Normal Rockwell meets the NRA

What a sad country we’ve become.

Fla. Republicans say porn is health risk. Guns? Not so fast….

In today’s episode of Not The Onion, Florida Republicans did this:

In Tuesday’s session, which opened with prayer for the community of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 students and staff were killed last week, Florida House lawmakers declined to open debate on a bill that would ban assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines. The motion to debate the bill, introduced by a Democrat, required a two-thirds vote and failed. Thirty-six lawmakers supported it, while 71 voted no. Its merits were not considered.

Parodies continue to be insufficient to make fun of these people. What monsters they are.

Of course, this begs the question: Will the children be safe looking at gun porn if the NRA supports it?

Source: Florida House Declines Debate On Assault Rifles, Calls Porn A ‘Health Risk’ : The Two-Way : NPR

Front man for Trump dating web site has child abuse conviction

The male half of a North Carolina couple pitching a dating web site for Trump supporters has a little issue with his background check:

A North Carolina man with a felony conviction for indecent liberties with a child was one-half of the poster couple for a new “Trump Dating” website.

Oopsy!

I am not a person who believes that Trump only attract supporters who are less moral and more stupid than the average American. But that is not the same as saying that many of his supporters do not appear to fall into that category.

BTW, when North Carolina station WRAL tried to interview the man about his involvement in the web site, this happened:

Barrett Riddleberger said in a text message Monday that the marital status issue was a mistake and was being fixed by a programmer. Just what role he and his wife have in the site is unclear. He offered to discuss the site with WRAL News, but only if the station promised to write about “the present, not the past.”97

WRAL News would not agree to that. Riddleberger’s past includes a felony conviction for taking indecent liberties with a child in in 1995. The charge stemmed from his videotaping himself having sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 25, the Greensboro News & Record reported in 2014.

“Yeah, sure, you can interview me. But you cannot write about anything bad that may or may not be in my past.”

Article: Man featured on “Trump Dating” site has child sex conviction — CBS News

Yet another reason for the GOP to hate higher education

There’s a freight train headed toward the Pennsylvania Republican Party on Election Day, November 6, 2018. 

That’s when Pennsylvanians of any party affiliation will have a unique opportunity in that they will be voting for members of Congress using House district maps imposed upon them by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The court threw out the laughable  districts drawn up by the state’s GOP. They reached that decision by relying on experts’ data science techniques that have come into use relatively recently.

In the hands of true data geeks — as a current article in Wired attests — proof that the GOP created these districts to disadvantage the voting power of certain state residents became abundantly clear. It was something that could be hinted at previously, educated guesses perhaps, but not proven in court.

Enter the data geeks:

[Jowei] Chen uses computer programs to simulate alternative maps. But instead of starting with the original map and making small changes, Chen’s program develops entirely new maps, based on a series of geographic constraints. The maps should be compact in shape, preserve county and municipal boundaries, and have equal populations. They’re drawn, in other words, in some magical world where partisanship doesn’t exist. The only goal, says Chen, is that these maps be “geographically normal.”

Chen generated 500 such maps for Pennsylvania, and analyzed each of them based on how many Republican seats they would yield. He also looked at how many counties and municipalities were split across districts, a practice the Pennsylvania constitution forbids “unless absolutely necessary.” Keeping counties and municipalities together, the thinking goes, keeps communities together. He compared those figures to the disputed map, and presented the results to the court.

On and on, these data geeks used their data analyses tools to show the court, with little room for doubt, that the GOP used extreme partisan gerrymandering to not only improve their chances of winning, but also — and this is a very important part — to lessen the voting power of the state’s citizens on the other side.

Professor John Kennedy.

A sobering, yet ruefully comical. point in the proceedings came with the testimony of John Kennedy, a political scientist at West Chester University:

As an expert witness for the League of Women Voters and a political scientist at West Chester University, Kennedy’s job was to show how the state’s map had evolved over time, and to prove that the General Assembly had drawn it specifically to ensure that Republicans would always win the most seats in Congress.

“Mr. Kennedy, what is this?” asked John Freedman, Jacobson’s colleague, referring to the tiny, single point that connects one sprawling side of the district to the other. Or, if you like, where Goofy’s toe meets Donald’s rear.

“A steakhouse,” Kennedy answered, according to the court transcript. “Creed’s Seafood Steaks in King of Prussia.”

The only thing holding the district together, in other words, was a single ritzy seafood joint.

