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Happy Easter

| Sun Apr. 5, 2015 11:18 AM EDT

I slept 7 hours last night! That's the first time this has happened in months. And that was even in addition to an hour or two of napping that I did yesterday afternoon.

This is my Easter present to myself.

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Answer Key for Friday's Flowers

| Sun Apr. 5, 2015 12:21 AM EDT

Wondering what all those flowers were that I posted photos of on Friday? Here's the official answer key, starting with the top row:

  1. Calla lily
  2. "Easy Does It" rose
  3. Variegated climbing rose (no tag)
  4. "Julia Child" rose
  5. White floribunda rose
  6. Nasturtium
  7. Daisy
  8. "Cecile Brunner" climbing rose

If you got them all right, congratulations! You're a master botanist

Health Interlude

| Sun Apr. 5, 2015 12:06 AM EDT

"Flu-like symptoms" my ass.

The last couple of days have been a horror story. On Thursday afternoon, out of the blue, I started having intense lower back pain. Then it got worse. By late evening it was bad enough that I took some morphine, which had very little effect. It got worse through my sleepless night. More morphine at 2 am, then more again at 7 am on Friday morning. At that point, the pain was so excruciating that I wanted to head over to our local ER, but unfortunately Friday was the day we were scheduled to go to LA to have my Hickman port installed for the stem cell transplant. Marian, thank God, insisted on us doing the right thing: driving to LA regardless and getting help there. (On the bright side, Good Friday traffic was light.)

I was practically writhing on the floor for the hour after we got there. Eventually I was taken back to prep, and the doctor tried IV morphine. It had only a minor effect. Then he gave me several IV infusions of Dilaudid, and that did the trick. I was still in pain, but it was tolerable.

Unfortunately, our timing was bad. The Dilaudid was wearing off just as the surgery to install the port began, and they could give me only a limited additional amount until it was over. So the surgery was a horror story too, even though the placement of the port is basically pretty painless.

Long story short, all of this might have been the result of my Neupogen injections, which make my bones work overtime. But my doctors all agreed that although back pain is a common effect of Neupogen, pain of my level was very unusual. Alternatively, all of this could have been due to a pathological fracture in my lower back. A CAT scan ruled that out, thank goodness. So we still don't know for sure what was going on. But after a very bad day and night, apparently the Dilaudid was the right painkiller, and I woke up in the hospital Saturday morning feeling surprisingly good. I would have given long odds against that Friday night.

So....very mysterious. And for me personally, a whole new definition of pain. Hopefully it won't return.

Need a silver lining? As bad as it all was, it was apparently a sign that the Neupogen is working. Routine bloodwork shows that my white cell count is high and getting higher. Hooray! That's what we're hoping for.

On Monday we start putting the Hickman port to use. I will be up at City of Hope for 2-5 days while they extract stem cells and then process them and freeze them. If I'm producing lots of stem cells, they'll finish up in a couple of days. If I'm producing a weak stream of stem cells, it may take as long as five days. Cross your fingers.

Feds Say Georgia's Treatment of Transgender Prisoners Is Unconstitutional

| Fri Apr. 3, 2015 4:36 PM EDT
Ashley Diamond before entering prison

For three years, the Georgia Department of Corrections allegedly has denied transgender inmate Ashley Diamond medical treatment for gender dysphoria, causing her such distress that she has attempted on multiple occasions to castrate herself, cut off her penis, and kill herself. In February, Diamond filed a lawsuit against GDC officials, and on Friday the Department of Justice dealt the GDC a major blow, claiming that the state's failure to adequately treat inmates with gender dysphoria "constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment."

The DOJ weighed in on Diamond's case via a statement of interest, which offers recommendations for how the district court in Georgia should rule in the case. It focused on Georgia's so-called freeze-frame policy, which prevents inmates from receiving hormone therapy for gender dysphoria if they were not identified as transgender and referred for treatment immediately during the prison intake process. "Freeze-frame policies and other policies that apply blanket prohibitions to such treatment are facially unconstitutional because they fail to provide individualized assessment and treatment of a serious medical need," DOJ officials wrote, adding that similar policies have been previously struck down in Wisconsin and New York.

Chinyere Ezie, Diamond's lead attorney, says the defense has until next Friday to submit briefs in response to the complaint, which may include a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The first hearing for the case is scheduled for April 13. You can read the DOJ's entire statement below, and check out our earlier coverage of Diamond's case.

 

Chelsea Manning Just Started Tweeting From Prison

| Fri Apr. 3, 2015 3:41 PM EDT

Chelsea Manning has joined Twitter from inside the walls of Kansas's Fort Leavenworth prison, where she is currently serving a 35-year sentence for providing classified material to Wikileaks. Using the handle @xychelsea, the account has already amassed over 12,000 followers.

