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E-Cigarettes May or May Not Be a Gateway Drug. (But Probably Not.)

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 2:37 PM EDT

Are e-cigarettes a gateway drug to traditional cigarettes? There's a new study out that suggests they might be:

The study focused on ninth-graders at 10 public schools in Los Angeles who had tried e-cigarettes before the fall of 2013. Researchers surveyed those students in the spring of 2014 and fall of 2014, and discovered that they were about 2½ times as likely as their peers to have smoked traditional cigarettes.

This is a classic case of correlation which may or may not also be causation (something the authors acknowledge). Did more of the e-cigarette kids take up smoking because e-cigarettes gave them a taste for it? Or do the kids who are most likely to take up smoking in the first place simply start with e-cigarettes? There's no way to tell just from this study.

That's not to say it's worthless, though. If the study found no correlation, then you could be pretty sure that e-cigarettes don't lead to cigarette smoking. That would be worth knowing. But since it did find a correlation, we need more research to know if there's causation here.

One way to get a tentative read on this is to look at total cigarette smoking among teens. If it's up, then e-cigarettes might be leading more kids to cigarettes. If it's not up, then e-cigarettes are probably just temporarily replacing cigarettes for kids who were going to take up smoking anyway. So which is it?

As it happens, we know the answer to this: cigarette smoking has plunged among teenagers over the past four years. On the other hand, total cigarette use among teens (cigarettes + e-cigarettes) has gone up. The cigarette plunge makes it unlikely that e-cigarettes are a gateway to traditional cigarettes. But the increase in total cigarette use suggests that e-cigarettes really are creating a new market. It's complicated.

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Here's How Hillary Clinton's Meeting With Black Lives Matter Activists Went

"Respectfully, if that is your position, then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems," Clinton said in one response.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 1:57 PM EDT

After being shut out of a scheduled campaign event in New Hampshire last week, Black Lives Matter activists engaged in a candid and, at times, tense conversation with Hillary Clinton on racial issues and criminal justice reform. Footage of the conversation, released on Monday by GOOD, appeared to show Clinton sympathizing with activists' calls for candidates to bring forth more concrete policy proposals.

"You can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it who are going to say, 'We get it, we get it. We are going to be nicer,'" Clinton said. "That’s not enough, at least in my book."

But the discussion took an awkward turn when activist Julius Jones rejected Clinton's suggestion that the movement formalize a more specific plan for its next steps. "I say this as respectfully as I can," Jones told Clinton. "But if you don't tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what you all what you need to do."

Jones also accused Clinton of engaging in victim-blaming.

"I'm not telling you," Clinton shot back. "I'm just telling you to tell me. Respectfully if that is your position then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems."

She then offered a more personal perspective on how to address the deep-seated racism in America.

"Look, I don't believe you change hearts," Clinton said. "I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You're not going to change every heart. You're not. But at the end of the day, we could do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them, to live up to their own God-given potential."

Following the video release of the encounter, Jones and fellow activist Daunasia Yancey told Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC that Clinton's responses were not enough.

“What we were looking for from Secretary Clinton was a personal reflection on her responsibility for being part of the cause of this problem that we have today in mass incarceration," Yancey said. "So her response really targeting on policy wasn’t sufficient for us."

I Read Scott Walker's Health Care Plan So You Don't Have To

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 1:12 PM EDT

It's health care day for Scott Walker. Today he released "The Day One Patient Freedom Plan," a title that's apparently designed to give the impression that his plan would start on Day One of his presidency. Yuval Levin comments that Walker's proposal "will be familiar to health wonks," and it's true. It's the usual conservative mish-mash of HSAs, high-risk pools, tax credits, interstate insurance sales, tort reform, and block-granting of Medicaid.

Oh, and Walker's plan won't require any tax revenue. This is....a little hard to believe since a quick swag suggests that the gross cost of Walker's tax credits will run about $200 billion per year. I figure the net cost, once you account for the end of Obamacare subsidies and other current outlays, is still in the neighborhood of $100 billion or so.1 That's a lot, so I assume Walker explains pretty carefully how he's going to pull this off without any new taxes.

