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Scott Walker Says Mandatory Ultrasounds Are "Just a Cool Thing" for Women

| Wed May 27, 2015 3:23 PM EDT

After months of keeping a low profile for a man very likely running for president, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is back in the headlines today with quite the outrageous quote. Walker, who was speaking in defense of a controversial abortion bill he signed into law that forces women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound, said in an interview on Friday the mandatory exams are "just a cool thing" for women.

I'll give you an example. I'm pro-life, I've passed pro-life legislation. We defunded Planned Parenthood, we signed a law that requires an ultrasound. Which, the thing about that, the media tried to make that sound like that was a crazy idea. Most people I talk to, whether they're pro-life or not, I find people all the time who'll get out their iPhone and show me a picture of their grandkids' ultrasound and how excited they are, so that's a lovely thing. I think about my sons are 19 and 20, you know we still have their first ultrasound picture. It's just a cool thing out there.

He went onto say Republicans shouldn't solely focus on abortion, but also embrace other key conservative issues. Nevertheless:

It certainly is a part of who we are and we shouldn't be afraid to talk about it, and we shouldn't be afraid to push back. When you think about Hillary Clinton, and you think about some others on the left, you say, I think it's reasonable, whether you're pro-life or not to say that taxpayers dollars shouldn't be spent to support abortion or abortion-related activities. Most Americans believe in that. There are many candidates on the left who don't share that belief.

Seriously, ladies. Why keep fighting for autonomous control over your bodies, when clearly mandatory ultrasounds are just so darn neat? Put down the pitchfork and embrace the red wave!

Listen to the Walker's interview, recorded by Right Wing Watch, below:

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Your Snobby Wine Friends Are Full of Shit

| Wed May 27, 2015 2:43 PM EDT

Find yourself in the company of an intolerable, self-annointed wine connoisseur? Don't bother arguing about how great the $7 bottle of supermarket merlot is. The best way to deal with the inevitable snobbery headed your way might be to show them the following video produced by Vox, which slays the belief expensive wines are more delicious. 

When 19 staffers blind-tested three different red wines from the same grape, the average ratings for the cheapest and most expensive wines were exactly the same! And while half of those tested were able to correctly identify which wine was the most expensive, they actually reported enjoying it less than the cheaper offerings. That's because, according to the video, more complex wines tend to challenge our plebian palates. 

Thanks Vox. Now here is Mother Jones' contribution to you oenophiles: "How to Open a Wine Bottle With Your Shoe."

Health Update

| Wed May 27, 2015 2:39 PM EDT

Last Saturday I wrote a post whining about how tired and nauseous I was and how I crashed every day around 2 pm. I wrote that post a little before noon, and then....nothing. No crash. Sunday: no crash. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: no crash. And the nausea has improved dramatically. There are two possible explanations for this:

  • It's just a coincidence.
  • Whining in public is really therapeutic and helped me feel better.

So which is it? Who knows. I suppose it was just a coincidence, but that's not a very satisfying explanation for us pattern-obsessed primates, is it? In any case, I'm still tired and I still make sure to rest frequently throughout the day. But my energy level is distinctly better than last week, and my nausea is clearly getting better too. Genuine progress! Hooray!

Unfortunately, the foul taste in my mouth is still hanging around. In theory, full recovery from the chemo side effects should take 6-7 weeks, and I'm now at week 5. Hopefully this means in another week or two I'll be feeling pretty sprightly and foulness free. We'll see.

Your City Is Probably Not Going to Be Hit By A Terrorist Attack

| Wed May 27, 2015 2:32 PM EDT
Paris, France jumped 100 spots in the list of cities at risk for terror attacks after the January Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Americans are understandably terrified of terror attacks. But good news! These fears have nothing to do with actual data. According to a new tool released last week, no US cities are among the world's 50 most at risk of terror attacks.

The index, designed by UK based Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk assessment firm, calculates the risk of terror attacks in "1,300 of the world’s most important commercial hubs and urban centers" using historic trends. By logging and analyzing every reported attack or event per 100 square meters and calculating the frequency and severity of those incidents, Maplecroft's tool establishes a baseline for the past five years. Then, it compares that data with the number, frequency, and severity of attacks for the most recent year. Depending on the most recent statistics, cities move up or down on the list of cities at risk for terror attacks.

