Paul Ryan brags in deleted tweet about how the GOP tax cut gave a woman $1.50 extra per week

While Americans are beginning to see evidence of the Republican tax bill affecting their paychecks, House Speaker Paul Ryan is totally convinced it’s working in the taxpayer’s favor—with this anecdote of a woman being able to afford a $60 Costco membership.

On Friday and Saturday, Ryan shared an article from the Associated Press reporting that Americans are beginning to see more take-home pay as a result of the new tax withholding guidelines.

In the piece, the AP touched on a Florida resident who received $200 more in his last paycheck, along with a few statistics—that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin estimates 90 percent of workers will see more take-home pay and with the Tax Policy Center estimating an average tax cut of $930 per household.

However, it seems that the story that really got Ryan’s blood pumping over his tax bill success was that of a Pennsylvania high school secretary who was going to see, drum roll please … a whopping $1.50 more in her paycheck per week. Yes, Ryan was enthralled to know he had helped one worker hold onto a hefty $78 a year. Enough to cover her year-long Costco membership, she boasted.

Of course, Ryan couldn’t hold onto the good news himself, tweeting out the AP story with the secretary’s anecdote of how “pleasantly surprised” she was with her paycheck change.


Ryan deleted the tweet Saturday afternoon, probably because he got roasted so harshly for patting himself on the back over helping a woman save $78 a year.

The internet reveled in it, wholeheartedly.

Sure, that woman may have gotten much less than the average $930 cut per household, but Ryan’s misguided tweet might just make up for it.

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9 Things I Never Knew About Cruises Until I Ran the Worlds Largest Ship

At a time when travelers are feeling more precious than ever about “authentic experiences,” the cruise industry is doubling down on the exact opposite: completely manufactured fun. Leading the pack is Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., whose mega-ships are destinations unto themselves: Its restaurants, casinos, Broadway-caliber musicals, silent disco parties, skating rinks, karaoke, dance clubs, and escape-the-room experiences are such strong lures, some guests don’t even bother to look up where the ship is docking. 

So when the cruise line invited me to join the ranks as temporary director of its largest ship, —which is as big as five s—I knew I was signing up for the most manic week of my life. 

As cruise director, my primarily responsibility was seeing to the happiness of 6,322 passengers and 2,200-plus crew. Over the course of a week, I had my hands in every department, from ship activities and entertainment to onboard revenue, making sure that everyone and everything worked in, well, harmony. From stocking the world’s biggest buffet and staving off gastrointestinal disasters to hosting celebrity guests, everything is 10 times crazier when you’re mayor of a city that’s floating in the middle of the sea. 

There Is Secret Cruise Code Language

Illustration: Zohar Lazar

It’s crucial for the staff to have code words so that passengers don’t get freaked out if something goes wrong. A “30-30” means the crew is asking maintenance to clean up a mess; three times during my stint I called in a “PVI” (public vomiting incident). An “Alpha” is a medical emergency, a “Bravo” is a fire, and “Kilo” is a request for all personnel to report to their emergency posts, which happens in the event of, say, a necessary evacuation. Be wary of “Echo,” which is called if the ship is starting to drift, or “Oscar,” which means someone’s gone overboard. A crew member told me he’s had only four or five “Oscars” in 10 years of cruising.

Drunk Guests Can't Outsmart the On-Board Bartenders

Illustration: Zohar Lazar

If you thought those all-you-can-drink beverage packages were directly correlated with drunk debauchery at sea, think again. Only eight to 10 percent of passengers purchase unlimited booze packages—Royal Caribbean’s guests are largely family travelers—and those who do are carefully monitored. Every single alcoholic beverage is poured with a jigger. Intoxicated passengers can have their SeaPasses (onboard credit cards) temporarily disabled, barring them from being served at any of the ship’s bars. As for the most popular alcoholic beverage ordered on board? It’s a cinnamon fireball shot.

According to Ivan De La Rosa, the ship’s senior doctor, the biggest issue involving alcohol is when the ship is docked in Cozumel, Mexico. Mix an afternoon of unregulated drinking on land at Señor Frogs with tropical heat and a few glasses of Mexican tap water, and you’ve got yourself a guaranteed “PVI.”

Cruise Staffers Regularly Engage in Subliminal Messaging

The first thing guests likely see in their cabins is a gleeful jingle about hand-washing looping on their television screen. It’s catchy as a Katy Perry song and meant to steer you toward Purel pumps around the ship, each carefully positioned at high-traffic junctions (think entrances to the main dining halls and theaters) by senior staff. Along with the emcees’ banter at large group events—“Have you washed your hands 50 times today? I have!”—the jingle is part of the crew’s unwavering effort to stave off a potential Norovirus outbreak. 

But sanitation is just one aim of the frequent subliminal messaging. Special promotions around the ship encourage passengers to scatter when certain areas become congested, and moving guests around the ship subtly encourages them to diversify (and increase) their onboard spending. If casino revenue is low, for instance, senior management might host a raffle or karaoke event at the far side of the slots to drive foot traffic and encourage passengers to linger (or better yet, play) a while. Activities managers will even film their daily newscast about onboard events with Starbucks iced coffees in hand, as a quiet reminder that passengers can get their venti latte fix on Deck Six. Often times, these veiled announcements are aimed at boosting the ship’s bottom line.

There Is a Cruise Ship Burn Book 

Dru Pavlov, veteran cruise director and my mentor during this Royal Caribbean stint, keeps a hallowed book of stupid comments and questions; passed down from one cruise director to the next as a right of passage, it makes great vamping material for event emcees. 

The book Pavlov bequeathed to me included such doozies as: “Where’s the elevator to get to the front of the ship?” Others include “Is the toilet water drinkable?” and “How long does it take the crew to get home every night?” My favorite contribution came three days into my tenure, when a passenger stopped me to complain that she could no longer find her cabin. The ship had been parked backwards, she claimed.

All Cruise Guests Basically Eat the Same Things

Illustration: Zohar Lazar

Freezers on board are the size of New York studio apartments—and stocking them is an art form. Before each sailing, the inventory team receives enough ingredients for 20 different dining venues, plus servings for the 2,000-member crew. (The total cost, including such other consumables as paper towels, is about $800,000.) Overestimate the order, and the voyage becomes less-profitable (and wasteful); underestimate, and you’ll risk a riot over coconut shrimp. 

Luckily, passengers’ eating habits are fairly predictable. On the average week-long cruise, Royal Caribbean estimates its guests will be 80 percent American, consuming around 3,000 bottles of wine, 7,000 pounds of chicken breast, and almost 100,000 eggs. 

If more than 80 percent of the guests are American, the crew orders extra ketchup. When the percentage of Chinese passengers increases, they bump up the supply of sliced fruit, seafood, and rice. Latin Americans consume more red meat and Coronas (which also requires additional limes). And family-prone Spring Break cruises require three times as many chicken nuggets. The one thing that never changes no matter who is on board? Toilet paper. Around 9,600 rolls are used each week.  

Every Ship Has an "Outbreak Prevention Plan," With a Hair Trigger

Illustration: Zohar Lazar

Nothing is scarier to cruisers than a Norovirus outbreak—which ship doctor De La Rosa says is almost always caused by a passenger who has brought the illness aboard, rather than poor sanitary conditions on the ship.

The U.S. Health Department requires that every ship maintain a detailed OPP, or Outbreak Prevention Plan. On , regular sanitary conditions are called “OPP1,” and they get ratcheted up to “OPP2” when there’s a “6 in 6,” or six passengers reported ill in six hours. (You’ll know OPP2 is in full gear when the crew gets less subliminal about its “wash your hands” messaging.) 

If the incidence rate escalates and the situation reaches OPP3, guests lose the ability to handle their own food. The entire crew, from the ice dancers to the synchronized swimmers, is recruited to the buffets to help serve, and all restaurants and guestroom linens are put in red biohazard bags and obsessively laundered in a special facility on land.

If you want to avoid Norovirus like, well, the plague, stay away from short sailings, says figure skater and veteran crew member Chris Mabee. “Those trips tend to be the least-expensive, attracting both older passengers, who are prone to getting sick, and the young booze cruisers, who forget about hygiene.”  

As for the most common diagnoses at sea? They include upper respiratory infections, bruised bones, and the odd Viagra mishap. UTIs are also frequent, thanks to frisky honeymooners, and prescribing antibiotics can be hairy when passengers are committed to their all-you-can-drink packages.

Crew Members Are Trained to Deal with Handsy Passengers …

Illustration: Zohar Lazar

Sleeping with a passenger will get you “chicken or beef,” as Pavlov puts it—“That’s what a flight attendant asks you when you’re put on the first flight home.” 

The zero-tolerance policy seems to be an industry-wide standard—at Royal Caribbean, there’s even staff training on how to defuse an escalating situation. More often than not, it’s a vacationing guest trying to seduce a crew member. “Whenever I take photos with people, I always give a thumbs up,” notes Pavlov. “My hands are visible, so no one can claim any inappropriate behavior.” And with cameras covering virtually every nook and cranny of the ship, it’d be easier to rob a bank than take a bite of some forbidden fruit. (Though some crew members still use Grindr or Tinder to get a sense of who’s on board.)

… but the Staff Quarters Are a Genuine Love Boat 

With 2,200 crew, the staff quarters are a village unto themselves, with cabins, bars, a mess hall, shop, and gym set across decks 0, 1, 2, 3, and 12. (Most services are set off a second-deck corridor dubbed “I-95.”)

Among the crew, dating is not just allowed but tacitly encouraged—they live onboard through the entirety of their contract without days off, often 10 months a year. They have their own calendar of daily events that range from karaoke sessions to poker games and foreign language classes. And since Wi-Fi is pricey, romance is very much analog.

Coupling up on the ship is like dating in dog years: Things move about seven times faster. Several crew members recounted instances when they put in a request to share a cabin with their new boyfriend after only a month of dating, or dropped the “I love you” bomb within the first week of meeting someone. And since relationships often end once one person leaves the ship, cruise couples tend to become “lifers.” (Almost everyone I met in upper management met their spouse onboard.) 

The Ship Has Genies, and They Can Perform Magic 

Although bargain-basement discounts draw plenty of travelers to big-ship cruising, procuring Royal Caribbean’s VIP status can offer a true luxury experience. The easiest way to get it is by booking into the Royal Suites Star Class; the company’s crème de la crème offering includes 10 state-of-the-art apartments on with privileged access to pleb-free parts of the ship and butler-style service from a coterie of “Royal Genies.”

The Genies are trained to cater to your every whim, but with limited resources at sea, this can require real creativity. Daniel, one of the genies, once had a couple ask for their suite to be filled with flowers. Unable to secure real bouquets, he had the pastry team bake dozens of petal-shaped cookies and scattered them around the room. And when one family got locked out of a peak-season December sailing, genie Andrei surprised them with an early Christmas by decorating their suite and putting wrapped presents under a makeshift tree.

“The hardest thing to do is host a celebrity on board,” says Andrei, who has served a slew of A-listers and their families, including Kelsey Grammer, Adam Sandler, and Seth Rogen. To give them privacy amid thousands of cruisers, he says, “We usher them into shows after the lights go dark, and we grab them to leave five minutes before the show is done.” 

No matter how you earn your VIP status—or if you’ve earned it at all—my time on board proved that the crew will always bend over backwards to make sure you leave satisfied. Want to thank them? Tipping is great, but comment cards that explicitly name standout crew members make more of a difference. Your praise gets noted on their permanent record, earns them such onboard perks as free Wi-Fi, and helps secure promotions down the road.

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    Amazon, Berkshire, JPMorgan Link Up to Form New Health-Care Company

    It’s no secret Jeff Bezos has been looking to crack health care. But no one expected him to pull in Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon, too.

    News Tuesday that Bezos’s Inc., Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., led by Dimon, plan to join forces to change how health care is provided to their combined 1 million U.S. employees sent shock waves through the health-care industry.

    The plan, while in early stages and focused solely on the three giants’ staff for now, seems almost certain to set its sights on disrupting the broader industry. It’s the first big move by Amazon in the sector after months of speculation that the internet behemoth might make an entry. The Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan collaboration will likely pressure profits for middlemen in the health-care supply chain.

    Details were scant in a short joint statement on Tuesday. The three companies said they plan to set up a new independent company “that is free from profit-making incentives and constraints.”

    It was enough to sink health-care stocks. Express Scripts Holding Co. and CVS Health Corp., which manage pharmacy benefits, slumped 6.9 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively. Health insurers such as Cigna Corp. and Anthem Inc. and biotechnology companies also dropped.

    The group announced the news in the very early stages because it plans to hire a CEO and start partnering with other organizations, according to a person familiar with the matter. The effort would be focused internally first, and the companies would bring their data and bargaining power to bear on lowering health-care costs, the person said. Potential ways to bring down costs include providing more transparency over the prices for doctor visits and lab tests, as well as by enabling direct purchasing of some medical items, the person said.

    “I’m in favor of anything that helps move the markets a bit, incentivizes competition and puts pressure on the big insurance carriers,” said Ashraf Shehata, a partner in KPMG LLP’s health care and life sciences advisory practice in the U.S. “An employer coalition can do a lot of things. You can encourage reimbursement models and provide incentives for the use of technology.”

    “Hard as it might be, reducing health care’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort,” Bezos said in the statement. “Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation.”

    The initial focus of the new company will be on technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent health care at a reasonable costs. In the statement, JPMorgan CEO Dimon said the initiative could ultimately expand beyond the three companies.

    “Our goal is to create solutions that benefit our U.S. employees, their families and, potentially, all Americans,” he said.

    HTA Alliance

    Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan are among the largest private employers in the U.S. And they’re among the most valuable, with a combined market capitalization of $1.6 trillion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

    This isn’t the first time big companies have teamed up in an effort to tackle health-care costs. International Business Machines Corp., Berkshire’s BNSF Railway and American Express Co. were among the founding members of the Health Transformation Alliance, which now includes about 40 big companies that want to transform health care. The group ultimately partnered with existing industry players including CVS and UnitedHealth Group Inc.’s OptumRx.

    Top Team

    The latest effort is being spearheaded by Todd Combs, who helps oversee investments at Berkshire; Marvelle Sullivan Berchtold, a managing director of JPMorgan; and Beth Galetti, a senior vice president for human resources at Amazon.

    Buffett handpicked Combs in 2010 as one of his two key stockpickers. Combs, 47, has been taking on a larger role at Berkshire in recent years, and Buffett has said that Combs and Ted Weschler, who also helps oversee investments, will eventually manage the company’s whole portfolio. Combs also joined JPMorgan’s board in 2016.

    Sullivan Berchtold joined JPMorgan in August after eight years at the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG, where she was most recently the global head of mergers and acquisitions, according to her LinkedIn profile.

    One of the highest ranking women at Amazon, Galetti has worked in human resources at the e-commerce giant since mid-2013, becoming senior vice president almost two years ago, according to her LinkedIn profile. As of late 2017 she was the only woman on Amazon’s elite S-team, a group of just over a dozen senior executives who meet regularly with Bezos, according to published reports. Previously Galetti worked in planning, engineering and operations at FedEx Express, the cargo airline of FedEx Corp. She has a degree in electrical engineering from Lehigh University and an MBA from Colorado Technical University.

    The management team, location of the headquarters and other operational details will be announced later, the companies said.

    Health-care spending was estimated to account for about 18 percent of the U.S. economy last year, far more than in other developed nations. Buffett has long bemoaned the cost of U.S. health care. Last year, he came out in favor of drastic changes in the U.S. health system, telling PBS NewsHour that government-run health care is probably the best approach and would bring down costs.

    “The ballooning costs of health care act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” Buffett said in Tuesday’s statement. “Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable.”

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      CNN Exclusive: California launches investigation following stunning admission by Aetna medical director

      (CNN)California’s insurance commissioner has launched an investigation into Aetna after learning a former medical director for the insurer admitted under oath he never looked at patients’ records when deciding whether to approve or deny care.

      “If the health insurer is making decisions to deny coverage without a physician actually ever reviewing medical records, that’s of significant concern to me as insurance commissioner in California — and potentially a violation of law,” he said.
      Aetna, the nation’s third-largest insurance provider with 23.1 million customers, told CNN it looked forward to “explaining our clinical review process” to the commissioner.
        The California probe centers on a deposition by Dr. Jay Ken Iinuma, who served as medical director for Aetna for Southern California from March 2012 to February 2015, according to the insurer.
        During the deposition, the doctor said he was following Aetna’s training, in which nurses reviewed records and made recommendations to him.
        Jones said his expectation would be “that physicians would be reviewing treatment authorization requests,” and that it’s troubling that “during the entire course of time he was employed at Aetna, he never once looked at patients’ medical records himself.”
        “It’s hard to imagine that in that entire course in time, there weren’t any cases in which a decision about the denial of coverage ought to have been made by someone trained as a physician, as opposed to some other licensed professional,” Jones told CNN.
        “That’s why we’ve contacted Aetna and asked that they provide us information about how they are making these claims decisions and why we’ve opened this investigation.”
        The insurance commissioner said Californians who believe they may have been adversely affected by Aetna’s decisions should contact his office.
        Members of the medical community expressed similar shock, saying Iinuma’s deposition leads to questions about Aetna’s practices across the country.
        “Oh my God. Are you serious? That is incredible,” said Dr. Anne-Marie Irani when told of the medical director’s testimony. Irani is a professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU and a former member of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology’s board of directors.
        “This is potentially a huge, huge story and quite frankly may reshape how insurance functions,” said Dr. Andrew Murphy, who, like Irani, is a renowned fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. He recently served on the academy’s board of directors.

        The Gillen Washington case

        The deposition by Aetna’s former medical director came as part of a lawsuit filed against Aetna by a college student who suffers from a rare immune disorder. The case is expected to go to trial later this week in California Superior Court.
        Gillen Washington, 23, is suing Aetna for breach of contract and bad faith, saying he was denied coverage for an infusion of intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) when he was 19. His suit alleges Aetna’s “reckless withholding of benefits almost killed him.”
        Aetna has rejected the allegations, saying Washington failed to comply with their requests for blood work. Washington, who was diagnosed with common variable immunodeficiency, or CVID, in high school, became a new Aetna patient in January 2014 after being insured by Kaiser.
        Aetna initially paid for his treatments after each infusion, which can cost up to $20,000. But when Washington’s clinic asked Aetna to pre-authorize a November 2014 infusion, Aetna says it was obligated to review his medical record. That’s when it saw his last blood work had been done three years earlier for Kaiser.
        Despite being told by his own doctor’s office that he needed to come in for new blood work, Washington failed to do so for several months until he got so sick he ended up in the hospital with a collapsed lung.
        Once his blood was tested, Aetna resumed covering his infusions and pre-certified him for a year. Despite that, according to Aetna, Washington continued to miss infusions.
        Washington’s suit counters that Aetna ignored his treating physician, who appealed on his behalf months before his hospitalization that the treatment was medically necessary “to prevent acute and long-term problems.”
        “Aetna is blaming me for what happened,” Washington told CNN. “I’ll just be honest, it’s infuriating to me. I want Aetna to be made to change.”
        During his videotaped deposition in October 2016, Iinuma — who signed the pre-authorization denial — said he never read Washington’s medical records and knew next to nothing about his disorder.
        Questioned about Washington’s condition, Iinuma said he wasn’t sure what the drug of choice would be for people who suffer from his condition.
        Iinuma further says he’s not sure what the symptoms are for the disorder or what might happen if treatment is suddenly stopped for a patient.
        “Do I know what happens?” the doctor said. “Again, I’m not sure. … I don’t treat it.”
        Iinuma said he never looked at a patient’s medical records while at Aetna. He says that was Aetna protocol and that he based his decision off “pertinent information” provided to him by a nurse.
        “Did you ever look at medical records?” Scott Glovsky, Washington’s attorney, asked Iinuma in the deposition.
        “No, I did not,” the doctor says, shaking his head.
        “So as part of your custom and practice in making decisions, you would rely on what the nurse had prepared for you?” Glovsky asks.
        Iinuma said nearly all of his work was conducted online. Once in a while, he said, he might place a phone call to the nurse for more details.
        How many times might he call a nurse over the course of a month?
        “Zero to one,” he said.
        Glovsky told CNN he had “never heard such explosive testimony in two decades of deposing insurance company review doctors.”

        Aetna’s response

        Aetna defended Iinuma, who is no longer with the company, saying in its legal brief that he relied on his “years of experience” as a trained physician in making his decision about Washington’s treatment and that he was following Aetna’s Clinical Policy Bulletin appropriately.
        “Dr. Iinuma’s decision was correct,” Aetna said in court papers. “Plaintiff has asserted throughout this litigation that Dr. Iinuma had no medical basis for his decision that 2011 lab tests were outdated and that Dr. Iinuma’s decision was incorrect. Plaintiff is wrong on both counts.”
        In its trial brief, Aetna said: “Given that Aetna does not directly provide medical care to its members, Aetna needs to obtain medical records from members and their doctors to evaluate whether services are ‘medically necessary.’ Aetna employs nurses to gather the medical records and coordinate with the offices of treating physicians, and Aetna employs doctors to make the actual coverage-related determinations.
        “In addition to applying their clinical judgment, the Aetna doctors and nurses use Aetna’s Clinical Policy Bulletins (‘CPBs’) to determine what medical records to request, and whether those records satisfy medical necessity criteria to support coverage. These CPBs reflect the current standard of care in the medical community. They are frequently updated, and are publicly available for any treating physician to review.”
        Jones, the California insurance commissioner, said he couldn’t comment specifically on Washington’s case, but what drew his interest was the medical director’s admission of not looking at patients’ medical records.
        “What I’m responding to is the portion of his deposition transcript in which he said as the medical director, he wasn’t actually reviewing medical records,” Jones told CNN.
        He said his investigation will review every individual denial of coverage or pre-authorization during the medical director’s tenure to determine “whether it was appropriate or not for that decision to be made by someone other than a physician.”
        If the probe determines that violations occurred, he said, California insurance code sets monetary penalties for each individual violation.
        CNN has made numerous phone calls to Iinuma’s office for comment but has not heard back. Heather Richardson, an attorney representing Aetna, declined to answer any questions.
        Asked about the California investigation, Aetna gave this written statement to CNN:
        “We have yet to hear from Commissioner Jones but look forward to explaining our clinical review process.
        “Aetna medical directors are trained to review all available medical information — including medical records — to make an informed decision. As part of our review process, medical directors are provided all submitted medical records, and also receive a case synopsis and review performed by a nurse.
        “Medical directors — and all of our clinicians — take their duties and responsibilities as medical professionals incredibly seriously. Similar to most other clinical environments, our medical directors work collaboratively with our nurses who are involved in these cases and factor in their input as part of the decision-making process.”

        ‘A huge admission’

        Dr. Arthur Caplan, founding director of the division of medical ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center, described Iinuma’s testimony as “a huge admission of fundamental immorality.”
        “People desperate for care expect at least a fair review by the payer. This reeks of indifference to patients,” Caplan said, adding the testimony shows there “needs to be more transparency and accountability” from private, for-profit insurers in making these decisions.
        Murphy, the former American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology board member, said he was “shocked” and “flabbergasted” by the medical director’s admission.
        “This is something that all of us have long suspected, but to actually have an Aetna medical director admit he hasn’t even looked at medical records, that’s not good,” said Murphy, who runs an allergy and immunology practice west of Philadelphia.
        “If he has not looked at medical records or engaged the prescribing physician in a conversation — and decisions were made without that input — then yeah, you’d have to question every single case he reviewed.”
        Murphy said when he and other doctors seek a much-needed treatment for a patient, they expect the medical director of an insurance company to have considered every possible factor when deciding on the best option for care.

        See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

        “We run into the prior authorization issues when we are renewing therapy, when the patient’s insurance changes or when an insurance company changes requirements,” he said.
        “Dealing with these denials is very time consuming. A great deal of nursing time is spent filling and refilling out paperwork trying to get the patient treatment.
        “If that does not work, then physicians need to get involved and demand medical director involvement, which may or may not occur in a timely fashion — or sometimes not at all,” he said. “It’s very frustrating.”

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        The Real Causes Of Depression Have Been Discovered, And They’re Not What You Think

        Across the Western world today, if you are depressed or anxious and you go to your doctor because you just can’t take it any more, you will likely be told a story. It happened to me when I was a teenager in the 1990s. You feel this way, my doctor said, because your brain isn’t working right. It isn’t producing the necessary chemicals. You need to take drugs, and they will fix your broken brain.

        I tried this strategy with all my heart for more than a decade. I longed for relief. The drugs would give me a brief boost whenever I jacked up my dose, but then, soon after, the pain would always start to bleed back through. In the end, I was taking the maximum dose for more than a decade. I thought there was something wrong with me because I was taking these drugs but still feeling deep pain.

        In the end, my need for answers was so great that I spent three years using my training in the social sciences at Cambridge University to research what really causes depression and anxiety, and how to really solve them. I was startled by many things I learned. The first was that my reaction to the drugs wasn’t freakish ― it was quite normal.

        Many leading scientists believe the whole idea that depression is caused by a “chemically imbalanced” brain is wrong.

