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Smart takes
March 17, 2014

Over at The New York Times, Timothy Egan notices a strange similarity between Paul Ryan's rhetoric on poverty, and that of the English authorities during the 19th century potato famine in Ireland:

A great debate raged in London: Would it be wrong to feed the starving Irish with free food, thereby setting up a "culture of dependency"? Certainly England's man in charge of easing the famine, Sir Charles Trevelyan, thought so. "Dependence on charity," he declared, "is not to be made an agreeable mode of life."

And there I ran into Paul Ryan. His great-great-grandfather had fled to America. But the Republican congressman was very much in evidence, wagging his finger at the famished. His oft-stated "culture of dependency" is a safety net that becomes a lazy-day hammock. But it was also England's excuse for lethal negligence.

There is no comparison, of course, between the de facto genocide that resulted from British policy, and conservative criticism of modern American poverty programs.

But you can't help noticing the deep historic irony that finds a Tea Party favorite and descendant of famine Irish using the same language that English Tories used to justify indifference to an epic tragedy. [The New York Times]

I don't think anyone really thinks dependence on charity or a culture of dependency ought to be a long-term condition. Self-reliance is an indisputable virtue. But for the truly helpless, there can be no pathway back to self-reliance if one starves to death. Famine is not honorable or virtuous. Nor is it civilized to live in a country where the poor starve to death.

Paul Ryan would do better to set out an agenda of job creation than lecture the poor on the virtues of self-improvement. There are lots and lots of people who want jobs, who want to work and want the dignity of self-reliance — so many that there are 2.9 job seekers for every job opening. People can't lift themselves out of poverty and off welfare if the economy isn't creating an abundance of jobs. Job creation comes first. John Aziz

Science!
12:15 p.m. ET

The recent Pluto probe presented a problem for NASA engineers. Spacecraft that are reasonably close to the sun, such as India's Mars Orbiter Mission, use solar panels to supply their electricity. But when you get out to Pluto, the sun is so dim it's barely distinguishable from the rest of the stars.

As Sir Martyn Poliakoff explains, as done before with the Voyager probes, they substituted solar panels for a big hunk of radioactive plutonium. That produces heat, which can be used to generate electricity, and also keeps the spacecraft warm. It's rather appropriate given that plutonium was named after the dwarf planet in the first place. Watch. Ryan Cooper

17 for 2016
11:43 a.m. ET
Darren McCollester/Getty Images

As if the Republican presidential field weren't already big enough, one more candidate has decided to jump in at the very last minute. Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore filed with the FEC on Wednesday, declaring his intention to run for president just eight days before the first GOP debate. Gilmore, who is now the 17th candidate vying for the GOP nomination, served as governor of Virginia from 1998 until 2002 and was chair of the Republican National Committee in 2001.

However, as the Daily Intelligencer notes, Gilmore is "such a long shot that he might not even qualify for the Fox News debate" — and that's after Fox decided to open the debate up to all "candidates who are consistently being offered to respondents in national polls." Gilmore has only appeared in one of five of the most recent national polls, Politico reports, and they, too, have called his launch "his longest of all long-shot presidential bids." Becca Stanek

smell ya later
11:22 a.m. ET
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, "Mystical Aphorisms of the Fortune Cookie": Supreme Court opinion or suffocatingly sweet perfume? Now, thanks to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, you'd be correct in thinking both.

That's right, you can now keep the language of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's famously vivid opinions close to your heart — literally — with the help of six different fragrances, Mic reports.

While many political figures throughout the course of American history have possessed "acid tongues," writes the fragrance maker on its website, "few in the modern era have provided such a constant stream of colorfully vitriolic superlatives as Antonin Scalia."

