Sunday, April 2, 2017

Last Call For Garland Parade

“The tradition had been not to confirm vacancies in the middle of a presidential [election] year,” McConnell told Meet the Presshost Chuck Todd. “You’d have to go back 80 years to find the last time it happened… Everyone knew, including President Obama’s former White House counsel, that if the shoe had been on the other foot, [Democrats] wouldn’t have filled a Republican president’s vacancy in the middle of a presidential election.”

“That’s a rationale to vote against his confirmation,” Todd argued. “Why not put him up for a vote? Any senator can have a rationale to not to vote for a confirmation. Why not put Merrick Garland on the floor and if the rationale is, ‘You know what? Too close to an election,’ then vote no?”

McConnell laughed defensively.

“Look, we litigated that last year,” the Majority Leader stuttered. “The American people decided that they wanted Donald Trump to make the nomination, not Hillary Clinton.”

McConnell argued that Democrats should focus on the issue at hand, the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s Supreme Court pick.

“There’s no rational reason, no basis for voting against Neil Gorsuch,” McConnell opined.

“You say it’s been litigated, the Garland situation,” Todd replied. “For a lot of Senate Democrats, they’re not done litigating this… What was wrong with allowing Merrick Garland to have an up or down vote?”

“I already told you!” McConnell exclaimed. “You don’t fill Supreme Court vacancies in the middle of a presidential election.”

“Should that be the policy going forward?” Todd interrupted. “Are you prepared to pass a resolution that says in election years any Supreme Court vacancy [will not be filled] and let it be a sense of the Senate resolution, that says no Supreme Court nominations will be considered in any even numbered year? Is that where we’re headed?”

That’s an absurd question,” McConnell complained. “We were right in the middle of a presidential election year. Every body knew that either side — had the shoe been on the other foot — wouldn’t have filled it. But that has nothing to do with what we’re voting on this year.

Dems should say that since Trump is already campaigning that they can't possibly allow Gorsuch to get a vote and filibuster him, since we can't possibly nominate and confirm a Supreme Court nominee during that time.

Shutdown Countdown, Con't

Don't look now, but the party that can't even pass its own healthcare legislation after seven years needs to come up with a budget in less than four weeks or the government shuts down. Stan Collender:

Funding for the federal government will run out at midnight on April 28. If some type of new appropriation isn't enacted by then, there will be a government shutdown the next day.

You would think the Republican-controlled Congress would want to deal with this immediately, especially in the aftermath of the Affordable Care Act repeal/replace debacle.

But the Senate will be in recess from next Friday until April 24 (the House comes back on April 25) and isn't planning to consider a new funding deal until then. Once it comes back to Washington, Congress will be in session for less than a week before the shutdown will begin.

President Trump has proposed $18 billion in cuts to domestic programs for the rest of fiscal 2017 that the White House will want included in the new funding bill. He's also proposed initial spending for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Congressional Democrats are against the president's proposals. While they're very likely to vote against the funding bill no matter what, House and Senate Democrats are almost guaranteed to vote against it if any of these hot button items are included.

And guess what?  The GOP budget might not even make it out of the House.

Republican leaders are eager to avoid a government shutdown but the demise of their Obamacare repeal could leave some conservatives spoiling for a fight that raises the odds of a standoff.

The House Freedom Caucus, which helped bring down the GOP health-care bill, says Republicans have yet to notch a significant victory, despite controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House. One top promise they and other conservatives had to hoped to deliver on with the Obamacare repeal was defunding Planned Parenthood over its provision of abortions.

Now, their next chance comes with a spending measure needed to keep the government operating after April 28, when current funding runs out. But Democrats, and some Republicans, strongly defend the group, which provides many health services to women. The battle, which nearly led to a shutdown in 2015, could be enough to set Congress on a path to another one.

“I’m very concerned and we are going to have to try and work in a bipartisan fashion,” Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said Monday.

House Speaker Paul Ryan suggested Tuesday that the spending measure was the wrong place to wage the Planned Parenthood fight.

“We think reconciliation is the way to go” on defunding the group, Ryan told reporters, referring to the mechanism Republicans were trying to use for the health-care bill that allows them to avoid a filibuster from Senate Democrats.

But to do that, it will have to make it past the same GOP House Freedom Caucus that scrapped Trumpcare because it wasn't draconian enough. Anyone want to take bets on whether or not this turns into a disaster?

