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Modoc – Ralph Helfer

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Modoc
True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived
Ralph Helfer

Genre: Nature

Price: $8.99

Publish Date: October 13, 2009

Publisher: HarperCollins e-books

Seller: HarperCollins


Spanning several decades and three continents, Modoc is one of the most amazing true animal stories ever told. Raised together in a small German circus town, a boy and an elephant formed a bond that would last their entire lives, and would be tested time and again; through a near-fatal shipwreck in the Indian Ocean, an apprenticeship with the legendary Mahout elephant trainers in the Indian teak forests, and their eventual rise to circus stardom in 1940s New York City. Modoc is a captivating true story of loyalty, friendship, and high adventure, to be treasured by animal lovers everywhere.

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Modoc – Ralph Helfer

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Planned Parenthood: Exonerated, But Still a Target

Mother Jones

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Steve Benen reports on the swan song of conservative plans to prove that Planned Parenthood broke the law:

There was just one nagging detail: Planned Parenthood never actually did anything illegal. It didn’t sell fetal tissue for a profit; it didn’t misuse public resources, and it didn’t violate any laws. The Republican plan was based on a foundation of quicksand.

But The Hill reported over the weekend that GOP House members are now shifting to their back-up plan: they no longer care whether Planned Parenthood did anything wrong.

In reality, there’s no shift here. Republicans have wanted to defund Planned Parenthood for a long time. The sting videos were just an excuse to mount another effort. Democrats do the same thing on gun control whenever there’s a high-profile shooting.

And there’s nothing really wrong with this. Politics is all about persuading the public to come around to your way of thinking, and one way to do that is to take advantage of events in the real world. Even if you fail, maybe you’ve moved public opinion a few points and you’ll do better next time. So far, both Planned Parenthood and gun rights have survived, and there’s not really much evidence that public opinion has shifted a lot on either one. But that doesn’t mean anyone is likely to stop trying.

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Planned Parenthood: Exonerated, But Still a Target

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Jerry Brown Should Sign California’s Assisted Suicide Bill

Mother Jones

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Back in June, California Governor Jerry Brown called a special session of the legislature to deal with highway funding and health care financing. That special session is now over, and no agreement was reached on either of those things. But that’s no reason to waste a special session, and legislators did manage to pass bills on drone regulation, medical marijuana, climate change, oil spills, an LA County transit tax, family leave, racial profiling, and several other things.

They also took advantage of the fact that committee assignments are different during special sessions to resurrect an aid-in-dying bill that had failed earlier in the year:

The End of Life Option Act, which passed in the state Assembly Wednesday, would allow patients to seek aid-in-dying options so long as they are given six months or less to live by two doctors, submit a written request and two oral requests at least 15 days apart and possess the mental capacity to make their own health care decisions.

If you pass these hurdles, you’ll get a prescription for a lethal dose of sedatives. You can then decide for yourself if and when you ever use them. The California bill, which is modeled on a similar law in Oregon, sunsets after ten years and includes a requirement that doctors speak to the patient privately. Will these safeguards be enough to persuade Brown to sign it? No one knows:

“You’d need some kind of séance to figure out what he’s going to do,” says Jack Citrin, director of the Institute of Government Studies at UC Berkeley. “He plays his cards very close to the vest.”

….Brown is Catholic, even at one point considering becoming a priest….“He’s in an interesting dance with the Catholic Church,” says Gar Culbert, a California State University-Los Angeles political science professor. “He wants the church to participate in advocating for policies that are environmentally friendly, so he wants to stay on good terms.”

Brown might also feel that the bill’s safeguards against abuse still aren’t sufficient:

In spite of the bill’s provision about coercion, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, director of the medical ethics program at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, said that low-income and underinsured patients would inevitably feel pressure from family members to end their own lives in some cases, when the cost of continued treatment would be astronomical compared with the cost of a few lethal pills.

He pointed to a case in Oregon involving Barbara Wagner, a cancer patient who said that her insurance plan had refused to cover an expensive treatment but did offer to pay for “physician aid in dying.”

“As soon as this is introduced, it immediately becomes the cheapest and most expedient way to deal with complicated end-of-life situations,” Dr. Kheriaty said. “You’re seeing the push for assisted suicide from generally white, upper-middle-class people, who are least likely to be pressured. You’re not seeing support from the underinsured and economically marginalized. Those people want access to better health care.”