"She is committed to having a voice and engaging with the public and will try to be present on Twitter as much as she is able to connect with people on the outside," ACLU attorney Chase Strangio told Politico.

In February, the military approved a request from Manning, who was born a male and formerly went by the name Bradley, to undergo hormone therapy in order to transition into a woman. That same month, the Guardian announced it had hired Manning to write from prison as a contributor on topics of gender and war.

Friday Cat Blogging - 3 April 2015

| Fri Apr. 3, 2015 12:00 PM EDT

They say that no box is complete without a cat on top of it. As you can see, Hilbert agrees.

Catblogging will be a little iffy for the next couple of months, because tomorrow Hilbert and Hopper will be going to my sister's house to stay for a while. This is for hygienic reasons, since obviously Marian could take care of the cats by herself while I'm gone. However, my transplant doctor told us that although indoor cats probably weren't a problem even with a compromised immune system, it would be a good idea to board them somewhere else for a couple of weeks before the stem-cell transplant and extending for a few weeks after I get home. So the two furballs will be with Karen for about two months or so. In the interim, catblogging will depend on (a) whatever pictures she sends along, and (b) my ability to post them.

I'll be off at City of Hope next week starting the stem cell collection, so I thought I'd leave you with more than just catblogging. Spring has sprung, and our garden is full of blooming flowers. So here they are for you to peacefully zen out to. In comments, I expect everyone to figure out exactly which flowers these are.

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Obama Just Announced a Historic Nuclear Agreement With Iran

| Thu Apr. 2, 2015 3:38 PM EDT

Speaking from the Rose Garden on Thursday, President Obama addressed a preliminary agreement reached earlier in the day that seeks to limit Iran's controversial nuclear program. The deal, which includes the participation of European allies, is expected to lead to a final phase of negotiations before a set June 30 deadline.

"I am convinced that if this framework leads to a final compromise deal, it will make our country, our allies, and our world safer," Obama said on Thursday. "This has been a long time coming."

Obama said that any "backsliding" on Iran's part would lead to the deal's collapse. In the press conference, the president also reaffirmed his commitment to protecting peaceful interests in Israel and the Middle East. Prior to Obama's address, both sides, although optimistic, noted key differences still remained.

Watch the full press conference below:

For the text on the preliminary agreement, read the document here. Here's the transcript of Obama's press conference courtesy of the Washington Post below:

Today, the United States, together with our allies and partners, has reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

As president and commander in chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people, and I am convinced that if this framework leads to a final, comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies, and our world safer. This has been a long time coming.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been advancing its nuclear program for decades. By the time I took office, Iran was operating thousands of centrifuges, which can produce the materials for a nuclear bomb. And Iran was concealing a covert nuclear facility.

I made clear that we were prepared to resolve this issue diplomatically, but only if Iran came to the table in a serious way.

When that did not happen, we rallied the world to impose the toughest sanctions in history, sanctions which had a profound impact on the Iranian economy.

Now, sanctions alone could not stop Iran's nuclear program, but they did help bring Iran to the negotiating table. Because of our diplomatic efforts, the world stood with us, and we were joined at the negotiating table by the world's major powers: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China as well as the European Union.

Over a year ago, we took the first step towards today's framework with a deal to stop the progress of Iran's nuclear program and roll it back in key areas.

And recall that at the time, skeptics argued that Iran would cheat, that we could not verify their compliance, and the interim agreement would fail. Instead, it has succeeded exactly as intended. Iran has met all of its obligations.

It eliminated its stockpile of dangerous nuclear material, inspections of Iran's program increased, and we continued negotiations to see if we could achieve a more comprehensive deal.

Today, after many months of tough principle diplomacy, we have achieved the framework for that deal. And it is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives.

This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran will face strict limitations on its program, and Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history. So this deal is not based on trust. It's based on unprecedented verification.

Many key details will be finalized over the next three months. And nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed. But here are the basic outlines of the deal that we are working to finalize.

First, Iran will not be able to pursue a bomb using plutonium because it will not develop weapons grade plutonium. The core of its reactor at Arak will be dismantled and replaced. The spent fuel from that facility will be shipped out of Iran for the life of the reactor. Iran will not build a new heavy water reactor. And Iran will not reprocess fuel from its existing reactors, ever.

Second, this deal shuts down Iran's path to a bomb using enriched uranium. Iran has agreed that its installed centrifuges will be reduced by two thirds. Iran will no longer enrich uranium at its Fordo facility. Iran will not enrich uranium with its advanced centrifuges for at least the next 10 years. The vast majority of Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium will be neutralized.

