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Medical Examiner Rules Freddie Gray's Death a Homicide by Fatal Blow to the Neck

| Wed Jun. 24, 2015 3:56 AM EDT

A leaked autopsy report shows that Freddie Gray suffered a fatal "high-energy" blow to the neck, the Baltimore Sun reported late Tuesday.

From the Sun:

The state medical examiner's office concluded that Gray's death could not be ruled an accident, and was instead a homicide, because officers failed to follow safety procedures "through acts of omission."

Though Gray was loaded into the van on his belly, the medical examiner surmised that he may have gotten to his feet and was thrown into the wall during an abrupt change in direction. He was not belted in, but his wrists and ankles were shackled, making him "at risk for an unsupported fall during acceleration or deceleration of the van." The medical examiner compared Gray's injury to those seen in shallow-water diving incidents.

Gray's death in police custody in April sparked protests in Baltimore and throughout the country. Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby decried the leak of the report on Tuesday, saying in a statement, "I strongly condemn anyone with access to trial evidence who has leaked information prior to the resolution of this case." In May, a grand jury indicted the six officers involved in Gray's arrest. Though a sealed court document at one time suggested a prisoner in the van heard Gray "banging against the walls," assistant medical examiner Carol Allan cast doubt on that possibility in the autopsy report, noting that Gray "may have been suffering a seizure at the time," according to the Sun

After Gray's death, several former victims came forward to speak out against "rough rides," a practice in which police allegedly drive erratically with an unrestrained, cuffed prisoner so as to cause injury or pain.    

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Another Common Herbicide Linked to Cancer

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 6:22 PM EDT

Less than three months after declaring that the ubiquitous herbicide glyphosate, marketed by Monsanto as Roundup, is "probably carcinogenic," a working group of scientists convened by the World Health Organization has taken aim at another widely used herbicide, 2,4-D, which the WHO panel has found to be "possibly carcinogenic."

These announcements can hardly be welcome news in the Midwest, whose farm fields are blanketed in corn and soybeans. Since the advent of crops genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate in the 1990s, farmers there have come to rely heavily on the herbicide that many weed varieties have evolved to resist, causing many headaches and a surge in herbicide use.

This past spring, Dow Chemical introduced new genetically modified corn and soybean products designed to solve that problem. They're engineered to resist not just glyphosate, but also, you guessed it, 2,4-D. And Dow is selling farmers a proprietary herbicide known as Enlist Duo, a combo of glyphosate and 2,4-D, that farmers can apply directly to the crops grown from the new genetically modified corn and soybean seeds. As I've shown before, these double-herbicide-resistant crops will likely accelerate, not solve, the resistant-weed problem.

Even so, rather than filling their spray tanks solely with a "probable" carcinogen, corn and soybean farmers can now fill up with a mix of "possible" and "probable" carcinogens before spraying their fields. That may sound like a twisted form of progress, but it should be noted that there's evidence that toxic chemicals do worse things to us when combined than they do solo. That such "synergistic" effects are little studied is hardly comforting.

Even Wisconsin's Republicans Are Getting Tired of Scott Walker

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 5:04 PM EDT

Our story so far in America's laboratories of democracy: Over the past few years, Republican governors have been eagerly implementing big tax cuts, insisting that they will supercharge their states' economies and increase revenue instead of reducing it. Kansas was the poster child for this experiment, and it failed miserably. Louisiana has been a disaster too. Now comes Wisconsin, where fellow Republicans are getting a little tired of Governor Scott Walker's denial of reality:

Leaders of Mr. Walker’s party, which controls the Legislature, are balking at his demands for the state’s budget. Critics say the governor’s spending blueprint is aimed more at appealing to conservatives in early-voting states like Iowa than doing what is best for Wisconsin.

Lawmakers are stymied over how to pay for road and bridge repairs without raising taxes or fees, which Mr. Walker has ruled out. The governor’s fellow Republicans rejected his proposal to borrow $1.3 billion for the roadwork, arguing that adding to the state’s debt is irresponsible.

Oh man. Been there, done that. This was also Arnold Schwarzenegger's solution to a budget hole created by his own tax cuts, and it didn't work out so well. It turns out that spending is spending, whether you pay for it now or later.

As in so many other states, even Republican legislators are starting to glom onto the fact that if you cut taxes, you're pretty likely to create a big budget hole. Unfortunately for them, they're learning that there's only so far you can go in crapping on the poor to close the hole.1 At some point, you have to start cutting back on stuff you approve of too, like roads and bridges. But Walker doesn't care. He's got a presidential run coming up, and he wants to be able to say he didn't raise taxes. If that means playing "let's pretend" and borrowing the money instead, he's OK with that.

On the bright side, at least it's better than the childishness that Bobby Jindal came up with. And borrowing costs are low right now. So I guess things could be worse.

