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Mississippi House Speaker: Time to Remove Confederate Symbol from State Flag

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 8:59 AM EDT

On the heels of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's call to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state's capitol on Monday, Mississippi's Republican House Speaker, Philip Gunn, announced his support to remove the Confederate symbol from his own state's flag. In a Facebook post, he wrote:

 

We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us. As a Christian, I believe our state's...

Posted by Philip Gunn on Monday, June 22, 2015

As of Tuesday morning, one petition calling for the symbol's removal had attracted over 7,700 signatures. But Gunn's proposal, as the Clarion-Ledger notes, will face an uphill battle: Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said Monday he didn't expect other lawmakers to "supersede the will of the people on this issue," referring to a 2001 ballot measure that failed to garner enough support to do away with the emblem.

The top Facebook comments below Gunn's statement since Monday night have been largely critical of his announcement, echoing similar defenses of the Confederate emblem seen in South Carolina and other parts of the south since the mass shooting that killed nine people inside a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., last Wednesday.

"Leave the flag alone. Hatred and racism lives in the heart not in a cloth flag," one Facebook user wrote.

Debate over the Confederate flag's racist legacy quickly emerged as central to the national conversation following the Charleston massacre, particularly after photographs surfaced online showing alleged gunman Dylann Roof holding the flag and embracing other racist symbols.

After initially appearing to defend the flag as merely a "part of who we are," South Carolina senator and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham eventually backtracked his support, and stood by Haley on Monday to announce his support in removing the flag from flying in Columbia.

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Why Jeb Bush Wants the United States to Be More Like Estonia

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 5:55 AM EDT

On Monday, Jeb Bush posted a column on Medium touting the need for ramped-up cybersecurity efforts. "Given the reliance of the United States government and the private sector on the internet, it is disturbing we remain vulnerable to its disruption and misuse," he wrote.

The piece was mostly devoid of specific ways to fix those vulnerabilities, but what Bush did propose raises some privacy concerns. The former Florida governor cited Estonia, a tiny Baltic nation that's a world leader in cybersecurity efforts, as a model to emulate. What he didn't say was that Estonia's model is predicated on pervasive government involvement in policing the country's internet infrastructure, with the central government establishing a secure online national ID system for citizens. This is a digital version of what US conservatives have long opposed: a national identity card.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the Estonian president who's perhaps best known for yelling at Paul Krugman on Twitter in 2012, wrote in a New York Times op-ed the following year that people should in fact be more concerned with cybercrime and hacking than government intrusion on privacy.

"At a time when the greatest threats to our privacy and the security of our data come from criminal hackers and foreign countries (often working together), we remain fixed on the idea that Big Brother, our own government, is the danger," he noted.

In his Medium post, Bush offered one concrete suggestion: backing the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, a bill that would give private companies greater legal cover to share information on potential cybersecurity threats with the government. Bush called the failure to pass the bill a "critical impediment to cybersecurity," but privacy advocates and technical experts who spoke to Mother Jones last week disagreed, noting the measure would result in private-sector companies passing information on consumers and citizens to government agencies.

"This isn't a cybersecurity bill—it's a surveillance bill," said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "There is absolutely no reason to think that that is going to provide any significant cybersecurity benefits."

TPP Looks Set to Pass Congress After All

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 10:53 PM EDT

The LA Times reports the latest on the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty:

President Obama's fast-track trade bill is poised to clear a procedural hurdle Tuesday in the Senate, all but ensuring it will win final passage this week and be sent to the White House for his signature.

Despite deep reservations from many in the president's party, enough Democratic senators appear ready to join most Republicans to finish the legislation, which has sputtered in Congress but is a top White House priority.

How about that? It's apparently not dead after all.

When it failed on its first go-around, it was universally described as a rebuke to President Obama. If it passes this time, it will have to be a rebuke to someone else. But who? Nancy Pelosi? All the anti-TPP Democrats? Big labor? Gotta be someone, right?

California Water Districts Just Sued the State Over Cuts to Farmers

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 8:39 PM EDT

Drama on the California drought front: On Friday, a group of water districts sued the State Water Resources Control Board in response to an order prohibiting some holders of senior water rights from pumping out of some lakes and rivers.

"This is our water," said Steve Knell, general manager of Oakdale Irrigation District, to KQED's Lauren Sommer. "We believe firmly in that fact and we are very vested in protecting that right."

Water allotments in the Golden State are based on a byzantine system of water rights that prioritizes senior water rights holders, defined as individuals, companies, and water districts that laid claim to the water before 1914. Typically, those with the oldest permits are the first to get water and the last to see it curtailed.

