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Health and Logistical Update

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 8:45 PM EDT

Howdy everyone. I'm back. But I'll bet you didn't even know I was gone.

I spent most of the day up at City of Hope in Duarte getting a few final tests plus a final visit with my transplant physician before I go up next week for the final stage of chemo. For those who are interested, here's my final and (hopefully) firm schedule.

On Monday I go up to CoH and check in to the Village. This sounds like something from The Prisoner, but it's actually just a small collection of houses on the grounds of the campus. Unless something goes wrong that requires round-the-clock observation and care, this is where I'll be staying. It's obviously nicer and more convenient than being cooped up in a hospital room, and it comes complete with its own kitchen so I'm free to make my own meals if I want. (I can also order out from the hospital cafeteria if I don't feel like cooking my own stuff.)

On Tuesday and Wednesday I go into the Day Hospital for an infusion of high-dose Melphalan, a powerful chemotherapy drug. This will kill off all my remaining cancerous bone marrow stem cells, and, along the way, kill off all my healthy stem cells too. So on Thursday they'll pump my own frozen stem cells back into me.

And that's about it. Within a few days of all this I'll be laid low with fatigue, mouth sores, and loss of hair—and hopefully not much more, since that would require transfer to the hospital, which I'd sure like to avoid. For the two weeks after that, I'll take a wide variety of medications and check into the Day Hospital every morning for testing and whatever else they deem necessary (for example, IV fluids if I'm not drinking enough). The rest of the time I spend in my little house, waiting for my immune system to recover enough for me to be sent home.

That will take me through the middle of May, at which point I should be in fairly reasonable shape. Full and complete recovery will take longer—possibly quite a bit longer—but that's unknowable at this point. I'll just have to wait and see.

The next time you see me after this weekend I'll be bald as an egg, as any true cancer patient should be. Yes, there will be pictures. I wouldn't deprive you of that. Between now and then, wish me luck.

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McDonald's Franchisees: "We Will Continue to Fall and Fail"

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 7:11 PM EDT

McDonald's opened its first franchise in Des Plaines, Ill., 60 years ago today, but its franchisees aren't exactly celebrating.

"The future looks very bleak. I'm selling my McDonald's stock," one operator wrote in response to a recent survey of McDonald's franchises across the country, as quoted by Business Insider. "The morale of franchisees is at its lowest level ever."

"McDonalds' system is broken," wrote one franchisee.

"McDonalds' system is broken," another wrote, according to MarketWatch. "We will continue to fall and fail."

Is the fast-food giant having a mid-life crisis?

McDonald's has some 3,000 franchises in the United States, and 32 of them—representing 215 restaurants—took part in the latest survey by Wall Street analyst Mark Kalinowski of Janney Capital Markets. Many of them complained about poor business this year and blamed corporate executives. When asked to assess their six-month business outlook on a scale of 1 to 5, they responded grimly with an average of 1.81. Maybe that's because, according to the survey, same-store sales for franchises declined 3.7 percent in March and 4 percent in February.

Only three of the 32 franchisees said they had a "good" relationship with their franchisor, while about half described their relationship as "poor." The average score for this question was 1.48 out of 5, the lowest score since Kalinowski first started surveying the franchisees more than a decade ago.

Reuters reported that a McDonald's spokesperson responded to the survey by noting the poll size and saying that the company appreciates feedback from franchisees and has a "solid working relationship with them."

Last month, McDonald's executives invited franchisees to a "Turnaround Summit" in Las Vegas, to address its US sales decline. But the get-together didn't seem to boost anyone's spirits. "The Turnaround Summit was a farce," one franchisee wrote in the survey, as quoted by AdAge. "McDonald's Corp. has panicked and jumped the shark." Another added, "McDonald's management does not know what we want to be."

Some franchise operators slammed McDonalds' decision to raise pay by giving employees at company-owned stores $1 an hour above minimum wage. "We will be expected to do the same," one wrote, according to Nation's Restaurant News. "Watch for $5 Big Macs, etc. and Extra Value Meals in the $8 to $10 range."

Next week, McDonald's is set to report its first-quarter earnings.