Today, estimates indicate that Iran is only two or three months away from potentially acquiring the raw materials that could be used for a single nuclear bomb. Under this deal, Iran has agreed that it will not stockpile the materials needed to build a weapon. Even if it violated the deal, for the next decade at least, Iran would be a minimum of a year away from acquiring enough material for a bomb. And the strict limitations on Iran's stockpile will last for 15 years.

Third, this deal provides the best possible defense against Iran's ability to pursue a nuclear weapon covertly, that is in secret. International inspectors will have unprecedented access not only to Iranian nuclear facilities, but to the entire supply chain that supports Iran's nuclear program, from uranium mills that provide the raw materials to the centrifuge production and storage facilities that support the program.

If Iran cheats, the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it. Iran's past efforts to weaponize its program will be addressed.

With this deal, Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world. So, this will be a long-term deal that addresses each path to a potential Iranian nuclear bomb.

There will be strict limits on Iran's program for a decade. Additional restrictions on building new facilities or stockpiling materials will last for 15 years. The unprecedented transparency measures will last for 20 years or more. Indeed, some will be permanent. And as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran will never be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon.

In return for Iran's actions, the international community has agreed to provide Iran with relief from certain sanctions. Our own sanctions and international sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. This relief will be phased, as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal. If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back into place.

Meanwhile, other American sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, will continue to be fully enforced.

Now let me re-emphasize, our work is not yet done. The deal has not been signed. Between now and the end of June, the negotiators will continue to work through the details of how this framework will be fully implemented and those details matter.

If there is backsliding on the part of the Iranians, if the verification and inspection mechanisms don't meet the specifications of our nuclear and security experts, there will be no deal.

But if we can get this done and Iran follows through on the framework that our negotiators agreed to, we will be able to resolve one of the greatest threats to our security and to do so peacefully.

Given the importance of this issue, I have instructed my negotiators to fully brief Congress and the American people on the substance the deal. And I welcome a robust debate in the weeks and months to come.

I am confident that we can show that this deal is good for the security of the United States, for our allies and for the world.

But the fact is we only have three options for addressing Iran's nuclear program. First, we can reach a robust and verifiable deal, like this one, and peacefully prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The second option is we can bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, thereby starting another war in the Middle East and setting back Iran's program by a few years. In other words, setting it back by a fraction of the time that this deal will set it back. Meanwhile, we'd ensure that Iran would raise their head to try and build a bomb.

Third, we could pull out of negotiations, try to get other countries to go along and continue sanctions that are currently in place or add additional ones and hope for the best. Knowing that every time we have done so, Iran has not capitulated, but instead has advanced its program. And that in very short order, the breakout timeline would be eliminated and a nuclear arms race in the region could be triggered because of that uncertainty.

In other words, the third option leads us very quickly back to a decision about whether or not to take military action because we'd have no idea what was going on inside of Iran. Iran is not going to simply dismantle its program because we demand it to do so.

That's not how the world works. And that's not what history shows us. Iran has shown no willingness to eliminate those aspects of their program that they maintain are for peaceful purposes, even in the face of unprecedented sanctions.

Should negotiations collapse because we, the United States, rejected what the majority of the world considers a fair deal, what our scientists and nuclear experts suggest would give us confidence that they are not developing a nuclear weapon, it's doubtful that we could even keep our current international sanctions in place.

So when you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question: Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world's major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East? Is it worse than doing what we've done for almost two decades with Iran moving forward with its nuclear program and without robust inspections?

I think the answer will be clear. Remember, I have always insisted that I will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and I will.

But I also know that a diplomatic solution is the best way to get this done and offers a more comprehensive and lasting solution. It is our best option by far. And while it is always a possibility that Iran may try to cheat on the deal in the future, this framework of inspections and transparency makes it far more likely that we'll know about it if they try to cheat, and I or future presidents will have preserved all of the options that are currently available to deal with it.

To the Iranian people, I want to reaffirm what I've said since the beginning of my presidency. We are willing to engage you on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect.

This deal offers the prospect of relief from sanctions that were imposed because of Iran's violation of international law. Since Iran's supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, this framework gives Iran the opportunity to verify that it's program is, in fact, peaceful. It demonstrates that if Iran complies with its international obligations, then it can fully rejoin the community of nations, thereby fulfilling the extraordinary talent and aspirations of the Iranian people. That would be good for Iran, and it would be good for the world.

Of course, this deal alone, even if fully implemented, will not end the deep divisions and mistrust between our two countries. We have a difficult history between us.

And our concerns will remain with respect to Iranian behavior so long as Iran continues its sponsorship of terrorism, its support for proxies who destabilize the Middle East, its threats against America's friends and allies, like Israel.

