More Than 100,000 People Have Signed a Petition to Oust the DEA Chief

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 6:00 AM EST

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for the ouster of Drug Enforcement Administration chief Chuck Roseberg after he flatly rejected the idea that smoking marijuana could have medical benefits. "What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal—because it's not," Rosenberg said during a press briefing earlier this month. "We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine—that is a joke."

In response, a petition with more than 106,000 signatures is calling upon President Barack Obama to "fire Chuck Rosenberg and appoint a new DEA administrator who will respect science, medicine, patients, and voters."

Rosenberg is clearly wrong, yet it's not entirely inaccurate to call medical marijuana a joke—in California at least.

Roseberg need not look far to find reputable studies documenting the medical value of marijuana, even in its whole-plant, smoked form. As Vox's German Lopez points out, a comprehensive review in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that pot can effectively treat chronic pain and muscle spasticity.

Still, it's not entirely inaccurate to call medical marijuana a joke—at least in California, the state with the nation's most lax medical marijuana law. When I visited a "marijuana doctor" in San Francisco a few years ago, it took me less than 15 minutes to get a pot card for—wait for it—"writer's cramp." Meanwhile, my wife waited for days before being denied a pot recommendation from our HMO, Kaiser Permanente, despite suffering from a flare-up of actual arthritis. While she sat at home popping Advils, I headed to the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo, where my card got me into a "patient consumption area" staffed by busty women in tight-fitting nurse outfits and a dispensary worker with a nametag that read, "Dr. Herb Smoker, MD."

But that sort of irony wasn't what Rosenberg was talking about. He seems to believe that because marijuana is popular as a recreational drug, it can't  also be real medicine. Clearly, Dr. Herb Smoker isn't the only medical professional who disagrees.

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An Incomplete Catalog of Donald Trump's Never-Ending Fabrications

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 1:00 AM EST

There's a legal term applied to advertising called "puffery." For example, if Coca-Cola says Coke is the best-tasting soda in the world, that's just puffery. They can't prove it, but that's okay, even if polls show that most people prefer Pepsi. Legally, statements like this are evaluated not as strictly factual claims, but as mere ordinary boasting, something that "ordinary consumers do not take seriously."

The same concept applies to politics. Presidential candidates always say their tax plans will balance, they'll crush every one of our enemies, and the current incumbent is the worst ever in history. This is just puffery. It's worth pushing back on, but it's not generally a hanging offense.

But Donald Trump is different. Sure, his picture is probably in the dictionary next to the word "puffery," but he also tosses out wild howlers with a con man's breezy assurance and tells flat-out lies as a matter of routine. He'll say things one day, and 24 hours later he'll blandly insist he's being malignly misquoted even though it's all on tape. These aren't just exaggerations or spin or cherry picking. They're things that are flatly, incontrovertibly wrong.

And that's not all. Trump doesn't do this only in private or only when he's under pressure. Nor does he do it to cover up dubious past deeds. That would at least be normal human weakness. Rather, he does it again and again in front of huge crowds and on national TV, whether he needs to or not. It's just his normal, everyday behavior.

We need an official list of this stuff. Like I said: not exaggerations or spin or cherry picking. Things that are just plain wrong. Here's a start:

  1. On 9/11, he personally saw thousands of Muslims in Jersey City cheering.
  2. He never said Marco Rubio was Mark Zuckerberg's "personal senator."
  3. There are actually 93 million people not working and the real unemployment rate is about 40 percent.
  4. The Obama administration is sending Syrian refugees to red states.
  5. Climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.
  6. He opposed the Iraq War and has dozens of news clippings to prove it.
  7. Thirteen Syrian refugees were "caught trying to get into the U.S." (Actually, they just walked up and requested asylum.)
  8. He never said the stuff Megyn Kelly accused him of saying in the first debate.
  9. He will allow guns at Trump golf resorts.
  10. People on the terrorism watch are already prohibited from buying guns.
  11. Among white homicide victims, 81 percent are killed by blacks.
  12. America has the highest tax rate in the world.
  13. CNN lied when it reported that a speech he gave in South Carolina was one-third empty.
  14. His criticism of Ford prompted the company to move a factory from Mexico to Ohio.
  15. Vaccines cause autism.
  16. The Obama administration wants to admit 250,000 Syrian refugees.
  17. ISIS built a luxury hotel in the Middle East.
  18. He was on 60 Minutes with Vladimir Putin and "got to know him very well."
  19. He was never interested in opening a casino in Florida.
  20. November 17: The United States only started bombing ISIS oil fields "two days ago."
  21. His campaign is 100 percent self-funded.
  22. Mexico doesn't have birthright citizenship.
  23. The Iran deal forces us to "fight with Iran against Israel" if Israel attacks Iran.
  24. We still "really don't know" if Barack Obama was born in the United States.
  25. More than 300,000 veterans have died waiting for VA care.
  26. The Bush White House begged him to tone down his "vocal" opposition to the Iraq War.

