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Movie Review: Life: New at Reason

LifeRidley Scott’s upcoming Alien: Covenant—the sixth film devoted to the celebrated space monster—is due out on May 19. For those who want an Alien fix right now, though—who just can’t wait—please try a little harder to hold on. Despite its robust cast (featuring Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal), the rousingly titled Life is an uncalled-for Alien rip—effective in a rote way, with a few icky shocks, but probably not exactly what you seek.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before (more or less). A team of space explorers discovers a mysterious organism in a cargo of red soil from Mars. One of the crew—the traditional mush-minded science guy (Ariyon Bakare)—hails this discovery as “the first incontrovertible proof of life beyond Earth.” He also announces that “We’re going to learn so much about life.” Much more than he suspects, of course, writes Kurt Loder.

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House Delays Obamacare Repeal Vote Because There Still Isn’t Enough Support to Pass It

Repeal and re... TAX REFORMThe House was supposed to vote on the bill to partially repeal and replace Obamacare today, but now reports say the vote has been delayed. That doesn’t mean the American Health Care Act (AHCA) is done for. But its chances have always been dicey, and the last minute delay at least raises the possibility that the bill won’t ever clear the House.

Reports surfaced last night saying that House Republicans planned to rewrite the bill overnight and then vote on it today, but so far no new language has been released. And a meeting between President Trump and the House Freedom Caucus, the locus of opposition to the bill, did not produce a deal.

At this point, there’s no official word on when, or if, a vote might happen. The White House is suggesting that it is possible we could see a vote as early as tomorrow morning. It’s also possible that the GOP health care bill dies before it gets to a vote, and that the party goes back to the drawing board, or moves on to other legislative priorities.

It’s as clear as sign as we have seen yet that the bill is in real trouble, and that both GOP leadership and the White House are having trouble making the final sales pitch.

Part of the problem is that appeasing holdouts from one faction can cause yes votes to flip to no in some other faction. It’s a tricky balancing act, and it’s not clear whether Republicans will ever be able to get it right.

If Republicans had the votes to pass the bill, or some modified version of it, we would either see a vote or some sort of timetable. The fact that we have neither suggests that the votes aren’t there, and no one who wants the bill to pass has a good idea how to put them together.

In any case, the GOP repeal plan will have to wait until at least tomorrow, and possibly forever.

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State Department Misses Deadline to Manage All Emails Electronically

The State Department has failed to meet a deadline to store and manage its emails electronically as part of a 2012 directive to improve government record keeping, according to a recent Reuters report.

Before the directive, the Obama administration attempted to update government record keeping by issuing a memo in November 2011. The memo identified six areas to focus on. One of those was transitioning from paper-based management to an electronic format.

“Greater reliance on electronic communication and systems has radically increased the volume and diversity of information that agencies must manage,” the memorandum read. “With proper planning, technology can make these records less burdensome to manage and easier to use and share. But if records management policies and practices are not updated for a digital age, the surge in information could overwhelm agency systems, leading to higher costs and lost records.”

The department says it has completed the transition for all emails on its main systems, but some additional systems require further review before the department can confirm it has reached its goal.

The State Department missed the December 31 deadline despite efforts to scale back its record-keeping obligations, a document obtained by Politico in 2015 revealed. “The vast majority of working files are of short term value and should be disposed of quickly,” the department’s records officer argued in the 2012 memo. But as Politico later observed, the agency “urged streamlining the rules so that much of the routine back-and-forth of government would be beyond their reach.”

Government transparency advocates said they were not surprised at the State Department’s attempt to get out of some of the requirements. “This is an attitude a lot of agencies have taken, actually: that all they’re required to save — and all [that] a lot of them do save — is the final product,” Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org told Politico. “All the things that document the work of government are records. … It’s important for accountability, and it’s important for history, for folks to be able to trace the development of a policy and to trace who had their hand in it. The final product isn’t enough.”

In response to complaints about the 2011 memo from the State Department and other agencies, the Obama administration issued another directive on August 24, 2012, requiring all email records—temporary and permanent alike—to be managed electronically by the end of 2016. It also requires that, by the end of 2019, all permanent electronic records be ready for eventual transfer to the National Archives.

The State Department contends that it is still working hard to meet its goal, per the Reuters report. When that will be, exactly, is unclear.

