Political MoJo

You're About to Hear a Lot More "Death Panels" Talk. Here's Why It's Nonsense

| Thu Jul. 9, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

You'll probably be hearing a lot about death panels these next few days.

That's because Medicare, the federal insurance program for elderly Americans, wants to start reimbursing doctors for having conversations with their elderly patients about death. Those talks might cover things like how much medical treatment a person is willing to endure in exchange for the chance of a few more months on the planet, and the circumstances under which a person would prefer to let go.

Similar ideas were stripped out of the the Affordable Care Act after that great medical intellect Sarah Palin started using the provocative term "death panels" to describe them. It was picked up by Obama-haters everywhere and the end-of-life counseling notion was soon declared DOA. A lot of media outlets used the language to describe Medicare's announcement Wednesday:

You can pretty much count on the death-panel trolls crawling back—some of them might even be running for president.

Times have changed, and we've probably gotten smarter on this, but you can count on some of the old death-panel trolls to come crawling back—and some of them might even be running for president. We'll see. In any case, they will be profoundly and tragically wrong. The proposed conversations will not only save the healthcare system a bundle, they will improve the quality and duration of people's final days. Even tea partiers will benefit from the policy, which, if it survives its critics, will almost certainly be adopted by private insurers. (Some are already doing it.)

It's worth reviving an exchange I had with the author, surgeon, and New Yorker staff writer Atul Gawande, whose best-seller "Being Mortal" covers this very topic. Here we're discussing the short-sightedness of hospitals (given the aging Boomer population) for cutting back on doctors who specialize in elder care.

Mother Jones: The fact that hospitals are cutting geriatrics programs now just seems insane.

Atul Gawande: It's total insanity! And hospitals are doing it because we're not valuing those capabilities in society. No one is clamoring for geriatricians. You know, if we took away the ability to put defibrillators in people in their last years, people would be shouting in the streets. But take away the capacity to see a geriatrician and there isn't a murmur. Because it requires admitting that we have mortal lives. The second part of it is that these are the lowest paid people in the profession and the fact that we value those skills so poorly. It's foolish: These are folks that keep people out of hospitals, out of emergency rooms, out of nursing homes. And not only that, they help people achieve more fulfilling lives. We've clearly got the priorities wrong.

MJ: There's also hospice, which we see as this program you go into when you're about to die. But it turns out that's kind of ironic, right?

"The group who had those conversations chose to stop their chemotherapy sooner. They had fewer days in the hospital. They were less likely to die in an ICU. They lived 25 percent longer."

AG: Yeah. The evidence is that people who enter hospice don't have shorter lives. In many cases they are longer. I kept a series of studies that really help bring it out. One looked at lung cancer patients who were at stage four and lived on average only 11 months. Half of them were randomized to usual oncology care, the other half randomized to oncology care plus early discussions with palliative care physicians who would discuss the patients' aims and goals for the end of life. The group who had those conversations chose to stop their chemotherapy sooner. They had fewer days in the hospital. They were less likely to die in an ICU. They started hospice earlier, and they lived 25 percent longer. And that's largely because, you know, that fourth round of chemotherapy or that last ditch operation is vastly more likely to be causing you harm than it is to be providing you benefits. So over and over again we end up sacrificing people's lives and making them more miserable—which is just bad decision-making all around.

MJ: You'd think insurers would be clamoring for more geriatricians. I think the way you put it in the book is that, if these end-of-life discussions were an experimental drug, the FDA would immediately approve it.

AG: Yeah. You know, we had this difficult time politically where the notion that these conversations are really important got polarized. Part of the reason I wrote this book is to try to pave a path beyond that polarized discussion. I think we can easily value having these conversations, but the question is, what kind of conversation? If the conversation people think is coming is the "death panel" conversation, like "Yeah, you can't have the kind of care that you want," that's a total failure. If the conversation that we reward doctors to take the time for are conversations about, "What are your priorities in life, and how do we make sure that we're not sacrificing them as we go along this course of care?" That's what the evidence indicates will make a huge difference.

You can read the rest of the interview here. In the meantime, maybe we could all just put aside our political differences for once, think about our moms and pops, and start calling these conversations what they actually are: wise and compassionate.

