Coal Back as Flashpoint in Climate-Change Fight – by Jess Shankleman November 18, 2017, 4:15 AM PST

  • Germany and Poland come out in support of dirtiest fossil fuel
  • Next round of talks to be held in Poland’s mining heartland
Smokestacks and cooling towers emit smoke near Bergheim, Germany.

Photographer: Wolfgang von Brauchitsch

Coal emerged as the surprise winner from two weeks of international climate talks in Germany, with leaders of the host country and neighboring Poland joining Donald Trump in support of the dirtiest fossil fuel.

While more than 20 nations, led by Britain and Canada, pledged to stop burning coal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended her country’s use of the fuel and the need to preserve jobs in the industry. Meanwhile Poland’s continued and extensive use of coal raised concerns that the next meeting, to be held in the nation’s mining heartland of Katowice, could thwart progress.

“People don’t have total confidence that Poland wants to increase ambition, to put it plainly,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. “They’re 80 percent dependent on coal, they’ve been pushing back against European Union proposals to increase ambition.”

A growing group of countries are promising to end coal use altogether, saying its economic appeal is diminishing as carbon taxes push up costs while solar is increasingly competitive. Merkel herself led the world in installing renewable energy in recent years, but the pressures of forming a new government have seen her waver. Her change of tone at the Bonn talks, which were already clouded by Trump’s vow to take the U.S. out of the landmark Paris accord, fueled concern over the deal’s future as delegates look nervously to Katowice.

“The host of a meeting is a pretty important group,” said Jake Schmidt, a director at the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council. “We fully expect to see Poland selling us on how awesome their coal is.”

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The Latest Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party Is This Sunday in a Pennsylvania High School Gym – Clint Hendler Nov. 18, 2017 6:00 AM

Can an anti-abortion, pro-gun candidate win?

Illustration by Mother Jones

On October 21, Republican Congressman Tim Murphy formally resigned from Congress. The seven-term representative from Pennsylvania had always enjoyed strong ratings from pro-life organizations, but when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazetterevealed that he had been carrying on an affair and had suggested his mistress seek an abortion, his 14 years in Washington were over.

To progressive activists who had spent the opening months of the Trump administration birddogging their congressman, pressuring him to hold a town hall on healthcare, and holding weekly rallies outside his office, the resignation kicked their efforts to replace him into warp speed. According to Mykie Reidy, an activist from Mt. Lebanon, they had already built an “army of volunteers ready to go when we had a candidate ready to do the legwork to flip the district.”

That candidate will be selected this Sunday, when hundreds of Democrats from southwestern Pennsylvania gather in a high school gymnasium to pick the nominee who will compete in a March 13 special election to fill the now-vacant 18thcongressional district. The state party predicts 800 delegates, mostly precinct-level committee people, will attend to cast rounds of secret ballots until one person emerges with a majority.

It’s an unconventional process, and one that has surfaced echoes of larger debates among Democrats, fueled by ideology and identity, about how progressive their candidates should be as they fight across diverse and challenging districts to try to reclaim the House of Representatives in 2018.

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America’s response to school massacres? A booming classroom security industry – Lois BeckettLast modified on Saturday 18 November 2017 06.02 EST

After a deadly school shooting, the UK banned handguns – in the US 20 years of killings have spawned ‘active shooter’ drills and bulletproof backpacks

In this photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut state police lead children from the Sandy Hook elementary school following a shooting there in 2012.
In this photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut state police lead children from the Sandy Hook elementary school following a shooting there in 2012. Photograph: Shannon Hicks/AP

When 16 primary school children were massacred in Dunblane in 1996, the United Kingdom responded by tightening already strict gun laws to ban civilian ownership of handguns.

The United States has responded to nearly 20 years of high-profile school shootings with a booming school security industry. To protect children from potential attackers, companies have offered everything from hi-tech locks for classroom doors to bulletproof whiteboards and backpacks.

Some American schools have even staged fake mass shootings, complete with replica guns, to help their students practice how to respond to an attack. The federal government has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars to put police officers in schools, including $45m in the year after the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting alone. The market for security equipment in the education sector was estimated at $2.68bn in 2017, according to industry analysts at IHS Markit.

Some kinds of preparation have paid off. When staff at the Rancho Tehama elementary school in California heard gunshots on Tuesday, they quickly put the entire school into lockdown. Police said a shooter rampaging through the rural town spent about six minutes shooting into the school, but that he could not get inside. One student was shot through the wall as children lay on the floor to avoid the gunfire, but was in stable condition. School staff were praised for a quick response that seemed likely to have saved many lives.

But school safety experts say that American schools’ preparation for the next school shooting has sometimes backfired, resulting in policy choices that make children less safe.

The National Association of School Psychologists cautions American schools against preparing for shootings with simulated attacks that could end up traumatizing young students or even the school’s staff.

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Why Zimbabwe’s Military Abandoned Mugabe – By Philip Martin November 17, 2017

The Blood Brotherhood Sticks Together

In 2016, when Zimbabwe was rocked by a summer of protests and a social movement gone viral, I argued in Foreign Affairs that the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) was unlikely to break ranks with President Robert Mugabe and his ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). This prediction rested on two main observations: first, that the military shared strong ideological and social bonds with ZANU-PF party elites dating back to Zimbabwe’s liberation war; and second, that many military leaders were themselves deeply imbricated in ZANU-PF’s powerful patronage system.

In light of these facts, Zimbabwe’s recent military putsch is all the more remarkable. For the first time in the country’s 37 years of independence, the military has intervened directly in domestic politics against the wishes of the civilian head of state. The army’s seizure of power represents a break with the norm of civilian supremacy—encapsulated by the adage that “politics controls the gun”—that has existed within ZANU-PF since the organization’s origins in the 1960s, as a Maoist-inspired guerrilla movement fighting Ian Smith’s apartheid regime in Rhodesia. Even if ZNA soldiers return to their barracks tomorrow, the norm of civilian supremacy will have been irreparably damaged.