1Though in Wisconsin's case, Walker's signature move for crapping on the poor has been to refuse Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. This will cost Wisconsin $345 million over the next two years, making their budget hole even worse. That's how much Walker wants to crap on the poor.

Norway's Women's Soccer Team Just Obliterated Sexist Stereotypes in Sports

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 3:22 PM EDT

The Norwegian women's soccer team may have lost in spectacular fashion to England on Monday. But the team's contribution to this year's FIFA Women's World Cup will go on, in the form of this hilarious attack on sexism in sport, above.

In a four-minute mockumentary aired on Norwegian television in the lead-up to the team's match against England, the players make fun of sexist stereotypes in women's soccer. "We're shit, we suck. Plain and simple," admits captain Trine Ronning. In emails to FIFA, the players offer suggestions for making the women's game less boring. For instance, they could play on smaller fields or use a smaller, lighter ball. Or FIFA could allow goalkeepers to swat incoming goals away with collapsible light reflectors. 

Oh, and what was (potentially) outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter's comical response to the suggestions, according to the segment? "HAHAHA these suggestions made my day. LOL."

h/t The Guardian

Watch the First Black Woman Who Served in the US Senate Go Off on the Confederate Flag

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 3:14 PM EDT

With South Carolina poised to remove the flag from its statehouse, and with momentum growing toward the removal of the Confederate emblem from state flags in Mississippi, Alabama and Virginia, the symbol's enduring official status in the American South may finally be winding down. The current backlash against the rebel flag, sparked by the massacre of nine people inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, is the latest round in a fierce long-running debate.

On July 22, 1993, an impassioned Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois—the first African-American woman to serve in the US Senate and its sole black member at the time—took the floor to rebuke conservative legislators including the late Jesse Helms, who were backing an amendment to secure the Confederate flag as the official design for the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Moseley-Braun said: "The issue is whether Americans such as myself who believe in the promise of this country, who feel strongly and who are patriots in this country, will have to suffer the indignity of being reminded time and time again that at one time in this country's history we were human chattel. We were property. We could be traded, bought, and sold."

She added with regard to the amendment: "On this issue there can be no consensus. It is an outrage. It is an insult."

Waiters Now Have Yet Another Gripe to Contend With

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 2:03 PM EDT

Roberto Ferdman writes today about the "most annoying restaurant trend happening today." But when I got around to reading it, I was a little surprised by how it ended:

Without my permission, restaurants have abandoned, or simply overlooked, a classic tenet of service etiquette....Rather than clear plates once everyone at the table has finished the meal, which has long been the custom, servers instead hover over diners, fingers twitching, until the very instant someone puts down a fork. Like vultures, they then promptly snatch up the silverware — along with everything else in front of the customer. If you're lucky, they might ask permission before stealing your plate.

....It's possible that there's an economic impetus behind it. "The price of land is going up, which pushes up the value of each table," said [Tyler] Cowen. "That makes moving people along more important."

....But maybe waiters are clearing individual plates because they believe that's what customers want. I have heard as much from servers and restaurateurs.

No excuse, however, should suffice. Publicly, restaurants might argue that they are trying to avoid clutter; privately, they might encourage waiters to speed tables along; but what it amounts to is an uncomfortable dining experience.

Wait. What? "No excuse should suffice"? If Ferdman dislikes this trend, that's fine. But if, in fact, most diners prefer having their places cleared when they've finished eating, that sure seems like a more than sufficient reason for this classic tenet of service etiquette to hit the bricks. It's not as if it came down on a tablet from Mount Sinai, after all. Surely the most basic tenet of service etiquette is to make customers as comfortable and satisfied as possible. If, in the 21st century, it turns out that this requires waiters to remove place settings quickly, then that's what they should do, even if a small minority dislikes it.

Now personally, I think the most annoying restaurant trend happening today is that all the restaurants I like have gone out of business. It's eerie as hell. Almost literally, every restaurant that Marian and I used to eat at regularly has closed, to be replaced by some horrible trendy chain outlet. Our favorite Chinese place is gone. And our favorite Mexican place. Our favorite pizza place. Our favorite Italian place. Our second-favorite pizza place. And probably a few others I've forgotten about. There are basically only two of our favorites left, and they don't seem like they're about to go out of business, but who knows?

It's my own fault, of course, for living in Irvine, where the Irvine Company owns all the land and basically prices out of business anything except profitable chain stores. It's surely no coincidence that of the two restaurants still standing, one is outside Irvine and the other is about a hundred yards from the city limit. I made my bed, now I have to lie in it.

POSTSCRIPT: Back on the original topic, Ferdman's piece has gotten me curious about something. I don't go to a lot of high-end restaurants, but I do go to a few now and again. And unless my memory is playing tricks on me (always a possibility), it's always been the custom to remove plates when diners are finished, not all at once when everyone is finished. Is this a Southern California thing? Is it a matter of how high-end the restaurant is? I eat at expensive places on occasion, but virtually never at the kind of truly pricey places where you have to wait a month for a reservation. Help me out here. Why is it that removing place settings individually strikes me as normal, not a crime against proper etiquette?

