Here's What the Latest Investigation of Planned Parenthood Just Revealed

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Government investigations of Planned Parenthood in response to a series of deceptive videos produced by anti-abortion activists continue to lead to nothing.

On Monday, a 48-page report released by Washington state's Attorney General Bob Ferguson stated that his team's investigation into allegations about Planned Parenthood profiting from sales of fetal tissue "found no indication that procedures performed by Planned Parenthood are anything other than performance of a legally authorized medical procedure."

After undercover videos filmed by David Daleiden and his anti-abortion group, Center for Medical Progress, went viral, legislators across the country called for probes of Planned Parenthood operations. So far, none of these investigations has turned up any wrongdoing.

They have, however, had a chilling effect on important research into cures for diseases including diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's, as Mother Jones reported last month. That Planned Parenthood was cleared of any misconduct in Washington is particularly notable because Washington is one of only two states that allow patients to donate tissue to scientific research. (California is the other.)

Despite the lack of evidence from these state investigations, Republicans in the US Senate continue their attempts to defund Planned Parenthood; they are currently working to pass a fast-track "reconciliation" package that aims to dismantle key components of Obamacare and rescind Planned Parenthood funding.

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Science Says: Drink Your Coffee

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Coffee is one of the pleasures of existence. It's also really good for us, an ever-expanding body of research suggests. The latest: an analysis of three large population studies by a team of researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They concluded that regular consumption of between one and five cups a day is associated with significantly lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and brain disorders like Parkinson's. (For those who drink more than five cups per day, the association unravels.) 

Interestingly, the benefits are roughly the same for regular and decaf coffee—suggesting that something in the beloved beverage besides caffeine is the trigger. "Bioactive compounds in coffee reduce insulin resistance and systematic inflammation," the study's lead author, Ming Ding, said in a press release. The authors make clear that their results are consistent with "numerous" previous studies.

Now that coffee's health-giving value is well established, we should probably think harder about an always-vexing problem: how to ensure that the people who tend and harvest this tropical crop get their fair share of the profits generated from it.

Here's Yet More Posturing From Republicans on National Security

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 1:10 AM EST

Here's the latest from congressional Republicans:

Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday his panel will launch a review of encryption use. Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) introduced a bill to extend a sweeping telephone data-collection program due to expire at month’s end.

“It is likely that end-to-end encryption was used to communicate in Belgium and France and Syria,” Mr. Burr said. He said encryption was likely because no direct communication among the terrorists was detected....Mr. Cotton’s bill would pause the expiration of a broad phone data-collection program run by the National Security Agency, which is set to end Nov. 29, until the president certifies that a planned replacement is equally effective.

This is crazy. Anyone smart enough to use end-to-end encryption isn't going to use a package from Microsoft or Google. They'll find an open-source app instead. There are plenty of them around, and there's nothing the US Congress can do to stop people from using them. As for the NSA's metadata program, it's always had the authority to collect surveillance on overseas users. Nothing about that has changed.

Neither of these proposals seems to be related in any serious way to the Paris attacks. Instead, the attacks are just being used as a handy excuse to push legislation these guys have wanted all along.

Someday we're going to get Republicans to take national security seriously. I don't know when. Hopefully it won't take as long as it does to get them to admit that climate change is real.

How Should Fear of Syrian Refugees Be Fought?

| Wed Nov. 18, 2015 12:38 AM EST

My blog posts don't usually provoke a lot of outrage on social media. I'm just not that kind of writer. But today was an exception, when I suggested that lefties should tone down their mockery of calls to limit the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the country. That spurred hundreds of tweets from fellow lefties—some in support, but most of it hostile. Here's a sampling—and I promise I'm not cherry picking:

Mockery is a reasonable response to the ridiculous.

"Low information voters" == bad citizens.

It's the equivalent of the Japanese internment hysteria, it deserves ridicule.

"Syrian terrorists" may be an existential threat, but gun waving rednecks are more likely to shoot me. Mock them? Gimme a break.

This @kdrum article is exactly why people don't like mealy–mouthed Liberals. This is a moral issue, not a compromised tactic.

Same objections against Vietnamese, Jews, Irish... same ol' catering to nativism, again & again. No more, thank you.

If voters are too racist stupid or sheeple to support progressives Dems Sanders that's their fault not ours

Oh, their fears are understandable all right. Xenophobia is widely understood. So is naked racism and Islamophobia.