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GOP Health Care Bill in Limbo, Man Identified in London Attack, KeystoneXL Pipeline May Get Approval Soon: P.M. Links

  • Paul RyanPresident Donald Trump has failed to get Republicans in the Congressional Freedom Caucus to guarantee support for his preferred replacement for the Affordable Care Act. The vote has been delayed.
  • Israeli police have arrested a suspect they believe is responsible for calling in countless bomb threats to Jewish community centers. The man is a dual American-Israeli citizen and is himself Jewish.
  • British police have identified the man they claim is responsible for killing three in London before getting killed himself by police. His name is Khalid Masood, 52. He was British-born and had a criminal record, but authorities said they had no intelligence that he had been planning a terrorist attack. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) says the Democrats are going to attempt to filibuster Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
  • Arkansas has expanded where citizens may carry concealed weapons to places like college campuses and sports arenas.
  • The State Department will reportedly approve the permits needed by Monday to build the KeystoneXL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

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Biggest Cause of Cancer? Just Plain Old Bad Luck

CancerCellsKrishnaCreationsA new article in Science is reporting that most cancers in people are the result random copying errors that occur when cells in the body divide. Applying some sophisticated mathematics to the question of how the mutations that lead to cancers are produced, Johns Hopkins University cancer researchers Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein, sought to figure out what causes 32 different types of cancers. The press release accompanying the report notes that when the two researchers looked “across all 32 cancer types studied, the researchers estimate that 66 percent of cancer mutations result from copying errors, 29 percent can be attributed to lifestyle or environmental factors, and the remaining 5 percent are inherited.”

Additionally, they calculated how big a role random errors played for various types of cancers. For example, when critical mutations in pancreatic cancers are added together, 77 percent of them are due to random DNA copying errors, 18 percent to environmental factors, such as smoking, and the remaining 5 percent to heredity. For prostate, brain or bone cancers, more than 95 percent of the mutations that lead to malignancy are due to random copying errors. However, environment does play a big role in lung cancer in which 65 percent of all the mutations are mostly due to smoking, and 35 percent are due to DNA copying errors. Inherited factors are not known to play a role in lung cancers.

The risk of cancer goes up with age. People over age 65 account for 60 percent of newly diagnosed malignancies and 70 percent of all cancer deaths. Why? Because their bodies have experienced many more cell divisions and thus have had greater chances for the sort of random genetic errors that lead to cancer to occur.

Given that Americans face a lifetime risk of around 40 percent of suffering from cancer, what can be done? The researchers note: “Early detection and intervention can prevent many cancer deaths. Detecting cancers earlier, while they are still curable, can save lives regardless of what caused the mutation. We believe that more research to find better ways to detect cancers earlier is urgently needed.”

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breaking, Headlines, News, Opinion, Reason, syndicated

Biggest Cause of Cancer? Just Plain Old Bad Luck

CancerCellsKrishnaCreationsA new article in Science is reporting that the most cancers in people are the result random copying errors that occur when cells in the body divide. Applying some sophisticated mathematics to the question of how the mutations that lead to cancers are produced, Johns Hopkins University cancer researchers Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein, sought to figure out what causes 32 different types of cancers. The press release accompanying the report notes that when the two researchers looked “across all 32 cancer types studied, the researchers estimate that 66 percent of cancer mutations result from copying errors, 29 percent can be attributed to lifestyle or environmental factors, and the remaining 5 percent are inherited.”

Additionally, they calculated how big a role random errors played for various types of cancers. For example, when critical mutations in pancreatic cancers are added together, 77 percent of them are due to random DNA copying errors, 18 percent to environmental factors, such as smoking, and the remaining 5 percent to heredity. For prostate, brain or bone cancers, more than 95 percent of the mutations that lead to malignancy are due to random copying errors. However, environment does play a big role in lung cancer in which 65 percent of all the mutations are mostly due to smoking, and 35 percent are due to DNA copying errors. Inherited factors are not known to play a role in lung cancers.

The risk of cancer goes up with age. People over age 65 account for 60 percent of newly diagnosed malignancies and 70 percent of all cancer deaths. Why? Because their bodies have experienced many more cell divisions and thus have had greater chances for the sort of random genetic errors that lead to cancer to occur.

