Kevin Drum

Finally, a Candidate for People Who Think Jeb Bush Isn't WASPy Enough

| Thu Apr. 9, 2015 1:56 PM EDT
Tanned. Tested. Ready. Chafee.

Last week it was Ted Cruz. On Wednesday it was Rand Paul. And now, meet your newest presidential candidate: former Rhode Island Republican senator turned former Rhode Island Democratic governor Lincoln Chafee! Bet you didn't see that one coming.

Rhode Island Public Radio reported the news this morning:

Chafee said the launch of his exploratory committee will be made via videos posted on his website, Chafee2016.com.

"Throughout my career, I exercised good judgment on a wide range of high-pressure decisions, decisions that require level-headedness and careful foresight," said Chafee. "Often these decisions came in the face of political adversity. During the next weeks and months I look forward to sharing with you my thoughts about the future of our great country."

Lincoln Chafee, of the Rhode Island Chafees, won't be the next president, although he does enter the Democratic primary with strong name recognition among people who use "summer" as a verb. Chafee's father, great-great grandfather, and great-great uncle all previously served as governor of the state. Lincoln ran for the family seat only after losing his spot in the Senate in 2006 to Sheldon Whitehouse (of the Rhode Island Whitehouses), whose father had roomed with Chafee's father at some college in New Haven before entering the diplomatic corps (like his father before him).

But there is something worth highlighting in his announcement interview:

Chafee said his focus will be on building a strong middle class coupled with environmental stewardship. Chafee, who voted against former President George W. Bush's Iraq War, noted that Mrs. Clinton voted for it. He said he aims to send a clear message that "unilateral military intervention has damaged American interests around the world."

Did you catch that? It's easy to forget now that she's the email-destroying, dictator-courting villain of Benghazi, but there was a time when Hillary Clinton's biggest weakness was something else entirely: Iraq. Clinton's support for that war (and her inability to assuage its opponents) was the fuel for Sen. Barack Obama's rise in the polls in 2007. Eight years later, the issue has been all but erased from the political debate.

Don't bet on Chafee being the man who brings it back.

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These Maps Show Why We Keep Electing Climate Change Deniers

| Thu Apr. 9, 2015 5:45 AM EDT
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) uses a snowball to disprove global warming.

One of the most significant obstacles to addressing climate change is the fact that huge numbers of US politicians reject the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are warming the planet. Why does the situation persist? How can a senator who (literally) holds up a snowball as evidence that global warming is a hoax keep winning reelection? How can someone who declares himself a climate "skeptic" be a front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination? As newly released research from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication makes painfully clear, GOP climate deniers actually hold views that are quite similar to those of the voters who elect them.

The Yale research is based on data from more than 13,000 survey responses since 2008. It estimates that nationwide, just 48 percent of people agree with the scientific consensus that global warming is caused "mostly" by humans. While other recent polls have found a somewhat higher percentage who say they believe humans are causing the planet to warm, Yale's numbers are not a good sign for those—like billionaire activist Tom Steyer—who are trying to turn climate change denial into a disqualifying political position.

Things look even more discouraging when you use the researchers' snazzy interactive maps to break down the estimates by congressional district. The blue districts on the map below are places where the researchers' statistical model predicts that fewer than half of respondents believe that humans are primarily responsible for climate change. Yellow/orange districts are places where at least half of respondents accept the scientific consensus. As you can see, there's an awful lot of blue—according to the data, 58 percent of US congressional districts have majorities that don't accept the climate science.

congressional districts
Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

The margin of error on the data makes it impossible to rank with certainty the districts with the most climate denial. Still, the two darker blue portions on the map are noteworthy—these are the only congressional districts in the country in which under 40 percent of residents are estimated to accept the scientific consensus. Texas' 1st District (where 38 percent believe the science) is represented by Louie Gohmert, a Republican who thinks that the world "may be cooling" and that the rising level of carbon dioxide is a good thing because it will mean "more plants." Alabama's 4th District (39 percent believe climate science) is represented by Republican Robert Aderholt, who has argued that "Earth is currently in a natural warming cycle rather than a man-made climate change." And it's hard to see on the map, but California's 12th District has the highest percentage of residents projected to believe that humans are causing climate change—65 percent. That district is in San Francisco, and it's represented by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Adding elected officials' party affiliations to the Yale data makes it clear that these aren't simply one-off examples: In the average district with a Democratic member of Congress, 54 percent of adults believe humans are largely responsible for global warming; in the average GOP-controlled district, less than 46 percent agree.