“If you were in the courtroom, it was just devastating,” Jacobson says.

It is fitting that the Republican Party, a party with many members currently on an extreme right-wing jihad against post-secondary education specifically, and academia in general, may eventually get its comeuppance by a bunch of data geeks armed with skills and knowledge many of these know-nothing Republicans could never understand.

Once the next election is held with court-drawn districts that are fair and equitable to both parties, the Pennsylvania GOP (and the GOP in other states) will be publicly shown to be the electoral frauds they are when it comes to extreme partisan gerrymandering. Without gerrymandering, the GOP’s lead in the U.S. House would dwindle. By how much is anyone’s guess at this point.

Article: The Geeks Who Put A Stop To Pennsylvania’s Partisan Gerrymandering — Wired

Pennsylvania’s GOP”s brazenly drawn 7th Congressional District, held together at one point by a single seafood restaurant.

WTF? Why are they smiling in this picture?

This picture appeared Feb. 16 on the Facebook page of GOP Congressman Mike Bost of southern Illinois. 

This is the same Mike Bost who accepts money from gun lobbyists.

This is the same Mike Bost who introduced legislation that would establish a pilot program through the Department of Justice to make so-called “panic buttons” more available to local school systems in the case of an active shooter in a school.

This is the same Mike Bost who then, apropos to his panic button idea, never bothered to explain to anyone how, if an active shooter has an assault rifle that can shoot up to 400 rounds per minute, having a few seconds time that a button would provide over a simple phone call would change the outcome appreciably before law enforcement arrived.

This is Congressman Mike Bost delivering a bag of prayers to Donald Trump in the wake of the Florida school massacre, proving again that Republicans who take gun money love “thoughts and prayers” because they can act as if they have a soul even though they really care about gun industry money more than they care about dead kids.

But, most of all, WHY are these two cretins smiling?

This is Congressman Mike Bost. You can contact him at (202) 225-5661. 

Top GOP donor in Florida has had enough of the carnage

“For how many years now have we been doing this — having these experiences of terrorism, mass killings — and how many years has it been that nothing’s been done?” said the 83-year-old, who announced his decision in an email to several Republican leaders, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush. “It’s the end of the road for me.” 

Click on the pic to go to the article on HuffPo.

Florida family that gave access to AR-15 is confused for some reason

Interesting article which just doesn’t make sense in places.

First there is this:

Since the shooting, the Sneads have faced the glare of law enforcement and media around the world. They first shared the story with the Sun-Sentinel.

“What else could this family have done to help put this young man on the right track?” said the family’s attorney, Jim Lewis. “Please don’t blame them for doing the right thing. They’re victims too.”

Then you come to this:

Cruz had five or six guns, including the legally purchased AR-15 that was later used in the massacre. But Snead — a longtime gun owner — insisted the weapons be locked in a cabinet.

Snead said Cruz only asked to get them twice. Once, he said no. Another time, about four weeks ago, he allowed Cruz to clean one of the firearms for about 15 minutes.

“I thought I had the only key,” Snead said.

Yeah, guess what, Father Figure? You weren’t the only one with the key.

I’m not against gun ownership, nor sport hunting, though neither one is for me. I would never advocate taking away people’s legally obtained handguns and sport hunting rifles.

But assault rifles? These are not sporting firearms and the damage they can cause it too great to allow them to be bought and sold freely. I don’t think adults need them for any legitimate sporting activities. But an emotionally troubled youth?

These people might think they hold no responsibility for the Florida high school massacre, but they most certainly do. They have blood on their hands. I hope someone takes them to court. Someone should.

You can read the entire article at the link below.

Source: Florida family that took in school shooter shocked by his rampage | Miami Herald

In An Effort To Curb Drug Costs, States Advance Bills To Prod Feds On Importation

Norm Thurston is a “free-market guy” — a conservative health economist in Republican-run Utah who rarely sees the government’s involvement in anything as beneficial.

But in a twist, the state lawmaker is now pushing for Utah to flex its muscle to spur federal action on ever-climbing prescription drug prices.

“This is something that a red state like Utah could do. I don’t think this is a partisan issue,” Thurston said. “Those outrageous cost increases are not the result of the free market.”

The approach: Let the state contract with wholesalers in Canada, importing cheaper prescriptions from up north and distributing them to the state’s health care system.

Other states — Vermont, West Virginia and Oklahoma, among them — are following similar paths, pushing legislation that would seek permission from the Trump administration to launch their own plans to import drugs from Canada.