What cities are in danger? Cities near ISIS. Baghdad is the most terror prone city, followed by five other places in Iraq—including Mosul, an ISIS stronghold in northern Iraq, and Al Ramadi, ISIS's most recent hostile takeover. In just one year, as of February, over 1,000 residents of Baghdad lost their lives in one of the almost 400 terror attacks the city endured.

A total of 27 of the 64 countries at "extreme risk" are located in the Middle East, and 19 are in Asia. Residents living in the capital cities of Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Tripoli face some of the strongest risks of terror attacks as well. Maplecroft points to the risk of terror incidents in high-ranking countries like Egypt, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan as major threats to US commercial interests.

And, recent events have triggered some cities to climb in the rankings. Prior to the Charlie Hebdo attack, Paris didn't even make the top 200 most at risk cities. But according to the current index, the French capital jumped over 100 spots, now coming in at 97. Increasing violence purported by African militant groups, including Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Somalia, have heightened the risk of terror incidents in African nations, landing 14 countries in the top 64.

So stop freaking out about terror attacks, America.

Note to Politicians: Stop Being So Self-Centered About Medical Research Funding

| Wed May 27, 2015 1:14 PM EDT

Steve Benen mentions one of my pet peeves today: politicians who want to cut spending on everything except for research on one particular disease that happens to affect them personally. A couple of years ago, for example, Sen. Mark Kirk suddenly became interested in Medicaid's approach to treating strokes after he himself suffered a stroke. The latest example is Jeb Bush, whose mother-in-law has Alzheimer's. I suppose you can guess what's coming next. Here's Jeb in a letter he sent to Maria Shriver:

I have gotten lots of emails based on my comments regarding Alzheimer’s and dementia at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire. It is not the first time I have spoken about this disease. I have done so regularly.

Here is what I believe:

We need to increase funding to find a cure. We need to reform FDA [regulations] to accelerate the approval process for drug and device approval at a much lower cost. We need to find more community based solutions for care.

As Benen points out, Bush vetoed a bunch of bills that would have assisted Alzheimer's patients when he was governor of Florida. I guess that's changed now that he actually knows someone with the disease. However, it doesn't seem to have affected his attitude toward any other kind of medical research spending.

I'm not even sure what to call this syndrome, but it's mighty common. It's also wildly inappropriate. If Jeb wants to personally start a charity that helps fund Alzheimer's research, that's great. But if he's running for president, he should be concerned with medical research for everyone. I mean, where's the billion dollars that I'd like to see invested in multiple myeloma research? Huh?

Presidents and members of Congress represent the country, not their own families. They should get straight on the fact that if their pet disease is being underfunded, then maybe a lot of other diseases are being underfunded too. It shouldn't take a family member getting sick to get them to figure that out.

Texas Wants Its Own Fort Knox

| Wed May 27, 2015 1:00 PM EDT

Texas independence—or paranoia—strikes again. In recent years, some Lone Star officials, including former Gov. Rick Perry, have flirted with secession. Last month the new Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, asked the state national guard to monitor a US military exercise that some residents fear is cover for a federal takeover of the state that will use Walmarts as staging areas. And now the state is on the verge of seizing the gold owned by the state that is stored in New York City and building a massive bunker to hoard this booty.

Per the Houston Chronicle:

AUSTIN — Texas could get its own version of Fort Knox, the impenetrable depository for gold bullion, if the Legislature gets its way.

Under House Bill 483, approved unanimously on Tuesday by the state Senate, Comptroller Glenn Hegar would be authorized to establish and administer the state's first bullion depository at a site not yet determined.

No other state has its own state bullion depository, officials said.

The state government has about $1 billion in gold bullion stored outside the state, mostly in the basement of the Federal Reserve building in Manhattan. The gold has been there for years—because it's so annoying to move, it's easier to keep everyone's gold in the same place, and the financial center of the world is the most obvious place. When bullion changes hands, it's mostly on paper. So why does Texas now need to grab all its gold? Is it just because Texans don't trust New Yorkers? Is it really that simple?

