A Stampede Near Mecca Killed More Than 700 People Taking Part In the Hajj Pilgrimage

| Thu Sep. 24, 2015 9:05 AM EDT
A view of the camp city at Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, September 24, 2015.

RIYADH (Reuters) - More than 700 pilgrims were killed in a crush at Hajjj on Thursday, the deadliest such incident since 1990.

Here are some other fatal events at Hajjj in past years.

December 1975 - A cooking gas cylinder explodes in the pilgrim tent city, causing a fire that kills over 200 pilgrims.

July 1987 - Iranian protesters clash with Saudi police, leading to the death of more than 400 Iranian pilgrims.

July 1990 - Inside the al-Muaissem tunnel near Mecca in Saudi Arabia, 1,426 pilgrims are crushed to death. The accident occurs on Eid al-Adha (The Feast of Sacrifice), Islam's most important feast at the end of the Hajj and the day of the "stoning of the devil" ritual.

May 1994 - A stampede near Jamarat Bridge in Mina, near Mecca, kills 270 in the area where pilgrims ritually stone the devil.

April 1997 - 343 pilgrims are killed in a tent fire at the Hajj camp at Mina, prompting the government to construct a permanent, fireproof tent city there.

April 1998 - One hundred and nineteen Muslim pilgrims are crushed to death in Saudi Arabia at the Hajj.

February 2004 - A stampede kills 251 Muslim pilgrims in Saudi Arabia near the Jamarat Bridge during the stoning of the devil.

January 2006 - Some 362 Muslim pilgrims are crushed to death at the eastern entrance of the Jamarat Bridge during the stoning ritual.

September 2015 - A crane crashes into the Grand Mosque days before Hajj begins, crushing 111 people to death. +

September 2015 - A crush of pilgrims traveling from the camp at Mina to the Jamarat bridge kills at least 310, Saudi civil defense says.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Advertise on

Congress Is About to Find Out Just How Expensive Unintended Pregnancies Are

| Thu Sep. 24, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

On Thursday, Senate Republicans will have their second chance in as many months to block federal money for Planned Parenthood. But defunding the country's largest women's health care network would come with a big price tag for taxpayers: According to a report released this week by the Congressional Budget Office, the move would end up costing an additional $130 million over the next decade.

What's the biggest way banning funding for Planned Parenthood could come back to haunt the budget? More babies.

While the organization's contraceptive services now help prevent an estimated 516,000 pregnancies each year, the CBO suggests that number would drop if funding were cut: As many as 25 percent of Planned Parenthood users would face reduced access to care, and some of those patients might effectively be forced to go without birth control.

"The people most likely to experience reduced access to care would probably reside in areas without access to other health care clinics or medical practitioners who serve low-income populations," wrote Keith Hall, director of the CBO, adding that his agency projects the bill would initially cause a yearly boom of several thousand new pregnancies that would have otherwise been prevented.

Forty-five percent of births in the United States are paid for by Medicaid. Beyond that cost, the CBO predicts that some of the children resulting from the additional pregnancies "would themselves qualify for Medicaid and possibly for other federal programs." All told, the CBO says the cost of the unintended pregnancies would be $650 million over the next 10 years.

While a ban would save the federal government much of the $450 million that Planned Parenthood is slated to get from Medicare and other programs next year, and up to a total of $520 million over the next decade, the CBO projects that many former patients would seek help at other Medicare-funded providers—in effect, merely shifting the cost. 

The CBO's report was completed at the request of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who introduced a bill this summer to defund Planned Parenthood. That bill made it out of the House but died in the Senate in August, though Republican representatives will get a second chance at defunding on Thursday: The Senate's continuing resolution bill to keep the government funded also includes an amendment to cut ties with the health care organization.

Fiorina Super-PAC Makes Its Own Abortion Video

| Thu Sep. 24, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina at the GOP primary debate on September 16

During the latest GOP primary debate on September 16, Carly Fiorina described a video that shows "a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain." Many news reports have pointed out that no such video seems to exist—it's not among the heavily edited Center for Medical Progress videos released this summer, nor is it anywhere else.