Billionaire Casino Magnate Sheldon Aldelson's Israeli Paper Is Obsessed With Marco Rubio

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 6:02 PM EDT

For years, Republicans who aspire to the presidency have sought the support of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and GOP mega-donor. Adelson spent $150 million backing Republicans during the 2012 election cycle, and the candidate who secures his support this time around will get a big boost in a crowded GOP field. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who announced his campaign on Monday, already has one billionaire backer—Norman Braman, a Miami car dealer. But Rubio also seems to have impressed Adelson himself.

Israel-watchers on Twitter have pointed out that Israel Hayom, the daily newspaper owned by Adelson, has been particularly interested in the junior senator from Florida.

It's too early to call the Adelson primary for Rubio. As in the past, Adelson will want each of the major candidates to court him; the casino magnate is known to be fond of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), both of whom are seriously considering runs. But Rubio—who dined one-on-one with Adelson last month—is off to a good start.

Democrats in Oregon of All Places Just Torpedoed a Bill to Expand Abortion Rights

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 4:21 PM EDT
An abortion protester shows off his pro-life tattoo, because Portland.

Here's how quickly the prospect of expanding abortion rights can kill a piece of legislation: In February, a group of state lawmakers introduced a bill that would require insurers to cover the full spectrum of women's reproductive services at an affordable price. Just two months later, the same lawmakers have killed the bill. The section calling for abortion coverage proved just too controversial.

This didn't happen in the Rust Belt, or in a purple state where Democrats hold the statehouse by just a vote or two. It happened in Oregon, where the Democrats control both chambers of the legislature by a supermajority and where the party has a lengthy history of going to the mat for abortion rights.

Nina Liss-Schultz of RH Reality Check (and a MoJo alum) has the full story. The tale is an illuminating one as progressives contemplate how to respond to the historic number of anti-abortion laws that have passed in the last five years.

It's also an important dose of reality.

Conservatives have enacted more abortion restrictions in the past few years than they have in the entire previous decade. In January, though, several news reports circulated that made it seem as though a full-fledged progressive counter strike was already under way. The stories were based on reports by the Guttmacher Institute and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, pro abortion-rights think tanks. They found that in 2014, dozens of lawmakers introduced dozens of bills—95, by Guttmacher's count—supporting women's reproductive rights, surpassing a record set in 1990. "A Record Number Of Lawmakers Are Starting To Fight For Reproductive Rights," one headline announced. Another read, "Inside the quiet, state-level push to expand abortion rights."

It's certainly true that the tidal wave of new abortion restrictions has inspired a progressive backlash. But the suggestion that the two sides are evenly matched, or even approaching that point, is out of line with reality. Just four of those 95 measures were eventually passed into law. One of them was a Vermont bill to repeal the state's long-defunct abortion ban, in case the makeup of the Supreme Court allowed the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade—a looming danger, but not the most pressing issue facing abortion rights.

By contrast, last year alone conservative lawmakers introduced 335 bills targeting abortion access; 26 passed. And in two states that are overtly hostile to abortion rights—Texas and North Dakota—the legislature wasn't even in session. That's part of why you can expect this year's abortion battles to be even uglier.

But it's not just about sheer numbers. At the same time that progressive lawmakers were pushing forward-thinking laws, the 2014 midterms undermined their efforts. In states where there were serious efforts to expand reproductive rights—Colorado, Nevada, New York, and Washington—Democratic losses on Election Day have placed those plans on indefinite hold.

Here's how things fell apart in Oregon, according to the Lund Report, an Oregon-based health news website.

[Democratic health committee chair Sen. Laurie] Monnes Anderson said the abortion language was so toxic that "leadership"—her caucus leaders—would not even allow her to have a public hearing on SB 894, let alone move it to the Senate floor. She said House Democratic leaders were also involved in the discussion over whether the bill could see the light of day.

Meanwhile, in the time it took for Oregon to abandon this bill, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, and West Virginia passed 10 new abortion and reproductive rights restrictions. What happened in Oregon shows just how much reproductive rights advocates are playing catch-up, even in states that appear friendly to their agenda.

McDonald's Is 60 Years Old. On Its "Opening Day" It Bragged About Having Served 15 Million Burgers.

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 2:45 PM EDT

Here is a hilarious thing that I find hilarious. The first McDonald's franchise opened its doors 60 years ago today in Des Plaines, Illinois. This is the day McDonald's Corporation celebrates as its birthday. When you dive into Google to find the opening day menu for the McDonald's that opened in Des Plaines, Illinois, on April 15, 1955, this is what you find:

source: kottke.com

 

Notice anything funny? On its opening day menu, McDonald's bragged about having already served "over 15 million burgers." So what's going on? Is this just a hilariously transparent case of false advertising or something else?

