Blogs

Yet More Housekeeping

| Thu Jan. 22, 2015 10:36 AM EST

I have returned to the land of the living. The last 36 hours have been pretty hellish, but the good news is that I think I know what happened, and it's not likely to happen again. I hope.

That said, I'm still pretty tired. We'll see how the rest of the day goes.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Are You at Risk for a Heart Attack? The Answer May Lie in Your Twitter Stream

| Thu Jan. 22, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Of the many illnesses that plague Americans, heart disease is the deadliest—and one of the toughest to predict. Epidemiologists have long used surveys and clinical data to tease out genetic factors from lifestyle risks such as diet, smoking, and stress, with little success. But a new study shows that there might be a better tool to assess heart disease: Twitter.

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Science analyzed tweets and health data from 1,300 counties across the United States. The researchers found that negative tweets—those expressing fatigue, hostility, and stress—were associated with elevated risk of coronary heart disease (the medical term for clogged arteries) in the counties where the writers of those tweets lived. High volumes of tweets expressing optimism, excitement, ambition, and activity, meanwhile, correlated with lower than average rates of heart disease.

Here are some word clouds with examples of language that predicted higher and lower levels of disease:

Psychological Science

What's more, the researchers found that the language used in tweets correlates much more closely with heart disease rates than traditional predictive factors such as your income and education level, your weight, and even whether you are a smoker:

Psychological Science

Lead author Johannes Eichstaedt, a psychological scientist at University of Pennsylvania, described Twitter as "the perfect tool for figuring out something like heart disease." Researchers have long suspected connections between emotional states and heart disease risk. And while it's not surprising that people with high levels of stress and anger would be at higher risk than their mellower, happier peers, researchers have traditionally relied on surveys to evaluate people's psychological well being. The problem is that survey-based studies can take years, and people aren't always honest about their feelings. Which makes Twitter a researcher's treasure trove. "Twitter is where people talk about themselves, where they express their emotions candidly," Eichstaedt says.

Here's a map showing coronary heart disease deaths by county, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Psychological Science, CDC

Now compare it with this map, which predicts rates of heart disease based on tweet language:

Psychological Science, Twitter

Another bonus of using Twitter as an epidemiological tool: It's much easier and cheaper than going door to door or calling people to conduct surveys. "If I wanted to repeat this analysis I could do it in an afternoon," says Eichstaedt. "With surveys, that would take a year."

Watch Molly Redden on the GOP Women Protesting the 20-Week Abortion Ban

Thu Jan. 22, 2015 12:12 AM EST

Mother Jones reporter Molly Redden appeared on MSNBC's Last Word Wednesday night to discuss why Republican women are revolting against the 20-week abortion ban.

Federal Prosecutors Set to Clear Ferguson Cop Who Shot Michael Brown

| Wed Jan. 21, 2015 4:49 PM EST

The Department of Justice is reportedly preparing to clear Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown last August, of civil rights charges. According to the New York Times, which broke the news Wednesday afternoon, federal prosecutors are in the process of finalizing a legal memo recommending no charges be made against Wilson. The Times notes, however, a final decision has yet to be officially announced. 

A broader federal investigation into possible civil rights violations by the Ferguson Police Department continues. 

The report follows November's decision by a grand jury declining to indict the officer in Brown's death. Brown was 18-years-old and unarmed at the time of the shooting. From the Times:

Three law enforcement officials discussed the details of the federal investigation on condition of anonymity because the report was incomplete and Mr. Holder and his top civil rights prosecutor, Vanita Gupta, had not formally made a decision. Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Benjamin L. Crump, a lawyer for Mr. Brown's family, said he did not want to comment on the investigation until the Justice Department made an official announcement. "We've heard speculation on cases before that didn't turn out to be true," Mr. Crump said. "It's too much to put the family through to respond to every rumor." Mr. Crump said that at the end of last year that the Justice Department had told him that it was still investigating.

The lawyer for Mr. Wilson did not return calls for comment.

The shooting prompted massive demonstrations across the country with protestors demanding charges be brought against Wilson. 

This is a developing story.