There isn’t much to say to people who object to assisted suicide on religious grounds. If the Catholic Church says it’s a sin, then it’s a sin.

For Catholics, anyway. But that shouldn’t affect the rest of us. We should be allowed to decide this on secular grounds. And with the obvious caveat that nothing is ever perfect, the safeguards in this bill are pretty good. Here are a few bullet points:

Assisted suicide just isn’t very popular, law or no law. In Oregon, prescriptions for lethal drugs have been written for 1,327 people over the past two decades and 859 people have ended up using them. In 2013, lethal drugs were used by only 105 people out of a total of 34,000 who died that year.
The Barbara Wagner case cited above is misleading. Yes, her insurance company covered assisted suicide. And yes, it also refused to cover a particularly expensive cancer therapy. But those are simply two separate and unrelated parts of her coverage. The way the sentence is written makes it sound as if someone specifically made a decision to deny the cancer treatment and offer her some lethal drugs instead. That’s not at all what happened.
There is endless speculation that people will be pressured into dying by greedy heirs who either want to inherit right now or who don’t want to see their inheritance drained away on expensive end-of-life treatments. Coercion is a legitimate issue, but California’s law goes to considerable lengths to address it. You need two doctors. You have to be within six months of dying. You’re required to meet with the doctors in private. And you have to submit multiple requests at least 15 days apart. That said, improper coercion almost certainly happens on occasion. But outside of the movies, there’s just no evidence that it happens other than very rarely. It’s usually just the opposite, with family members urging further treatment until there’s literally nothing left to try.

I want to add an additional, more personal argument. A few years ago a friend’s father was dying of cancer. He was a physician himself, and had decided long before to take his own life before he lost the ability to make decisions. But because it was illegal, he had to make sure that his kids couldn’t be held even remotely responsible. So he decided not to tell anyone when the time came.

Luckily, a friend talked him out of this at the last minute. He called his kids, and they came out to say goodbye one last time. But it was a close-run thing. If that hadn’t happened, his family would never have seen him before he died. They would have heard about it via a phone call from the coroner’s office.

That’s not how this should have to happen. It’s common knowledge that sometimes people who are close to death take their own lives, legal or not. But they shouldn’t have to do it earlier than necessary, just because they’re afraid they might lose the physical ability to act if they wait a little longer. Nor should they be afraid to have their family around because they want to make sure nobody is held legally responsible for assisting them.

California’s bill won’t affect very many people. Assisted suicide just isn’t a very popular option. But for those who choose that path, a safe and legal alternative is more humane both for them and for their families. Just having the option available makes it more likely that they’ll wait until they truly want to die, and that they’ll do it surrounded by their loved ones, rather than alone in a bedroom somewhere. I hope Jerry Brown thinks about this while he’s deciding whether to sign this bill.

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Jerry Brown Should Sign California’s Assisted Suicide Bill

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The iPad Pro Is Lacking One Thing If It Wants to Play in the Business World

Mother Jones

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Apple has been playing catch-up for a while now. The large-screen iPhone 6 was catching up with Samsung (and pretty much every other smartphone maker). The new Apple TV box is catching up with Roku, Chromecast, and others. The Apple watch is catching up with Android watches.1 And now, as Will Oremus points out, the iPad is catching up with Microsoft’s Surface Pro:

The iPad Pro’s screen measures 12.9 inches diagonally, making it far bigger than any tablet Apple has made before—but comparable in size as the 12-inch Microsoft Surface Pro 3. It features a split-screen mode for multitasking and is optimized for productivity apps like Microsoft Office. And its two most notable accessories are—what else?—a keyboard cover and a stylus.

Close, but no cigar! Everything Oremus says is true, but if you’re going after the business market I’d say that a high-quality docking station is probably the key accessory. Microsoft has a very nice one for the Surface Pro. Apple doesn’t.

Maybe it’s coming soon, but Apple didn’t want to delay the iPad Pro just for that. Or maybe Apple still doesn’t really get the business market.

But I’ll give Apple this: they sure do know how to make a lightweight device. I assume this is because their ARM processors are more power stingy than even the newest Intel processors, which allows Apple to use smaller batteries. But whatever it is, I’m jealous. It’s not like my Surface (non-Pro) is a brick or anything, but shaving another eight ounces off it would sure be nice.

