This Is the Greatest Correction I've Ever Read

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 6:10 PM EST

Adele's new album is subliiiiiiiiiiime. Read our review.

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It's Time for Yet Another SAFE Act!

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 6:09 PM EST

I'm currently at my local infusion center getting my bones strengthened, but the miracle of modern technology means that I can blog even with an IV drip in my arm. Besides, it's only my left arm, and who needs that?

Anyway, today's subject is the SAFE Act. Congress has already passed two SAFE Acts and considered two more over the past couple of decades, so apparently it's a pretty popular acronym. This time around it stands for the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, and it's a strange beast. It's designed to show that Congress is responding to the alleged threat from Syrian refugees, but it actually does nothing much at all. Vetting doesn't change, procedures don't change, and no limits are placed on the number of refugees we can accept. All it does is require the administration to formally certify the procedures already in place—and force three top officials to personally sign off on every Syrian or Iraqi refugee.

In other words, it's basically a fraud. It will create a short pause in the refugee program while some poor schmoe who draws the short straw goes through the makework of drafting the "certification" procedure and getting it approved, and that's about it.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, and Democratic leaders in Congress are opposed to it. Nonetheless, nearly 50 Dems voted for it in the House today. Depending on your tolerance for such things, they're either cowards or pragmatists. The Senate won't even take up the bill until December, and there's a good chance that refugee hysteria will have died down by then. So it may never even make it to the president's desk.

So what to think about this? I'd say you could reasonably look at it two ways:

  • It's a cowardly bill that panders to unwarranted fears instead of trying to calm them.
  • It's basically a craven but noble lie. It pretends to do something in order to mollify the masses and prevent something worse from passing, but it really does very little and is moving slowly enough that it might just die of its own accord.

Really it's both. It's cowardly for sure. On the other hand, refugees are the latest excuse for shutting down the government in a few weeks, and a bit of cheap symbolism might be a small price to pay for removing it. I wouldn't vote for this bill, and I certainly wouldn't speak in favor of a "pause" if I were part of the Democratic leadership team (lookin' at you, Chuck). But I also might decide it's not a hill to die for. Sometimes that's just how politics works.

Bernie Sanders Says Qatar Should Spend Its Money Fighting ISIS, Not Hosting the World Cup

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 5:07 PM EST

Not only did Bernie Sanders defend democratic socialism in a Georgetown University speech Thursday, but he also took the opportunity to throw around some shade.

First, the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate went off script to call out Donald Trump and other Republican candidates for "using the political process to inject racism into the debate." Then, Sanders took a shot in his prepared remarks at Qatar's plans to invest upwards of $220 billion to host a four-week, sure-to-be-hot-as-hell World Cup in 2022, instead of spending that money on fighting ISIS:

It has been reported that Qatar will spend $200 billion on the 2022 World Cup, including the construction of an enormous number of facilities to host that event—$200 billion on hosting a soccer event, yet very little to fight against ISIS. Worse still, it has been widely reported that the government has not been vigilant in stemming the flow of terrorist financing, and that Qatari individuals and organizations funnel money to some of the most extreme terrorist groups, including al Nusra and ISIS.

All of this has got to change. Wealthy and powerful Muslim nations in the region can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect the United States to do their work for them. As we develop a strongly coordinated effort, we need a commitment from these countries that the fight against ISIS takes precedence over the religious and ideological differences that hamper the kind of cooperation that we desperately need.

Reminder: Letting Qatar host the World Cup has always been a terrible idea.

Bernie Sanders Just Basically Called Out Donald Trump for Being a Racist

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 3:47 PM EST

In a fiery speech at Georgetown University outlining and defending democratic socialism on Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, went off script from his prepared remarks to condemn Donald Trump and other presidential candidates for their continued use of racist tactics to shape the immigration debate.

"Let me just say a few words from what I've heard from several Republican candidates for president over recent months because people can have honest disagreements about immigration, but people should not be using the political process to inject racism into the debate," Sanders said. He then slammed Trump:

People should not be using the political process to inject racism into the debate. Donald Trump and others who refer to Latinos as peoples from Mexico as criminals and rapists, if they want to open that door, our job is to shut that door. This country has gone too far. Too many people have suffered and too many people have died for us to continue to hear racist words coming from major political leaders.

The much-anticipated speech concluded with Sanders receiving a rousing, standing ovation from students in attendance.

Illegal Immigration From Mexico Continues to Decline

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 2:41 PM EST

The latest Pew report on illegal immigration from Mexico shows that the flow of people across the southern border continues to slow. There are fewer immigrants coming to the US and there are fewer going back to Mexico. In total, the flow of people across the border has declined by a third over the past five years, and there are now more people leaving than coming. Pew estimates that the total population of unauthorized Mexican immigrants in the US has declined by 1.3 million since 2007.

