Political MoJo

Watch a Very Smug Martin Shkreli Invoke the Fifth Amendment

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 12:53 PM EST

Martin Shkreli, the former pharmaceuticals executive who sparked national outrage after it was discovered he price-gouged a drug by more than 5,000 percent, appeared before the House Oversight committee on Thursday for a hearing on pharmaceutical pricing. When members of the committee asked him about the price-fixing that led to a federal investigation of his company, Shkreli repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege "against self-incrimination" and refused to answer.

He instead let his smug smile speak for itself, while Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md) described the struggles of his constituents to pay for their medicine.

At one point, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked Shkreli how to pronounce his name, to which he received a rare response. Gowdy then said, "See, there you can answer some questions—that one didn't incriminate you!"

Gowdy continued, "I just want to make sure you understand you are welcome to answer questions and not all of your answers are going to subject you to incrimination. You understand that, don't you?"

"I intend to follow the advice of my counsel," Shkreli replied. "Not yours."

Shkreli, who was once labeled the "most hated man in America," repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment, even when he was asked what he would say if given the chance to speak to people with HIV/AIDS who were unable to purchase the drug Darapim after his dramatic price hike. He also refused to discuss his $2 million purchase of a Wu-Tang clan album.

Shkreli's choice to remain silent comes after weeks of defiant Twitter rants and a bizarre diss video aimed at Ghostface Killah, after the rapper publicly mocked him:

After he left the hearing on Thursday, however, Shkreli started communicating and posted this on Twitter:

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Chris Christie: I May Be Old and Smelly, but at Least I'm Not Ted Cruz

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 12:32 PM EST

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie likes to think of himself as a guy who tells voters what he believes, and as he makes a last-gasp attempt to climb out of sixth place in the New Hampshire Republican primary, what he's telling people is this: He really can't believe he's losing to these idiots.

Speaking at a retirement community in Bow, New Hampshire, on Wednesday afternoon, Christie used an anecdote about the late actor James Gandolfini to rip into front-runner Donald Trump as a highly skilled magician deceiving the electorate with smoke and mirrors.

As he told the seniors, when he was a US attorney from New Jersey, Christie had gone with his daughter to a Broadway performance of Beauty and the Beast. Gandolfini, whose daughter on the show, Jamie-Lynn Discala, played the role of Belle, saw Christie in the line for refreshments and tapped him on the shoulder. "He said, 'Um, I'm Jimmy Gandolfini,' Christie recalled. "I said, 'I know.' And he said to me—he's a big guy, he had a very strong firm handshake, as you might imagine, and he wasn't letting go of my hand, so he's shaking and he pulled me towards him—and he says, 'You know it's all make-believe, right?'"

Christie paused for a moment, and then got to his point. "You know it's all make-believe, right?," he said, getting into it. "The guy who's running first in the polls right now—you know it's all make believe. You know that there's not really a board room he and Ivanka sit in, right? You know that when he says you're fired you're not really fired, right? Because it's not real! It is an all an act! It is all for TV!"

Trump, who leads in the polls by double digits, has perhaps overshadowed the notoriously blustery Christie by being even more blustery. But Christie wasn't simply trying to take Trump down a few notches; he also wanted to bring down Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, the first- and third-place finishers in Iowa who are both now lapping him in the state where he's invested most of his energy. In the second truck-driving metaphor of his speech, he took aim at the two freshmen senators who don't know how to drive in the mud:

New is great—it's shiny and pretty. It looks great. I understand that. New is really good. Even on a day like today, right, you went and passed the car dealer and saw a new pickup truck, and you said, "Look at that pickup truck! It looks good." So you go and you buy the new truck and you park that truck right in front of your house. Let's say this rain keeps going, I don’t know what the forecast is, but if it keeps raining for a while you know what happens, rain turns everything into mud. And let's say you go outside to get your new car after a day or so in the rain. You get in that new truck the first time and start it up. You put it in gear and it's in the mud and the wheels start spinning. And you're thinking, why can't I get out of the mud? I gotta get out of the mud. You keep doing it, you're going back and forth, the wheels are spinning, and you're starting to get frustrated, and what's the only thing that's running through your mind? Where the heck is my old truck! My old truck always got me out of the mud. I never got stuck in the mud with my old truck. My old truck's banged up a little bit. It's scratched up a little bit. It doesn't smell nearly as good as it used to. It doesn't look as good as it used to, but I can't go anywhere in this new truck because it can't get out of the mud.