Too late, I'm thinking.

Some Inciting News In Kentucky

The big local story today is the ruling by a federal judge that then GOP candidate Trump did incite violence at one of his campaign rallies in Louisville last spring, and that the lawsuit against him can proceed.

A federal judge in Louisville said in a ruling that then-candidate Donald Trump incited the use of violence against three protesters when he told supporters at a campaign rally a year ago to "get 'em out of here."

U. S. District Judge David J. Hale of the Western District of Kentucky also wrote in an opinion and order released Friday that because violence had broken out at a prior Trump rally and that known hate group members were in the Louisville crowd, Trump's ordering the removal of an African-American woman was "particularly reckless."

Citing case law from tumultuous 1960s race riots and student protests, Hale rejected motions to dismiss the pending complaint against Trump and three supporters in the crowd that was filed by three protesters after a March 1, 2016, campaign rally in Louisville. Only a portion of the defendants' motion was granted, but the decision means that the bulk of the claims will proceed. Hale referred the case to Magistrate Judge H. Brent Brennenstuhl.

The protesters, Henry Brousseau, Kashiya Nwanguma and Molly Shah, are seeking unspecified monetary damages. They claim they were assaulted by audience members who were riled up by Trump. Besides Trump, the lawsuit names three defendants in attendance — Matthew Heimbach, a leader with the white supremacist group Traditional Youth Network from Paoli, Indiana; and Alvin Bamberger, a member of the Korean War Veterans Association from Ohio; and an unknown individual.

The men were caught on video pushing and shoving Nwanguma to usher her out of the Kentucky International Convention Center after Trump's urging from the stage. Trump's lawyer, R. Kent Westberry of Louisville, had argued that the suit's allegations threaten fundamental constitutional protections by chilling political speech and that those accused of assaulting the three were not acting for or at the direction of Trump or the campaign. Instead, they were acting on their own initiative and for their own purposes, Westberry wrote. 

People didn't believe me that Trump was a threat when I brought this up after this happened 13 months ago.  They didn't believe me when I said he was generating white identity politics to win over white voters and that he was a clear danger to the country.

They believe me now.

Sunday Long Read: The Technology Of Immortality

This week's Sunday Long Read is New Yorker author Tad Friend's piece on Silicon Valley's quest to find the fountain of youth: clinical immortality and the end of aging.  Nobody it seems is more interested in finding the keys to controlling human lifespan more than the young titans of tech, who want to be around to see -- and to direct -- human development long, long into our future.

For decades, the solution to aging has seemed merely decades away. In the early nineties, research on C. elegans, a tiny nematode worm that resembles a fleck of lint, showed that a single gene mutation extended its life, and that another mutation blocked that extension. The idea that age could be manipulated by twiddling a few control knobs ignited a research boom, and soon various clinical indignities had increased the worm’s life span by a factor of ten and those of lab mice by a factor of two. The scientific consensus transformed. Age went from being a final stage (a Time cover from 1958: “Growing Old Usefully”) and a social issue (Time, 1970: “Growing Old in America: The Unwanted Generation”) to something avoidable (1996: “Forever Young”) or at least vastly deferrable (2015: “This Baby Could Live to Be 142 Years Old”). Death would no longer be a metaphysical problem, merely a technical one.

The celebration was premature. Gordon Lithgow, a leading C. elegans researcher, told me, “At the beginning, we thought it would be simple—a clock!—but we’ve now found about five hundred and fifty genes in the worm that modulate life span. And I suspect that half of the twenty thousand genes in the worm’s genome are somehow involved.” That’s for a worm with only nine hundred and fifty-nine cells. The code book is far more complex for animals that excite our envy: the bee larva fed copiously on royal jelly that changes into an ageless queen; the Greenland shark that lives five hundred years and doesn’t get cancer; even the humble quahog clam, the kind used for chowder, which holds the record at five hundred and seven.

For us, aging is the creeping and then catastrophic dysfunction of everything, all at once. Our mitochondria sputter, our endocrine system sags, our DNA snaps. Our sight and hearing and strength diminish, our arteries clog, our brains fog, and we falter, seize, and fail. Every research breakthrough, every announcement of a master key that we can turn to reverse all that, has been followed by setbacks and confusion. A few years ago, there was great excitement about telomeres, Liz Blackburn’s specialty—DNA buffers that protect the ends of chromosomes just as plastic tips protect the ends of shoelaces. As we age, our telomeres become shorter, and, when these shields go, cells stop dividing. (As Blackburn said, “It puts cells into a terribly alarmed state!”) If we could extend the telomeres, the thinking went, we might reverse aging. But it turns out that animals with long telomeres, such as lab mice, don’t necessarily have long lives—and that telomerase, the enzyme that promotes telomere growth, is also activated in the vast majority of cancer cells. The more we know about the body, the more we realize how little we know.

