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Aug. 2 2015 8:40 PM

Obama Wants You to Think His Climate Plan Is Bold. It’s Not.

On Monday, President Obama will unveil the final version of the centerpiece of his climate legacy, the Clean Power Plan. The rule is designed to speed up the retirement of the nation’s fleet of coal-fired power plants—the most carbon-intensive way of creating electricity—and could more than double the rate of coal plant closures by 2040.

In a video preview of the new rule, Obama called the Clean Power Plan “the biggest most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.” While that statement may be true, it’s not saying a whole heck of a lot.

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As I wrote last year when the rule was initially announced, many states are already well on their way to achieving the required reductions, thanks in part to a recent boom in cheap natural gas and the Obama administration’s choice of 2005 as the basis year for cuts, which was close to America’s all-time peak in carbon emissions. Obama’s plan is significant, but it’s not bold.

A previous version of the targets, announced last year, would have required states to begin implementing changes to their power-producing mix in 2020. The final rule, to be announced Monday, gives states and utilities an extra two years, until 2022. The targets will vary by state, depending on their current energy mix, and states will have flexible ways of achieving emissions reductions, including an option to join an interstate cap-and-trade scheme.

All this will be a heavy lift for some coal-intensive states, like Wyoming, but it’s being heralded as largely “business as usual” for some states, like Minnesota, that have already made significant efforts to shift their energy mix.

According to the New York Times and the independent Climate Action Tracker website—which helps keep world leaders honest in the run-up to this year’s possibly pivotal international climate negotiations in Paris—the new rule puts America on a middling emissions-reduction pathway, at best.

Vox’s Brad Plumer has calculated that the president’s rule would shave just 6 percent from U.S. carbon emissions by 2030. Climate science and international equity demand the U.S. cut emissions 80 percent by then. We’re nowhere near that pace.

Still, this plan is not nothing. In its coverage, the Times includes this hopeful gem:

But experts say that if the rules are combined with similar action from the world’s other major economies, as well as additional action by the next American president, emissions could level off enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

That’s a lot of hedging on which to base a climate legacy.

In fact, when compared with the climate plans of his would-be successors on the left—Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley—Obama ranks last in terms of ambition. Clinton, who has frequently aligned herself with the president on climate, announced a preview of her own climate plan last week. It’s fractionally more ambitious than Obama’s, but it essentially just kicks the can forward another few years.

And as Slate’s Daniel Politi writes, there’s no guarantee the plan will endure in its current form after the president leaves office. Obama’s plan faces a phalanx of attacks from the political right, and legal challenges—which may take several years—could find their way to the Supreme Court. Obama has vowed to veto any actions to weaken it from a hostile Congress as long as he remains in office. As Jason Plautz of National Journal writes, the next president may not be so climate friendly, so the ultimate fate of Obama’s climate legacy will be in the hands of others.

In a video touting the new climate rule, Obama’s lead environmental advocate, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that if the rule moves forward, “We’ll know we’re doing all we can, together, to take action against climate change.” That’s simply not true. We can, and should, do much more.

Last week, former NASA climate scientist James Hansen, fresh off a dire new warning about global sea levels, had harsh words for the slow, incremental progress that’s formed essentially the entirety of American’s climate ambition to date. “We have two political parties, neither one of which is willing to face reality,” Hansen told the Guardian. “Conservatives pretend it’s all a hoax, and liberals propose solutions that are non-solutions.”

“It’s just plain silly,” said Hansen, speaking specifically of Clinton’s planned renewable energy push. “No, you cannot solve the problem without a fundamental change, and that means you have to make the price of fossil fuels honest.”

In the end, our climate won’t care about how we fix this problem. But it’s clear that time is running out. If Obama truly wants to go all-in on climate change, he should meet Republicans where they are—as painful as that might be—and negotiate a way to pass a carbon tax. (I’m going to get a flood of email saying how naïve I am for saying that, but it’s true.)

Don’t get me wrong; the Clean Power Plan, if fully enacted as it is, would definitely help reduce our carbon emissions. But to imply that Monday’s nudge toward cleaner electricity will bring about a bold new era in American climate leadership is disingenuous. Growing economic headwinds in the fossil fuel sector—particularly in the coal and oil industries—may bring about radical change much sooner than Obama’s Clean Power Plan. If Obama really wants to make a lasting impact on global warming, he can work across the aisle or across the Pacific in Beijing, to work toward implementing a meaningful, economy-wide carbon tax as quickly as possible. Just because such a breakthrough feels impossible doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.

