The CDC on Thursday released a new report on electronic cigarette poisonings, and at first blush the topline finding is quite a shocker: Calls to poison control centers involving e-cigarette liquids skyrocketed from one per month in September 2010 to 215 this past February.
"In the Hands of Babes, E-Cigarettes Can Be Deadly," proclaimed a Time story on the report. Spooky, right?
I'm a little more skeptical about the exact scope of the danger though, and whether this truly is a budding epidemic or simply hyperbolic fearmongering. For one, the huge spike in poison control calls corresponds to a huge spike in e-cig sales. Companies sold 750,000 e-cigs in 2010, a total that ballooned to 2.5 million one year later and that has only grown since then. The industry is now projected to see sales of $2.75 billion this year. Certainly a dramatic rise in poisonings is concerning, but the magnitude of that change is a little skewed because the baseline was basically nil.
More to the point, though e-liquids can be quite poisonous to small children, so, too, can conventional cigarettes. According to the CDC, the latter still comprise almost six in ten poison control calls involving either of the two types. And as for the supposed problem of e-cigarettes luring young people to try other, more dangerous drugs, the research is spotty at best.
The CDC and others are right to raise red flags about the dangers of e-cigarettes. But the danger may not be the product itself, but rather the fact that they're relatively new and so far unregulated at the federal level. Jon Terbush
The Earth cracked open directly in front of Mar-a-Lago on Monday in Florida, but don't worry, the West Palm Beach Utilities distribution crews have secured the area. The 16-square-foot sinkhole is reportedly "in the vicinity of the newly installed water main."
This is not a picture of the actual sinkhole, but rather a prophetic cartoon rendering:
— Sur Plus (@otiose94) May 2, 2017
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the gerrymandering of two North Carolina congressional district maps was done on racial grounds to yield a Republican advantage and was thus unconstitutional. The court ruled 8-0 to strike down the District 1 map and 5-3 to strike down the District 12 map, with Justices Samuel Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justice Anthony Kennedy dissenting from the latter ruling, CNN reports. Justice Clarence Thomas joined the court's liberals on District 12 while Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate, as the case was argued before he was confirmed to the court, Bloomberg reports.
Republicans have been accused of drawing districts to illegally concentrate black voters, who are typically liberal, and consequently make the surrounding districts more conservative, USA Today reports. The unconstitutional North Carolina congressional maps were used until the 2014 election, and the Supreme Court rulings uphold a new map that was ordered for 2016. Jeva Lange
When President Trump landed in Israel on Monday, he may have made history before even stepping off the plane. The Associated Press noted Monday that Trump's direct flight from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv may have been the first such trip ever made with no stops.
A spokesman for the Israel Airport Authority said he was not aware of any other direct flights from Saudi Arabia to Israel. The two nations do not have diplomatic relations, as Saudi Arabia does not recognize the Jewish state. While Trump, aboard Air Force One, made the trip without any layovers, even the plane carrying the White House press corps was required to make a technical stop in Cyprus before landing in Tel Aviv.
While neither Saudi Arabia nor Israel can explicitly weigh in on the president's travel plans, the direct flight "reflects the warming relationship between them," AP notes, adding that "the two countries have reportedly developed covert ties based on their shared concerns over Iran's growing regional influence."
President Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Western Wall on Monday, spending a solemn moment in prayer before slipping a note inside.
American representatives had reportedly told Israeli officials not to join them at the wall: "This is in the West Bank. It is a private visit by the president, and it's not your business," Israeli TV reports a U.S. representative as saying. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not accompany Trump, first lady Melania Trump; his visibly moved daughter, Ivanka Trump; and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, joined the president on his visit.
The Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in both Judaism and Islam, is not officially recognized by the U.S. as being part of Israel. The Trump administration has refused to take a clear stance on the issue, with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster declining to take a position and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer saying the wall is "clearly in Jerusalem," a fact that is not in dispute. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has said that while she doesn't know "the policy of the administration" she is a part of, "I believe the Western Wall is part of Israel."
Watch Trump's historic visit below. Jeva Lange
— ABC News (@ABC) May 22, 2017
The Trump administration has stymied a request from the Office of Government Ethics, moving to block its petition to reveal which federal employees are former lobbyists who were granted waivers to join the White House, The New York Times reported Monday. The request was made by Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics.
Shaub made his request on April 28, the Times reports, asking for a list of names of administration employees who'd received such a waiver, enabling them to accept a political appointment despite having worked as a lobbyist or private lawyer within the last two years. The rule against such appointments stems from an executive order President Trump signed in January to limit lobbyists joining government — similar to one signed by former President Barack Obama in 2009 — but the Trump administration has "hired them at a much higher rate than the previous administration," the Times notes.
On May 17, Shaub received a letter in response from White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, asking him to "stay the data call" and withdraw his request. Mulvaney questioned Shaub's legal standing to demand the information in the first place, writing, "This data call appears to raise legal questions regarding the scope of OGE's authorities." In a statement issued by the Office of Management and Budget on Sunday, the administration questioned Shaub's motives, saying the nature of his request "implies that the data being sought is not being collected to satisfy our mutual high standard of ethics."
While Trump, like Obama, reserves the right to issue the waivers, the Obama administration automatically made each waiver public and offered an explanation of why it was issued. "It is an extraordinary thing," Shaub told the Times of the White House's refusal to honor his request. "I have never seen anything like it." Read more at The New York Times. Kimberly Alters
Wilbur Ross marvels that there 'was not a single hint of a protester' in Saudi Arabia — where protesters are jailed
In an interview Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross marveled at the "fascinating" fact that there "was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time" he was in Saudi Arabia with President Trump. CNBC Squawk Box host Becky Quick pointed out that might be because the Saudi Arabian government does not allow protests. Political protesters have been jailed and even beheaded.
"But Secretary Ross, that might be, not necessarily because they don't have those feelings there, but because they control people and don't allow them to come and express their feelings quite the same as we do here," Quick said.
Ross admitted that "in theory that could be true." "But boy there was certainly no sign of it, there was not a single effort at any incursion," Ross said. "There wasn't anything."
Watch the exchange below. Becca Stanek
Turkey summons America's ambassador to complain that Turkish bodyguards who attacked peaceful protesters were the real victims
Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's armed bodyguards beat up peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C., apparently at Erdogan's direction. The State Department has since expressed its "concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms" and on Thursday called in Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kiliç to meet with U.S. Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon about the incident.
Now Turkey is responding — by accusing United States personnel of "aggressive and unprofessional actions" against the bodyguards, The Associated Press reports.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it gave the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, a "written and verbal protest" of actions that are "contrary to diplomatic rules and practices" and demanded a "full investigation of this diplomatic incident." Bass was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2014.
Eleven people were injured in the scuffle, including an American police officer and two Secret Service agents. On the other side, "Washington police said they arrested two people who live in the D.C. area — presumably protesters or pro-Erdogan demonstrators — but Erdogan's traveling security team enjoys diplomatic immunity, which means none will be held accountable for clearly criminal acts," the Los Angeles Times writes. Jeva Lange