        Depression is often measured by scientists using something called the Hamilton Scale. It runs from 0 (where you are dancing in ecstasy) to 59 (where you are suicidal). Improving your sleep patterns gives you a movement on the Hamilton Scale of around 6 points. Chemical antidepressants give you an improvement, on average, of 1.8 points, according to research by professor Irving Kirsch of Harvard University. It’s a real effect – but it’s modest. Of course, the fact it’s an average means some people get a bigger boost. But for huge numbers of people, like me, it’s not enough to lift us out of depression – so I began to see we need to expand the menu of options for depressed and anxious people. I needed to know how.

        But more than that – I was startled to discover that many leading scientists believe the whole idea that depression is caused by a “chemically imbalanced” brain is wrong. I learned that there are in fact nine major causes of depression and anxiety that are unfolding all around us. Two are biological, and seven are out in here in the world, rather than sealed away inside our skulls in the way my doctor told me. The causes are all quite different, and they play out to different degrees in the lives of depressed and anxious people. I was even more startled to discover this isn’t some fringe position – the World Health Organization has been warning for years that we need to start dealing with the deeper causes of depression in this way. 

        I want to write here about the hardest of those causes for me, personally, to investigate. The nine causes are all different – but this is one that I left, lingering, trying not to look at, for most of my three years of research. I was finally taught about it in San Diego, California, when I met a remarkable scientist named Dr. Vincent Felitti. I have to tell you right at the start though – I found it really painful to investigate this cause. It forced me to reckon with something I had been running from for most of my life. One of the reasons I clung to the theory that my depression was just the result of something going wrong with my brain was, I see now, so I would not have to think about this.


        The story of Dr. Felitti’s breakthrough stretches back to the mid-1980s, when it happened almost by accident. At first, it’ll sound like this isn’t a story about depression. But it’s worth following his journey – because it can teach us a lot.

        When the patients first came into Felitti’s office, some of them found it hard to fit through the door. They were in the most severe stages of obesity, and they were assigned here, to his clinic, as their last chance. Felitti had been commissioned by the medical provider Kaiser Permanente to figure out how to genuinely solve the company’s exploding obesity costs. Start from scratch, they said. Try anything.

        One day, Felitti had a maddening simple idea. He asked: What if these severely overweight people simply stopped eating, and lived off the fat stores they’d built up in their bodies – with monitored nutrition supplements – until they were down to a normal weight? What would happen? Cautiously, they tried it, with a lot of medical supervision – and, startlingly, it worked. The patients were shedding weight, and returning to healthy bodies.

        Once the numbers were added up, they seemed unbelievable.

        But then something strange happened. In the program, there were some stars ― people who shed incredible amounts of weight, and the medical team ― and all their friends ― expected these people to react with joy, but the people who did best were often thrown into a brutal depression, or panic, or rage. Some of them became suicidal. Without their bulk, they felt unbelievably vulnerable. They often fled the program, gorged on fast food, and put their weight back on very fast.

        Felitti was baffled ― until he talked with one 28-year-old woman. In 51 weeks, Felitti had taken her down from 408 pounds to 132 pounds. Then ― quite suddenly, for no reason anyone could see ― she put on 37 pounds in the space of a few weeks. Before long, she was back above 400 pounds. So Felitti asked her gently what had changed when she started to lose weight. It seemed mysterious to both of them. They talked for a long time. There was, she said eventually, one thing. When she was obese, men never hit on her ― but when she got down to a healthy weight, for the first time in a long time, she was propositioned by a man. She fled, and right away began to eat compulsively, and she couldn’t stop.

        This was when Felitti thought to ask a question he hadn’t asked before. When did you start to put on weight? She thought about the question. When she was 11 years old, she said. So he asked: Was there anything else that happened in your life when you were 11? Well, she replied ― that was when my grandfather began to rape me.

        As Felitti spoke to the 183 people in the program, he found 55 percent had been sexually abused. One woman said she put on weight after she was raped because “overweight is overlooked, and that’s the way I need to be.” It turned out many of these women had been making themselves obese for an unconscious reason: to protect themselves from the attention of men, who they believed would hurt them. Felitti suddenly realized: “What we had perceived as the problem ― major obesity ― was in fact, very frequently, the solution to problems that the rest of us knew nothing about.”

        This insight led Felitti to launch a massive program of research, funded by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. He wanted to discover how all kinds of childhood trauma affect us as adults. He administered a simple questionnaire to 17,000 ordinary patients in San Diego, who were were coming just for general health care – anything from a headache to a broken leg. It asked if any of 10 bad things had happened to you as a kid, like being neglected, or emotionally abused. Then it asked if you had any of 10 psychological problems, like obesity or depression or addiction. He wanted to see what the matchup was. 

        Once the numbers were added up, they seemed unbelievable. Childhood trauma caused the risk of adult depression to explode. If you had seven categories of traumatic event as a child, you were 3,100 percent more likely to attempt to commit suicide as an adult, and more than 4,000 percent more likely to be an injecting drug user.


        After I had one of my long, probing conversations with Dr. Felitti about this, I walked to the beach in San Diego shaking, and spat into the ocean. He was forcing me to think about a dimension of my depression I did not want to confront. When I was a kid, my mother was ill and my dad was in another country, and in this chaos, I experienced some extreme acts of violence from an adult: I was strangled with an electrical cord, among other acts. I had tried to seal these memories away, to shutter them in my mind. I had refused to contemplate that they were playing out in my adult life.

        Why do so many people who experience violence in childhood feel the same way? Why does it lead many of them to self-destructive behavior, like obesity, or hard-core addiction, or suicide? I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. I have a theory – though I want to stress that this next part is going beyond the scientific evidence discovered by Felitti and the CDC, and I can’t say for sure that it’s true.

        If it’s your fault, it’s — at some strange level — under your control.

        When you’re a child, you have very little power to change your environment. You can’t move away, or force somebody to stop hurting you. So, you have two choices. You can admit to yourself that you are powerless ― that at any moment, you could be badly hurt, and there’s simply nothing you can do about it. Or you can tell yourself it’s your fault. If you do that, you actually gain some power ― at least in your own mind. If it’s your fault, then there’s something you can do that might make it different. You aren’t a pinball being smacked around a pinball machine. You’re the person controlling the machine. You have your hands on the dangerous levers. In this way, just like obesity protected those women from the men they feared would rape them, blaming yourself for your childhood traumas protects you from seeing how vulnerable you were and are. You can become the powerful one. If it’s your fault, it’s ― at some strange level ― under your control.

        But that comes at a cost. If you were responsible for being hurt, then at some level, you have to think you deserved it. A person who thinks they deserved to be injured as a child isn’t going to think they deserve much as an adult, either. This is no way to live. But it’s a misfiring of the thing that made it possible for you to survive at an earlier point in your life.


        But it was what Dr. Felitti discovered next that most helped me. When ordinary patients, responding to his questionnaire, noted that they had experienced childhood trauma, he got their doctors to do something when the patients next came in for care. He got them to say something like, “I see you went through this bad experience as a child. I am sorry this happened to you. Would you like to talk about it?”

        Felitti wanted to see if being able to discuss this trauma with a trusted authority figure, and being told it was not your fault, would help to release people’s shame. What happened next was startling. Just being able to discuss the trauma led to a huge fall in future illnesses ― there was a 35-percent reduction in their need for medical care over the following year. For the people who were referred to more extensive help, there was a fall of more than 50 percent. One elderly woman ― who had described being raped as a child ― wrote a letter later, saying: “Thank you for asking … I feared I would die, and no one would ever know what had happened.”

        The act of releasing your shame is – in itself – healing. So I went back to people I trusted, and I began to talk about what had happened to me when I was younger. Far from shaming me, far from thinking it showed I was broken, they showed love, and helped me to grieve for what I had gone through.

        If you find your work meaningless and you feel you have no control over it, you are far more likely to become depressed.

        As I listened back over the tapes of my long conversations with Felitti, it struck me that if he had just told people what my doctor told me – that their brains were broken, this was why they were so distressed, and the only solution was to be drugged – they may never have been able to understand the deeper causes of their problem, and they would never have been released from them.

        The more I investigated depression and anxiety, the more I found that, far from being caused by a spontaneously malfunctioning brain, depression and anxiety are mostly being caused by events in our lives. If you find your work meaningless and you feel you have no control over it, you are far more likely to become depressed. If you are lonely and feel that you can’t rely on the people around you to support you, you are far more likely to become depressed. If you think life is all about buying things and climbing up the ladder, you are far more likely to become depressed. If you think your future will be insecure, you are far more likely to become depressed. I started to find a whole blast of scientific evidence that depression and anxiety are not caused in our skulls, but by the way many of us are being made to live. There are real biological factors, like your genes, that can make you significantly more sensitive to these causes, but they are not the primary drivers.

        And that led me to the scientific evidence that we have to try to solve our depression and anxiety crises in a very different way (alongside chemical anti-depressants, which should of course remain on the table).

        To do that, we need to stop seeing depression and anxiety as an irrational pathology, or a weird misfiring of brain chemicals. They are terribly painful – but they make sense. Your pain is not an irrational spasm. It is a response to what is happening to you. To deal with depression, you need to deal with its underlying causes. On my long journey, I learned about seven different kinds of anti-depressants – ones that are about stripping out the causes, rather than blunting the symptoms. Releasing your shame is only the start. 


        One day, one of Dr. Felitti’s colleagues, Dr. Robert Anda, told me something I have been thinking about ever since.

        When people are behaving in apparently self-destructive ways, “it’s time to stop asking what’s wrong with them,” he said, “and time to start asking what happened to them.”

        Johann Hari is the author most recently of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions. He is speaking this week in New York, Washington DC and Baltimore. To attend, click here.

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        This Is What Happens To Your Lungs If You Do The Forbidden Fruit Challenge

        JR showed up to the emergency room unconscious and struggling to breathe. He’d been in this state for at least 30 minutes when his mom finally got him to the hospital.

        His mom had found him lying on the floor, his lips blue. It didn’t take her long to establish what had happened. He had done the Forbidden Fruit Challenge. The 17-year-old boy, renamed to protect his identity, took part in the social media game that stemmed from the Tide Pod Challenge.

        As YouTube channel Chubbyemu reports, it did not end well for him, and he was hospitalized for the effect it had on his lungs.

        People attempt the challenge on Instagram 

        In an excellent explainer video, Dr Bernard explains the case of “JR”, a boy who ate three laundry pods on a dare.

        The new trend, called the Forbidden Fruit Challenge, sees a group of people all agreeing to record themselves eating detergent pods and then uploading the footage to social media. Whoever gets the most likes on their video wins.

        Dr Bernard explains that JR wanted to, in his own words, “experience the greatness of laundry pod flavor and become Internet famous” when he took the challenge. In front of a sink, he took three laundry pods and put them into his mouth and chewed.

        “Immediately he felt a burning sensation waft up into his nose”. Next came a numbing sensation on his tongue, followed by a lot of retching. As he coughed, some of the detergent went down his throat and some of it went into his airway.

        He began frothing at the mouth and felt a burning sensation down his esophagus as the liquid trickled into his stomach.

        Upon contact, necrosis set in within a second. Chubbyemu/YouTube

        His mom found him when his lips had turned blue and he had fallen unconscious. She rang emergency services, who told her to head to the ER. 

        He was suffering from a caustic esophageal injury (burning of the esophagus) caused by the detergent. As Dr Bernard explains, the liquid within detergent pods can be “at least a 100,000 times more basic than human blood”. So it’s not something you want entering your system.

        “Contact with mucosal surfaces like the esophagus produces liquefactive necrosis”. This means that the tissue is dying and turning to a liquid puss, which runs further into the body. Essentially, the lining of the esophagus gets disintegrated.

        “All of this happens within one second of contact”.

        Damage to his windpipe also made breathing difficult, and without immediate treatment, the 17-year-old would have died.

        Dr Bernard explains that as the boy coughed, the detergent got into his lungs. The more he coughed, the more it lodged deeply into his airways, and the cell lining of his lungs began to strip away.


        Fortunately, the doctors were able to treat JR and he is now recovering from his injuries. However, without immediate medical attention, he would have stopped breathing altogether and lost his life.

        Find out the full story of JR in the excellent video from Chubbyemu above.

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        Health Win: This New App Helps Users Track How Far Theyve Fallen Every Time They Tumble Down A Flight Of Stairs

        If you’re having trouble staying active (uh, who isn’t??), here’s something that might actually motivate you to get your butt off the couch: This new app helps users track how far they’ve fallen every time they tumble down a flight of stairs.

        Finally, a way to figure out how many steps you really fell down on your way to work this morning, without any of the guesswork!

        Here’s how it works: The app is called StairTracker, and after you download it and make a StairTracker profile specifying your height and weight, it will automatically log how many vertical feet you drop and how many stair steps you bypass every time you careen headfirst down a flight of stairs. According to StairTracker developers, the app uses the accelerometer on your phone to track your flailing body’s journey as it skids down a staircase—but users who are committed to making tracking their tumbles a part of their lifestyle can also buy a StairTracker watch that syncs with the smartphone app automatically.

        Plus, StairTracker lets you set goals for distance fallen, and alerts you with a notification when you’ve hit your “plummet goal” for the day. The app’s developers also made sure to include a social element, so you can add friends to your profile and react to the falls they post with a “nice spill” sticker.

        So the next time you find yourself sitting there at the bottom of a staircase, wondering how far you’ve fallen, why not give StairTracker a try? It could be just what you need for the new year.

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        Netflix is now worth more than $100B

        Netflix crossed a fun milestone today, crossing the $100 billion mark for its market cap as it once again surprised industry observers with better-than-expected growth in its subscribers.

        We’ll get to the financial numbers in a minute but, as usual, the big story here is that it continues to wow Wall Street with impressive growth in its subscriber numbers. The company said it added more than 8 million new subscribers total after already setting pretty robust targets for the fourth quarter this year, giving it a healthy push as it crossed the $100 billion mark after the report came out this afternoon.

        Here’s the rundown:

        Netflix’s biggest challenge has been to aggressively invest in good original content that’s going to bring in new subscribers. While its shows may clean up at various awards shows like the Emmys, it still has to show that it can convert those awards into raw subscribers. But thanks to what appears to be continuing success with its original content like Stranger Things, as well other returning seasons for shows like The Crown, it’s been able to continue its staggering run.

        While the company’s core financials actually came in roughly in line with what Wall Street was looking for (which is still important), Netflix’s subscriber numbers are usually the best indicator for the core health of the company. That recurring revenue stream — and its growth — is critical as it continues to very aggressively spend on new content. The company said its free cash flow will be between negative $3 billion and negative $4 billion, compared to negative $2 billion this year.

        And that aggressive spend only seems to get more aggressive every time we hear from the company. Netflix is now saying that it expects to spend between $7.5 billion and $8 billion on content in 2018 — which is around in line with what it said in October when it said it would spend between $7 billion and $8 billion. It’s the same range, but tuning up that bottom end is still an important indicator.

        Netflix shows picked up 20 Emmy awards last year, but just having a shiny object on a shelf isn’t something that’s going to indicate that the company is going to continue to grow at a healthy clip. In the face of an increasingly crowded market, Netflix has to demonstrate its ability to continue to offer lasting value for subscribers — especially as it continues to grow abroad. The company, of course, has plenty of benefits in terms of how it handles its shows when it makes them itself.

        The company also has to make sure its brand also fits that narrative, as it now finds itself dealing with issues like having to cancel House of Cards — and that has a monetary impact as well. Netflix said it took a $39 million “non-cash charge in Q4 for unreleased content we’ve decided not to move forward with.” The company didn’t specify what content, but it’s dealt with some issues in the past several months that might necessitate the need to recalibrate its slate.

        Netflix also tucked another newsy bit into the report: the addition of new board member Rodolphe Belmer, former CEO of Canal+. As the company continues to expand internationally, bringing on people with experience like Belmer of course makes sense.

        Here’s the final slash line for the company’s report today:

        • Revenue: $3.29 billion, compared to $3.28 billion estimates from Wall Street
        • Earnings: 41 cents per share, in line with estimates from Wall Street
        • Q4 US subscriber additions: 1.98 million
        • Q4 International subscriber additions: 6.36 million
        • Q1 forecast US additions: 1.45 million
        • Q1 forecast international additions: 4.90 million

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        Why Cokes Non-Binary Super Bowl Moment Mattered

        There was a controversial four-letter word aired during last nights Super Bowlnot the kind that gets you in trouble with the FCC, but the kind that advances LGBT media representation in a small but still significant way.

        The word was them.

        In one tiny moment of Coca-Colas The Wonder of Us advertisement, a non-binary personsomeone who doesnt identify as either male or femaleappeared and the ads voiceover used the singular, gender-neutral pronoun them to refer to, well, them. It was a fleeting moment but eagle-eyed watchers noticed both the use of the they pronoun and the rainbow lanyard draped around the non-binary persons neck. The shout-out to LGBT viewers was as crystal clear as it was quick.

        Theres a Coke for he and she and her and me and them, the ad declared, as a diverse array of soda slurping faces flashed across the screen. Theres a different Coke for all of us.

        To be clear, this advertisement was Cokes marketing department at its finest : Making the experience of drinking their carbonated elixirs seem somehow synonymous with the fact of being human. This non-binary moment comes from a company that has implored us to taste the feeling, as if pure emotion is something that can be ingested. That messaging works, tooand even a hardened cynic like me has a fridge full of Coca-Cola Vanilla Zero that I am convinced can wash away all my sorrow even though I know nothing can.

        So, as Matt Kemper wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in his own analysis of the ad, it is good to remember this is still about a company trying to build brand, win friends, and sell drinks. Capitalism is still capitalism with all of its attendant problems.

        Still given the severe underrepresentationindeed, the near invisibility of non-binary people in the media, the importance of 100 million people hearingthem used as a gender-neutral, third-person pronoun cannot be overstated. People from all swaths of society watch the Super Bowl, including an audience that might never have been exposed to a transgender or gender non-conforming person in real life. These are the sort of baby steps that change the media landscape, little by little.

        LGBT viewers were quick to notice the them across social media. LGBT media advocacy group GLAAD, in particular, unleashed a stream of heart and crying emojis in response to the ad, which also featured a same-sex couple.

        If Coca-Cola itself didnt have LGBT-friendly policies, the ad would seem like a crass attempt to exploit diversity to sell sodaand some particularly critical viewers will say that it already does just that. But its worth noting that the company has a perfect 100 score on the Human Rights Campaigns Corporate Equality Index. The score indicates the company offers transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage and includes gender identity in its equal employment opportunity policy.

        But less important than the actual corporate vehicle for the non-binary moment is the moment itself, which comes after years of tedious debate over the use of they as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun. Despite the Associated Press style guide allowing gender-neutral singular pronouns and Merriam-Websters veritable social media rampage of late reminding people that there are centuries of precedent for using they as a singular pronounthere is still widespread resistance to the usage, even in liberal circles.

        In fact, last May, a New York Times op-ed misgendered non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon, who appears in the Showtime series Billions. In a follow-up column, then-public editor for the Times Liz Spayd explained that opinion editors, who generally follow the style and usage guidelines of the newsroom, were under the impression that they could not be used as a singular pronoun. As I wrote at the time, the editors took someone elses identity in[to] their hands and reshaped it to fit the demands of a style guide. One of the first and certainly the most prominent non-binary person to appear on television couldnt even be granted the dignity of the four letters that best describe their identity.

        And if The New York Times has this much trouble with they, you can imagine how the far-right media feels about non-binary people adopting the pronoun as their own. Mocking pronoun choices by transgender people is practically a pastime among that crowd.

        But non-binary people arent going anywhere. An unweighted 36 percent of the thousands of respondents to the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey identified as non-binary. If thats anything close to indicative of the ratio of binary transgender people to non-binary people, that means there are hundreds of thousands of American adults who dont identify as either male or female. And market research, as Broadly has previously reported, suggests that Generation Z is especially likely to embrace non-binary identification. Fifty six percent of 13-to-20-year-olds told the J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group that they knew someone who used they as their pronoun.

        To whatever extent the inclusion of a non-binary person was motivated by an attempt to capture millennial beverage buyers, the net effect is the same: Super Bowl viewers, even the socially conservative ones who might not be keen on transgender rights, heard the use of a pronoun that is only going to grow more common in the coming years.

        Judging by the rate at which young people now feel comfortable identifying as LGBT and gender non-conforming, including a non-binary person in a widely-watched TV advertisement will one day be unexceptional, barely worthy of note. At some point, those four letters will be about as normal to overhear as he or she.

        But last night, they mattered.

        Read more:

        Chuck Todd nailed why Trump’s SOTU just didn’t cut it for so many Americans.

        NBC’s Chuck Todd has an issue with President Trump’s first State of the Union address.

        It’s not that it was a bad speech, necessarily. It’s just that the Donald we all know didn’t give it.

        Speaking on MSNBC after the State of the Union, Todd dove into why Trump’s inauthentic speech failed to deliver.

        Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for SiriusXM.

        “It is hard to judge these speeches because we know it’s not him,” Todd said. “It’s him reading off a teleprompter.”

        “There are some things he says that sound like him totally, you know. He’ll throw in a ‘beautiful’ and an extra ‘totally.’ But you can tell he is reading it. He doesn’t own it. … I think [the Trump administration] would be better off letting him ad lib because it would be authentic. There is a missing authenticity here.”

        Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

        After others on the panel began laughing at the thought of the president improvising the State of the Union, Todd clarified what he meant.

        “You guys are laughing,” he said, grinning. “I’m being semi-serious here.”

        Americans know the president as a man who jabs at political opponents using disparaging nicknames on Twitter — not a guy who genuinely wants to bring people together, Todd explained. “I’m just saying; the Donald Trump we know as a country, that we interact with every day, with his Twitter feed, with the asides and all of this — the guy that likes to give us all nicknames — that isn’t who you saw [at the State of the Union], right?”

        Beyond tone, Trump’s attempts at bipartisanship also fell flat to many because he’s thrived on divisiveness throughout his first year in office.

        Unifier-in-chief? Eh, not so fast.

        Although the White House touted Trump’s first State of the Union as “bright and optimistic” — a means to bring parties together — the branding may not have stuck. Polling from last year found the overwhelming majority of Americans believe Trump does more to divide the country than unite it. One speech won’t flip that figure overnight.

        Reaction shots of many Congresspeople in the audience showed that not everyone was impressed by Trump’s speech. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

        And when it comes to the issues, Trump’s calls for unity just didn’t sync up with reality.

        Trump took sole credit on job creation, shrinking the unemployment rate among black Americans, and boosting manufacturing — all signs of an improving economy that surfaced under President Obama. When it came to issues like immigration, health care, and national security, Trump played to his own base, blasting Obamacare, cheering the existence of Guantanamo Bay, and highlighting a necessity to stand for the national anthem.

        “President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address was billed by the White House beforehand as a speech that would be ‘unifying’ and ‘bipartisan,'” Jonathan Allen wrote for NBC. “It was neither.”

        But even if it were, would Americans buy it?

        “You don’t see this Trump very often so I don’t know if it can sell anything,” Todd concluded on MSNBC. “That’s my point here. So I don’t know how much ability this version of President Trump does to persuade anybody because you don’t see it very often.”

        You can watch Todd discussing his thoughts on the State of the Union at MSNBC.

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        Two Utah Cult Members Allegedly Marry Each Other’s 7- And 8-Year-Old Daughters

        Two alleged members of Knights of the Crystal Blade –a religious cult that allegedly believes in doomsday prophecies and practices polygamy — have allegedly married each other’s underage daughters.

        Utah-native John Coltharp (pictured above, left) has been charged with first-degree-felony kidnapping and obstruction of justice, while Samuel Shaffer (right) has been slapped with two counts of kidnapping and four counts of child abuse. According to Hollywood Women Launch Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund

        According to a press release obtained by People, it all began when Coltharp’s ex-wife called the police accusing him of kidnapping their four children. While the 33-year-old was arrested at his house, his kids were not there. Three days later, in a compound one mile west of Lund, authorities found his parents and two sons living inside shipping containers.

        Police went after Shaffer once they learned he spent the night with four girls — his two daughters, ages seven and five, and Coltharp’s two daughters — in a tent near the Lund compound. After an AMBER alert went off for Coltharp’s two daughters, police were notified of a white male (eventually identified as Shaffer) walking alone several miles west of the compound.

        Once Shaffer was taken into custody, he told officials the whereabouts for one of his daughters and one of Coltharp’s. The two young women were found inside two blue plastic 50 gallon water barrels near the Coltharp property. Allegedly, Shaffer told deputies the girls were inside the barrels to hide from the cops.

        According to the press release, the minors were in the barrels for around 24 hours in subfreezing temperatures. Additionally:

        “These two children were not properly dressed for the cold temperatures and did not have food or water at that time… Shaffer also made statements he had left a firearm behind on the ground next to the barrel.”

        Although Shaffer allegedly refused to tell authorities the location of the other two girls, he eventually did, and police found them in an abandoned single-wide mobile trailer in “poor health with signs of dehydration and acting lethargic.”

        All four girls received medical care at Cedar City Hospital.

        To make matters worse, according to the affidavit, an out-of-state man told Spring City Police Chief Clarke Christensen he spoke to the two men via social media about their religious group. Once in Utah, the man was “forcefully” baptized into the church by Shaffer, and was promised a child bride.

