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Opposition to Iran Nuclear Deal Just Keeps Getting Weirder and Weirder

| Wed Jul. 29, 2015 5:25 PM EDT

The congressional hearings into the Iran nuclear deal continue apace. Steve Benen points us today to this lovely exchange between Sen. Lindsey Graham and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter:

Graham: Does the Supreme Leader's religious views compel him over time to destroy Israel and attack America?

Carter: I don't know. I don't know the man. I only —

Graham: Well let me tell you, I do. I know the man. I know what he wants. And if you don't know that, this is not a good deal.

Graham: Could we win a war with Iran? Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?

Carter: No. The United States.

Graham: We. Win.

So there you have it: (a) the Ayatollah unquestionably wants to destroy Israel and attack America, and (b) there is no doubt America would win this war. This sounds like mighty poor strategic thinking on the Ayatollah's part to me, since presumably he knows as much as Lindsey Graham about the relative military strength of Iran and the United States. But I guess his pesky religious views compel him to commit national suicide anyway.

Now, you might be skeptical that Graham knows the Ayatollah as well as he thinks he does, or knows his religious views in any depth either. But even if we give him the benefit of the doubt on that score, his apparent view of things still doesn't make sense. If the Ayatollah is as committed to war as Graham thinks, why would he bother with this deal in the first place? According to conservatives (I'm not sure what the CIA thinks these days), Iran is currently less than a year from being able to build a nuclear bomb. So why not just build a few and start the war? It can't be because the sanctions matter. If war is inevitable thanks to the Ayatollah's religious views, but America is going to win the war by reducing Iran to a glassy plain, who cares about a few more years of sanctions? Most Iranians are going to be dead a few hours after the war starts anyway.

So....it's all still mysterious. Conservatives don't like the deal Obama negotiated. Fine. But we can't go back to the status quo. If we pull out of the deal, economic sanctions will decay pretty quickly and Iran will have lots of additional money and be a year away from building a bomb. The only other alternative is war. Graham is more open about this than most conservatives, but even he realizes he has to be cagey about it. He can't quite come out and just say that we should go to war with Iran before they build a bomb. So instead he tosses in an oddly pointless question about who would win a war between Iran and America. Why? Some kind of dog whistle, I guess. Those with ears to hear understand what it means: Graham wants to see cruise missiles flying. The rest of us are left scratching our chins.

It all just gets weirder and weirder. The deal on the table, imperfect as it might be, doesn't restrict American freedom of action at all. Plus it has a pretty stringent inspection regime and would prevent Iran from building a bomb for at least ten years—probably longer. That's better than what we have now, so why not go ahead and sign the deal and then use the next ten years to figure out what to do next? What's the downside?

I can't really think of one except that it makes a shooting war less likely over the next decade. I call that a feature. I guess Graham and his crowd call it a bug.

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Here's Your Reminder That Donald Trump's 2 Sons Are Also Big-Game Hunters

| Wed Jul. 29, 2015 4:28 PM EDT

On Tuesday, an American dentist admitted to paying $50,000 to hunt and kill Cecil the lion, a beloved animal and popular tourist attraction in Zimbabwe. News of the killing sparked swift condemnation on social media, with many calling for Walter Palmer to be extradited to Zimbabwe to stand trial.

Amid the outrage, photos quickly resurfaced of Donald Trump's sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, posing with the dead bodies of several exotic animals, including an African elephant and leopard, they had previously hunted for sport.

When the photos initially emerged online back in 2012, the Trump brothers staunchly defended themselves, taking to Twitter to "make no apologies."

"In some parts its over populated. Bottom line with out hunters $ there wouldn't be much left of africa. Eco is nice but no $," one tweet from Trump Jr. read.

The public reminder is just the latest relic in Trump's past to stir controversy. This week alone, the New York Times dug up a series of depositions in which the GOP frontrunner for president once told a female lawyer she was "disgusting" for pumping milk for her then three-month-old daughter. The day prior, the Daily Beast published a story resurfacing an old assertion from his former wife claiming he had once raped her.