But light or not, the lack of a docking station would prevent me from using the iPad pro as a serious business device. In most homes and offices, you’re going to want to connect a keyboard/mouse, network cable, a local printer, and maybe an external hard drive. Plus a bigger monitor if you decide to go that route. Someday all this stuff will be effortlessly wireless, but that day is not today. For now, the only way to make this work conveniently is with a docking station.

1None of this is to say that Apple can’t make good money playing catch-up. They can. And stealing features from the competition is practically the definition of the tech industry. Still, they’ve been going after low-hanging fruit for the past few years. I’m not seeing an awful lot of visionary thinking anymore.

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The iPad Pro Is Lacking One Thing If It Wants to Play in the Business World

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Scientists Say "Trust Us" on Blood Pressure Study

Mother Jones

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The New York Times reports on a big U-turn in the study of low blood pressure:

Declaring they had “potentially lifesaving information,” federal health officials said on Friday that they were ending a major study more than a year early because it has already conclusively answered a question cardiologists have puzzled over for decades: how low should blood pressure go? The answer: way lower than the current guidelines.

….Less than two years ago, a National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute panel went the opposite direction. People had been told to aim for a systolic blood pressure of 140. But the panel recommended a goal of 150 for people ages 60 and older, arguing that there were no convincing data showing lower is better.

Given the fact that this represents a major change to a recommendation from two years ago, it would be nice to see the data. And yet, apparently it hasn’t been released. Austin Frakt is annoyed:

I have high blood pressure, so this is of more than academic interest to me. I’ve also heard plenty of horror stories of people being massively overmedicated in an effort to get their blood pressure below some magical target. So if you want me to get my systolic blood pressure down to 110 or so, you’d better have some mighty convincing data.

But of course, this is not about me me me. Frakt is right: this is just bad science, and it’s especially bad in the areas of health and nutrition, which are overrun with both crankery and constantly changing recommendations. If you have big news, release it in a reputable journal and let other experts take a look at it. Don’t announce blockbuster findings and then promise that “a paper with the data would be published within a few months.” This is not the way to do things.

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Scientists Say "Trust Us" on Blood Pressure Study

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Scott Walker No Longer Understands His Own Base

Mother Jones

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A few days ago Scott Walker refused to answer a question about Syrian refugees because “I’m not president today, and I can’t be president today.” This was a novel take on presidential campaign questions, which are—for obvious reasons—all about what you’d do as president. But apparently Walker decided it was unfair to ask him about that before he actually became president. He left unclear what kinds of questions would be left for reporters to ask him.

Today, unsurprisingly, Walker changed his tune. He decided to “clarify” his answer, which turned out to be simple: he doesn’t want the US to take in any more Syrian refugees. We take in plenty already. Instead, he wants to increase our bombing campaign against ISIS. This would probably make the refugee crisis worse, but whatever.

I say that Walker’s clarification was unsurprising because he’s really made a habit of this. Steve Benen provides the blow-by-blow:

Walker’s pattern of stumbling only reinforces doubts about his strength as a national candidate. TPM’s Caitlin MacNeal noted a series of issues and controversies — Kentucky’s Kim Davis, whether sexual orientation is a choice, evolutionary biology, President Obama’s patriotism and religion — on which Walker couldn’t or wouldn’t share his position publicly.

There are a variety of other issues — birthright citizenship, Boy Scouts, building a Canadian border wall — on which Walker managed to state an opinion, but soon after, that position proved untenable, forcing him to “clarify” his actual beliefs. Asked about Walker last week, an Iowa Republican told Politico, in advance of this week’s incident, “For the last two months Walker hasn’t made a single policy pronouncement that he or his staff hasn’t had to clarify or clear up within two hours.”

When the campaign began, I was pretty bullish on Walker. He seemed to have the right combination of respectability and pit-bull snarl to appeal to a wide variety of voters. And since he’s had a long political career, including four years as Wisconsin governor, he’d have a pretty good handle on campaigning.

But no. It turns out he barely has a clue about campaigning. Has this always been the case, or has the rise of Donald Trump completely flummoxed him? Maybe a bit of both, but I think he’s really let Trump get inside his head. He planned to campaign pretty far to the right, and when Trump took that away from him he didn’t seem to know what to do. Agree with Trump? Then he’s just a follower. Disagree with Trump? But that could be dangerous if the base is really enthralled with the guy. What to do?