Similar patterns exist at the state level:

state map
Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

In Oklahoma—home to snowball-wielding climate denier Sen. James Inhofe—just 44 percent of residents believe humans cause global warming, according to the researchers' estimates. The same is true in Kentucky, which is represented in the Senate by Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul. Paul has said that he's "not sure anybody exactly knows why" the climate is changing.

One final note: Take a look at the early presidential primary and caucus states—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. According to the Yale data, none of these states have majorities that accept the scientific consensus. (Nevada, at 50 percent, is the best of the four.) And when you consider that Republican primary voters are far more hostile to climate science than the general population, there seems to be very little incentive for GOP presidential candidates to embrace the truth about global warming.

The GOP's Campaign to Make You Hate The IRS Is Kind of Genius

| Wed Apr. 8, 2015 3:46 PM EDT

People hate the IRS. Of course they do! When Pew Research asked people earlier this year how they feel about various parts of the government, every agency received positive marks—except the IRS. And last month, Rasmussen found that a scant 31 percent of voters trust the tax agency to fairly enforce the law. Let's face it: the agency tasked with taking money out of paychecks is never going to be popular.

But people have even more reason to despise encounters with the agency these days, thanks to a concerted effort by Republicans in Congress to slash the tax collector's budget. From the front page of today's Washington Post:

Since 2010, Republicans on Capitol Hill have slashed the IRS budget by $1.2 billion, or about 17 percent, adjusting for inflation. Just this fiscal year, $346 million was cut.

By contrast, cuts across the rest of the government have been far more modest and concentrated. Between 2012 and 2014, automatic spending reductions shrank non-defense spending, as adjusted for inflation, by 1.3 percent, while IRS spending was chopped 5.6 percent, according to Scott Lilly, a budget expert at the Center for American Progress.

Those budget cuts have made dealing with the IRS this tax season a true pain in the ass. As the Washington Post details, just four in ten callers to the IRS's help line are actually able to get assistance from a real human, while the number of unintentional hang-ups from an overworked phone system have ballooned. And the cuts are actually costing the government: thanks to a 5,000-person reduction in the agency's staff over the past four years, tax cheats can more easily skate by.

Attacking the IRS is one of the simplest lines a politician can roll out. It's a favorite rhetorical turn for presidential candidate and senator Ted Cruz, who's said he'd like to "abolish the IRS, take all 125,000 IRS agents and put them on our southern border," to applause at this year's CPAC.

Meanwhile, Democrats are wary about offering an equally vocal defense of the IRS, hesitant to be tarred as just typical tax-and-spenders. Sure, President Obama has included increases for the agency in his congressional budget requests, but it's never been a major issue that he'd consider wielding his veto pen over. But without a more robust defense, the IRS could wither away and replace the DMV as a punch line for why government doesn't work.

Let the 2016 Presidential Poster Wars Commence!

| Wed Apr. 8, 2015 9:20 AM EDT
Michael Mechanic

Is this the first salvo in the 2016 presidential campaign poster wars? This past week, somebody plastered this poster—guerilla style—at well-trod locations around San Francisco.

What was the artist thinking? Was this a subtle jab at Cruz's hubris or a bona fide attempt to promote the guy—or just a cool design? I could see it psyching up the GOP base in Kevin's Orange County stomping grounds. But in San Francisco? Only 13 percent of this city voted for Romney. A Ted Cruz fan hoping to boost the Texas senator's presidential hopes would be wasting his time posting these around here—even if they are pretty cool looking.

Maybe the message was meant to reach rich tech libertarians who have moved north from Silicon Valley and might be game to donate. You know, the crew who admire Ron and Rand Paul and seem to have forgotten that the tech industry was built on massive government funding. Then again, given Cruz's head-scratching position against net neutrality—he's called it "the biggest regulatory threat to the internet"—he's not likely to get much love from the tech world. Even the Obama-haters on Cruz's Facebook page had to ridicule his position.

My favorite Cruz poster to date went up last March around Beverly Hills, where Cruz was slated to appear at the annual dinner of the conservative Claremont Institute. (The artists, being artists, got the hotel wrong.) But Cruz was indeed, as the poster joked, "loving it." Here's what he tweeted:

I just hope Bernie Sanders, the left's favorite bomb thrower, decides to run. I'm dying to see what street artists will make of him. 