Marco Rubio Uses Cecil the Lion to Shame Planned Parenthood Supporters

| Wed Jul. 29, 2015 3:16 PM EDT

Today, Marco Rubio couldn't resist attempting to conflate two recent controversies—an American dentist's admission he killed Cecil the lion and a sting operation currently targeting Planned Parenthood—for the following take:

The tweet, aside from demonstrating a clear lack of grammar skills, mirrors similar statements from the likes of Rush Limbaugh asserting the same blend of crazy. Rubio should probably lay off of Twitter and get back to actually doing his job.

Millennials Living In Their Parents' Home Is Finally Starting to Taper Off

| Wed Jul. 29, 2015 1:47 PM EDT

Pew has a new report out showing that even five years after the recession ended, more young adults are living with their parents than before the recession. This is despite the fact that unemployment among 20-somethings has dropped dramatically. What's more, this trend is pretty widespread:

The decline in independent living since the recovery began is apparent among both better-educated young adults and their less-educated counterparts....This suggests that trends in young adult living arrangements are not being driven by labor market fortunes, as college-educated young adults have experienced a stronger labor market recovery than less-educated young adults.

Trends in living arrangements also show no significant gender differences during the recovery. However, in 2015, 63% of Millennial men lived independently of family, compared with 72% of Millennial women. But a similar gender difference existed during the Great Recession, and both young men and young women are less likely to live independently today than they were five years ago.

But the news might not be quite as bleak as Pew suggests. Take a look at the arrows in the chart on the right. The upward trend in living at home continued to rise through 2013, but it finally began to drop a couple of years ago. That's not surprising since it's pretty likely that there's a certain amount of hysteresis in this phenomenon; that is, a lag between the economy improving and kids moving into their own places. This might be because wages remained low for several years after the technical end of the recession. It might be because higher debt levels took a while to pay down. It might be that it simply took a few years for recession-induced fear to end. Why move out if you're not sure the economy is really on a long-term roll?

There's not much question that 20-somethings of this generation have it worse than my generation, which in turn had it worse than the previous generation. That means the recession hit them especially hard. But if these trends are right, it looks like optimism about work and income is finally starting to slowly improve. It's not great news, but it's good news.

Watch What It's Like to Live Amidst Industrial Hog Farms

| Wed Jul. 29, 2015 1:33 PM EDT

As I showed recently, the United States is emerging as the world's hog farm—the country where massive foreign meat companies like Brazil's JBS and China's WH Group (formerly Shuanghui) alight when they want to take advantage of rising global demand for pork. (If JBS's recent deal to buy Cargill's US hog operations goes through, JBS and WH Group together will slaughter 45 percent of hogs grown in the United States.)

A recent piece by Lily Kuo in Quartz (companion video above) documents what our status as the world's source of cheap pork means for the people who live in industrial-hog country. It focuses on Duplin County in eastern North Carolina, which houses "about 530 hog operations with capacity for over 2 million pigs ….one of the highest concentrations of large, tightly-controlled indoor hog operations, also known as CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) in the world." In Duplin, "hogs outnumber humans almost 32 to 1," Kuo reports. And that means living amid lots and lots of pig shit—the county's hog facilities generate twice the annual waste of the entire population of New York City.

As I've shown before, the hog industry doesn't build wealth in the communities where it operates—the opposite, in fact. "Almost a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, making Duplin County one of the poorest counties in North Carolina," Kuo writes. "It is also disproportionately black and Hispanic compared to the rest of the state."

There's a New Planned Parenthood Video, But There's Just Nothing There

| Wed Jul. 29, 2015 11:57 AM EDT

Another day, another video hit job on Planned Parenthood. Apparently the strategy here is to release new videos every three or four days and hope that mere repetition is enough to convince people that something—something—must be wrong here. Over at National Review, Ian Tuttle is disturbed:

At the 10:22 mark of the Center for Medical Progress’s latest video, released today, there is a picture of a hand. By the curve of the thumb and the articulation of the fingers, one can see that it is a right hand. It was formerly the right hand of an 11.6-week-old fetus; it is now part of the various organic odds and ends being sifted through on a plate in the pathology lab of a Planned Parenthood clinic.

