Political MoJo

Smoking Will Kill 1 in 3 Chinese Men

| Thu Oct. 8, 2015 7:03 PM EDT

Smoking will kill one in three young men in China unless rates of tobacco use drop dramatically, according to a new study in the medical journal The Lancet.

The study, led by Oxford University epidemiologist Zhengming Chen, is full of eye-opening stats: In 2010 alone, smoking accounted for 1 million Chinese deaths, primarily of men. If the current trend continues, that number will double by 2030. (In the United States, cigarettes kill 480,000 people annually—a number that's been steadily declining over the last several decades and is expected to keep dropping.) "About two-thirds of young Chinese men become cigarette smokers, and most start before they are 20," explains Chen. "Unless they stop, about half of them will eventually be killed by their habit."

"Slogans over the entrances to sponsored elementary schools read, 'Genius comes from hard work. Tobacco helps you become talented.'"

The researchers came to these conclusions by conducting two nationally representative studies—the first in the 90s, the second 15 years later—that tracked the health outcomes of smoking among a total of 730,000 men and women.

There is some good news: While smoking among men has increased dramatically in recent years, smoking among women has plummeted, to roughly 3 percent of the population. And the proportion of smokers overall who have chosen to quit rose from 3 percent to 9 percent between 1991 and 2006.

The high smoking rates are fueled by low prices. "Over the past 20 years, tobacco deaths have been decreasing in Western countries, partly because of price increases," said Richard Peto, a co-author of the study. "For China, a substantial increase in cigarette prices could save tens of millions of lives." Pervasive myths don't help either, including beliefs that Asians are less susceptible to tobacco's effects and smoking is easy to quit. The World Health Organization estimates that only a quarter of Chinese adults have a "comprehensive understanding" of smoking's hazards.

This lack of awareness is hardly surprising when you look into who's selling the cigarettes: An estimated 98 percent of the Chinese cigarette market is controlled by China National Tobacco Corporation, a government-owned conglomerate that runs more than 160 cigarette brands. According to a Bloomberg Business feature on the topic, the industry accounts for 7 percent of the country's revenue each year and employs roughly 500,000 people. In 2013, the company manufactured 2.25 trillion cigarettes. (Philip Morris International, the second-largest producer, manufactured 880 billion.)

"The extent to which the government is interlocked with the fortunes of China National might best be described by the company’s presence in schools," writes Bloomberg's Andrew Martin. "Slogans over the entrances to sponsored elementary schools read, 'Genius comes from hard work. Tobacco helps you become talented.'"

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House Tea Partiers to the World: Burn, Baby, Burn.

| Thu Oct. 8, 2015 4:45 PM EDT

Chaos, chaos, and chaos. Rep. Kevin McCarthy's withdrawal from the speaker's race has caused disarray—that is, greater disarray—within the House GOP conference. Hours after McCarthy's announcement, there was no word of what comes next. Who might jump in? Would a caretaker candidate emerge? How long could Speaker John Boehner stay in the job? And, it seemed, the House tea partiers who had somewhat caused this crisis—they had succeeded in driving Boehner from the job and had deemed McCarthy insufficiently conservative—were yearning for more chaos. The House Freedom Caucus, the tea party GOPers, put out this statement:

Note that last sentence: "The next Speaker needs to yield back power to the membership for the sake of both the institution and the country." In other words, we don't want a speaker who is going to try to govern in a time of divided government; we don't want a speaker who will endeavor to forge a compromise on behalf of the GOP conference and make the system work; and, as a government shutdown looms and a possible debt ceiling crisis approaches, we want a speaker who will step to the side and let the chaos reign. This is the congressional equivalent of "burn, baby, burn."

The Pharma Jerk We All Hated Last Month Still Hasn’t Dropped the Price of That Drug

| Thu Oct. 8, 2015 3:41 PM EDT

Two weeks ago, Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli promised to drop the price of Daraprim, a parasite-fighting drug, after raising it from $13.50 a tablet to $750 a tablet. But so far the price tag hasn't budged.

Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager who acquired Turing in August, first drew criticism after a USA Today article reported the 5,000 percent price hike. He then told ABC News in September that the company would "lower the price of Daraprim to a point that is more affordable and is able to allow the company to make a profit, but a very small profit."

Business Insider writes:

That hasn't happened yet. A 30-day, 30-pill supply of Daraprim would cost me $27,006 at my local pharmacy.

That boils down to about $900 a pill, which includes the wholesale cost, along with specific pharmacy fees based on the zip code I gave the pharmacy.

So while the price of the drug hasn't gotten any higher since Shkreli hiked it 5,000%, it hasn't gotten any lower since he promised to reduce it either. Turing did not respond to Business Insider's request for clarification about this price.

