• Here Is Tonight’s Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse

    Really? I have to call it the Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse? Fine. Here it is, as seen from the friendly confines of my backyard.

    For the first hour of the eclipse the sky around here was clear and brilliant, so the pictures turned out pretty well. The top picture was taken just past half totality and the bottom picture was taken about five minutes after the start of full totality. As usual, the moon is its usual gray self right until totality, when it turns a fairly brilliant rusty red. However, at that point it’s so dim that I can set the camera to pick up the stars surrounding it, which you usually don’t get in lunar photography. You can see three of them in the bottom picture, but I have no idea which ones they are.

  • Marc Edwards Is a Sad Victim of Our Modern Political Era

    Jeff Malet/NC via ZUMA

    This is very sad: Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who first exposed toxic levels of lead in the water supply of Flint, Michigan, was initially a hero to the Flint community. Thanks to him, Flint became the target of nationwide outrage, and steps were finally taken to reconnect Flint to the (safe) Detroit water supply. In less than a year, lead levels in Flint water had dropped to safe levels.

    So what did Edwards do? Well, he’s a scientist, and just as he had honestly exposed Flint’s problems in the first place, he also continued to honestly report the results of the intervention. When the water was once again safe, he said so—and that turned him from a hero into a pariah. Here’s Perry Stein at the Washington Post:

    By August 2016, both he and Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who is also credited with raising the alarm about lead in Flint’s water, were saying publicly that the situation in Flint was improving.

    But that narrative contradicted the perspective of advocates and groups such as Water Defense, an environmental nonprofit started by actor Mark Ruffalo, which brought in its own expert to sample the water in Flint….Edwards’s tests continued to show that contaminant levels had dropped. In September 2017, his findings were in line with the state’s, showing lead levels within federal regulations….The state had been providing residents with bottled water for drinking, but Edwards maintained they could also drink out of the tap again if they used filters, and that unfiltered water was safe to bathe in.

    ….Some residents, however, heard something else in Edwards’s conclusions. Abel Delgado, a Flint resident and activist who signed the letter criticizing the professor, says that he and others felt betrayed when Edwards seemed to imply the crisis was over. The professor appeared to be “giving in to the narrative of the state, and not the narrative that Flint was facing,” he says….Lawrence Reynolds, a pediatrician in Flint and a member of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s Flint Water Advisory Task Force, says Edwards was “irresponsible” to tell residents that they no longer had to worry about the water.

    ….I asked Edwards if he thought, looking back, that he had been a bit naive not to have anticipated the reaction to his findings that lead levels in Flint’s water had fallen to safe levels. He says he had expected a backlash but not what he views as a concerted effort to destroy his professional reputation. He stands by his actions, which he perceives as truth telling. “It comes down to duty versus self-preservation,” he says. “In a post-truth world, science has become just another weapon of tribal warfare, and rising above that takes courage.”

    Edwards can be a bit of a showman when it suits him, and he’s filed some lawsuits of his own. But his primary sin is simply reporting the truth even though that was inconvenient to activists in Flint. I reported the same thing based on my own analysis of the ongoing testing of Flint water:

    The federal “action level” for lead in public drinking water is 15 ppb. However, the official measurements are done on a six-month basis, so in real time they’re not very useful in showing what progress has been made. By interpolation, they suggest that Flint’s lead levels had declined to 15 ppb by summer and were below that by the end of the year. The chart above, which I produced monthly in real time using simple averages, is more optimistic: it suggests that Flint’s water was already below the action level by the summer of 2016 and was well below it by the end of the year. Either way, Flint’s water was safe during the second half of the year and getting safer every month. When I said so, I got some of the same pushback as Edwards, but it was just a tiny fraction of what he got. After all, I’m not the one who’s famous for exposing Flint’s problem in the first place.

    But this is not just about one guy who’s faced unfair attacks. It’s way more important than that. Here in the progressive community, we like to criticize conservatives for being too anti-science; too tribal; and too subservient to their most extreme wing. But look at what happened here. The science, as you’d expect, told us that Flint’s water got better after mitigation measures were taken—but the activists on the ground were too angry and bitter to accept that. Instead, they turned tribal on the guy reporting the results, and at that point you were either with them or against them.

    So which were we? As near as I could tell, there were very few progressives willing to take Edwards’ side against the Flint community. We all had our reasons. I was hesitant to say anything that would suggest any level of lead was safe. There were criminal prosecutions getting started against Flint and Michigan officials. And there were hundreds of millions of dollars in grant money still to be fought for. Mostly, though, we were just being subservient to our loudest voices because no one wanted to be on the losing end of a more-progressive-than-thou contest.