....I keep calling it a hand. Maybe I shouldn’t....But I see a hand — five fingers and lines across the joints, like you learn to sketch in art class. I see a hand in form no different from my own. Or no different from Horowitz’s hands, or Edison’s, or Michelangelo’s.

The most famous image Michelangelo painted was of hands: God’s hand extended to Adam’s....The sculptor Auguste Rodin spent much of his life fashioning hands....Rodin prefigured Heidegger’s observation: “My hand . . . is not a piece of me. I myself am entirely in each gesture of the hand, every single time.”....Galen of Pergamon, the great Greek physician, in his treatise On the Use of the Various Parts of the Body, noted that to man alone had the Creator chosen to give the hand, the only instrument “applicable to every art and occasion”:

....The gods, the arts, survival, history — all that we are has required, literally, many hands. In the hand, the whole man, and in the man, the whole cosmos.

Now, in a pie dish, for sale.

That's very poetic, but like the video itself, tells us nothing. Yes, Planned Parenthood donates fetal tissue to medical research facilities. They charge enough to cover their costs, nothing more. Among the tissue they donate are hands. And this is not a sinister "black market," as the video claims: It's done in the open with the permission of the mother, and the tissue is transferred only to qualified researchers.

The idea behind the video, of course, is that it's supposed to automatically trigger disgust in us. And it does. After all, most of us felt a little disgusted when we dissected frogs in 9th grade biology. It's just part of human nature, and the Planned Parenthood haters are smart to take advantage of it.

But you know what? I'm an organ donor. I'm not sure my organs are actually safe for harvesting anymore, but if they are, then my body will be chopped up and used for its best and highest purpose when I'm dead. Some organs will be used for transplants, I hope. Some will be given to research laboratories. Some may end up as the raw materials for other stuff. If I were alive and watching, I'd probably feel pretty queasy. And yet, no one really blinks an eye at the routine job of harvesting organs and tissue from dead people who have given their permission.

This is no different. It's every bit as altruistic and admirable as harvesting useful tissue from adults. Period.

So far, the worst anyone has come up with from these videos is that some of the Planned Parenthood folks caught on tape used a "tone" that was unfortunate. Give me a break. This is the way any doctor talks among other health care professionals. They're experienced enough to talk plainly about their work in private, and they make jokes about it like any normal person. It's simply wrong to pretend that this is anything ominous.

And that hand on the pie dish? Who knows? It might save someone's life someday.

POSTSCRIPT: And I'll repeat what I said before. If you think abortion is murder, then of course you object to the use of organs and tissue from aborted fetuses. If you don't, then you think it's fine. There's nothing new going on here. It's just a slightly different twist on the same fight between pro-lifers and pro-choicers that's been going on for decades

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Health Care Spending Growth Will Rise a Bit Over the Next Decade, But Only a Bit

| Wed Jul. 29, 2015 11:02 AM EDT

By coincidence, a new article in Health Affairs confirms an offhand guess I made a few days ago. I wrote, "I happen to think the slowdown in medical costs is real, and will continue for some time (though not at the extremely low rates of the past few years)." The Health Affairs researchers write: "Recent historically low growth rates in the use of medical goods and services, as well as medical prices, are expected to gradually increase. However, in part because of the impact of continued cost-sharing increases that are anticipated among health plans, the acceleration of these growth rates is expected to be modest."

As the Wall Street Journal notes, this is is similar to what Medicare actuaries have been saying for a while:

The actuaries again Tuesday pointed to the stronger economy and aging population as the main factors in shaping Medicare’s future spending.

Prescription-drug spending, long a target of warnings from the insurance industry, drew particular attention from the actuaries, who pointed to a big rise in spending growth there as costly new specialty drugs such as Sovaldi, for hepatitis C, came on the market in 2014. Spending growth on pharmaceutical products jumped by 12.6% in 2014, up from 2.5% in 2013....In all, health care will comprise about a fifth of the U.S. economy by 2024, and the growth rate will exceed the expected average growth in gross domestic product by 1.1 percentage points.

So: good news or bad news? The bad news is that health care spending keeps increasing steadily. It's currently about 17 percent of GDP and will increase to about 20 percent of GDP over the next decade. The good news is that this is slow growth: only about 1.1 percent higher than overall economic growth. Any other time in the past 30 years we would have killed for a growth rate that low.

