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GOP Candidates Pile On to Praise Planned Parenthood Sting

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 6:17 PM EDT

Yesterday, an eight-minute undercover video alleged that Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest provider of contraceptive and abortion services, profits off the sale of "baby parts," catching the attention of abortion foes everywhere.

Speaker John Boehner called for President Obama to "denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices."

Now conservative presidential hopefuls are weighing in. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has announced the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals will investigate the claims made in the video, in part because Planned Parenthood plans to open a $4 million clinic in New Orleans. Texas Gov. Rick Perry called the video "A disturbing reminder of the organization's penchant for profiting off the tragedy of a destroyed human life."

House Speaker John Boehner called for Health and Human Services Secretary Slyvia Burwell and President Obama to "denounce, and stop, these gruesome practices." In a short written statement, he said: "Nothing is more precious than life, especially an unborn child. When anyone diminishes an unborn child, we are all hurt, irreversibly so. When an organization monetizes an unborn child—and with the cavalier attitude portrayed in this horrific  video—we must all act."

There's just one problem: It's not clear whether key revelations in the video, which has cleared 1 million views on its YouTube page, are accurate. In it, Planned Parenthood Senior Director of Medical Services Deborah Nucatola is shown having a meal in a restaurant and discussing the tissue donations with what the nonprofit claims are "actors posing as buyers from a human biologics company." She says the clinics "absolutely" want to accommodate patients who want to make donations. "They just want to do it in a way that is not perceived as, 'This clinic is selling tissue, this clinic is making money off this,'" she says in the video.

But Media Matters, a a nonprofit "dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in U.S. media," found that key elements of Nucatola's conversation were cut out.

Key parts of the Planned Parenthood director's conversation were cut out from the video.

Nucatola discusses pricing for tissue in the video, giving the impression that there is a profit involved. "You know, I would throw a number out, I would say it’s probably anywhere from $30 to $100, depending on the facility and what’s involved," says Nucatola. "It just has to do with space issues, are you sending someone there that’s going to be doing everything . . . is there shipping involved? Is someone going to be there to pick it up?" 

Media Matters notes that the unedited footage shows a nearly eight-minute conversation regarding the basic reimbursement costs for the legal donation process in which Nucatola also says, "Nobody should be selling tissue here. That's not the goal." This statement does not appear in the viral video. In the unedited version of the video, Nucatola repeatedly refers to the process as "tissue donation," not "tissue sale." In its statement on the video, Planned Parenthood notes that only the actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue, are reimbursed, which is the standard in the medical field. 

The group behind the video is the Center for Medical Progress, a nonprofit associated with the Life Legal Defense Foundation, an anti-abortion group that "supported" the undercover project and regularly aggregates abortion horror stories and anti-abortion legislative victories.

In its statement, Planned Parenthood said that the "well-funded group" operates solely to damage Planned Parenthood, and that the video "falsely portrays Planned Parenthood's participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving scientific research." This is not the first such "sting video" the abortion provider has confronted—Live Action, a conservative anti-abortion group, has been making similar videos since 2007.

The Center for Medical Progress describes itself as an organization composed of citizen journalists "dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances." A blog post dated July 6, 2015 is the first sign of its existence and introduces the organization and conveyed its mission to create "a world in which medical practice and biotechnology ally with and serve the goods of human nature and do not destroy, disfigure, or work against them."

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, explained in its statement that fetal tissue has been an essential part of significant medical studies because of its rapid cell division and its adaptive nature. A version of the rubella vaccine came from fetal tissue, and the 1954 Nobel Prize for Medicine went to scientists who used the tissue to develop a polio vaccine using cultures from fetal kidney cells.

"In health care, patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases," it said. "Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue...just like every other high-quality health care provider does—with full, appropriate consent and under the highest ethical and legal standards."

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Photo of the Day: A Tiny Little Piece of Pluto -- In Hi-Res!

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 3:28 PM EDT

Here it is: the first high-res frame of Pluto from yesterday's flyby. Apparently all the frames will be available on Friday, at which point we'll have high-res imagery of the entire planet.

Yes, planet. Anyone want to take a look at this and still claim that Pluto is just a second-rate little dwarf? Come on. Grumpy is a dwarf. Pluto is a planet.