On September 19, the super-PAC backing Fiorina's candidacy, Carly for America, posted a video to its YouTube page that appears to be a home-brewed version of the previously nonexistent video. The clip is called "Character of Our Nation," a quote from Fiorina's statements during the debate, when she said defunding Planned Parenthood "is about the character of our nation."*

In an email sent out yesterday, Planned Parenthood pointed out that the video appears to be a heavily edited selection of five separate audio and video clips, spliced together "to try to concoct the video that she claimed existed" during the debate. Several of the clips, Planned Parenthood said, come from the doctored Center for Medical Progress sting videos released this summer that purport to show Planned Parenthood officials selling fetal organs for profit—a criminal allegation that state after state has found to be false.

One of the clips comes from the Grantham Collection, an anti-abortion archive that has been discredited by pro-choice advocates, in part for making false allegations about the content of benign photos. For instance, the group claimed that a photo of basic medical tongs is an image of the tool used to pull apart the limbs of an aborted fetus.

Planned Parenthood wrote a letter to the Fiorina campaign yesterday, asking it to take down the composite video.

In response to a request for comment on the veracity of the video, Fiorina campaign spokeswomen Sarah Isgur Flores wrote in an email, "Carly is a cancer survivor and doesn't need to be lectured on women's health by anyone. Over their long and factually incorrect letter, Planned Parenthood doesn't and can't deny they butchering babies and selling their organs [sic]. This is about the character of our nation."

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the group that posted the video.

How Scientific Are the US Dietary Guidelines?

| Thu Sep. 24, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Later this year, the US government is set to unveil its new dietary guidelines—advice on what Americans should eat to stay healthy. The guidelines, once known as the Food Pyramid, are updated every five years and are hugely influential: They affect everything from food labeling and doctors' advice to school lunch menus, aid programs for low-income families, and research priorities at the National Institutes of Health. They also have some clout globally, with governments in other Western countries often adopting similar nutrition policies.

In the 2015 report for the new guidelines, the advisory committee said it did not use Nutrition Evidence Library reviews for more than 70 percent of topics it covered.

So how exactly does the US government come up with these guidelines? The process might be less scientific than you'd expect, according to a new investigation in a major British medical journal that suggests Big Food is playing too big of a role in the government's dietary recommendations.

The guidelines, writes journalist Nina Teicholz in the BMJ journal, are based on a report by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a panel of experts tasked with reviewing scientific studies on nutrition. For years, the advisory committee faced criticism about its review process, so in 2010 the US Department of Agriculture created the Nutrition Evidence Library, which set up a system to methodically evaluate scientific research based on a hierarchy of evidence and a transparent grading process.

But in the 2015 report for the new guidelines, the advisory committee said it did not use NEL reviews for more than 70 percent of topics it covered; instead, Teicholz found, the committee used studies by outside professional organizations, including some with backing from Big Food, like the American Heart Association (which she says received 20 percent of its revenue from industry in 2014) and the American College of Cardiology (which she says received 38 percent of its revenue from industry in 2012).

In her investigation, Teicholz also examined the industry ties of specific members of the advisory committee, finding that they received support from groups like the California Walnut Commission, the International Tree Nut Council, Unilever, and Lluminari, a health media company that works with General Mills, PepsiCo, and Stonyfield Farm. "While there is no evidence that these potential conflicts of interest influenced the committee members, the [2015 dietary guidelines] report recommends a high consumption of vegetable oils and nuts," Teicholz writes, while noting that most scientists in the field of nutrition receive some support from industry due to a shortage of public research funding.

Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, a book about the politics behind dietary fat recommendations, takes particular issue with the advisory committee's push to restrict saturated fats, which it describes as a form of "empty calories." She writes, "Unlike sugar, saturated fats are mostly consumed as an inherent part of foods such as eggs, meat, and dairy, which together contain nearly all the vitamins and minerals needed for good health." She says the committee also did not sufficiently consider studies showing that low-carbohydrate diets are effective for promoting weight loss and improving heart disease risk factors.

Barbara Millen, the chair of the advisory committee, rejects allegations that the committee's dietary recommendations are not supported by science. "The evidence base has never been stronger to guide solutions," she was quoted as saying in the BMJ. "You don't simply answer these questions on the basis of the NEL [Nutrition Evidence Library]. Where we didn't feel we needed to, we didn't do them. On topics where there were existing comprehensive guidelines, we didn't do them."

Millen defended the recommendations on saturated fat and said there had been insufficient evidence to consider low-carbohydrate diets, while adding that committee members were vetted by counsel to the federal government. But Teicholz isn't convinced: "It may be time to ask our authorities to convene an unbiased and balanced panel of scientists to undertake a comprehensive review, in order to ensure that selection of the dietary guidelines committee becomes more transparent, with better disclosure of the conflicts of interest, and that the most rigorous scientific evidence is reliably used to produce the best possible nutrition policy," she writes.