Still, researchers plunge ahead. Understanding isn’t a precondition for successful intervention, they point out; we had no real grasp of virology or immunology when we began vaccinating people against smallpox.

In the murk of scientific inquiry, every researcher looks to a ruling metaphor for guidance. Aubrey de Grey likes to compare the body to a car: a mechanic can fix an engine without necessarily understanding the physics of combustion, and assiduously restored antique cars run just fine. De Grey is the chief science officer of Silicon Valley’s sens Research Foundation, which stands for Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence—a fancy way of saying “Planning Your Comprehensive Tune-up.” An Englishman who began his career with a decade of work in A.I., he speaks with rapid fluidity, often while stroking his Rasputin-length beard. De Grey has proposed that if we fix seven types of physical damage we will be on the path to living for more than a thousand years (assuming we can avoid getting hit by a bus or an asteroid).

When I met him at the sens office, in Mountain View, he told me, “Gerontologists have been led massively astray by looking for a root cause to aging, when it’s actually that everything falls apart at the same time, because all our systems are interrelated. So we have to divide and conquer.” We just need to restore tissue suppleness, replace cells that have stopped dividing and remove those that have grown toxic, avert the consequences of DNA mutations, and mop up the gunky by-products of all of the above. If we can disarm these killers, de Grey suggests, we should gain thirty years of healthy life, and during that period we’ll make enough further advances that we’ll begin growing biologically younger. We’ll achieve “longevity escape velocity.”

De Grey vexes many in the life-extension community, and one reason may be his intemperate life style. He told me, “I can drink as much as I like and it has no effect. I don’t even need to exercise, I’m so well optimized.” Until recently, he maintained two girlfriends and a wife. Now, he said, “I’m engaged, and my polyamorous days are behind me.”

But the main reason is his prophetic air of certainty. His 2007 book, “Ending Aging,” is replete with both exacting research into the obstacles to living longer and proposed solutions so ambitious that they resemble science fiction. De Grey’s fix for mitochondrial mutation, for instance, is to smuggle backup copies of DNA from the mitochondria into the vault of the nucleus, which evolution annoyingly failed to do—probably because the proteins needed in the mitochondria would ball up during their journey through the watery cell body. His fix for that, moving the DNA one way and the proteins that it produces another, amounts to a kind of subcellular hokey pokey. A number of scientists praise de Grey for anatomizing the primary threats, yet they see troubleshooting all seven pathways through such schemes—and you have to troubleshoot them all for his plan to work—as a foredoomed labor. Matt Kaeberlein, a biogerontologist at the University of Washington, said, “It’s like saying, ‘All we have to do to travel to another solar system is these seven things: first, accelerate your rocket to three-quarters of the speed of light . . . ’ ”

The great majority of longevity scientists are healthspanners, not immortalists. They want to give us a healthier life followed by “compressed morbidity”—a quick and painless death. These scientists focus on the time line: since 1900, the human life span has increased by thirty years—and so, as a consequence, have cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and dementia. Aging is the leading precondition for so many diseases that “aging” and “disease” are essentially metonyms. Accidents and violence are the leading causes of death up to age forty-four, then cancer rises to the top, and then, at sixty-five, heart disease. Healthspanners want to understand the etiologies of cancer and heart disease and then block them. Why do we almost never get those diseases at age two? How can we extend that protection to a hundred and two? But if we cured cancer we would add only 3.3 years to an average life; solving heart disease gets us an extra four. If we eliminated all disease, the average life span might extend into the nineties. To live longer, we’d have to slow aging itself.

Conquering both genetic diseases and stopping the aging clock will be the big medical goal of the 21st century.  Of course, solving that riddle will only lead to a host of other issues to be tackled, the most pressing being where do you put billions of humans who do not age when we're already doing a great job of wrecking the only planet we currently have.  Still, the titans of tech see this as another problem they have the unique capability of solving.  Maybe they're right.


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