But on June 12, the state ordered the 114 senior water rights holders with permits dating back to 1903 to stop pumping water from the San Joaquin and Sacramento watersheds, a normally fertile area encompassing most of northern California. "There are some that have no alternative supplies and will have to stop irrigating crops," admitted Tom Howard, executive director of the State Water Resources Control Board. "There are others that have stored water or have wells that they can fall back on. It's going to be a different story for each one and a struggle for all of them." This is the first time since 1977 that the state has enacted curtailments on senior holders.

In response, an umbrella group called the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority (which includes the Oakdale Irrigation District) has sued the state. In addition, the Patterson and Banta Carbona irrigation districts filed two separate lawsuits. The lawsuits claim the state overstepped its authority by curtailing water to districts that claimed rights to the water before the state set up a control board in 1913 to oversee water rights.

"Water right holders were here before the state exerted any authority over water," said Knell. "Most of our water rights go back to the mid-1800s. So the state having authority over something that we developed long before the state got into this business is the legal question we will be asking a judge."

EPA Report Puts a Staggering Price Tag on Climate Inaction

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 6:59 PM EDT

According to a report released Monday by the Obama administration, doing nothing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions would cost the United States billions of dollars and thousands lives.

The findings come as part of an attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency to quantify the human and economic benefits of cutting emissions in an effort to reduce global warming. The report is the latest piece of President Obama's recent climate push and provides a tool that he hopes to use in negotiations at the UN climate talks in Paris later this year.

The report, which was peer reviewed, estimates that if nothing is done to curb global warming, by 2100, the United States will see an additional 12,000 annual deaths related to extreme temperatures in the 49 cities analyzed for the report. In addition, the report projects an increase of 57,000 premature deaths annually related to poor air quality. The economic costs would be enormous as well. By 2100, climate inaction will result in:

  • $4.2-$7.4 billion in additional road maintenance costs each year.
  • $3.1 billion annually in damages to coastal regions due to sea-level rise and storm surges.
  • $6.6-$11 billion annually in agricultural damages.
  • A loss of 230,000 to 360,000 acres of cold-water fish habitat.
  • A loss of 34 percent of the US oyster supply and 29 percent of the clam supply.
  • $110 billion annually in lost labor due to unsuitable working conditions.

The EPA also used a number of charts to illustrate the difference between taking action to stop (or "mitigate") climate change and continuing with business as usual (which the charts refer to as the "reference" case).

For example, if we don't mitigate climate change, temperatures will continue to skyrocket:


Precipitation levels will become extremely volatile:


Air pollution will become much worse:

And the risk of drought will rise for much of the country:

 

No Joy's Dreamy New Shoegaze Album

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 6:48 PM EDT

No Joy
More Faithful
Mexican Summer

 

Grunge, in the form of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and endless lesser lights, wasn't the only cool thing happening in rock'n'roll during the '90s. Shoegaze, as personified by My Bloody Valentine and Lush, also made its mark and has shown remarkable staying power. Witness the Canadian quartet No Joy, whose exciting third album is textbook shoegaze, blending swirling, echoey voices, distorted guitars, and heavenly melodies into one dreamy and alluring package. It's difficult to determine what singer-guitarist Jasamine White-Gluz and her accomplices want to say, if anything, but the waves of vertigo-inducing sound they generate are the real point. Call it cheap thrills, or high art, or both: In any case, More Faithful will give you a delicious buzz.

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South Carolina's Gov. Finally Calls for Removing the Confederate Flag From the State Capitol Grounds

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 4:27 PM EDT

Following days of mounting pressure, Gov. Nikki Haley just announced her support for removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol.

"It's time to move the flag from the capitol grounds," Haley told reporters at a press conference, where senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham were also present, on Monday.

"Some divisions are bigger than a flag. We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand," she added.

The flag has been the subject of controversy in the past, including in 2000 when large protests opposing its presence took place in Columbia, the state's capitol. The issue resurfaced, creating national headlines, after the mass shooting inside a historic black church in Charleston. This weekend, a racist online manifesto apparently belonging to the suspected gunman, Dylann Roof, which included images of him posing with the flag, one in which he had a gun in his hand, surfaced.

Following the shooting, a slew of Republican presidential candidates—some of whom shied away from directly stating Roof had racist motives—have been asked about their stances on the Confederate flag. Although he condemned the shooting as an "evil act of aggression," former Florida governor Jeb Bush ultimately said he did not know what was "mind or the heart of the man" behind it, despite the obvious racist symbolism Roof appeared to embrace. After once defending the flag as a "part of who we are," Graham joined Haley on Monday in backtracking his longstanding support of the Confederate flag.

