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April 14, 2014

For many years now, the internet has been giving celebrity vaccine deniers like Jenny McCarthy a lot of grief, on account of all the, you know, children killed due to vaccine refusals. Apparently some of that finally got through, because over the weekend McCarthy published an aggrieved op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times claiming she's been misrepresented:

I am not "anti-vaccine." This is not a change in my stance nor is it a new position that I have recently adopted. For years, I have repeatedly stated that I am, in fact, "pro-vaccine" and for years I have been wrongly branded as "anti-vaccine." [Chicago Sun-Times]

Nope! As detailed here and here, McCarthy has, for years, loudly and angrily asserted scientifically false things about vaccines: most prominently, that they're filled with toxins, and that they cause autism. No, this is a tactical retreat to a less outrageous anti-vaccine position, motivated by the total scientific and ethical collapse of the purported vaccine-autism link. Because despite her attempted whitewash of history, McCarthy is still effectively scaremongering about vaccines:

I believe in the importance of a vaccine program and I believe parents have the right to choose one poke per visit. I've never told anyone to not vaccinate. Should a child with the flu receive six vaccines in one doctor visit? Should a child with a compromised immune system be treated the same way as a robust, healthy child? Shouldn't a child with a family history of vaccine reactions have a different plan? Or at least the right to ask questions? [Chicago Sun-Times]

As Aaron Carroll points out, these less alarming "questions" about vaccines are either strawmen or scientifically bogus:

She asks that we consider the "gray zone." But in many areas, there is no gray zone. Do vaccines cause autism? No... Do they overwhelm the immune system? No... She's conflating totally different things here... She asks if a sick kid should get vaccines. If they're not more than mildly ill, yes. Maybe if they'd gotten the flu vaccine they wouldn't have the flu. She brings up immunocompromised kids, but they absolutely do get considered differently already. No decent physician would not consider a child's individual medical history. Same with those kids with a history of adverse reactions. We consent people for vaccines, and ask if they've had bad reactions before.

And no one, absolutely no physician I know, refuses to answer the questions of parents. [The Incidental Economist]

Yet again, she's been sowing scientific controversy where there is none. Sorry we hurt your feelings, Jenny, but lives are literally at stake here. Ryan Cooper

2:59 p.m. ET

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday painted a stark dichotomy between Americans' health-care prospects as he continued to rally support for his Graham-Cassidy bill. "Here's the choice for America: socialism or federalism," Graham said. He warned that his ObamaCare repeal bill is "the only process available to stop a march toward socialism," which is apparently his word for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) single-payer health-care bill.

Graham explained that with his health-care bill he's "trying to take power and money in Washington and send it back closer to the patient." "ObamaCare is failing for a reason: It's a bad idea. State control of health care will work because the people in charge will be accountable to you, unlike ObamaCare where the person in charge could give a damn of what you think," Graham said.

While Graham maintained that he's "never felt better where we're at," CNBC's John Harwood noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remained "notably non-committal" about whether the bill will come to the floor for a vote by Sept. 30 — Republicans' deadline for passing the bill with a majority vote. After a GOP lunch spent chatting about the Graham-Cassidy bill, McConnell did say that there's "lots of interest" in the caucus. Becca Stanek

2:10 p.m. ET
iStock

America is floundering in its intense rivalry with Europe to grow the biggest pumpkin in the world, Smithsonian reports. While the orange fruit is a New World native, farmers in Belgium, Switzerland, and Britain are approaching the benchmark of growing a 3,000-pound pumpkin while America lags behind. "They're doing very well, and I tip my hat to them," said Rhode Island pumpkin grower Ron Wallace, who, in addition to being a very good sport, grew the first squash to ever break 1,500 pounds in 2006.

America used to reign in the pumpkin department specifically because the plants adore the ideal environment of New England. "Summer days are in the mid-80s, maximizing photosynthesis without desiccating the bloated fruit, and the semi-northerly locale means bonus sunlight hours throughout the growing season," Smithsonian writes. "By June the burgeoning giants are growing at an exponential rate, and by August, they're packing on one to two pounds per hour, while guzzling about 100 gallons of water every day."

Europe, though, has figured out how to remedy its less-than-ideal meteorological conditions:

Europe's subsequent rise has been defined by the controversy over indoor growing. The Old World's big players cluster in Northern Europe, where the weather is often harsher than New England's. However, high-tech greenhouses with heating and air-conditioning, irrigation systems, automatic fertilization, and other frills allow growers to mimic, and in the last few seasons, maybe even improve upon a New England-like climate. There are no ravenous white-tailed deer in greenhouses, and it can be a perfect June afternoon in Vermont every day of the year. [Smithsonian]

That's good news if you like pumpkins big enough to be watercrafts — but bad news if you're an amateur pumpkin grower toiling in America's Northeast. Read more about how farmers and plant scientists are racing to grow the biggest pumpkin at Smithsonian. Jeva Lange

1:28 p.m. ET
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A copy of an Adolf Hitler speech was found in the home of a man accused of killing two black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last week in what authorities now suspect were racially motivated attacks, The Associated Press reports.

Donald Smart, 49, a dishwasher, and Bruce Cofield, 59, who was homeless, were at first thought to have been killed randomly two days apart. Police have since charged Kenneth Gleason, 23, who is white, with two counts of second-degree murder as well as for allegedly shooting into the home of a black family in an incident where no one was injured. Gleason's DNA was found on shell casings in his car that matched ammo used in the attacks, The Advocate reports.