What caused Zimbabwe’s military to finally turn on Mugabe? The immediate explanation is the escalation of internal competition within ZANU-PF over succession to the presidency. From a longer-term perspective, however, the ZNA putsch is a symptom of generational pressures that have been straining Zimbabwe’s political order for years. The perpetrators of the coup were liberation war veterans in the army who saw their own fading political relevance and so decided to cross the Rubicon in an effort to preserve their privileged national status. In doing so, they have steered Zimbabwean politics into uncharted terrain, filled with some hope but much more uncertainty.

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Climate Change Ripens Prospects For German Winemakers Daniella Cheslow November 17, 20175:00 AM ET

Johannes Selbach checks the green speckled Riesling grapes he grows along the Mosel River in Germany. This year Selbach said the harvest was a record month early, which he says is evidence of global warming.

Daniella Cheslow for NPR

Johannes Selbach’s family has made wine in Germany’s Mosel Valley for four centuries, and he spares little of the history on a tour of his vineyards. He has had three soil profiles extracted from the ground and mounted on the wall of his winery.

“The places where the sun melts the snow first have been known for thousands of years,” he says. “The good spots are known for generations.”

The Romans who planted this valley used single poles to train the vines, Selbach says, and vines still grow on posts on the steep sides of the winding Mosel River, with icons of the Stations of the Cross dotting the footpaths. Selbach takes care not to dirty his suit, which he wore to Sunday Mass, as he walks straight uphill between the vines. In early September, the speckled green Riesling grapes are tart and a little sweet – on the knife’s edge of ripeness. And they are a month early. Selbach looks up at a large white cross on a hilltop. Grapes grown up there were once so unripe that they would need added sugar to make a balanced bottle.

“Twenty-five or 30 years ago, the top of hill was not regarded with affection,” he says. “Today it’s what is prized. Side valleys were not highly regarded, but now we love them.”

Across Europe, hotter temperatures are reshaping the wine industry. In southern Spain and Italy, growers worry the heat will dry out their vines. A fledgling wine business is taking root in the United Kingdom. In Germany, warming has been a blessing, and it comes as Riesling enjoys a renaissance, especially among American drinkers.

One of Riesling’s ambassadors is Ernst Loosen. When I meet him, his black puppy, Nyx, eagerly nuzzles his knee. He admits he’s had little time to spend with her between trips promoting wine overseas. And he is emphatic that life today is easier with warmer temperatures.

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WE GET IT. Presidential campaigns are a blur. One day you’re kissing babies in an Iowa cornfield, the next you’re working the spin room at a Las Vegas debate. Who among us can remember every hand shaken, every appointment kept, every 30-year-old underling plotting a backroom conversation with Vladimir Putin to acquire dirt on a political opponent?

Certainly not Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Since his confirmation hearing in January, the former Alabama senator has faced dozens of hours of questioning under oath about the recent particulars of his career, his work as a surrogate on the Trump campaign, and his knowledge of any interactions between Trump campaign staffers and Russian operatives. Along the way, some fairly crucial details seem to have slipped his mind.

During this week’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, the attorney general’s peculiarly porous memory inspired much frustration among members of Congress eager to pin Sessions down on critical facts relating to Russian efforts to tamper with the 2016 election. In his questioning, representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York noted that over the course of three hearings, Sessions had said “I don’t recall,” in some form, upwards of 85 times.

Some of that count includes duplicates, cases where Sessions answered the same question two or more times. But we checked the record and found 47 distinct instances in which Sessions conveniently drew a blank, including occasions where his answers changed slightly. Funny how that happens. Here’s everything Jeff Sessions has forgotten under oath this year, along with some especially baffling direct quotes:

Senate Judiciary Committee Confirmation Hearing

January 10, 2017

1. Why he voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which extended the statute of limitations on pay discrimination cases.

2. Whether he remembers why the Lilly Ledbetter Act extended the statute of limitations; women often don’t know they’re experiencing pay discrimination until long after they receive their first paycheck. (“My memory is not that good.”)

3. Whether he personally handled three voting rights cases, which he listed among the 10 most significant litigated matters he’d personally handled, despite three attorneys stating that he had no “substantive involvement” in them. (“Well, look, it was 30 years ago. And my memory was of this nature, and my memory was my support for those cases.”)

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A 19th-century American slave memoir is a huge hit in Japan – Constance Grady Nov 18, 2017, 9:00am EST

And the rest of the week’s best writing on books.

Library of Congress

Welcome to the weekly Vox book link roundup, a collection of the best writing on the web about books and related subjects. Here’s the best the internet has to offer for the week of November 12, 2017.

Well, we’re at a difficult moment in history. Many people in power are attempting to rewrite the past and the present to fit their narrative. Writing about spirits is a way to counteract some of that, because the people of the past are allowed to be present in the moment and tell their own (true) stories, and often, there is a reckoning between the living and the dead. And perhaps both books wrestle with grief; writing about ghosts allows us to puzzle through that heaviness.

  • Also at the National Book Awards, Annie Proulx made a speech so good that people in the press pit were murmuring, “Damn,” and by people, I mean me. Vulture has the full text:

The television sparkles with images of despicable political louts and sexual harassment reports. We cannot look away from the pictures of furious elements, hurricanes and fires, from the repetitive crowd murders by gunmen burning with rage. We are made more anxious by flickering threats of nuclear war. We observe social media’s manipulation of a credulous population, a population dividing into bitter tribal cultures. We are living through a massive shift from representative democracy to something called viral direct democracy, now cascading over us in a garbage-laden tsunami of raw data.

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