There's two different kinds of trucks in this race, man. The Marco Rubio–Ted Cruz truck is the new, shiny, smells-nice truck. And then there's the Chris Christie truck. It’s old. It's beat up. It's dinged up. It doesn't smell as good as it used to. But man, the Chris Christie truck knows how to get out of the mud. You know why? Because it's been in the mud before.

Chris Christie is a smelly old truck, and he wants your vote, New Hampshire. Except, that is, when he's a helicopter.

Study Shows Limiting Access to Planned Parenthood Hurts Poor Women Most

| Thu Feb. 4, 2016 7:29 AM EST

On Jan. 1, 2013, the state that has stood out in its assault on reproductive rights eliminated Planned Parenthood clinics from its Medicaid public family planning program for low-income women. The result? By the end of 2014, fewer claims for contraception were filed, and more low-income Texas women had babies.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, when access to Planned Parenthood was taken away, women didn't find other options—they simply got less contraceptive care. The University of Texas at Austin study showed that prescriptions for long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), such as IUDs and birth control implants, dropped by nearly 36 percent, and Depo Provera shots dropped by 31 percent.

Texas' public family planning program covers single women who earn less than $1,800 per month, or less than $2,426 if they have a child.

The study, which examined all pharmacy and medical claims from Jan. 1, 2011 through Dec. 31, 2014, filed under the public fee-for-service family planning insurance, also found adverse effects in the consistency of contraceptive care. In the 23 of 254 counties in Texas that have a Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinic, there was a nearly 20 percent decrease the number of women who returned to receive another injection of Depo Provera after they had previously relied on it for birth control. (The Depo Provera shot must be administered every three months to be effective.) According to Planned Parenthood's website, each individual shot can cost up to $100 without insurance, plus any applicable exam fees. An IUD can cost up to $1,000.

The study found no significant change for short-term contraception, such as the birth-control pill, in the wake of the coverage change. But it's important to note that IUD's and birth control implants are much more effective in preventing pregnancy than the pill or condoms, and contraceptive injections are also slightly more effective. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend LARCs as the most reliable form of birth control.

The rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid saw a relative increase of 27 percent within 18 months after the exclusion of Planned Parenthood from Medicaid programs in Texas counties with Planned Parenthood affiliates.

“The U.S. continues to have higher rates of unintended pregnancies than most rich nations, and we know that U.S. and Texas women face barriers as they try to access preventative services,” said Amanda Stevenson, lead author of the study. “It’s a public health issue that Texas women struggle to achieve their reproductive goals.”

Marco Rubio Is Very Upset That President Obama Went to a Mosque

| Wed Feb. 3, 2016 11:36 PM EST

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama visited a mosque for the first time as president, and offered perhaps the least controversial comment imaginable: "You're part of America too," he told his hosts. "You're not Muslim or American; you're Muslim and American."

Sen. Marco Rubio was not impressed, telling voters in New Hampshire:

I'm tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president's done. Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today—he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there's going to be discrimination in America of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam. And by the way, radical Islam poses a threat to Muslims themselves.

 

To be clear: America discriminates against Muslims.

In 2012, Wired reported that "[t]he FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that 'main stream" [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a 'cult leader'; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a 'funding mechanism for combat." That investigative series on federal law enforcement's prejudices against Muslims won a National Magazine Award. In 2011, the Associated Press reported on how the NYPD, with the help of the CIA, spied on America mosques and even infiltrated Muslim student associations. That series won a Pulitzer. Last week, Buzzfeed reported on the intense pressure applied by the federal government on Muslim immigrants who apply for citizenship. My colleague Kristina Rizga has reported on the pervasiveness of anti-Muslim bullying in schools. One of the candidates who beat Rubio last week literally proposed banning Muslims from entering the country; the other limited his ban to people from predominantly Muslim countries.

This is all pretty easy to find online, but in Rubio's defense, the Internet is pretty spotty in New Hampshire.

Chris Christie Promises to Beat Hillary Clinton's "Rear End"

| Wed Feb. 3, 2016 12:30 PM EST

After capturing a whopping 1.8% of the vote during Monday's Iowa Republican caucus, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has turned his attention to the future. At a campaign event in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Christie promised to "beat [Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton's] rear end" if given the nomination and the chance to debate against her for the presidency. 

"You know the last person she wants to see on that stage in September? You're looking at him," Christie said to a group of laughing New Hampshire citizens. "You know why? She's been running away from federal prosecutors for the last six months. Man, she sees a federal prosecutor on the stage—I'll beat her rear end on that stage, and you know what? After I do, she'll be relieved because she'd just be worried I'd serve her with a subpoena."