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Aug. 2 2015 2:55 PM

Joe Biden is Looking Into a Presidential Run (or at Least his Aides are Talking)

Vice President Joe Biden may be getting ready to run for president. Or maybe not. At the very least, long-standing Clinton-hater Maureen Dowd has pushed political observers to start speculating again. The New York Times columnist pulled at the heartstrings in her column this weekend, saying Biden’s son Beau Biden told his dad to run shortly before his death in May. Now several news outlets, including both the New York Times and the Associated Press, published articles speculating about whether the vice-president was getting ready to try to become the oldest president ever elected to a first term.

Biden’s staff has been reaching out to Democratic leaders and donors to hold “hushed phone calls and quiet lunches” weighing a potential run, reports the Times. Many say the vice-president is being pushed by the memory of his 46-year-old son wanting him to run. “He was so close to Beau and it was so heartbreaking that, frankly, I thought initially he wouldn’t have the heart,” the supporter, Michael Thornton, a Boston lawyer, tells the Times. “But I’ve had indications that maybe he does want to — and ‘that’s what Beau would have wanted me to do.’”

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Dowd wrote in her column that Beau “tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.” Biden’s other son, Hunter, also apparently told him to run, saying, “Dad, it’s who you are.”

Insiders insist there’s more to that statement than Dowd being her usual Clinton-bashing self. After all, she’s hardly the first to raise the possibility recently. On Thursday, Fox News’ Ed Henry reported Clinton aides were getting increasingly nervous about a potential Biden candidacy. The increased chatter, some Democrats say, reflects the growing concern about recent polls showing Clinton’s support among independents declining. Plus, the way Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has been attracting large crowds is being described as “evidence of a hunger within the party for an alternative to Clinton’s candidacy,” notes the Associated Press. So far though, “Biden has done little to lay the groundwork for a possible challenge to Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democratic field,” points out CNN.

If Biden does decide to join the race, it would be a difficult battle considering Clinton has already raised nearly $50 million and much of the party is excited about the possibility of electing the first woman president. Aides say they expect Biden to make a final decision by September.

Speaking to ABC News, Sanders said on Sunday that while he’s “very fond” of Biden "the American people... want to go beyond conventional establishment politics."

Aug. 2 2015 2:02 PM

Another American Doctor Illegally Hunted a Lion With a Bow and Arrow in Zimbabwe

First a dentist, now a gynecologic oncologist. Another American doctor appears to have illegally killed a lion in Zimbabwe in an illegal hunt with a bow and arrow several months ago. Amid international outcry over the killing of iconic lion Cecil, Zimbabwe authorities said Sunday an American doctor illegally killed a lion in April, also around the Hwange National Park.  Zimbabwe's National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority named the American as Jan Casimir Seski of Murrysville, Pennsylvania, reports the Associated Press.

The New York Daily News identifies Seski as a 68-year-old gynecologic oncologist with a practice in Pittsburgh. It seems Seski is an avid hunter. A 2012 post on Facebook from Melorani Safaris, which bills itself as “South Africa`s premier bowhunting destination,” claims Seski went on a 10-day hunt and “harvested some very nice animals,” including a giraffe. (Melorani Safaris seems to have taken down its Facebook page that included photographs of a man who appeared to be Seski.)

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A local landowner was arrested in the case and is reportedly cooperating with authorities. "When hunters come into the country they fill a document stating their personal details, the amount they have paid for the hunt, the number of animals to be hunted, the species to be hunted and the area and period where that hunt is supposed to take place," National Parks spokeswoman Caroline Washaya Moyo said to explain how authorities know Seski’s name. "The American conducted his hunt in an area where lion hunting is outlawed. The landowner who helped him with the hunt also did not have a have a quota for lion hunting."