        Shaffer and Coltharp have hearings on Wednesday.

        [Image via Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office/Iron County Sheriff.]

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        For Chinas Wealthy, Singapore Is the New Hong Kong

        When more than 80 of China’s wealth managers gathered recently at the Shangri-La hotel on Singapore’s resort island of Sentosa, the chatter during tea breaks kept returning to one theme: Hong Kong is starting to be eclipsed by Singapore as the favorite destination for the wealth of China’s rich.

        At stake for banks in both cities is a huge pile of money. China’s high-net-worth individuals control an estimated $5.8 trillion—almost half of it already offshore, according to consulting firm Capgemini SE. For some, the city-state of Singapore is preferable because it’s at a safer distance from any potential scrutiny from authorities in Beijing, according to interviews with several wealth managers. Multiple private banking sources in Singapore, who would not comment on the record because of the sensitivity of the subject, report seeing increased flows at the expense of Hong Kong.

        The rich may be feeling exposed by changing banking practices. Hong Kong has signed tax transparency agreements that for the first time last year required all banks to report their account holders’ information to Hong Kong tax officials, in preparation for giving that information to 75 jurisdictions, including mainland China. Singapore will have similar agreements with 61 jurisdictions. But they don’t include either Hong Kong or Beijing, meaning its accounts and account holders aren’t visible to the Chinese government. “Many rich people from the mainland believe Hong Kong is still a part of China, after all,” says Xia Chun, chief research officer at Noah Holdings Ltd. of Hong Kong, an asset management service provider. “They think there’s no difference in putting money in Hong Kong, compared to Beijing.”

        At the same time, more Chinese banks in Hong Kong are “trying to synchronize their internal systems with those on the mainland to improve service efficiency,” says Eva Law, the Hong Kong-based founder of the Association of Private Bankers in Greater China Region. “This also means the clients’ information will become more transparent and the mainland can identify fund flows more easily, or will have fuller and faster access to your asset holdings, thus enabling easier investigation and tracing.”

        Overall, Hong Kong remains the primary destination for China’s offshore money, according to a Capgemini survey, followed by Singapore and New York. Yet the number of Chinese high-net-worth individuals who view Hong Kong as their preferred overseas place of investment is down to 53 percent, from 71 percent two years ago, according to a survey in July by Bain & Co. More than 20 percent favor Singapore, up from 15 percent two years ago. “Singapore is the Zurich of the East,” says Xiao Xiao, the Beijing-based chief operating officer of Chinese wealth manager Fortunes Capital.

        “We see Singapore, not Hong Kong, as the bridgehead of China’s investment overseas,” says Li Qinghao, co-founder of NewBanker Tech Consulting, which organized the Sentosa conference last year. About 78 percent of S$2.7 trillion ($1.9 trillion) in assets under management in Singapore comes from overseas sources. Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and other firms with big private banking operations are building up their teams of China relationship managers in Singapore.

        China has been tightening its grip on Hong Kong. A year ago, Chinese financier Xiao Jianhua was reported by local media to have been seized from a Hong Kong hotel by Chinese authorities and taken to the mainland. The incident followed the disappearance of several Hong Kong booksellers who sold books critical of China’s Communist Party and were reported to have been taken involuntarily across the border.

        Then there are the increased restrictions on Hong Kong’s financial practices, such as a 2016 crackdown on sales of certain types of insurance products to mainland Chinese. The products pay dividends over a number of years and are essentially viewed as investments—and potentially a way to send money out of China and evade capital controls. “The Hong Kong market is now heavily affected by mainland China,” says Guan Huanyu, president of Beijing-based wealth manager Zhenghe Holdings, who attended the Sentosa event.

        While Hong Kong’s Securities & Futures Commission doesn’t break down the origin of funds, its data show that growth in the city’s private banking business has been slowing. Hong Kong logged 10.7 percent growth in private banking assets under management in 2016, down from 18 percent in 2015.

        Singapore has additional attractions for the wealthy of China. Mandarin is one of its four official languages, and it has world-class health facilities and international schools. Not far from the Shangri-La Hotel, Sentosa’s casinos are a popular draw for Chinese tourists. Mainland Chinese were the largest foreign buyers of luxury properties in Singapore during the first half of last year, according to consultancy Cushman & Wakefield. Real estate is far cheaper than in Hong Kong.

        But mainly, the rich like to diversify—not only among asset classes, but among political regimes. “Most of our clients have undergone a shift from poor to rich,” says Kou Quan, vice president at Tianjin-based Xinmao S&T Investment Group. “And they’re all worried about becoming poor again.”

          BOTTOM LINE – Hong Kong’s financial sector is becoming more entwined with the mainland, prompting more and more of China’s rich to turn to Singapore.

          Read more:

          Cancer blood test enormously exciting

          Media playback is unsupported on your device

          Media captionCancer blood test shows promise but more research is needed, says Prof Richard Marais

          Scientists have taken a step towards one of the biggest goals in medicine – a universal blood test for cancer.

          A team at Johns Hopkins University has trialled a method that detects eight common forms of the disease.

          Their vision is an annual test designed to catch cancer early and save lives. UK experts said it was “enormously exciting”.

          However, one said more work was needed to assess the test’s effectiveness at detecting early-stage cancers.

          Tumours release tiny traces of their mutated DNA and proteins they make into the bloodstream.

          ‘Exciting’ blood test spots cancer a year early

          Blood tests spot ovarian cancer early

          Prostate cancer blood test ‘helps target treatment’

          The CancerSEEK test looks for mutations in 16 genes that regularly arise in cancer and eight proteins that are often released.

          It was trialled on 1,005 patients with cancers in the ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophagus, colon, lung or breast that had not yet spread to other tissues.

          Overall, the test found 70% of the cancers.

          Dr Cristian Tomasetti, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told the BBC: “This field of early detection is critical.

          “I think this can have an enormous impact on cancer mortality.”

          The earlier a cancer is found, the greater the chance of being able to treat it.

          Five of the eight cancers investigated have no screening programmes for early detection.

          Pancreatic cancer has so few symptoms and is detected so late that four in five patients die in the year they are diagnosed.

          Finding tumours when they could still be surgically removed would be “a night and day difference” for survival, said Dr Tomasetti.

          CancerSEEK is now being trialled in people who have not been diagnosed with cancer.

          This will be the real test of its usefulness.

          The hope is it can complement other screening tools such as mammograms for breast cancer and colonoscopies for colorectal cancer.

          Dr Tomasetti told the BBC: “We envision a blood test we could use once a year.”

          Universal test?

          The CancerSEEK test, reported in the journal Science, is novel because it hunts for both the mutated DNA and the proteins.

          Image copyright Science Photo Library
          Image caption Breast cancer can be detected by the new test

          Increasing the number of mutations and proteins being analysed would allow it to test for a wider range of cancers.

          Dr Gert Attard, team leader in the Centre for Evolution and Cancer at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, told the BBC: “This is of massive potential.

          “I’m enormously excited. This is the Holy Grail – a blood test to diagnose cancer without all the other procedures like scans or colonoscopy.”

          He said “we’re very close” to using blood tests to screen for cancer as “we have the technology”.

          But he cautioned there was still uncertainty about what to do when a cancer was diagnosed.

          In some cases, the treatment may be worse than living with a cancer that is not immediately life-threatening.

          Men can already have slow growing prostate cancers closely monitored rather than treated.

          “When we detect cancer in a different way, we can’t take for granted that everyone will need treatment,” Dr Attard said.

          Early stage cancers

          Prof Richard Marais, from Cancer Research UK, said it would take time to prove that it worked as an early diagnosis for cancer – at least five to six years.

          He said: “They looked at healthy people – well, if you’ve got a cold of flu or other underlying condition, how will that affect the test?”

          Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, said more work was needed to assess how the test performs when cancers are less advanced.

          He said: “Demonstrating that a test can detect advanced cancers does not mean that the test will be useful in detecting early stage symptomatic cancer, much less pre-symptomatic cancer. The sensitivity for the stage 1 cancers in the study was only 40%.”

          The cost of CancerSEEK is less than $500 (£360) per patient, which is around the same price as a colonoscopy.

          Follow James on twitter.

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          This Company’s Unique Urns Turn The Remains Of Loved Ones Into Trees

          Humans have been burying their dead for at least 100,000 years, an ancient tradition that isn’t set to change anytime soon.

          But with the world literally running out of burial space, it’s past time to consider more sustainable options. Some opt for cremation while making end of life arrangements, choosing their final resting place in a traditional urn or asking for their remains to be sprinkled in their favorite locations. But what if your death — and ashes — could ensure a greener and more environmentally friendly future? That’s where the Bios Urn comes in.

          Created by Gerard Moliné and his brother, Roger, the Bios Urn is the world’s first 100 percent biodegradable urn designed to use a person’s (or even a pet’s) ashes to grow a tree.

          Your loved one’s cremated remains fill the bottom of the container, with soil mix and a seed of your choice in an expansion disc on top. When planted outside, the container begins breaking down. As the tree’s roots expand, they mingle with the ashes, growing life from death.

          Now with the company’s second creation, the Bios Incube, you can even grow the tree inside your home.

          Called the “world’s first incubator designed for the after life,” it monitors the health of the tree and sends you alerts, even watering it for you.

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          NIH study links cell phone radiation to cancer in male rats

          New studies from the National Institutes of Health — specifically the National Toxicology Program — find that cell phone radiation is potentially linked with certain forms of cancer, but they’re far from conclusive. The results are complex and the studies have yet to be peer-reviewed, but some of the findings are clearly important enough to warrant public discussion.

          An early, partial version of this study teasing these effects appeared in 2016 (in fact, I wrote about it), but these are the full (draft) reports complete with data.

          Both papers note that “studies published to date have not demonstrated consistently increased incidences of tumors at any site associate with exposure to cell phone RFR [radio frequency radiation] in rats or mice.” But the researchers felt that “based on the designs of the existing studies, it is difficult to definitively conclude that these negative results clearly indicate that cell phone RFR is not carcinogenic.”

          In other words, no one has taken it far enough, or simulated the radio-immersion environment in which we now live, enough to draw conclusions on the cancer front. So this study takes things up a notch, with longer and stronger exposures.

          The studies exposed mice and rats to both 900 MHz and 1900 Mhz wavelength radio waves (each frequency being its own experiment) for about 9 hours per day, at various strengths ranging from 1 to 10 watts per kilogram. For comparison, the general limit the FCC imposes for exposure is 0.08 W/kg; the absolute maximum allowed, for the extremities of people with occupational exposures, is 20 W/kg for no longer than 6 minutes. So they were really blasting these mice.

          “The levels and duration of exposure to RFR were much greater than what people experience with even the highest level of cell phone use, and exposed the rodents’ whole bodies. So, these findings should not be directly extrapolated to human cell phone usage,” explained NTP senior scientist John Bucher in a news release accompanying the papers. “We note, however, that the tumors we saw in these studies are similar to tumors previously reported in some studies of frequent cell phone users.”

          The rodents were examined for various health effects after various durations, from 28 days to 2 years.

          Before I state the conclusions, a note on terminology. “Equivocal evidence” is just above “no evidence” on the official scale, meaning “showing a marginal increase of neoplasms that may be test agent related.” In other words, something statistically significant but ultimately still somewhat mysterious. “Some evidence” is above that, meaning a more measurable response, followed by the also self-explanatory “clear evidence.”

          At 900 MHz:

          Some evidence linking RFR with malignant schwannoma in the hearts of male rats, no evidence for same in female rats. Equivocal evidence linking exposure to malignant brain glioma in females. Other tumors of various types in both sexes “may have been related to cell phone RFR exposure,” meaning the link is unclear or numbers aren’t conclusive. Less serious “nonneoplastic lesions” were more frequent in exposed males and females.

          At 1900 MHz:

          Equivocal evidence of carcinogenicity in lung, liver and other organ tissues in both male and female mice.

          Although I would hesitate to draw any major conclusions from these studies, it seems demonstrated that there is some link here, though the level of radiation was orders of magnitude beyond what a person would ever experience in day to day life. As the researchers point out, however, relatively short-term studies like this one do little to illuminate the potential for harm in long-term exposure, such as babies who have never not been bathed in RF radiation.

          An interesting side note is that the radiation-exposed rodents of both types lived significantly longer than their control peers: 28 percent of the original control group survived the full 2 years, while about twice that amount (48-68 percent) survived in the exposed group.

          Two explanations are proffered for this strange result: either the radiation somehow suppressed the “chronic progressive nephropathy” that these mice tend to suffer from as they age, or possibly reduced feed intake related to the radiation might have done it. Either way, no one is suggesting that the radiation is somehow salutary to the rodents’ constitutions.

          The reports and data run to hundreds of pages, so this is only a quick look by a non-expert. You can look over the full reports and supplemental materials here, but as this is a major study you can also expect replication, analysis and criticism from all quarters soon, including a scheduled external expert review organized by the NTP in March.

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          Peak STUPID: Psychologist on board with movement to BAN best friends in school

          It’s been quite a week for those in the mental health profession and those in government and the media who like to pretend they are. Yes, the narrative of the week, kicking off with President Trump’s North Korea tweet on Tuesday and continuing through the weekend (and surely into next week), is that Trump is mentally unfit for office and must be removed.

          With that in mind, consider this unrelated entry from psychologist Barbara Greenberg, who writes in US News that “the word ‘best’ encourages judgment and promotes exclusion,” and so children should be banned from having best friends in school.

          Read more:

          Bernie Sanders Medicare For All Online Town Hall Draws Over 1 Million Live Viewers

          Sen. Bernie Sanders’ televised town hall on Tuesday night to promote single-payer health care, or “Medicare for all,” drew a live audience of about 1.1 million people ― all of whom viewed the event exclusively online.

          For Sanders, whose single-payer health care legislation elicited the support of over one-third of the Senate Democratic Caucus, the 90-minute broadcast at the U.S. Capitol visitors center was an opportunity to promote a top policy priority while thumbing his nose at the “corporate media.”

          “This is the first Medicare for all town meeting held in our nation’s capital. This is the first nationally televised town meeting on Medicare for all,” Sanders said in his introductory remarks. “And very importantly, this is the first nationally televised Senate town meeting that is taking place outside of corporate media.”

          Bloomberg/Getty Images
          Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) relished making his case that the United States should follow other countries that treat health care as a right.

          The Vermont senator is a frequent critic of mainstream news outlets for their alleged focus on superficial political matters and failure to entertain narratives that threaten their corporate owners. Although Sanders has participated in more than one live health care debate on CNN, he told The Washington Post earlier this month that a large media network failed to respond to his inquiries about a broadcast solely on the topic of government-provided health care coverage.

          But Sanders’ town hall, which was co-hosted by the left-leaning online video news outlets The Young Turks, NowThis and ATTN, demonstrated that a lengthy seminar on the complicated topic of single-payer health care can draw a crowd as large as many primetime cable news shows.

          The auditorium itself was packed to capacity with some 450 attendees. And together, the live audiences on the senator’s Facebook and YouTube pages, the the three news sites and some other outlets that picked up the stream added up to about 1.1 million people.

          The event consisted of three expert panel discussions moderated by Sanders: the first discussing problems with the current American health care system; the second on the potential economic impact of a “Medicare for all” program; and the third comparing the American health care system with those in other countries. Each of the three segments also featured questions from the live audience and video queries submitted online.

          Since revealing his new single-payer bill in September, Sanders has doggedly promoted it. In October, he even toured top-flight health care facilities in Toronto to showcase the achievements of the single-payer system in Canada.

          Some of Sanders’ guests on Tuesday, including Richard Masters, the pro-single payer CEO of MCS, a Pennsylvania-based picture frame maker, and Dr. Claudia Fegan, chief medical officer for the Cook County Health and Hospital System in Chicago, were veterans of his legislative rollout and his Canada trip, respectively.

          Other guests were new ― like Dr. Don Berwick, a Harvard medical school professor who led the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Obama administration ― reflecting the steady progress of Sanders’ cause into the mainstream. As one of the Democratic Party’s premier health policy experts and technocrats, Berwick’s imprimatur is a major asset.

          You can stand up for people. Why wouldn’t we do that for all Americans, not just people over 65? Dr. Don Berwick, Harvard

          When Sanders asked whether there was any good reason not to expand Medicare, Berwick replied, “No, there’s no reason. It’s just will.”

          Berwick described how Medicare’s public mission and centralized bargaining power, as the insurer for some 55 million Americans, allowed him to easily troubleshoot problems like the over-sedation of nursing home patients.

          “You can stand up for people,” Berwick recalled of his position at Medicare’s helm. “Why wouldn’t we do that for all Americans, not just people over 65?”

          Sanders relished the opportunity to tee panelists up with knowing questions that knocked down conservative straw man arguments against single-payer health care.

          The exercise was likely most useful for hardened single-payer advocates looking for a pep rally and for center-left Americans concerned about health care affordability who haven’t settled on a policy framework to explain the system’s problems. It is less predictable how Sanders’ pitch would fare with more skeptical health care consumers.

          As Sanders is fond of noting, polling shows that a majority of Americans support single-payer health care.

          But nearly half of Americans get health coverage from an employer, and they’d be forced to give up what they have and pay higher taxes for an expanded version of Medicare that might not produce promised cost savings overnight. The passage of the Affordable Care Act provoked hysteria through its cancellation of some 400,000 individuals’ health care plans; there is no telling how people would react to a forced transition of much greater proportions.

          But Sanders, who has been campaigning for single-payer health care since he first entered Congress in 1991, is betting that the movement is finally accelerating. What makes the current moment different, he argued, is that the same digital revolution that made his campaign possible also allows progressives to communicate directly with the public.

          “The reason we’re doing this program tonight is you don’t see this stuff,” he said in his concluding remarks. “It ain’t gonna be on CBS. It ain’t gonna be on NBC.”

          “What astounds me is we already have a pretty good majority of the American people who already believe in universal health care, believe that it is the government’s responsibility to make sure that health care is a right,” Sanders added. “And we have reached that stage with media not talking about the issue at all.”

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          Alabama Dem Doug Jones votes with GOP on spending bill to avoid shutdown

          Newly elected Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, in his most high-profile vote since taking office, was one of five Democratic senators to vote overnight with Republicans on a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.

          Jones’ election to the Senate last month marked the first time in 25 years that Alabama voters picked a Democratic senator.

          The election results sparked much political speculation about whether Jones would vote with Republicans or fellow Democrats, considering that Alabama is one of the country’s most conservative-leaning states and gave President Trump more than 62 percent of its vote in 2016.

          While Jones’ vote this weekend might suggest an intent to represent his electorate or win a 2020 re-election, he made clear from the start of his improbable special-election win that his top priority upon arriving on Capitol Hill would be to keep alive the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which the GOP spending bill did for several years.

          “Because of CHIP and the many families in Alabama and around our country that would be put in jeopardy by a government shutdown, I felt compelled to vote yes,” Jones said in a statement posted on his Twitter account.

          Jones won last month by less than 2 percentage points over Republican candidate Roy Moore, a conservative firebrand whose campaign was severely damaged in the closing months by allegations of sexual misconduct as a young man.

          The Republican leaders of the GOP-controlled Senate failed overnight to get the 60 votes needed to move forward and pass a temporary spending bill to keep the government fully operational past Friday midnight.

          Republicans have a 51-to-49 member majority in the Senate. The vote was 50-49.

          Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain did not vote because he’s home recovering from cancer treatment.

          The four other Senate Democrats who voted for the bill were Sens. John Donnelly of Indiana; Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota; Joe Manchin of West Virginia; and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

          All four are up for re-election this year in states that voted for Trump in 2016.

          Jones, who has the seat left open after Republican Jeff Sessions became attorney general, is up for re-election in 2020.

          In his victory speech last month, Jones effectively avoided any talk about how he’d vote in Congress but made clear that he won with bipartisan support. And he urged the GOP-controlled Congress to fund CHIP before he arrived in January.

          The Alabama Republican Party was straightforward after Jones’ win about how it wanted him to vote.

          “During this campaign, we heard Mr. Jones repeatedly say he would talk about ‘kitchen table issues’ and that he would ‘reach across the aisle’ to work with Republicans,” said party Chair Terry Lathan.

          “While these issues weren’t discussed and no other Democratic Senator has worked with the Republicans, all eyes will be on his votes. Alabamians will watch the issues he will support or try to stop. We will hold him accountable for his votes.”

          She also fired a warning shot at Jones — pointing out that essentially 60 percent of elected offices in Alabama are held by Republicans, which means “a strong slate” of candidates in upcoming elections.

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          ‘Stable Genius Act,’ would require presidential candidates to have mental health exam

          A Democratic lawmaker said on Tuesday he is introducing the “Stable Genius Act,” which would require presidential candidates to take a mental health examination.

          The bill, introduced by Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Penn.), comes just days after President Donald Trump claimed on Twitter that he was a “very stable genius” in response to questions about his fitness to be in office.

          “The President believes he is a “stable genius.” I do not. Today, I introduced the Standardizing Testing and Accountability Before Large Elections Giving Electors Necessary Information for Unobstructed Selection Act to ensure that Presidential candidates are fit to lead,” Boyle wrote on Twitter.

          Boyle’s bill would require presidential candidates to file a report with the Federal Election Commission that certifies “that he or she has undergone medical examination by the medical office under jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Navy,” the Hill reports.

          “Before voting for the highest office in the land, Americans have a right to know whether an individual has the physical and mental fitness to serve as President,” Boyle said, according to the news outlet.

          The bill comes on the heels of a Washington Post report that says the president “resents” discussion of his mental health.

          Trump privately resents the now-regular chatter on cable television news shows about his mental health and views the issue as “an invented fact” and “a joke,” much like the Russia probe, according to one person who recently discussed it with him.

          On Saturday, Trump tweeted that two of his “greatest assets” in life have been his “mental stability and being, like, really smart.” During the tweetstorm, Trump also said that he would qualify not only as “smart,” but rather a “very stable genius.”

          The tweetstorm appeared to be in reference to the newly-released book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, in which aides to the president are said to question Trump’s fitness to serve in office.

          Read more:

          James Gunn says he’ll donate $100k to get Trump’s actual weight

          White House’s physician Dr. Ronny Jackson announced on Tuesday that President Donald Trump weighed 239 pounds during his physical last week—but the internet wasn’t buying it. Now, skeptics have coalesced around a “#girther” hashtag to make their disbelief known.

          The main criticism, it seems, is that Jackson announced Trump was 6’3″ and weighed 239 pounds, just one pound shy of the level that would be considered obese.

          Using a hashtag that plays off Trump’s infamous “birther” movement—where he falsely claimed that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States—the internet let their theories fly.

          One of the biggest voices so far of the #girther movement is James Gunn, the director of both Guardians of the Galaxy films.

          On Tuesday night, Gunn offered $100,000 to Trump’s favorite charity if he would “step on an accurate scale with an impartial medical professional” agreed upon by both Gunn and Trump.

          Gunn said he did not intend for his offer to be fat shaming, but rather making a push back against “a continuous pattern of fabricating facts by both Trump and his administration.”

          Gunn wasn’t alone in questioning the authenticity of Trump’s purported 239-pound weight and 6’3″ height, which is different from what his driver’s license said.

          Jackson, the White House physician, said he recommended Trump lose 10 to 15 pounds.

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          Ibuprofen linked to male infertility, study says

          (CNN)Ibuprofen has a negative impact on the testicles of young men, a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found. When taking ibuprofen in doses commonly used by athletes, a small sample of young men developed a hormonal condition that typically begins, if at all, during middle age. This condition is linked to reduced fertility.

          Advil and Motrin are two brand names for ibuprofen, an over-the-counter pain reliever. CNN has contacted Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, the makers of both brands, for comment.
          The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group that represents manufacturers of over-the-counter medications and supplements, “supports and encourages continued research and promotes ongoing consumer education to help ensure safe use of OTC medicines,” said Mike Tringale, a spokesman for the association. “The safety and efficacy of active ingredients in these products has been well documented and supported by decades of scientific study and real-world use.”
            The new study is a continuation of research that began with pregnant women, explained Bernard Jégou, co-author and director of the Institute of Research in Environmental and Occupational Health in France.
            Jégou and a team of French and Danish researchers had been exploring the health effects when a mother-to-be took any one of three mild pain relievers found in medicine chests around the globe: aspirin, acetaminophen (also known as paracetamol and sold under the brand name Tylenol) and ibuprofen.
            Their early experiments, published in several papers, showed that when taken during pregnancy, all three of these mild medicines affected the testicles of male babies.