Indeed he does. Here's the answer: "We would simplify and reform how the federal government helps people access health insurance." Gee, I wonder why no one's thought of that before?

So far, there's nothing very interesting here. Every Republican candidate is going to release a plan very similar to this. But there is one other thing I was curious about. It turns out that protecting people with pre-existing conditions is really popular, and this means that Republicans all feel like they have to support the idea. But how? Apologies for the long excerpt, but I want to make sure you see Walker's whole answer:

No individual should fear being denied coverage, or face huge premium spikes when they get sick and then try to change jobs or insurance plans. My plan would address these concerns. It would make additional reforms to insurance coverage laws to ensure individuals with pre-existing conditions would be protected, not only when moving from employer-based plans to the individual market, but also when switching between plans. This would make insurance coverage more portable, permitting individuals to own their coverage, regardless of how or where they purchase it.

Provided individuals maintain continuous, creditable coverage, no one would see their premiums jump because of a health issue or be shut out of access to affordable health insurance because of a new diagnosis or a pre-existing medical condition. Newborns, as well as young adults leaving their parents’ insurance plans and buying their own, would have these same protections. Unlike the ObamaCare approach, my plan would protect those with pre-existing conditions without using costly mandates. By relying on incentives rather than penalties, individuals would be free to choose.

This is literally a non-answer. We do know a couple of things: (a) if you let your insurance lapse, you're screwed, and (b) Walker will somehow prevent insurance companies from raising your rates if you maintain continuous coverage. He provides no clue just what kind of insurance regulation would accomplish this, and for a good reason: I doubt there is one. Obamacare accomplishes it via community rating, which requires insurance companies to cover all comers at the same price, but Walker surely rejects this approach. What he replaces it with remains a mystery.

One other thing worth noting: Walker's tax credits would, at best, pay only for catastrophic coverage. Maybe not even that. Nor will his plan cover everyone. Nor is it likely to cost nothing. Nor does it have any concrete proposals to reduce the cost of health care. If you think that's OK, then Walker is your guy. If you think everyone should be able to receive affordable routine health care, and you're willing to pay for it honestly, you might want to stick with Obamacare.

1Don't worry about the numbers. They're just illustrative guesses on my part. I'm sure experts will weigh in eventually with better estimates.

Here Is a Video of Marco Rubio Accidentally Hitting a Kid in the Head With a Football

The "beaning" happened at the Iowa State Fair.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 12:31 PM EDT

Marco Rubio decided to play a friendly game of "toss a football to children to demonstrate to voters how normal and approachable I am" at the Iowa State Fair this week. Things didn't go as planned.

Our friends at SB Nation say it was the kid's fault.

This isn't some political statement. Marco Rubio is fine here. We're not talking about his politics, we'll leave that up to you -- but this is 100 percent on the hands (or head) of his receiver. The kid's arms are wide like he's catching a beach ball, his coordination is all off. Rubio threw a tight spiral.

We Are All Fans of Self-Deportation

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 11:47 AM EDT

Ezra Klein has read Donald Trump's immigration plan and finds it even worse than he expected. I didn't feel that way: it read to me like a pretty standard right-wing take on illegal immigration, with just a few added Trumpisms (Mexico will pay for the wall, we should force companies to hire Americans, etc.). But two things in Klein's piece struck me enough to want to comment on them:

The plan would be a disaster for immigrants if enacted. But even if it's not enacted, the plan is a disaster for the Republican Party, which is somehow going to need to co-opt Trump's appeal to anti-immigration voters, but absolutely cannot afford to be associated, in the minds of Hispanic voters, with this document.

....When Mitt Romney embraced "self-deportation" in 2012, it was considered an awful mistake....But self-deportation is Trump's plan, too. And Trump's insight here is that the best way to drive unauthorized immigrants out of the country isn't to target them. It's to target their children and families.

On the first point, I think this ship sailed a long time ago. Maybe the Trump publicity juggernaut will aggravate things further, but I honestly don't see how the Republican Party could appeal to Hispanics much less than it already does. The anti-immigrant rhetoric from leading Republicans has been relentless for years, and Trump is merely adding one more voice to the chorus. Will Trump's bluster about making Mexico pay for the wall really make things any worse?