Obama Hits Back at Critics of Iran Nuclear Deal

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 3:07 PM EDT

A day after Iran and six world powers announced a historic deal aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear capabilities, President Obama took questions from reporters to defend it from congressional critics who say the plan fails to eliminate the threat of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"This nuclear deal meets the national security interest of the United States and our allies," Obama said at a press conference on Wednesday. "It prevents the most serious threat, Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would only make the other problems that Iran may cause even worse. That's why this deal makes our country and the world safer and more secure."

Tuesday's announcement from Vienna follows years of diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Iran and capped off an 18 day marathon conference led by Secretary of State John Kerry to finalize the plan's details.

The deal, which is now subject to congressional scrutiny, was met with strong condemnation from conservatives both in the United States and Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deal a mistake and warned lifting economic sanctions in Iran would only "fuel their terror and military machine."

On Wednesday, Obama specifically hit back at such criticism, suggesting rejections from members of Congress were primarily focused on playing politics rather than on the national interest.

Acknowledging that "legitimate concerns" surrounding Iran remain, Obama said, "For all the objections of Prime Minister Netanyahu and some of the Republican leadership that has already spoken, none of them have presented to me or the American people a better alternative."

"We don't have diplomatic leverage to eliminate vestige of a peaceful nuclear program in Iran, but we do have the leverage to ensure they don't have a weapon. That's exactly what we've done."

In a statement shortly after the deal's announcement, Obama vowed to veto any legislation blocking the plan's implementation.

Former Reddit Leader Explains Why Trolls Will Soon Regret Taking Down Ellen Pao

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 2:55 PM EDT
Former Reddit CEOs Yishan Wong and Ellen Pao

Reddit's latest CEO Steve Huffman might be about to do what former CEO Ellen Pao never dared: Purge the site's notoriously freewheeling discussion boards of hate speech. Posting to the site Tuesday night, former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong argued that Pao was actually the last best hope for radical free speech on Reddit—a claim that, if true, is deeply ironic given that the denizens of Reddit's most racist and sexist discussion boards were some of the loudest voices calling for her ouster. "I don't think there's a place for such [hate speech] on reddit," Wong says Huffman once told him. Huffman, who on Friday replaced Pao, is expected to announce a new content policy for the site tomorrow.

Wong, who ran Reddit between 2012 and 2014, has been defending Pao in recent days. Earlier this week he blamed the decision to fire popular Reddit employee Victoria Taylor—the event that precipitated Pao's resignation—on the site's other cofounder, Alexis Ohanian.

Here are the key parts of Wong's post from last night, which is worth reading in its entirety:

[T]he most delicious part of this is that on at least two separate occasions, the board pressed /u/ekjp [Ellen Pao] to outright ban ALL the hate subreddits in a sweeping purge. She resisted, knowing the community, claiming it would be a shitshow. Ellen isn't some "evil, manipulative, out-of-touch incompetent she-devil" as was often depicted. She was approved by the board and recommended by me because when I left, she was the only technology executive anywhere who had the chops and experience to manage a startup of this size, AND who understood what reddit was all about. As we can see from her post-resignation activity, she knows perfectly well how to fit in with the reddit community and is a normal, funny person - just like in real life - she simply didn't sit on reddit all day because she was busy with her day job.

Ellen was more or less inclined to continue upholding my free-speech policies. /r/fatpeoplehate was banned for inciting off-site harassment, not discussing fat-shaming. What all the white-power racist-sexist neckbeards don't understand is that with her at the head of the company, the company would be immune to accusations of promoting sexism and racism: she is literally Silicon Valley's #1 Feminist Hero, so any "SJWs" [social justice warriors] would have a hard time attacking the company for intentionally creating a bastion (heh) of sexist/racist content. She probably would have tolerated your existence so long as you didn't cause any problems - I know that her long-term strategies were to find ways to surface and publicize reddit's good parts - allowing the bad parts to exist but keeping them out of the spotlight. It would have been very principled - the CEO of reddit, who once sued her previous employer for sexual discrimination, upholds free speech and tolerates the ugly side of humanity because it is so important to maintaining a platform for open discourse. It would have been unassailable.

Well, now she's gone (you did it reddit!), and /u/spez [CEO Steve Huffman] has the moral authority as a co-founder to move ahead with the purge. We tried to let you govern yourselves and you failed, so now The Man is going to set some Rules. Admittedly, I can't say I'm terribly upset.