            Testicles and testosterone

            Testicles not only produce sperm, they secrete testosterone, the primary male sex hormone.
            All three drugs then are “anti-androgenic,” meaning they disrupt male hormones, explained David M. Kristensen, study co-author and a senior scientist in the Department of Neurology at Copenhagen University Hospital.
            The three drugs even increased the likelihood that male babies would be born with congenital malformations, Kristensen noted.
            Tringale noted that pregnant and nursing women should always ask a health professional before using medicines.
            Knowing this, “we wondered what would happen in the adult,” he said. They focused their investigation on ibuprofen, which had the strongest effects.
            A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, ibuprofen is often taken by athletes, including Olympians and professional soccer players for example, before an event to prevent pain, Jégou said. Are there health consequences for the athletes who routinely use this NSAID?
            The research team recruited 31 male volunteers between the ages of 18 and 35. Of these, 14 were given a daily dosage of ibuprofen that many professional and amateur athletes take: 600 milligrams twice a day, explained Jégou. (This 1200-mg-per-day dose is the maximum limit as directed by the labels of generic ibuprofen products.) The remaining 17 volunteers were given a placebo.
            For the men taking ibuprofen, within 14 days, their luteinizing hormones — which are secreted by the pituitary gland and stimulate the testicles to produce testosterone — became coordinated with the level of ibuprofen circulating in their blood. At the same time, the ratio of testosterone to luteinizing hormones decreased, a sign of dysfunctional testicles.
            This hormonal imbalance produced compensated hypogonadism, a condition associated with impaired fertility, depression and increased risk for cardiovascular events, including heart failure and stroke.
            For the small group of young study participants who used ibuprofen for only a short time, “it is sure that these effects are reversible,” Jégou said. However, it’s unknown whether the health effects of long-term ibuprofen use are reversible, he said.
            After this randomized, controlled clinical trial, the research team experimented with “little bits of human testes” provided by organ donors and then conducted test tube experiments on the endocrine cells, called Leydig and Sertoli cells, which produce testosterone, explained Jégou.
            The point was to articulate “in vivo, ex vivo and in vitro” — in the living body, outside the living body and in the test tube — that ibuprofen has a direct effect on the testicles and so testosterone.
            “We wanted to understand what happened after exposure (to ibuprofen) going from the global human physiology over to the specific organ (the testis) down to the endocrine cells producing testosterone,” Kristensen said.
            More than idle curiosity prompted such an extensive investigation.

            Questions around male fertility

            The World Health Organization estimates that one in every four couples of reproductive age in developing countries experiences childlessness despite five years of attempting pregnancy.
            A separate study estimated that more than 45 million couples, or about 15% of all couples worldwide, were infertile in 2010, while another unrelated study suggested that men were solely responsible for up to 30% and contribute up to 50% of cases overall.
            Meanwhile, a recent analysis published in the journal Human Reproduction Update found that sperm counts of men in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand are plunging. Researchers recorded a 52% decline in sperm concentration and a 59% decline in total sperm count over a nearly 40-year period ending in 2011.
            Erma Z. Drobnis, an associate professional practice professor of reproductive medicine and fertility at the University of Missouri, Columbia, noted that most drugs are not evaluated for their effects on human male fertility before marketing. Drobnis, who was not involved in the new study, has done extensive research into sperm biology and fertility.
            “There is evidence that some medications are particularly harmful to the male reproductive system, including testosterone, opioids, antidepressants, antipsychotics, immune modulators and even the over-the-counter antacid cimetidine (Tagamet),” she said. “However, prescribing providers rarely mention these adverse effects with patients when prescribing these medications. 
            She believes the new study, though small, is “important” because ibuprofen is among the most commonly used medications.
            Though the new research indicates that ibuprofen disrupts the reproductive hormones in healthy young men, she thinks it’s possible there’s an even greater negative effect in men with low fertility. The other OTC drugs concerning for potential fathers are cimetidine and acetaminophen. She recommends that men who are planning to father a child avoid drugs for several months.
            “Larger clinical trials are warranted,” she said. “This is timely work that should raise awareness of medication effects on men and potentially their offspring.”
            Jégou agrees that more study is needed to answer many questions, including whether ibuprofen’s effects on male hormones are seen at low doses and whether long-term effects are reversible.

            See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

            “But the alarm has been raised now,” he said. “if this serves to remind people that we are really dealing with medical drugs — not with things which are not dangerous — this would be a good thing.”
            “We need to remember that it is a pharmaceutical compound that helps a lot of people worldwide,” Kristensen said. He noted, though, that of the three mild analgesics examined, ibuprofen had “the broadest endocrine-disturbing properties identified so far in men.”

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            Donald Trump Just Called Himself ‘A Very Stable Genius’

            President Donald Trump hit back at critics who have questioned his mental stability by branding himself a “very stable genius” on Saturday morning.

            In a series of tweets, Trump said that throughout his life his “two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” He also bragged about going from “VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star… to President of the United States (on my first try).”

            Trump’s comment about his mental stability appeared to reference reporters questioning the president’s “mental fitness” during a White House press briefing this week.

            Democratic lawmakers have also previously called for Trump to undergo a psychological evaluation, and Michael Wolff alleges in his new book, Fire and Fury, that White House aides openly question the president’s mental health.

            Trump is set to undergo a medical examination with White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson next Friday, although it will likely focus more on his physical health. 

            Walter Shaub, who quit as head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in July, said the tweets themselves “might be enough to lead the board of any corporation to call an emergency meeting on its CEO’s mental status.” 

            Other Twitter users seemed like they couldn’t quite believe the posts:

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            Video shows Baltimore hospital discharging half-naked woman into cold winter night

            Generally speaking, it’s considered medically irresponsible to discharge a woman from a hospital with nothing but a hospital gown on for protection, especially when it’s nearly freezing outside. But a video from a student at the University of Maryland Medical Center depicts just that, despite the patient clearly needing medical attention.

            Psychotherapist Imamu Baraka was walking near the University of Maryland Medical Center’s midtown campus location when he saw a woman being dropped off by security at a bus stop with her clothes and belongings scattered on the sidewalk. The woman, who Baraka proceeded to help, struggled to speak and appeared to have a wound on her head, staggering around in the cold for several minutes while moaning in agony. Baraka said she had no underwear on and was only draped in a hospital gown, with the weather that night resting just above freezing.

            The situation left Baraka stunned, believing that, due to possible mental health issues, the hospital decided to discharge her instead of involuntarily committing her to a psych ward. So after an ambulance arrived and returned the woman for medical care, Baraka posted his footage on Facebook early Wednesday morning, criticizing the medical center.

            “You can’t expect those with mental health issues to be pleasant,” Baraka said in one of the videos. “Because they’re ill.”

            Is this what healthcare in Baltimore City has come to?*** PLEASE WATCH, SHARE and COMMENT ***I just witnessed this…

            Posted by Imamu Baraka on Tuesday, January 9, 2018

            Shortly after Baraka posted the video, the discharged patient’s treatment went viral, and public backlash against the medical center grew. On Wikipedia, one user edited the University of Maryland Medical Center page, calling out the hospital for “ patient wearing only a hospital gown at a nearby bus stop in freezing temperatures.” And on Facebook, dozens of negative reviews have flooded the center’s page, with users criticizing the woman’s treatment.

            “The institution is deplorable. How DARE you leave that woman on the street like a bag of garbage!” one woman wrote. “Your institution is garbage! You are suppose to help people. Please tell me how you are going to spin this video to justify your employees actions??”

            A spokeswoman for the University of Maryland Medical Center later confirmed with the Washington Post that what was in the video was true, admitting that the hospital “clearly failed to fulfill our mission” for quality care based around a patient’s needs.

            “We share the shock and disappointment of many who have viewed the video showing the discharge of a patient from the Emergency Department of UMMC Midtown the night of January 9,” spokeswoman Lisa Clough told the Post in a statement. “This unfortunate event is not representative of our patient-centered mission.”

            H/T the Washington Post

            Read more:

            Norwegians troll Trump over sh*thole comments

            Norwegians have a surprising message for Donald Trump, following reports the president claimed he would rather receive immigrants “from places like Norway” instead of, what he called, “shithole countries” in South America and Africa.

            “Haiti? Why do we want people from Haiti here?” Trump was reported to have said in an Oval Office meeting on immigration reform, according to two people who spoke with the Washington Post. (While Trump denied the comment on Twitter, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has confirmed the account.) 

            “Why do we want these people from all these sh*thole countries here?” he then allegedly said of African countries. “We should have more people from places like Norway.”

            The offensive language and comments caused an international controversy and furthered questions about the president’s mental fitness for the job.

            As citizens of the richest Scandinavian country, named the happiest and most prosperous country to live in, Norwegians enjoy free healthcare and college tuition. They took to Twitter to tell the president just what they thought about moving to the U.S.

            Even some Americans joined in.

            In 2016, exactly 895 Americans moved to Norway, while 502 Norwegians moved to the States. 

            Read more:

            Passenger who lost seat to Rep. @JacksonLeeTX18 to United: ‘show me proof!’; Lee plays the race card

            It’s a slow news week and it looks like this story of a passenger accusing United Airlines of giving away her first class seat to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas isn’t going away anytime fast.

            As we told you yesterday, United claims that the passenger, Jean-Marie Simon, cancelled her reservation using an app on her phone. Simon responded yesterday with, “show me proof!”:

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            Doctors Take Moms Baby Off Life Support After Husband Dies1 Week Later, They Find Out How Wrong They Were

            Thirty-five-year-old Sarah Rodriguez has processed more pain and suffering in a few short years than most of us could fathom enduring in a lifetime. But this widowed mother’s warrior spirit has become all the stronger for it. And now she’s sharing her profound journey of beauty from ashes in her new book, From Depths We Rise.

            It all started seven years ago when her husband Joel was diagnosed with an aggressive form of kidney cancer.

            “We found out in 2010 that he had Stage 3 kidney cancer that had eaten away his entire kidney,” recalls Sarah.

            Though chemo treatments sent Joel into remission, it returned stronger than ever two years later, just three short days after their son Milo was born.


            This time, Joel would not win the battle against the “Big C.” But several months before the kidney cancer took his life in 2013, he left his wife with a message that she was simply unable to shake.

            “I need to tell you something. You and I are going to have another child and it’s going to be a girl,’” he told her. “I’m looking at him, thinking, ‘There’s no way we’re going to,’” Sarah recalls.

            After Joel passed, Sarah couldn’t help but think about the frozen embryos they had placed down the street in an infertility clinic. The couple had struggled to get pregnant for five years, and after successfully conceiving Milo through in vitro, they decided it may be their only shot at having another baby.

            Sarah just never thought she’d be doing it alone.

            But as it often goes, God’s plans don’t necessarily align with our own. Soon, He opened her grieving heart to the idea of having another child. Sarah even recalled a dream she had years before Joel died, where she was holding a little girl named Ellis, and she wondered if it could have any tie-in with the prophetic words of her late husband.

            “Within days of his death, I thought about that conversation and knew there was this piece of him – two more embryos – just down the street at the infertility clinic,” said Sarah. “I had this feeling in my heart that I should have another child and that there would be purpose to her life.”

            Sure enough, on Nov. 6, 2014, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Ellis.

            As Ellis reached her tiny fingers up to clutch Sarah’s necklace embossed with Joel’s thumbprint, the proud mama could taste the bittersweet redemption this miracle child would bring.

            “She was the beauty that came from the ashes of our story,” she said. “It felt like a part of Joel had returned to me with her birth.”


            However, just two weeks later, she would be faced with losing the little miracle that had brought so much meaning to her life.

            Ellis’ health quickly took a turn for the worse after she contracted a deadly form of Bacterial meningitis and Sepsis. Doctors gave Sarah no hope for her daughter’s survival and recommended she be taken off life support.

            “Basically, they told us that she would not live, and if she did, she would be in a vegetative state,” she told ‘The Church Boys’ podcast. “A decision had to be made to remove the [ventilator].”

            As Sarah stood in the hospital bathroom processing the unfathomable event that was to unfold after the devastating loss of her husband, she asked God in a tone reminiscent of Job, “Haven’t I endured enough?”

            “I didn’t understand why the miracle of her life, why her name, why this conversation with my husband — if it was all going to end at this point,” said Sarah. “It was the lowest I had ever been.”

            Still, she refused to curse God and lose faith in His healing power.

            In an act of total surrender, she cried out, “God, I don’t know if you will, but I know that you can … so please, please don’t allow her to die.”

            Shortly after, doctors gently placed Ellis on her chest as they took her off life support and removed every last tube, other than the one that monitored her vitals.

            As she prayed, Sarah sang to her sweet baby who was breathing her final breaths right there on her bosom.

            “She let out a cry and she was moving and wiggling around, and she wasn’t seizing,” says Sarah, but doctors still assured her that Ellis wouldn’t last long off of the ventilator.

            But as seconds turned into minutes, and minutes into hours, they were forced to reconsider their diagnosis.

            “It was just a moment of, ‘Oh my goodness, are we witnessing a miracle?” she said.

            In fact, they were.

            “They were dumbfounded that she was able to go from not breathing on a vent to breathing room air on her own,” she said. “By the end of the week, doctors and nurses were just coming in the room and saying, ‘We want to look at her, because she’s a miracle.’”

            Today, almost two years later, Sarah’s living breathing miracle continues to thrive, inspiring her mama with her courage.


            Though it’s hard to imagine being thankful for the kind of brutal pain and heartache Sarah walked through, in looking back, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

            “I think that that’s part of the mystery of God, and I think He keeps some things a mystery because it keeps us seeking Him always,” says Sarah. “We never want to talk about suffering. We always want to talk about blessing. In suffering, I’ve become a better version of myself.”

            Now she’s on a mission to share her story in hopes that it may encourage others to march toward purpose out of their pain, so our suffering may produce in us a character that conforms us to the likeness of Christ. To read more from Sarah’s miraculous story of hope and overcoming, purchase your own copy of From Depths We Rise: A Journey of Beauty from Ashes today.

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            Mariah Carey Reportedly Nailed Sound Check And Rehearsal Looks Ready For New Year’s Rockin’ Eve Tonight

            Looks like

            But now, unlike last year, she’s actually on stage beforehand preparing for the show! What a concept!

            Ch-ch-check out the behind-the-scenes pictures and video of her pre-show rehearsals and prep (below):

            And more here (below):

            Not cutting any corners!!!!

            According to sources at the event, Carey ran through her sound check with no issues, and she appears ready for tonight.

            Also, it really was her — and not a stand-in — at the sound check this year.

            Unlike last year, Carey’s there and she appears to be motivated to make it happen.

            Good for her!!!

            [Image via FayesVision/WENN.]

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            She Quit Working For Trump. Now She’s Running For Congress To Fight Him.

            WASHINGTON ― Gina Ortiz Jones thought she could work for President Donald Trump.

            When he won the presidency in November 2016, Jones, a career civil servant who served in the Air Force in Iraq under George W. Bush and as an intelligence officer under Barack Obama, stayed in her job as a director in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. But by June, she couldn’t do it anymore. Trump’s plans to gut education and housing aid hit too close to home for Jones, as someone who relied on reduced-cost school lunches and subsidized housing when she was a kid being raised by a single mom in San Antonio. She was also appalled by the president’s hires for top jobs.

            “The type of people that were brought in to be public servants were interested in neither the public nor the service,” Jones, 36, said in an interview. “That, to me, was a sign that I’m going to have to serve in a different way.”

            She found a new way to serve: She’s running for Congress. Jones has never run for office before, and if she wins, she would make history as the first lesbian, Iraq War veteran and first-generation Filipina-American to hold a U.S. House seat in Texas. Her hometown district, Texas’ 23rd, has also never been represented by a woman.

            Jones wouldn’t have been able to grow up healthy or get an education without the opportunities she got from the federal government, she said. The only reason she could afford college, she added, was that she got a four-year Air Force ROTC scholarship — and it infuriates her to see politicians try to take away those chances for others.

            “Talent is universal. Opportunity is not,” she said. “Folks in Congress, they do three things. They create opportunities, they protect opportunities and they erase opportunities. That’s how we have to be thinking about this very plainly.”

            Gina Ortiz Jones campaign
            Jones talks to supporters at a event. She has endorsements from groups including EMILY’s List, VoteVets and Victory Fund.

            Jones, a Democrat, is trying to unseat two-term Rep. Will Hurd (R). It won’t be easy. She has to beat three other Democrats in the March 6 primary, including Jay Hulings, a well-known former federal prosecutor. If she can pull that off, she’ll face Hurd, who has the advantage of being the incumbent and well-financed. As of Sept. 30, Hurd had $870,000 in cash on hand compared with Jones’ $74,000.

            But Jones is certainly viable. She’s picked up endorsements from major national groups including EMILY’s List, VoteVets and Victory Fund. Former Texas Democratic state senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis endorsed her. A couple of weeks ago, Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who gave a passionate speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, announced his support for her campaign, too.

            “With leaders like Gina, our nation’s affairs are in good hands,” Khan said in a video announcing his endorsement. “I am supporting her for Congress because of her selfless, courageous leadership. She’s the leader we need for an interdependent world.”

            If she can win the primary, Jones has some advantages over Hurd. This district, which stretches halfway across the state thanks to insane gerrymandering, has flip-flopped between Democratic and GOP representation for years, with nobody holding it for more than two terms since 2007. Hurd won his first term in 2014 by 2,400 votes against Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego. In 2016, Hurd won by 3,000 votes. Those are pretty close races in a district where roughly 115,000 people voted in the midterm and 229,000 voted in the presidential election.

            This race is also happening amid a wave of Democratic victories around the country, with some high-level GOP operatives already bracing for a possible bloodbath in 2018.

            Jones expressed frustration that Hurd routinely votes against his constituents’ interests but seems to get away with it because of his reputation for being “the nice guy.” Last year, Hurd gave people warm fuzzies about bipartisanship by live-streaming a 1,600-mile road trip with Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke. HuffPost thought it looked fun (even if it was a political calculation by O’Rourke, who proposed the trip and announced a Senate run weeks later). Jones scoffed.

            “When bipartisanship means two dudes get in a car and help each other get elected, we’re all fucking screwed,” she said.

            Instead, Jones ran through Hurd’s record. He voted to delay the implementation of smog reduction measures by eight years, despite 1 in 13 Texans having asthma (with even higher rates in communities of color, like his). He voted nine times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He voted for the GOP’s tax bill, which benefits the rich and raises taxes on middle-class families over time. He’s been quiet about Congress’ failure to renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which is set to expire and would affect 400,000 kids in Texas.

            When bipartisanship means two dudes get in a car and help each other get elected, we’re all fucking screwed. Gina Ortiz Jones

            It’s particularly outrageous that Hurd hasn’t signed onto a bipartisan bill, the Dream Act, to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Jones said. Trump ended the program in September, and young undocumented immigrants will begin losing protections in greater numbers in March unless Congress passes a law to keep it. If lawmakers fail to act, hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants are at risk of being deported.

            Jones said the uncertainty around DACA is “a huge deal” in Texas’ 23rd District, where more than 70 percent of constituents are Latino.

            “So I push back on the fact that some say, ‘Oh, he’s not that bad.’ His voting record is awful,” she said. “You don’t get to be a moderate just because you don’t say crazy shit.”

            Hurd’s campaign spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

            Since moving back to San Antonio in June, Jones has been living in the house she grew up in. Most people in her community are minorities. Many are low-income. As she’s traveled around the district, she’s met people in border towns living in rank poverty. Some have no running water. Some have no paved roads. Jones said the experience has been a stark reminder of how badly Congress needs diverse voices ― and that now is the time for her to throw her hat in. 

            “There’s just a point where you just ask yourself the question, ‘Can I afford not to do this?’” Jones said. “I think like a lot of women, you’re done assuming that somebody is going to do for you that which you can do yourself.”

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            Trumps War on the Press Follows the Mussolini and Hitler Playbook

            Beneath the madness and the lies of The Year of Trump there remains a constant drumbeat, unyielding and determined. It broke cover on Jan. 22, 2017 when Kellyanne Conway introduced the term alternative facts.

            The abasement of language by Donald Trump and his assorted flacks began long before, but this concept was so naked, so novel and so unblinkingly forthright that it established the rules for the assault to come, just as the first salvo of an artillery barrage signals the creation of a new battlefield where there will be many casualties.

            And lets face it, the English language has taken a real pounding since then. Lies have poured forth from the White House at an astonishing rate: The Washington Post estimated that in Trumps first 355 days he made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims, averaging five a day.

            Trump has spent two years vilifying the dishonest media (including The Daily Beast), even invoking the Nazi chant of enemies of the people. Aided by the alt right zealots at Breitbart, he has successfully persuaded millions of Americans that The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC are seditious forces bent on denigrating and destroying the man they elected.

            It is dismaying that it was so easy for him to do this, dismaying that independent journalism of quality is so easily discredited and dismaying that none of this seems to trouble the Republican Party.

            And lets be clear: The protection of independent journalism isnt something that a lot of politiciansor a good number of the populationreally care about. Yet, in the end, it has really been a strong year for journalism. In particular, two papers, The New York Times and Washington Post, have re-established themselves as bulwarks against abuses of power, as they were at the time of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.

            Why have these two newspapers in particular once more demonstrated the best of American journalism? Its partly luck. The Post was basically saved by Jeff Bezos whose deep pockets have restored the resources of the newsroom. Under the editorship of Marty Baron they were positioned to seize the Trump moment and rediscovered the art of investigative reporting. Similarly the Times passed through a period in which it struggled to find a new business model for the digital age and eventually found it, enabling its Washington newsroom to become competitive again.

            This underlines the fragile dependency of journalism on enlightened patronageon who owns a newspaper and particularly who owns the two papers that are regarded as national in prestige and potency together with the editorial independence and authority that that position requires. For all its fine reporting over the last year The Wall Street Journal does not have that kind of reputational backbone because it is owned by Rupert Murdoch, blatantly a Trump stooge.

            But the battle is not yet won, and will not be without eternal vigilance. To realize the gravity of where we are now we need more context than is provided by recent history, we need to look at the history of Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s. In both nations tyrants arose who on the way to seizing power found it remarkably easy to denigrate and destroy independent journalism.

            In Italy, Benito Mussolini came to power in October 1922. At the age of 39 he was the youngest ever prime minister, charismatic and full of energy. He was also careful to move slowly as, almost by stealth, he built a new illiberal state. In a country that for years had lacked unity he proposed a new focus for nationalism: himself. He was Italy. He described a parliament made impotent by its own factionalism a gathering of old fossils. Parliaments powers and the rights of a free press were stripped away.

            The people, Mussolini said in July 1924, on the innumerable occasions when I have spoken with them close at hand have never asked me to free them from a tyranny which they do not feel because it does not exist. They have asked me for railways, houses, drains, bridges, water, light and roads. In that year the fascists won more than 65 percent of the vote in national elections.

            Mussolinis absolute hold on power was made clear on Jan. 3, 1925, when he said: I and I alone assume the political, moral and historic responsibility for everything that has happened. Italy wants peace and quiet, work and calm. I will give these things with love if possible and with force if necessary.

            As the editor, successively, of two newspapers in Milan and with a talent for populist polemic Mussolini had skillfully used the press for his own ends. Now he made sure nobody else would follow his example. Within a few years most of Italys newspapers were suppressed or put under party control. Some smaller newspapers claiming to be independent were still tolerated to give the appearance of freedom of opinion but they were a fig leaf to cover the end of press freedom. Without any effective challenge Mussolinis megalomania flourished. The crowds who gathered for his speeches cried Duce, Duce, Duce! We are yours to the end.

            None of the ministers, officials and party secretaries around him were safe from his caprice. He was always right and anyone who contradicted him was fired. Mussolini was, simultaneously, prime minister, foreign minister, minister of the interior, commander in chief of the militia, and minister for the whole military, army, navy, and air force.

            Some smaller newspapers claiming to be independent were still tolerated to give the appearance of freedom of opinion but they were a fig leaf to cover the end of press freedom.

            These flagrant excesses of the founder of European fascism were later to seem buffoonish against the cold-blooded terror machine that Adolf Hitler built, just as rapidly, in Germany. But there was nothing comical about the 1920s for Italians: they had succumbed very readily to a maniac, and a maniac who understood that the state should control all propaganda (which is, after all, an Italian word) down to details such as decreeing that the national tennis team should wear black shirts.

            In Germany the man who would go down in history as the evil genius of alternative facts, Joseph Goebbels, was appointed Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda on March 14, 1933little more than a month after Hitler came to power in Berlin.

            Goebbels said he wanted a ministry that was National Socialist [Nazi] by birth.

            To staff it he was smart enough to tap into one of the most corrosive influences on the national mood at the time: a grudge, widely held, that Germanys descent into economic chaos had left many of the countrys best educated young people out of well-paid government jobs. From this group Goebbels recruited party zealots who were notably younger and smarter than other Nazi officialshe specified that he wanted those who displayed ardor, enthusiasm, untarnished idealism. (Watching the instant classic encounter between CNNs Jake Tapper and Trumps senior adviser for policy, Stephen Miller, suggests that Miller would have been a perfect recruit.)

            Goebbels priority was to exert immediate control of the pressthe press, he instructed his staff, had to be a piano, so to speak, in the hands of the government. Germanys newspapers had been messengers of decay that were harmful to the beliefs, customs and national pride of good Germans.

            Within a year all of Goebbels goals were achieved. Three previously independent news services were merged into one state-directed national news agency, the German News Service. All journalism was subjected to the policy of Gleichschaltungmeaning that they had to toe the party line on all issues.

            A piano, so to speak, in the hands of the government.
            Joseph Gobbels on the press

            Previously newspaper publishers had been the legal entity responsible for everything that was published. Goebbels issued the Editor Statute that made editors equally accountable and any editor who resisted Gleichschaltung could be removed and, if particularly recalcitrant, would be sent to a concentration camp.