The answer, apparently, is to make it clear that he has no considered views of anything and merely wants to say whatever will make the tea partiers happy. But he no longer knows what that is. So he tap dances desperately, but does it so bumblingly that he just embarrasses himself. At this point, it’s not clear if he’ll ever get his act together.

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Scott Walker No Longer Understands His Own Base

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Obamacare Rates In California Will Rise Only 4% in 2016

Mother Jones

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Obamacare’s moment of truth is coming. By now we’ve heard all the scare stories about a few health insurers in a few states requesting gigantic rate hikes for next year. But over the next few weeks, states are going to start publishing the actual average rate increases that consumers will see in 2016. California released its report today. It’s still marked preliminary, but you can expect that the final numbers will be very close to these:

I’ve highlighted two numbers. First, the overall average rate increase is 4.0 percent. That’s way lower than you’ve seen in the scary headlines. And this is for a state that makes up more than a tenth of the country all by itself.

Second, the price of the second-lowest-price silver plan has gone up 1.8 percent. This is the figure used to calculate subsidy levels, so it’s an important one. In fact, here’s an interesting consequence of that number: because subsidies will be going up roughly 1.8 percent, and the cost of the lowest-price silver plan is going up only 1.5 percent, the net cost (including subsidies) of buying the cheapest silver plan is actually going down. As you can see in the bottom row, if you shop for the lowest-priced plan, your premiums are likely to decrease about 4.5 percent.

I have a feeling this number is not going to be widely reported on Fox News.

Now, California isn’t necessarily a bellwether for all the other states. Because it’s the biggest state in the union, it has lots of competition that helps drive down prices. A big population also means less variability from year to year. Also: California’s program is pretty well run, and the California insurance market is fairly tightly regulated. All this adds up to a good deal for consumers.

In any case, the headline number here is a very reasonable 4 percent increase in overall premiums, and a 4.5 percent decrease for consumers shopping for the cheapest plans. These are real statewide numbers, not cherry-picked bits and pieces designed to encourage hysteria. Once again, it looks like Obamacare is working pretty well.

This all comes via Andrew Sprung, who has much more detail here.

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Obamacare Rates In California Will Rise Only 4% in 2016

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Republicans Is Weird, Summer 2015 Edition

Mother Jones

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No, this isn’t about Donald Trump. It’s about Sen. Mike Lee of Utah—who plans to offer yet another amendment to repeal Obamacare, but this time with a special super-duper secret sauce added to the upcoming highway funding bill:

Lee said he will try to re-offer the Obamacare repeal as a special amendment that is directly related to highway funding. Under Senate rules, amendments that are directly related, or germane, to the underlying legislation can pass with just 51 votes.

Lee knows that the chair of the Senate is likely to reject his logic that Obamacare repeal is germane to highway funding, so he plans to use the nuclear option. That means he will formally object to the ruling of the chair, which requires a 51-vote simple majority — then he plans to move on to the coveted simple majority vote.

….If his plan works, Lee gets to tell his supporters that he’s responsible for a major vote to kill the health care law he reviles. The House voted to repeal the law in February, so the two chambers could then theoretically conference the bills — leaving it up to Obama to veto a bill to kill his own signature policy achievement.

So the plan is simple: have Republicans declare ex cathedra that repeal of Obamacare is germane to highway funding, and then pass Lee’s amendment with 51 votes. It’s brilliant! All that’s missing are the sharks with lasers attached to their heads!

Aside from being mind-numbingly stupid1, it also won’t work. Democrats will just filibuster the entire highway bill, or else they’ll vote for it and then Obama will veto the entire mess. Result: Obamacare stays in place but our highways continue to crumble into dust. Nice work, Senator! It’s good to see that the Republican Party remains committed to the sober, responsible kind of leadership that makes our great nation the envy of the world.

1It’s times like this that I regret the recent banishment of “retarded” from polite conversation. Because I think we all know that it’s the word that really fits here.2

2Though I suppose there’s no reason to insult the developmentally disabled by comparing them to Mike Lee.

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Republicans Is Weird, Summer 2015 Edition

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Surprise! EPA’s New Power Plant Rules Aren’t Going to Destroy America After All.