This is not normal political hucksterism. It's a pathological disregard for the truth. Trump knows that the conventions of print journalism mostly prevent reporters from really calling him out on this stuff, and he also knows that TV reporters won't usually press him too hard because they want him back on their shows. And when he does get called out, he just bluffs his way through. He knows his followers will believe him when he says the fault-finding is just another example of how the liberal media has it out for him. Within a day or three, he's repeated the lie often enough that it's old news and enters the canon of what "everyone knows." Journalists don't even bother with it anymore because they're already trying to play catch-up with his latest whopper.

Anyway, this list is meant only as a start. It's what I came up with just by digging through my memory and doing a bit of googling. I'm sure there are plenty of others. Feel free to add them in comments.

This Judge Just Condemned Wisconsin's Abortion Law as Unconstitutional. Read the Withering Ruling.

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 9:38 PM EST

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that a Wisconsin law requiring abortion providers to gain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals is unconstitutional.

The law that was struck down is known as a TRAP law—short for "targeted regulation of abortion providers." According to the Guttmacher Institute, Wisconsin is one of 11 states that have required similar admitting privileges. (Courts have blocked these requirements in six of those states.) The law is particularly effective in conservative regions where hospitals are less likely to grant those privileges to abortion providers. The law's supporters say the law ensures continuity of care if complications arise from the procedure. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that less than one half of 1 percent of all abortions involve major complications.

The 2-to-1 decision comes at a time when the constitutionality of TRAP laws are in question nationally. Just over a week ago, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Texas' "HB 2," which decreased the state's number of abortion clinics from 41 to 18 by implementing a host of TRAP laws. The ruling, due next year, will be the most notable reproductive rights ruling since Roe v. Wade.

Judge Richard Posner, writing for the 7th Circuit majority, stated that the regulation qualifies as an "undue burden" and that the medical grounds for such a requirement is "nonexistent." Posner also had some words for abortion foes: "Opponents of abortion reveal their true objectives when they procure legislation limited to a medical procedure— abortion—that rarely produces a medical emergency."

Posner—nominated by President Ronald Reagan—is known for his tart legal arguments, as we've noted previously. This case is no exception:

A great many Americans, including a number of judges, legislators, governors, and civil servants, are passionately opposed to abortion—as they are entitled to be. But persons who have a sophisticated understanding of the law and of the Supreme Court know that convincing the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey is a steep uphill fight, and so some of them proceed indirectly, seeking to discourage abortions by making it more difficult for women to obtain them. They may do this in the name of protecting the health of women who have abortions, yet as in this case the specific measures they support may do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion. This is true of the Texas requirement, upheld by the Fifth Circuit in the Whole Woman's case now before the Supreme Court, that abortion clinics meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers—a requirement that if upheld will permit only 8 of Texas's abortion clinics to remain open, out of more than 40 that existed when the law was passed.

Carson Joins Trump Idiocy About Jersey City, Then Backs Away

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 6:09 PM EST

The latest from la-la land:

Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson joined GOP rival Donald Trump in claiming that he, too, saw news footage of Muslim-Americans cheering as the World Trade Center towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001 — despite the fact that no such footage has turned up yet. "I saw the film of it, yes," Carson told reporters at a Monday campaign event, adding that it was documented by "newsreels."

Newsreels? What is this? 1943? But wait. We have breaking news via Twitter from Jon Karl of ABC News:

@RealBenCarson spox Doug Watts: Carson was mistaken when he said he saw film of Muslims celebrating on 9/11 in Jersey City...."He doesn't stand behind his comments [on] New Jersey and American Muslims," Watts told ABC's @KFaulders...."He was rather thinking of the protests going on in the Middle East and some of the demonstrations" there on 9/11.