Rand Paul Drops Out

| Wed Feb. 3, 2016 11:26 AM EST

Rand Paul dropped his bid for the White House Wednesday morning after a fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

"It's been an incredible honor to run a principled campaign for the White House," Paul said in a statement. "Today, I will end where I began, ready and willing to fight for the cause of Liberty."

The first-term Kentucky senator's Iowa finish, with 4 percent of the vote, was a poor showing compared with the third-place finish of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, there four years ago. Ted Cruz worked hard to win over the more libertarian-leaning voters who had caucused for Ron Paul four years ago. At many Cruz rallies, his campaign showed a video of former Ron Paul supporters pledging their support to Cruz. "He's really picked up the mantle of Ron Paul in many ways," Joel Kurtinitis, Ron Paul's 2012 regional director, says in the video. In the eve of the Iowa caucuses, Ron Paul spoke at his son's final rally on Sunday night in Iowa City, but his presence didn't give his son the lift he needed Monday night.

Out of the presidential primary, Paul won't have a long reprieve from campaigning. He is up for reelection to the US Senate in November and already has an opponent in Jim Gray, the Democratic mayor of Lexington.

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Trump Accuses Cruz of Fraud in Iowa

| Wed Feb. 3, 2016 10:33 AM EST

After losing the Iowa Republican caucuses to Ted Cruz on Monday, Donald Trump was uncharacteristically gracious in conceding the contest. His cordiality didn't last long. 

In a series of more classically Trumpian tweets on Wednesday morning, Trump accused Cruz of using underhanded and fraudulent tactics to win in Iowa, and he called for Cruz's results to be nullified or a new election to be held.

One Hospital in This City Gave Vulnerable Women an Option. Now It's Gone.

| Wed Feb. 3, 2016 6:00 AM EST

If a pregnant woman in the Greater Cincinnati area receives the diagnosis of a fetal abnormality such as Tay-Sachs disease or anencephaly—in which a major part of the fetus' brain does not develop—she is no longer able to terminate the pregnancy in a local hospital. 

The Christ Hospital in Mount Auburn was the last hospital in the city of more than 2 million to provide this service, but two months ago it enacted a new policy that prohibits physicians from performing abortions in fetal anomaly cases. The hospital will now only terminate pregnancies "in situations deemed to be a threat to the life of the mother," the new policy reads.

"The cases are highly emotional and tragic," Danielle Craig, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Under these circumstances, for many patients, an overnight stay in a hospital is better than an outpatient procedure, and women should have that option."

Comprehensive fetal testing, like ultrasounds of the heart and anatomical sonograms, are typically performed at around 20 weeks' gestation and can reveal a host of disorders, from genetic problems to fetal development gone awry. Late mid-term abortions are less common than first-trimester abortions, so this option is likely taken by women who are facing some kind of severe fetal birth defect.

For women in Cincinnati who decide to terminate their pregnancies after receiving this diagnosis, the only other option to get an abortion would be at the local Planned Parenthood affiliate. But if the abnormality comes with certain health risks that may complicate the procedure and endanger the life of the mother, the case would have to be referred back to a hospital outside the Greater Cincinnati area, according to Craig.

According to the Ohio Department of Health's annual report, only 84 of more than 21,000 abortions were performed in hospitals in 2014—merely 0.4 percent of all abortions statewide. Christ Hospital reported performing a total of 59 such abortions in the past five and a half years.

Ohio has several abortion restrictions in place, including requiring counseling with information to discourage abortions, a 24-hour waiting period between counseling and abortion, and the right for all medical professional and institutions to refuse to provide an abortion.

Bans on abortion because of fetal abnormalities are not common in the United States. Only North Dakota has a statewide ban. Arizona, Minnesota, and Oklahoma require counseling if a hospital abortion is sought because of a lethal fetal abnormality. And in some cases, as with the Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, a single hospital enacts the policy.

During the 2012 presidential race, candidate Rick Santorum declared that 90 percent of fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted, but no comprehensive data exists on how many women choose to abort after a fetal abnormality is detected. In early 2013, Americans United for Life put forth draft model legislation that aimed to end "discrimination based on genetic abnormalities," as AUL president and CEO Charmaine Yoest put it. The North Dakota ban was a result—Indiana and Missouri also picked it up, but the measures ultimately failed.

The Zika virus—a virus transmitted by both mosquitos and sexual encounters that may be linked to microcephaly—has focused attention on the issue of pregnancy termination in cases of fetal abnormalities. Women in El Salvador, Brazil, Honduras, and Colombia, where the virus is spreading, have been urged to avoid pregnancy. While the North American climate is inhospitable to the mosquito population that is responsible for the spread closer to the equator, the potential reach of the virus does include a small sliver of the southern United States, according to a map by the World Health Organization.