@kdrum wants us to treat these concerns as if they are good faith security concerns, not racism.

Many "ordinary" voters are racists & know-nothings who do not want to be educated *or* calmed. Listen to callers on talk radio.

Let's remember that it's politicians we are mocking.

Sure, this is just Twitter, not exactly famous for reasoned and thoughtful debate. Still, what's disheartening about this is that I don't think there's any disagreement on substance here. We all agree that we should accept Syrian refugees. We all agree that screening ought to be rigorous.1 We all agree that Republican fearmongering should be fought.

There are really only two disagreements. The first is whether fear of Syrian refugees is even understandable. Here's Charlie Pierce: "It is completely practical to believe that [ISIS] would try to infiltrate their fighters into this country under the cover of being refugees. They would have to be stupid not to try. Charlie Baker is not a bigot. Neither is Maggie Hassan. Their concerns are not posturing. They are not for show....They should be taken seriously and addressed seriously." I agree—and I'd suggest that anyone who thinks these concerns are just ridiculous bedwetting is pretty far out of touch with ordinary folks.

Second, how should this fear be addressed? Here's the problem: people won't even listen to you unless they think you take their concerns seriously. That's why, for example, liberals mostly dismiss conservative posturing about race: we don't believe they even take the problem of racism seriously in the first place. And probably the best way to convince people that you don't take a problem seriously is to mock it.

Maybe it's true that we're only mocking some of the most egregious politicians. And maybe it's true that they deserve it. But who cares? Ordinary voters won't make the distinction—they'll just hear the mockery—and it doesn't matter what anyone deserves. What matters is what works. On issues of interest only to wingnuts, go ahead and mock. We're not going to persuade them of anything no matter what. But on issues like this, where a quite understandable fear is shared by a broad slice of the electorate, mockery is death. We can persuade these folks, and the way to do it is to acknowledge the problem and then fight the fear with facts.

Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. But it's got a way better chance than mockery does. For a good example of how to do it, check out President Obama's comments tonight. There were a couple of sentences of ridicule in there, but nearly all of it was a firm, fact-based pushback against fear of letting in refugees. Obama didn't give in to bigotry or xenophobia, and he was plenty tough on Republicans. But he took the fears seriously and wasn't guilty of mockery.2 That's how it's done.

1Which it already is. Refugee screening in America is an extremely long and arduous process.

2Not much, anyway. For some reason, conservatives get revved up by outrage while liberals get revved up by mockery. I'm not really sure why. And in small doses on the right occasions, it's fine. If you're a comedian, it's fine. If you're in private among friends, it's fine. But if it becomes your default public response even to the ordinary fears of ordinary people, you've lost the argument before it even begins.

Bobby Jindal Drops Out of the Presidential Race

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 6:23 PM EST

RIP Jindal 2016:

"It has been a great honor for me to run for president of the United States," Bobby Jindal told Fox News host Bret Baier in an interview on Tuesday night. "This is not my time. I've come to the realization that this is not my time."

Even in his dropping out speech the Louisiana governor couldn't help but call Obama a "community organizer."


Sorry, But Ben Carson Just Doesn't Care About Foreign Policy

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 5:56 PM EST

Who would ever have guessed that someday we'd have a serious presidential candidate who makes Donald Trump look sober and grounded? And yet, that's what Ben Carson has done. Here's one of his foreign policy advisors, perhaps under the misapprehension that he was speaking off the record:

“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” Duane R. Clarridge, a top adviser to Mr. Carson on terrorism and national security, said in an interview....After Mr. Carson struggled on “Fox News Sunday” to say whom he would call first to form a coalition against the Islamic State, Mr. Clarridge called [Armstrong] Williams, the candidate’s top adviser, in frustration. “We need to have a conference call once a week where his guys roll out the subjects they think will be out there, and we can make him smart,” Mr. Clarridge said he told Mr. Williams.

Mr. Williams, one of Mr. Carson’s closest friends, who does not have an official role in the campaign, also lamented the Fox News interview. “He’s been briefed on it so many times,” he said. “I guess he just froze.”

"He just froze." Maybe. But there's another possibility. A friend of mine recently had a conversation with a guy who once sat on a board with Carson: "He told how, at that time, Carson advocated that the way to reduce CO2 emissions was to build hydrogen-powered cars. Once he had embraced that policy solution, according to his fellow board member, Carson showed no interest in alternate policies."

