Advanced corn ethanol was once thought to be a viable energy alternative to filthy gasoline; a cleaner burning fuel that could someday enjoy wide-scale usage and help to mitigate climate change. Yet a new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has found that ethanol made from corn leftovers may actually be more harmful to the environment than the traditional fossil fuel.
The problem is that removing "corn residue" from fields to produce cellulosic ethanol reduces the soil's ability to trap carbon dioxide, according to the study. When extrapolated to account for mass production, the incidental emissions would be about 7 percent greater than the total emissions from gasoline.
That finding puts some hard numbers behind an interesting note in the U.N.'s latest climate change report, which said "indirect emissions" from biofuels "can lead to greater total emissions than when using petroleum products."
That said, the EPA dismissed the study because it assumed all of a corn field's waste would be used for ethanol production, an assumption the EPA said was "an extremely unlikely scenario that is inconsistent with recommended agricultural practices." And the study did note that emissions could be offset by planting cover crops, so it's not guaranteed that cellulosic ethanol production using corn would have to be more harmful to the planet than gasoline. Jon Terbush
President Trump left open an awful lot of room for speculation Friday when he refused to talk about a potential pardon for his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Earlier this month, Flynn pleaded guilty to making "willfully" false statements to the FBI about his contact with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
"I don't want to talk about pardons with Michael Flynn yet, we'll see what happens, let's see," Trump told reporters. "I can say this, when you look at what's going on with the FBI and the Justice Department, people are very, very angry."
There was one particular word that stuck out to listeners:
"I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet," Trump tells reporters on the South Lawn.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) December 15, 2017
Watch Trump's comments below. Jeva Lange
“I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happens.” pic.twitter.com/7Sy0m9yKKE
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) December 15, 2017
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) made the most of his five minutes of questioning Thursday during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for President Trump's judicial nominees — much to the detriment of Matthew Spencer Petersen, a nominee for the U.S. District Court judgeship for the District of Columbia.
Kennedy's first question seemed pretty innocuous: "Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?" Petersen was the only one of the five nominees to raise his hand, thus inviting 10 seconds of brutal, rapid-fire questioning from Kennedy, as the Louisiana senator confirmed that Petersen had not tried a case in any of the following instances: a jury trial, a civil trial, a criminal trial, a bench trial, a state court, or a federal court.
After pleading his ignorance toward several legal terms, Petersen gave a rambling non-answer about his litigation experience in response to a question from Kennedy about his familiarity with "a motion in limine," which is a request made to exclude certain evidence from a trial. The motions are filed without a jury present and are decided by judges. "Just for the record, do you know what a motion in limine is?" Kennedy asked again. Petersen replied, "I would probably not be able to give you a good definition right here at the table."
If confirmed, Petersen would be charged with trying federal and civil cases in the District of Columbia's federal court, as well as evaluating issues of legality in proceedings. Watch him squirm under Kennedy's relentless questioning — if you can do so without cringing — below. Kelly O'Meara Morales
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) December 15, 2017
Former FBI Director James Comey evidently walked back what was initially planned to be a much harsher condemnation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, The Associated Press reports, prompting the White House to claim Friday there is an "extreme bias" in the bureau against President Trump.
Comey's draft of his highly-scrutinized remarks on July 5, 2016 — obtained by the Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — used language such as calling Clinton and her aides "grossly negligent." That phrasing was later changed to the now-famous declaration that Clinton was "extremely careless" with her emails, a shift in tone that eliminated "language also contained in the relevant criminal statute," AP writes.
In another case, Comey changed phrasing claiming that it was "reasonably likely" that a hostile entity had gained access to Clinton's server to "possible," and deleted a phrase about the "sheer volume" of classified information shared on the server. The Senate Homeland Security chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), said Comey's draft shows that he appeared to edit "the tone and substance" of his remarks. Johnson additionally requested FBI Director Chris Wray name the official who suggested the changes to Comey.
Separately, the Justice Department turned over to the House Intelligence Committee some 375 text messages on Tuesday between two FBI officials that referred to Trump as an "idiot" between Aug. 16, 2015, and Dec. 1, 2016. One of the officials, senior counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's relationship with Russia over the summer, immediately after such messages were discovered. The other, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, had already returned to the FBI.
