Mother Jones. "The campaign is only two weeks old and we will be detailing our policy agenda after our ramp up period ends this summer but Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton share a record of and a commitment to fighting for everyday Americans and their families."

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  • Big Oil Uses Toxic Chemicals to Clean Up Spills. Will the Feds Finally Make Them Stop?
    oil and dispersant
    Oil and dispersant in the Gulf of Mexico, a month after BP's Deepwater Horizon spill began James Edward Bates/TNS/ZUMA

    Five years ago this week, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and setting off the worst oil spill in US history. The images are unforgettable: The Gulf of Mexico on fire. Pelicans emerging from the water entirely covered in thick, black oil. Planes flying overhead, spraying more than a million gallons of an oil-dispersing chemical called Corexit in an attempt to control the spill.

    Fast forward five years, and dispersants like Corexit are at the center of a growing political battle, as scientists and policymakers raise questions about their potential to harm the environment, wildlife, and human health. Right now in Washington, DC, the Environmental Protection Agency is developing new rules governing dispersant use—rules many experts worry won't go nearly far enough to protect the public and natural resources. On Tuesday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), introduced legislation to temporarily ban dispersants until more tests are done to guarantee their safety.

    Corexit is a go-to product for energy companies like BP when they're dealing with massive spills. Dispersants don't actually get rid of oil. But by breaking the oil up and submerging it in the water column, the chemicals make it easier for microbes to consume the oil. At least in theory. These days, some scientists are raising questions about how effective the 1.8 million gallons of Corexit dumped into the Gulf really was in achieving this. Dispersants have other benefits for oil companies, though. By moving oil out of sight, they quell public fears, facilitate PR, stabilize stock prices, and—potentially— help the polluters avoid stiff fines.

    But all that Corexit may have done significant damage in the Gulf. One 2012 study found that in laboratory tests, mixtures of Corexit and oil were up to 52 times more toxic to microscopic animals known as rotifers than oil alone. Several leading scientists believe that the use of dispersants contributed to the environmental catastrophe that occurred throughout the Gulf, including the destruction of coral reefs. Studies have found that dispersants—as well as dispersant/oil mixtures—are more deadly to coral and coral larvae than oil by itself. A new report from the Government Accountability Project, a national whistleblower organization, describes the damage to Gulf coral as "arguably the most devastating and revealing of impacts documented in the five years since the BP spill." This is particularly significant because coral reefs form a natural barrier against hurricanes and provide a habitat for thousands of marine species.

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  • Music Review: "Rubble" by Ambrosia Parsley

    TRACK 2


    From Ambrosia Parsley's Weeping Cherry


    Liner notes: This eerie ballad finds the former Shivaree leader consumed by existential dread, with droning guitar amplifying the creeping terror.

    Behind the music: Weeping Cherry, Parsley's solo debut, was inspired by the deaths of friends and relatives, and features AA Bondy and Joan Wasser (from Joan As Police Woman).

    Check it out if you like: Angsty grown-up pop (Sam Phillips, Jenny Lewis, Neko Case).

  • There's a Fight Brewing Over Who Profits From Solar Power

    In the ongoing wars over solar energy, one power company is consistently painted as the archetypal, mustache-twirling nemesis of clean electricity: Arizona Public Service. So you might be surprised to learn that this same company is about to become a big new producer of rooftop solar power.

    APS is an unlikely solar patron: In the summer of 2013, the Phoenix-area utility launched a campaign to weaken Arizona's net metering rule, which requires utilities to buy the extra solar power their customers generate and provides a major incentive for homeowners to install rooftop panels. A few months later, APS admitted giving cash to two nonprofits that ran an anti-solar ad blitz in the state. Early this year, the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that a letter criticizing the solar industry's business practices, sent by members of Congress to federal regulators, was originally authored by an employee of APS. And a couple weeks ago, APS asked state regulators to let the company quadruple the fees it tacks on to the monthly bills of solar-equipped homeowners.

    It makes sense that the company would be worried about solar's epic takeoff. In many ways, the solar boom poses an unprecedented threat to big electric utilities, which have done business for a century with essentially zero competition. In the first quarter of this year, applications for solar permits in APS's service area were 112 percent higher than the same period last year, and every one of those is one less customer for APS's regular power supply, 40 percent of which comes from coal. Now the company thinks it has found a solution to the problem: It wants to start owning its own rooftop solar.