Yes:

"New York will hate this," [state sen. Lois] Kolkhorst said of the bill that now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott to be signed into law. "To me, that and the fact that it will save Texas money makes it a golden idea."

The cost-cutting bit refers to the storage fees Texas has to pay to keep its gold offsite, although Texas would still have to shell out money for upkeep and security if it went the DIY route. Incidentally, Perry supported the Texas Bullion Depository when it was first proposed in 2013, telling Glenn Beck, "If we own it, I will suggest to you that that's not someone else’s determination whether we can take possession of it back or not."

But building a giant vault to house all the state's gold will be the easy part. The tough task? Safely and securely moving 57,000 pounds of gold from Gotham to Texas. Perhaps we now know the plot for the eighth Fast and Furious movie.

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Republicans Find Yet Another Ingenious Way to Suppress Democratic Votes

| Wed May 27, 2015 11:07 AM EDT

The number of ways that Republicans invent to reduce the voting power of the Democratic Party is truly impressive. Here's the latest:

The court has never resolved whether voting districts should have the same number of people, or the same number of eligible voters. Counting all people amplifies the voting power of places with large numbers of residents who cannot vote legally, including immigrants who are here legally but are not citizens, illegal immigrants, children and prisoners. Those places tend to be urban and to vote Democratic.

A ruling that districts must be based on equal numbers of voters would move political power away from cities, with their many immigrants and children, and toward older and more homogeneous rural areas.

....The Supreme Court over the past nearly 25 years has turned away at least three similar challenges, and many election law experts expressed surprise that the justices agreed to hear this one. But since Chief Justice John G. Roberts has led the court, it has been active in other voting cases.

Over the past few decades we've seen pack-n-crack, photo ID laws, old fashioned gerrymandering, mid-decade gerrymandering, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, reductions in early voting, the crippling of campaign finance law, illegal purges of voter rolls, and now this: a change in the way people are counted that would favor Republican-leaning districts.

From a purely academic view, you really have to be impressed by the GOP's relentless creativity in finding ever more ways to trim the votes of groups who lean Democratic. They've done a great job. Sure, it's been a violent and cynical assault on our country's notions of fairness in the voting booth, but that's for eggheads to worry about. After all, it worked. Right? Maybe its made a difference of only a point or two in presidential elections and fewer than a dozen districts in congressional elections, but in a closely balanced electorate that counts for a lot.

So: nice work, GOP. You've realized that all the woo-woo talk about democracy and the sacredness of the vote is just a bunch of blah blah blah. We all mouth the words, but no one really cares. There are just too many good shows on TV to pay attention to boring stuff like this.

Cuba Is Cautiously Hopeful and You Should Be Too

| Wed May 27, 2015 9:00 AM EDT

Friend of the blog Jay Jaroch recently spent some time in Cuba. Here's the first of three posts about what he observed while he was there.


If you’re looking for a country that has solved the problem of income inequality, look no further than Cuba, where everyone has next to nothing. And that’s not snark. It’s an economic reality that quickly presents itself to any Westerner who spends some time there, as I did this month.

Soon after President Obama loosened the travel restrictions, domestic debate about Cuba’s economic future in a post-embargo world split into two predictable camps: those who worried that America would “ruin” Cuba with a heavy dose of fanny-packed tourists and Panera Breads, and those who dismissed this as the “fetishization of poverty” and welcomed the introduction of American-style capitalism as a long overdue tonic. The reality is that these are mostly debates Americans are having about their views of America. Cubans, one quickly learns, are too economically desperate to care.

Havana is unique and dilapidated and strangely beautiful. You almost admire it in the same way you would distressed furniture, or Keith Richard’s face. Havana looks a bit like a hurricane hit the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1965 and no one bothered to clean it up. Zoom in and you’ll find men standing in front of a partially collapsed building holding menus imploring you to come to their paladares next to stray dogs fucking in the street next to a group of Canadian tourists in faux revolutionary berets next to a woman selling fruit from a cart that most Americans wouldn’t eat on a dare. It’s all here.