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Ron Wyden Just Used Rap Genius to Troll the FBI Director

| Wed Jul. 8, 2015 3:00 PM EDT

FBI Director James Comey says encryption is hurting national security and helping ISIS. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is calling BS—and using a rap lyrics site to do it.

Comey spent Wednesday in front of Congress, arguing that law enforcement agencies face a growing threat from people who use encrypted messages—even though the government couldn't say how big the threat actually is now. He also gave a preview of his argument in a post on Monday at Lawfare, an influential blog on national security law. "There is simply no doubt that bad people can communicate with impunity in a world of universal strong encryption," he wrote. "Part of my job is make sure the debate is informed by a reasonable understanding of the costs."

Donald Trump Just Gave the Most Insane Interview to NBC

| Wed Jul. 8, 2015 2:09 PM EDT

In a new interview with NBC News, Donald Trump lashed out at his critics, specifically shooting back at Hillary Clinton's comments yesterday expressing her disappointment in the real-estate mogul.

"Hillary Clinton ‎was the worst secretary of state in the history of the United States," Trump said. "On top of that, she is extremely bad on illegal immigration. Despite anything you may hear to the contrary, I do not think she is electable."

Clinton's remarks on Tuesday were responding to Trump's controversial presidential speech back in June, in which he called Mexican immigrants drug-peddling "rapists." The incendiary characterization has since caused a firestorm of criticism, even moving several businesses and television networks long associated with Trump, including NBC, to cut ties with the Republican presidential candidate.

Speaking to his now infamous "rapist" characterization, Trump dismissed the notion he has lost favor with Latino voters.

"I'll win the Latino vote because I'll create jobs," he told NBC. "I'll create jobs and the Latinos will have jobs they didn't have, I'll do better on that vote than anybody, I will win that vote," he said. He double-downed on his reassurance, insisting Mexican immigrants "love me and I love them."

Throughout the interview, Trump also appeared to insult the female interviewer, journalist Katy Tur, telling her she was a "very naive person" and she didn't know what she was talking about. Charming.
 

The New York Stock Exchange Just Halted Trading and No One Is Sure Why

| Wed Jul. 8, 2015 12:07 PM EDT
Screenshot of the New York Stock Exchange status webpage

This is crazy:

Trading in all symbols was temporarily halted on the New York Stock Exchange floor Wednesday due to an apparent technical issue.

"NYSE/NYSE MKT has temporarily suspended trading in all symbols. Additional information will follow as soon as possible," the NYSE said in a statement on its status page.

The exchange was investigating the issue that caused the halt, Reuters reported, citing a source. Trading stopped around 11:30 a.m. ET.

The NYSE said all open orders would be cancelled, according to Reuters. The NYSE is having some sort of technical problem and all trading has been halted.

The Nasdaq appears to be fine.

UPDATE, 12:18pm ET: Law enforcement officials tell CBS "no indication of any threats":

UPDATE 2, 12:34pm ET: NYSE says it's not "a cyber breach."

UPDATE 3, 1:13pm ET: And answers begin to trickle in…

UPDATE 4, 2:10pm ET: The stoppage is almost over.

UPDATE 5, 2:57pm ET: Our national nightmare is almost over...

Thanks to Obamacare, Women Are Saving Nearly $1.4 Billion on Birth Control Pills

| Wed Jul. 8, 2015 10:11 AM EDT

Following the Affordable Care Act's mandate for insurance companies to provide free contraceptives, individual spending on birth control pills plummeted by almost half in the first six months the landmark healthcare law went into effect.

This is according to a new study published by the Health Report on Tuesday, which found the sharp decline in contraceptive spending saved women a startling $1.4 billion in 2013 alone. Out-of-pocket spending on intrauterine devices (IUD's) also declined by 68 percent.

The study comes in the same week as the results of a public health program in Colorado that provides free contraceptive methods to low-income women revealed that the rate of unintended teen pregnancies dropped by 40 percent and abortions by 35 percent.

"We have no doubt that the cost makes a difference," president of the National Center for Health Research Diana Zuckerman told the Times. "When you have free contraception, it's going to affect pregnancy and abortion as well because money matters."