    In December, the Arizona Corporation Commission gave a green light to APS to plunk down $28.5 million on 10 megawatts of solar panels, enough to cover about 2,000 of its customers' roofs. (Tucson Electric Power, another utility in the state, was also approved for a smaller but similar plan.) The idea is that APS will target specific rooftops it wants to make use of—in areas where the grid needs more support, for example, or west-facing roofs, which produce the most power in the late afternoon, when demand is the highest. APS would offer homeowners a $30 credit on their monthly bill, according to Jeff Guldner, an APS vice president for public policy.

    The credit essentially serves as rent for the roof, where an APS-contracted local installer will set up a solar array. APS owns the panels, can use the power however it wants, and gets to improve its clean energy portfolio without losing customers to third-party solar companies. Meanwhile, the homeowner gets a lower bill.

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  • Just Because Your Chicken Is Organic Doesn't Mean It Was Raised Humanely

    This piece was originally published by Civil Eats

    Do you ever wonder why so much organic food also carries animal welfare labels?

    The short answer is that while the US Department of Agriculture's organic standards are very precise about pesticides and other growing practices for the crops that people and animals eat, it doesn't include very many specific instructions about the way the animals themselves are raised.

    "When people pick up organic milk, they're expecting that the cows are out on pasture most of the time," says Luke Meerman, one of the farmers behind Michigan-based Grassfields Cheese. And he's right. In a phone survey conducted for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 68 percent of the consumers contacted said they expected that animals raised on organic farms "have access to outdoor pasture and fresh air throughout the day." Similarly, 67 percent said they believe "animals have significantly more space to move than on non-organic farms."

    But as Meerman, whose family runs a 90-cow farmstead cheese operation, can attest, organic certification doesn't require either full-time pasture access or more space for the animals. That's one reason his family has chosen to add the Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) label to its line of cheese.

    "Organic is about what the cow is eating and what you're doing to the land," Meerman says. "AWA is about the cow." He takes special care to manage his animals' pain, and keep young cows with their mothers for a week after they're born, for example. And those are just two of the many welfare practices that organic doesn't require. 

    "There are lofty ideals in the current standards," says Suzanne McMillan director of the ASPCA's Farm Animal Welfare campaign. "There are references to ability to engage in natural behavior, comfort behavior, the reduction of stress. But the USDA organic program really is failing to meet both the spirit of organic and consumer expectations around animal welfare."

    The Groundwork
    For as long as federal organic standards have existed, a group of farmers, consumer advocates, and scientists, called the National Organic Standards Board, have helped shape those rules. The board has long been aware of gaps in the animal welfare portion of the regulations, so in 2011, it issued a set of detailed formal recommendations to the USDA. In a rare instance of consensus, every NOSB member signed off on the board's recommendations.

    The organic rules already included a few general recommendations for treating animals well, such as the Organic Pasture Rule, which requires farmers to allow cows and other ruminants to graze for at least 120 days a year. But for laying hens and other poultry, the rules are much less specific.

    The NOSB's proposed rules aim to fix that. They include space requirements for poultry, specifying two square feet per bird. The NOSB also recommended requiring farmers to note how many animals die on their farms before slaughter—something USDA currently doesn't document, but can serve as an important indicator of general welfare.

    Arriving at the space requirement for poultry wasn't easy, says small-scale organic farmer and NOSB member Colehour Bondera. "The people running the large production facilities said, 'We can't shift our operations this way.'"

    In the end, they landed on two square feet, which Bondera describes as "ludicrously minimal." But NOSB acquiesced, he says, because "it was like, 'Let's make it so there's some bare minimums here.'"

    Nearly four years after that initial proposal, the agency is finally poised to issue a proposed rule by the end of this year.

    According to a spokesperson for the USDA, the rules will be "based on the NOSB's recommendations," but just how closely they follow the details of the recommendations will not be entirely clear until the department releases its draft and takes public comments.

    In March, 14 animal welfare, food, and agriculture organizations sent a letter to the USDA expressing support for the National Organic Program move to set new standards and urging them to move swiftly. The letter reads: "Consumers mistakenly believe that organically raised animals are raised more humanely when, in truth, there is often little difference between conventional and organic production in terms of animal treatment" and asks that the NOP "establish minimum space requirements for all species."  

    Does Size Matter?
    Big growers and processors now make up a sizable portion of the organic market; in fact, many small-scale producers have been crowded out of the very sector they helped create.

    "The problem, when you talk about the organic industry, is that it's everything from your small farmer to the largest egg producer in the US, who has an organic line," says Dena Jones, director of the Farm Animal Program at the Animal Welfare Institute, which oversees the AWA program. "The consumer has no way of knowing, without doing a lot of research, whether this is a good product in terms of animal welfare or not."