For years, American consumers have tried to buy cheaper drugs from their northern neighbor, sometimes packing into buses for day trips to Canadian pharmacies, or patronizing American stores that help them order drugs from abroad. But the practice is illegal.

The states want to change that, and set up a formal process that nets broader savings. The idea is for the state health department to set up a wholesale program that buys drugs from Canada and resells them to local pharmacies and hospitals. Individual states would be responsible for ensuring that the medications are safe and that importing them does save money.

“This statute is putting pressure on the federal government to take a harder look at these questions,” said Rachel Sachs, an associate law professor at Washington University of St. Louis, who researches drug price regulations. “The state legislatures can say, ‘Look, we’re doing everything we can, but we do need the federal government to help us out on this.’”

The federal government has been slow to act on this issue, and skeptics say a 30-page Trump administration memo on drug pricing released late last week would likely have only limited impact.

But states, whose budgets for Medicaid and state employee health programs are squeezed by these costs, are moving forward.

States Feel Drug-Price Squeeze

In Vermont alone, drug spending has gone up by 35 percent from 2010 to 2015, the most recent year for which data are available.

Backers of the state plans say the strategy is a no-brainer that could save hundreds of millions of dollars. They discount concerns about drug safety, arguing that drugs from Canada are made by reputable companies, often in the same facilities and by the same firms that sell them in the U.S. — but at much higher prices.

“We would be bringing in drugs intended for the Canadian market, and therefore at Canadian pricing,” Thurston said. “One would assume if we could come up with a program that meets the recommendations of federal law, what justification would the [Health and Human Services] secretary have for saying no?”

The state measures follow model legislation developed by the National Academy for State Health Policy that uses a framework put in place by the 2003 federal law that created the Medicare Part D program. That law says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can approve drug importation plans if it is convinced the plans will save money and will not create any public health concerns.

Once passed, these laws task state health departments with overseeing the development of these programs. After the health department settles on the specifics, state officials must negotiate implementation with HHS. That could take years.

Uphill Battle

In 15 years, HHS has never acted upon the 2003 law by approving any drug importation program.

Last spring, when members of Congress pushed a national bill, a bipartisan group of former Food and Drug Administration commissioners came out in opposition, arguing it would be impossible to verify drug safety absolutely. That bill ultimately failed to garner a majority vote.

It’s unclear where the current administration stands on this issue.

Alex Azar, the newly confirmed HHS secretary, has been coy on the subject — though in a confirmation hearing last fall, he said importing drugs from Canada could create safety concerns. Despite multiple requests, HHS did not provide comment for this story by the publication deadline.

The pharmaceutical industry echoed the cautions about safety.

“The proposals we are seeing in states across the country threaten the safety of patients and families and will not deliver the savings they promise,” said Priscilla VanderVeer, a spokeswoman for the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

In the states, though, backers say their bills address that concern.

And other analysts argued that, regardless, safety of Canadian drugs isn’t a real issue.

“A lot of the drugs used in the United States and in Canada are made in the same plants, in countries like India or Europe,” said Michael Law, a pharmaceutical policy expert and associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Center for Health Services and Policy Research. “The U.S. FDA and other regulatory agencies rely on other agencies’ inspections — the idea that Canadian drugs are these dangerous drugs is a red herring.”

A bigger question, he said, is the amount of savings these bills would generate.

Thurston pointed to Utah state analyses that suggest the state could save $70 million in the private sector, and another $20 million to $30 million in state-funded insurance programs. If approved, he said, the state would target 15 to 20 drugs to import — insulin, for instance, because it is bought in large quantities, or expensive drugs that treat hepatitis C or HIV.

Others expressed skepticism.

For one thing, the true price of prescription drugs isn’t always clear. There’s the list price — and generally, those are much higher in the United States. But insurance plans often negotiate rebates, or discounts, from the drug company — meaning they can end up paying far less than what’s advertised. Those discounts aren’t public, making it much harder to compare prices between the two countries.

Putting Up Roadblocks

The drug industry would also likely employ strategies to counter importation.

Pharmaceutical companies, Law noted, stand to lose if American states are importing cheaper drugs. That could motivate them to tamp down how many prescriptions they sell in Canada, or find other ways to discourage Canadian wholesalers from participating.

“My guess is any Canadian distributor to engage in that would find their [medication] supply dwindle quickly, because the drug companies would stop supplying,” he said. “The supplier systems in the United States would probably find it hard to get a [Canadian drug] supply in the long term.”