If Gleason had not been arrested last week, "he could have potentially created a terror in the fabric that holds this community together," said Baton Rouge Interim Police Chief Jonny Dunnam on Tuesday.

District Attorney Hillar Moore said that if Gleason is convicted, his case "would qualify for the death penalty."

"It appears to be cold, calculated, planned [against] people who were unarmed and defenseless," Moore said. "We don't need to prove motive. There are a lot of things that are unanswered." Read more about the case at The Advocate. Jeva Lange

12:19 p.m. ET

John Bolton, a United Nations ambassador under former President George W. Bush, deemed President Trump's debut address Tuesday before the U.N. General Assembly "the best of the Trump presidency." Bolton, known for his neoconservative views, heaped praise on Trump for vowing to "totally destroy" North Korea if it threatens the U.S or its allies and for calling out Iran as a "rogue state," points Bolton described as the "centerpiece of the speech." "I think it's safe to say, in the entire history of the United Nations, there has never been a more straightforward criticism of the behavior, the unacceptable behavior, of other member states," Bolton said on Fox News, where he's now a contributor.

Bolton was also pleased with Trump's blunt criticisms of the Iran deal, which he said made clear this administration will not put up with "half-measures and compromises." Bolton's personal favorite line, however, was Trump's remark that Venezuela is in crisis because "socialism has been faithfully implemented." "There are a lot of people in the U.N. who have never heard anything like that from an American president," Bolton said. "I think this was an outstanding speech, and I think it will serve the president very well."

Watch Bolton praise Trump's speech below. Becca Stanek

12:17 p.m. ET
Screenshot/Twitter/RFE/RL

Moscow unveiled a 30-foot-tall bronze monument to the inventor of the AK-47 assault rifle on Tuesday in a ceremony that "contained no mention of the untold millions of people who have been killed or maimed by the weapon since its creation in 1947," The New York Times reports. Instead, the chairman of the Russian Military Historical Society, Vladimir Medinsky, praised Lt. General Mikhail Kalashnikov, citing the rifle designer as being "the embodiment of the best elements in a Russian man," Russia's Tass News Agency reports.

"[Kalashnikov's] extraordinary natural aptitude, simplicity, integrity, and organizational talent helped him create a whole range of weapons to protect the motherland, among which is, of course, the Kalashnikov assault rifle, a true Russian cultural brand," Medinsky said.

The statue, which is mounted on a 13-foot-tall pedestal, depicts a larger-than-life Kalashnikov holding an AK-47 "like a violin," in the words of the local media.

Muscovites weighed in on the statue to The Moscow Times, with Sveta Agayan, 26, asking, "What's not to like? The size is good. And people should know their heroes." Nadezhda Yermakova, 46, said she also liked the statue, telling The Moscow Times: "I would want my children to know what he's done for the motherland."

One lone protester demonstrated against the statue at the unveiling ceremony with a sign that read "a creator of weapons is a creator of death," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. The use of AK-47s kill an estimated 250,000 people annually, The Guardian writes. Jeva Lange

11:30 a.m. ET

Louisiana Secretary of Health Rebekah Gee sent a letter on Monday to Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) expressing her "deep concerns" about his proposed Graham-Cassidy bill. "In its current form, the harm to Louisiana from this legislation far outweighs any benefit," Gee wrote about the health-care bill, which was introduced last week by Cassidy and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as the Republican Party's last-ditch effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Gee wrote that she's particularly concerned about the consequences that ending Medicaid expansion in 2020 would have for Cassidy's home state. She noted that in "only one year," Louisiana has been "able to provide more than 433,000 Louisianians with coverage, resulting in more than 100,000 primary care visits, tens of thousands of screenings for cancer, and thousands of new mental health services." "This would be a detrimental step backwards for Louisiana," she wrote, warning that the bill's proposal to end the expansion could cause "thousands" of Louisianians to "lose coverage and access."

She also worried that the Graham-Cassidy bill includes the "same per capita cuts" as the summer's failed health-care bill, which would have resulted "in profound cuts to Louisiana's most vulnerable citizens, including children, the disabled, and pregnant women." Also problematic, Gee wrote, is the fact that the plan makes it easier for states to waive essential health benefits and price protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions or "complex and costly conditions." "Finally, this bill, like ones before it, uniquely and disproportionally hurts Louisiana," she wrote.

Republicans have until Sept. 30 to pass the bill with a majority vote. Three 'no' votes in the Senate would kill it. Already, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has come out firmly as a 'no,' and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is expected to oppose it, too.

Read Gee's letter in full below. Becca Stanek

11:01 a.m. ET

President Trump informed the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday that some countries are "going to hell." "Major portions of the world are in conflict and some in fact are going to hell," Trump said in his debut U.N. address in New York City. Reuters' Jeff Mason noted that leaders at the U.N. meeting reacted "seemingly in bafflement."

On a brighter note, Trump assured the diplomats and world leaders gathered for the annual meeting that the "powerful people in this room" can "solve many of these vicious and complex problems." In his wide-ranging speech, Trump specifically identified North Korea and Iran as among those problems, warning that North Korea's "Rocket Man" (a.k.a. Kim Jong Un) is "on a suicide mission" and deeming the Iranian government an "economically depleted rogue state" whose chief export is violence.

It was not immediately clear if these were the countries Trump believes are going to hell. Becca Stanek

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