On Friday, the White House commented on the Comey draft and the text messages, claiming there is an "extreme bias" against Trump among the FBI. Trump, meanwhile, is due to attend an FBI National Academy graduation service later Friday morning. Jeva Lange
Disney and Lucasfilm's Star Wars: The Last Jedi brought in a near-record $45 million in Thursday previews ahead of its official open on Friday, according to early estimates. The latest installment in the Star Wars franchise earlier in the week topped Disney's Beauty and the Beast, which was released in March, to become the year's biggest ticket pre-seller on Fandango. The Last Jedi is the online movie-ticket site's top seller in advance sales since 2015's The Force Awakens, which made $57 million in previews and went on to make a record $248 million on its opening weekend. The Last Jedi, the Star Wars series' eighth installment, is on track to bring in roughly $200 million over its opening weekend. Harold Maass
Russian President Vladimir Putin does not think too highly of the U.S. Congress, The New York Times reports. During his annual national news conference on Thursday, Putin openly mocked American "spy hysteria" and the hypocrisy of wanting Moscow's help on issues like North Korea while simultaneously treating the Kremlin like the enemy.
Putin's comments followed a brief Thursday phone call with Trump. The White House said the pair talked about "how they can work together to resolve the situation involving North Korea's nuclear program," Politico writes.
"You are interesting guys," [Putin] said with a smirk. American lawmakers appear to be good-looking, well dressed, and smart, he said, but they "are placing us on the same shelf with D.P.R.K. and Iran while simultaneously pushing Trump toward solving the North Korean and Iran nuclear problems through joint efforts with us. Are you normal at all?" [The New York Times ]
About once a week, Shira Josephson grabs one of her favorite books, snuggles up to her stuffed animals, and records herself reading out loud so children who are too sick to leave their hospital beds can enjoy hearing stories.
The videos are part of her series Shira's Story Corner, posted to her YouTube page. The 8-year-old came up with the idea to read to seriously ill kids via YouTube after going through training to become a junior ambassador at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. While at the hospital, she learned there is a special area for kids who are too sick to leave their rooms. It bothered her to think that they couldn't even visit the hospital's reading area, and she thought it would make them feel better if she recorded videos for them to watch. "It's been exciting to watch her come up with all these ideas and to help her make them come to life," her mother, Brooke Josephson, told People.
Josephson reads classics like Corduroy, Paddington Bear, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and also takes requests. When she's not reading, Josephson is raising money for Children's Hospital Los Angeles and writing her own books, and she has a message for the kids she hopes she's helping: "I will do everything I can to make the videos special for you, so you don't feel alone." Catherine Garcia
On Thursday, the government did something most Americans opposed and there was chaos and drama at the White House — so, just your average day in Washington.
On Thursday's Late Night with Seth Meyers, the host examined the Federal Communications Commission's deeply unpopular decision to repeal former President Barack Obama's net neutrality rules, as well as Chairman Ajit Pai's love of gigantic coffee mugs and the term "light touch regulation." While this is huge news, it's being overshadowed by the drama surrounding former Apprentice villain Omarosa Manigault Newman's exit from her role as director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison.
The White House announced her departure on Wednesday, and it's been reported Chief of Staff John Kelly made the decision to fire her, with President Trump signing off. In an interview Thursday, Manigault Newman said she notified Kelly she was resigning while in the Situation Room, which impressed Meyers. "Wow, the Situation Room," he said. "Though I have a feeling any room Omarosa goes into becomes a Situation Room. You know it's bad when they have to fire you in the same place they killed Osama bin Laden." He then played clips of pundits reacting to the news of Manigault Newman's exit, plus a bonus of Good Morning America's Robin Roberts giving her the shadiest "bye Felicia." "I wish all news anchors signed off that way," Meyers said. "That's how Edward R. Murrow should have signed off during the McCarthy era. 'Good night, good luck, and bye Felicia.'" Watch the video below. Catherine Garcia