            However, as had Mussolini, Goebbels recognized that the German press should be left with a fig leaf of apparent independence. One great liberal newspaper that happened to have an international following, the Frankfurter Zeitung, was allowed to remain publishing until 1943. Its editors grew expert at a kind of coded reporting with a semblance of neutrality that allowed experienced readers to sense what was really going on.

            Two new and growingly important news outlets, radio and cinema newsreels, were put totally under Goebbels control: We make no bones about it, he said, the radio belongs to us, to no one else! And we will place the radio at the service of our idea, and no other idea shall be expressed through it.

            The collapse of media independence was rapid and complete. But, as with all historical comparisons, this one can be pushed either too far or too little. Plainly America in 2018 is not the Europe of the 1930s and liberal paranoia in itself is not a sound basis for assessing just how dangerous an assault on journalism may turn out to be.

            In 1933 Hitler was at the threshold of creating the instruments of a terror state. We are nowhere near that point. But what is striking now is how friendless the press was. Nobody fought the Goebbels takeover. Mussolini had identified and seized the same opportunity, finding it easy to issue edicts that closed down critical newspapers on the grounds of sedition.

            This might seem astonishing in a country like Germany that had one of Europes most deeply rooted intelligentsias. But the universities were quiescent, the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy and the barons of industry were all tired of the Weimar Republics violent polarization between the fascists and the communists and for them press freedom was secondary to personal interests like jobs and, for the industrialists, to the fortunes to be made from re-armament.

            Of course Trump has little if any grasp of European history and probably only the vaguest idea of who Goebbels was but his use of tweets reflects one of Goebbels basic tenets about propaganda: Berlin needs sensations as a fish needs water. Any political propaganda that fails to recognize that will miss its target.

            So it happens that when it comes to news management Trump has pulled off something that Goebbels would applaud. He has made himself the Great Dictator of the news cycle. To do this he didnt need to knowingly emulate anyone in the propaganda arts because he is directed by his two dominant personal traits: narcissism and paranoia.

            Almost every event is refracted through his own response to it, its media lifespan no longer than can be held in his own gnat-like attention span. His tweets are so bizarre, unhinged and frequent that they effectively confuse and distract much of the competing daily coverage. What seems aberrant at 6 p.m. suddenly seems the new normal by 7 p.m. (As Ron Rosenbaum powerfully demonstrates writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books, getting people to readily accept the aberrant as normal was one of Hitlers most effective early tactics.)

            He has made himself the Great Dictator of the news cycle. To do this he didnt need to knowingly emulate anyone in the propaganda arts because he is directed by his two dominant personal traits: narcissism and paranoia.

            And when Trump faces a news narrative that he cant derail, like the Mueller investigation, he sees it as a violation of his own powers, as he imagines them to be rather than as they really exist under the constitution.

            Mussolini, very early in his rule, did the same thing, equating himself with the nation and regarding any insult to him as an insult to Italy. In Trumps mind it his base that exclusively represents the nationa belief constantly reinforced by Fox News for whom that base is a ratings gold mine. Trump and his lackeys on Fox have succeeded in equating respect for the kind of truth-telling that is built on learning and the ability to marshal facts with a simple demographic: its the exclusive province of metropolitan elites.

            This tactic is based, at least in part, on a condition described by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist. He calls it cognitive ease in which humans tend to avoid facts that are uncomfortable or require work to understand.

            Goebbels understood that the reinforcement of prejudice was an intoxicating weapon of propaganda. Fed the right message, aggrieved and resentful minorities could be made to coalesce into a critical mass of activists. The Trump base has been built on this principle, and feels grateful to be led by such a man with whom they readily identify, even though his real interests (personal enrichment) are the opposite of theirs.

            But perhaps the weirdest side of Trumps perception of his role and office is that in his mind his fate and that of the mainstream media are locked together in a life or death embrace. This is new. No demagogue in recent history has seen the effectiveness of his role being interdependent with a force that for most of the time he purports to despise.

            Consider how he framed this belief when Michael Schmidt of The New York Times recorded one of the most bizarre interviews with him in the Grill Room of his West Palm Beach golf club during the holidays:

            Were going to win another four years for a lot of reasons, most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and were being respected again. But another reason that Im going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if Im not there because without me their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually probably six months before the election theyll be loving me because theyre saying, Please, please, dont lose Donald Trump.

            Most of the rest of that interview was delusional drivel that provided an alarming insight into his mental processesin fact, it served as a kind of impromptu warm-up for the revelations of Michael Wolffs book, a kind of journalistic bomb cyclone.

            What Wolff delivered between the covers of a book was an explosive concentration of reporting that isnt achievable through the daily news cycle. His method is really no different than that used by Bob Woodward in his books, notably on the origins of the Iraq war, where whole scenes are reconstructed with dialog without attribution, but carry the ring of authenticity. The difference in public impact is that Woodward was reporting after the event whereas Wolff delivers as, so to speak, the crime is still in progress.

            Some sniffy journalists, David Brooks surprisingly among them, have complained that Wolff doesnt operate according to their understanding of journalistic standards. Well, for one thing he doesnt have the resources of a paper to support him. And he also demonstrates another vital point about the scope of journalism: sometimes the force of one is equal to the force of hundreds. At this moment we need both kinds of consequential reporting, the collective effort of a newsroom and the disruptive brilliance of the loner.

            Calling out the lies hasnt stopped Trump. His motives may differ from those of Mussolini and Hitler. Hes not ideological. In his case autocratic instincts come as a psychological motor in the pursuit of greed and the protection of his unbridled and ludicrous ego. The lack of ideology doesnt make him any less dangerous, though.

            Trump has no time for scruples. With his lawyers unable to kill Wolffs book (can book burning be far off in his mind?) he once again threatened to ramp up the libel laws to prevent the defamation of people like him. Hes trying to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner in the hope that Time Warner will be forced to divest itself of his bte noir, CNN, hoping that someone more sympathetic to him will take it over, although Rupert Murdoch, the obvious candidate, says hes not interested, and he has been clearly looking for ways to punish Jeff Bezos for his re-arming of The Washington Post in changes to the tax code that would hit Amazon.

            No demagogue in recent history has seen the effectiveness of his role being interdependent with a force that for most of the time he purports to despise.

            All this should be very alarming, but Trump is operating in a worryingly permissive arena. There isnt, it seems, a stable public standard of truth in todays America. This is a culture where scientific truths are dismissed if inconvenient and ignorance is nourished. (Forty-three percent of Republicans believe that climate change is not happening.) One of the foundations of secular Western polities is that truth can be sustained only by honesty in language, that language must be used to interrogate information critically, no matter what its source.

            In this struggle journalism is our last dependable line of defense. Its no exaggeration to say that the health, security, and integrity of the republic is at stake. History is an unforgiving judge and, just as the history of Europe in the 1920s and 30s reveals shameful failures in democratic institutions Americas current crisis will be judged by how effectively, or otherwise, the institutions designed to protect democracy worked.

            No institution can achieve this without being able to operate on a generally agreed foundation of facts, of which the single most consequential fact is that the president is patently unfit for office. The second is that he is being kept in office by the obsequious Republican leadership who remain supine even after the outrage of the shithole outburst.

            Principal among these are toadies like Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina who, rather than pursue the investigation of Trump would rather pursue the whistleblower, the British former spy Christopher Steele. Other Republicans are calling for Muellers investigation to be purgedusing a term that Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin all employed to protect themselves. Then there is Ayn Rands posthumous wrecking ball, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who delivered a groveling encomium when Trump signed the so-called tax reform bill, thanking him for exquisite presidential leadership.

            There is a word for people like these. Its a word that needs to be revived from earlier use: Quisling. It was first used as a general pejorative early in 1933 as Hitler came to power, identifying a Norwegian fascist named Vidkun Quisling who modeled his party on the Nazis and, when the Nazis invaded Norway in 1940, urged collaboration with them.

            As is so often the case it was Winston Churchill who gave it a permanent meaning when, in 1941, he said: A vile race of Quislingsto use a new word which will carry the scorn of mankind down the centuriesis hired to fawn upon the conqueror, to collaborate in his designs and to enforce his rule upon their fellow countrymen while groveling low themselves.

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            British Ban on Microbeads to Protect Oceans Comes Into Force

            U.K.’s ban on making products with microbeads — tiny plastic particles in everything from cosmetics to shampoo and toothpaste — takes effect Tuesday in an effort to protect marine life.

            “I am delighted that from today cosmetics manufacturers will no longer be able to add this harmful plastic to their rinse-off products,” said Environment Minister Therese Coffey. “The world’s seas and oceans are some of our most valuable natural assets. I am determined we act now to tackle the plastic that devastates our precious marine life.”

            The plastic beads are added to these products to act as an exfoliant. They are typically so small that they flow through treatment filters, polluting waterways with particles that are ultimately eaten or absorbed by wildlife in rivers and seas.

            Other countries have also taken steps to banning them in products. Former U.S. president Barack Obama signed a bill to outlaw microbeads in rinse-off products in the U.S. in 2015. New Zealand and Canada have also prohibited them, effective this year.

            The U.K.’s is “the strongest and most comprehensive ban to be enacted in the world and will help to stem the flow of micro plastics into our oceans,” said Sue Kinsey, senior pollution officer at the Marine Conservation Society.

            The nation added a 5 pence charge to plastic bags in supermarkets and other shops in 2015. It may also enact other initiatives to try to reduce waste, according to Coffey. Next up will be a ban on the sale of products with microbeads, according to an emailed statement.

            “Now we have reached this important milestone, we will explore how we can build on our world-leading ban and tackle other forms of plastic waste,” she said.

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              Somebody Please Explain the Morning-After Pill to Male TV Writers

              One of lifes more enduring mysteries is how an astonishingly small percentage of television writers understand the female reproductive system.

              Black Mirrors fourth season hit Netflix last week, entertaining audiences with mini-movie-length meditations on all of the ways the tech-driven future will kill our bodies and souls.

              This season is special. All six episodes feature a female lead, since women seem to be a newly-discovered demographic in entertainment.

              But despite the deliberate effort to produce a show that is less pale and less male than most, one episode in particular has some women and public-health advocates rankled. (If you care about spoilers, now would be a good time to stop reading.)

              Episode 2, entitled Arkangel, features a mother named Marie, played by Rosemarie DeWitt, who has a chip installed in her young daughters head that allows her to track the little girls movements and vitals. Complications arise as Sara matures, and boil over when Sara becomes sexually active as a teenager. In the scene that serves as the linchpin to the episodes bloody climax, Marie discovers, through her app companion to her daughters tracking chip, that the girl is pregnant. She drives to a drug store in the middle of the night and obtains Emergency Contraception, which she grinds up and casually adds to her daughters smoothie the next morning. Sara becomes nauseous at school, and the nurse informs her that her illness is due to the emergency contraception she took to end her pregnancy.

              Black Mirror is a fictional show set in an imagined future, but none of the details of Saras pregnancy or drugging make any biological sense.

              Pregnancy doesn't happen right after you have sex, explains Elizabeth Clark, Planned Parenthood Federation of Americas Director of Health Media.

              And emergency contraception doesnt cause a morning-after abortion. Sperm can actually live inside someone's body for up to six days after sex, waiting for an egg to show up to be fertilized, Clark adds. The morning-after pill works by temporarily stopping ovulation so the ovary doesn't release an egg.

              Emergency contraception wont work if pregnancy has already occurred and cant interfere with a pregnancy that already exists.

              Further, the drug is most effective the sooner it is taken after unprotected sex, thus its availability over the counter is helpful to women who dont want to waste precious hours for a doctors permission. It doesnt make any sense, even in the world of Black Mirror, for Marie to hold the pills overnight and casually drop them in her daughters smoothie the next morning; that diminishes the drugs effectiveness.

              Does it matter if nobody in the team behind ArkangelBlack Mirror creator and writer Charlie Brooker, episode director Jodie Foster, star Rosemarie DeWitt, the rest of the cast and crew and production teamcould pass a detailed exam on how pregnancy works? Of course not. But whats unfortunate about this particular mass flub is that their misconception mirrors the misconception contraception opponents rely on to justify restricting womens access to reproductive options.

              Contraception opponents like the Catholic Church, the March for Life, Susan B. Anthonys List (a group that aims to elect anti-abortion politicians, a sort of Bizarro World EMILYs List), and others use emergency contraception and the abortion pill interchangeably, and by design. Belief that life begins at the moment of conception and not the moment of implantation means that anything that might deliberately interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus is the same thing as murder.

              Conflation of emergency contraception and the abortion pilltwo very different medicationsreinforces that belief. Im not sure thats what director Jodie Foster would have intended.

              Black Mirror is far from the first show to get it wrong. Back in 2011, The Walking Dead flubbed a morning-after pill plotline in a nearly identical way. When audiences pointed out the flaw, the shows creator Glenn Mazzara issued a flippant dismissal of their concerns.

              We exercised our artistic creative license to explore a storyline with one of our characters, not to make any pro-life or pro-choice political statement, he said. We sincerely hope that people are not turning to the fictional world of 'The Walking Dead' for accurate medical information.

              Seven years later, TV writers are making the same mistake, Donald Trump is president, and the Department of Health and Human Services is stacked with people who believe that myth. But sure, its just television.

              Film and television have a unique opportunity to portray sexual and reproductive health care in medically accurate and nonjudgmental ways for millions of viewers, PPFAs Elizabeth Clark adds. With access to health care and sex education under constant attack, its more important than ever for us to see accurate storylines when it comes to contraception, abortion, and other sexual health issuesas well as a whole range of peoples authentic experiences.

              Netflix and Black Mirror have not returned a request for comment.

              Read more:

              Husband and wife making snow angels for Instagram are relationship goals

              Christmas is a time to show our nearest and dearest just how much we love them. But some people really know how to go the distance. 

              Case in point Taylor Burkhalter’s mum and dad.

              Baurkhalter paid tribute to his folks on Christmas eve with a tweet captioned: “I’ve learned more about love from watching my dad reluctantly rearrange the living room so my mom can make snow angel boomerangs for her 29 Instagram followers than anything else in life.” 

              The adorable tweet has since been retweeted over 200 thousand times. The level of dedication was not lost on people:  

              Unsurprisingly Taylor’s mom Libby, a personal trainer and health coach based in Louisana, has gained a helluva lot of Instagram followers.

              Her page had 9,704 followers and rising at the time of publication. 

              Nice work. 

              Read more:

              This New Theory About Trump’s Weight Is Our Favorite Conspiracy Ever

              Everybody stop what you’re doing — there is a movement taking the nation by storm and it’s crucial that you know about it. It’s called the “girther movement” and its basic concept is that Trump is fat. That sounds more like a fact than a theory or a movement, we know. We’re getting to the details, chill.

              So, remember when Trump started a false rumor that Obama was not born in America? It’s almost like spreading racist lies is a hobby of his. Anyway, that was called the “birther movement” and it was a bunch of BS and Trump is a terrible person etc. etc. Well, now we have some payback for the McDonald’s Customer of the Year current president. And it is the girther movement. Time to get in-formation.

              What is it: A movement to set the record straight and prove that Trump is fatter than White House says he is.

              Where did it come from? Trump underwent his physical exam and was reported to be in great physical shape. And then anyone with eyes was like, “lol no.” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes coined the actual term “girther movement” and now he will go down in history as a national hero.

              What are some of the hot deets? So glad you asked. The results of the exam stated that Trump is  6’3 and 239lbs, with a Body Mass Index of 29.9. What’s important to note here is that his New York driver’s license says he is 6’2, and if Trump was an inch shorter or a pound heavier he would be officially classified as obese. Seems suspicious to me.

              The doctor credited the president’s health to “incredible genes,” which is easily refutable with a quick google search of Trump’s sons. They are so ugly it’s honestly offensive. Also, Exhibit B: Trump himself. If those are good genes I quit.

              The president also scored a 30 out of 30 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment test, meaning his mental capacity is in good shape as well. Before you start a movement about how this is also a lie, please note that the test is mostly naming animals and drawing hands on clocks, so maybe let this one go. Congrats, everyone, our president can name a giraffe when he sees one and even knows how to tell time. A big day for us all.

              Now, let’s take to twitter and push this Girther Movement. DRAG [CLAP EMOJI] HIM.

              Heads up, you need to keep up with the news. It’s not cute anymore. That’s why we’ve created a 5x weekly newsletter called The ‘Sup that will explain all the news of the week in a hilarious af way. Because if we weren’t laughing, we’d be crying. Sign up for The ‘Sup now!

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              Spinal-Cord Implants to Numb Pain Emerge as Alternative to Pills

              For millions of Americans suffering from debilitating nerve pain, a once-overlooked option has emerged as an alternative to high doses of opioids: implanted medical devices using electricity to counteract pain signals the same way noise-canceling headphones work against sound. 

              The approach, called neuromodulation, has been a godsend for Linda Landy, who was a 42-year-old runner when a foot surgery went awry in 2008. She was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, a condition dubbed the suicide disease by doctors: The pain is so unrelenting that many people take their own lives.

              Linda Landy and family

              Last November, Landy underwent surgery to get an Abbott Laboratories device that stimulates the dorsal root ganglion, a spot in the spine that was the pain conduit for her damaged nerves. A year after getting her implant, called DRG, she’s cut back drastically on pain pills.

              “The DRG doesn’t take the pain completely away, but it changes it into something I can live with,” said Landy, a mother of three in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s now now able to walk again and travel by plane without using a wheelchair. “It sounds minor, but it’s really huge.”

              Crackdown on Opioids

              Recent innovations from global device makers like Abbott to smaller specialists such as Nevro Corp. made the implants more powerful and effective. Combined with a national crackdown on narcotics and wanton pain pill prescriptions, they are spurring demand for implants.

              The market may double to $4 billion in 10 years, up from about $1.8 billion in the U.S. and $500 million in Europe today, according to health-care research firm Decisions Resources Group.

              “There was a big stigma around this when it first came out,” said Paul Desormeaux, a Decisions Resources analyst in Toronto. “The idea of sending an electrical signal through your nervous system was a little daunting, but as clinical data has come out and physicians have been able to prove its safety, there has been a big change in the general attitude.”

              Read More: Millions Face Pain, Withdrawal as Opioid Prescriptions Plummet

              At least 50 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only a fraction of them would benefit from spinal-cord stimulation — about 3.6 million, according to Decisions Resources — but those are patients who are often given the highest doses of narcotics. They include people with nerve damage stemming from conditions like diabetic neuropathy and shingles, as well as surgeries.

              “There is no question we are reducing the risk of opioid dependence by implanting these devices,” said Timothy Deer, president of the Spine and Nerve Centers of the Virginias in Charleston, West Virginia, a hotbed of the opioid epidemic. “If we get someone before they are placed on opioids, 95 percent of the time we can reduce their need to ever go on them.”

              Studies show spinal-cord stimulators can reduce use of powerful pain drugs by 60 percent or more, said Deer, a clinical professor of anesthesiology.

              Read More: Tangled Incentives Push Drugmakers Away From an Opioid Solution

              Technology breakthroughs that are just now reaching patients came from a better understanding of how pain signals are transmitted within the spinal cord, the main thoroughfare between the command center in the brain and the body.

              For some chronic pain patients, the spinal cord runs too efficiently, speeding signs of distress. Stimulators send their own pulses of electrical activity to offset or interrupt the pain zinging along the nerve fibers. They have been available for more than three decades, but until recently their invasive nature, potential safety risks and cost limited demand.

              Market Leader Abbott

              Illinois-based Abbott, with its $29 billion acquisition of St. Jude Medical this year, took the market lead with advances that allow it to target specific nerves and tailor the treatment. Nevro, of Redwood City, California, has rolled out improvement to its Senza system, a best-in-class approach that is safe while getting an MRI and operates without the tingling that often accompanies spinal-cord stimulation.

              In the latest devices, which cost $30,000 or more, codes that are running the electrical pulses are more sophisticated. The frequency, rate and amplitude can be adjusted, often by the patients, which allows personalized therapy. 

              The new implants are also smaller: The surgery is generally an outpatient procedure with minimal post-operative pain and a short recovery. They have longer battery life, reducing the need for replacement. And patients can try out a non-invasive version of the equipment before getting a permanent implant.

              “This is really a defining moment in what we can do to impact the lives of people who suffer from chronic pain,” said Allen Burton, Abbott’s medical director of neuromodulation. “We can dampen the chronic pain signal and give patients their lives back.”

              Medtronic Plc, which pioneered the technique but ceded the lead in recent years, is now working on next-generation devices. The company recently gained approval for the smallest pain-management implant, Intellis. In development are devices that can detect pain waves and adjust automatically, said Geoff Martha, executive vice president of Medtronic’s restorative therapies group.

              “A self-correcting central nervous system — that’s the panacea. That’s the ultimate goal,” Martha said. “It could take a huge bite out of the opioid problem.”

                Read more:

                Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan dies

                Image copyright AFP/Getty Images

                The Cranberries lead singer Dolores O’Riordan has died suddenly at the age of 46, her publicist has confirmed.

                The Irish musician, originally from Limerick, led the band to international success in the 90s with singles including Linger and Zombie.

                A statement from her publicist said: “The lead singer with the Irish band The Cranberries was in London for a short recording session.

                “No further details are available at this time.”

                A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said the police were called to a hotel in Park Lane at 09:05 GMT on Monday, where “a woman in her mid-40s” was pronounced dead at the scene.

                The death is, at this stage, unexplained.

                Her current band mates in The Cranberries – Noel Hogan, Fergal Lawler, and Mike Hogan – paid tribute to the lead singer on social media.

                The message said: “She was an extraordinary talent and we feel very privileged to been part of her life from 1989.”

                Her publicist added: “Family members are devastated to hear the news and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”

                The Cranberries shot to international fame with their 1993 debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? and went on to sell over 40 million records worldwide.

                Media playback is unsupported on your device

                Media captionDolores O’Riordan led The Cranberries to international success in the 90s

                In 2017 The Cranberries announced a tour including dates in Europe, the UK, and the US.

                However, in May – shortly into the European tour – the group had to cancel the remainder of the European dates as a result of O’Riordan’s health issues.

                The official Cranberries website cited “medical reasons associated with a back problem” preventing singer Dolores O’Riordan from performing.

                But just before Christmas O’Riordan had posted on Facebook saying she was “feeling good” and had done her “first bit of gigging in months”, leading fans to believe she would soon be performing again.

                O’Riordan tweeted a picture of herself with her cat to fans in early January saying she was “off to Ireland”.

                O’Riordan split from her husband of 20 years, Don Burton in 2014. She and Burton, who is the former tour manager of Duran Duran, have three children together.

                The singer was arrested over an alleged air rage incident in 2014 but was released without charge, after a stewardess was reportedly attacked on a flight from New York to Shannon, County Clare.

                O’Riordan was taken to hospital in Limerick after being questioned by police and later discharged.

                Two years later, O’Riordan was ordered to pay 6,000 euros (£5,300) to charity for headbutting a police officer after an alleged air rage incident.

                She was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2015, which she said explained why she was in a “manic” state on the plane.

                In an interview in 2013 she said that she had been abused as a child, which led to her developing an eating disorder, and eventually she suffered a breakdown.

                She described her family, especially her children, as her “salvation”.

                Irish president Michael D Higgins called her death “a big loss”, and added O’Riordan’s work with The Cranberries “had an immense influence on rock and pop music in Ireland and internationally”.

                Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said she was probably “Limerick’s greatest ever rock star”, and that her band “captured all of the angst that came with your teenage years”.

                ‘Unforgettable voice’

                The Kinks guitarist and singer Dave Davies paid tribute to O’Riordan, saying he was “shocked” and that he had seen her “a couple weeks before Christmas”.

                He added “she seemed happy and well”.

                Irish rock band Kodaline were among the first to pay tribute on social media.

                Duran Duran’s official Twitter feed posted a message saying the band was “crushed” to hear of the singer’s death.

                Others to pay tribute include The Late, Late Show presenter, James Corden, who said meeting her when he was 15 years old “made his day”.

                Jim Corr from Irish band The Corrs tweeted offering his “deepest sympathies” to O’Riordan’s family.

                A book of condolence will be opened in her home town of Limerick on Tuesday, at the city council’s headquarters.

                O’Riordan, the youngest of seven children, had written her own songs since she was 12.

                She joined the band while still in her teens, after spotting an advert for a female singer for rock band The Cranberry Saw Us.

                Later changed to The Cranberries, the band’s most successful tracks include Linger (1993), Zombie (1994) – a protest song about bombings that took place in relation to the conflict in Northern Ireland – as well as No Need To Argue (1994) and To the Faithful Departed (1996).

                O’Riordan briefly pursued a solo career after the band split in 2003, before The Cranberries reunited in 2009.

                Follow us on Facebook, on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts, or on Instagram at bbcnewsents. If you have a story suggestion email

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                Read more:

                Facebook is overhauling its News Feed so users feel better again

                Facebook is re-tweaking its News Feed again. 

                This time it wants to bring it back to friends and family instead of viral videos and media posts, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a post Thursday. 

                “I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions,” he wrote.