Why Ruth Bader Ginsburg Thinks Citizens United Is the Supreme Court's Worst Ruling

Wed Jan. 21, 2015 4:45 PM EST

This story originally appeared at BillMoyers.com.

In an interview with the New Republic, 81-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the current Court's worst ruling — and the one she would most like to overrule—was Citizens United.

That decision is the one responsible, in large part, for making this midterm election a record breaker in terms of outside spending. And that's before the really heavy spending comes into play, in the weeks leading up to Election Day.

The 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision struck down the limits on how much money corporations and unions can spend in federal elections. Ginsburg, who dissented in the case, explains here why Citizens United is top of her list and tackles the two runners-up.

I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be. So that's number one on my list. Number two would be the part of the health care decision that concerns the commerce clause. Since 1937, the Court has allowed Congress a very free hand in enacting social and economic legislation. I thought that the attempt of the Court to intrude on Congress's domain in that area had stopped by the end of the 1930s. Of course health care involves commerce. Perhaps number three would be Shelby County, involving essentially the destruction of the Voting Rights Act. That act had a voluminous legislative history. The bill extending the Voting Rights Act was passed overwhelmingly by both houses, Republicans and Democrats, everyone was on board. The Court's interference with that decision of the political branches seemed to me out of order. The Court should have respected the legislative judgment. Legislators know much more about elections than the Court does. And the same was true of Citizens United. I think members of the legislature, people who have to run for office, know the connection between money and influence on what laws get passed.

In her wide-ranging interview, she goes on to discuss her concerns for women's reproductive rights, why she's not going to step down, despite some calls from the left for her to do so, her scathing dissent on the Hobby Lobby ruling and life as "Notorious R.B.G."

Read the full interview at The New Republic.

Housekeeping Update

| Wed Jan. 21, 2015 11:43 AM EST

No blogging today. Sorry. Lots of stuff going on with my body right now. But I should recover eventually.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Dinesh D'Souza Says Obama Hasn't Lived the "African American Experience" Because He Grew Up in Hawaii

| Wed Jan. 21, 2015 10:23 AM EST

Barack Obama is an African American man. He is black and he was born in Hawaii. He is the president of the United States.

Despite all this, conservative author and convicted felon Dinesh D'Souza tried to convince Fox News host Megyn Kelly on Monday that the president has not lived the "African American experience" for reasons that first included the president not having "descended from slaves on either side of his family." 

When asked for clarification, considering Obama indeed has "black skin and grew up in America as a black man," as a rather shocked Kelly correctly noted, D'Souza answered, "Well he grew up in Hawaii."

"That's America!" Kelly reminded him. 

Unable to put the breaks on his thought process, D'Souza trailed on with mentions of the president's past trips to Indonesia and Kenya as further proof he has not lived the true African American experience.

"Oh come on Dinesh! That does not deprive him of the African American experience."

This all follows a series of bizarre tweets from D'Souza, in which he compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr. and Obama to J. Edgar Hoover. 

Monday's segment concluded with our momentary hero, Megyn Kelly, asking D'Souza how his time holed up in a community confinement center after being convicted of campaign finance fraud was going. 

 

Why Are the Feds Abusing Research Animals?

| Wed Jan. 21, 2015 6:00 AM EST
Do I look like a catfish to you?

The ace New York Times food/agriculture reporter Michael Moss has an excellent long piece on the US Meat Animal Research Center, a US Department of Agriculture-run institution that, Moss writes, has "one overarching mission: helping producers of beef, pork and lamb turn a higher profit." As a result of its laser focus on that task, Moss shows, the center has routinely subjected animals to cruel conditions since its inception in 1964, unchecked by the Animal Welfare Act, which exempts farm animals used in research. The article is littered with images of calves born mangled, newborn lambs abandoned to die in the cold overnight, and piglets crushed by their mothers—all the routine result of federally funded experiments.

What strikes me is the cold, industrial vision of livestock farming embodied by the research center: animals as inert commodities to be manufactured as cheaply as possible, like microchips or screws. Physiology becomes a production process to be hacked for the convenience of producers. Cows only give birth to one calf at a time? Inefficient and unacceptable! Moss draws out the grotesque tale of a project designed to change that, spearheaded by the center's founding director, Keith E. Gregory. Back in 1981, Moss reports, Gregory published a paper comparing the cow's modest reproductive powers with those of the prolific catfish, which churns out "more than 1,000 times its weight in offspring."