Why? The slowing American economy, especially in border communities, is one reason. A desire to reunite with family members is another. Fewer connections in the US is yet another. And in terms of total immigration, Mexico is now only barely ahead of other countries, according to a question used in the American Community Survey:

Under this measure, 246,000 Mexicans, 195,000 Chinese and 199,000 Indians arrived in the U.S. in 2013 and 2012....Regardless of the exact number of new immigrants from each country arriving in the U.S. each year, the trends are clear: Over the past decade, immigration from China and India to the U.S. has increased steadily, while immigration from Mexico has declined sharply.

Keep this in mind the next time you hear Donald Trump or another Republican demagoging about walls and rapists and all the rest. Illegal immigration from Mexico is down substantially, and it's becoming a smaller problem every year, not a bigger one.

The First GMO Animal Was Just Approved. But You Probably Won’t be Eating It Anytime Soon.

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 1:52 PM EST

Since the mid-1990s, a US company called AquaBounty Technologies—now partially owned by the synthetic biology company Intrexon—has been trying to get the Food and Drug Administration to approve a salmon variety genetically engineered to put on weight faster. On Thursday, the FDA finally did so. Theoretically, at least, US retailers can now stock the fast-growing fish, and they don't have to label it.

The only GM salmon that makes it onto US store shelves will come from eggs produced in Prince Edward Island, which will be shipped and raised in Panama, only to be shipped back to North America as filets.

But don't expect it to take over the seafood counter of your local supermarket anytime soon. We import about two-thirds of the salmon we eat, the great bulk of it grown on large farms in Chile, Canada, and Norway. But the FDA is hyper-specific about where AquaBounty's engineered salmon can be grown:

The AquAdvantage Salmon may be raised only in land-based, contained hatchery tanks in two specific facilities in Canada and Panama. The approval does not allow AquAdvantage Salmon to be bred or raised in the United States. In fact, under this approval, no other facilities or locations, in the United States or elsewhere, are authorized for breeding or raising AquAdvantage Salmon that are intended for marketing as food to U.S. consumers.

Why the caution? Standard salmon farming takes place directly in the ocean in net cages. Escapes are inevitable. In areas like the North American west coast from California to Alaska—home to some of the globe's last remaining wild salmon runs—escaped fast-growing salmon could out-compete and displace their wild peers. A highly detailed 2013 risk assessment from Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans found that, without strict containment, the AquaAdvantage super-salmon presents a "high" risk to wild populations. 

So for now, until the FDA approves other facilities, the only GM salmon that makes it onto US store shelves will come from eggs produced in one approved facility on Canada's Prince Edward Island, which will be shipped and raised into fish at another approved facility in Panama, only to be shipped back to North America as filets. That one facility in Panama is not likely to pose much competition to, say, Norway's vast salmon farms.

Meanwhile, the biotech-watchdog group the Center for Food Safety has vowed to sue the FDA to reverse the decision, claiming that "the review process by FDA was inadequate, failed to fully examine the likely impacts of the salmon’s introduction, and lacked a comprehensive analysis."

Add limited supply and a legal challenge to the fact that several regional grocery powerhouses—including Kroger, Safeway, and HEB—have pledged not to sell GM salmon, and it seems unlikely that many consumers will be savoring AquaBounty's bounty anytime soon.



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This Jeff Goldblum Video Isn't Really That Funny, But I Give Him Credit for Trying

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 1:41 PM EST

It's pretty hard to be funny about climate change. Not just because the subject tends to be grim, but also because the solutions tend to be technical, wonky, and interesting mostly just to nerds.

The video above, released today by Funny or Die in affiliation with the League of Conservation Voters, makes a valiant effort. It features Jeff Goldblum explaining the Obama administration's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a boardroom full of cartoonishly evil fossil fuel executives. I won't spoil what he says, since it's the punchline (such as it is). Suffice to say the execs don't like it…and something about Miami Vice star Don Johnson.

I also won't go on record vouching for the jokes in this. I chuckled a few times. I will say that Goldblum—or rather his character, the mysterious "Fixer"—nails his description of the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from the power sector by about a third by 2030, and which will form the backbone of Obama's contribution to the upcoming global climate talks in Paris. The framing of the video is also spot-on: The plan is indeed facing stiff opposition from coal companies and the industry's allies in statehouses and in Congress

The Clean Power Plan is admittedly kind of boring to most people, despite being a groundbreaking policy achievement and an important step toward saving the planet from global warming. So if it takes Jeff Goldblum to get people interested, I've got no problem with that. Enjoy!