Obama on Bill Cosby Allegations: If You Drug a Woman and Have Sex With Her, It's Rape

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 2:45 PM EDT

On Wednesday, President Obama responded to a question about Bill Cosby's ongoing rape allegations, specifically as to whether the comedian's Medal of Freedom award would be revoked.

"There is no precedent for revoking a medal. We don't have that mechanism. And as you know I tend not to comment on the specifics of cases where there might still be, if not criminal, civil issues involved," he said.

But after a brief pause, and without specifically naming Cosby, Obama issued a strong condemnation of the allegations.

"If you give a woman or a man without his or her knowledge a drug and then have sex with that person without consent that's rape. And I think this country and any civilized country should have no tolerance for rape."

Last week, a judge unsealed documents from a 2005 legal deposition in which Cosby admitted to giving Quaaludes to a woman and then having sex with her.

The Technical Experts Weigh In, And They're Pretty Impressed With the Iran Deal

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 1:09 PM EDT

Arms control guru Jeffrey Lewis has long been skeptical that we could conclude a nuclear deal with Iran. Now that we have, he's pored through the entire document and he says he's impressed:

Max Fisher: Why is this a good deal?

Jeffrey Lewis: It's a good deal because it slows down their nuclear program — which they say is for civilian purposes but could be used to make a bomb, and which we think was originally intended to make a bomb. And it puts monitoring and verification measures in place that mean if they try to build a bomb, we're very likely to find out, and to do so with a enough time that we have options to do something about it.

There's a verifiable gap between their bomb option and an actual bomb. That's why it's a good deal.

....Max Fisher: A lot of what you wrote throughout 2014 was skeptical. Not of the idea of the Iran deal, but rather skeptical that they could make it work, that they would get there in time, that they would have all the right conditions.

Jeffrey Lewis: That's right. I had no faith whatsoever that they could pull this off.

Max Fisher: Now that we're here, what grade would you give it?

Jeffrey Lewis: I would give it an A.

....Max Fisher: We did a post just rounding up tweets from arms control analysts on what they're saying about the Iran deal, and it was really hard to find arms control analysts who seem to be critical of the deal on the non-proliferation merits. Maybe there are some we just missed, but it seems like the consensus was overwhelmingly positive, which was so interesting to me because it's very different from the conversation among Middle East policy analysts, which is much more divided. Why do you think that is?

Jeffrey Lewis: ....As a deal, this is what deals look like. Actually, they usually don't look this good....I see it as a really straightforward measure to slow down an enrichment program that was going gangbusters.

So you ask, "Does it slow it down?" Yes. "Does it slow it down in a way that is verifiable?" Yes. "Does it slow it down more than bombing it would?" Yes. "Okay, good deal."

This is the kind of feedback I've been waiting for. Do technical experts who actually understand the nuances of the deal language think this is a good agreement? And apparently most of them do.

Conversely, the critics have mostly been focused on the fact that the deal eventually lifts the economic sanctions on Iran that have been in place for the past few years. This will improve the Iranian economy and give them more money to support terrorist groups like Hezbollah and the Houthis.

This is true, of course, but it was the whole point of the negotiations from the start. To oppose it on those grounds is basically to say that we should simply keep the sanctions in place forever. But that's not even remotely feasible. Sanctions never last forever, especially when they have to be upheld by the entire international community. If the US flatly refused to negotiate, eventually the Chinese and Russians would drop out of the sanctions regime, followed by the Europeans, and then we'd be the only ones left. And sanctions from the US alone just wouldn't have much impact on Iran.

In other words, the arguments in favor of the treaty are looking a whole lot more thoughtful and realistic than the arguments against it. But it's primary season for Republicans, so I suppose that doesn't matter all that much. Iran is bad, therefore a deal with Iran is bad. It's good enough for the campaign trail.

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Do Republicans Really Want to Scuttle the Iran Deal?

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 11:43 AM EDT

Greg Sargent reports that Republicans are gearing up to torpedo the Iran nuclear deal:

Republicans are very, very confident that they have the political advantage in the coming battle in Congress over the historic Iran deal announced yesterday. Multiple news reports today tell us that Republicans are gearing up their “attack plan,” and those reports are overflowing with GOP bravado.

