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Scott Brown Promises Women He Has Supported Contraception Since He Was Barely Legal

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 7:16 PM EDT

In an effort to defend his record on supporting women's access to contraceptives, Scott Brown has potentially shared more information than any single voter wants to know.

"To think that I don't support women's rights and ability to get contraception is just a false premise," Brown said during a Monday debate with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). "I have since I was 18 years old."

Brown, who is the GOP senate candidate in New Hampshire, was responding to a question regarding his past co-sponsorship of legislation opposing Obamacare because of its requirement mandating employers provide healthcare coverage (birth control being the most controversial) to workers.

He did not elaborate on the exact fundamental shift that occurred when he turned 18. Perhaps, Brown was overwhelmed by his newfound civic duty to vote in a presidential election?

But hey! In the case, you are reveling in Brown's likely personal detail, here are some photos of the former senator working out and loving it.

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Your Lesson for the Day: If You Decline to Use Military Force, You've "Kind of Lost Your Way"

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 6:45 PM EDT

Today the Washington Post summarizes a new book by Leon Panetta, former CIA director and secretary of defense in the Obama administration, as well as an interview Panetta gave to Susan Page of USA Today:

By not pressing the Iraqi government to leave more U.S. troops in the country, he “created a vacuum in terms of the ability of that country to better protect itself, and it’s out of that vacuum that ISIS began to breed,” Panetta told USA Today, referring to the group also known as the Islamic State.

....The USA Today interview was the first of what inevitably will be a series as he promotes his book, “Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace,” which is sharply critical of Obama’s handling of the troop withdrawal from Iraq, Syria and the advance of the Islamic State. “I think we’re looking at kind of a 30-year war” that will also sweep in conflicts in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and Libya, he told the paper.

My first thought when I read this was puzzlement: Just what does Panetta think those US troops would have accomplished if they'd stayed in Iraq? Nobody ever seems to have a very concrete idea on that score. There's always just a bit of vague hand waving about how of course they would have done....something....something....something.....and stopped the spread of ISIS. But what?

My second thought was the same as Joe Biden's: would it kill guys like Panetta to at least wait until Obama is out of office before airing all their complaints? Do they have even a smidgen of loyalty to their ex-boss? But I suppose that ship sailed long ago, so there's not much point in griping about it.

In the end, what really gets me is this, where Panetta talks about Obama's foreign policy legacy:

"We are at a point where I think the jury is still out," Panetta says. "For the first four years, and the time I spent there, I thought he was a strong leader on security issues. ... But these last two years I think he kind of lost his way. You know, it's been a mixed message, a little ambivalence in trying to approach these issues and try to clarify what the role of this country is all about.

"He may have found himself again with regards to this ISIS crisis. I hope that's the case. And if he's willing to roll up his sleeves and engage with Congress in taking on some of these other issues, as I said I think he can establish a very strong legacy as president. I think these next 2 1/2 years will tell us an awful lot about what history has to say about the Obama administration."

Think about this. Panetta isn't even a super hawkish Democrat. Just moderately hawkish. But his basic worldview is simple: as long as Obama is launching lots of drone attacks and surging lots of troops and bombing plenty of Middle Eastern countries—then he's a "strong leader on security issues." But when Obama starts to think that maybe reflexive military action hasn't acquitted itself too well over the past few years—in that case he's "kind of lost his way."

That's the default view of practically everyone in Washington: Using military force shows strong leadership. Declining to use military force shows weakness. But most folks inside the Beltway don't even seem to realize they feel this way. It's just part of the air they breathe: never really noticed, always taken for granted, and invariably the difficult but sadly necessary answer for whichever new and supposedly unique problem we're addressing right now. This is what Obama is up against.

This Mime Laughing With Refugee Children On The Run From ISIS Is Surreal, Beautiful, And Starkly Human

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 5:06 PM EDT
 
 

As ISIS raises its menacing black flags to the East of Kobane, a Syrian city on the northern border with Turkey where Kurds are battling ISIS and hordes of civilians are evacuating, a mime puts on a show for Syrian refugee children in a scene straight out of Life is Beautiful. The mime, like Robert Benigni as Guido with his son Joshua in a Nazi concentration camp, makes light of a war-torn zone and the ultra-violent killers practically right outside the door by making a few practical jokes.