The second point is a little trickier. It's true that Mitt Romney blew it in 2012 with the infelicitous phrase "self-deportation." But the uproar that followed elided an important point: every immigration plan involves putting pressure on illegal immigrants in order to motivate them to (a) leave or (b) not come in the first place. There's a sliding scale of pain involved, and liberals tend to want less while conservatives tend to want more. But both sides make use of it.

The easiest way to think of immigration control is like this:

  1. Figure out how many illegal immigrants you're willing to tolerate.
  2. Ratchet up the the cost of illegal immigration and ratchet down the cost of legal immigration.
  3. Eventually, you'll figure out the right combination of costs that gets you to your number.

Nobody talks about immigration like this, but it's the thought process behind every immigration plan. Both Republicans and Democrats support E-Verify, for example, which makes it harder for immigrants who lack legal documents to get jobs. But what is this, other than a way to use economic pressure to persuade illegal immigrants to go back to Mexico? Likewise, both Democrats and Republicans support border security. Republicans may generally want more of it than Democrats, but Democrats are nonetheless willing to use increased security to raise the cost of crossing the border.

In the end, everyone uses this calculus,1 whether consciously or not. The amount of pressure—or cruelty, if you prefer—that you're willing to employ depends on just how many illegal immigrants you're willing to tolerate. But no matter what that number is, if you put any pressure at all on illegal immigrants, you're exploiting the power of self-deportation. Just don't say it out loud, OK?

1The exception, I suppose, are the people who advocate completely open borders. But they're a very tiny minority.

Bernie Sanders: Donald Trump Is a National Embarrassment

He didn't mince words.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 11:18 AM EDT

In an interview with the New York Times published on Monday, Bernie Sanders offered his views on the always entertaining presidential campaign of Donald Trump. And he didn't mince words. When asked what he thought of the Republican front-runner's continued surge in the polls, Sanders responded, "Not much," and hit back at Trump's racist rhetoric.

"I think Donald Trump's views on immigration and his slurring of the Latino community is not something that should be going on in the year 2015," Sanders said. "And it's to me an embarrassment for our country."

Sanders' comments come on the heels of several recent op-ed's attempting to draw similarities between Trump's and Sanders' policy proposals, specifically on immigration. Judging from Sanders' latest remarks, however, we're guessing the Vermont senator isn't exactly thrilled to be compared with the inflammatory real estate mogul.

Just last week, Trump took a shot at Sanders, calling him "weak" for sharing the stage with Black Lives Matter organizers at a campaign stop in Seattle. Trump assured his audience that unlike Sanders, he would have taken charge, and he even insinuated that he would have been prepared to get violent.

"I don't know if I'll do the fighting myself or if others will, but that was a disgrace," he said.

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#Feelthebern? Not Really: Hillary Clinton Is Still the Odds-On Favorite.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 10:45 AM EDT

Should Hillary Clinton's recent spate of problems (Bernie Sanders, the email server, sagging favorability numbers) be enough to make people nervous about her chances of winning the Democratic nomination? I can answer that in four words:

It's August, folks. Chill.

In the early stages of primaries, people get nervous about candidates all the time and start tossing out bizarre ideas (Hillary will get indicted, maybe Joe Biden should run, etc.). But even strong candidates never win all the votes or cruise to victory without any problems. With the exception of incumbents running unopposed, you should expect that no candidate will get more than 60-70 percent of the vote. The fact that Bernie Sanders is polling at 30 percent or so isn't a sign of Hillary Clinton's weakness. It's a sign of a perfectly normal campaign. Nate Silver goes into more detail:

Being “inevitable” doesn’t mean you’ll sweep through all 50 states with no opposition. In the modern era (since 1972), the non-incumbent candidates who were similarly “inevitable” to Clinton, judging by the number of endorsements they had early on in the race, were Bob Dole in 1996, Al Gore in 2000, and George W. Bush in 2000. You can probably also add George H.W. Bush in 1988 to the “inevitable” list; he had a narrower endorsement lead but was the presumptive Republican nominee by virtue of being the sitting vice president.