Ben Carson Links Gun Control to Hitler's Rise

| Thu Oct. 8, 2015 3:23 PM EDT

As he defends a string of controversial comments he made in the wake of last week's mass shooting in Oregon, Ben Carson just keeps one-upping himself. Appearing on CNN on Thursday afternoon, Carson was questioned by Wolf Blitzer on a claim in his recent book, A More Perfect Union, in which he connects the rise of Hitler to gun control. "There were a number of countries where tyranny reigned, and before it happened, they disarmed the people," Carson said. "That was my point." 

When Blitzer pressed further and asked whether an absence of gun control laws in Europe would have saved six million Jews from being slaughtered, Carson responded: "I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed."

Bobby Jindal Lashes Out at Father of Oregon Shooter: "He's the Problem Here"

| Tue Oct. 6, 2015 5:58 PM EDT

If, after last week's shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, you held the gunman responsible, Bobby Jindal thinks you've missed the mark.

On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Jindal published a self-described "sermon" on his campaign website, addressing what he believes are the root causes of mass shootings. These causes include, but are not limited to, "cultural decay," violent video games, absent fathers, and the general devaluing of human life.

"It's the old computer axiom—garbage in, garbage out," Jindal wrote. "We fill our culture with garbage, and we reap the result."

Jindal also lashed out at the shooter's father, who has called for gun control in the wake of his son's rampage. "He's a complete failure as a father, he should be embarrassed to even show his face in public," Jindal wrote. "He's the problem here.

Jindal's response to this instance of gun violence is similar to his reaction to a shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, in which three people (including the gunman) were killed. Shortly after that happened, Jindal offered condolences to the families, resisted discussing gun control reform in lieu of praying for the victims' families, and even criticized President Barack Obama for "trying to score cheap political points." However, after the shooting at an army recruiting station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, just days later, the Louisiana governor reacted quite differently. Jindal was quick to politicize the issue by pinning the shooting on radical Islamic terrorism, a problem that he alleges the White House has largely ignored.

"This shooting underscores the grave reality of the threat posed to us by Radical Islamic terrorism every single day," Jindal said in an official statement after the Chattanooga shooting. "It's time for the White House to wake up and tell the truth...and that truth is that Radical Islam is at war with us, and we must start by being honest about that."

In the spirit of honesty, it should also be noted that Jindal's own state has the second-highest rate of deaths by firearm per 100,000 people, second only to Alaska.

Dear Nevada, #&$% You. Sincerely, San Francisco.

| Tue Oct. 6, 2015 5:18 PM EDT

For years, the Las Vegas Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital, Nevada's primary state mental facility, gave discharged patients a bus ticket out of town. Poor and mentally ill, they ended up homeless in cities around the country—especially in California, where more than 500 psychiatric patients were sent over a five year period.

Twenty-four of these patients landed in San Francisco, costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical care, housing, and services. Now Nevada has agreed to cover the costs—or most of them at least. On Monday a tentative settlement was reached and the state agreed to pay $400,000, just short of the $500,000 San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued for back in 2013. The settlement is expected to be approved by San Francisco's Board of Supervisors and Nevada's Board of Examiners later this month.

The class action lawsuit filed by Herrera followed an investigation by the Sacramento Bee, which revealed that 1,500 Nevada homeless patients had been given bus tickets, and were advised to seek medical care elsewhere. A third were sent to California, landing in major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, which are already struggling to house a growing number homeless people.

Chronically homeless people—especially those with mental illnesses—can cost millions. As we reported earlier this year the county of Santa Clara spent $520 million a year, mostly on the hospital stays and the cost of jailing the persistently homeless—a mere 2,800 people.

Still, Nevada health officials tried for two years to get out of paying San Francisco. They argued that what happened in Nevada is similar to San Francisco's "Homeward Bound" program, which relocates homeless people to live with family or friends in other cities.

But now, according The San Francisco Chronicle Nevada has decided to end the fight. After Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital lost its accreditation in 2013, Nevada invested $30 million to reform its system of care. Homeless patients are no longer bused to other areas and state officials want to move forward. The facility regained its accreditation this year.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/investigations/nevada-patient-busing/article2577586.html#storylink=cp

"The settlement will bring an amicable resolution to this matter," Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a statement. "The settlement will also validate the patient management best practices and procedures which Nevada has had in place for two years."

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Ben Carson on Oregon Shooting: "I Would Not Just Stand There and Let Him Shoot Me"

| Tue Oct. 6, 2015 12:54 PM EDT

Ben Carson says he would have led an effort to stop the shooter who killed 13 people last week in Roseburg, Oregon, had he been there during the attack.

During an interview of Fox & Friends Tuesday, host Brian Kilmeade asked the GOP presidential candidate what he would do if a gunman asked him, "What religion are you?" The shooter allegedly asked his victims their religion before shooting them and opted to fatally injure those who responded that they were Christian.

"Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me," Carson responded. "I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can't get us all.'"

This is not the first time that Carson has weighed in on the shooting. Last Friday afternoon, Carson sent a tweet that went viral, proclaiming "I am A Christian."

