Two abortion providers sued a Dallas hospital on Thursday, after the hospital revoked their admitting privileges. Because Texas law now requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, the revocation would mean that these doctors could no longer legally perform abortions. In a letter to the doctors, Chuck Schuetz, CEO of University General Hospital–Dallas, said they were disrupting the hospital's "business and the reputation" by providing abortions at their own facilities miles away. The lawsuit filed by the doctors, Lamar Robinson and Jasbir Ahluwalia, contends that the hospital discriminated against them because they perform abortions.
Last month, anti-abortion rights activists announced plans to hold a demonstration outside the hospital to protest its association with Robinson. But on March 31, the day before the protest was to take place, Schuetz canceled the doctors' admitting privileges. "Your practice of voluntary interruption of pregnancies...creates significant exposure and damages to UGHD's reputation within the community," Schuetz wrote to Robinson and and Ahluwalia. In the letter, Schuetz characterized providing abortions as "disruptive behavior." He claimed that the hospital was not equipped to treat complications related to abortion and that the doctors were increasing "the probability of malpractice." Robinson and Ahluwalia allege that Schuetz yielded to pressure from anti-abortion rights activists, promising them the hospital would be "pro-life" and not associate with abortion doctors.
There has been no lack of conservative Christian criticism aimed at Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky's blockbuster film, Noah, a work suffused with environmental themes. "I expected to be irritated by the movie—but I found myself grieved," wrote Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, characterizing the film's environmentalism as leading to "a horrifying anti-humanism."
"Noah" and the Nexus of Faith and Environmentalism.
April 23, 2014, 3:00 - 4:00 pm ET.
The Center for American Progress, 1333 H St., NW, 10th Fl. Washington, DC 20005.
RSVP here (space is extremely limited); a live web stream will be available here on the day of the event.
Yet there is a very strong case to be made that the film is not just provocative—it captures something very deep about the Noah story. Noah was the "first environmentalist," according to Aronofsky, whose acclaimed previous films include The Wrestler and Black Swan. Aronfsky certainly has not been shy about the film's green content. "There is a huge statement in the film, a strong message about the coming flood from global warming," Aronofsky told The New Yorker.
Noah stirs the pot over faith and environmentalism, but the pot was already boiling: In the past decade, there has been a growing movement to highlight scripturally based moral imperatives for conserving the environment. That's why the film furnishes a perfect moment to discuss how religious faith, today, serves as an increasingly crucial motivator of environmental action.
Aronofsky himself will be leading that discussion in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, April 23. The director will be on hand to talk about the environmental and religious themes in his new film—and their implications for modern issues like climate change—at an event cosponsored by the Climate Desk, the Center for American Progress, and the Sierra Club. Other panelists will include Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune; Danielle Baussan, managing director of Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress; and Jack Jenkins, a senior writer and researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. The event will be moderated by Chris Mooney (me) of Climate Desk. See above for more details.
Facing his toughest reelection battle in years against a well-known and well-financed female opponent, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently boasted that he led the Senate in ousting a GOP colleague accused of sexual harassment in 1995. But news reports from that time show that late in the investigation, McConnell tried to stall the probe against his fellow Republican, Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.). He derided efforts by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to hold public hearings on Packwood as "frolic and detour"—after the Senate ethics committee had substantiated nearly two-dozen claims of sexual harassment leveled against Packwood by female lobbyists and former staffers.
Talking about the Packwood scandal this past week, McConnell noted that he was chair of the Senate ethics committee when Packwood resigned. In a Tuesday interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader, McConnell said he had taken "the toughest possible position." The newspaper reported that McConnell had "offered himself as an example of how elected officials should handle situations when a member of their own party is accused of sexual harassment."
But the bulk of the ethics probe against Packwood took place when the committee was chaired by a Democrat. When Republicans regained a majority in the Senate after the 1994 elections and McConnell became chair of the committee, he transformed the Packwood investigation into a partisan mess.