Zimbabwe continues to seek the extradition of Minnesota dentist Walter James Palmer, who apparently killed Cecil the lion a month ago. The National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority on Saturday suspended the hunting of lions, leopards, and elephants around the Hwange National Park. It also suspended bow and arrow hunts. Until now, around 50 lions were killed per year in Zimbabwe by hunters, a number that was higher before reforms to the industry in 2013, reports the Telegraph.



Aug. 2 2015 12:34 PM

16-Year-Old Stabbed in Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade Dies

One of the people stabbed during Jerusalem’s gay pride parade Thursday has died. Shira Banki, a 16-year-old Israeli teenager, succumbed to her wounds and her organs will be donated, hospital officials said. Banki took part in the march to show solidarity with her LGBT friends, reports Haaretz.

Banki’s family issued a statement:

Our magical Shira was murdered because she was a happy 16-year-old—full of life and love—who came to express her support for her friends' rights to live as they choose. For no good reason and because of evil, stupidity and negligence, the life of our beautiful flower was cut short. Bad things happen to good people, and a very bad thing happened to our amazing girl. The family expresses hope for a less hatred and more tolerance.
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Banki was one of six people wounded by Yishai Shlissel, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man who was arrested immediately after the attack. Police have confirmed he carried out a similar attack on a gay pride parade in 2005 and had been released from prison three weeks earlier. He had publicly complained about the parade after his release, leading to questions about whether the police should have kept a closer watch on his whereabouts. Jerusalem police said they had no intelligence that Schlissel was planning to attend the parade, reports the Jerusalem Post.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to the girl’s family. "Shira was murdered because she bravely supported the principle that each one can live their life in honor and security," Netanyahu said in a statement. "We will not allow this despicable killer to undermine the core values that Israeli society is based upon. We contemptuously denounce his actions of hate and violence. We will do everything in our power to bring this killer to face justice.”

Two others wounded in the attack are still hospitalized in serious condition but appear to be making progress.

Aug. 2 2015 11:55 AM

Obama to Impose Steeper Emissions Cuts Than Expected in Climate Change Plan

President Barack Obama is getting ready to unveil an aggressive plan to tackle climate change on Monday that involves steeper cuts on greenhouse gas emissions from power plans than had been previously expected. Opponents of the new rules have vowed to file suit and demand an injunction to prevent the rules from being implemented. Yet Obama is pushing ahead, reportedly seeing the implementation of strong action on climate as central to his legacy.

Although the draft proposal had first called for a 30 percent decline in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 2030 when compared to 2005, Obama will now call for a 32 percent drop. And initial calls for 22 percent of a power plant’s generating capacity to come from renewable sources was increased to 28 percent, details NPR.

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If implemented, the rules could “ultimately transform America’s electricity industry,” notes the New York Times. The paper explains:

If they withstand the expected legal challenges, the regulations will set in motion sweeping policy changes that could shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, freeze construction of new coal plants and create a boom in the production of wind and solar power and other renewable energy sources.

“Climate change is not a problem for another generation, not anymore,” Obama said. In a video billed as a “memo to America” the president described the rules as “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.”

More than a dozen states have already vowed to fight the action to combat climate change. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called on governors to not comply with the new rules, which would lead to an inevitable confrontation with the Environmental Protection Agency that would then have to devise a plan to force action, notes the Associated Press.

Aug. 2 2015 10:02 AM

Mistaken Identity: Jericho the Lion is Still Alive (and Isn’t Even Cecil’s Brother)

Jericho is alive and well. Despite assurances Saturday from the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force that Jericho, a lion identified as Cecil’s brother had been killed by illegal hunters, he was spotted feeding on a giraffe this morning. Shortly after news of Jericho’s supposed death, other conservation groups expressed doubts about the news. And the good news was confirmed this morning. David Macdonald of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit wrote a statement detailing the good news this morning:

Last night we were surprised so see rumours of the death of a second lion, Jericho, circulating in the media — we had no evidence for this. The rumours claimed he too had been hunted illegally. The WildCRU field research team and a National Parks ranger set out at daybreak to attempt to find him. People will realise that even with the aid of tracking equipment, this is difficult and skilful work in remote bush. Andy Loveridge contacted me moments ago. Jericho was seen alive and well at 06.15am. He has been feeding on a giraffe kill with the lionesses from his pride.
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Further Statement from Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority on Jericho the Lion

Posted by Tikki Hywood Trust on Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force that first reported Jericho had been killed also acknowledged their mistake but insist a lion has in fact been killed:

We were given 3 separate confirmed reports last night that is was Jericho. We could not reach the research station in Hwange to verify if Jericho was indeed alive after they reported that they were receiving signal from his collar.
We apologize for reporting that he had died but were confident that our sources were in fact correct. This was a case of mistaken identity, but a lion has in fact been killed...although we are relieved that it was not Jericho, we are not happy that yet another lion has been killed...