So make no mistake, we will remain vigilant in countering those actions and standing with our allies.

It's no secret that the Israeli prime minister and I don't agree about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue. If in fact Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking for the most effective way to ensure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon, this is the best option.

And I believe our nuclear experts can confirm that.

More importantly, I will be speaking with the prime minister today to make clear that there will be no daylight, there is no daylight when it comes to our support for Israel's security and our concerns about Iran's destabilizing policies and threats towards Israel.

That's why I've directed my national security team to consult closely with the new Israeli government in the coming weeks and months about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel and make clear our unshakeable commitment to Israel's defense.

Today, I also spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia, to reaffirm our commitment to the security of our partners in the Gulf. And I am inviting the leaders of the six countries who make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain to meet me at Camp David this spring to discuss how we can further strengthen our security cooperation while resolving the multiple conflicts that have caused so much hardship and instability throughout the Middle East.

Finally, it's worth remembering that Congress has, on a bipartisan basis, played a critical role in our current Iran policy, helping to shape the sanctions regime that applied so much pressure on Iran and ultimately forced them to the table.

In the coming days and weeks, my administration will engage Congress once again about how we can play -- how it can play a constructive oversight role. I'll begin that effort by speaking to the leaders of the House and the Senate today.

In those conversations, I will underscore that the issues at stake here are bigger than politics. These are matters of war and peace. And they should be evaluated based on the facts, and what is ultimately best for the American people and for our national security. For, this is not simply a deal between my administration and Iran. This is a deal between Iran, the United States of America and the major powers in the world, including some of our closest allies.

If Congress kills this deal not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative, then it's the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy. International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen.

The American people understand this, which is why a solid majority support a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue. They understand instinctively the words of President Kennedy, who faced down the far greater threat of Communism, and said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." The American people remembered that at the height of the Cold War.

Presidents like Nixon and Reagan struck historic arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, a far more dangerous adversary, despite the fact that that adversary not only threatened to destroy our country and our way of life, but had the means to do so.

Those agreements were not perfect. They did not end all threats. But they made our world safer. A good deal with Iran will do the same. Today I'd like to express my thanks to our international partners for their steadfastness, their cooperation.

I was able to speak earlier today with our close allies, Prime Minister Cameron and President Holland and Chancellor Merkel, to reaffirm that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this effort. And most of all, on behalf of our nation, I want to express my thanks to our tireless -- and I mean tireless -- Secretary of State John Kerry and our entire negotiating team. They have worked so hard to make this progress. They represent the best tradition of American diplomacy.

Their work, our work, is not yet done and success is not guaranteed. But we have a historic opportunity to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in Iran and to do so peacefully, with the international community firmly behind us. We should seize that chance. Thank you. God bless you. And god bless the United States of America.

Against All Odds, We Have a Tentative Nuclear Deal With Iran

| Thu Apr. 2, 2015 3:03 PM EDT

Well, I'll be damned. As President Obama just said, the details of the newly announced nuclear deal with Iran matter, and the deal isn't done until those details are fully worked out. Still, I figured the odds of getting even a framework agreement at about 70-30 against. This time, at least, it looks like John Kerry's tenacity has paid off.

The question of precisely when sanctions on Iran will be lifted seems to have been carefully avoided in the press conferences I've seen so far, but presumably that will get worked out. That aside, the framework seems pretty reasonable. I'll be fascinated to learn what tack Republicans take to justify their inevitable opposition.

BREAKING: Iran Nuclear Deal Reached

| Thu Apr. 2, 2015 1:43 PM EDT

Wow.

The U.S. and other international negotiators reportedly have agreed to the outlines of an understanding with Iran that would allow for a final phase of nuclear talks.

The Associated Press, citing officials, reported on the agreement, while noting that negotiators are still in a dispute over how much to make public.

A press conference is about to begin to announce the details (WATCH HERE), but according to Reuters it looks like Iran has agreed to suspend much of its nuclear program.

UPDATE: Here is the White House fact sheet on the deal:

 

 

Headline of the Day: Our Mideast Allies Suck

| Thu Apr. 2, 2015 10:49 AM EDT

Here's my favorite headline of the day:

Inept Allies in Mideast

Emma Ashford so perfectly channels my view of our putative allies in the Mideast that I won't even pretend to objectivity here. I like her piece for no better reason than the fact that I agree with nearly every word of it.

This doesn't get President Obama off the hook for mistakes he's made, and it doesn't necessarily mean the US has a better strategy available to it. The world is what it is. Still, more people should understand just what we're up against in the region. The answer is: just about everything.