I met Jeb Bush's biggest nightmare during a breakout session at March's Conservative Political Action Conference held outside of DC. In a side room, Phyllis Schlafly, the octogenarian den mother of the religious right, was explaining why attendees should be afraid of a set of national educational standards, little noticed by the national political press, called Common Core. The standards are arguably Bush's biggest political legacy. They are also the source of a rising tide of activism on the political right. One after another, conservative activists in the standing-room-only audience stood up to express their alarm. "If you are a white male boy—God forbid you're Jewish!—you're being targeted and it's very scary," fretted a woman from Texas. "Very scary."
Jared Diamond didn't start out as the globe-romping author of massive, best-selling books about the precarious state of our civilization. Rather, after a Cambridge training in physiology, he at first embarked on a career in medical research. By the mid-1980s, he had become recognized as the world's foremost expert on, of all things, the transport of sodium in the human gall bladder.
But then in 1987, something happened: His twin sons were born. "I concluded that gall bladders were not going to save the world," remembers Diamond on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast. "I realized that the future of my sons was not going to depend upon the wills that my wife and I were drawing up for our sons, but on whether there was going to be a world worth living in in the year 2050."
The result was Diamond's first popular book, The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. It's the book that came before his mega-bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, but it very much lays the groundwork for that work, as well as for Diamond's 2005 ecological jeremiad Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. In a sense, The Third Chimpanzee ties together Diamond's thinking: It's a sweeping survey of who we humans are—evolutionarily speaking, that is—and what that says about whether we can solve the "various messes that we're making now," in Diamond's words. And this month, The Third Chimpanzee has been released in a new, shortened, and illustrated edition for young adults, underscoring Diamond's view that our entire future now depends on "enabl[ing] young people to make better decisions than their parents."
In other words, if you want to boil down Diamond's message these days to its essence, it would be something like this: Go forth, young chimpanzees, and clean up the mess we made. (Or else.) For Diamond, the story of who we are is also the story of what we must do. The younger among us, anyway.
So who are we? From the perspective of genetics, we are clearly the third species of chimpanzee. Our DNA is only 1.6 percent different from that of either chimps or pygmy chimpanzees (today more commonly called bonobos). "The reason why you and I are talking, and we're not locked up in cages—whereas chimpanzees are not talking, and are locked up in cages—all that lies in 2 percent of our DNA," explained Diamond on Inquiring Minds.
In fact, as Diamond emphasizes in his book, we are more genetically similar to chimps than many other closely related species are to one another. Gorillas and chimps, for instance, are 2.3 percent different, which means that chimps are considerably closer to us than to their other nearest primate relatives. Or, consider two very closely related songbird species: the red-eyed and white-eyed vireo. They are 2.9 percent different, notes Diamond.
So what makes humans so seemingly special? Until pretty recently, we weren't. All the way up to 80,000 years ago, we were just "glorified chimpanzees," in Diamond's words. But then, something changed. Diamond calls it the "Great Leap Forward." "The first art appears, necklaces, pierced ostrich shells," he says. "There's rapid invention of tools, implying that even though our brains had been big for hundreds of thousands of years, we were not doing much interesting with these big brains—at least nothing that showed up preserved in the fossil record."
We're still not sure what brought on the Great Leap Forward. There wasn't any big environmental change that drove us to adapt; all this happened in the middle of an Ice Age. Diamond's hypothesis is that it was the development and perfection of spoken language that catapulted us forward, making possible teamwork, collaboration, planning, long-distance trade, and much more. Whether for lack of vocal capacity, brain development, or some other reason, chimps never made this leap. "A baby chimpanzee that was brought up in the home of a clinical psychologist couple, along with their baby, by age two, the chimpanzee could pronounce only four consonants and vowels, and it never got better," says Diamond. "But if all you can say is, bi, ba, di, do, that doesn't get you Shakespeare, and it also doesn't let you discuss how to construct atomic bombs and bows and arrows."