This is nuts. These guys are trying to put the Onion out of business for real. "We have investigated and discovered that East Jerusalem is not on the Hudson River after all." But hell, at least Carson is willing to admit his error. One brownie point for that—though it does raise some questions about his vaunted memory. Trump will continue to insist forever that he saw it, and his supporters will continue to believe him because you can never trust the mainstream media, can you? They're always covering up for Jersey City's Muslim community.

Planned Parenthood Launches Texas Legal Offensive to Fight Funding Cuts

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 5:27 PM EST
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards gives a high five to a supporter at a rally in Texas.

Planned Parenthood announced on Monday that it's suing Texas officials for stripping the organization of Medicaid funding, saying that the decision unfairly singles out Planned Parenthood and prevents women from accessing their chosen medical provider in violation of federal law.

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, said the federal lawsuit aims to protect the 13,500 women on Medicaid who go to the organization for health care services. Ten patients also joined the lawsuit, all of whom are currently covered by Medicaid and would have to go elsewhere for health care unless the lawsuit is successful.

In October, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott blocked Medicaid funding for the organization, citing safety concerns brought to his attention following the release of the now-infamous (and widely discredited) videos showing some of Planned Parenthood's staff discussing fetal tissue donation. Three days later, state officials also subpoenaed Planned Parenthood for the medical records of patients who donated fetal tissue in the past five years, in an attempt to find criminal activity. A Planned Parenthood representative called the move "unprecedented" and denied any wrongdoing on the part of the organization.

Texas is one of a handful of states that have taken aim at Planned Parenthood over its fetal tissue donation, a practice that is legal in the United States. Arkansas, Utah, and Alabama have also tried to cut Medicaid funding to the group, despite a warning from the Obama administration that doing so could violate federal law. In October, a federal judge blocked Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's attempt to defund Planned Parenthood in the state, saying the move would cause "irreparable harm" to the 5,200 women who depend on the organization for health care.

Many states have also launched investigations in the organization, though none so far have found any wrongdoing.

"Texas is a cautionary tale for the whole nation," Richards told reporters this morning. "Officials who oppose women's health may think they can bully us out of providing care for our patients, but we will not back down, and we will not shut our doors."

Americans Both Love and Hate Government

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 4:25 PM EST

Pew Research once again shows us that Americans are hopelessly confused. Do they distrust government? You bet! Only 19 percent say they trust the government most or all of the time.

Does the government do a good job? Hell n—wait, what? Majorities think the government is doing a pretty good job in almost all areas—including keeping the country safe from terrorism. In fact, the only two areas that get a low score are immigration and poverty.

So why all the distrust? I haven't read the whole report yet, so I don't know what ideas they have. Maybe I'll do that later tonight. Basically, I just think this shows once again that Americans are schizophrenic. They hate education but love their local schools. They hate Congress but love their local member. They hate the government but....yeah, it's actually doing a decent job. The French may have a problem governing a country with 246 kinds of cheese, but what do you do about Americans? You could always just ban a couple hundred kinds of cheese if you really wanted to, but how do you get Americans to adopt some kind of coherent view of how they want to be governed?

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The Pfizer-Allergan Merger Uses a Tax Trick That Lets US Companies Stash Billions Overseas

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 1:55 PM EST

Earlier today, the pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Allergan announced a merger worth $160 billion. There's a wrinkle to this deal between the makers of Viagra and Botox: It's being facilitated by a controversial tax trick known as an inversion, which lets American companies move their headquarters abroad, avoiding the IRS while keeping executives stateside. If it goes through, the Pfizer-Allergan agreement will be the largest tax inversion ever.

Hillary Clinton has already criticized the pharma deal and has called for "cracking down on inversions that erode our tax base." In the past, President Barack Obama has slammed inversions as unpatriotic. His administration and congressional Democrats estimate that tax inversions will result in nearly $20 billion in lost taxes through 2024.

Inversions have been around since the early '80s, when a tax lawyer masterminded a move known as the "Panama Scoot". Since then, more than 100 companies have renounced their American citizenship. Here's where they went:

And inversions are just one of many ways US companies stash earnings abroad. Between 2008 and 2013, American firms had more than $2.1 trillion in profits held overseas—that's as much as $500 billion in unpaid taxes.


