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Yet Another Health Update

| Fri Mar. 6, 2015 12:40 PM EST

I promised another health update last night, so here it is. I know that some of you are interested in this, while others find it tedious, so I'll put it all below the fold. Here's the nickel summary: There's a good chance I'm going to continue feeling lousy for a couple of weeks or so, but I should start to improve after that.

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Republicans Are Already Prepping for Possible Government Shutdown in the Fall

| Fri Mar. 6, 2015 12:01 PM EST

The Supreme Court will rule later this year on the question of whether Obamacare subsidies should be repealed in states that don't run their own insurance exchanges. That would gut a major portion of the law, and Jonathan Weisman reports today that because of this, "the search for a replacement by Republican lawmakers is finally gaining momentum."

I'm not quite sure how he could write that with a straight face, since I think we all know just how serious Republicans are about passing health care reform of their own. In any case, I think the real news comes a few paragraphs down:

Aides to senior House Republicans said Thursday that committee chairmen were meeting now to decide whether a budget plan — due out the week of March 16 — will include parliamentary language, known as reconciliation instructions, that would allow much of a Republican health care plan to pass the filibuster-prone Senate with a simple majority.

Representative Tom Price of Georgia, the House Budget Committee chairman, said that reconciliation language would be kept broad enough to allow Republican leaders to use it later in the year however they see fit, whether that is passing health care legislation over a Senate filibuster or focusing on taxes or other matters.

If this is true, it means that Republicans are prepping for yet another government shutdown over Obamacare. Any budget that tried to essentially repeal Obamacare in favor of a Republican "replacement" would obviously be met with a swift veto, and that would lead inevitably to the usual dreary standoff that we've seen so often over the past few years.

Of course, this will all be moot if the Supreme Court upholds Obamacare in the way common sense dictates. Still, it's something of a sign of things to come. Shutdown politics is pretty clearly still alive and well in the GOP ranks.

The Hack Gap Lives!

| Fri Mar. 6, 2015 11:33 AM EST

I've been following the news a little vaguely over the past few days, but I noticed an interesting confirmation of the hack gap in the treatment of Hillary Clinton's email affair. Perhaps you noticed too? There was, obviously, a difference in the way liberals and conservatives treated the news that Hillary had used a private email address for all her correspondence while she was Secretary of State. But it was a matter of degree, not attitude.

On the liberal side, I saw a lots of people seriously questioning what had happened. And not just here in the pages of MoJo. I saw it on MSNBC. I saw it in newspaper columns. I saw it in blog posts. Lots of liberals treated this as a legitimate issue and suggested that Hillary had some serious questions to answer. This didn't just come from a few iconoclasts, either. It came from all over the place, and was generally viewed, at the least, as an example of questionable judgment, if not proof that Hillary is the antichrist we've always known she was.

I know the counterfactual game can get a little tiresome sometimes, but still: it's hard to imagine the same thing happening if a heavy Republican frontrunner had done something like this. The hack gap lives.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in February

| Fri Mar. 6, 2015 11:16 AM EST

The American economy added 295,000 new jobs last month, 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at 205,000 jobs, which is quite a bit better than January and represents a nice confirmation that the labor market has picked up over the past four months. Virtually all of the growth was in the private sector.

The headline unemployment rate went down to 5.5 percent, but this was due to a combination of more people getting jobs and more people dropping out of the labor force and no longer being counted in the unemployment numbers. So this is a fairly mixed report. Unsurprisingly, since it doesn't represent a huge growth in the actual number of people employed, wages remained sluggish. Average hourly earning went up three cents, or 0.12 percent. Moody's Mark Zandi tried to put a positive spin on this: he told the New York Times that "current wage growth data appeared gloomier than the underlying reality, in part because of demographic factors. As well-paid baby boomers enter retirement, to be replaced by younger workers starting out at lower salaries, he said, the overall wage pattern has tilted slightly lower. Also, people who have been out of work for long stretches are starting to come back into the labor force and accepting lower wages."