In this view, the downstream consequences of language acquisition are, basically, everything that stands out about human civilization. That ranges from the highly beneficial—the dramatic growth in life expectancy—to the mixed: technologies that have significant benefits but also huge costs (like, say, devices to exploit fossil fuels for energy). And most of all, it includes environmental despoilment and resource depletion. "At present, we, humans, are operating worldwide on a nonsustainable economy," Diamond says. "We're exploiting resources, water, energy sources, fisheries, forests at a rate such that most of these resources will get seriously depleted within a few decades."
As a result, Diamond believes that our big brains are now setting us up for a major fall—a Great Leap Backward, if you will. "We are now reversing our progress much more rapidly than we created it," writes Diamond in the new The Third Chimpanzee. "Our power threatens our own existence."
In our interview, host Indre Viskontas asked Diamond where he thought humanity would be 100 years from now. What's striking is that he wasn't positive that the modern world, as we know it, would be around at all. It all depends, he says, on where we are at 2050:
Either by the year 2050 we've succeeded in developing a sustainable economy, in which case we can then ask your question about 100 years from now, because there will be 100 years from now; or by 2050 we've failed to develop a sustainable economy, which means that there will no longer be first world living conditions, and there either won't be humans 100 years from now, or those humans 100 years from now will have lifestyles similar of those of Cro-Magnons 40,000 years ago, because we've already stripped away the surface copper and the surface iron. If we knock ourselves out of the first world, we're not going to be able to rebuild a first world.
In 2005's Collapse, Diamond provided a great deal more detail on how ecological despoilment led to the collapse of other societies, such as the Easter Islanders, who cut down all their trees. The difference now, however, is that globalization causes our peril to be more widely distributed, kind of like a house of cards. "In this globalized world," Diamond says, "it's no longer possible for societies to collapse one by one. A collapse that we face, if there is going to be a collapse, it will be a global collapse."
And yet despite all of this, Diamond says he's "cautiously optimistic" about the future of humanity. What exactly does that mean? "My estimate for the chances that we will master our problems and have a happy future, I would say the chances are 51 percent," explains Diamond. "And the chances of a bad ending are only 49 percent."
Not everybody agrees with Diamond that we're in such a perilous state, of course. But there is perhaps no more celebrated chronicler of why civilizations rise, and why they fall. That is, after all, why we read him. So when Diamond says we've got maybe 50 years to turn it around, we should at least consider the possibility that he might actually be right. For if he is, the consequences are so intolerable that anything possible should be done to avert them.
Which brings us back to his book for young people—or, perhaps more accurately, for young chimpanzees. "This is the spirit in which I dedicate this book to my young sons and their generation," writes Diamond in the new edition. "If we learn from the past that I have traced, our future may be brighter than that of the other two chimpanzees."
To listen to the full interview with Jared Diamond, you can stream below:
This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and best-selling author Chris Mooney, also features a discussion of the science (and superstition) behind this week's "blood moon," and the case of K.C., the late amnesiac patient who taught us so much about the nature of human memory.
To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds viaiTunes orRSS. We are also available on Stitcher and on Swell. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Inquiring Minds was also recently singled out as one of the "Best of 2013" on iTunes—you can learn more here.
His face lit by the phone in his hand, a boy texts with family members in Homs, Syria, the site of some of the worst fighting in his country's three-year civil war. The teen was one of 100 or so refugees photographer Liam Maloney found living in an abandoned slaughterhouse in northern Lebanon. Maloney's "Texting Syria" project depicts the displaced Syrians and their texts with loved ones behind the frontlines.
A 19-year-old undocumented immigrant confronted Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and not-quite-presidential candidate, about immigration reform at an event hosted by the Clinton Foundation Thursday.