Update: The US Department of Health and Human Services has issued a statement about the BMJ article: "The British Medical Journal’s decision to publish this article is unfortunate given the prevalence of factual errors. HHS and USDA required the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to conduct a rigorous, systematic and transparent review of the current body of nutrition science. Following an 19-month open process, documented for the public on, the external expert committee submitted its report to the Secretaries of HHS and USDA. HHS and USDA are considering the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, along with comments from the public and input from federal agencies, as we develop the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to be released later this year."

Quote of the Day: "He Didn't Think We'd Respond?"

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 11:28 PM EDT

From a Carly Fiorina aide, defending their absurd smear today of Jeffrey Sonnenfeld:

After more than a decade of attacking Carly's character and misrepresenting her career, he didn't think we would respond? I guess he's not ready for the arena after all.

The context for this involves Trumpishly juvenile behavior from a whole cast of characters. Here's the nickel explanation. Back in 1997, Sonnenfeld was a professor at Emory University. That year, he accepted an offer from Georgia Tech to become dean of their business school. This apparently infuriated the Emory folks so much that they reverted to their kindergarten selves and hatched a scheme to tell Georgia Tech officials that Sonnenfeld had been caught defacing campus property. Georgia Tech promptly withdrew their offer, and Sonnenfeld was forced to resign from Emory.

This whole affair was basically ginned up out of whole cloth. A few years later, Emory withdrew their accusations of vandalism, and Sonnenfeld won multimillion settlements from both Emory and Georgia Tech.

But the fact that Sonnenfeld never did the things he was accused of didn't faze Fiorina. Last weekend Sonnenfeld wrote a Politico article criticizing Fiorina's tenure at HP, and that couldn't be allowed to go unanswered. In today's post-Trump Republican Party, the rule is, "He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue." So Fiorina had her aide send an email to reporters that said: "I'll give Sonnenfeld this: He would know something about getting fired. Of course, his was for vandalism of school property while he was at Emory."

Fiorina has obviously decided that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and is bidding to become the new Donald Trump. If someone criticizes you, you hit him back in a comically heavy-handed way—and then hit him back again as a crybaby if he dares to object. This makes for good copy, and maybe that's all that matters. But Fiorina should watch out. Trump is such a clown that he somehow makes his attacks seem like the actions of a charming rogue, not a vicious hit man. When Fiorina does it, she just looks mean.

As near as I can tell, that's because she is. But it's still best not to let it show too much. Just ask Scott Walker.

If You Accuse Hillary Clinton of Lying, You Should Be Careful With the Truth Yourself

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 8:09 PM EDT

I was noodling around this afternoon and decided to check out Drudge. Hmmm. A picture of Obama with 'horns' next to the pope. Some nutcases in California think the drought is part of a government weather-control conspiracy. China wants to control the internet. Obama has blocked a 13-year-old critic from following him on Twitter. Standard Drudge stuff. Then this: "FOURNIER: Come clean or get out..."

Ho hum. It was pretty obvious what the Fournier column was about, since he's been obsessed about Hillary's email server for months, but I went ahead and clicked anyway. I was pretty taken aback. He made three points at the top of the column:

  1. "The State Department confirmed that Clinton turned over her email only after Congress discovered that she had exclusively used a private email system."
    Nope. Fournier is referring to last night's Washington Post story, which says the State Department discovered it didn't know where Clinton's emails were. (Or Condi Rice's. Or Colin Powell's. Or Madeleine Albright's. Or much of anyone else's apparently.) Clinton turned over her emails when State asked for them.
  2. "A federal court has helped uncover more emails related to the Benghazi raid that were withheld from congressional investigators. Clinton has insisted she turned over all her work-related email and complied with congressional subpoenas. Again, she hasn’t been telling the truth."
    This is flatly false. The linked Politico story says nothing about Clinton not turning over all her work emails. It says only that the State Department has claimed executive privilege for a few documents—something with no relation at all to Hillary Clinton. From Politico: "The FOIA lawsuits provide a vehicle to force the agency to identify those emails, although the substance of the messages is not disclosed."
  3. "The FBI has recovered personal and work-related e-mails from her private server....The FBI has moved beyond whether U.S. secrets were involved to how and why. In the language of law enforcement, the FBI is investigating her motive."
    I guess this isn't flatly false, but "how and why" were words used by Bloomberg's reporter in the linked story. There didn't seem to be any special significance attached to them, and it's the airiest kind of speculation to say this means the FBI is investigating Clinton's motive. They've consistently said that she's not the subject of a criminal investigation. Why would they be investigating motive if they're not investigating any underlying crime?