Here Is Hillary Clinton's Plan to Defeat ISIS

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 1:25 PM EST

Here's the Reader's Digest version of Hillary Clinton's plan for defeating ISIS:

It’s time to begin a new phase and intensify and broaden our efforts to smash the would-be caliphate and deny ISIS control of territory in Iraq and Syria. That starts with a more effective coalition air campaign....We need an immediate intelligence surge in the region, including technical assets, Arabic speakers with deep expertise in the Middle East and even closer partnership with regional intelligence services....We can and should support local and regional ground forces in carrying out this mission....We may have to give our own troops advising and training the Iraqis greater freedom of movement and flexibility.

....Ultimately, however, a ground campaign in Iraq will only succeed if more Iraqi Sunnis join the fight. But that won’t happen so long as they do not feel they have a stake in their country or confidence in their own security and capacity to confront ISIS....We need to lay the foundation for a second Sunni awakening. We need to put sustained pressure on the government in Baghdad to get its political house in order, move forward with national reconciliation.

....We should retool and ramp up our efforts to support and equip viable Syrian opposition units....Increased support from our Arab and European zones....create safe areas where Syrians could remain in the country, rather than fleeing toward Europe.

....Arab and Turkish partners....military intelligence and financial contributions....We need to get Turkey to stop bombing Kurdish fighters in Syria who are battling ISIS, and become a full partner in our coalition efforts against ISIS. The United States should also work with our Arab partners to get them more invested in the fight against ISIS.

For anybody who's been following this stuff, none of this should come as a surprise. At this point, I'd call it the conventional wisdom on ISIS: a stronger air campaign; local ground troops; political reconciliation in Baghdad; and better alliances with Turkey and our Arab allies. The truth is, this speech could have been given by any thoughtful Republican too. They would have spiced it up with a few more references to unspeakable evil and wars against civilization, and they would have pretended that all this stuff would be easy if we didn't have an appeaser in the White House, but the practical advice wouldn't differ much. As near as I can tell, that's because there just aren't many alternatives.

Now, the obvious problem is that all of this is easier said than done. A bigger air campaign is easy. But turning the Iraqi army into a competent fighting force is harder. Pressuring Baghdad to get its house in order is even harder. And a diplomatic solution in Syria that frees up local rebels to fight ISIS is so hard that I doubt we can do it.

So in a sense, this all boils down to competence. Roughly speaking, everyone agrees on the basic outline of what needs to be done. The question is which candidate is most likely to be able to do it. It's easy to figure out that, say, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz are at the bottom of that list. But who's at the top? Who do you trust the most to make progress on all this stuff? That's where the hammer and the nail finally meet.

The Press Needs to Stop Encouraging Republican Lunacy Toward Muslims

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 12:09 PM EST

Donald Trump is still Donald Trump, trying to gain attention by saying obviously outrageous things. But his latest outrage looks a little contrived. Here's the full context of his recent interview with Yahoo's Hunter Walker:

Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.

“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.

“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

It would be one thing if Trump floated the idea himself of warrantless searches and special IDs. It's quite another if a reporter brings them up and Trump tap dances a little bit. Needless to say, in a better world Trump would have explicitly denounced all these ideas. Obviously we don't live in that world. Still, the only thing Trump actually said here is that we're going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. The rest was just a reporter fishing for a headline.

To state the obvious: no, we don't need to do anything that was "unthinkable" a year ago. As my colleague Miles Johnson notes, "of the 745,000 refugees resettled in the US since the September 11 terrorist attacks, only two have been arrested on terrorism-related charges." The American Muslim community has been instrumental in preventing jihadist violence in the US since 9/11, and to deliberately alienate them, as Trump and many other Republicans are proposing, is just about the most dangerous thing we could do.

We know how to fight dangerous people. We know how to fight terrorism. And we don't have to shred the Constitution to do it. Instead of fishing for headlines and stoking the latest round of fatuous fearmongering from Republicans, maybe we'd be better served if reporters started asking them hard questions instead.

Read Elizabeth Warren's Heartfelt Email in Support of Syrian Refugees

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 11:54 AM EST

As more Republicans declare their opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Thursday sent out an email to her supporters, passionately urging them to stand with her in pushing back against calls for rejecting those fleeing violence in Syria and the Middle East. 

Here's an excerpt:

In the wake of the murders in Paris and Beirut last week, people in America, in Europe, and throughout the world, are fearful. Millions of Syrians are fearful as well—terrified by the reality of their daily lives, terrified that their last avenue of escape from the horrors of ISIS will be closed, terrified that the world will turn its back on them and on their children.

