Some of the best #MuckReads we read this week. Want to receive these by email? Sign up to get this briefing delivered to your inbox every weekend.
Inside America's secretive biolabs (USA Today)
"In Louisiana, tests are underway to make sure a deadly bioterror bacterium hasn't colonized the soil and water around the Tulane National Primate Research Center near New Orleans. Late last year, the bacteria got out of one of the center's BSL-3 labs, likely hitching a ride on workers' clothing, sickening two monkeys that lived in outdoor cages and later infecting others. Tulane will spend the next five years testing its outdoor monkey colony as well as wildlife and feral cats around the 500-acre facility to ensure the bacteria haven't contaminated the environment."
How do you define a gang member? (The New York Times Magazine)
"Young men and women are bundled into the broad category of 'gang member' all the time, ... ; based on their wearing this color or that one; based, essentially, on a misunderstanding of how difficult these neighborhoods really are for youth. 'Posing in a picture, acting cool or acting tough can be a navigation strategy,' said one public defender. 'That may not mean they want problems; in fact, it may mean the opposite.'"
"Even in Texas, which leads the nation in executions since 1976 (when the U.S. Supreme Court approved the practice after a brief moratorium), the wheels are coming off the bandwagon. From a peak of 40 executions in 2000, the Lone Star State put 10 prisoners to death last year and seven so far in 2015. According to the state's Department of Corrections, the number of new death sentences imposed by Texas courts this year is precisely zero. There, as elsewhere, prosecutors, judges and jurors are concluding that the modern death penalty is a failed experiment."
Inside the war on coal (Politico)
"...while critics of climate action often grumble that it would be foolish for the U.S. to make sacrifices when China is still building a new coal plant every week, that's no longer true. China actually decreased its coal use last year, and is shuttering all four plants in smog-shrouded Beijing. The trends killing coal in America—cheap gas, wind and solar; more energy efficiency; stricter regulations—are trending abroad as well."
"Wuertz could plant any number of crops that use far less water than cotton and fill grocery store shelves from Maine to Minnesota. But along with hundreds of farmers across Arizona, he has kept planting his fields with cotton instead. He says he has done it out of habit, pride, practicality, and even a self-deprecating sense that he wouldn't be good at anything else. But in truth, one reason outweighs all the others: The federal government has long offered him so many financial incentives to do it that he can't afford not to."