Fox News Host Hits Man With Ax

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 4:04 PM EDT

Thank god this dude is basically all right.

 

I was hit by an axe while performing a drum solo live on National TV.....words I never imagined saying! This happened last Sunday and I have been reluctant to post but starting to receive inquiries from concerned family and friends. I am thankful to God that the double sided blade only hit broadside on the outer elbow with significant impact and a couple of cuts as it fell along my wrist. It could have been much worse or fatal. Focusing on full physical and emotional recovery.

Posted by Jeff Prosperie on Saturday, June 20, 2015

Full story.

Chaser:

 

Republicans Oppose Evidence-Based Medical Research Because....Obamacare

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 3:53 PM EDT

Over at the Monkey Cage, Eric Patashnik ponders an oddity: Republicans generally support healthcare research funding, but they've turned against the idea of funding evidence-based research. This is despite the fact that Republicans, who normally support ways to spend tax dollars more efficiently, have been firm supporters for more than two decades? What's going on?

One possible reason is that Republicans oppose taxpayer funding of all scientific research as a matter of principle. Yet the same House Appropriations Committee draft bill that targets health services research also provides a $1.1 billion increase in the budget of the National Institutes of Health.

A second possible reason is that Republicans are uninterested in evidence-based policymaking. But both Democrats and Republicans argue that better information is needed to make government more effective. For example, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (R-Wash.) recently introduced the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2015 to evaluate the effectiveness of federal programs.

Hah hah. He's just kidding. Patashnik actually knows perfectly well why Republicans have decided they hate evidence-based research. Remember death panels? Remember how the federal government was going to decide which treatments were worth giving to grandma and which ones weren't? Remember how Republicans decided that "comparative effectiveness" research was just a tricky Democratic facade for their effort to take treatment decisions out of the hands of your beloved local doctor and instead put them into the hands of green-eyeshade bureaucrats?

Oh yeah. You remember. Here's Patashnik on what happened to evidence-based research:

Federal investment in this research (although it predated the 2008 election) became closely tied to the Obama administration’s health-care reform agenda....An increased federal role in comparative effectiveness research, together with payments to physicians for voluntary counseling to Medicare patients about end-of-life options and the creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (another agency the GOP wishes to kill) contributed to the “death panels” myth, which Republicans have used to frame health-care reform as “rationing.”

....Although evidence-based medicine might seem likely to have bipartisan support, it has become a partisan issue among voters. In 2010, Alan Gerber, David Doherty, Conor Dowling and I conducted a national survey to gauge public support for government funding of research on the effectiveness of treatments. Among those who reported not voting in 2008, there was not a large difference in support across Democrats and Republicans, but there were significant partisan differences among voters. Republican voters were much less supportive than Democrats. During the debates over the stimulus bill and health-care reform, the two parties took opposing stands on the federal government’s role in this effort, which led to the significant partisan split among politically engaged citizens.

So there you have it. Sarah Palin's revenge. Common sense commitments to promoting evidence-based medicine became tied up in the Republican jihad against anything associated with Obamacare. So now it's on the chopping block too. Welcome to the modern GOP.

Marijuana Research Just Got a Green Light From the Obama White House

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 3:25 PM EDT

The White House today lifted a longstanding restriction on medical marijuana research, giving a green light to a growing group of mainstream scientists who are interested in investigating the potential health benefits of pot. Such research will no longer have to undergo review by the Public Health Service, a process that is ostensibly meant to ensure the use of scientifically valid clinical trials, but in practice has served as a barrier to launching studies. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, and even opponents of legalization, had called for the requirement to be lifted.

"This announcement is a pretty big deal," says Christopher Brown, a spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a group that advocates for access to pot for medical research. "You have a lot of interest in experimental research on medical cannabis and this shows that you are starting to see policies aligned with that."

The announcement comes a few months after US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy signaled the federal government's shifting thinking on medical pot, telling CBS This Morning that preliminary data shows that "marijuana can be helpful" for some medical conditions.

Still, Americans for Safe Access is calling for the feds to loosen restrictions even more. Numerous startup companies are interested in capitalizing on the medical benefits of pot, but scientists who want to use marijuana for research currently must obtain it from a DEA-approved grow facility, a process that can take a year or longer if they need specific cannabis strains. And marijuana remains classified under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, a category reserved for drugs that supposedly have no medical benefit.