Thus launched a long effort to make cows more catfishlike: Engineer them (using conventional breeding techniques) to birth twins, not one-offs. And it succeeded—sort of. By 2000, Moss reports, cows in the experiment were birthing twins 55 percent of the time vs. the normal rate of 3 percent. But…

Some 95 percent of the females born with male siblings had deformed vaginas. Many of the twins died during birth as their eight legs became tangled. Even calves born singly had trouble getting out: The mothers had been bred with such large wombs, to accommodate twins, that the calf could not get enough traction. And the breeding increasingly yielded triplets, with 12 legs to get tangled.

As a result, he writes, "16.5 percent of twins and triplets were dying, a rate more than four times that of single calves."

Still, the center thought it had handed the beef industry a great gift—at a beef conference, center officials "acknowledged the high death rates, yet argued that the math still worked in ranchers' favor," because, "the combined weight of surviving twin cows was nearly 50 percent more, on average, than for conventional cows."

Instead of trying to turn cows into catfishesque baby-making machines, USDA could figure out best practices for diversified livestock ag.

Ironically, the idea of cows tweaked to birth twin calves creeped out Big Beef, an industry not normally known for turning squeamish in pursuit of profit. The idea never caught on among cattle ranchers, and the program petered out in 2013. "The surviving cows were sold, though the center is still trying with little success to sell the bulls' semen," Moss writes. Your tax dollars at work! The piece teases out similarly vexed efforts to jack up pigs' birth output. One initiative that did succeed, according to Moss, was a program to breed pigs to be much leaner—creating flavor-challenged pork and sows that are "so low in fat that one in five females cannot reproduce," Moss writes.

Now, a lot of people will read Moss' exposé and conclude that the US Meat Animal Research Center must be defunded and closed. But publicly financed ag research is vital to maintaining a resilient, plentiful food supply in era of climate chaos and ecological crisis in farm country. Federal ag research funding has been flat in recent years, and a rising tide of agribusiness cash has played an increasingly dominant role in setting the research agenda, especially in the meat field.

But there's no reason that federal livestock research should exist purely to boost the profits of the big meat packers, which rely on highly specialized farms called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that stuff thousands animals tightly together. It has been well established that diversified farms, ones that produce meat as well as crops, are more ecologically sound (PDF) than specialized ones.

But now that diversified farms have largely been driven out of business over the past several decades, few farmers (or the bankers they rely on for financing) are willing to take the risk of, say, periodically rotating beef cows into fields now dominated by corn and soybeans, even though such a system would likely sequester carbon and rebuild depleted soil. And that's where the US Meat Animal Research Center could come in. Instead of spending years and untold resources trying to turn cows into catfishesque baby-making machines, they could do on-the-ground research to figure out best practices for diversified livestock ag. Don't slaughter federal livestock research; nurture it so that it grows into something that benefits the public—while also respecting animal welfare.

If You Watch "The Good Wife," This Tweet Is Going To Blow Your Mind

| Tue Jan. 20, 2015 10:01 PM EST

The Good Wife is the best show in the world. It's on hiatus until March 1 and I was really upset about it but at least this happened tonight:

Thank you, S. Alexander Smith. I want to be your best friend.

(via James West)

Watch the Video of President Obama's 2015 State of the Union Right Here

| Tue Jan. 20, 2015 8:36 PM EST

The early news was that President Obama is going to announce a small tax increase that will mostly affect the very wealthy. Kevin Drum thinks this sort of thing will play well and Obama's approval rating surge is likely to continue. Meanwhile, after we pointed out some of the problems with the Spanish-language version of the GOP's rebuttal to the State of the Union being a literal translation of Iowa Senator and English-only advocate Joni Ernst's planned remarks, the party is now saying that Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) will give his own, unique Spanish speech. So that happened. Here's everything you should probably know about Joni Ernst.

And, on cue, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is already making an ass of himself.

Stick around after the speech for David Corn's wrap-up article. They're usually really good.

You can find the full text of the speech here.