                He said the change should make everyone feel better: “The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health.”

                With fewer posts from businesses, brands, and media, expect to see more of what your “friends” are sharing and liking. 

                Zuckerberg didn’t mention Facebook’s role in the 2016 election or Russian meddling through the platform as motivation to change what shows up on the social network.

                A breakdown of the “closer together” initiative (also outlined in a video above) indicates news stories will get de-prioritized, while conversations that Facebook thinks will spark a lot of engagement will get a boost. 

                To achieve a happier Facebook user base, it looks like Facebook will focus on comment-heavy posts — and not just quick comments like, “Oh no!” or “Thanks!” but lengthy (meaningful!) comments.

                All those “likes” won’t mean as much as full-on engagement, which under the new rules seems to mean back-and-forth conversations. Sounds like posting links back and forth won’t count as much in the meaningfulness meter.

                In other words, publishers will almost certainly see traffic drop and video views decrease.

                Zuckerberg rationalized that the changes will ultimately make for a better Facebook experience, naturally, but might actually cause people to spend less time on the social network.

                “I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable,” he wrote.

                UPDATE: Jan. 11, 2018, 5:07 p.m. PST This post has been updated with more information about the News Feed changes.

                Read more:

                Kentucky to add Medicaid work requirement; first state to follow Trump plan

                Kentucky received the green light Friday to require many of its Medicaid recipients to work in order to receive coverage.

                The Bluegrass State thus becomes the first state to act on the Trump administration’s unprecedented change that could affect millions of low-income people receiving benefits. 

                Under the new rule, adults age 19 to 64 must complete 80 hours of “community engagement” per month to keep their care. That includes working a job, going to school, taking a job-training course or volunteering.

                “There is dignity associated with earning the value of something that you receive,” Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said. “The vast majority of men and women, able-bodied men and women … they want the dignity associated with being able to earn and have engagement.”

                “There is dignity associated with earning the value of something that you receive. The vast majority of men and women, able-bodied men and women … they want the dignity associated with being able to earn and have engagement.”

                – Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin

                Kentuckians also will be required to pay up to $15 a month for their insurance, with basic dental and vision being eliminated entirely. However, those benefits can be earned back through a rewards program, such as getting an annual physical, completing a diabetes or weight management course or participating in an anti-smoking program.

                The change was approved Friday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

                The Trump administration announced Thursday it would allow for states to impose work requirements for people receiving Medicaid.

                Bevin, a Republican, said the decision stemmed from concern about public health. Despite the fact that more Kentuckians have insurance, they’re not becoming any healthier, he said.

                The state, along with the rest of Appalachia, falls behind the rest of the U.S. in 33 out of 41 population health indicators, according to a recent study. Bevin believes the new work requirement will help change the statistic.

                Bevin’s office also stated in its proposal to Washington that the move will save taxpayers more than $300 million over the next five years, and estimated that up to 95,000 people could lose their benefits because they either didn’t comply with the new rule or they obtained jobs that pay too much money and push them out of the low-income bracket.

                However, there are some exemptions to the work requirements that will be enforced starting in July and remain in effect for five years. Pregnant women, full-time students, former foster care youth, primary caregivers of children and the elderly and full-time students will not be affected.

                People deemed “medically frail,” a broad term that encompasses people who are battling drug and alcohol addiction, will also be exempt.

                Critics of the new plan said the changes could lead to many low-income families being denied needed coverage because of technicalities and challenging new paperwork.

                Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, who represents Louisville, calling it a “dangerous and irresponsible” decision that will lead to the “financial ruin” or thousands of families that reside in Kentucky.

                Medicaid covers more than 70 million people, or about one in five Americans. Currently, the largest government health insurance program does not required people to have a job or be employed to receive the benefits.

                Fox News’ Brooke Singman and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

                Read more:

                Yale psychiatry professor who wanted President Trump ‘contained’ vanishes from Twitter

                Yale assistant professor of psychiatry Bandy X. Lee made a huge splash in the media last week after meeting with a handful of Democrats in Congress to sound the alarm over the president’s mental fitness to serve. Lee has appeared on MSNBC and SiriusXM, and pieces about her appeared in Vox, Politico, and The Guardian, all of which she retweeted, having just joined Twitter “to inform people where they may have questions.” Lee tweeted over the weekend that she was demanding a correction to a “wildly speculative and inaccurate article” in The Weekly Standard questioning her “meeting” with a Republican senator, but that tweet has disappeared, along with her entire Twitter account. The whole thing’s been shut down.

                She writes in her last post:

                Dear All, I was told that Twitter would be a good way to respond to mistaken notions, but I have a full-time job (also, “followers” jumping from the 20’s to the 600’s overnight is a lot to manage). So I am abandoning the idea. Please excuse–it has been nice to try this out!

                So that’s all she wrote. After all, she does have a day job — not that it kept her from editing “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” or traveling to Washington, D.C. to meet with a handful of representatives about her concerns.

                Looks like the Twitter asylum was too much. Oh well … at least people can still tweet about her:

                Read more:

                Car park fire destroys 1,400 vehicles

                Media playback is unsupported on your device

                Media captionEyewitness Olly Harrison said he heard bangs and explosions as he was turned away from the arena

                A huge fire has destroyed up to 1,400 vehicles in a multi-storey car park in Liverpool, forcing many people to spend New Year’s Eve in a temporary shelter.

                Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service said the blaze at King’s Dock – next to the Liverpool Echo Arena – was one of the worst it had ever dealt with.

                An accidental fire in one car which spread to other vehicles appeared to have been the cause, police said.

                Nearby apartments were evacuated due to smoke.

                People who had parked in the multi-storey described being “frightened” by the noise as car windows exploded.

                They said emergency services warned them their cars would be lost to the blaze.

                Merseyside Police reported 21 fire engines were at the scene during the night tackling the blaze and the fire service said it was guarding against the risk of the building collapsing.

                All vehicles left in the 1,600-capacity car park have been destroyed, police said.

                They warned people to stay indoors and close windows if they saw smoke from the fire.

                The Liverpool International Horse Show has been running at the arena, which has a total capacity of 11,000, since 28 December.

                Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson tweeted that everyone was safe and no animals had been hurt.

                Image copyright PA
                Image caption The fire was reported at about 16:40 GMT

                He said some horses that were on the first floor of the multi-storey car park had been moved inside the arena.

                ‘Not getting your car back’

                Kerry Matthews was visiting Liverpool for the night to celebrate the new year and had left his vehicle in the car park.

                He said: “A fireman said the whole car park is on fire. He said, ‘What level is your car on?’ We said six.

                “He said, ‘Well you best go and have a couple of drinks to celebrate new year because you’re not going to get your car back’.”

                Image copyright PA
                Image caption Kerry Matthews (r) was visiting Liverpool with partner Patricia Heath

                Kevin Booth, who also parked in the Echo Arena car park, described the the flames and the smoke “as unbelievable”.

                He said: “People were saying that they would just wait and get their cars back. I thought, ‘Have you seen the fire? Are you joking?’

                “It was frightening, we could hear the bangs of car windows exploding.”

                Image copyright PA
                Image caption The car park had a capacity of 1,600 vehicles

                Mike Quek tweeted that there were “lots of explosions coming from the car park still”.

                “Driving into #liverpool #arena carpark and told to evacuate as car was on fire. Horses on ground floor. Hopefully everyone is ok,” he added.

                Merseyside Police said of the blaze: “Initial investigations indicate that an accidental fire within a vehicle caused other cars to ignite.

                “We believe that all vehicles parked in the car park have been destroyed.”

                Image copyright PA
                Image caption Horses were led away from the arena

                A spokeswoman for the Echo Arena said: “We regret to announce that the Liverpool International Horse Show has been cancelled tonight due to a serious fire in the multi-storey car park on site.

                “All people and horses are safe and secure.

                “We are working alongside the emergency services to ensure the fire is brought under control and to make the site safe as quickly as possible.”

                The arena said Liverpool City Council had opened a reception centre at Lifestyles in Park Road, Steble Street, L8 6QH, for those unable to get home or needing temporary shelter.

                Aintree International Equestrian Centre offered its stables to those needing accommodation for horses.

                Image copyright @imjamesforshaw
                Image caption Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said some horses had been moved inside the arena

                On the horse show’s Facebook page, organisers said it was with “considerable regret” that it had decided to cancel the evening show due to the fire.

                It added: “All people and horses are safe and secure, and show organisers have thanked spectators, riders and support teams for their understanding and co-operation during this ongoing situation.

                The Echo Arena said: “The possibility of rescheduling tonight’s show to tomorrow has been discussed, but unfortunately this has not proven possible.”

                A number of people have responded to the show’s Facebook post, many offering stables for the night for horses, accommodation for people stranded or lifts home.

                Carl Hopwood wrote: “The smoke from the fire was really nasty. The security staff at the venue were really professional polite and very well organised in directing people away from the event.”

                Have you been affected by the fire? Have you had to spend the night in a shelter? Only if it is safe to do so, tell us your story at

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                Read more:

                Jerry Van Dyke, comedian and actor, dead at age 86

                Jerry Van Dyke, comedian, actor and younger brother of Dick Van Dyke, died Friday afternoon at his Arkansas home at the age of 86.

                Van Dyke’s wife, Shirley, confirmed her husband’s death to TMZ. Shirley said her husband’s health began deteriorating after they were both involved in a car accident two years earlier.

                TMZ reported Dick Van Dyke visited his brother at his home during the holidays.

                Jerry Van Dyke was a well-known comedian who used perform at various military bases and appeared on television programs. The comedian made his debut on his brother’s hit show, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and also appeared in “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Judy Garland Show.”

                Van Dyke was also known for his role on “Coach” where he played Assistant Coach Luther Van Dam. The role garnered him four Emmy nominations. His latest television appearance was on ABC’s hit show “The Middle” in 2015. 

                Read more:

                Joe Biden swoops in to console Meghan McCain over her father’s cancer diagnosis

                An emotional moment between former Vice President Joe Biden and Meghan McCain occurred on The View on Wednesday.

                Meghan’s father Senator John McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma six months ago, an aggressive brain cancer that sadly carries a low survival rate. Despite undergoing an operation, McCain has continued to serve on the United States Senate, famously thwarting his own party’s attempt at repealing Obamacare this summer.

                Biden’s son Beau passed away in 2015 from the same cancer. So, when he made an appearance on the talk show, Meghan started off by telling Biden that she was unable to finish his book, Promise Me, Dad, and that she thought about Beau every day. As Meghan became emotional, Biden immediately stepped in, switching seat to get closer and to console her.  

                “Look, one of the things that gave Beau courage—my word—was John. Your dad, you may remember when you were a little kid, your dad, took care of my Beau. Your dad… became friends with Beau. And Beau talked about your dad’s courage—not about illness—but about his courage,” Biden told Megan.

                Biden then spoke about some of the scientific breakthroughs that have occurred recently, in an attempt at telling Meghan that there is some hope for her father’s condition.

                At the exact right moment, Biden swooped in with some much needed comedy, joking about how he and McCain had very different political views, but the two could still depend on each other to be there for one another. 

                “The thing that I found—and Beau insisted on, your dad is going to insist on—is you’ve got to maintain hope. There’s hope. You have to have hope,” Biden said, encouraging Meghan.

                “I swear, guys, we are gonna beat this damn disease,” Biden concluded as the audience applauded.

                Read more:

                A Manager of $42 Billion Fears Bubble in World’s Biggest Stocks

                The world’s biggest companies could be hiding the biggest risks.

                That’s because companies such as Inc. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd are overvalued, according to Robert Naess, who manages about $42 billion in stocks at Nordea Bank AB, Scandinavia’s largest bank.

                “I’m a bit worried about the valuation of these very popular companies,” Naess, portfolio manager, said in an interview in Oslo on Friday. “The big stocks have become more expensive. There’s danger of a bubble in them.”

                Naess and his partner, Claus Vorm, quantitatively analyze thousands of companies, investing in those with the most stable earnings and avoiding expensive stocks, a strategy which has delivered a 10 percent return for the Global Stable Equity Fund this year. It has returned 12 percent on average in the past five years, beating 75 percent of its peers.

                They prefer “boring” stocks, unlike the global behemoth technology companies that have led the global stock rally. Tech stocks sold off at the end of November, with the single worst day on record for the so-called FANG stocks. One of those stocks, Amazon, which has risen 55 percent this year, has a price-to-earnings ratio of 275 for 2017, compared with 18.2 on average for MSCI World Index.

                “Long-term, 5-10 years, stocks that are expensively priced, such as Amazon, Tencent and Alibaba, will give a low return,” Naess, who also shuns Facebook, Inc., said. “I’m pretty certain that in the next 10 years the return on those will be lower than the market.”

                The fund holds Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc., which are “reasonably priced”. It has also bought a stake in Merck & Co., Inc. and increased in Amgen Inc., CVS Health Corporation and Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.

                Naess sees about 12 percent upside for the global developed stock market in the next 12 months provided companies continue to deliver expected earnings growth.

                “2018 looks OK,” he said. “Normally, I think the earnings estimates are too high. But I believe earnings estimate could be too low next year given earnings are so good this year.”

                  Read more:

                  Trump: I’m a ‘very stable genius’

                  Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump slammed reports questioning his mental stability in a series of tweets Saturday morning, writing he’s a “very stable genius” after the publication of an expos about his first year as President put the White House into damage-control mode.

                  “Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence … ” Trump wrote, referring to questions raised about the mental fitness of the former President, who disclosed in 1994 that he had Alzheimer’s disease.
                  “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” the President continued. “Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star … to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius … and a very stable genius at that!”
                    After his tweets Saturday morning, Trump told reporters at Camp David that Wolff is a “fraud” who doesn’t know him.
                    “I went to the best colleges, or college,” he told reporters. “I had a situation where I was a very excellent student, came out and made billions and billions of dollars, became one of the top business people, went to television and for 10 years was a tremendous success, as you probably have heard, ran for President one time and won. Then I hear this guy that doesn’t know me at all, by the way, didn’t interview me, said he interviewed me for three hours in the White House. Didn’t exist, it’s in his imagination.”
                    Trump continued: “I never interviewed with him in the White House at all; he was never in the Oval Office.”
                    Wolff told “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie on Friday that he “absolutely spoke to the President” while working on “Fire and Fury.”
                    “Whether he realized it was an interview or not, I don’t know, but it certainly was not off the record,” Wolff said. “I’ve spent about three hours with the President over the course of the campaign, and in the White House. So, my window into Donald Trump is pretty significant.”
                    The remarkable spectacle of Trump defending his mental stability comes after the President and some of his top officials spent the last few days countering claims in author Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury,” about Trump’s mental fitness to serve as President. The book, which went on sale Friday, also paints the picture of a President who neither knows nor cares about policy and doesn’t seem to perceive the vast responsibilities of his role.
                    CNN has not independently confirmed all of Wolff’s assertions.
                    Trump’s tweets also come after reports surfaced that a dozen lawmakers from the House and Senate received a briefing from Yale psychiatrist Dr. Bandy X. Lee on Capitol Hill in early December about Trump’s fitness to be president.
                    “Lawmakers were saying they have been very concerned about this, the President’s dangerousness, the dangers that his mental instability poses on the nation,” Lee told CNN in a phone interview Thursday, “They know the concern is universal among Democrats, but it really depends on Republicans, they said. Some knew of Republicans that were concerned, maybe equally concerned, but whether they would act on those concerns was their worry.”
                    The briefing was previously reported by Politico. Lee, confirming the December 5 and 6 meeting to CNN, said that the group was evenly mixed, with House and Senate lawmakers, and included at least one Republican — a senator, whom she would not name.
                    Lee’s public comments are highly unusual given protocols from medical professional organizations — including the 37,000-member American Psychiatric Association — banning psychiatrists from diagnosing patients without a formal examination.
                    The White House has taken issue with the claims in Wolff’s book since excerpts of it began to surface online ahead of its publication, with press secretary Sarah Sanders calling it “complete fantasy” and an attorney for Trump sending a “cease and desist” threat to the book’s author and publisher.
                    Trump issued a scathing statement on his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, saying he had “lost his mind” after the book quoted Bannon making negative remarks about Trump and son Donald Trump Jr.
                    The book quoted Bannon as calling a June 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and the President’s eldest son, son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
                    Bannon also reportedly told Wolff: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
                    Trump lit into Bannon in a tweet Friday night, saying he “cried when he got fired and begged for his job.”
                    “Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book,” Trump wrote. “He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!”
                    Wolff reiterated his belief that it is becoming a widespread view that Trump is unfit for presidency, telling BBC Radio in an interview overnight that it’s a “very clear emperor-has-no-clothes effect.”
                    “The story that I have told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can’t do his job,” Wolff said in the interview. “Suddenly everywhere people are going, ‘Oh my God, it’s true, he has no clothes.’ That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end … this presidency.”
                    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CNN in an exclusive interview on Friday he’s never questioned Trump’s mental fitness, despite reports he once called Trump a “moron.”
                    “I’ve never questioned his mental fitness,” Tillerson told CNN’s Elise Labott. “I have no reason to question his mental fitness.”

                    Read more:

                    11 Gifts For People Who’d Definitely Rather Be Sleeping Than Exchanging Presents

                    Have you ever noticed that finding the perfect gifts for people who love to sleep is almost too easy? You know the friend we’re referring to here, don’t you? She’s easily the sleeping beauty of your squad who just #CantEven with Monday through Friday mornings. She’s the BFF who you wouldn’t blink twice at if you saw her shooting coffee through an IV to get her through 8 a.m. seminars and late nights at the office. Any gift that has to do with her bedroom, nighttime wardrobe, or a wind-down routine is one she’s going to be grateful for because, for her, sleep is life, and she can’t get enough of it (who can?).

                    Plus, if you think about it, a better night’s sleep is just one of those things everyone appreciates, but rarely gets enough of. Just because your giftee might be lazing in bed late into the morning doesn’t necessarily mean they’re getting the quality sleep the average human needs to function. In fact, if your friend is clocking in over six to eight hours of sleep every night, their bodies might be trying to overcompensate for a lack of a good rest. Therefore, as far as I see it, the most generous gift you can give them is an accessory or two to either a) better their space or b) prepare their body properly for sleep. Here are a few ideas to help you get the job done.

                    1A Sleek Sleep-Tracking Watch


                    Wesoo K1 Fitness Watch and Sleep Monitor, $29.99, Amazon

                    Fitness trackers are still a thriving trend in wearable tech, but have you noticed this one major upgrade recent models have installed in their machinery?

                    According to a new report issued by the sleep experts at Sleep Cycle, Americans’ sleep quality has decreased by 10 percent from 2016 to 2017 (ouch). I have a hunch that this might be why technology brands are issuing trackers that not only count your steps and calories burned, but that also monitor your sleep quality metrics.

                    Wesoo’s band is a bestseller on Amazon with a 4.5 star rating and unique sleep design that truly does it all.

                    2Their New Nightcap


                    Lipton Herbal Supplement Bedtime Bliss, $4.38, Walmart

                    Obviously, your girl has to switch to decaf eventually if she ever wants to fall asleep.

                    Remind her by gifting this doze-inducing sip from Lipton that combines chamomile leaves, mint, and orange peels to ease you into a comfortable sleep state “like a lullaby in a cup.” Slip a Barnes & Noble gift card in her holiday card, and you’ve just set her up for the sweetest of dreams.

                    3A Comfy Pair Of PJs

                    Adore Me

                    Sleepwear Set in Christyna, $19.95, Adore Me

                    I cannot be the only person obsessed with cozy, holiday-themed pajamas. This season, Adore Me has expanded their merchandise with a ton of his-and-her styles to choose from, but the Christyna style is hands down my favorite of them all.

                    For some reason, black, white, and red plaid just looks like pure Christmas to me. Plus, the set is made stretchy for optimal comfort and with cotton for all the snuggly feels.

                    4An Aromatic Bath Bomb

                    Lush USA

                    The Big Sleep Jelly Bomb, $8.95, LUSH USA

                    If your giftee religiously takes baths before slipping into something comfy and hopping into bed, Lush’s newest sleep-inducing bomb is about to be her new favorite bathroom accessory. It’s the perfect formula to relax her body and mind, as notes of lavender, neroli, and chamomile fragrances transform her tub into an aromatic soak.

                    5A Soft Blanket To Snuggle Under

                    Bed Bath & Beyond

                    Madison Park Ruched Faux-Fur Throw, $39.99, Bed Bath & Beyond

                    Who couldn’t use a gigantic throw blanket to hibernate in throughout the winter months?

                    Madison Park’s blanket is made from 100 percent faux-fur, features micro-fur for extra warmth on those freezing nights, and it’s also huge enough to share, so maybe she can finally stop hogging the covers when you sleep over.

                    6An Overnight Mask To Enhance Their Beauty Sleep

                    Too Cool For School

                    Too Cool For School Pumpkin Sleeping Pack, $20, Sephora

                    Beauty sleep isn’t a myth, ladies. When you sleep better, you feel better, and when you good, you good. See how that works?

                    Chances are, your sleepy friend likely clocks in the recommended six to eight hours of sleep every night, which means her skin is probably glowing, but there’s always room for improvement, right?

                    Too Cool For School’s overnight mask will enhance her skin’s recovery cycle with superfood ingredients and natural enzymes. Plus, it smells like pumpkin, and I can’t imagine a better way to fall asleep than with the scent of pie all around you.

                    7An Artistic Diffuser

                    Saje Natural Wellness

                    Aromaart High Tide Ultrasonic Diffuser, $84.95, Saje

                    Essential oils for sleep are super trendy right now, but it doesn’t look like the fad is fading anytime soon. Trust me, I’m not the type to talk up the trends if I haven’t done the research myself, and diffusers are a must for bedroom.

                    TBH, diffusers can be super ugly and cheap-looking, but this Saje model is the prettiest piece of functional decor I’ve ever seen. The beautiful pattern was designed by San Francisco artist Heather Day, and was inspired by the healing powers of the deep, blue sea. So much zen, so many aromas to lull your giftee to sleep.

                    8A Soothing Candle

                    Primal Elements

                    Primal Elements Tahitian Vanilla Two Wick Color Bowl Candle, $19.90, Amazon

                    Doesn’t this candle look good enough to eat? I can guarantee my 9-year-old niece had no idea just how lovely this candle was going to make my apartment smell when she gifted it to my husband and me last Christmas, but this decadent display is still burning bright, and veiling our home with the scent of sweet vanilla 12 months later.

                    You don’t necessarily need essential oils to practice aromatherapy, and if your bestie has a sweet tooth, this yummy-scented candle from Primal Elements will have her dreaming of sugar plum fairies year round (not kidding, it’s good for 60 hours of burn time).

                    9Go Old School With This Digital Alarm Clock


                    Peakeep Battery Digital Alarm Clock, $12.99, Amazon

                    I don’t have to tell you that smartphones are low-key ruining our lives, especially in the bedroom (and no, I’m not referring to your libido). No matter how much a person sleeps, the blue light that shines from your cell phone is messing with your sleep cycle, but what’s a girl to do when her only means of an alarm is via smartphone?

                    Be the best friend you are and buy your sleeping beauty a digital alarm clock. This old school model from Peakeep has a snooze option, so she can squeeze in a few extra minutes of shut-eye if and when she wants. It’s also a “smart nighttime clock,” which means it has sensory lights that turn a subtle blue at night.

                    10A Sleepy Supplement

                    Sun Potion

                    Sun Potion Organic Ashwagandha Powder, $36.99, iHerb

                    Adaptogens like ashwagandha are another social media trend that’s actually making a difference in how people are sleeping. This is definitely the perfect gift for anyone who you know has wanted to try adaptogens for themselves, but couldn’t commit to the pricy purchase.  

                    Trust me, I recently put Alaina Sullivan’s moon milk recipe for Bon Appétit to the test when I was tossing and turning through an awful couple of nights, and I was genuinely impressed by just how relaxed I felt by adding ashwagandha to my nightcap. Your giftee will love the combination of the powder’s sleep and overall health benefits.

                    11Slippers They Can Sleep In

                    Out From Under

                    Out From Under Scruffy Slipper Sock, $16, Urban Outfitters

                    If your BFF takes a lot of heat for wearing slippers to bed, offering a pair of Out From Under’s scruffy slipper socks tells them you’re on their side (or, at the very least, won’t judge them for it).

                    I’m a fan of this creamy-colored pair, specifically because they’re subtle enough to wear with roomy Uggs on really cold days.

                    Read more:

                    House approves tax reform bill, as Trump eyes major legislative win

                    The House on Tuesday approved a massive tax overhaul that would usher in steep rate cuts for American companies, double the deduction millions of families claim on their annual returns and make a host of other changes as part of the biggest rewrite of the tax code since the Reagan administration. 

                    The bill passed on a 227-203 vote, with 12 Republicans defecting to join Democrats in opposition. The Senate started debate shortly afterward, with a vote expected overnight.

                    Due to a parliamentary glitch, however, the House will likely have to vote one last time before the legislation can be signed. Three provisions in the House version violated Senate budget rules, so they will have to be stripped before a final House vote on Wednesday. 

                    Ahead of the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted in an interview on Fox News that the bill would be approved by both houses and President Trump would sign it into law soon.