But why are women still paying for their own birth control at all, when the law requires insurance companies to cover all birth control methods approved by the FDA? According to a report published in April, many insurance plans continue to skirt the law by failing to comply with the birth control mandate and charging women for costs illegally. Many women are also still under plans not covering contraception that that were established before 2010 and that have since been "grandfathered" into the healthcare law.

Think your plan might be in violation of the Affordable Care Act? Here's a handy guide for what steps to take, provided by the National Women's Law Center.

Hillary Clinton Says She Is "Very Disappointed" in Donald Trump

| Tue Jul. 7, 2015 5:03 PM EDT

In a new interview with CNN, Hillary Clinton weighed in on the continuing controversy over Donald Trump's presidential announcement speech in which he characterized Mexican immigrants crossing the border as criminals and  "rapists."

"I am very disappointed in those comments," Clinton said. "I feel very bad and very disappointed with him and the Republican party for not responding immediately and saying 'enough stop it.'"

Trump's remarks have sparked national outrage over their racist descriptions, even prompting several businesses and television networks long associated with the real estate mogul to sever business ties with him. While most of the GOP presidential field have distanced themselves from Trump's comments, some including Sen. Ted Cruz have applauded him "on the need to address illegal immigration."

Trump has donated to Clinton's past campaigns on a number of occasions. He also contributed at least $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

 

 

The full interview will air on the cable news network Tuesday evening.

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The Vast Majority of America's Elected Prosecutors Are White Men

| Tue Jul. 7, 2015 12:45 PM EDT
St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch

A study released on Tuesday reveals a glaring lack of diversity among America's elected prosecutors. The data, gathered by the Center for Technology and Civil Life and published by the Women's Donors Network, examines the racial and gender makeup of the more than 2,400 elected city, county and district prosecutors, as well as state attorneys general, serving in office during the summer of 2014. Here are the key findings:

  • 95 percent of all elected prosecutors were white.
  • 79 percent of all elected prosecutors were white men.
  • In 14 states, all elected prosecutors were white.
  • Just 1 percent of the 2,437 elected prosecutors serving were women of color.

The study comes amid stark questions about race and the American criminal justice system, an issue thrust into the spotlight after a string of high-profile police killings of black Americans. Most of the nation's police forces are disproportionately white. And while a high-profile prosecution in Baltimore is being led by a black woman, other controversial cases in Cleveland, Ohio, and most famously in Ferguson, Missouri, have been in the hands of white men.

See the full dataset on elected prosecutors here.

What Really Happened With Jesse Jackson's Reddit Appearance

| Tue Jul. 7, 2015 6:05 AM EDT

You may have read about the situation at Reddit, the online community that devolved into mutinous turmoil after the firing of a popular employee last week. Well, I was pretty close to the center of the storm, and I can tell you that there's more to the story.

The fired employee, Victoria Taylor, coordinated the "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) forum, where celebrities and regular people ranging from Bill Murray and President Obama to some random vacuum-cleaner repairman answer Redditors' questions in real time. In response to Taylor's dismissal, the site's army of volunteer moderators shut down hundreds of the discussion forums known as "subreddits," and while many of them have been revived, Redditors are now calling for the head of CEO Ellen Pao.

Because Taylor was fired a day after overseeing a problematic AMA with Jesse Jackson, many Redditors speculated that the two events were connected. Reddit's leaders and Jackson's people both say otherwise. In any case, I should weigh in, because I was on the phone with Taylor and Jackson during that AMA. Here's what I know:

One of the criticisms of the Jackson AMA was that, in some cases, his responses seemed out of sync with the questions. But this wasn't the standard AMA format, wherein an interviewee reads questions off the screen and types in answers directly. As often happens with other celebrity AMAs, Taylor selected Redditors' questions and asked them to Jackson live. She then transcribed his verbal responses and posted them on his behalf. Yet Jackson's AMA was even more complicated than usual because it was also one of the first in a forthcoming series of video AMAs to be released this fall. In this setup, he answered the questions in front of a camera in a ballroom in Los Angeles' Hyatt Century Plaza while Taylor communicated with him remotely from New York.

The most upvoted question began: "You are an immoral, hate-filled race baiter…" and went downhill from there.