So....not bad. But not quite as good as the top line number suggests. We're still motoring along, but we're still in second gear. We still haven't really seen a sharp shift upward.

Health Note Placeholder

| Fri Mar. 6, 2015 1:36 AM EST

So where was I all day Thursday? It's getting a little late and I'm tired, but I promise to regale you with the whole story sometime Friday. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but in the end things probably turned out OK. More in the morning.

Yet Another Oil Train Has Derailed and Caught Fire

| Thu Mar. 5, 2015 10:44 PM EST
The scene of crude oil train that derailed in Ontario, Canada on February 14.

Earlier today, yet another massive train carrying crude oil derailed and caught on fire, this time in northern Illinois near the Mississippi River. One-hundred-and-three of the the train's 105 cars were carrying crude oil—from where was not immediately clear (Update: BNSF has since confirmed the train was traveling from North Dakota; see below for their response)—eight of which derailed. Two of the derailed cars have caught on fire, according to BNSF Railway which owns the train, sending plumes of smoke and fire into the sky above Galena, Illinois, a town of just over 3,300.

The image of smoldering oil train cars is now a familiar sight: Incidences of exploding oil trains have been rapidly rising in North America thanks to the fracking boom in North Dakota's Bakken oil fields (Bakken oil is potentially more flammable than normal crude) and the slow transition away from old, unsafe rail cars. Oil-by-rail carloads are up 4000 percent from 2008 in the United States and this is the the third derailment in North America in the last three weeks, including a massive explosion in West Virginia on February 16 that injured one person and spilled oil into the nearby Kanawha River. In fact, a Department of Transportation report predicted trains carrying crude and ethanol would derail an average of 10 times per year in the next two decades. This is bad news for people who live near railways and the ecosystems in which they reside.

People living within a mile radius of today's derailment have begun evacuating, and authorities are monitoring the Mississippi River for leakage. BNSF Railway has not responded to inquiries from Mother Jones about the age of the trains' cars and whether the train was carrying Bakken crude. (Update: See below for a response from BNSF). The Birkshire Hathaway subsidiary did tell Reuters, however, that no injuries had been sustained.

Below are pictures of the spill from Twitter:

 

Update 3/6/15 11:30 AM PST: BNSF spokesman Mike Trevino has confirmed to Mother Jones that the train was traveling from North Dakota, and the AP is reporting its tankers were carrying Bakken crude. Trevino said the cars were the CPC-1232 model (newer than the notorious DOT-111 that has raised concern amongst lawmakers), but were nonetheless "unjacketed." Kristen Boyles, an attorney with environmental advocacy group  Earthjustice, told Mother Jones that "unjacketed" tankers do not have the insulated steel shells that US regulators have proposed mandating for new cars to prevent puncturing after derailment. "This derailment is yet another indication that these trains are not good enough and we've got to get federal standards greatly strengthened," Boyles said. The White House's Office of Management and Budget says it will finalize the DOT's proposed rules in May.

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This NRA Tweet Is So Tasteless and Awful That It Makes Me Want to Vomit

| Thu Mar. 5, 2015 8:10 PM EST

Good afternoon.

How are you? How are you feeling? Are you feeling good? Are you, by chance, feeling too good? Are you flying too high on borrowed wings? Maybe you need a bit of a punch in the stomach to bring you back down to Earth and remind you that in life there are hills and valleys; that this vacation on Creation is, well, not all champagne and strawberries. I guess what I'm asking is, would you like to feel nauseous? You look to me like you might like to feel nauseous. C'mon! A little nausea never hurt anyone! It builds character!

Let's get nauseous!

This comes via the New York Daily News, which doesn't mince words:

Hitting a new low in its disgusting war against gun laws, the National Rifle Association on Thursday went after Gabby Giffords with a personal attack mocking her 2011 shooting dismissively.

Have a nice day.