Well, of course they are. That's just smart politics. If you want to build a bandwagon, you have to act like a winner.

In fact, though, Republicans have very little chance of blocking the deal. To do so they have to vote to disapprove the agreement, which President Obama will veto. Then they have to round up a two-thirds vote to override the veto. That's very, very unlikely.

(And why this odd procedure where the deal takes effect unless Congress disapproves it? They can thank one of their own, Sen. Bob Corker, for proposing this unusual procedure. And anyway, his legislation passed 98-1, so it was pretty unanimously the will of the Senate. The theory behind it was that Obama could simply enact any deal as an executive order without involving Congress at all, and this was at least better than that.)

But then Sargent brings up another one of those 11-dimensional chess conundrums:

But here’s the question: Once all the procedural smoke clears, do Republicans really want an endgame in which they succeeded in blocking the deal? Do they actually want to scuttle it?

Perhaps many of them genuinely do want that. But here’s a prediction: as this battle develops, some Republicans may privately conclude that it would be better for them politically if they fail to stop it. The Iran debate may come to resemble the one over the anti-Obamacare lawsuit that also recently fell short.

The idea here is that if Congress kills the deal, several things will happen. First, the rest of the signatories (UK, France, Germany, EU, China, Russia) will still lift their sanctions if Iran meets its end of the bargain. So that means the sanctions regime will effectively disintegrate. Second, our allies will blame us for tanking the deal. Third, Iran will have an excuse for pushing the boundaries of the agreement and remaining closer to nuclear breakout than they would be if the deal were intact.

And Republicans would take the bulk of the blame for all this. Do they really want that? This is an international agreement, after all. Conservatives like Angela Merkel, David Cameron, and Vladimir Putin have approved it. If we don't, will they conclude that the US is no longer a partner worth negotiating with? These are things worth pondering, especially if Republicans expect one of their own to be president 18 months from now.

Poll: Lincoln Chafee Has No Supporters

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 11:18 AM EDT

A month and a half into his presidential campaign, Lincoln Chafee is having trouble connecting with voters—even a single one. A Monmouth University poll released today reports that the Democratic presidential candidate "registered no support."

To be clear, this does not just mean that the former Rhode Island governor got 0 percent of the vote, leaving room for him to receive some votes but not enough to amount to 1 percent. No: Chafee received exactly zero votes in the poll, according to a research associate at Monmouth University. The poll surveyed 1,001 adults and included 357 Democratic or Democratic-leaning registered voters in the results.

Just 9 percent of respondents to the poll have a favorable opinion of Chafee, largely because 78 percent have no opinion of the little-known candidate. Efforts to boost his name recognition haven't been helped by the fact that he's raised hardly any money and has even been locked out of his own Facebook account. The Chafee campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Monmouth University

 

Planned Parenthood "Sting" Video Is Yet Another Right-Wing Nothingburger

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 10:45 AM EDT

Yesterday I watched the (now infamous) hidden video from the Center for Medical Progress, which allegedly shows a couple of undercover "buyers" for a fetal tissue procurement company having lunch with Deborah Nucatola, director of medical services for Planned Parenthood. And it was obviously pretty fishy. Nucatola was talking very openly about how they dispose of fetal tissue from abortions, and doing it in a way that exhibited no stress and no sense at all of being involved in a shady operation. The price per specimen was $30-100,which obviously covered no more than shipping and normal handling. It plainly wasn't enough for this to be an illegal for-profit business.

So I shrugged and went on with my day. Then the video landed on the front page of the Washington Post and it went mainstream. I assume Fox has been running it on a 24/7 loop as well. But as near as I can tell, it's completely bogus. The video tries to imply that Planned Parenthood is performing illegal abortions and that it's selling fetal tissue for profit, also a felony. But there's not the slightest evidence of either. In fact, as Media Matters points out, if you watch the unedited video it's crystal clear that the charges for the fetal tissue they sell are designed only to cover the actual costs of the process. Nucatola says repeatedly that affiliates want to "break even," not make a profit.