The interview was meant to be an opportunity for Jackson to further discuss his diversity initiatives in Silicon Valley, which I'd covered in this recent Mother Jones feature. We suggested the AMA to him as a way to bring more attention to the issue—and to our piece. I was there in the Reddit feed during the AMA, identified as "Mother Jones," and also listening in on the call, where I helped Taylor identify questions relating to Jackson's work in the tech world. I could hear Jackson's verbal responses.

From the beginning, Jackson attracted a lot of hostile questions. This happens all the time on Reddit, but it soon became clear that his critics on the thread outnumbered supporters. People on Reddit pages can "vote" comments up or down, with the most popular ones rising to the top. The most upvoted question began: "You are an immoral, hate-filled race baiter…" and went downhill from there. Another Redditor pointed out that at least one person posting to the AMA had also posted in a notoriously racist subreddit.

Taylor asked Jackson the upvoted question despite its confrontational nature. It was hard to blame her, since Reddit does call it "Ask Me Anything." Jackson's response was criticized as rambling and nonsensical, and to an extent it was, but the critics may not have realized that he didn't hear the full question. Out of politeness, perhaps, Taylor had paraphrased it to omit the most incendiary language. It's also worth noting that Taylor's transcriptions, while generally accurate, were not verbatim.

Some media accounts called the Jackson AMA a "shitshow," but by Reddit standards, it wasn't all that unusual. If you look past the awkwardness, there were some illuminating and thoughtful responses that were eventually elevated by other Reddit users. This is exactly what Taylor had predicted would happen. She is widely known and loved on the site as someone who just "got" Reddit and worked hard to listen to the community.

That kind of trolling "is very typical for Rev. Jackson being online," said a Jackson spokesman. "We get that same Fox News/Hannity/Colmes/O'Reilly stuff almost every time."

So was the Jackson AMA reason enough to fire Taylor? Probably not. Taylor didn't return my call, but Reddit Chairman Alexis Ohanian told a colleague of mine on Thursday that Taylor's firing "has nothing to do with the Reverend's AMA." He later said on Reddit: "We're phasing out our role being in-between interesting people and the reddit audience so that we can focus on helping remarkable people become redditors, not just stop by on a press tour."

A Jackson representative who helped coordinate the AMA told me last week that he wasn't even aware of Taylor's firing and had never complained to Reddit about how it went. That kind of trolling "is very typical for Rev. Jackson being online," he added. "We get that same Fox News/Hannity/Colmes/O'Reilly stuff almost every time."

The Jackson rumor, however, is convenient for critics of CEO Pao, who now faces a Change.org petition signed by nearly 200,000 people calling for her removal. Pao is perhaps best known as the former Kleiner Perkins employee who unsuccessfully sued the venture capital firm for sex discrimination—a suit that in some ways dovetails with Jackson's efforts to diversify Silicon Valley. Pao has also made tolerance a priority at Reddit. She recently banned five subreddits dedicated to various forms of harassment, including one focused on racism. Reddit's trolls responded by flooding the site with content that harasses Pao.

Pao admits she made a mistake in firing Taylor in the way that she did. The moderators "should have been told earlier about the transition and we should have provided more detail on the transition plan," she told NPR. It also might have helped to consider the proximity of the firing with the Jackson AMA—though had Pao done so, Reddit being Reddit, another conspiracy theory would undoubtedly have risen to take its place.

Donald Trump Just Issued Another Insane Rant About Mexico

| Mon Jul. 6, 2015 6:17 PM EDT

Donald Trump is a dumb person who is dumb. For a very long time that dumbness didn't really come with consequences. He had his TV show and his hotels and a lot of fans in the Republican party. Sure, people knew he was a lunatic, but none of his corporate business partners really cared. That changed a few weeks ago when from his mouth biliously flowed some totally racist nonsense about Mexicans being rapists. Ever since the blow back from businesses newly ashamed of their association with Trump has been unflagging. Univision? Gone. Macy's? Gone. NBC? Gone.

Today, Donald Trump issued a statement aimed presumably to stop the bleeding. It is insane and will not have the desired effect.

Read it! Or don't. You don't have to read it. Read it if you enjoy reading insane ramblings. Don't read it if that isn't your cup of tea.