Arkansas Will Force Doctors to Tell Women Abortions Can Be "Reversed"

| Tue Apr. 7, 2015 4:37 PM EDT

As conservative lawmakers pass a record number of anti-abortion laws, it is staggering to consider how many require doctors to tell patients information that has no basis in science. Five states now require abortion providers to inform women about a bogus link between abortion and breast cancer. Several states mandate that doctors say ending a pregnancy can lead to mental health conditions like clinical depression—another falsehood, in the eyes of most mainstream medical groups.

Now there's a new crop of legislation to add this list: laws forcing doctors to tell women planning to take abortion-inducing drugs that they may be able to change their minds mid-treatment.

On Monday, Arkansas became the second state to pass such a law, just over a week after Arizona's Republican governor signed a similar measure. A spokeswoman for Americans United for Life, the legal arm of the anti-abortion movement, confirmed that both laws are based on the group's model legislation.

Critics have slammed these bills as propagating a lie based on "junk science." According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), "Claims of medication abortion reversal are not supported by the body of scientific evidence."

Americans United for Life has not only backed the bills, but has enthusiastically endorsed a new procedure pioneered by George Delgado, a pro-life doctor who claims to have reversed abortions.

Most drug-induced abortions require two pills taken a few days apart. The initial dose, of mifepristone, blocks the progesterone hormones that help sustain the pregnancy. The second dose, of misopristol, causes contractions that flush out the pregnancy. Delgado says he's stopped abortions by injecting supplemental progesterone between the two rounds of medicine. The evidence backing his discovery, however, is incredibly thin. As Olga Khazan writes for The Atlantic:

Women who only take the first pill already have a 30 to 50 percent chance of continuing their pregnancy normally, according to ACOG. The progesterone advice is based on a study by Delgado in which he analyzed six case studies of patients who regretted their abortions and were given progesterone. Four out of the six patients went on to deliver healthy infants. In other words, the limited evidence we have suggests that taking progesterone does not appear to improve the odds of fetal survival by much. The abortion pill binds more tightly to progesterone receptors than progesterone itself does, one reproductive researcher told Iowa Public Radio, and thus the hormone surge is unlikely to do much of anything.

As Cheryl Chastine, an abortion provider at South Wind Women's Center in Kansas, put it recently, "Even if these doctors were to offer a large dose of purple Skittles, they'd appear to have 'worked' to 'save' the pregnancy about half the time."

That's why, on the small chance that a woman does regret her abortion midway through, ACOG-affiliated doctors say they would simply tell her not to take the second pill.

The injections might not only be useless—large doses of progesterone can actually be dangerous: "There can be cardiovascular side effects, glucose tolerance issues, it can cause problems with depression in people who already had it," Ilana Addis, a gynecologist who opposed the Arizona measure, told The Atlantic. "And there are more annoying things, like bloating, fatigue, that kind of stuff. It's an unpleasant drug to take."

The new Arkansas law requires the state's health department to write up information on abortion reversal for doctors to make available to patients, and it's not yet clear if the health department will promote Delgado's specific method. Meanwhile, Arkansas Right to Life is already promoting the services of doctors who are "trained to effectively reverse" abortions, and more than 200 physicians around the country have told pro-life groups that they are willing to conduct the procedure.

More Fabulous Health News

| Tue Apr. 7, 2015 2:22 PM EDT

I continue to be a star patient. Final results from yesterday clocked in at 5.2 million stem cells. Apparently I only need two million for the transplant, but they like to get a double sample in case I need another transplant a few years down the road. So four million is the goal.

So why am I still here? Good question. I don't really have a good answer, though. Just in case? More is always better? This is actually a SPECTRE front and they use excess stem cells to breed an undefeatable clone army that will take over the world?

Not sure. In any case, stem cell collection has gone swimmingly and I'll soon be out of here. Now there's only one step left: the actual second round chemo itself followed by transplanting my stem cells back into my body. That begins on April 20.

BY THE WAY: The folks here, who have much more experience with cancer meds than your standard ER facility, are quite certain that my excruciating back pain on Friday was a side effect of the Neupogen. So that's that. Today was my last shot of Neupogen, which means I can get off the pain meds in the next day or two.