Ben Carson Supports Arming Kindergarten Teachers to Combat Gun Violence

| Tue Oct. 6, 2015 12:49 PM EDT

Ben Carson has some thoughts on gun control.

Less than a week after the massacre at an Oregon community college that left 10 people dead, including the shooter, the Republican presidential candidate dismissed renewed calls for gun safety and called for kindergarten teachers to be armed.

"If I had a little kid in kindergarten somewhere I would feel much more comfortable if I knew on that campus there was a police officer or somebody who was trained with a weapon," Carson told USA TODAY on Tuesday. "If the teacher was trained in the use of that weapon and had access to it, I would be much more comfortable if they had one than if they didn't."

Carson's calls to arm teachers echoes similar views expressed by GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who suggested the Oregon shooting could have been avoided if school officials were armed. "Let me tell you, if you had a couple teachers with guns in that room, you would have been a hell of a lot better off," he told an event in Tennessee.

The proposal comes just one day after Carson also suggested during a Facebook Q&A that enacting gun control laws would be more "devastating" than the results of gun violence:

"As a Doctor, I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies," he wrote on Monday. "There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking—but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away."

The talk of arming teachers from Trump led Comedy Central comedian Larry Wilmore to respond on his Monday night show: "Let's not elect a guy who's getting his policy ideas from the movie Kindergarten Cop." Watch below:


The Latest Hobby Lobby Ruling Is Actually Good News

| Tue Oct. 6, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

A year after its controversial Supreme Court victory, Hobby Lobby found itself on the other side of a court decision—this time for denying a transgender employee access to the women's restroom.

Since she transitioned more than five years ago, frame shop manager Meggan Sommerville has been forced to either use the men's restroom in her Illinois Hobby Lobby store or wait until her lunch break, when she could slip into other businesses nearby to use a women's restroom. In a May decision made public for the first time on Sunday, a state administrative judge ruled that the chain's treatment of Sommerville violates Illinois' Human Rights Act, finding "direct evidence of sexual related identity discrimination" in the store's decision to bar her from the women's restroom until she had gender reassignment surgery.

The judge's order was a recommended ruling; a final decision from the state's Human Rights Commission is still pending. In the meantime, for Sommerville, nothing has changed: Hobby Lobby still requires her to use the men's restroom.

"If I quit, I give a right to any other company to discriminate against their employee in the hopes that they will quit so they will be done with them."

Hobby Lobby hired Somerville in 1998, and two years later, she was transferred to the company's location in east Aurora, Illinois. By 2010, she was presenting and identifying as female and had legally changed her name to Meggan Renee. When she formally approached her employer to notify them of the transition, the company altered her personnel file to reflect the change, and Sommverville changed her nametag. Yet the company denied her request to use the women's restroom, demanding that she provide documents that would compel them to do so. Still, even after Sommerville did so, Hobby Lobby continued to deny her request, going so far as to issue her a written warning for using the women's restroom in February 2011. The company later insisted that she undergo gender reassignment surgery, which would allow her to change her birth certificate, before she could use the women's bathroom in the store.

Sommerville filed a complaint, but it was dismissed by the Illinois Department of Human Rights in 2012 for lack of evidence, a decision that was later overturned.

Sommerville's bosses instructed her not to use the restroom in part because another employee expressed "discomfort," the ruling revealed. "A co-worker's discomfort cannot justify discriminatory terms and conditions of employment," Judge William Borah wrote. "The prejudices of co-workers or customers are part of what the Act was meant to prevent." Furthermore, Borah found that Hobby Lobby's decision to build a unisex restroom for Sommerville's use was an example of segregation and "perpetuates different treatment."

"Do I want to continue doing what I do? Yes," Sommerville told the Windy City Times. "I enjoy it. Why should I quit? I'm good at what I do. I love what I do. If I quit, I give a right to any other company to discriminate against their employee in the hopes that they will quit so they will be done with them. No one should be forced to quit where they're being harassed and discriminated against. This case is bigger than me."

Bobby Jindal Sums Up His Struggling Campaign in One Chart

| Mon Oct. 5, 2015 5:15 PM EDT

Things are looking up for Bobby Jindal, according to Bobby Jindal.

The Louisiana governor tweeted this afternoon about his campaign performance: "Momentum is building in Iowa." The tweet was accompanied by a chart showing Jindal's support among Iowa voters increasing exponentially.

The poll Jindal is proudly presenting is the latest NBC/Marist survey in Iowa, which shows him with a whopping 6 percent of the vote, tied with two candidates and behind four others. That looks impressive next to the 1 percent he got in a poll from the firm in July. But it's less impressive if you consider the 4.7 percent margin of error, which could more than account for his rise from the September poll that had him at 4 percent. Likewise if you look at the polling average from Real Clear Politics, which puts Jindal at 3.5 percent in Iowa (in ninth place). A Gravis poll concluded on September 27 listed Jindal at only 2 percent (tied for eighth place).

But who cares? Just look at this chart!