    Over the course of 2016 I slowly became more outspoken about the safety of Flint’s water, and by 2017 two things were clear. First, Flint’s water was once again safe. Second, the damage done to Flint’s children was probably fairly modest:

    During the worst of the crisis, the number of children with blood lead levels above 10 m/d is minuscule, and even the number with levels above 5 m/d never got very high. For a period of about 18 months they were at the same level they had been at in 2010—which itself was the product of decades of improvement.

    This is not just a matter of respecting the truth for its own sake. It has real consequences:

    • Parents are being kept in a state of stress and panic that they shouldn’t have to put up with.
    • Children are being kept in a state of depression and resignation.
    • A vast amount of money is being spent to replace Flint’s water pipes, even though they’re probably safe. That money could be used for better things.
    • Actually, it’s worse than that. The only reason people are still being told to use filters in Flint is because of the pipe replacement program. When new pipes are installed, lead can start leaching back into the water from the points where pipes are connected to each other.

    So here we are: anti-science, tribal, and subservient to our most extreme wing. Oh, and a guy named Marc Edwards, who exposed this disaster and got it fixed, is now practically an exile. It’s a sad microcosm of our modern political arena.

    UPDATE: The paragraph about federal “action levels” for lead contamination has been changed to provide more detail about different ways of measuring lead levels in tap water. Thanks to Alex Sagady for pointing out that I had included only my own measurements, not the official federal measurements.

  • The Dealmaker-in-Chief Has a New Offer

    President Trump is scheduled to make a “major announcement” about the border this afternoon. According to the Washington Post, he plans to say that he will keep in place two programs (DACA and TPS) that courts have already prohibited him from ending. In return, he wants his wall money.

    This can’t possibly be true, can it? Even a negotiator as bad as Trump wouldn’t think he could dupe Nancy Pelosi into accepting something she already has in return for something she’s categorically said she’ll never give him?

    Actually, I guess he might think that. Who knows? I guess we’ll all have to wait until 4:00 Eastern to find out.

  • Here Is The Morbidity and Mortality Information You’ve Been Waiting For

    I’ve been browsing recent issues of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, as one does on a lazy Saturday morning, and a recent issue provided a bit more information about the popularity of vaping. It’s not the precise data I’d like, but it’s a little more than I had the last time I wrote about it. This chart shows not just whether high-school students vaped during the past 30 days, but how often they vaped compared to cigarette users:

    There are two things missing from this. First, it’s an average of 2015-2017. We know that vaping has been on the rise, so this probably underestimates e-cigarette use somewhat. Second, it doesn’t distinguish between nicotine and non-nicotine vaping. At a guess, non-nicotine vaping dominates the 1-10 day categories, but nicotine vaping dominates the 10-30 day categories. Also note that the raw data used in this report shows these categories as a percent of people who use the products. I converted this into total use assuming that 5 percent of high school students use cigarettes (cited here) and 11.7 percent use e-cigarettes (cited in the first paragraph of the MMWR report).

    What this all means is that you shouldn’t take these numbers to the bank. They’re useful, but not guaranteed to be super-accurate.

    And now for something completely different: are you curious about how your state is doing in the opioid crisis? The chart below shows the change in death rate from all drug overdoses between 2013 and 2017. In some states, like West Virginia, Ohio, and DC, the death rate doubled or more. In others, like California and Kansas, it was low and didn’t change at all. And finally, there were even two states, Wyoming and Montana, that showed a decrease.

  • Donald Trump Accidentally Gave Obamacare More Money. Now He Wants to Take It Away.

    Ha ha ha. A couple of years ago, as part of his jihad against Obamacare, Donald Trump decided to end something called Cost Sharing Reductions. These were payments made to insurers to offset the cost of covering low-income customers.

    This is exactly the kind of dick move you’d expect Trump to make. But there’s a catch. Trump is also an idiot, so he hadn’t bothered to read a report from the CBO explaining that, on net, eliminating CSR would end up costing the government more and making insurance more affordable. Over a ten-year period, CBO projected that it would add $194 billion to Obamacare spending. I guess no one else in the White House had read the CBO report either. But I had, and on that basis I decided I was all in favor of killing off CSR.

    You’ll never believe what happened next: the CBO was right! Through an arcane practice called “silver loading,” premiums became cheaper for almost everyone and coverage became broader. Did Trump ever notice that his act of malice had backfired? There’s no telling. After all, it involves complicated stuff like numbers and dollar signs, which he’s never been good at.