Without exception, the Cubans I talked to welcomed the thawing of relations with the US, and even more so the coming influx of American tourists. One quickly learns why: because too much of their day-to-day economy is reliant on tourist dollars and euros. America is simply the biggest account they could land, and that’s why they’re hopeful. Also cautious, and not so much because they’re worried about Starbucks; it's because they’re worried their government will mismanage their chance at a better life. The sense was: Raul is finally allowing for some small, common-sense reforms that would have been impossible under Fidel. President Obama is allowing for some small, common sense reforms that will allow Cubans greater access to American dollars. Let’s not screw this up. (More on that tomorrow.)

Outside Havana, the economic stagnation is even more acute. In Cienfuegos, a middle school English teacher named Alex, who had never spoken to an American before, wanted to know what a teacher of his experience would make in Los Angeles. I told him around $75,000 a year. “$75,000 American dollars,” he replied, shaking his head. “I earn 18 dollars a month.” Alex was hardly unique—monthly salaries in Cuba run from about $14 to $20.

In Trinidad, a city about five hours southeast of Havana, an older man sitting in his doorway stopped me on my way down the street. He wanted me to give the Americans a message: “Hay mucha musica, pero nada de trabajo.” We have lots of music, but no work.

This jibed with what I’d seen of Trinidad. Other than the jobs related to tourism, I couldn’t discern any other source of employment. Pablo, my host in Trinidad, was a civil engineer by trade, but a taxi driver by necessity. On one trip through town I asked him what jobs were available to locals beyond the tourist trade. He replied that there weren’t any. I found that hard to believe so I asked the same question of an art gallery employee. I got the same answer—there aren’t any other jobs. The only money coming in to that part of the country came from abroad, either in the form of remittances from family members or from tourism. We were, quite literally, the only game in town.

In some respects, both sides of the American debate can stand down. Cuba is neither ready for Pizza Hut nor gearing up for broad-based market reforms. Yes, Cuba is changing. People who had been there five or even two years before would tell me how much had already changed. But the reality is that they’re starting, slowly, to dig out from a half century deep hole. The infrastructure is in such disarray that they couldn’t take a large scale influx of American tourists if they wanted to. And they want to.

No one really knows what happens next. But this much seems clear: if you want to see what Cuba was like under socialism, you can come next year. You can come in three years. Five. Ten. It will still be there.

Next: What Cubans think of Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio.

Stop Romanticizing Your Grandparents' Food

| Wed May 27, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Ever been advised to "eat like your grandmother"—that is, to seek food that's prepared in ways that would be recognized a generation or two ago, untainted by the evils of industrialization? That's nonsense, writes Rachel Laudan in a rollicking essay recently published in Jacobin.

Food-system reformers tend to evoke a "sunlit past" of wholesome, home-cooked meals, to which Laudan offers a stark riposte: "It never existed."

Her polemic is actually a reprint. It originally appeared in Gastronomica way back in 2001—five years before the publication of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, at the dawn of a boom in farmers markets and other ways to "know your farmer" and "eat local." And yet it's just as bracing to read today as it was then.

The backlash against stuff like chicken nuggets and boxed mac 'n' cheese is "based not on history but on a fairy tale," Laudan writes. Food-system reformers tend to evoke a "sunlit past" of wholesome, home-cooked meals, to which she offers a stark riposte: "It never existed."

Thing is, implicated though I may be in Laudan's blistering critique, I largely agree with it—with a caveat.

You wouldn't know it from grazing the virtuous bounty on display at Whole Foods, but securing good food has always been a struggle. Laudan, a historian who has authored a book on food and empire, spices her essay liberally with pungent facts about preindustrial food. "All too often," she writes, "those who worked the land got by on thin gruels and gritty flatbreads," because all the good stuff went to their feudal lords and a rising urban merchant class. French peasants "prayed that chestnuts would be sufficient to sustain them from the time when their grain ran out to the harvest still three months away," while their Italian counterparts  "suffered skin eruptions, went mad, and in the worst cases died of pellagra brought on by a diet of maize polenta and water."