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Rand Paul Super-PAC Slams "Bailout Bu$h" in Bizarre Web Ad

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 1:05 PM EDT

Here come the crazed attack ads. More than seven months out from the first votes in the 2016 presidential primaries, America's Liberty, a super-PAC backing Sen. Rand Paul's bid for the Republican nomination, has put out an online ad attacking Jeb "Bailout" Bush. It is…strange.

The video, which had more than 10,000 views as of Tuesday afternoon, is framed as an infomercial, with an exuberant, wild-bearded speaker named Max Power (perhaps borrowed from Homer Simpson, who took the same name from a hair dryer) serving as the pitchman. The ad offers a Bailout Bu$h action figure—which sadly does not actually seem to be for sale, probably because it appears to be a different action figure with an image of Bush's face pasted on—as Power shouts about how Jeb worked for Lehman Brothers right before the crash and supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program. "This offer guarantees a presidential candidate cannot win a single primary state, let alone the general election," a voice-over says at the end of the ad as Power bathes in a tub of money.

Per the Washington Times, America's Liberty is spending in the five figures to run the ad online in early primary states, though it is also clearly running in DC, since I encountered it when it popped up before a music video on YouTube.

America's Liberty has close connections to the Paul camp. The super-PAC's founder and president is John Tate, who worked as Ron Paul's presidential campaign manager in 2012 and currently also serves as president of Campaign for Liberty, a longtime Ron Paul organization.

Watch the ad:

This One Tweet About the Confederate Flag Shows Why Everything Is Awful

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 12:47 PM EDT

Update 2:42pm ET, Tuesday, June 23, 2015: Amazon says it is pulling Confederate merchandise, too. 

 

Walmart and Sears and a bunch of other retailers are doing the wise thing and dropping Confederate flag merchandise from their stores. So, what's a Confederate (I just vomited in my mouth a little) to do? Well…

It's officially the number 1 flag on Amazon.

 

(via Pat Caldwell)

Fast Track Passes. TPP Now Nearly Certain to Pass Too.

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 12:27 PM EDT

Well, it looks like the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty is in business. The standalone fast-track bill just passed the Senate by a hair, 60-37. Several Republicans defected and voted no even though they had voted yes the first time around, but only one Democrat defected. So now it goes to President Obama's desk, where he'll sign it.

Next up is a standalone Trade Adjustment bill, which Democrats killed the first time around because it was linked to fast track, which meant that voting no killed fast track. This time around, however, Democrats will presumably go ahead and vote for it since voting no will no longer stop fast track. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have both promised to bring it up for a vote and to do their best to whip enough Republican votes for it to pass. If it doesn't, Democrats will be furious at having been conned, and might take this out by voting no on TPP itself when it comes to the floor. This gives Boehner and McConnell plenty of motivation to get it passed, and I think they will.

This still doesn't guarantee that TPP itself will have smooth sailing. However, it takes only a simple majority to pass, so there would have to be quite a few defections to kill it. Still, there's time. Once the full text finally becomes public, I expect a full-court press from anti-TPP forces in both parties. I'd give it a 90 percent chance of passage at this point, but there's still a glimmer of hope for opponents.

Three Things I Don't Care About

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 12:09 PM EDT

There are lots of topics I don't write about (or write very little about), and normally nobody notices. Or, if they do, they don't know why I haven't written about any particular one of them. Maybe it's just uninteresting to me. Maybe I've gotten temporarily bored by it. Maybe I don't know enough about it. Maybe I can't think of anything interesting to say that hasn't already been said. Could be lots of reasons.

That said, here are three things I haven't written about, and probably won't:

Should we call Dylann Roof a terrorist? In the dim past, back when we used to blog earnestly about such things, I always argued that this was a silly distraction. You can call members of Al-Qaeda terrorists or extremists or militants or whatever. For Republicans, this eventually became some kind of weird litmus test designed to show that Democrats were appeasers, and it was ridiculous. Ditto today, coming from the Democratic side. Call Roof a terrorist if you want, or call him a madman or a racist psychopath. I don't care.

The pope on climate change. I'm not Catholic. I'm not even Christian. Pope Francis seems like a relatively good guy as popes go, but I don't care what he thinks about much of anything. I'm certainly not going to opportunistically start now just because he happens to be saying something I agree with.

Donald Trump. Oh please.

That's it. We'll soon be back to our regularly scheduled program of stuff I do write about.

IMPORTANT NOTE! I almost forget to add a caveat that's critical in the blogosphere: this is just me. Everyone else should feel free to write about all these things. This post should not be taken as a personal condemnation of anyone who chooses to do so. First Amendment. De gustibus. Etc.