It turns out something else. Though McDonald's as we know it traces its origins to April 15, 1955, in Des Plaines, Illinois, that was actually just the first franchise. McDonald's had actually already existed for years in California. It was founded by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald in the 1940s. The site's official history explains:

[Entrepreneur Ray] Kroc pitched his vision of creating McDonald’s restaurants all over the U.S. to the brothers. In 1955, he founded McDonald’s System, Inc., a predecessor of the McDonald’s Corporation, and six years later bought the exclusive rights to the McDonald’s name. By 1958, McDonald’s had sold its 100 millionth hamburger.

So there was nothing nefarious about this claim, but it is still pretty amusing.

Correction: This post originally said Des Plaines was in Iowa. It is in Illinois. I'm dumb. 

Hillary Clinton to Supreme Court: Legalize Same-Sex Marriage Nationally

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 2:13 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton's now-official presidential campaign has so far opted for gauzy announcement videos and vague feel good promises over much in the way of policy specifics. But on Wednesday, Clinton's team clarified one stance she she will take: same-sex marriage is a constitutional right that should be legal in every state.

"Hillary Clinton supports marriage equality and hopes the Supreme Court will come down on the side of same-sex couples being guaranteed that constitutional right," campaign spokesperson Adrienne Elrod told The Washington Blade, referring to four cases on gay marriage the court is scheduled to hear later this month.

Clinton hasn't always supported same-sex marriage. In the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton, like then-Sen. Barack Obama, supported civil unions for LGBT couples but opposed marriage rights. She avoided weighing in on domestic politics while at the State Department and didn't announce that she supported marriage equality until March, 2013—but maintained that same-sex marriage was up to the states and not a nationwide, constitutional right. Last year, she ducked probing questions from NPR's Terry Gross about how she had evolved on the issue. Earlier this week, Buzzfeed called out the Clinton campaign for not saying where the presidential candidate stood on the upcoming court case.

Now Clinton seems ready to strike a different tone. Her top campaign operative, Robby Mook, will be the first openly gay presidential campaign manger, as my colleague Andy Kroll and I reported last week. Among the gauzy images in the video she released on Sunday announcing her presidential campaign were scenes of a gay couple discussing their upcoming wedding. And, thanks to her statement today, she's fully on board with the idea that LGBT couples should enjoy the same constitutionally protected rights as heterosexual couples.

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Awful People Write Hilariously Mean Letter To Friend Who Shared Too Many Photos Of Child On Facebook

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 1:17 PM EDT

You know how parents are always going on and on about their kids? "My kid this and my kid that" and shut up already, ok? Some of us don't even have kids and others of us have kids but those kids are really just sacks of potatoes dressed in clothes and we bring them around and introduce them to people like they're our kids but then we get hungry and we rip off their little baseball caps and eat the potatoes and OH MY GOD I ATE MY KID!

So parents! On Facebook! Annoying! Sometimes you want to just write them a nasty letter that's like, "no one cares about your dumb kid. Shut up." But you never actually do that because you understand that the parent just loves their kid and parents are supposed to love their kids and they want to be proud of their adorable kid and sing its praises from the rooftops and you understand in your heart, in your bones, that that is ultimately a good thing and complaining about it would not be a good look.

Some people in Australia apparently did do that, though. According to news.com.au's Em Rusciano, a woman named Jade Ruthven received the following enraged letter from a group of "friends" who were miffed by her over-sharing:

Jade's friends are not necessarily bad people, but they are not Jade's real friends. Real friends are willing to suffer your annoying child-bragging. Jade can do better.

Drum vs. Cowen: Three Laws

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 10:59 AM EDT

Today Tyler Cowen published his version of Cowen's Three Laws:

1. Cowen’s First Law: There is something wrong with everything (by which I mean there are few decisive or knockdown articles or arguments, and furthermore until you have found the major flaws in an argument, you do not understand it)

2. Cowen’s Second Law: There is a literature on everything.

3. Cowen’s Third Law: All propositions about real interest rates are wrong.

I'd phrase these somewhat differently:

1. Drum's First Law: For any any problem complex enough to be interesting, there is evidence pointing in multiple directions. You will never find a case where literally every research result supports either liberal or conservative orthodoxy.