McDonald's Just Banned Antibiotic-Laced Chicken. Here's Why That Matters.

| Thu Mar. 5, 2015 7:49 PM EST

This week, McDonald's pledged to phase out serving chicken raised on antibiotics that can also be used to treat humans. To understand the giant implications this has for the meat industry, consider my colleague Tom Philpott's previous reporting on the topic. For starters, the livestock industry uses an astounding four-fifths of all antibiotics consumed in the United States. Mostly, these drugs are used not to treat infections but to promote growth in animals.

There is evidence that livestock antibiotic use contributes to antibiotic resistance, lessening the effectiveness of drugs that are medically important to  humans. And scientists have observed so-called "superbugs" migrating from farms to outside communities. It's a major problem—indeed, scientists predict that antibiotic failure will kill 20 million people by 2050. And yet, despite all this, the government still allows livestock producers to dose their animals with antibiotics.

McDonald's chicken move is a tacit acknowledgement that antibiotics are a precious resource. And considering that the chain serves 68 million people a day in practically every nation on Earth, it sends a powerful message indeed.

Ringling Bros. Announces It's Finally Ending Elephant Acts

| Thu Mar. 5, 2015 3:29 PM EST

On Thursday, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey said it will end the use of elephant acts by 2018—a move that follows decades of mounting criticism and public concern over the show's abusive treatment of the animals. Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, cited a "mood shift" experienced by circus-goers who have grown "uncomfortable with us touring with elephants" for the decision.

President Kenneth Feld also said local legislation barring certain circus practices, such as the use of bullhooks, made it increasingly difficult for the company to continue including elephants in its performances. "This decision was not easy, but it is in the best interest of our company, our elephants and our customers," he said in a statement.

In 2011, Mother Jones published an explosive, yearlong investigation looking into Ringling's treatment of elephants, including the regular employment of electric shocks and whippings to control them:

Several of the beatings targeted Nicole, a twentysomething elephant named after Kenneth Feld's eldest daughter. Sweet-natured but clumsy, Nicole would frequently miss her cues to climb atop a tub and place her feet on the elephant next to her, Stechcon said in his videotaped statement. "I always rooted for her, 'Come on, Nicole, get up,'" he said. "But we left the show, brought the animals back to their area, and…we took the headpieces off, and as I was hanging them up, I heard the most horrible noise, just whack, whack, whack. I mean, really hard. It's hard to describe the noise. Like a baseball bat or something striking something not—not soft, and not hard…I turned around to look, and this guy was hitting her so fast and so hard [with the ankus], and sometimes he would take both hands and just really knock her, and he was just doing that. And I was, like, I couldn't believe it."

The investigation also exposed that Feld Entertainment had spent millions of dollars on PR campaigns to hide such abuse from the public and fend off lawsuits:

It was part of a multimillion-dollar spy operation run out of Feld headquarters to thwart and besmirch animal rights groups and others on the company's enemies list, according to a stunning Salon piece by Jeff Stein. Feld had even hired Clair George—the CIA's head of covert operations under President Reagan until his conviction for perjury in the Iran-Contra scandal. (George, who died in August, received a pardon from President George H.W. Bush.)

Thursday's announcement to phase out the elephants, which have been a staple for the Ringling brand for more than a century, has been met with praise from animal rights activists. Feld Entertainment said the elephants will be transitioned to the company's elephant conservation center in Florida.

For more, read our in-depth investigation here.

Health Note

| Wed Mar. 4, 2015 9:32 PM EST

I suppose the lack of content makes it obvious, but today has been a very bad day. I haven't been able to sleep more than a few hours for the past few days, despite plenty of sleep meds. I'm completely exhausted, and not just because of the lack of sleep. That's just making things worse. I can walk about 50 feet before I need to rest. My big accomplishment of the day was to turn on the TV around noon.

I assume this is all just part of the chemo withdrawal symptoms, but I don't really know. Tomorrow I have an appointment with an oncology nurse, so perhaps I'll learn more then.

If there's a silver lining to this, I suppose it's the possibility that this is the bottom of the post-chemo symptoms, and now I'll start getting better. We'll see.