Reporters on the ground, including Jenan Moussa, have tweeted about ISIS's "booby trapped cars" which exploded in Kobane, street fights, constant shelling and explosions, and the atmosphere of pure terror as night falls in Syria. But just outside the city, children watch and play along with a mime's hand gestures, enraptured. In a second video, the mime plays with a puppet of a small child, and a member of his audience takes the puppet's hand.

A screenshot of Kazim Kizil's video of the mime and puppeteer in Kobane. Kazim Kizil/Facebook

The videos were posted by a Turkish Facebook user, Kazim Kizil, who has been watching and posting about the border area for several days. Kizil's videos give a rare touching, lively insight into a land seized by blood, war, and terror.

Let John Oliver And Jeff Goldblum Show You How Police Commit "Legalized Robbery"

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 2:42 PM EDT

In last night's episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver guides us through the uncomfortably murky practice of civil forfeiture -- a completely legal procedure that allows police to seize one's money and property without ever charging said person with any wrongdoing.

Oliver's segment cites a recent Washington Post investigation into the shady practice, which is used by law enforcement agencies throughout the country and is reportedly on the rise. As Ezekiel Edwards of the Criminal Law Reform Project succinctly labels in Oliver's segment, yes, civil forfeiture sounds an awful lot like "legalized robbery by law enforcement."

Pretty disturbing, no? Thankfully, Oliver's report includes a helpful "Law & Order" parody featuring Jeff Goldblum to walk us through the absurdity that is civil forfeiture.

5 Percent of Religious Americans Routinely Try to Fool God

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 2:16 PM EDT

Speaking of phone surveys, surely a survey conducted by LifeWay, a Christian retailer based in Nashville, TN, should be one that we can rely on. So what was LifeWay curious about? Prayer. In particular: how often you pray; what you pray for; and whether your prayers are answered. The chart on the right, perhaps one of my all time favorites, shows what people said they prayed for.

Some of these are unexceptionable. Praying for your enemies is supposedly a Christian sort of thing to do (assuming you're praying for their redemption, of course). Praying to win the lottery is pretty standard stuff. And despite mountains of evidence that God doesn't really care who wins the Super Bowl, there's always been plenty of praying for that too.

But finding a good parking spot? Seriously? There's also a fair amount of Old Testament vengeance on display here. But my favorite is the 5 percent of respondents who prayed for success in something they knew wouldn't please God.

This is great. Apparently these folks are more willing to be honest with a telephone pollster than with God despite the fact that God already knows. If it displeases Him, then that's that. You aren't going to fool Him into making it happen anyway. I'm also intrigued by the 20 percent who prayed for success in something they "put almost no effort in." That's fabulous! Not that they did it, mind you. That's just human nature. But that they were willing to fess up to this to a telephone pollster. Is there anything people aren't willing to confide to telephone pollsters?

Anyway, another chart tells us that 25 percent of those who pray say their prayers are answered all the time. All the time! This is terrific, and I want to meet one of these people. God has not been noticeably receptive to me lately, and I could use some help from someone with a 100 percent batting average.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, is it really possible that virtually none of these folks ever prayed for their health to improve? Or is that too risky to admit, since usually it's fairly obvious when it doesn't work?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 6, 2014

Mon Oct. 6, 2014 1:40 PM EDT

A US Marine emerges from the cockpit of a F/A-18 Hornet. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler Ngiraswei)

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Americans Are Rebelling Against Phone Surveys

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 12:29 PM EDT

Carl Bialik reports on the state of the state in political polling:

Fifteen pollsters told us their response rates for election polls this year and in 2012. The average response rate this year is 11.8 percent — down 1.9 percentage points from 2012. That may not sound like a lot, but when fewer than one in seven people responded to polls in 2012, there wasn’t much room to drop. It’s a decline of 14 percent, and it’s consistent across pollsters — 12 of the 15 reported a decline, and no one reported an increase.

These results are consistent with what pollsters have reported for years: that people are harder to reach by phone, and are less likely to want to talk to strangers when they are reached. Here, the pollsters show just how quickly response rates have fallen in only two years.

I assume the problem here is twofold. First, there are too many polls. A few decades ago it might have seemed like a big deal to get a call from a Gallup pollster. Sort of like being a Nielsen family. Today it's not. Polls are now conducted so frequently, and the public has become so generally media savvy, that it's just sort of a nuisance.