This seems to be Carson's MO. One way or another, he decides what he believes. Glyconutrients are a miracle. Hitler took away people's guns. The Chinese are in Syria. Hydrogen cars will fix global warming. And once he's fixated on something, that's it. He just isn't interested in learning any more. You can brief him until you're blue in the face, but it's water off a duck. He's already made up his mind.

I wonder what happened to make him this way? It seems clear that he wasn't always like this. Did this change occur slowly? Or was there some dramatic event that changed his worldview? We'll probably never know. But it leaves him wide open to every weird idea and kooky conspiracy theory out there if it happens to press one of his buttons. Usually characters like this are relegated to post-midnight talk radio or sending out chain emails about Obama getting ready to declare martial law. But this one is running for president. And winning.

UPDATE: This is great. The Carson campaign recommended Clarridge as a source and provided the Times with his phone number. But now they're throwing him under the bus. "Mr. Clarridge has incomplete knowledge of the daily, not weekly briefings, that Dr. Carson receives on important national security matters," the campaign said in a statement. "For The New York Times to take advantage of an elderly gentleman and use him as their foil in this story is an affront to good journalistic practices."

Very classy.

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Even Fox News Is Slamming Political Extremists for Refusing to Take in Refugees

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 5:05 PM EST

Amid a growing chorus of Republican governors refusing to accept the settlement of Syrian refugees in their respective states—despite you know, the Constitution—Fox News' Shepard Smith made a rather surprising call for political extremists to reverse their stances and show some compassion to those escaping violence. 

"It seems to me we the people have the responsibility now to protect what we hold dear," Smith told viewers on Monday.

"We profess to stand as an example for all the world. Our unique experiment in freedom, tolerance, and equality is our gift to societies and peoples everywhere. Come join us. Enjoy a chance at the American dream. Today we mourn, but we cannot allow ourselves to become like those who want to destroy us."

Smith's heartfelt and measured exhortation was a welcome respite from much of the fear-mongering tactics some Republican politicians have been using in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. On Tuesday, Donald Trump went as far as to accuse President Obama of intentionally sending refugees only to Republican states, joining his fellow presidential candidate Mike Huckabee in suggesting "limousine liberals" of a NIMBY approach to taking in refugees. 

Here's a Plan to Defeat ISIS. It Might Even Work.

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 3:01 PM EST

Here is Fred Kaplan's 8-point plan for fighting ISIS:

First, NATO should invoke Article 5.... Second...ISIS could come under much fiercer bombardment.... Third, this air power should be directed to support all ground forces engaged in fighting ISIS, no matter how unpalatable they might otherwise be—including Iranian-backed militias.... Fourth...everything should be done to raise up, supply, and if necessary train Sunni militias and command groups, too.... Fifth, all of the above requires intense shuttle diplomacy.... Sixth...Obama is right to quell talk of throwing thousands of American (or other Western) combat troops into this fight.... Seventh, this reticence in sending combat troops shouldn’t preclude a doubling or tripling of special operations forces to advise, coordinate airstrikes, and occasionally support counter-terrorist raids.... Finally, none of these efforts will amount to much in the long run without a political settlement in Syria.

In short: a bigger air campaign; cooperation with both Shiite Iranian forces and Sunni militias; and more special ops. On the non-military side, we need plenty of shuttle diplomacy to secure a political settlement in Syria. I'd add to that the development of a tolerably multi-sectarian government in Iraq, and I'm a little unsure why Kaplan left that off his list.

I think everyone should understand that even a plan like this, which is grounded in reality, is uncertain to work and will require a lot of time even if it does. In the end, groups like ISIS will continue to pop up until the Middle East's civil wars start to resolve themselves. It's unclear whether American influence can do much to speed that up.

The Meat Industry Is Killing Kids, Say Pediatricians

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 1:55 PM EST

According to the National Pork Producers Coalition, the way the meat industry currently uses antibiotics is no problem. "Existing FDA regulations are increasingly strict and provide adequate safeguards against antibiotic resistance," the group insists on its website.

But Jerome Paulson and Theoklis Zaoutis disagree. Pediatricians who serve on the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Environmental Health, they have published a blunt report in the journal Pediatrics, arguing that systemic overuse of antibiotics in livestock production is a key driver of the resistance crisis, which, they show, sickens 2 million Americans every year, kills 23,000, and runs up an annual healthcare bill of $21 billion annually.