That's three stories linked to, and all three were described in a badly misleading way. This is one of the reasons I usually pay so little attention to the Hillary email affair.1 It's been months now, and there's simply no evidence of anything other than unwise email practices and an unfortunate but instinctive defensiveness from Clinton over trivial matters. At some point, when nothing more comes up, it becomes clear that this is just the usual Clinton Derangement Syndrome at work. We passed that point a while ago.

Fournier has all but shouted that he's never trusted the Clintons and never will, and that's why he's so obsessive about this stuff. We all need a hobby, I guess. Still, he's a reporter. Deliberately distorting his descriptions of news accounts in the hope that no one will bother clicking on them is a bridge too far. He repeatedly claims that Hillary is lying, but Fournier is living in a glass house.

1Except today, I guess. But it's just an odd coincidence that this is my third post of the day on this "scandal."

Advertise on

It Might Be Time to Rethink How We Do Emissions Testing

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 7:04 PM EDT

This sounds cool. Max Ehrenfreund writes today about Gary Bishop, a research engineer at the University of Denver, who has been working on real-life emissions testing for cars:

Bishop's laboratory has developed a roadside sensor, which he and his colleagues have been using for more than a decade to see how cars actually do on the street in several major cities....Authorities are now using the sensors in and around Denver and in a few other states as a supplement to conventional testing. The state sets up the sensors at highway on-ramps and elsewhere along the road. Drivers don't stop. They just roll between two rows of cones while a camera records the car's license plate and the equipment registers the emissions from the tailpipe, and go on their way. If a car produces at least two passing grades, the driver is spared the trip to the inspection station.

How about that. Can we get this in California, please? Of course, there's also this:

One of the cities where Bishop has worked is Tulsa, Okla., where emissions tests have never been required. The group has found that emissions from the cars in Tulsa are no worse than emissions in other cities where standards are enforced.

That's true. In a 2007 paper, Bishop concluded that emissions reductions have been about the same everywhere he's tested, regardless of whether periodic inspections are required. So maybe we need to ditch the big-government regulations that mandate the inspection regime altogether. Instead we could rely on spot checks of real-world emissions as a way of holding auto manufacturers accountable for complying with EPA standards, which suddenly seems like it might be the real problem after all. Let's get Jeb Bush on this.

Air Travel Is About to Get Way More Annoying

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 5:06 PM EDT

Didn't think air travel could get more obnoxious? Well, if you're a resident of New York, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Louisiana, or American Samoa, abandon such wishful thinking, because starting next year you may need a passport to get on a plane—regardless of whether you're flying domestic or international.

Thanks to the Real ID Act passed back in 2005, these five places, in which a obtaining a driver's license does not require proof of citizenship or residency, according to Travel+Leisure, have been deemed "non-compliant" with the act's security standards. Therefore, residents will need to remember to bring their passports along for air travel or obtain an Enhanced Driver's License for an extra $30.

One small problem: Only New York and Minnesota offer EDL's.

The policy, which was proposed in response to the 9/11 Commission's guidance, seeks to beef up counterterrorism measures. According to the Wall Street Journal, 22 states' driver's licenses already comply with the new law, while 24 other states have received extensions.

The act will be enforced starting sometime in 2016. New York has already applied for an extension.

“We have submitted a request for an extension to the Real ID Act and our discussions with the Department of Homeland Security have been very productive,” a spokeswoman from the New York Department of Motor Vehicles said. “We have no reason to believe that any New Yorker will have a problem using their current state-issued ID card to get on a plane come January 2016.”

It Sure Looks Like Hillary Clinton Didn't Have a Cunning Plan to Foil Congressional Investigators

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 2:34 PM EDT

This happened yesterday while I was away from my desk:

The FBI has recovered personal and work-related e-mails from the private computer server used by Hillary Clinton during her time as secretary of state, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s success at salvaging personal e-mails that Clinton said had been deleted raises the possibility that the Democratic presidential candidate’s correspondence eventually could become public. The disclosure of such e-mails would likely fan the controversy over Clinton’s use of a private e-mail system for official business.