That’s certainly a real concern, said Claire Ayer, a Vermont state senator and Democrat who chairs her legislature’s Health and Welfare Committee.

“We can’t tell drug companies or wholesalers what to do in Canada,” she added.

VanderVeer said PhRMA could not speculate on how individual drug companies may react to importation.

Still, these state efforts could spur the federal government to take action, Sachs suggested — even if it’s unclear how large an impact importation would have.

“Importation will not solve all the problems — and I don’t think states see it as such,” she said. “But it could be a useful way to put pressure on a federal government and White House that has thus far largely been inactive on this topic.”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Advancing the positives of aging

Senior running a marathon in front of his group

What can be done about negative stereotypes that portray older adults as out-of-touch, useless, feeble, incompetent, pitiful and irrelevant?

From late-night TV comedy shows where supposedly clueless older people are the butt of jokes to ads for anti-aging creams equating youth with beauty and wrinkles with decay, harsh and unflattering images shape assumptions about aging. Although people may hope for good health and happiness, in practice they tend to believe that growing older involves deterioration and decline, according to reports from the Reframing Aging Initiative.

(Jeff Epperly notes: The 2018 Super Bowl commercial from E-Trade, shown below or click here, is an example of the messages about elder incompetence which so permeate our society that advertisers can get away with promoting stereotypes about the old they could never put forth in today’s society about, say, gender, race or sexual orientation.)

Dismal expectations can become self-fulfilling as people start experiencing changes associated with growing older — aching knees or problems with hearing, for instance. If a person has internalized negative stereotypes, his confidence may be eroded, stress responses activated, motivation diminished (“I’m old, and it’s too late to change things”) and a sense of efficacy (“I can do that”) impaired.

Health often suffers as a result, according to studies showing that older adults who hold negative stereotypes tend to walk slowly, experience memory problems and recover less fully from a fall or fracture, among other ramifications. By contrast, seniors whose view of aging is primarily positive live 7.5 years longer.

Can positive images of aging be enhanced and the effects of negative stereotypes reduced? At a recent meeting of the National Academy of Sciences’ Forum on Aging, Disability and Independence, experts embraced this goal and offered several suggestions for how it can be advanced:

Become aware of implicit biases

Implicit biases are automatic, unexamined thoughts that reside below the level of consciousness. An example: the sight of an older person using a cane might trigger associations with “dependency” and “incompetence” — negative biases.

Forum attendee Dr. Charlotte Yeh, chief medical officer for AARP Services Inc., spoke of her experience after being struck by a car and undergoing a lengthy, painful process of rehabilitation. Limping and using a cane, she routinely found strangers treating her as if she were helpless.

“I would come home feeling terrible about myself,” she said. Decorating her cane with ribbons and flowers turned things around. “People were like ‘Oh, my God that’s so cool,’” said Yeh, who noted that the decorations evoked the positivity associated with creativity instead of the negativity associated with disability.

Implicit biases can be difficult to discover, insofar as they coexist with explicit thoughts that seem to contradict them. For example, implicitly, someone may feel “being old is terrible” while explicitly that person may think: “We need to do more, as a society, to value older people.” Yet this kind of conflict may go unrecognized.

To identify implicit bias, pay attention to your automatic responses. If you find yourself flinching at the sight of wrinkles when you look in the bathroom mirror, for instance, acknowledge this reaction and then ask yourself, “Why is this upsetting?”

Use strategies to challenge biases. Patricia Devine, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies ways to reduce racial prejudice, calls this “tuning in” to habits of mind that usually go unexamined.

Resolving to change these habits isn’t enough, she said, at the NAS forum’s gathering in New York City: “You need strategies.” Her research shows that five strategies are effective:

Replacing Stereotypes

Replace stereotypes. This entails becoming aware of and then altering responses informed by stereotypes. Instead of assuming a senior with a cane needs your help, for instance, you might ask, “Would you like assistance?” — a question that respects an individual’s autonomy. Embrace new images. This involves thinking about people who don’t fit the stereotype you’ve acknowledged. This could be a group of people (older athletes), a famous person (TV producer Norman Lear, now 95, who just sold a show on aging to NBC) or someone you know (a cherished older friend). Individualize it. The more we know about people, the less we’re likely to think of them as a group characterized by stereotypes. Delve into specifics. What unique challenges does an older person face? How does she cope day to day? Switch perspectives. This involves imagining yourself as a member of the group you’ve been stereotyping. What would it be like if strangers patronized you and called you “sweetie” or “dear,” for example? Make contact. Interact with the people you’ve been stereotyping. Go visit and talk with that friend who’s now living in a retirement community.