More generally, there are just too many spam phone calls. The Do Not Call Registry was a great idea, but there are (a) too many loopholes, including for pollsters, and (b) too many spammers who don't give a damn. When the registry first went on line, my level of spam phone calls dropped dramatically. Since then, however, it's gradually increased and is now nearly as bad as it ever was. I won't even pick up the phone anymore if Caller ID suggests it's a commercial call of some variety. Nor is there much likelihood that this situation is going to improve as long as the spammers are smart enough not to call Chuck Schumer's cell phone.

So perhaps polling is going to end up being a victim of its own success. During election years I get two or three calls a month from pollsters, which is pretty remarkable if I'm anything close to average. It means pollsters are making something like 100 million or more calls per month across the country. Is that possible? It hardly seems like it. Maybe I'm an outlier. But one way or another, it's a big number, and it's no wonder that people are hanging up on them in droves.

Here's Why I Left My Dentist

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 11:34 AM EDT

Kiera Butler manages to punch one of my buttons today in a piece about the growing problem of "creative diagnosis" in dentistry:

Upselling in dentistry isn't a new phenomenon, but it's having a moment....A generation ago, newly hatched dentists would join established practices as modestly paid associates, with the promise of eventually becoming partners. But these days, with dentists retiring later, there's less turnover in private practice. Instead, more and more young dentists are taking jobs with chains, many of which set revenue quotas for practitioners.

Some years ago, my local dentist was purchased by a chain operation. For a while, nothing seemed to change. But then things did. Was it the recession? Was the chain doing poorly and needed more revenue? Did they hire a new CEO? I'll never know. What I do know is that over time I got more and more skeptical that their recommendations were based purely on best practices. Suddenly I needed lots of fillings replaced. I needed special antibiotic treatments that my insurance didn't cover. I should be coming in every three months, not every six months. And sitting in the waiting room, I frequently overheard conversations that sounded more like they came from a stall in a Turkish bazaar than from a medical office in Southern California.

So I finally left and switched to a dentist recommended by a friend. No more antibiotics. My gums seemed to have been miraculously cured. Coming in twice a year was just fine.

Was my old dentist really pushing treatments that I didn't need? I'll never know with certainty. But it sure felt like it, and I simply lost confidence in them. It felt like the place was being run by the finance department, not by a bunch of doctors. Caveat emptor.

Joe Biden Apologizes For Telling the Truth About ISIS

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 10:53 AM EDT

If a gaffe is the act of accidentally telling the truth, then Joe Biden pulled off the mother of all gaffes on Thursday:

Speaking at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Mr. Biden said allies including Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had extended unconditional financial and logistical support to Sunni fighters trying to oust the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“President Erdogan told me,” he said, according to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, “ ‘You were right. We let too many people through. Now we are trying to seal the border.’

“Our allies poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against al-Assad,” he said, including jihadists planning to join the Nusra Front and Al Qaeda.

Our Middle East allies went nuclear over this remark, and by my count Biden has now apologized for it at least three times. Maybe more. I'm not sure. All for the sin of telling the truth.

That's not to say Biden should have said this, of course. Diplomacy is shadowy and vague for good reasons. Still, you have to feel for the guy. Of all the things to be called on the carpet for, this is surely the one he deserves the least.

The Supreme Court Just Saved Gay Marriage in Five States

| Mon Oct. 6, 2014 10:12 AM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court turned down same-sex marriage appeals from five states—Indiana, Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

From Reuters:

By rejecting appeals in cases involving Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana, the court left intact lower-court rulings that struck down bans in those states.

Other states under the jurisdiction of appeals courts that struck down the bans will also be affected, meaning the number of states with gay marriage is likely to quickly jump from 19 to 30.

The decision to decline the cases, which will allow gay marriages to continue, comes as a surprise, as SCOTUS was expected to hear at least one of the cases.

The justices did not explain their rejection to review the appeals. But by declining to hear them, 30 states and the District of Columbia will soon have gay marriage and effectively ends the argument over same-sex marriage both nationally and within the Supreme Court itself.

Since the announcement Monday morning, same-sex couples in the states have already begun marrying.

As Mother Jones previously reported, the appeals asked "SCOTUS to consider whether a state law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment. Six of the seven cases also [raised] the question of whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states."