Some politicians have already moved in that direction, proposing to close our country to people fleeing the massacre in Syria. That is not who we are. We are a country of immigrants and refugees, a country made strong by our diversity, a country founded by those crossing the sea fleeing religious persecution and seeking religious freedom.

We are not a nation that delivers children back into the hands of ISIS murderers because some politician dislikes their religion. And we are not a nation that backs down out of fear.

Warren's letter was sent out by her Senate campaign, but it made no request for donations (which is rare when a politician zaps out an email to her list of supporters). The note follows a similar plea she made to her fellow lawmakers in the Senate on Tuesday. Warren is among only a handful of politicians who publicly support accepting a limited number of refugees in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday.

"It is easy to proclaim that we are tough and brave and good-hearted when threats feel far away," Warren said in that speech. "But when those threats loom large and close by, our actions will strip away our tough talk and reveal who we really are. We face a choice, a choice either to lead the world by example, or to turn our backs to the threats and suffering around us."

Here's the full email:

Over the past four years, millions of people have fled their homes in Syria, running for their lives. In recent months, the steady stream of refugees has been a flood that has swept across Europe.

Every day, refugees set out on a journey hundreds of miles, from Syria to the Turkish coast. When they arrive, human smugglers charge them $1000 a head for a place on a shoddy, overloaded, plastic raft that is given a big push and floated out to sea, hopefully toward one of the Greek islands.

Last month, I visited the Greek island of Lesvos to see the Syrian refugee crisis up close. Lesvos is only a few miles away from the Turkish coast, but the risks of crossing are immense. This is a really rocky, complicated shoreline – in and out, in and out. The overcrowded, paper-thin smuggler rafts are tremendously unsafe, especially in choppy waters or when a storm picks up.

Parents try their hardest to protect their children. They really do. Little ones are outfitted with blow up pool floaties as a substitute for life jackets, in the hope that if the rafts go down, a $1.99 pool toy will be enough to save the life of a small child.  

And the rafts do go down. According to some estimates, more than 500 people have died crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece so far this year. But despite the clear risks, thousands make the trip every day.

I met with the mayor of Lesvos, who described how his tiny island of 80,000 people has struggled to cope with those refugees who wash ashore – more than 100,000 people in October alone. Refugees pile into the reception centers, overflowing the facilities, sleeping in parks, or at the side of the road. Recently, the mayor told a local radio program that the island had run out of room to bury the dead.

On my visit, I met a young girl – younger than my own granddaughters – sent out on this perilous journey alone. I asked her how old she was, and she shyly held up seven fingers.

I wondered what could possibly possess parents to hand a seven-year-old girl and a wad of cash to human smugglers. What could possibly possess them to send a beloved child across the treacherous seas with nothing more than a pool floatie. What could make them send a child knowing that crime rings of sex slavery and organ harvesting prey on these children.

Send a little girl out alone. With only the wildest, vaguest, most wishful hope that she might make it through alive and find something – anything – better for her on the other side.

This week, we all know why parents would send a child on that journey. Last week’s massacres in Paris and Beirut made it clear. The terrorists of ISIS – enemies of Islam and of all modern civilization, butchers who rape, torture and execute women and children, who blow themselves up in a lunatic effort to kill as many people as possible – these terrorists have spent years torturing the people of Syria. Day after day, month after month, year after year, mothers, fathers, children and grandparents are slaughtered.

In the wake of the murders in Paris and Beirut last week, people in America, in Europe, and throughout the world, are fearful. Millions of Syrians are fearful as well – terrified by the reality of their daily lives, terrified that their last avenue of escape from the horrors of ISIS will be closed, terrified that the world will turn its back on them and on their children.

Some politicians have already moved in that direction, proposing to close our country to people fleeing the massacre in Syria. That is not who we are. We are a country of immigrants and refugees, a country made strong by our diversity, a country founded by those crossing the sea fleeing religious persecution and seeking religious freedom.

We are not a nation that delivers children back into the hands of ISIS murderers because some politician dislikes their religion. And we are not a nation that backs down out of fear.

Our first responsibility is to protect this country. We must embrace that fundamental obligation. But we do not make ourselves safer by ignoring our common humanity and turning away from our moral obligation.  

ISIS has shown itself to the world. We cannot – and we will not – abandon the people of France to this butchery. We cannot – and we will not – abandon the people of Lebanon to this butchery. And we cannot – and we must not – abandon the people of Syria to this butchery.

Thank you for being a part of this,