    However, after two years, apparently someone has finally noticed that people are benefiting from this, and naturally that can’t be tolerated. On Thursday, CMS, run by the reptilian Seema Verma, who has never met a helpful program that she likes, released its annual Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP). It recommended re-funding CSR, and Andrew Sprung has a question:

    Is this not the first time the Trump administration has explicitly (or at least formally) called for a Congressional appropriation to fund CSR the old way — by reimbursing insurers directly for providing it? That seems significant to me, and raises the question of whether last year’s Alexander-Murray legislation, purporting to strengthen the ACA marketplace, might be revived in a divided Congress.

    Given that we now know the benefits of repealing CSR, Sprung makes an obvious suggestion: if Trump wants to bring it back to life, Democrats need to demand that they get something of equal value in return. Maybe that would be more generous reinsurance funding. Maybe it would be more generous premium subsidies. Or maybe it would be a simple deal to cap premiums all the way up to 500-600 percent of the poverty level (the current cap ends at 400 percent of the poverty level).

    Would Trump actually be willing to negotiate this? Since it would end up helping people via Obamacare, I’d guess not. But you never know. It’s worth a try.

  • Walls Don’t Stop Caravans of Thousands

    President Trump has a warning:

    It’s a funny thing. Trump keeps going on about his hobbyhorse wall, but as we all know, last year’s caravan from the Honduras marched straight up through Mexico along the longest route possible in order to end up in the very area with the biggest, most secure wall we have: San Diego. What’s more, as the map below shows, that’s exactly where the Army figured they’d go. And the alternate routes were all big cities with walls too: El Paso, Piedras Negras, Laredo, McAllen, and Brownsville:

    These migrant caravans are positively enthralled by the wall we already have! And they’re really easy to stop: When they get to Tijuana—or whatever legal port of entry they’re heading for—you just refuse to let them in so they can apply for asylum. Piece of cake.

    So if there is another caravan on its way, there’s no point in building a wall to stop them. No caravan of thousands of men, women, and children is going to cross the US border in the middle of the Mojave Desert or the Arizona Plateau. Their destination is a legal port of entry where they can apply for asylym, and those places already have walls. So maybe we can stop burbling on about the wall and instead do something about our asylum process?

  • BuzzFeed: Trump Instructed Cohen to Lie to Congress

    Go Nakamura via ZUMA

    We already know that Michael Cohen lied to Congress when he testified that all negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow had ended by January 2016. In fact, negotiations continued at least through the summer of 2016, as President Trump himself has acknowledged. But did Cohen make up this lie all by himself in order to protect Trump? Today, BuzzFeed News says no. He lied because Trump told him to:

    President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

    Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

    ….The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.

    Is it against the law to tell someone to lie to Congress? If I were Congress, I’d certainly think poorly of such things. This was part of the charges against Nixon during Watergate, wasn’t it? Conspiracy, suborning perjury, something like that.

    I’ll let my betters weigh in before I say any more. But this report certainly kicks up the impeachment chatter a notch.

  • Trump: “Not One Dollar” For Puerto Rico

    Yuisa Rios/Planet Pix via ZUMA

    Back when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, there was a lot of talk about how President Trump was taking it a lot less seriously than two other hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, which hit areas that were, um, a little whiter than Puerto Rico. But according to the Washington Post, it was actually a whole lot worse than that:

    Trump told then-White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and then-Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney that he did not want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico, because he thought the island was misusing the money and taking advantage of the government, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive internal deliberations. Instead, he wanted more of the money to go to Texas and Florida, the person said. “POTUS was not consolable about this,” the person said.

    Not one dollar! And apparently it was impossible to change his mind about this.¹ Finally, in December, HUD Deputy Secretary Pam Patenaude told Trump’s people that the president had no choice:

    Patenaude told White House budget officials during an early December meeting in the Situation Room that the money had been appropriated by Congress and must be sent, according to two people with direct knowledge of the meeting. She assured them that HUD had proper oversight of the funds.

    This is all part of a longish story about Patenaude, who effectively runs HUD because Ben Carson has no idea what he’s doing. But she’s leaving now, finally beaten down by having to deal with the idiocy and incompetence surrounding her on all sides:

    Patenaude’s departure reflects a broader pattern of political appointees with expertise who are leaving the administration. Her confidants say there was not one blowup that precipitated her resignation but rather a series of incidents that left her feeling frustrated. The former HUD employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to damage working relationships with the agency, characterized Patenaude’s job as “pushing this rock uphill over and over again only to have it fall back down.”

    In engineering terms, a destruction test is a process designed to apply more and more pressure until you finally find an object’s breaking point. It feels like that’s what we’re doing to the United States government right now. Luckily, it takes a lot more than four years of Donald Trump to break the nation. I’m not so sure about eight years, though.

    ¹I’m assuming that’s what “not consolable” means here. Trumpies sure do speak a weird language.