    Many organic advocates point out that because of their size and influence, large farms and organic food companies tend to shape policies. "The truth is that the NOSB is made up primarily of people representing large entities that are looking out for their own bottom line," Bondera says.

    And large farms often have the most to lose when higher standards are put in place. In 2012, a year after the NOSB's recommendations, the USDA conducted an economic impact analysis of poultry raised with a range of animal welfare standards. The study found that birds with more living space (two square feet per bird) and with more consistent access to the outdoors would cause the price of organic eggs to "increase substantially" among large organic egg producers and "likely cause a substantial number of producers to exit organic production and switch to conventional production."

    While fewer, more expensive organic eggs would mean fewer choices for consumers, some advocates would welcome the shift. Jones feels that the economic side of the argument has won out for too long. It's time for organic agriculture to adhere to "what's in the animal's best interest," she says, "and not just what's in the best interest of the bottom line."

  • Book Review: "Under the Bus" by Caroline Fredrickson

    Under the Bus

    By Caroline Fredrickson


    Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to "lean in" and become leaders while former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter insists we "can't have it all." But what of women who lack the luxury of leaning in or opting out because they're struggling just to get by? They're the focus of Under the Bus, which unpacks the history of the racism and sexism that has left so many working women and people of color without adequate protections. Author Caroline Fredrickson explains how sloppily written laws have made women, particularly in domestic and service jobs, vulnerable to low wages, long hours, and sexual harassment, and then offers up fixes for this broken, exclusive system.

  • Film Review: Don't Think I've Forgotten Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll

    Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll


    On the surface, Don't Think I've Forgotten is a film about the flourishing rock movement that emerged following Cambodia's independence from France in 1953. Director John Pirozzi saturates the first half with vintage footage of Cambodia's '50s and '60s music scene, interspersing it with interviews with musicians who survived the ensuing horrors and relatives of those who didn't. The infectious music blends Chuck Berry-like riffs with haunting traditional melodies. And even though you know it's coming, the progression of coups, bombings, and genocide is shattering. "If you want to eliminate values from past societies," notes a member of the Cambodian royal family ousted in a US-sponsored coup, "you have to eliminate the artists."

  • Steve Earle Can't Stop, Won't Stop
    Steve Earle Jacob Blickenstaff

    At the age of 60, songwriter Steve Earle has 1,000 stories, six ex-wives, and 16 studio albums recorded over nearly three decades. His latest, Terraplane, is a collection of blues-based songs he wrote during a difficult separation from his latest wife, songwriter Allison Moorer—with whom he has a five-year-old son. (His musician son, Justin Townes Earle, is from a previous marriage.)

    Earle is one of the Great American Songwriters, an artist whose deft song structures juggle incisive character studies, personal confession, and passionate politics. His career was born of late-'70s Nashville, where his mentors Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark—along with the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson—were pushing the creative, personal edge of songwriting, even as the Nashville establishment moved toward pop country.

    After several years as a songwriter-for-hire, Earle found commercial success with his 1986 debut, Guitar Town, which soared to No. 1 on the Billboard Country charts. Successive albums Exit Zero and Copperhead Road also did well. But Earle lived turbulently and struggled with addiction. He was arrested twice in the 1990s for drug possession (heroin and cocaine) and sentenced to a year in jail, serving 60 days before being released and going into rehab. Now he's clean and sober. Indeed, you may have spotted him on HBO's The Wire—Earle has done a good bit of film and TV acting as well—as a 12-step mentor to the character Bubbles, who was trying to kick heroin. Earle also had a recurring role on Treme, the HBO drama set in post-Katrina New Orleans.

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  • How Much Money Does Gun Violence Cost in Your State?

    Our ongoing investigation of gun violence, which costs the United States at least $229 billion a year, includes data on the the economic toll for individual states. Wyoming has a small population but the highest overall rate of gun deaths—including the nation's highest suicide rate—with costs working out to about $1,400 per resident. Louisiana has the highest gun homicide rate in the nation, with costs per capita of more than $1,300. Among the four most populous states, the costs per capita in the gun rights strongholds of Florida and Texas outpace those in more strictly regulated California and New York. Hawaii and Massachusetts, with their relatively low gun ownership rates and tight gun laws, have the lowest gun death rates, and costs per capita roughly a fifth as much as those of the states that pay the most.

    Learn more about what's behind these costs—explained here in 90 seconds—and see our data on all 50 states below the map:


    For more of Mother Jones' reporting on guns in America, see all of our latest coverage here, and our award-winning special reports.