Among these candidates, only Gore went undefeated in the primaries (and Bill Bradley came within a few percentage points of beating him in New Hampshire). In 1988, George H.W. Bush finished third in Iowa — behind Dole and Pat Robertson. In 1996, Dole lost New Hampshire to Pat Buchanan. George W. Bush lost badly to John McCain in New Hampshire in 2000.

....In Sanders, Clinton has drawn an opponent who is relatively well suited to New Hampshire and Iowa....Based on current polling averages, Sanders would almost exactly replicate Bradley’s performance in 2000, losing Iowa by double digits, giving Clinton a close call in New Hampshire, then losing badly once the calendar turned to more populous and diverse states. Or Sanders could do better than that, winning New Hampshire and a few other states in New England, the Upper Midwest or Pacific Northwest, perhaps along with one or two surprises elsewhere. But that too would be consistent with the losses that “inevitable” candidates like Clinton have endured in the past.

Silver goes on to say that emailgate doesn't seem to have hurt Hillary much (the slide in her approval ratings was both slow and inevitable) and she was going to get lots of unflattering press coverage no matter what she did. He puts her chances of winning the nomination at an unchanged 85 percent.

Barring some kind of epic meltdown, I'd put it even higher. I just don't see any credible competition out there: Bernie Sanders has a fairly low ceiling and it's too late for Joe Biden to get in. And so far, at least, I don't see much evidence that her email server problems are serious enough to cause any permanent damage.

It's traditional for leading candidates to inspire a movement to stop them. It's so traditional, in fact, that there's even a name for it: AB__. That is, "Anybody But ______ ." If Hillary Clinton inspires a similar movement, she'll be in illustrious company.

This Pro-Gun Researcher Wrote a Viral Op-Ed As a Young Woman Who Really Wants a Gun

John Lott channels his feminine side…again.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 6:15 AM EDT

Last fall, a first-person narrative by Taylor Woolrich, a student at Dartmouth and a stalking victim, went viral. In the article, which appeared on FoxNews.com, Woolrich wrote that her stalker of several years would soon be let out of jail, yet the college wouldn't let her carry a gun. The headline read, "Dear Dartmouth, I am one of your students, I am being stalked, please let me carry a gun to protect myself." The article went on:

I feel that I have no control over my life. My family was forced to move. I have had stay indoors [sic], keep drapes closed, avoid posting on social media sites, and even change my car. It’s almost like being held hostage.

Should myself and other female victims just have to put up with this? The answer, hopefully, is "no." Women must be able to defend themselves. The most effective way of doing this is by using a gun. When police arrive to enforce a restraining order, it is usually too late.

But Woolrich didn't write the article. Instead, it was penned by John Lott, a Fox News columnist, economist, and gun advocate whose research claiming that guns reduce crime has been repeatedly challenged and dismissed. Now, Woolrich believes that her experience was repurposed to promote a cause that she never intended to support. "I wanted to talk to the media, if it could mean something positive," Woolrich recently told BuzzFeed. "But I wanted to talk to the media about stalking. I didn't realize I was being turned into an NRA puppet."

Woolrich's interactions with Lott go back to last summer, when he asked her to speak on a panel at the Students for Concealed Carry conference. She agreed, admitting in her presentation that she didn't particularly identify with the pro-gun movement but wanted to help stalking victims. Around the same time, Lott and Woolrich shared a byline for an article for the Daily Caller about her experience. Woolrich says Lott wrote it, but she agreed to share the credit with him to make the piece "more reputable." Afterward, Fox News asked her to write a first-person op-ed. She said she didn't have time, so Lott offered to write it.

According to BuzzFeed,

The piece incorporated elements of her talk at the conference, but otherwise it was essentially the same article written by Lott, which is still online at the Daily Caller. "It's his op-ed," she says. "Word for word, except the chunks that match what's said in my speech." The references to Lott's disputed research? Not hers. The link to the Amazon sales page for his book? Not hers. The headline? "Dear Dartmouth, I am one of your students, I am being stalked, please let me carry a gun to protect myself."

"I think his first priority was his cause," she says. "He saw me as a really great asset."

So did Fox News. "THANK YOU for putting this in the first person," wrote a Fox editor to Lott. "Here's hoping this piece might go viral."