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This Iconic California Drought Photo Is Pretty Personal for Me

| Tue Apr. 7, 2015 7:00 AM EDT

If you've seen any photos of the current California drought, you've probably seen some variation on these striking before-and-after images of this bridge near Lake Oroville:

California Department of Water Resources

Seeing those images popping up everywhere has been a little weird for me since that bridge used to be named after my grandfather. 

My grandfather, B. Abbott Goldberg, was the deputy director of California's Department of Water Resources from 1961 to 1966. He was one of the legal architects of Gov. Pat Brown's California Water Project, the massive, contentious undertaking that built the infrastructure that currently supplies 25 million people and 1 million acres of farmland. He argued and won two Supreme Court cases, the details of which are mind-numbingly arcane. But they were essential to realizing Brown's vision for mastering the natural resource that he saw as essential to the state's survival.

Winning the West's water, my grandfather explained in a University of California oral history project, was almost a religious mission. His colleagues, he said, "had come up and they had transmitted to me, certainly, the tradition of the Old West, that water is the limiting resource and that by bringing water to the thirsty land, you were in effect doing the Lord's work and that there was nothing more important for the people of California than providing an adequate water supply."

He was proud of his work, whose effectiveness was evident in Californians' unquestioning expectation of plentiful, cheap water. When the state went through the big drought of 1976-77, he noted, "There wasn't a murmur about a shortage of domestic water in Southern California…I didn't find anybody beating the doors down to thank us for what had been done. The fact that it took some forty years to achieve it was just forgotten." Later in his life, he read Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner's critique of the growth-at-all-costs mentality embodied in the Water Project. He wasn't a fan.

Not that he couldn't see the other side. In his oral history interview, conducted in 1979, my grandfather admitted to some conflicted views about California's relationship with water. Sounding like a good Northern Californian, he mused, "Someplace along the line, the idea began to dawn on me that really Southern California was an environment essentially hostile to human occupation…[B]ut what are you going to do about the millions of people already down there?" And: "I do remember saying to someone that really, the only solution to the water problem was birth control."

He even indulged the what-if question that every thinking Californian asks once they've been here long enough: "I sometimes wonder, maybe it would have been better to let California dry up and blow away, and keep it the way we used to know it."

Which brings us back to the bridge, another symbol of Californians' ambition and ambivalence. After the state named it after my grandfather in the late '60s, local lawmakers objected, insisting it be renamed the Enterprise Bridge, after a town of the same name that had been inundated by Oroville Dam—one of the signature features of the California Water Project.

The Link Between Fracking and Oklahoma's Quakes Keeps Getting Stronger

| Mon Apr. 6, 2015 3:30 PM EDT
A man in Sparks, Oklahoma, picks through rubble from his home following an earthquake in 2011.

Over the last few years, Oklahoma has experienced an insane uptick in earthquakes. As we reported in 2013, the count exploded from just a couple per year back in the mid-2000s to over a thousand in 2010, growing alongside a boom in the state's natural gas drilling industry.

There is now a heap of peer-reviewed research finding that Oklahoma's earthquake "swarm" is directly linked to fracking—not the gas drilling itself, but a follow-up step where brackish wastewater is re-injected into disposal wells deep underground. It's a troubling trend in an industry that thrives under notoriously lax regulations, especially when the risk to property and public safety is so obvious.

If those numbers weren't dramatic enough, here's another: This year, Oklahoma has experienced an average of two quakes per day of magnitude 3.0—enough to be felt and inflict damage to structures—or greater. That's according to a deep, comprehensive report on the subject out in this week's New Yorker.

But even freakier than the earthquakes themselves, according to the story, is the pervasive denial of science coming from state agencies like the Oklahoma Geological Survey, whose job it is to oversee the oil and gas industry:

The official position of the O.G.S. is that the Prague [Oklahoma] earthquakes were likely a natural event and that there is insufficient evidence to say that most earthquakes in Oklahoma are the result of disposal wells. That position, however, has no published research to support it, and there are at least twenty-three peer-reviewed, published papers that conclude otherwise.

The story goes on to detail super-cozy relationships between top regulators and drilling company executives; the state's ongoing and systemic habit of dismissing or ignoring the rapidly accumulating pile of evidence about the quakes; and a failure by regulators and the state legislature to take any meaningful steps to address the crisis. It's really quite damning.