Mother Jones

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Whenever a new environmental regulation gets proposed, there’s one thing you can count on: the affected industry will start cranking out research showing that the cost of compliance is so astronomical that it will put them out of business. It happens every time. Then, when the new regs take effect anyway, guess what? It turns out they aren’t really all that expensive after all. The country gets cleaner and the economy keeps humming along normally. Hard to believe, no?

Apologies for the spoiler, but can you guess what’s happening now that President Obama’s new carbon rules for power plants are about to take effect? Mitch “War on Coal” McConnell has been issuing hysterical warnings about these regulations for years, but the Washington Post reports that—sorry, did you say something? You’ve already guessed, have you?

More striking is what has happened since: Kentucky’s government and electric utilities have quietly positioned themselves to comply with the rule — something state officials expect to do with relatively little effort….“We can meet it,” Kentucky Energy and Environment Secretary Leonard Peters, speaking at a climate conference, said of the EPA’s mandate.

The story is the same across much of the country as the EPA prepares to roll out what is arguably the biggest and most controversial environmental regulation of the Obama presidency….Despite dire warnings and harsh political rhetoric, many states are already on track to meet their targets, even before the EPA formally announces them, interviews and independent studies show.

Iowa is expected to meet half of its carbon-reduction goal by next year, just with the wind-power projects already planned or in construction. Nevada is on track to meet 100 percent of its goal without additional effort, thanks to several huge ­solar-energy farms the state’s electricity utilities were already planning to build. From the Great Lakes to the Southwest, electric utilities were projecting huge drops in greenhouse-gas emissions as they switch from burning coal to natural gas — not because of politics or climate change, but because gas is now cheaper.

“It’s frankly the norm,” said Malcolm Woolf, a former Maryland state energy official and now senior vice president for Advanced Energy Economy….“We’ve yet to find a state that is going to have a real technical challenge meeting this.”

Try to contain your surprise.

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Surprise! EPA’s New Power Plant Rules Aren’t Going to Destroy America After All.

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It’s Not Just Social Security Anymore. Jeb Bush Wants to Destroy Medicare Too.

Mother Jones

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Republicans have been talking for years about “reforming” Social Security. Usually this involves privatizing it in some way, which they insist that people will love. In fact, they’ll love it so much that, um, Republicans don’t dare suggest that their reforms should apply to current recipients. Or to people who are within even a decade of retiring. Why exempt these folks? There’s a lot of blah blah blah when you ask, but the real reason is that these people vote, and they actually pay attention to Social Security. They know perfectly well that the current system is a better deal for them. It’s only younger workers, who don’t pay as much attention and have been brainwashed—by conservatives—into believing that Social Security will never pay them a dime anyway, who give this nonsense the time of day. Even if the GOP’s reformed version of Social Security is a lousy deal, anything is better than nothing. Right?

But I’ve never really heard this argument about Medicare. Until now. Here’s Jeb Bush:

A lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something—because they’re not going to have anything.

Boom! If we don’t gut Medicare, they’ll have nothing. When they turn 65 they’ll be out on the street dying, with no one to help them. Why? Because Democrats let the system go bankrupt. Wouldn’t it be much better to offer them some crappy, rationed system instead? At least it’s something, after all.

Jesus. You’d think we were Greece. Oh wait—these guys do think that Democrats are turning us into Greece. So I guess it makes a kind of sense.

In any case, Jeb sure picked the wrong time to make this pitch. Just yesterday we got the latest projections for Social Security and Medicare. If they’re correct, the cost of both programs will top out at a combined 12 percent of GDP by the middle of the century and then flatten out. That’s about 3 percent of GDP more than we’re spending now.

So this is what Jeb is saying: Right now the federal government spends about 20 percent of GDP. We can’t afford to increase that to 23 percent of GDP over the next 30 years. That would—what? I don’t even know what the story is here. Turn us into Greece? Require us to tax millionaires so highly they all give up and go Galt? Deprive Wall Street of lots of pension income they can use to blow up the world again?

Beats me. This whole thing is ridiculous. Over the next 30 years, we need to increase spending by 1 percent of GDP per decade. That’s it. That will keep Social Security and Medicare in good shape. Why is it so hard for people to get that?

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It’s Not Just Social Security Anymore. Jeb Bush Wants to Destroy Medicare Too.

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