It's unclear if the Fox editors were aware of the extent to which Lott was involved in writing the piece. An editor's note at the bottom mentions that Lott "contributed to this story." But Fox News executive editor John Moody told BuzzFeed that FoxNews.com "published what was characterized to us as a first person account of Ms. Woolrich's experiences."

This isn't the first time that Lott has written in the voice of a young woman seeking safety from a gun. In 2003, Lott was forced to admit he had posed as an active online commenter named Mary Rosh, who presented herself as his former student at the University of Pennsylvania and fiercely defended his research. "Even if I am not wearing heels, I don't think that there are many men that I could outrun, especially over a short distance. Unfortunately, women are not as fast as men on average," Rosh/Lott wrote. "You obviously don't know what it is to be seriously threatened by someone who is much stronger than you are." Lott later explained that "on a couple of occasions I used the female persona implied by the name in the chat rooms to try to get people to think about how people who are smaller and weaker physically can defend themselves."

A Judge Just Handed Abortion Supporters a Huge Win in the Deep South

Finally, some good news.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 6:10 AM EDT

At last, some good news in abortion rights. Last week, a federal judge in Alabama blocked a regulation that might have closed the state's largest abortion clinic for good.

The West Alabama Women's Center in Tuscaloosa closed back in January after the clinic's previous physician retired. The clinic's new doctor was unable to gain admitting privileges at a local hospital or establish a contract with another doctor who had those privileges, putting the clinic in violation of state requirements. Proponents of the regulation said it was needed to protect women's safety should complications arise when ending a pregnancy, while abortion rights advocates argued that it was an attempt to shutter clinics that rely on providers who live out of the state. Major medical organizations have generally opposed such laws as medically unnecessary.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on the clinic's behalf challenging the requirement, and on August 13, US District Judge Myron Thompson issued a temporary restraining order putting the clinic back in business. Thompson said the closure of the clinic put an "undue burden" on women who were forced to travel longer distances to obtain abortions.

The Tuscaloosa clinic was one of only two in Alabama to provide second-trimester abortions up to the state's 20-week legal limit. In 2013, it performed 40 percent of the state's abortions; after it closed, the closest clinic in Huntsville saw a 57 percent increase in women seeking abortions.

The judge cited evidence that the increased distances and the additional strain on the state's remaining clinics forced women to delay abortions until their pregnancies were past the 20-week limit. Thompson also cited the concern that the regulation's effect on reducing abortion access "increased the risk that women will take their abortion into their own hands," and noted that the Huntsville clinic reported calls from women seeking advice on how to terminate their own pregnancies, or threatening to do so. Thompson also referred to a "'severe scarcity of abortion doctors…nationwide and particularly in the South,' with no residency program offering training in performing abortion in Louisiana, Alabama, or Mississippi." 

"For all Alabama women, the closure of the largest abortion provider in the state, one of two providers in the state that administers abortions after 16 weeks, has reduced the number of abortions that can be provided here," Thompson wrote.

Thompson has been consistently supportive of abortion rights. Last year, the judge, who served as Alabama's first African-American assistant attorney general before being nominated to the bench by President Jimmy Carter, issued a broader ruling in a similar case involving several other clinics.

Palehound's Debut Album Is Smart And Engrossing

"Dry Food" offers lots of promise for this new artist.

| Tue Aug. 18, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Palehound
Dry Food
Exploding in Sound

It's hard to pin Ellen Kempner down. Recording as Palehound, the Boston native just produced a smart, engrossing debut album (following a strong EP), which deftly juggles skittish rockers and woozy ballads, covering a dizzying amount of ground in less than a half-hour. Her lyrics can be intriguingly oblique, than come into sharp, funny focus for tart stories of desperate need and fumbled connections. "I'm pushing back your tongue/With my clenched-teeth home security system," she croons languidly on "Easy," fending off a "swollen, sickly guest"; in the toe-tapping "Cushioned Caging," which would be a big hit in a better world, she concedes, "I knew you were a close call/I loved you/It's all my fault." Throughout Dry Food, Kempner's quietly emphatic voice is subtly compelling, inspiring great expectations for whatever she does next.