                    “It’s going to pass and he will sign it in all likelihood this week,” McConnell said Tuesday evening on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

                    The $1.5 trillion package, presuming it clears Congress in the end, would hand Trump his first major legislative victory just days before year’s end and the congressional recess.

                    “Today, we are giving the people of this country their money back,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., declared Tuesday on the House floor.

                    At an earlier news conference, Ryan said that “families at every income level get a tax cut,” vowing that a family of four making the median income would see a tax cut worth over $2,000. 

                    WHAT THE TAX BILL MEANS FOR YOU

                    ‘Today, we are giving the people of this country their money back.’

                    – House Speaker Paul Ryan

                    “This is real relief, and people are going to see this in their paychecks before too long,” Ryan said. He added that “this is the greatest example of a promise being made and a promise being kept.”

                    Democrats sustained their vocal opposition to the bill – they’ve dubbed it a “scam” benefiting the wealthy – into the final moments before the vote. And protesters were escorted out after shouting out during Ryan’s floor speech, “You’re lying!”

                    Ryan, Trump and other supporters have countered the criticism by claiming the bill would unleash economic growth. The speaker led a round of applause on the House floor minutes before the vote, while thanking “architect” Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

                    The floor action comes after GOP leaders worked to win support from the last remaining holdouts on the Senate side. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Corker of Tennessee backed the bill last week, while Susan Collins of Maine and Mike Lee of Utah endorsed it late Monday.

                    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, came around to supporting the tax bill in the end.  (AP)

                    Barring any unexpected reversals, the bill is expected to narrowly pass the Senate in a matter of hours.

                    Passage would give Trump a major victory on the domestic front, after repeated attempts to overhaul Obamacare failed in the face of internal Republican divisions and unified Democratic opposition. The tax bill does include one major rollback of the Affordable Care Act, repealing the individual mandate requiring Americans to buy health insurance.

                    The changes to the tax system are more sweeping.

                    The final bill – a combination of previously passed House and Senate legislation – would slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. It would double the standard deduction used by about two-thirds of U.S. households, to $24,000 for married couples. And the $1,000-per-child tax credit would double to $2,000, with up to $1,400 available in IRS refunds for families who owe little or no taxes.

                    The corporate tax cut would be permanent, while the tax cuts for individuals would expire in 2026.

                    The Trump administration presumes that the doubling of the standard deduction would lead to even more families claiming it.

                    But those who itemize would lose some deductions.

                    The bill would set a new $10,000 cap on the deduction that millions use in connection with state and local income, property and sales taxes. The cap remains in the final bill. It also would cap the mortgage interest deduction at $750,000, down from $1 million.

                    At the same time, the bill would lower the top rate for individual and married filers from 39.6 percent to 37 percent. Further, it would set a deduction for “pass-through” business income at 20 percent. And it would curb the so-called estate tax.

                    These provisions and others fueled Democratic complaints that the legislation was skewed to favor corporations and the wealthy – while expanding the deficit.    

                    On the House floor, Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., mocked Republicans who say passage of the bill would be a Christmas gift to the American people.

                    “I have never seen such intellectual dishonesty,” Sewell said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s more like the Grinch that stole Christmas.”

                    Sewell said recent elections, where Democrats won races in New Jersey, Virginia and Alabama, show that voters don’t want the tax bill to move forward.

                    “But here we are, watching the fiscal hawks of the Republican Party blow through every red light on the way off the cliff, adding $1.5 trillion to the deficit,” she said.

                    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., spoke in front of a giant sign that read, “#GOPTAXSCAM.”

                    The bill would bring average initial tax cuts for Americans across all income lines, but by 2027, it would boost average levies for everyone earning up to $75,000, which includes most taxpayers, Congress’ nonpartisan tax analysts estimated Monday.

                    A separate study by the Tax Policy Center, a private nonpartisan group, found that individual taxes would be reduced on average next year by $1,600. That ranged, on average, from $60 for people earning below $25,000 to $7,640 for those making above $149,000. Those in the top 1 percent, earning over $733,000, would see average tax cuts of $51,140.

                    Fox News’ Alex Pappas and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

                    Read more:

                    31 Days of Happiness Countdown: Carrie Fisher’s dog is in the new ‘Star Wars.’ (Day 13)

                    Thanks for stopping by for Day 13 of Upworthy’s 31 Days of Happiness Countdown! Each day between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31, we’re sharing stories we hope will bring joy, smiles, and laughter into our lives and yours. It’s been a challenging year for a lot of us, so why not end it on a high note, with a bit of happiness? Check back tomorrow for another installment!

                    This red carpet stud is Gary Fisher.

                    Photo by Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images.

                    If that floppy tongue looks familiar, that’s because Gary was Carrie Fisher’s therapy dog.

                    She adored him. And she always brought him along for the ride.

                    Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Wizard World.

                    Fisher, who lived openly with bipolar disorder and died at age 60 last year, said Gary had always been a soothing presence by her side. “Gary is very devoted to me and that calms me down,” she told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2013. “He’s anxious when he’s away from me.”

                    But Gary, who reportedly now lives with Fisher’s former assistant, is staying in the spotlight. He’s even starring in the new film, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which Fisher filmed before she passed away. And honestly, he looks as cute as can be … for galaxy far, far away standards, at least.

                    Someone spotted a wrinkly four-legged alien in a sneak-peek image of the new film and asked, “Wait, is that Gary?”

                    Clair Henry of the “Star Wars” fan site Fantha Tracks tweeted at director Rian Johnson, asking if the “cute little creature” was, in fact, Fisher’s old pup.

                    Here’s that pic a little bit closer.

                    Image via Clair Henry/Twitter.

                    Johnson spotted her tweet and confirmed: Yep, that’s him!

                    (Granted, it definitely looks like Gary had been through the makeup and prosthetics department.)

                    Gary, you’re a silver screen star!

                    Fans are feeling lots of emotions over the latest “Star Wars” film — the last time Fisher’s General Leia Organa will grace cinema screens. For millions, Fisher was more than just a princess all these decades: She was a fighter, fierce friend, and an outspoken advocate for combating the stigma surrounding mental illness. She helped so many people simply be themselves.

                    It’s wonderful to know that part of her lives on in her best furry little friend.

                    31 Days of Happiness Countdown: DAY 1 / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8 / DAY 9 / DAY 10 / DAY 11 / DAY 12 / [DAY 13] / DAY 14 / DAY 15 / DAY 16 / DAY 17 / DAY 18 / DAY 19 / DAY 20 / DAY 21 / DAY 22 / DAY 23 / DAY 24 / DAY 25 / DAY 26 / DAY 27 / DAY 28 / DAY 29 / DAY 30 / DAY 31

                    Read more:

                    Its 2:51 A.M. Can You Fall Asleep?

                    This is your bed.

                    Your bed is one of the most comfortable places in your apartment to fall asleep. The only times you don’t sleep in your bed are when you are on vacation or staying at a friend’s house. Tonight you are at home, so you are going to sleep in your bed.

                    You stayed up very late tonight preparing your big presentation for tomorrow. You work at the company that comes up with slogans for salad, and if you do well on this presentation, your boss says you will start getting paid.

                    Tomorrow morning you will pitch “My Vegetables Are Damp With Pleasure” as the new slogan for salad. But tonight, you need some sleep.

                    Your alarm is set for 6 a.m. sharp.

                    It is currently 2:51 in the morning, so you need to fall asleep as quickly as you can. You only have a few hours to get all the restful sleep you need before your big day.

                    The stakes have never been higher for you, so please fall asleep immediately.

                    You close your eyes as hard as you can and attempt to fall asleep, but you’re having a little trouble. What would you like to do?

                    Hmm. You have successfully turned your entire body, but you did not fall asleep.

                    Ah, tossing didn’t work either. Looks like you’ll need to fall asleep the old-fashioned way—by not moving at all.

                    Hmm. You have successfully tossed your entire body, but you did not fall asleep.

                    Ah, turning didn’t work either. Looks like you’ll need to fall asleep the old-fashioned way—by not moving at all.

                    As you tense up your entire body and prepare to not move a single muscle until morning, a thought flashes through your brain:

                    You forgot to brush your teeth.


                    Someone has rung your doorbell! It’s almost 3 a.m.—who could it be?


                    Your visitor has rung the doorbell again, and this time they have somehow made the bell much louder.

                    “Hello. My name is David Jenkins, I’m a volunteer dentist, and I’m going door to door to remind people about the importance of oral health. May I ask if you brushed your teeth tonight?”

                    “Please do not scream at me in front of my family,” David says, as his wife, parents, and children reveal themselves from around a corner.

                    You feel a massive pang of guilt. You did not know they were there and would never intentionally harm the three generations of family that stand before you.

                    “Apology accepted,” the man says. “But please, if you have not already done so tonight, brush your teeth immediately.”

                    You assure the man that you will, give him $50 for his troubles, and bid his family goodnight.

                    “I really want to believe you,” the man responds. “But I think you might be lying to me. Go to the bathroom and get your toothbrush so I can feel if it’s wet.”

                    “Please, do not ever lie to me in front of my family,” the stranger responds, as his wife, parents, and children reveal themselves from around the corner. “Go brush your teeth right now.”

                    You apologize profusely to the three generations of family standing before you, give the man $50 for his troubles, and shut the door.

                    You walk into your bathroom and flip on the lights. Yikes! You forgot how bright the bathroom is. Now you’re even more awake than you already were. Better make this quick.

                    What kind of toothpaste would you like to use tonight?

                    Excellent choice! This toothpaste was created as part of a promotion for the 2006 reboot of The Pink Panther, and Beyoncé still hands them out at all of her concerts to remind fans that she starred in the film.

                    Buongiorno! You’ll feel like you’re riding a gondola down the canals of Venice as you brush your teeth with the colors of the Italian flag.

                    Okay. It’s currently 3:02 a.m., and you have to be up in less than three hours for your presentation. In the interest of time, how would you like to brush your teeth?

                    The vast majority of the teeth in your mouth are just spares, so let’s narrow this down to the five that most desperately need a cleaning tonight. Which of these teeth would you like to brush?

                    Smart choice! With proper brushing and flossing, your Oral Horn can sometimes grow up to 3 feet in length.

                    Nice choice! People usually get their Vanessa’s Molar around age 13, when an adorable preteen girl shows up at their front door and shoves it deep down into their gums. The young girl’s name is Sarah.

                    Ah, the Lateral Wisp. Perhaps the most ephemeral of the teeth in your mouth. It barely exists, yet it needs constant brushing. Careful not to brush too hard, or you might corrode the mist.

                    Excellent choice. Your mouth actually has two Lil’ Biters, as circled in the image above. But time is of the essence tonight, so you should only choose one to brush.

                    Wise choice. Your Essential Tooth exists absolutely everywhere in your mouth, and is imperative for countless functions including slurping, grinding, stroking, gnawing, and milking.

                    Brushing every single tooth in your mouth is an arduous process, typically lasting anywhere from four to seven hours. But you’ve got to be up bright and early tomorrow, so please make this as quick as possible.

                    The American Dental Association (usually abbreviated as Amrcn Dntl Assctn) provides an easy mnemonic to help you brush your teeth. All you have to do is remember your ABCs:

                    Assess your mouth.

                    Brush your mouth.

                    Close your mouth.


                    1) Assess your mouth.

                    Open your mouth (or any hole with teeth in it) and examine it in the mirror.

                    Count to make sure that all your teeth are still there. Log any missing teeth in your Brusher’s Journal. If a tooth feels particularly sharp, smooth, or regular, write it down. Give each tooth a name, and do not use the same name twice. Log these names in your journal as well, and then dispose of the journal immediately.

                    2) Brush your mouth.

                    Firmly grasp your toothbrush with your non-dominant** hand, and slowly apply bristle to bone. Scrub until no bristles remain on the brush.


                    3) Close your mouth.

                    Spit out any remaining toothpaste, blood, or gum skin into the sink, and then close your mouth to prevent a bug from entering it.

                    All done brushing! And it only took a few minutes. Well done.

                    The time is now 3:10 a.m., so please get back into bed immediately. You really need to get some rest before your big day.

                    Great pick! Nature’s Elegance proudly sources its toothpaste only from ingredients that animals or plants have secreted into a farmer’s hand.

                    Awesome! Patriot’s Choice toothpaste has been an American favorite since the year 1776. Rumor has it John Adams used this star-spangled toothpaste before he hacked Paul Revere to bits with an ax.

                    Excellent choice. Did you know that Mint Authenticity toothpaste has more mint per serving than three pounds of beef?

                    You don’t want big bags under your eyes as you stand up in front of the entire company tomorrow and pitch your slogan for salad. That means you need to fall asleep ASAP. You should have been in bed hours ago. Time is running out.

                    Suddenly, you remember something:

                    Your boss said that if you don’t do well on your presentation, he is going to punish you by coming to your next family dinner and slapping a chicken drumstick out of your grandmother’s feeble, arthritic hands.

                    He’s done things like this to your family before, so you know he really means it.

                    Speaking of chicken:

                    When you were 12, someone at school showed you a video of a monk setting himself on fire, and your classmate remarked that his burning flesh resembled that of a rotisserie chicken.

                    When you got home that night, your mom had made drumsticks for dinner.

                    You don’t know why, but you ate 15 chicken drumsticks that night. Your mom said it was the most food she had ever seen you eat. She seemed proud as she watched you, but she didn’t know about the monk thing. You wanted to throw up the whole time, but you just kept going.

                    Why did you do that?

                    After that night, your mom started making chicken drumsticks for every single one of your birthdays. She thinks they are your favorite food. There’s so much your mother doesn’t know about you, come to think of it.

                    Last week, you saw a monk at your local mall. And although you’ll never say it out loud, it made you fucking ravenous.

                    It seems as though you’re having some trouble falling asleep. What would you like to do?

                    Are you sure? Your doctor did give you a loose handful of sleeping pills at your last physical, but she warned you that taking them could be extremely dangerous. She even made you sign a waiver agreeing that she was an idiot for giving them to you. Remember?

                    You walk into your bathroom and flip on the lights again. Ugh. You always forget how bright it is in here.

                    It’s a good thing you’re about to take a pill that will make you fall asleep, even if it carries a small risk of making your organs explode.

                    You reach for the pile of assorted pills that your doctor, Mrs. Virginia, gave you. You hold them in your hands.

                    You’ve been saving these pills for the perfect moment. You’ve never needed to fall asleep as badly as you do tonight.

                    Suddenly, it occurs to you:

                    Mrs. Virginia never gave you a bottle with these pills. She just slipped the whole handful right into your cargo pants as you were kissing her goodbye.

                    Without a bottle, you don’t have any directions on how to take the pills.

                    You take a magnifying glass from your medicine cabinet and hover it above the pills.

                    Bingo. Each pill is inscribed with the exact same message.


                    PLEASE USE ONLY AS DIRECTED.





                    ABOUT MRS. VIRGINIA


                    Remember: You’re supposed to take these pills with dinner. But since you already ate your dinner hours ago, Mrs. Virginia says that you can just take them while imagining what it is like to eat dinner.

                    Chicken drumsticks…Saigon…salty and savory…oh God, a gallon of gasoline…sour cream dipping sauce…the flames licking flesh…room for seconds, thirds…he isn’t even screaming, why isn’t he screaming…that signature buffalo kick…the dark smoke, it won’t stop…marinated overnight…make it stop, please God…why…why…


                    Okay! Down the hatch!

                    Congratulations. You have successfully swallowed the entire spoonful of pills, and you did not die. This is a major relief—it is logistically impossible to fall asleep when you are dead.

                    It usually takes about 30 minutes for the effects of a sleeping pill to fully kick in. What would you like to do in the meantime?

                    Technically, Mrs. Virginia advises against operating heavy machinery after taking her pills. But just once is probably fine, if you’re careful.

                    What heavy machine would you like to operate this evening?

                    You walk into your garage and take a seat in your tank. You figure you’ll just take it for a little joyride around the neighborhood. Driving always makes you sleepy.

                    Admittedly, you’re already feeling a little bit woozy from Mrs. Virginia’s pills. But one little drive around the block won’t hurt.

                    The Overwatch Videogame League Aims to Become the New NFL

                    Stefano Disalvo is a professional athlete.

                    He has the physical gifts of a professional athlete, the dedication and drive of a professional athlete, the monomaniacal schedule of a professional athlete. He wakes up at 6:30 in the morning and spends some time reviewing game tape of his own performance before calisthenics begin around 9—jogging, frisbee, soccer—followed by practice, seven straight hours of it, where his team plays against some of the finest competition in the world, testing new strategies. Then a team meeting at night to discuss the day’s mistakes and how to correct them, after which he will spend another few hours practicing alone or interacting with his fans or studying his rivals or, sometimes, all three. Then bedtime, before doing the same thing again tomorrow.

                    It’s likely you’ve never heard of Stefano Disalvo. You probably haven’t heard of his team either. You maybe haven’t heard of his sport, and even if you have heard of his sport, you wouldn’t know him as Stefano ­Disalvo—he’s known as “Verbo,” one of the top players in the world at a videogame called Overwatch. He’s 18 years old, and he has just signed his first major professional contract: He’ll get a nice salary, a robust health insurance plan, free housing, and a 401(k). And beginning this month, his team, the newly formed Los Angeles Valiant, will be one of 12 competing in a first-of-its-kind global esports league, a grand experiment involving some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment who believe Overwatch can rival traditional sports in audience and revenue. If this league succeeds—if its players, coaches, franchise owners, and front-­office executives can overcome a skeptical audience, a complicated and sometimes baffling game, and big problems of inclusion and harassment—then gamers like Disalvo, who have mortgaged their entire adolescence for this one shot at glory, could be among the first athletes to get very rich playing videogames, in front of people, for money.

                    Welcome to the future of sports.

                    If you are, like me, of a generation where videogames were not a spectator sport except for maybe gathering around the arcade to watch someone who’s really good at Street Fighter, then you could be forgiven for not knowing all of this was going on. The phenomenon of esports—people playing against each other in live videogame competitions—is still so new that there isn’t even consensus about how to spell it: I’ve seen esports, e-sports, E-sports, and eSports.

                    I should say, actually, that esports are relatively new—that is, new for some of us. But for the professionals who play, who are almost uniformly between the ages of 17 and 26, it’s something that’s been around for most of their lives and something they take for granted. When Disalvo was a 16-year-old high school student in Toronto, he already knew he wanted to be an esports professional. He knew this mostly through a process of elimination: He had tried every other thing, and none of them felt transcendent or even interesting. He played hockey and tennis, he swam. He took all the classes you’re supposed to take, and when ­people asked him what his favorite subject was, he’d say lunchtime. “I was trying to find something that I loved doing,” Disalvo says. “I honestly didn’t really enjoy anything.”

                    There was one thing he did enjoy, though, a secret he kept from almost everyone: He loved playing videogames, and he was extraordinarily good at it. And when he saw players winning tournaments for games like League of Legends, he decided that he wanted, more than anything else, to do that.

                    A basic problem, though, was that League of Legends already had a well-established and very competitive esports scene, and the path to becoming a pro in that game seemed very narrow. However, in November 2014, Disalvo saw that Blizzard, the company behind such massive franchises as Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo, was developing a new game. It was called Overwatch, and it looked to be a first-person shooter. Knowing that most of Blizzard’s games eventually generate big esports scenes, Disalvo decided to switch. “New game,” he says. “Everybody’s starting at the same level. It’s not as if I have to catch up to all the other professional players.”

                    Stefano Disalvo, better known as Verbo, is one of the world's top Overwatch players.
                    Damon Casarez

                    I was surprised to hear this, as I’d assumed that pro gamers began playing a game because they enjoyed it and then gradually became good enough to turn pro. But Disalvo decided to make Overwatch his young life’s work before he’d ever even played it. “I saw the esports potential,” he says with a shrug. “I didn’t care if the game was fun.”

                    He got access to the Overwatch beta and committed himself to mastering the game. He stopped eating lunch with his friends, using that time to finish homework so he could go home and play Overwatch for seven hours straight. He didn’t go to parties, he didn’t go out with friends, he didn’t date, he wasn’t in any way social.

                    If you’re thinking that Disalvo fits the stereotype of a friendless, socially awkward gamer, disabuse yourself of that notion. He’s an affable and confident young man who’d been a swim instructor, a lifeguard, and an excellent hockey player. He has a good sense of humor, and when he laughs, he looks startlingly like James Franco. In other words, if he’d wanted to date, he probably could have. But he didn’t, and his classmates didn’t know what to make of it.

                    Playing the beta, and before Overwatch was even officially released in May 2016, Disalvo began competing in amateur tournaments. He started playing even longer hours, and his studies suffered. His mother demanded he focus on school, but he announced he was going to be an esports professional. His mother said no, he was going to college. He said no, he was skipping college to go pro in Overwatch. Looking back, he’s not sure how that standoff would have been resolved were it not for a job offer that came two weeks after his mother’s ultimatum. A professional esports outfit wanted him on its Overwatch team, and it wanted to move him to Southern California to live and train with his teammates.

                    Armed now with an official contract, Disalvo went back to his mother, and she eventually agreed to let him leave school early, on the condition that he would finish his diploma online. Most of his classmates were mildly puzzled by his sudden disappearance. There were rumors about California. Were it not for a yearbook article about his new career, it’s possible that his classmates would still be asking: Whatever happened to Stefano Disalvo?

                    Mei is one of dozens of heroes in Overwatch.

                    Blizzard Entertainment

                    Jeff Kaplan, who oversees all things overwatch at Blizzard, says that when developers began work on the game in 2013, they felt the need to create a world wholly apart from the trio of worlds that the company already offered: the high fantasy of Warcraft, the space opera of Starcraft, the gothic horror of Diablo. What would be the most unexpected, most fantastical place they could take gamers next?

                    The answer, they decided, was Earth.

                    The team ultimately began working on a game that would be Blizzard’s first entry into the popular first-­person-shooter genre, and they would set it on Earth, sometime in the not-too-distant future.

                    But when they began researching other earthbound first-person shooters, they found a surplus of what Kaplan calls “cynical, borderline post­apocalyptic dystopia.” In other words, morbidly dark, gritty, and depressing. Lots of blood and gore. Games you’d feel a little weird about if you played them in front of your kids.

                    This led the team in a different and sort of radical direction: optimism. “We wanted it to be a future worth fighting for,” Kaplan says. “So it’s a bright, aspirational future, and when conflict happens you have to go out and defend it, because this world is so awesome we can’t let anybody ruin it. So it really led us to a place of hope.”

                    The basic premise of the game is that AI robots, designed to usher in an economic golden age for humanity, try to take over the world. To respond to the crisis, the United Nations forms Overwatch, a team of fighters and adventurers recruited to quash the robot rebellion. The Overwatch forces defeat the robots, and then end up battling each other.

                    These characters—they’re called “heroes” in Overwatch lingo, and there are 26 of them as of this writing, though Blizzard tends to update this a lot—are the beating heart of the game. As opposed to many other first-person shooters, where your avatar is just a kind of anonymous good guy or bad guy, the heroes you play in Overwatch have personality. They have persuasive origins and very human hopes and fears and complicated relationships with the other heroes. There’s Mei, for example, a climate scientist who was stranded in her research station in Antarctica and has since become this gallant adventurer who never­theless still wears these huge, nerdy round glasses and an adorable poofy coat. Or Bastion, an anthropomorphic machine gun who’s friends with a tiny delicate bird that he gently cares for. This game doesn’t just have backstory, it has lore, which is all explicated in animated web movies and comic books that are intended to drive “deep engagement,” to borrow the language of Blizzard’s quarterly reports.

                    Overwatch super fan Marcus Silvoso dressed as the healer hero Lucio.

                    Damon Casarez

                    Overwatch super fan Dorothy Dang as the tank hero D.VA.

                    Damon Casarez

                    The game is team-based, six versus six. If you’re playing Overwatch, you are playing with and against other real people who are connected to the internet and seeing and hearing the same things as you. You can play as any of the 26 heroes, even swapping from one hero to another during the course of the game. Mostly, the game is played as a series of timed rounds: The attacking team has four minutes to capture certain areas or move a payload (think: the pigskin going downfield) while the defending team tries to thwart them. Once time’s up, attackers and defenders switch roles for the next round. Whichever team captures more areas or moves the payload farther wins the game, and if a player is killed in action, they have to wait 10 seconds (sometimes more) before rejoining the fight.

                    The formula—refreshing optimism plus interesting heroes plus shoot-’em-up action— was an immediate hit. Overwatch became Blizzard’s fastest-growing game ever, a best seller that, after a little more than a year, has 35 million players and generates more than a billion dollars annually.

                    Nate Nanzer, who was Blizzard’s global director of research and consumer insights leading up to Overwatch’s launch, says the game’s popularity comes, in part, from gamers’ love for the heroes, noting particularly the significance of a lineup that “looks like what the world looks like,” by which he means racially diverse, multinational, and equitably gendered.