An hour into the panel discussion, which featured Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, the moderator, actress America Ferrera, called on a young woman at the front of the room to ask a question. "I have a very different glass ceiling than some of the girls here," the 19-year-old woman explained, fighting back tears. "For the first time publicly I want to say that I am an undocumented immigrant." She went on to explain that her family had illegally brought her to the US from Croatia when she was five-years-old. "It's been very hard," she continued, "because I don't have the documentation to get a job, to vote—which is essential obviously to women representation—to buy an apartment, to take out a loan to go to college, so I couldn't even go to my dream college because of that, to get no financial aid."
Clinton immediately sympathized. "I believe strongly that we are missing a great opportunity by not welcoming people like you," she said, "and 11 million others who have made contributions to our country, into a legal status."
You can watch the exchange here, beginning at the hour and 20-minute mark.
Clinton continued, saying that she favors "immigration reform and a path to citizenship." The former secretary of state shied away from offering an opinion on how exactly she thinks the government should offer citizenship to those residing in the country without documents, but she endorsed the reform bill that the Senate passed last year. Without naming the party, she called out the Republican leaders of the House of Representatives and said that they should allow a vote on the bill. "I think that's a big missed opportunity for our country," Clinton said, "because part of the reason we're going to do really well in the 21st century is because we are a nation of immigrants. We keep attracting people like you and your family who want to make a contribution. It's not only because we want to make life better for people like yourselves who is already here, it's good for us."
Clinton supported the failed bipartisan efforts to reform the immigration system during George W Bush's second term. The Senate's latest stab at fixing the system is more modest than the Bush-era proposal.
After an argument about a leave denied, Specialist Ivan Lopez pulled out a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun and began a shooting spree at Fort Hood, America's biggest stateside base, that left three soldiers dead and 16 wounded. When he did so, he also pulled America's fading wars out of the closet. This time, a Fort Hood mass killing, the second in four and a half years, was committed by a man who was neither a religious nor a political "extremist." He seems to have been merely one of America's injured and troubled veterans who now number in the hundreds of thousands.
Some 2.6 million men and women have been dispatched, often repeatedly, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and according to a recent survey of veterans of those wars conducted by the WashingtonPost and the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly one-third say that their mental health is worse than it was before they left, and nearly half say the same of their physical condition. Almost half say they give way to sudden outbursts of anger. Only 12 percent of the surveyed veterans claim they are now "better" mentally or physically than they were before they went to war.
Last week, an 18-year-old bartender in North Yorkshire, England, was serving drinks when a colleague's electronic cigarette exploded, setting the bartender's dress on fire. This was not the first reported incident of an e-cigarette exploding—over the past few years, there have been more than a dozen similar reports.
Specifically, it's e-cigarettes' lithium-ion batteries that combust. These batteries are also found in laptops and cellphones. But with e-cigarettes, the batteries are especially prone to overheating because smokers use incompatible chargers, overcharge the e-cigarettes, or don't take sufficient safety precautions. For example, many e-cigarettes are made to plug into a USB port, which smokers may take to mean the devices can be safely charged with a computer or iPad charger. But if left too long in a common USB port, some e-cigarette batteries can fry.
The industry acknowledges that explosions are a possibility. "I'm aware of 10 failures in the last year," Thomas Kiklas, who represents the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, told NBC Chicago last October. "When you charge them, they are 99.9 percent safe, but occasionally there will be failures."
The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees tobacco products, does not currently regulate e-cigarettes. An FDA spokesperson says the agency is working to change that.
Here is a brief history of notable e-cigarette explosions and fires:
Niceville, Florida, February 2012
A 57-year-old Vietnam veteran was smoking an e-cigarette when it exploded in his face, knocking out his teeth and part of his tongue, according to ABC News. A fire chief told the news outlet that the accident was most likely caused by a faulty lithium battery, which exploded like a "bottle rocket."
Muskogee, Oklahoma, April 2012
Shona Bear Clark bought an NJOY e-cigarette from Walmart to help her cut back on smoking half a pack a day. Clark says it exploded when she tried to remove it from its package. "It was as loud as firing a gun, but a gun fired right in your face," she recalled.