With their developing immune systems, kids are particularly vulnerable to superbugs.

With their developing immune systems, children are particularly vulnerable—salmonella alone causes more then 120,000 illnesses, 44,000 physician visits, 4600 hospitalizations, and 38 deaths annually among kids younger than five, the authors report.

They point out that US livestock producers used a staggering 32.2 million pounds of antibiotics in 2012 (the last year for which data exist), more than four times the amount used to treat people. Fully 60 percent of those farm-dispensed drugs "are considered to be important in human medicine," they add.  This annual bombardment of farm antibiotics, they show, kills susceptible bacteria and allows resistant ones to proliferate. Of the Salmonella that commonly show up in the US meat supply, 5 percent are resistant to 5 or more classes of antibiotic drugs—and 3 percent can withstand ceftriaxone, the "first-line therapy for salmonellosis in pediatrics," the authors note.

Paulson and Zaoutis then run through the various ways these superbugs move off of farms and threaten people. "Increasingly, food animals are raised in large numbers under close confinement, transported in large groups to slaughter, and processed very rapidly," they write. "These conditions can cause increased bacterial shedding and contamination of hide, carcass, and meat with fecal bacteria." Resistant bacteria can also escape the farm through farmers, farm workers, farm families, and casual visitors, who then can spread the germs throughout the communities. Then there's the vast concentrations of manure from these facilities, which "can contaminate foods when manure containing resistant organisms is applied to agricultural soils and the organisms are then present in farm runoff."

They end with a critique of what those pork producers claim are "increasingly strict" FDA rules on farm antibiotic use. Currently, the rules allow farmers to use antibiotics not only to treat disease but also "prevent" it—a loophole that, as I and others have shown, allows meat producers to maintain current practices. That practice "can harm public health, including child health, through the promotion of resistance," the authors warn. Who are you going to believe—the folks charged with keeping your kids healthy, or the ones charged with profitably churning out billions of meat animals each year?

The Disgrace of Lamar Smith and the House Science Committee

| Tue Nov. 17, 2015 1:37 PM EST

The Washington Post writes today about a long-running feud between die-hard climate-denier Lamar Smith and pretty much anyone who says that climate change is real:

The flash point in the feud between House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a congressional subpoena. The congressman, a prominent global warming skeptic, is demanding that the government turn over its scientists’ internal exchanges and communications with NOAA’s top political appointees.

Smith believes this information, showing the researchers deliberative process, will prove that they altered data to fit President Obama’s climate agenda when they refuted claims in a peer-reviewed study in the journal Science that global warming had “paused” or slowed over the last decade.

“These are government employees who changed data to show more climate change,” the chairman said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Americans deserve to understand why this decision was made. Despite what some critics claim, the subpoena is not only about scientists. Political operatives and other NOAA employees likely played a large role in approving NOAA’s decision to adjust data that allegedly refutes the hiatus in warming.

Over the last few years, harassment of climate scientists via subpoenas and FOIA requests for every email they've ever written has become the go-to tactic of climate skeptics and deniers. The purpose is twofold. First, it intimidates scientists from performing climate research. Who needs the grief? Second, it provides a chance to find something juicy and potentially embarrassing in the trove of emails.

In the case of Lamar Smith vs. NOAA, the key fact is this: Smith has no reason to think the scientists in question have done anything wrong. None. He doesn't even pretend otherwise. He has simply asserted that it's "likely" that politics played a role in "adjusting" the climate data. But at no time has he presented any evidence at all to back this up.

This is a pretty plain abuse of congressional subpoena power, and so far NOAA is refusing to comply. In the case of private critics using FOIA, it's a pretty clear abuse of FOIA—and one of the reasons that I have some reservations about FOIA that might seem odd coming from a journalist. It's one thing to demand private communications when there's some question of wrongdoing. It's quite another when it's just a fishing expedition undertaken in the hope of finding something titillating.

In any case, Smith is a disgrace, and it's a disgrace that Republicans allow him to chair a committee on science. Smith's view of science is simple: if it backs up his beliefs, it's fine. If it doesn't, it's obviously fraudulent. This is the attitude that leads to defunding of climate research or banning research on guns. After all, there's always the possibility that the results will be inconvenient, and in the world of Smith and his acolytes, that can't be allowed to stand. Full speed ahead and science be damned.