Devine’s research hasn’t looked specifically at older adults; the examples above come from other sources. But she’s optimistic that the basic lesson she’s learned, “prejudice is a habit that can be broken,” applies nonetheless.

Emphasize the positive. Another strategy — strengthening implicit positive stereotypes — comes from Becca Levy, a professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University and a leading researcher in this field.

In a 2016 study, she and several colleagues demonstrated that exposing older adults to subliminal positive messages about aging several times over the course of a month improved their mobility and balance — crucial measures of physical function.

The messages were embedded in word blocks that flashed quickly across a computer screen, including descriptors such as wise, creative, spry and fit. The weekly sessions were about 15 minutes long, proving that even a relatively short exposure to positive images of aging can make a difference.

At the forum, Levy noted that 196 countries across the world have committed to support the World Health Organization’s fledgling campaign to end ageism — discrimination against people simply because they are old. Bolstering positive images of aging and countering the effect of negative stereotypes needs to be a central part of that endeavor, she remarked. It’s also something older adults can do, individually, by choosing to focus on what’s going well in their lives rather than what’s going wrong.

Claim a seat at the table.

“Nothing about us without us” is a clarion call of disability activists, who have demanded that their right to participate fully in society be recognized and made possible by adequate accommodations such as ramps that allow people in wheelchairs to enter public buildings.

So far, however, seniors haven’t similarly insisted on inclusion, making it easier to overlook the ways in which they’re marginalized.

At the forum, Kathy Greenlee, vice president of aging and health policy at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City and formerly assistant secretary for aging in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, called for a new wave of advocacy by and for seniors, saying, “We need more older people talking publicly about themselves and their lives.”

“Everybody is battling aging by themselves, reinforcing the notion that how someone ages is that individual’s responsibility” rather than a collective responsibility, she explained.

Underscoring Greenlee’s point, the forum didn’t feature any older adult speakers discussing their experiences with aging and disability.

In a private conversation, however, Fernando Torres-Gil, the forum’s co-chair and professor of social welfare and public policy at UCLA, spoke of those themes.

Torres-Gil contracted polio when he was 6 months old and spent most of his childhood and adolescence at what was then called the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children in San Francisco. Back then, kids with polio were shunned. “It’s a real tough thing to be excluded,” he remembered.

His advice to older adults whose self-image is threatened by the onset of impairment: “Persevere with optimism. Hang in there. Don’t give up. And never feel sorry for yourself.”

Now age 69, Torres-Gil struggles with post-polio syndrome and has to walk with crutches and leg braces, which he had abandoned in young adulthood and midlife. “I’m getting ready for my motorized scooter,” he said with a smile, then quickly turned serious.

Necessary reassessment 

“The thing is to accept whatever is happening to you, not deny it,” he said, speaking about adjusting attitudes about aging. “You can’t keep things as they are: You have to go through a necessary reassessment of what’s possible. The thing is to do it with graciousness, not bitterness, and to learn how to ask for help, acknowledging the reality of interdependence.”

We’re eager to hear from readers about questions you’d like answered, problems you’ve been having with your care and advice you need in dealing with the health care system. Visit this link to submit your requests or tips.

KHN’s coverage related to these issues is supported in part by The John A. Hartford Foundation and The SCAN Foundation.

Happy International Darwin Day!

Today is International Darwin Day and to celebrate I’m reading some excellent articles from the nice people at darwinday.org, starting with this referral page which acts as my one-stop go-to resource to which I send people who don’t think they know enough about evolution to make an informed decision about its existence. You might just want to skip to the Evolution 101 page.

Because we all want to be open-minded and educate ourselves, right? Because we are never too old to learn new stuff.

However, if you’re just not in the mood right now for those more time-consuming articles, you can watch the video on this page from PBS’s Nova about Darwin and evolution and how our understanding of it has changed since his time. Or any one of a number of these Ted Talks which explain some of the uncounted ways evolution shows itself on earth.

One of my favorites (below) talks about how humans might evolve to better survive long periods in space.

Just because you want to be informed doesn't mean you can't laugh along the way. Science, politics, religion, pop culture and the law.