Statement from Donald J. Trump:

I don’t see how there is any room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the statement I made on June 16th during my Presidential announcement speech. Here is what I said, and yet this statement is deliberately distorted by the media:

“When Mexico (meaning the Mexican Government) sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you (pointing to the audience). They’re not sending you (pointing again). They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs.They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people! But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people. It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.”

What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc. This was evident just this week when, as an example, a young woman in San Francisco was viciously killed by a 5 time deported Mexican with a long criminal record, who was forced back into the United States because they didn’t want him in Mexico. This is merely one of thousands of similar incidents throughout the United States. In other words, the worst elements in Mexico are being pushed into the United States by the Mexican government. The largest suppliers of heroin, cocaine and other illicit drugs are Mexican cartels that arrange to have Mexican immigrants trying to cross the borders and smuggle in the drugs. The Border Patrol knows this. Likewise, tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border. The United States has become a dumping ground for Mexico and, in fact, for many other parts of the world. On the other hand, many fabulous people come in from Mexico and our country is better for it. But these people are here legally, and are severely hurt by those coming in illegally. I am proud to say that I know many hard working Mexicans—many of them are working for and with me…and, just like our country, my organization is better for it.

The Mexican Government wants an open border as long as it’s a ONE WAY open border into the United States. Not only are they killing us at the border, but they are killing us on trade … and the country of Mexico is making billions of dollars in doing so.

I have great respect for Mexico and love their people and their peoples’ great spirit. The problem is, however, that their leaders are far smarter, more cunning, and better negotiators than ours. To the citizens of the United States, who I will represent far better than anyone else as President, the Mexican government is not our friend…and why should they be when the relationship is totally one sided in their favor on both illegal immigration and trade. I have pointed this out during my speeches and it is something Mexico doesn’t want me to say. In actuality, it was only after my significant rise in the polls that Univision, previously my friend, went ballistic. I believe that my examples of bad trade deals for the United States was of even more concern to the Mexican government than my talk of border security.

I have lost a lot during this Presidential run defending the people of the United States. I have always heard that it is very hard for a successful person to run for President. Macy’s, NBC, Serta and NASCAR have all taken the weak and very sad position of being politically correct even though they are wrong in terms of what is good for our country. Univision, because 70% of their business comes from Mexico, in my opinion, is being dictated to by the Mexican Government. The last thing Mexico wants is Donald Trump as President in that I will make great trade deals for the United States and will have an impenetrable border--only legally approved people will come through easily.

Interestingly, Univision has just announced they are attempting to go public despite very poor and even negative earnings, which is not a good situation for a successful IPO or high stock price—not to mention that I am currently suing them for breach of contract. Remember, Univision is the one who began this charade in the first place, and they are owned by one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest backers. After the speech was made, there were numerous compliments and indeed, many rave “reviews”—there was very little criticism. It wasn’t until a week after my announcement that people started to totally distort these very easy to understand words. If there was something stated incorrectly, it would have been brought up immediately and with great enthusiasm.

The issues I have addressed, and continue to address, are vital steps to Make America Great Again! Additionally, I would be the best jobs President that God ever created. Let’s get to work!

 

South Carolina Senator Rants Against Gay Marriage During Vote on Confederate Flag Removal

| Mon Jul. 6, 2015 5:16 PM EDT

In a historic 37-3 vote, members of South Carolina's Senate just voted to remove the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds. Monday's vote followed hours of debate, with lawmakers overwhelmingly making the case to do away with the racist symbol once and for all.

Perhaps confused by the subject at hand, Sen. Lee Bright used Monday's debate as an opportunity to voice his support in keeping the flag and dually attack the Supreme Court's gay marriage decision last month, not to mention the "abomination colors" showcased by the White House to celebrate the court's decision.

"This nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and they are under assault by men in black robes who were not elected by you," Bright warned.

"Our governor called us in to deal with the flag that sits out front, let's deal with the national sin that we face today!" he continued. "We talk about abortion but this gay marriage thing, I believe will be one nation gone under like President Reagan said. If we’re not one nation under God, we’ll be one nation gone under."

With more biblical references and anti-LGBT ranting, Bright went onto urge his fellow lawmakers to continue flying the battle flag. It was a rare moment of crazy, perhaps even for his two fellow Confederate flag supporters, who likely knew they had only one fight to lose on Monday.