Nobody seems to have made the most obvious observation about this: It pretty strongly suggests that Hillary Clinton was not trying to hide anything when she deleted personal emails from her server.

At the risk of boring my technically-minded readers, files on a computer work sort of like an old-fashioned card catalog in a library. If you "delete" a book by tearing up the index card, the book is still there. It might be harder to find, but with a little detective work you can still dig it up. Eventually, though, the book will truly disappear. Maybe someone steals it and no one cares. Or the library needs more space and gets rid of all the books with no index cards. Etc.

This is how computers work. When you delete a file, you're just deleting the index card. The file is still there on the hard drive. Eventually, though, the file will truly disappear. Maybe another program writes over the file. Or you run a disk defrag program and whole sections of the disk get written over. Etc. Some files will get permanently deleted within days. Others might stick around for years. It's just random chance.

Needless to say, things don't have to happen this way. If you want to make sure that a file is well and truly deleted, it's easy to do. Anyone with even a smidgen of computer experience either knows how or knows how to find out. Here's one way, which took me ten seconds to Google. If I were really serious, I'd take the time to read a bit more, and also make inquiries about backups. This is IT 101.

But apparently Hillary didn't ask about any of this stuff. No one on her staff brought it up. They just pushed the Delete key and the emails disappeared. The IT folks were never involved.

These are not the actions of a staff trying to stonewall FOIA requests or foil a congressional committee. Any bright teenager could have done better on that score. By all the evidence, Hillary is telling the truth. She just told her staff to delete personal emails and turn over the rest to the State Department. There was nothing more to it.

But no one's reporting it that way. Peculiar, isn't it?

Jeb Bush Has No Clue About Business Regulation

| Wed Sep. 23, 2015 1:34 PM EDT

Jeb Bush today in the Wall Street Journal:

To understand what is wrong with the regulatory culture of the U.S. under President Obama, consider this alarming statistic: Today, according to the World Bank—not exactly a right-wing think tank—the U.S. ranks 46th in the world in terms of ease of starting a business. That is unacceptable. Think what the U.S. could be and the prosperity we could have if we rolled back the overregulation that keeps us from ranking in the top 10.

My goodness. That does sound unacceptable. Still, it never hurts to check up on these presidential candidates, does it? So let's click the link.

Sure enough, the World Bank ranks the United States 46th in ease of starting a business. But there's an asterisk next to that. Let's scroll down and see what it says: "The rankings of economies with populations over 100 million are based on data for 2 cities." Hmmm. It turns out the World Bank is ranking the United States based on starting up a business in New York City. That seems to tip the scales a wee bit, no?

But let's soldier on. New Zealand ranks first in starting a new business, so let's see how they work their magic. Here's the World Bank's comparison:

So it takes half a day in New Zealand and four days in New York City. Really? Half a day to start up a new business? Maybe they're not using the same definition of "starting" that I am. Let's check out the details for New York City. Here they are:

Now I get it. This isn't about getting a business up and running. It's solely about registering a new business. And it's got nothing to do with any of Obama's regulations. It's all about state and local stuff. The only part that's federal is getting an EIN number, which is free and takes a few minutes. I'm not sure what Jeb Bush thinks he's going to do to streamline this.

Bottom line: This is completely meaningless. It's a measure only of how long it takes to register a business, and it's only for New York City. And even at that, it takes only four days and costs $750. This is not stifling American entrepreneurship.

But wait! There's more. The World Bank does have a broader "Ease of Doing Business" rank that takes into account the things you need to do to get up and running: construction permits, electricity, credit, paying taxes, enforcing contracts, etc. As it happens, the bulk of this stuff is still state and local, and has nothing to do with Obama or the federal government. Still, let's take a look since Jeb chose not to share it with us for some reason. Where does the United States rank on this measure?

The World Bank has us in seventh place. We're already in the top 10 that Jeb is aiming for. Mission accomplished!

POSTSCRIPT: Jeb has many other statistics in his piece, and I'd take them with the same grain of salt as his World Bank numbers. He also promises that in his administration every regulation "will have to satisfy a rigorous White House review process, including a cost-benefit analysis." Apparently he doesn't realize that this is already the case. As for the outrageous regulations he promises to repeal on Day One, this would mostly benefit big campaign donors, not the yeoman entrepreneurs he claims to be sticking up for. No big surprise there, I suppose.