There's probably no way to avoid health care costs growing at least a little faster than the rest of the economy. We keep making advances, and our revealed preferences are pretty clear on at least one point: we value health care highly and are willing to pay more for it even at the expense of other items. That probably won't be true forever, but it's true for now.

Michael Bay Made a Movie About Benghazi and It Looks Insane

| Wed Jul. 29, 2015 10:58 AM EDT

Anthropomorphic stick of dynamite Michael Bay, the director of The Rock, Armageddon, Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, and four Transformers movies (also Pain and Gain—don't forget Pain and Gain!), has made a movie about the September 11, 2012, attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

The movie's release date is January 15, 2016—just in time for the Iowa caucuses.

The film, 13 Hours, based on a book by the same name, is sure to prompt lots of discussion—intelligent and otherwise—on the presidential candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in charge of the State Department at the time of the attack. Here's the trailer:

Jimmy Kimmel Slams the American Dentist Who Killed Cecil the Lion

| Wed Jul. 29, 2015 10:31 AM EDT

Following news an American dentist admitted to paying $50,000 to hunt and kill Cecil the lion, Zimbabwe's most beloved animal, comedian Jimmy Kimmel took to his show on Tuesday night to deliver an emotional response.

"The big question is: Why are you shooting a lion in the first place?," Kimmel said. "I mean, I'm honestly curious to know why a human being would feel compelled to do that. How is that fun? Is it that difficult for you to get an erection that you need to kill things that are stronger than you? If that's the case, they have a pill for that. It works great. Just stay home and swallow it, and you save yourself a lifetime of being the most hated man in America who never advertised JELL-O Pudding on television."

The segment included photos of previous animals baited and hunted by the Minnesota dentist, identified as Walter Palmer.

Kimmel's monologue mirrored outrage seen on social media after Zimbabwean authorities revealed on Tuesday that Palmer was behind the brutal hunt. The 13-year-old lion was seen as a national treasure in the country.

These National Parks Got an "F" in Air Pollution

| Wed Jul. 29, 2015 6:05 AM EDT
Yosemite was one of four national parks to regularly have unhealthy air pollution levels.

It's late summer, and Americans are flocking to the country's national parks for some recreation and fresh air.

But a study released this week by the National Parks Conservation Association found that air in some of the country's most popular parks is not so fresh—and it's potentially hazardous. The report rated the country's 48 parks in three categories: levels of ozone (a pollutant that can irritate or damage lungs), haziness, and the impacts of climate change on the park. Here are the 12 worst contenders (full list available here):

National Parks Conservation Association

Ozone is a pollutant common in smog, and it's particularly prevalent on hot summer days. Seventy-five percent of the parks had ozone levels between 2008 and 2012 that were "moderate" or worse, according to the federal government's Air Quality Index. Four national parks—Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree, and Yosemite—regularly have "unhealthy" ozone levels, meaning that the average hiker should reduce strenuous activity and those with asthma should avoid it altogether. (You can see the air quality in your area here.)

Jobs at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, including those indoors, come with pollution warnings saying that at times the air quality "may pose human health problems due to air pollution," according to the report.

Pollution doesn't just make visitors and employees sick; it also ruins one of the parks' main attractions: the views. Smog affects vistas in all of the parks; on average, air pollution obstructs fifty miles from view. Here are some examples of how far visitors can see in miles today compared to "natural" levels, when air isn't affected by human activity.

National Parks Conservation Association

The NPCA didn't look into specific causes of air pollution in each location, but generally, the the report attributes it to the the usual suspects: coal-fired power plants, cars, and industrial and agricultural emissions. Under the Regional Haze Program, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1999, states are required to implement air quality protection plans that reduce human-caused pollution in national parks, the NPCA contends that loopholes prevent power plants and other big polluters from being affected by the rules.

Ulla Reeves, the manager of the NPCA's clean air campaign, maintains that if enforcement for the Regional Haze Program isn't improved, only 10 percent of the national parks will have clean air in 50 years. "It's surprising and disappointing that parks don't have the clean air that we assume them to have and that they must have under the law."