Should the virus spread in the United States, women who live where fetal abnormality abortions are prohibited may still have an option. In the 1960s, when the rubella pandemic hit, the virus caused birth defects such as blindness and deafness. Although abortion was illegal in the decade before Roe v. Wade, "therapeutic abortions"—meaning doctors verified that the procedure was medically necessary—were allowed.

The specifics of the Zika virus are still being determined by scientists and medical professionals, but if the connection between the virus and microcephaly is confirmed, it could have a powerful impact on reproductive policy in Latin America and the United States.

These Charts Show How the US Is Failing Syrian Refugees

| Tue Feb. 2, 2016 8:36 PM EST
Syrian women wait in line to receive winter aid at the Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, on January 20.

The United States and some other rich nations need to step up their game when it comes to helping millions of Syrians fleeing their country's brutal civil war, according to a new study released this week by international aid group Oxfam.

Since 2011, about 250,000 people have been killed and 11 million more have fled from their homes amid fighting between the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the country's rebel groups. On Thursday, the United Nations is co-hosting a conference in London to raise money for Syrians who have been affected by the crisis.

Ahead of that conference, Oxfam crunched some data to figure out how much the United States and other rich countries donated in 2015—and whether, based on the relative size of their economies, they gave their "fair share" of the $8.9 billion total that Oxfam says was needed. For many of the countries, Oxfam found, the answer to that second question was a resounding no. The United States, for example, donated $1.56 billion in aid last year, more than any other country. But with the world's biggest economy, its "fair share" contribution should have been more than $2 billion, according to Oxfam—and it only gave 76 percent of that. Russia and France, which have also been deeply involved in Syria's civil war, were relatively stingy, too. By contrast, Kuwait, a smaller country, gave 554 percent of its fair share by donating $313 million in aid.


Oxfam also evaluated whether countries have pledged to take in their fair share of Syrian refugees—again, based on the size of their economies. Oxfam has called on rich countries to resettle at least one-tenth of refugees living in Syria's neighboring countries—about 460,000 people—by the end of 2016, but notes that to date they have only collectively offered to resettle 128,612 people. Since 2013, the United States has agreed to take in only 7 percent of what Oxfam deems to be the country's fair share of refugees.

Ted Cruz Took a Position on Fireworks Legalization in Iowa to Win 60 Votes

| Tue Feb. 2, 2016 3:56 PM EST

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?

Then you probably voted for Ted Cruz. Bloomberg's Sasha Issenberg has the most intriguing analysis of the Texas senator's victory in last night's Iowa caucuses, explaining how Chris Wilson, the Cruz campaign's pollster and director of analytics, carved up the state's eligible voters into 150 different categories with a borderline spooky precision. No issue was too small for the Cruz campaign—not even the legalization of fireworks sales, which are currently illegal in Iowa:

When there was no way that a segment could be rolled up into a larger universe, as was the case with the sixty Iowans who were expected to make a priority of fireworks reform, Cruz's volunteers would see the message reflected in the scripts they read from phone banks, adjusted to the expected profile of the listener. A Stoic Traditionalist would hear that "an arbitrary ban of this kind is infringing on liberty," as a messaging plan prepared by Cambridge Analytica put it, while Relaxed Leaders are "likely to enjoy parties and community celebrations, such as the 4th of July, and thus a fun-killing measure of this kind is unlikely to sit well with them."

But here's the best part:

Unlike most of his opponents, Cruz has put a voter-contact specialist in charge of his operation, and it shows in nearly every aspect of the campaign he has run thus far and intends to sustain through a long primary season. Cruz, it should be noted, had no public position on Iowa's fireworks law until his analysts identified sixty votes that could potentially be swayed because of it.

And it's true—fireworks reform might not be a big issue among Iowa voters, but it does look like a real pain to celebrate America's independence if you live in Des Moines, a healthy two-hour drive from the nearest place to purchase fireworks legally. If you didn't know what Iowa looked like, you could draw a near-perfect outline of the state just by connecting the dots of all the fireworks retailers on its borders seeking business from Hawkeye State fireworks enthusiasts:

Google Maps

The reasons why Cruz prevailed go well beyond his campaign's microtargeting. Maybe Trump should have considered spending real money, or investing in a better ground game himself, or—I'm reaching here—conducting his life in a way that didn't thoroughly alienate the evangelical voters who comprised two-thirds of the electorate. But Cruz has proven that he's a candidate who knows what he's doing.