And it turns out reports of his death were not the only things that were widely exaggerated. Jericho is not, in fact, Cecil’s brother. Wildcru’s Macdonald explains:

They were not related though their bond was one close to brotherhood. Male lions often form what are termed co-operative “coalitions” with unrelated males in order to better compete with other males for territories and prides. In fact 42% of male lion coalitions are genetically unrelated, though larger coalitions tend to be brothers or half-brothers.

Aug. 1 2015 3:43 PM

Cecil the Lion’s Brother, Jericho, Also Killed by Illegal Hunter

The tragedy runs in the family. While the world continues to be outraged at the Minnesota dentist who killed a lion named Cecil, there is word that the lion’s brother, Jericho, has also been killed by an illegal hunter. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force announced the sad news in a brief Facebook post but released few details. A park official confirmed to CNN that Jericho was gunned down by a hunter operating illegally in Hwange National Park.

BREAKING NEWS - JERICHO HAS BEEN SHOT TODAY AT 4pm - It is with huge disgust and sadness that we have just been...

Posted by ZCTF - Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force on Saturday, August 1, 2015

The killing has raised concern about the fate of Cecil’s cubs that Jericho had been seen protecting. Before news of the latest killing, David Macdonald of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit wrote a statement detailing how Jericho had stepped in to take care of the cubs and they did not seem to be under threat:

Cecil's coalition involved a partnership with another beautiful male, nicknamed Jericho. Jericho is as likely as Cecil to be the father of some of the cubs, so he has a stake in their survival. Right now, Jericho is in good health and he (and the lionesses) will defend the cubs. We have no evidence of any new coalition threatening them so there is a good chance that all will be well. Meanwhile, to ensure we learn as much as possible about the social effects of Cecil's death, the team is going to put a new satellite collar on at least one lioness.
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The killing of Jericho took place as Zimbabwe is working on trying to extradite Walter Palmer, who hunted Cecil with a bow and arrow, apparently after luring him out of the park. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has suspended the hunting of lions, leopards, and elephants in the area where Cecil was killed, according to the Associated Press. Zimbabwe’s wildlife authority said the new limits on hunting were necessary "following the killing of the iconic lion Cecil." Bow and arrow hunts have also been suspended.

Aug. 1 2015 2:05 PM

Osama bin Laden’s Sister and Stepmother Killed in Mysterious U.K. Plane Crash

Three relatives of late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden were among the four people killed under mysterious circumstances when a private jet crashed in southern England. Bin Laden’s stepmother, Rajaa Hashim, his sister, Sana, and her husband Zuhair Hashim were immediately killed when the plane crashed into dozens of parked cars at a car auction site near Blackbushe Airport, reports the Telegraph. The family members were in the U.K. on vacation, according to police. The pilot of the plane was a Jordanian in his late 50s, reports the Associated Press.

The bin Laden family, which owns a construction conglomerate and is one of the wealthiest in Saudi Arabia, disowned Osama in 1994. The Saudi ambassador to Britain offered his condolences and said the embassy was working with authorities to investigate the crash. Blackbushe Airport said in a statement that the jet crashed near the end of the runway, which suggests it was trying to land. "It suggests that the plane either landed too late or tried to take off again when the pilot realized it wasn't going to make the end of the runway,” a former air accident investigator tells the BBC. "Or it may have been a problem with the brakes."

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Many immediately started raising questions about why the plane crashed. The plane had used the runway several times in recent months and the crash happened in “near perfect conditions on a runway that was fitted with Precision Approach Pathway Indicators,” reports the Guardian. Those indicators point out to pilots if they’re coming in too high or too low.

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A burned-out car is removed from the site of an airplane crash at the British Car Auctions lot next to Blackbushe Airport near Camberley in southern Britain August 1, 2015.

REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

“It doesn’t make sense to me as an ordinary pilot why something that advanced and easy to fly would bury itself in the auction ground at the end of such a long runway,” said Simon Moores, a flight instructor and pilot.

The bin Laden family is no stranger to plane crashes. Mohammed bin Laden, Osama’s father, was killed in a plane crash in 1967. One of his sons, Salem, also died in a plane crash in 1988.

Aug. 1 2015 12:20 PM

SuperPacs Have Taken Over 2016 Campaign Fueled by Million-Dollar Donations

In case there was any doubt that money in the presidential campaign has reached unprecedented levels, filings with the Federal Election Commission made it clear how important millionaires and billionaires have become to the process of electing a commander in chief. And the numbers are mighty depressing. “The 67 biggest donors, each of whom gave $1 million or more, donated more than three times as much as the 508,000 smallest donors combined,” reports Politico. These 67 donors gave a whopping $128 million in cold hard cash to super PACs that support specific presidential candidates.

Overall, super PACs have raised $271 million from 9,500 donors. To put that number in perspective, super PACs spent $374 million during the entire 2012 campaign cycle and we’re not even in the primaries yet. “At this point in 2011, only one of the 12 Republican contenders had a super-PAC. That was Mitt Romney, whose super-PAC's $12 million haul was less than the $18 million raised by his official campaign at that point,” notes Bloomberg.

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And the big money is bigger than ever. In 2012, a mere six Republicans donated $5 million or more over the course of the entire campaign cycle. But now, in the first six months of the campaign, nine Republicans have already donated $5 million or more, details CNN. Even though the amounts may be higher than ever, the names are all pretty familiar. “The relative absence of new faces in the very small pool of really big donors magnifies the impact of ultra-wealthy individuals who have been participating in the process for years,” points out the Center for Responsive Politics in a piece in the Guardian.

In what may be an ominous sign of things to come though, the financial disclosure reports also reveal just how much candidates have outsourced some of their traditional operations to super PACs. In fact, super PACs often supported candidates before they even threw their hat in the ring. Watchdog groups say the filings put in evidence how candidates have not been shy about getting around the rules that limit how much they can fundraise before officially launching a campaign, reports the New York Times.

 “Today’s revelations will just make voter cynicism about politics even worse,” David Donnelly, president of campaign-finance reform advocacy group Every Voice, tells the Times. “How will candidates convince voters they aren’t beholden to $10 million donors?”

Aug. 1 2015 10:55 AM

Legendary Wrestling Bad Boy “Rowdy” Roddy Piper Dies at 61

The kilt-wearing, trash-talking fighter who wrestling fans loved to hate died on Friday at 61. Roddy Piper, whose real name was Roderick George Toombs, died “peacefully in his sleep,” his agent tells the Los Angeles Times. The cause of death is unclear. Although he had been diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2006, Piper said last year he was cancer free. "He was in great health as far as I knew," his agent said.

Piper, one of the biggest stars in the wrestling circuit in the mid-1980s, won more than 30 titles in his career and was inducted into wrestling’s WWE Hall of Fame in 2005. He also acted in several movies, including John Carpenter’s cult classic They Live. Although he was Canadian, Piper played up on his supposed Scottish heritage by often wearing kilts outside of the ring and playing the bagpipes.

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For years, Piper was Hulk Hogan’s perennial rival and the two headlined some of the biggest matches during the wrestling's heyday in the 1980s. In one of the legendary matches, Hogan and Mr. T beat Piper and Paul Orndorff on March 31, 1985 in what was the first WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden, notes the Associated Press.

In one of the most memorable scenes of his career, Piper cracked a coconut over the head of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and later rubbed a banana in his face.  

Piper also played up a strong rivalry with Cindy Lauper, who was an ally of Hulk Hogan, and even kicked her on the head as part of a scene.

Lauper took to Twitter to remember Piper.

Hogan, who was fired by the WWE only days ago, called Piper his “best friend” and “a legend,” reports CNN.

"Roddy Piper was one of the most entertaining, controversial and bombastic performers ever in WWE, beloved by millions of fans around the world," said WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon. "I extend my deepest condolences to his family."

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