The names of the fragrances are of course taken directly from Scalia's dissenting opinions, which are peppered with language as rich and varied as the scents they gave rise to. Do you want your perfume to inspire fear in all those who smell you? Look no further than Looming Spectre of Inutterable Horror. Something a little more laid back? Ask The Nearest Hippie is made with patchouli, hemp, smoky vanilla bean, and cannabis accord. The other fragrances in the line include such gems as Pure Applesauce, Mummeries and Straining-to-be Memorable Passages, and of course, Jiggery Pokery.

In addition to doing the public this great service, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is also donating proceeds of each $26 bottle to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Trevor Project, and the National Center for Transgender Equality. Stephanie Talmadge

stunts
11:19 a.m. ET

If you've seen a single preview for Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, one image undoubtedly stood out in your mind: Tom Cruise, clinging desperately to the outside of a plane as it took off. As per usual, Tom Cruise didn't fake any of this. How do you pull off such a crazy stunt? A behind-the-scenes featurette offers some insight:

"I couldn't sleep the night before," adding that he was "scared s--tless" during filming. Despite the fear and the difficulty of the stunt, Cruise shot the scene eight times to make sure they got it right. Scott Meslow

This just in
10:55 a.m. ET
Handout/Getty Images

Former University of Cincinnati police officer Raymond Tensing, who was indicted yesterday on murder charges for shooting Samuel Dubose during a traffic stop, pleaded not guilty in his court appearance this morning. Officer Tensing "purposely killed" 43-year-old DuBose, who was black, after "losing his temper," according to county prosecutor Joe Deters. DuBose, who was a father of 10, had been driving without a front license plate when he was pulled over. Tensing could face life in prison if he is found guilty. Jeva Lange

Hillary Clinton 2016
10:33 a.m. ET
AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

Soon after becoming secretary of state, Hillary Clinton in 2009 cut a deal with Swiss authorities that resolved an Internal Revenue Service inquiry into the Swiss bank UBS about secret accounts held by American citizens. Afterward, the bank dramatically upped its donations to the Clinton Foundation, the philanthropic organization founded by Bill Clinton, and paid Bill Clinton $1.5 million for a series of Q&A sessions, according to an investigative report in The Wall Street Journal.

The deal resulted in UBS handing over information related to 4,500 accounts, well below the 52,000 that the IRS had originally sought. The Journal describes Hillary Clinton's involvement in brokering the deal as "an unusual intervention by a top U.S. diplomat." UBS's response also raised eyebrows:

From that point on, UBS's engagement with the Clinton family's charitable organization increased. Total donations by UBS to the Clinton Foundation grew from less than $60,000 through 2008 to a cumulative total of about $600,000 by the end of 2014, according the foundation and the bank.

The bank also joined the Clinton Foundation to launch entrepreneurship and inner-city loan programs, through which it lent $32 million. And it paid former President Bill Clinton $1.5 million to participate in a series of question-and-answer sessions with UBS Wealth Management Chief Executive Bob McCann, making UBS his biggest single corporate source of speech income disclosed since he left the White House. [The Wall Street Journal]

There is no evidence that Hillary Clinton got involved in the matter for the benefit of her husband or his foundation. Indeed, it appears the deal was part of a diplomatic give-and-take involving other U.S. interests. UBS denied a link between the settlement and the donations.

But the story does highlight the serious conflicts of interest posed by her husband's post-presidential activities, which are sure to be examined in even greater depth as the campaign goes on. It is an ongoing saga that is, to say the least, not a good look for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Ryu Spaeth

Your tax dollars at work
10:25 a.m. ET

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has dropped $2.6 million (and counting) funding a five-year program through Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) to help long-haul truckers lose weight.

"Drivers experience multiple roadblocks to health, including laws permitting long work hours and an isolating job structure that restricts physical activity and dietary choices," the grant explains, so the researchers use "mobile computing technologies to provide training and feedback during a weight loss competition, and delivers motivational interviewing on cell phones." Participants also have the opportunity to win lottery prizes.

The grant notes that weight loss will reduce incidences of sleep apnea in truckers and therefore increase public safety — but surely that might be offset by all those cell phone calls on the road? Bonnie Kristian

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