Corona, California, March 2013
Jennifer Ries and her husband, Xavier, were driving to the airport, with their VapCigs e-cig charging in the car. "I looked around and I saw the battery to the [e-cigarette] dripping," she told CBS Los Angeles. "I went to unscrew it and the battery started shooting fire toward me and then exploded and shot the metal pieces onto my lap…A blowtorch type of fire and then an explosion." Ries suffered second-degree burns, and the the couple later sued the e-cig manufacturer.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 2013
Kyle Czeschin's e-cig was plugged into his laptop. Guess what happened next? "Everything was on fire, my laptop was on fire, my lamp was on fire, the shades," he told News On 6.
Sherman, Texas, July 2013
Wes Sloan wanted to kick his habit, so bought what he assumed would be a safer, electric alternative to cigarettes. "The battery was into about a two-hour charge and it exploded and shot across the room like a Roman candle," he said. Sloan was charging the e-cig in the USB port of a Macbook. He says he suffered second- and third-degree burns, and that he and his wife, Cathy, were treated for smoke inhalation.
Mount Pleasant, Utah, September 2013
A Utah mom was charging her e-cigarette in her car when she said there was "a big bang, and kind of a flash, [and] smoke everywhere," according to Fox 13 News. The e-cigarette reportedly released a hot copper coil that landed in her son's car seat, burning the boy. The mom was finally able to put the fire out with an iced coffee. A fire marshal told the news outlet that the mom's charger was standard and factory-issued, and it was a "catastrophic failure of the device." He also noted this was the second e-cigarette explosion he'd investigated recently in the region.
Atlanta, September 2013
A woman in Grant Park plugged her e-cigarette into her computer to charge it, according to WSB-TV Atlanta. Fortunately, she was home when she says it began to shoot four-foot flames across the living room. (A screenshot in the above link shows the rag that the woman used to unplug the e-cigarette as it was burning.) "If I hadn't had been home, I would have lost my dogs, I would have lost my cats, I would have lost my house," she told the news station.
La Crosse, Wisconsin, September 2013
The La Crosse Fire Department explains how they're learning to deal with e-cig fires:
Blaine, Minnesota, October 2013
A man was charging his e-cigarette through his computer when his wife noticed that it was "sparking like a fountain firework," according to KMSP Fox 9. The device then "shot out like a missile" from the computer, she said. The owner of a nearby e-cigarette business told the news outlet that the battery didn't have overcharge protection, and that's likely why it overheated.
Kootenai County, Idaho, November 2013
An e-cigarette started a fire in an Idaho household's living room while the family of four slept. The device, which was charging through a laptop, overheated and exploded. "If that smoke alarm didn't go off, none of us would have woken up, you know, none of us would have been able to get to the door, 'cause it would have been blocked by the flames and we would have all died," the son said.
Queen Creek, Arizona, November 2013
Just four days after Kyler Lawson bought his Crown Seven Gladiator e-cigarette, it exploded while charging. "It shot out like a bullet, hit the window, dropped from the window to the carpet," he said. "Caught the carpet on fire…If you're going to charge it, be there. Be present when you're charging it because you never know what can happen."
Eugene, Oregon, November 2013
Judy Timmons had been charging her e-cig in her car for two hours when it exploded. "I'm just glad my grandkids weren't in the backseat because it could have exploded at any time," she said. "It had enough power and momentum to shoot all the way to the backseat," Larry, her husband, said.
A man in Colorado Springs was charging his e-cigarette when it exploded, setting his bed on fire, according to KRDO NewsChannel 13. He used a blanket to smother the flames, suffering burns on his body and face. The manufacturer of "Foos" e-cigarettes told the news outlet that this was the first time he'd heard of their products malfunctioning. The man said that nonetheless, "I'm back on normal cigarettes now."