2. Drum's Second Law: There's literature on a lot of things, but with some surprising gaps. Furthermore, in many cases the literature is so contradictory and ambiguous as to be almost useless in practical terms.

3. Drum's Third Law: Really? Isn't there a correlation between real interest rates and future inflationary expectations? In general, don't low real interest rates make capital investment more likely by lowering hurdle rates? Or am I just being naive here?

In any case, you can take your choice. Or mix and match!

Senate's Iran Bill Probably Not a Bad Idea After All

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 10:44 AM EDT

President Obama has said that he's willing to sign the latest Senate version of a bill that gives Congress a say in any nuclear deal with Iran. I'm glad to hear that because, oddly enough, I'm pretty much in favor of the current bill. Here's why:

  • Congress should be involved in major arms treaties, regardless of whether my preferred party happens to control Congress.
  • The current bill requires Congress to vote on a final deal within 30 days. No one expects a treaty to get implemented any sooner than that anyway, so it's not much of a roadblock.
  • If Congress disapproves the deal, the president can issue a veto. It would then take two-thirds of the Senate to override the veto and kill the treaty.

I don't see much of a downside to this. If Obama can't get even one-third of the Senate to go along with his Iran deal, then it probably doesn't deserve to be approved. And the threat of a suspicious and recalcitrant Congress going over the treaty language word by word might actually motivate Iran to agree to more straightforward language in the final document. It certainly shouldn't doom the negotiations or anything like that.

A lot of this is political theater, and a lot of it is pure Israel-lobby muscle at work. Still, I suspect it does little harm and might even do a little good. And setting out the parameters of the Senate vote beforehand is probably all for the good. This isn't a bad bill.

Driving While Black Has Actually Gotten More Dangerous in the Last 15 Years

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 9:50 AM EDT

Walter Scott's death in South Carolina, at the hands of now-fired North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, is one of several instances from the past year when a black man was killed after being pulled over while driving. No one knows exactly how often traffic stops turn deadly, but studies in Arizona, Missouri, Texas, Washington have consistently shown that cops stop and search black drivers at a higher rate than white drivers. Last week, a team of researchers in North Carolina found that traffic stops in Charlotte, the state's largest city, showed a similar racial disparity—and that the gap has been widening over time.

The researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill analyzed more than 1.3 million traffic stops and searches by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers for a 12-year period beginning in 2002, when the state began requiring police to collect such statistics. In their analysis of the data, collected and made public by the state's Department of Justice, the researchers found that black drivers, despite making up less than one-third of the city's driving population, were twice as likely to be subject to traffic stops and searches as whites. Young black men in Charlotte were three times as likely to get pulled over and searched than the city-wide average. Here's a chart from the Charlotte Observer's report detailing the findings:

Michael Gordon and David Puckett, Charlotte Observer

Not only did the researchers identify these gaps: they showed that the gaps have been growing. Black drivers in Charlotte are more likely than whites to get pulled over and searched today than they were in 2002, the researchers found. They noted similar widening racial gaps among traffic stops and searches in Durham, Raleigh, and elsewhere in the state.

Black drivers in Charlotte were much more likely to get stopped for minor violations involving seat belts, vehicle registration, and equipment, where, as the Observer's Michael Gordon points out, "police have more discretion in pulling someone over." (Scott was stopped in North Charleston due to a broken brake light.) White drivers, meanwhile, were stopped more often for obvious safety violations, such as speeding, running red lights and stop signs, and driving under the influence. Still, black drivers—except those suspected of intoxicated driving—were always more likely to get searched than whites, no matter the reason for the stop.

The findings in North Carolina echo those of a 2014 study by researchers at the University of Kansas, who found that Kansas City's black drivers were stopped at nearly three times the rate of whites fingered for similarly minor violations.

Frank Baumgartner, the lead author of the UNC-Chapel Hill study, told Mother Jones that officers throughout the state were twice as likely to use force against black drivers than white drivers. Of the estimated 18 million stops that took place between 2002 and 2013 in North Carolina that were analyzed by Baumgartner's team, less than one percent involved the use of force. While officers are required to report whether force was encountered or deployed, and whether there were any injuries, "we don't know if the injuries are serious, and we don't know if a gun was fired," he says.