Robots Will Take Your Job Someday, But In the Meantime They'll Decide Which Jobs You Can Have

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 1:38 PM EST

Are you worried about the robots coming to take your job? You should be! But that's still a ways away for most of us. In the meantime, the robots will be deciding which jobs we're allowed to have. Today, the consistently fascinating Lydia DePillis points us to a new study that evaluates how well computer algorithms do at hiring new workers. The test bed is a large company with multiple locations. The workers perform relatively rote cognitive work that the authors can't reveal, but it is "similar to jobs such as data entry work, standardized test grading, and call center work."

In order to hire better workers, this company rolled out a new test that consists of "an online questionnaire comprising a large battery of questions, including those on technical skills, personality, cognitive skills, fit for the job, and various job scenarios." So how did stony-hearted Mr. Robot do?

Better than humans, according to the authors. The test rates each applicant as green, yellow, or red, and they found that greens stayed on the job for 12 days longer than yellows, who in turn lasted 17 days longer than reds. This is significant since the average job tenure at this company is 99 days. More to the point, the authors find that more interference from hiring managers leads to worse results. "In our setting it provides the stark recommendation that firms would do better to remove discretion of the average HR manager and instead hire based solely on the test."

But maybe hiring managers choose more productive workers? Nope. "In all cases, we find no evidence that managerial exceptions improve output per hour. Instead, we find noisy estimates indicating that worker quality appears to be lower on this dimension as well."

Hmmph. I guess it's HR managers who really need to be scared here. Apparently they simply add no value at all for jobs like this. Eventually, though, we're going to start looking at whether these tests systematically discriminate against women or blacks or other protected classes. It would be pretty easy for this to happen either intentionally or unintentionally. Then the robots will either have to get smarter or else, ironically, find themselves out of a job.

Marco Rubio Bravely Rules Out Negotiation With ISIS That No One Has Ever Proposed

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 1:15 PM EST

Marco Rubio has aired his first TV ad, and I suppose it's no surprise that we've already seen it. The whole thing is his schtick about the fight against ISIS being a civilizational struggle etc. etc. Here it is:

Once again, Rubio offers up his odd bit about ISIS hating us because we let women drive. But forbidding women to drive is actually one of the few odious things that ISIS doesn't do. It's our great and good friend Saudi Arabia that has a problem with women drivers. I'm pretty sure Rubio has never said a bad word about the Kingdom, so it seems a little odd to obsess about this when he's got such a huge panoply of other horrific stuff to choose from (we don't behead heretics, we don't sanction slavery, and so forth).

At the end Rubio gravely intones that "there can be no arrangement or negotiation." Where did that come from? Rubio would just as soon not let anyone know this, but the Obama administration is pretty firmly at war with ISIS. We're bombing them. We're taking territory from them. We're doing out best to wipe out their financial infrastructure. Obama's official policy is to "degrade and destroy" ISIS. Nobody—literally nobody—has ever suggested negotiating with them.

But I suppose none of that matters. Mostly, this is just Rubio trying his best to use dramatic lighting and a grave tone to avoid looking like he's 22, which is probably his greatest drawback in the presidential race. It's unfair, but with that baby face and breakneck speaking style that sounds like he's still on the college debating team, he just doesn't look old enough to be the leader of the free world. He seems more like a well-regarded up-and-comer, not the guy who already upped and came.

Does the ad work? It seems a little to strained to me, but I'm hardly his target audience. We'll see.

What You Need to Know About the Ongoing Lockdown in Brussels

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 12:20 PM EST
A Belgian Army soldier patrols in the Sablon District of Brussels on Monday.

Brussels remains under lockdown for the third straight day as authorities continue to hunt down suspects in connection with the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. As of Monday morning, a spokesman for the chief Belgian prosecutor said 21 people have been arrested in a series of anti-terror raids since Sunday.

But police officers are still searching for the primary target of these raids—Salah Abdeslam, the 26-year-old suspect believed to have taken part in the Paris attacks. Officials say Abdeslam's brother detonated himself in the Paris attacks.

Amid the crackdown, officials are also warning residents of a possible "serious and imminent attack" in the Belgian capital. Schools, underground public transit, and shopping centers are all closed, as Brussels remains at the highest level of terror alert.

Over the weekend, the police requested that residents refrain from posting details of the raids on social media and potentially tipping the suspects off in the process. Twitter users followed through by flooding the platform with photos of cats in order to show a moment of levity and stamp out any possible security leaks.

On Monday, British Prime Minster David Cameron announced that he will seek parliamentary support to launch new airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. The Guardian reports that US special operation forces will be deployed in Syria "very soon."