Sneads Ferry, North Carolina, January 2014
A North Carolina man who spent over 20 years working as a firefighter was injured after his e-cigarette exploded in his face. He described the incident to the Jacksonville Daily News as feeling like "a bunch of hot oil hit my face." After spending the night in the hospital, the newspaper reported that he continues to suffer from the incident: "The bottom of his left eyeball is sensitive to light, hard to see out of, and will need to be looked at by an optometrist."
Springfield, Missouri, January 2014
Last Christmas Eve, Chantz Mondragon was sitting in bed with his wife when his e-cig overheated and burst into flames. The device was charging via a USB port on his laptop. He described the explosion as "a searing hot blinding light like a magnesium sparkler, [like] whenever you see a person welding." Mondragon also said the fire burned through his bed, and caused second-degree burns on his leg and foot.
North Yorkshire, England, April, 2014
Eighteen-year-old Laura Baty was serving a customer at the Buck Inn Hotel when her coworker's charging e-cigarette exploded behind the bar. "I started crying hysterically and my arm was all black," she told the Press. "My dress caught on fire as I ran away, and I just didn't know what was happening."
London, April 2014
A woman who used an incompatible charger to charge her e-cigarette caused a major fire that took about 40 minutes to get under control, according to the London Evening Standard. A member of the London Fire Brigade told the paper that, "As with all rechargeable electrical equipment, it's vitally important that people use the correct type of charger for their e-cigs to prevent fires which can be serious and could even result in death."
This past weekend—days after Mother Jones revealed video of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) claiming that Dick Cheney exploited 9/11 to start the Iraq War to boost profits for Halliburton, the military contractor where Cheney had been CEO—Paul claimed in interviews with ABC News and Business Insider that he had never questioned Cheney's motives. He insisted he had merely noted that Cheney's Halliburton ties had posed the "chance for a conflict of interest." Paul was spinning—not acknowledging the actual comments. But when Paul was running for the US Senate in 2009 and 2010 as a tea party outsider who would take on Washington's special-interest lobbyists, he repeatedly cited the Cheney-connected Halliburton as an example of what was wrong in the nation's capital. In a videotaped talk on national-security policy, for example, Paul complained, "We give billion-dollar contracts to Halliburton, they turn around and spend millions on lobbyists to ask for more money from government. It's an endless cycle of special-interest lobbyists." At one campaign stop after another, Paul bashed Halliburton, and he boasted that he had a bold and imaginative plan for limiting the influence of big-money lobbyists and donors who funnel cash into the campaign coffers of candidates to win access and favors. But several years into his first term, Paul has yet to introduce this proposal—or say much, if anything, about it. In fact, he has been accepting contributions from the lobbyists he once so passionately decried.
On March 2, 2010, Paul appeared on CNN, and host Rick Sanchez asked him what he would do about the "unbelievable amounts of money that are being paid from certain industries into the campaign coffers of certain politicians…and how are you going to deal with that, if you get elected?" Without pausing, Paul confidently replied:
I think that I have a cure for it actually that will pass constitutional muster. What I would do is, on every federal contract, I would have a clause, and it says, if you accept this clause you voluntarily give up the right to lobby, you voluntarily give up the right to give PAC contributions. And I would have the top 20 officers sign it also individually, voluntarily give up their right to give [political] contributions…I'm talking about people who do business with the federal government. For example, we have big business that get billion-dollar no-bid contracts with the government. They take their first million dollars, and they buy a lobbyist. The lobbyist goes then and asks for more money. It's a vicious cycle. So I would say if you want to do business with the federal government, what I would say is let's have a clause in the contract, and it's a voluntary clause, you don't have to do business with the government, but if you do, then you give up certain things.
Paul's critique was reminiscent of the position Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) advocated when he was a campaign finance reform firebrand years ago. McCain denounced the "iron triangle" of lobbyists, campaign contributions, and legislation. Paul, who has often slammed McCain for passing a campaign finance law imposing limits on what outside groups can do to affect federal elections, had devised his own way to break up this unseemly triangle.