And she notes, as I have with great relish, that fast food is hardly the invention of midcentury US burger kings. "Hunters tracking their prey, fishermen at sea, shepherds tending their flocks, soldiers on campaign, and farmers rushing to get in the harvest all needed food that could be eaten quickly and away from home," she writes. But the real fast-food action was found in cities, forever packed with people living in tight quarters with few cooking resources:

Before the birth of Christ, Romans were picking up honey cakes and sausages in the Forum. In twelfth-century Hangchow, the Chinese downed noodles, stuffed buns, bowls of soup, and deep-fried confections. In Baghdad of the same period, the townspeople bought ready-cooked meats, salt fish, bread, and a broth of dried chick peas. In the sixteenth cen­tury, when the Spanish arrived in Mexico, Mexicans had been enjoying tacos from the market for generations. In the eighteenth century, the French purchased cocoa, apple turnovers, and wine in the boulevards of Paris, while the Japanese savored tea, noodles, and stewed fish.

Yum!

In short, Laudan has delivered an evocative corrective to the culinary romanticism that pervades our farmers markets and farm-to-table culinary temples.

Yet her "plea for culinary modernism" contains its own gaping blind spot. If Laudan's "culinary Luddites" feast on tales of an imaginary prelapsarian food past, she herself presents a gauzy and romanticized view of industrialized food.

Starting around 1880, she notes, US and European farmers began spreading more fertilizer and using better farm machinery, sparking the agricultural revolution that's with us today: reliance on hybrid (now genetically modified) seeds, agrichemicals, monocrops. To hear her tell it, it's been nonstop progress ever since.

For all, Culinary Modernism had provided what was wanted: food that was processed, preservable, industrial, novel, and fast, the food of the elite at a price everyone could afford. Where modern food became available, populations grew taller, stronger, had fewer diseases, and lived longer. Men had choices other than hard agricultural labor, women other than kneeling at the metate (Mexican corn grinder) five hours a day.

What she misses, of course, are the downsides. She celebrates the year-round availability of fruits and vegetables, but doesn't mention the army of ruthlessly exploited workers (Mexicans in the US West, and in the South, until recently, the descendants of enslaved African Americans) required to plant, tend, and harvest it. Yes, meat, once enjoyed "only on rare occasions" by working people, is now within easy reach of most Americans, but Laudan doesn't pause to ponder what it means for the people who work for poverty wages in factory-scale slaughterhouses. To speak nothing of fast-food, restaurant, and supermarket workers.

Laudan has little to say about how our modern diet is generating new forms of misery: high rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Nor does she ponder the people cut off from industrialized food's bounty: The nearly 1 billion people, most of them in the Global South, who lack enough to eat—many of whom work on plantation-style farms that provide wealthy consumers with coffee, sugar, bananas, and other fruits and vegetables.

She also evades the ecological question. Large Midwestern farms provide the grain that feeds our teeming factory meat operations. In doing so, they systemically foul water with agrichemicals and hemorrhage topsoil, essentially a fossil resource. Meat farms, meanwhile, have become overreliant on antibiotics—contributing to an antibiotic-resistance crisis that now claims 700,000 lives worldwide. California's agricultural behemoth, which churns out the bulk of US-grown fruits and vegetables and nearly all US-grown nuts, relies on oversubscribed and rapidly depleting water resources. And so on.

Finally, there's health. Laudan is right that starvation is mostly a thing of the past in the industrialized world, but she has little to say about how our modern diet is contributing to new forms of misery: high rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

I share her annoyance at the historical fantasia that often passes for analysis among foodies. The key insight to be drawn from Laudan is that our species has rarely if ever experienced an equitable or sustainable way of feeding itself. But that doesn't mean we should stop trying—or that monocrops and agrichemicals bring us any closer.

Watch John Oliver's Epic Takedown of FIFA

| Wed May 27, 2015 1:14 AM EDT

Fee! Fi! Fo! Fum! I smell the blood of a soccer governing body!

FIFA, the terrible no good band of Europeans who keep forcing us to call soccer "football," saw some of its senior most officials arrested in Switzerland today on American corruption charges.

Feel free to take a moment, look at an American flag, and get all teary eyed. (This is why the pilgrims crossed an ocean.)

Anyway, here is John Oliver's epic takedown of FIFA from his show John Oliver's Epic Takedowns