Given that Americans face a lifetime risk of around 40 percent of suffering from cancer, what can be done? The researchers note: “Early detection and intervention can prevent many cancer deaths. Detecting cancers earlier, while they are still curable, can save lives regardless of what caused the mutation. We believe that more research to find better ways to detect cancers earlier is urgently needed.”

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Let’s Talk About Trump’s Labor Nominee Giving a Generous Plea Deal to a Billionaire Sex Offender

Former U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, came under fire yesterday for a lenient non-prosecution agreement he and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein signed in 2007 in a case where the latter was facing charges for trafficking (and then having sex with) underage females.

Acosta was asked about the deal during yesterday’s confirmation with the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee. More specifically, he was asked why Epstein, who was investigated by the Justice Department and several Florida law enforcement agencies, received only a 13-month county jail sentence, during which he spent nights in the clink but was allowed to work from home during the day. (He was also required to register as a sex offender.) Had the billionaire been tried and convicted for allegedly transporting more than 40 underage girls for sex, he would’ve faced a life sentence in federal prison.

“At the end of the day, based on the evidence, professionals within a prosecutor’s office decide that a plea—that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally and that guarantees other outcomes—is a good thing,” Acosta told the committee.

Reporting from the Washington Post and Newsweek suggests there are several reasons why Acosta sought a lighter sentence than he likely would’ve obtained had he taken Epstein to trial and won:

  1. In a 2011 letter obtained by the Post, Acosta wrote that Epstein’s legal team–including Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr–“investigated individual prosecutors and their families, looking for personal peccadilloes that may provide a basis for disqualification.” (Dershowitz denied this to the Post.)
  2. Conchita Sarnoff, who wrote a book about the Epstein case, told the Post that Acosta told her “he felt incapable of going up against those eight powerful attorneys. He felt his career was at stake.” (Dershowitz agrees that Acosta was “outlawyered.”)
  3. Newsweek, meanwhile, reports that Acosta was “mentored” by Starr while the former was a neophyte lawyer at the firm Kirkland & Ellis. An unnamed prosecutor told the magazine that Starr’s addition to Epstein’s defense “was key to Acosta’s decision to [put] the kibosh on the federal prosecution.”
  4. Included in documents that were unsealed during an ongoing civil suit against Epstein is an email from one of Epstein’s attorneys to Acosta that reads, “Please do whatever you can to keep this from becoming public.” (“This” being the plea agreement.)

All of these claims could be true! It is entirely possible that Epstein had so much legal firepower that Acosta felt the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of Florida couldn’t compete; that Epstein’s legal team was interested in doing to one or more members of Acosta’s team what O.J. Simpson’s attorneys (of which Dershowitz was one) did to LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman (which is to say, reveal them to be hypocrites who selectively uphold the law and frequently violate it); that Acosta’s team didn’t have the evidence necessary to win at trial; that he saw a secret plea deal as a way to avoid losing the case and/or getting raked over the coals for folding; and that Acosta’s relationship with Starr greased the skids for said deal.

And those are all good reasons for committee members to have pushed Acosta, because this case is indeed strange. Federal prosecutors love sending people to prison. Former Gov. Bob McDonnell accepted $177,000 in bribes to hock a nutritional supplement, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia wanted to send him to prison for at least 10 years. Paying teens for sex is objectively worse than that. Of course people want to know why Epstein got off easy.

But the hearing was also a missed opportunity to question Acosta about all the people he did send to prison while a U.S. Attorney. In 2007, the year Epstein snagged that sweet non-prosecution deal, Acosta’s office secured prison stints for 795 drug offenders. Out of those 795 people, only 36 received a sentence shorter than Epstein’s; the average sentence for federal drug offenders in the Southern District of Florida was seven-and-a-half years. (And no, they didn’t get to serve their sentences one night at a time while spending their days in a mansion.)

In light of those numbers, I’d love to know if Acosta believes slinging weed or meth to make rent is worse than renting several dozen teenagers for sex. Or, if he still believes that the old mandatory minimums for crack-cocaine are fair. None of those questions pertain to the work he’d be doing at the Department of Labor, but then, the Epstein case doesn’t either.

Instead, we just got outrage, which is the obvious response to both the deal Epstein got and Acosta calling that deal a “good thing.” But what happened to Epstein is not normal, and focusing on the one who got away keeps us from asking if the ones who don’t are getting screwed.

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