As a reporter covering the fracking industry, I've found that a lot of the problems associated with the technique aren't necessarily inherent to it, and could be resolved with more pressure on companies to behave responsibly, or laws requiring them to. Better zoning regulations could keep wells out of neighborhoods. Stricter well construction standards could cut down on the leakage of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and help ensure that gas or chemicals don't contaminate groundwater. In other words, while industry may resist them, there are ready solutions at hand to many of the most cited drawbacks. And the same could be true in the case of earthquakes: while many geologists have now found that drilling wells into deep "basement" rock can set off temblors, there still isn't a law in Oklahoma that simply requires locating disposal wells elsewhere.

Their state's lack of basic engagement on the fracking-and-earthquakes issue is, understandably, a source of great frustration to Oklahomans, including those who are otherwise totally supportive the drilling industry. They're worried not only about above-ground damage, but about how quakes might effect the state's vast network of oil pipelines and underground aquifers. It's hard to imagine the nightmare that would result if a serious earthquake ruptured these pipelines and caused a major spill. That sentiment was nicely captured in the New Yorker by a quote from the town manager of Medford, a hamlet outside the oil center of Cushing:

"We want to be a good partner for the oil companies—it's exciting for us that they're here. But if they can move the disposal well even just three miles, what a difference that would make."

Fabulous Health News

| Mon Apr. 6, 2015 3:20 PM EDT

I am blogging direct from the Apheresis Center at the City of Hope in Duarte, California. There's a large machine to my left that makes ticking noises and—hopefully—is drawing blood from one of the catheters in my Hickman Port. The stem cells are then removed and the remaining blood is returned through the other catheter in the Hickman Port.

There was some question about whether this would happen today. You see, my daily Neupogen injections are supposed to stimulate my white blood cell production and therefore my plasma stem cell production. The goal is for my stem cell production to be above 10, and if it's lower than that, there's no point in doing the collection.

So earlier this morning they drew some blood to test my CD34 level. It was....

102.00.

This is superheroic performance, though the nurse declined to tell me if I had set a new world record. In any case, this is great news for two reasons. First, it means no more Neupogen shots. Second, it means that I'm likely to be finished here in two or three days. Yippee!

And this surely demands a treat for everyone. So here's some bonus catblogging. As you can see, Hilbert has cleverly used staircase access to perch himself on the top of Karen's bookcase, where he is lord of all he surveys. As usual.

Science Is Ignoring its "Publication Pollution" Problem

| Mon Apr. 6, 2015 11:05 AM EDT

In a damning op-ed published Friday, Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at NYU's Langone Medical Center, called out scientists who are turning a blind eye to the scientific publishing industry's "publication pollution problem." At the root of the matter: pay-to-publish journals with weak or nonexistent pre-publication review standards that are "corroding the reliability of research." As he wrote in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, "neither the leadership nor those who rely on the truth of science and medicine are sounding the alarm loudly or moving to fix the problem with appropriate energy." 

Consider this recent experiment, as described in the commentary:

Harvard researcher Mark Shrime recently wrote an article entitled "Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?: The Surgical and Neoplastic Role of Cacao Extract in Breakfast Cereals." The fake authors he chose for the piece were Pinkerton A. LeBrain and Orson Welles. Shrime submitted this fake article to 37 journals. At last count, 17 had accepted the obviously phony, nonsensical paper. John Bohannon did the same thing with a completely phony paper, with even more depressing results in terms of peer reviewed acceptance to journals. The journals that took these gibberish-laden, concocted articles were scam, author-must-pay, profit driven entities that nevertheless have every appearance of being legitimate journals.

"Predatory publishers" create a seeming win-win situation: the publisher makes money and the author gets a journal article published—currency in the world of science and academia. The result?

Predatory, pay-to-publish, non-peer-reviewed journals flood disciplines with bad or fake science, making it hard, much as light pollution does, to see the real stars. Worse, publication pollution lessons the impact of legitimate science in the formation of public policy, undermining public health, weakening the overall value of legitimate publications in influencing policy, and creating opportunities for the continued power of crackpot views that corrode many areas of public life, such as vaccination, fluoridation, and the prevention and treatment of diseases, such as autism, AIDS, and cancer.

Jeffrey Beall, a University of Colorado librarian who wrote a similar op-ed in Nature in 2012, estimates these publishers make up a whopping 25 percent of all open-source journals. Beall maintains an ongoing list of "potential, possible, and probable" predatory publishers on his website, Scholarly Open Access. He's identified over 1,300 such publishers and journals to date.