So there's basically nothing here. Bioethicists have been debating for years whether it's a good idea to sell fetal tissue, and as you can imagine, they've been disagreeing for years and show no signs of ever coming to a consensus. Some think it's wrong and some think it's OK. That's not surprising since some people think abortion is wrong and some think it's OK. And if you think abortion is wrong, you're certainly not going to be happy about the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses.

Nonetheless, it's a common practice, and one that's critical for a lot of medical research. What's more, it's only done if the mother wants the tissue donated.

So: scandal? Not hardly. Is it wrong? If you think abortion is murder, then of course you think it's wrong. If you think abortion is morally benign, as I do, then you're glad to see donated tissue being used in important medical research. And that's pretty much that. In the end, this is just another sad attempt at a sting video that goes nowhere once you get beyond the deceptive editing. It's time for conservatives to find a different toy to manufacture fundraising opportunities for their base.

Sorry, Foodies: We're About to Ruin Kale

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
If eating kale is good for me, then eating a whole lot it must be even better. Right?

How hipster is kale? For $28, Urban Outfitters will sell you a kale t-shirt. To prep for a big blizzard in early 2015, residents of a trendy Brooklyn section cleaned out the kale bins of their neighborhood Whole Foods. And what would the juicing craze be without it?

Kale is really good at taking up thallium—a toxic heavy metal—from the soil.

But today's kale-fixated juice-heads may doing themselves a disservice.

That's a possibility raised by an article in Craftsmanship magazine by Todd Oppenheimer. The piece doesn't establish a definitive link between heavy kale consumption and any health problem, but it does raise the question of whether too much of even a highly nutritious food like kale can have unhappy side effects.

The article focuses on an alt-medicine researcher and molecular biologist named Ernie Hubbard, who began to notice an odd trend among some of his clinic's clients in California's Marin County, a place known for its organic farms, health-food stores, and yoga studios. Extremely health-conscious people were coming into to complain of "persistent but elusive problems": "Chronic fatigue. Skin and hair issues. Arrhythmias and other neurological disorders. Foggy thinking. Gluten sensitivity and other digestive troubles. Sometimes even the possibility of Lyme Disease."

Hubbard began to find detectable levels of a toxic heavy metal called thallium in patients' blood samples—at higher-than-normal leves—as well as in kale leaves from the region. Meanwhile, "over and over," he found that patients complaining of symptoms associated with low-level thallium poisoning—fatigue, brain fog, etc.—would also be heavy eaters of kale and related vegetables, like cabbage.

And he found, in the form of this 2006 peer-reviewed paper by Czech researchers, evidence that kale is really good at taking up thallium from soil. The paper concluded that kale's ability to accumulate soil-borne thallium is "very high and can be a serious danger for food chains." And here's a peer-reviewed 2013 paper from Chinese researchers finding similar results with green cabbage; a 2015 Chinese study finding green cabbage is so good at extracting thallium from soil that it can be used for "phytoremediation"—i.e., purifying soil of a toxin—and a 2001 one from a New Zealand team finding formidible thallium-scrounging powers in three other members of the brassica family: watercress, radishes, and turnips.

Now, just because kale and other brassicas can effectively take up thallium from soil doesn't mean that they always contain thallium. The metal has to find its way into soil first. It exists at low levels in the Earth's crust, and the main way it gets concentrated at high enough levels to cause worry is through "nearby cement plants, oil drilling, smelting, and, most of all, in the ash that results from coal burning," Oppenheimer reports. The researcher he profiled, Hubbard, has so far not succeeded in nailing down the source of the thallium that he found in his kale samples.

And there's also the question of quantity. One of Hubbard's patients with heightened thallium levels in her urine and mild symptoms of thallium poisoning ate so much cabbage over the years that  she called herself the "cabbage queen." When she "cut way back" on her favorite vegetable, she tells Oppenheimer, her thallium levels dropped, and her symptoms improved. 

Where does all of this evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, leave us—beyond the need of much more research on US-grown kale? There's nothing here that makes me want to stop eating brassicas, probably my favorite vegetable genus and one undeniably loaded with many valuable nutrients.

But it does make me wary of downing brassicas daily at great quantities over extended periods, the way some people may be doing as part of the juice craze. This recipe for "mean green juice," for example, calls for six to eight kale leaves in a single serving—much more than most of us would consume in a side dish of sautéed kale. In all great things—wine, butter, ice cream, even kale—moderation makes sense.