                    The other thing Nanzer noticed early in Overwatch’s development cycle was a surge in interest in video­games as a spectator sport. Esports originated largely in South Korea, with the game StarCraft: Brood War, roughly 20 years ago, and eventually found its way onto Korean television. Then it jumped to Korean internet streaming platforms around 2003, which is when North American gamers began getting clued in. The popularity of gaming streams eventually gave rise to Twitch, a platform that launched in 2011 and specializes in videogame livestreaming. By 2014, when Amazon purchased Twitch for almost a billion dollars, the total number of minutes that people spent every year watching other people, mostly strangers, play video­games on Twitch was 192 billion. By the end of 2016, it had risen to 292 billion.

                    Even while Overwatch was in beta, fans and entrepreneurs were already organizing Overwatch tournaments, broadcasting matches live on Twitch. It was completely grassroots, seriously hardcore, totally decentralized, and kind of a mess. Nanzer wondered what would happen if Blizzard could take control of the tournaments. “If we structure a league the right way and put the right investment behind it, we can actually monetize it in a way that’s not too dissimilar from traditional sports,” he says.

                    Enter Overwatch League.

                    Blizzard announced the venture in November 2016 at Blizzcon, the company’s annual convention. Overwatch League would be the world’s first esports venture to follow the North American sports model: franchised teams in major cities, live spectator events, salaried athletes. Along with all the revenue opportunities offered by sports leagues—ticket sales, media rights, licensing, and so on—there were also opportunities for “team-based virtual merchandise.” For example, fans might be able to buy a “skin” so that when they’re playing Overwatch at home, their hero will be wearing the jersey of the Los Angeles Valiant.

                    “We are literally building a new sport,” says Nanzer, who was appointed the league’s commissioner last year. “We’re trying to build this as a sustainable sports league for decades and decades to come.” And while you might think, at first glance, that such an ambition is outrageously optimistic, the expertise recruited may change your mind. The co-owner of the Boston Overwatch franchise, for example, is Robert Kraft, who also owns the New England Patriots. The owner of the New York franchise is Jeff Wilpon, COO of the New York Mets. Philadelphia’s Overwatch team is owned by Comcast, which also owns the Philadelphia Flyers. Blizzard hasn’t made public the cost of a league franchise, but the reports are $20 million, and when I asked Nanzer about that number, he neither confirmed nor denied it, saying: “You know, if you hear the same rumor over and over again, you can figure out what that means.” So, OK, $20 million.

                    “There’s going to be kids who can say ‘I play professional Overwatch for the same guy that Tom Brady plays for,’” Nanzer said. “That’s pretty cool.”

                    Perhaps the most high-profile executive recruit for Overwatch League is Steve Bornstein. One of the early architects of ESPN and a former president of ABC Sports, he left his most recent job as CEO of the NFL Network to become Blizzard’s esports chair. When asked why he made the change from traditional sports to electronic, Bornstein borrows an old Gretzky quote: “Skate to where the puck is going.”

                    “When I left the NFL, the only thing I saw that had the potential to be as big was the esports space,” he says. “What fascinated me was just the level of engagement, the fact that we measure consumption in billions of minutes consumed.”

                    And it’s growing, especially among younger people, which is not something that can be said of traditional sports. For the cord-­cutter and cord-never generations, sports tend to be behind what is, in effect, a giant paywall. The big, exclusive contracts that leagues sign with the TV networks mean there are few other ways to access sports content—which seems annoying or downright bizarre to ­people accustomed to getting their entertainment for free on YouTube.

                    The kill cam says, This is how you were killed, so let's avoid that in the future.

                    Every major sport in the US has seen the average age of its viewership increase since 2000. The NBA’s average fan is 42. The average NFL fan is 50. The average MLB fan is 57. What’s more, these audiences are limited almost entirely to North America. The Overwatch League, meanwhile, will begin with nine US teams and three from abroad—Shanghai, Seoul, and London (with more, I’m told, on the way)—and its average fan is a demographically pleasing 21 years old.

                    There’s no better symbol for Blizzard’s confidence in the game’s potential than the place it chose for its new home: Burbank Studios, Stage One. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s the very same soundstage that Johnny Carson used when he brought The Tonight Show to California. Every match of Overwatch League’s inaugural season will be played here, while the teams work with Blizzard to bring matches to their respective hometowns in future seasons.

                    The studio’s centerpiece is the long dais up front, big enough for two entire Overwatch teams—six players on the left, six on the right. Each player will have their own personal pod (Blizzard’s term for what appears to be a simple table), and each pod is separated from the adjacent pods by a space of a few inches, because apparently some players can get a little excited during a match and bother their neighbors with their table-tapping or knee-banging or fist-pounding. Every player is issued a standard desktop computer and a standard monitor (144 hertz), though many players like to choose their own keyboard and mouse. Above everything are three enormous LED screens, approximately 20 feet by 11, that will be showing the audience the in-game action, as well as intermittent close-ups of the players themselves, their faces, their twitching hands.

                    The studio’s centerpiece is a long dais, big enough for two entire Overwatch teams—six players on the left, six on the right.

                    Damon Casarez

                    Kitty-corner to the players, stage right, is an elevated desk for the on-air talent—the hosts and analysts and interviewers. Backstage, these folks get their own hair and makeup room, one of the few places still serving its original Tonight Show function. Next to the analysts’ desk is a room for the “shoutcasters,” which are what play-by-play commentators are called in esports. The term was coined in the earliest days of esports, before high-speed broadband made video streaming possible; the feeds were audio-only, and commentators used a Winamp plug-in called SHOUTcast to broadcast their voices. The name lives on, though. There’s even a paper taped up on the door that says shoutcasters.

                    Taped to the next door, a piece of paper says observers, which strikes me as sort of sinister, like the Eyes from The Handmaid’s Tale. The Observers are actually cinematographers who operate in the game’s digital space. If you’re watching an Overwatch match, you might be watching it from the point of view of one of the players or from the point of view of one of the Observers, who float around the players and capture the in-game action as it unfolds. Imagine a camera operator at a hockey match skating around on the ice with the players and yet magically not interacting with them in any way. The Observers are like that.

                    Directly across the hall from the Observers is where the technical stuff happens, all the wizardry needed to create a professional-looking sports broadcast: a whole room for instant replay, two rooms for audio, two control rooms with walls of flatscreen TVs. All told, it takes between 80 and 100 people to broadcast one match of the Overwatch League. Some of the people who work here say there’s a special significance in the league’s broadcasting from The Tonight Show’s old home. It’s an obvious metaphor: new media replacing old media. It all reminds Steve Bornstein of the moment in the early ’80s when he came aboard the fledgling ESPN, then only three months old. He says all the critics at the time argued there wouldn’t be any interest in a whole channel devoted to sports. Who would ever watch that?

                    Shoutcasters provide real-time game commentary for both in-studio and streaming audiences.

                    Damon Casarez

                    My first time playing Overwatch was astounding to me for two reasons: first, for the sheer amount of onscreen information I was asked to digest at any given moment, the bullet tracers and grenade explosions, the bright blossoming energy shields and walls of ice that were sometimes mysteriously erected and then shattered, plus the head-up display overlaying various timers and health bars and glowing mission objectives, and sometimes floating yellow plus-sign things (which I eventually figured out meant I was getting healed by someone, somehow), plus all the pretty little environmental details like streetlamps that flicker a bit of lens flare onto your screen when you accidentally aim at them, the wooden chairs that splinter and the wine bottles that shatter when they take stray fire, not to mention the outlines of your teammates and all the enemy players who (for reasons that will become clear momentarily) tend to jump around constantly, spasmodically, almost insectoidally—all of this happening at the same time in a way that felt not only disorienting, not only mentally taxing, but more like New York City air-traffic-control-level overwhelming.

                    The second thing I was astounded by was the number of times I died.

                    It was a little surprising to me how quickly, simply, and even sort of eagerly my character bit it. I was playing a hero called Reaper, whose whole basic deal is to be an updated video­game version of the Undertaker character from WWF wrestling, circa-1990s, but with guns—a pair of shotguns that, instead of reloading, he tosses to the ground and replaces by grabbing two new ones from under the folds of his black overcoat. I’m running to get into place with my teammates, wondering what exactly I’m supposed to be doing, and also idly wondering how many shotguns Reaper can hide under that coat. (The answer, it turns out, is infinite. Infinite shotguns. He never runs out. Just go with it.) Suddenly a firefight erupts ahead of me and I run up to aid my companions and promptly get killed. Swiftly and abruptly and bewilderingly, I am dead. I have no idea why. This is when I am introduced to the kill cam.

                    Let me tell you about the cruelty of the kill cam.

                    After you die in Overwatch and the camera pans back to show your now lifeless corpse on the ground, you endure the kill cam, which shows you what you looked like and what you were doing the moment before you were killed, from the perspective of your killer. It’s like being able to watch your own face while getting dumped. As I died over and over, I would be treated anew to kill-cam footage showing just how long someone had me in their sights, how many shots they took before I even noticed, how I just stood there and sort of spun in place, dumbly looking around while my killer patiently picked me off. According to the game’s developers, the kill cam’s primary function is not actually sadistic, but educational. The kill cam says: This is how you were killed, so how about avoiding that in the future, eh?

                    Reaper is an updated video­game version of the Undertaker character from WWF wrestling, circa-1990s.
                    Blizzard Entertainment

                    The fact that it’s so easy to be killed means that players in Overwatch are never still for a second, which presents a cognitive challenge: You must keep track of 11 other players who are always in motion while you yourself zig and zag. Overwatch is, above all, a team game, and you have the responsibility not only to avoid constant death but also to avoid constant death while helping your team execute the proper strategy. The 26 Overwatch heroes fall into four categories: eight are primarily damage-­dealers (offensive players that specialize in eliminating enemy players); six are defensive; six are “tanks” designed to soak up a lot of damage to protect their team; and six are healers who work as in-game medics. That works out to 230,230 possible six-hero “comps” (gamer lingo, born when the gaming community took the phrase “team composition” and nouned it), and to be good at Overwatch you have to recognize each of these comps, understand what effect they’ll have on your own team’s comp, and react accordingly.

                    And by “react accordingly” I mean that you not only execute a certain strategy correctly, but you also, if necessary, do so with any number of different heroes. Overwatch involves constant on-the-fly improvisational skill, an almost instinctive reaction to ever-changing conditions inside the game. If you play a really great damage-dealer but the other team is running a comp that neutralizes your particular hero, you must be able to extemporaneously and at any time switch to a different hero with a different specialization that disrupts the other team’s strategy. Plus, each hero has up to four different abilities that they can deploy at various times, including an “ultimate” ability that takes a long time to charge up and, when spent correctly, can be a total game-changer. 
So that’s about a hundred different abilities from 26 different characters teamed up in one of 230,230 different combinations. It’s mind-boggling. The sheer number of variables in play seems to exceed the human brain’s ability to grasp the scale and scope of big things. Which raises a question: How is it even possible to be good at this? I decided to travel to Redondo Beach, California, to the house where Stefano Disalvo lives with his team, to find out.

                    I arrive at the house at 11 am on a late September Friday, and ­Disalvo is sitting with his teammates in a large living room that has been completely transformed for gaming purposes. Seven small office tables have been arranged in two rows, each table equipped with a computer monitor, keyboard, mouse, and mousepad, with a mass of cables and wires spread out around the PC towers on the floor. Actually “towers” is the wrong word for these machines, which are enormous hexahedrons that look less like computers and more like glowing, diamond-shaped relics in a science-fiction movie about the future. All but one of the curtains are closed (to eliminate glare, I assume), though the windows are open for the welcome and pleasant California sea breeze.

                    The house they’re sharing is a six-bedroom, 4,100-square-foot grand Spanish-style building with orange roof tiles and a three-car garage. The kitchen is ambitiously large, with a double oven and a wine fridge that is poignantly empty. Almost no one who lives here is old enough to legally drink.

                    The team wakes early each day, and after reviewing footage of their performance from the previous day’s practices, they eat breakfast and walk to the beach for an hour of exercise. (Shane Flanagin, the team’s PR manager at the time of my visit, says the organization takes player health very seriously: They hire physical therapists, sports psychologists, and an in-house chef, and they have a daily fitness routine. “We don’t want them to be stuck in chairs for nine hours without moving,” he says—though from what I can tell, the players, left to their own devices, literally, would be happy to remain in their chairs for even longer.) By the time I arrive, the players are seated and warming up for their first “scrim” of the day.

                    A scrim is the primary way a pro Overwatch team practices. The team’s coaches set up scrims with other pro teams, and the players will do three two-hour scrims a day, every day. Once the day’s first scrim begins, everything gets very serious, very fast. The players hunch their shoulders, and their eyes are about even with the top bevel of their monitor so that they’re looking down at the screen, which makes them appear, in profile, something like carnivores eyeing dinner. They give one another constant updates about what the other team is doing, what heroes are in use, what special abilities are available. Their shouted instructions and updates sound to me like soldiers speaking some kind of wacky code.

                    “Monkey monkey monkey!”

                    “Are they right or left?”

                    “Clear left!”

                    “Inside! Saloon! Saloon!”

                    “EMP! EMP! EMP!” which, shouted very quickly, sounds like “empee empee empee!”

                    In the kitchen, meanwhile, the team’s chef is busy cooking lunch. She seems to be successfully ignoring all of this.

                    Members of Team Valiant practice—or play "scrims"—for at least seven hours a day.

                    Damon Casarez

                    Despite living together, the players do not call each other by their real names. They exclusively use their screen names, so much so that I find it odd and even jarring to call Disalvo “Stefano.” Here, he’s Verbo, and the teammates he’s playing with today are GrimReality (which everyone shortens to Grim), Fate, envy, and KariV, who, among all of them, seems the most likely to spontaneously shout or giggle or exclaim “What the fuck!” very loudly and, I would think, distractingly, though the other players don’t seem to care or even really notice.

                    This is one of the ostensible reasons they all live together, so that they can get accustomed to each other’s tics and moods and can develop the kind of shorthand with one another that I usually associate with best friends or intimates. They come from very different places—Verbo is Canadian, Grim is American, while Fate, envy, and KariV are from Korea—but they need to communicate in the quickest way possible. Like the game itself, the team must operate with no lag.

                    Sitting in an adjoining room, the team’s manager, Joshua Kim, and one of its coaches, Henry Coxall, observe that morning’s scrim in the game’s spectator mode. They discuss failures of strategy, how one player was baited into a disadvantaged position. But they also seem very attentive to their team’s emotional state. Any blip of negative emotion from any of the players is immediately registered and discussed. Kim talks about not bringing bad emotions to “work,” and how living together presents a challenge on this front.

                    At 27, Kim is the old man in the house. I ask him whether it’s hard sharing a living space with a bunch of teenage boys—and, yes, they’re all boys, and with the exception of one 20-year-old, they’re all teens. The house itself bears the filthy evidence of this. The boys’ discarded shoes litter the front foyer. Their bedrooms are totally bare but for mattresses sitting on the floor surrounded by clumps of wrinkled clothes. The kitchen counters are covered with jars of peanut butter and Pop Tarts and a family-­size box of Frosted Flakes and protein powder in big bulbous jugs and a few spray bottles of Febreze.

                    I won’t even tell you about the condition of the bathroom.

                    But if this bothers Kim, he tries not to show it. “It teaches me patience,” he says.
As the first scrim ends, the players blink back into the reality of the living room, almost like they’re surprised to be there. There’s a sort of incorporeal quality to the players while they’re in the game: They play with such focus and intensity that, as soon as a match is over, it’s as if they suddenly realize they have bodies. They crack their knuckles and stretch and shake out the stiffness in their hands. They wander into the kitchen, where the chef has prepared a meal of mostly Korean fare: barbecued short ribs, glazed chicken drumsticks, and a really fantastic fried rice. The players consume all of this in less than 10 minutes.

                    During their break I’m able to ask the questions that have been on my mind: How do you learn to play this game at a high level? And how do you possibly keep track of everything that’s happening onscreen?

                    It’s Grim who first suggests the concept of “mental RAM.” The basic idea, he says, is that there is only so much the mind can process at once, an upper limit on the number of things any player can pay attention to; the key, then, is to put as many things on autopilot as possible, so you have fewer things to consciously think about. “For a lot of people who aren’t pro, aiming takes a lot of concentration,” Grim says. “It gives you less room to think about other things. So that’s why I practice really, really hard on my aiming, so I can think more about my positioning and what I need to do next.”

                    Grim, whose real name is Christopher Schaefer, is 18 years old and from Chico, California. He is one of the team’s primary damage-dealers. Like Verbo, Grim wanted more than anything to be an esports professional. And like Verbo, he decided to go pro in Overwatch before he’d ever played it. When he first began the game—at 16—he was “really bad,” he says. “I would spend hours at a time just practicing flicks.”

                    I interrupt to ask: What’s a flick?

                    “It’s basically starting from one point of the screen and then snapping to the enemy’s head or something. And so it’s a very fast muscle-memory movement.”

                    Being able to flick effectively is essential to pro play. It requires you to understand the exact ratio of mouse-movement to game-space distance, plus how to compensate if, for example, you’re moving left and your target is to the right, which will require an extra milli­meter or so of flick, and you have to possess the kinesthetic body awareness to do this with your hand and wrist perfectly almost 100 percent of the time. This is why pro players’ mouse choices are so personal and why the team insists that, with any sponsorship deal with any company that sells peripherals, players always get to choose their own mouse. Grim uses a Logitech G903 with a DPI of 800 and an in-game mouse sensitivity setting of 5. He is now, suffice it to say, extraordinarily good at flicking.

                    “A lot of people think that I just have natural talent,” he says, laughing. “No, no, not at all. It took a lot, a lot, a lot of practice to be able to aim properly.”

                    After the lunch break, the teammates return to their stations for more sitting, more scrims, more shouting.

                    “Monkey’s up for a jump! Monkey monkey! I’m dead.”

                    “Small regroup! Regroup!”

                    “I’m on soldier, I’m on soldier!”

                    “We have numbers! Let’s go!”

                    “Monkey monkey!”

                    About the monkey: One hero named Winston is a supersmart, genetically engineered gorilla who has the ability to jump really far, right into the middle of the scrum. And when an enemy team’s Winston lands nearby, he’s automatically your team’s number one target. If you take down Winston, you can really disrupt the other team’s strategy. So when he lands, everyone shouts his name. But because “Winston” is hard to say many times fast, Overwatch players started calling him “monkey.” The effect is that, for the many hours I watched the Los Angeles Valiant play scrims, as I was dutifully taking notes and thinking earnestly about how this might be the future of sports, every few minutes this whole pack of teenage boys would suddenly burst out shouting, “Monkey monkey monkey monkey!”

                    Overwatch super fan Joe Silvoso as the defensive hero Junkrat.

                    Damon Casarez

                    In late September, three months before the league’s first regular-season game and a mere 60-some days from the start of preseason play, Disalvo shakes his head in disbelief at the prospect of playing for the Los Angeles Valiant. “It feels like I’m part of something that’s going to be big, like very big,” he says. “There’s going to be billboards? I’m gonna be representing a city like Los Angeles? Like … what? That’s crazy.”

                    It’s especially crazy given that he didn’t actually move to LA to join the Valiant. His first professional esports contract, the one that achieved peace with his mother, actually came from an organization called the Immortals, one of the independent esports brands, known as endemics, that field teams in a number of different video­games. (The Immortals, for example, have teams that play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends, among others.) Endemic teams have been in esports for a long time and have been essential to its growth. They’re well known within gaming circles, but they are not billion-­dollar organizations like Blizzard or the New England Patriots, and thus they are not able to be as generous with their players.

                    Jake Lyon, a 21-year-old from San Diego whose screen name is the refreshingly straightforward “JAKE,” is one of the best damage-dealers in Overwatch. He earned about $2,000 a month as a member of an endemic called Luminosity Gaming—that is, until the Luminosity Overwatch roster disbanded in mid-2017, as Blizzard began consolidating control over professional Overwatch play. “In the past there’s been no security in an esports contract,” he says. “Even though we were signed to a two-year contract with Luminosity, there’s always a clause—and it’s not just them, every single esports contract looks like this—that says they can buy you out for one month’s salary. When they decide it’s your last month: goodbye.”

                    Lyon went on to sign with the Overwatch League’s Houston Outlaws, and he says the new league is a “huge improvement.” Contracts are guaranteed for at least a year, after which the team will have a second-year option with a prenegotiated salary. And, critically, players cannot be fired during the length of their contract, unless they’re guilty of something that would get them fired from any job.

                    Players are provided with housing, health insurance, a retirement plan, and a minimum league salary of $50,000, though Lyon believes that most players who are among a team’s starting six will earn much more than that. (Most teams also have a few backup players.) Plus, there’s revenue sharing and a prize pool of $3.5 million for successful teams, $1 million of which is reserved for the inaugural season’s eventual champions.

                    When he signed his contract with Houston, Lyon sat at his computer clicking his e-signature to the document’s relevant places, and he realized how different it was from what had come before. “Maybe this could be the way esports is going forward,” he says. “That it can be a legitimate career, and that it’s not like someone is going all-in on some fragment of a dream.”

                    Inside Blizzard arena, three enormous L.E.D. screens, approximately 20 feet by 11, show the audience the in-game action and player reactions.

                    Damon Casarez

                    It's hard not to notice that, as of this writing, there are no women on any of the rosters of any of the 12 teams in Overwatch League. “They are all dudes,” Nanzer says, shaking his head. It’s something he’s been thinking a lot about, and he admits that part of the problem is cultural. Gaming can be seen as acceptable and normal behavior for boys, but not necessarily for girls. (Though many studies show that roughly equal numbers of men and women play videogames casually, competitive play remains overwhelmingly male.) “There was never a question that I was going to sit and play games with my son,” he said. “But then the other day my daughter asked me, ‘Can I play Overwatch too?’ and I was like, oh shit, I gotta be better about this. I gotta treat it equal.”

                    And the women who do play Overwatch often find themselves to be targets of harassment. Glisa is the screen name for a 19-year-old Overwatch player who lives in Portland, Oregon. Despite being busy with her college studies, Glisa is one of the top 100 Overwatch players in terms of time spent in the game. She has so far logged thousands of hours of gameplay, and she keeps a YouTube channel with highlight reels. But sometimes she posts videos of her interactions with other gamers. She uploaded a montage recently called “Online Gaming as a Girl.”

                    “That was spawned after I had several different, very toxic encounters with people who brought up the fact that I was female many times and tried to use that to degrade me,” she says.

                    This will sound familiar to anyone who has followed the horrors of Gamergate over the past few years, and the video is hard to watch. The gamers she encounters aren’t just being a little insensitive—they are straight-up knuckle-dragging misogynists:

                    “You’re such a bimbo.”

                    “You’re probably ugly.”

                    “Grab her by the pussy.”

                    “Women’s rights are a fucking joke.”

                    And on and on and on.

                    “The internet is a very angry place,” Glisa says. After posting the video, she received emails and comments from people criticizing her “for not being able to deal with it, for being weak, for finding this upsetting.”

                    She was also contacted by other female Overwatch players who’d had similar run-ins. “Other women who were like, this is why I don’t join voice chat and never talk to people; this is why I use a male-style username. And that’s what upsets me the most. I don’t feel like people should have to hide who they are to be able to feel safe.” (Glisa didn’t want to use her real name for this article. She says she’s going to be applying for jobs soon, and if potential employers ­Google her, she doesn’t want them to think she’s someone who complains about sexual harassment. Which sort of proves her point.)

                    I ask her how it made her feel that something she loves can also be so hurtful. “Disappointed,” she says, “in life, in the universe, for being this way. Sometimes it affects me a lot more, and I leave the voice channel so I don’t have to deal with it. There are days that are just a lot harder than other days, and I try to insulate myself more from the anger.”

                    The sheer number of variables in play seems to exceed the human brain’s abilities.

                    Overwatch executives are quick to point out there’s a system in place for players to report toxic behavior, and hundreds of thousands of accounts have been disciplined for the type of harassment that Glisa describes. (She reported each of the players who harassed her, but she is not sure whether they received suspensions or bans. The system needs work.) Still, the problem persists, and if Overwatch is a game that requires constant communication between players, and women are made to feel uncomfortable communicating within the game, then perhaps it’s clear why few of them go pro.

                    Ysabel Müller is an Overwatch player who lives in Rodenbach, Germany. She began playing the game while it was still in beta, and she became highly ranked and friendly with a lot of the pros she played with. She says she had designs on going pro herself but found that getting useful feedback from her teammates was difficult. They treated her, she says, like she couldn’t endure criticism—that if criticized she would be offended and accuse her teammates of sexism and get them kicked out of the game.

                    “That’s a big fear of some of the male players, and so they’d rather distance themselves,” she says. She didn’t ultimately go pro in Overwatch. Instead, she helped organize regional tournaments. She’s now sending out applications to Overwatch League teams, hoping for a job in team management and player relations.

                    “I think it will change over the years, once more female players come in and it gets more accepted,” she says.

                    Blizzard seems to be trying to solve this problem from within. Kim Phan, Blizzard’s director of esports operations, says the company has been proactive in hiring women, including for key on-air shoutcaster jobs, which she hopes will promote female involvement in esports.

                    And while she says these kinds of visible women role models are essential, Phan also stressed the importance of men advocating and supporting women in gaming.

                    “Having mentors, advisers, who are men is very impactful,” she says. “It gives you the courage to stay because you know that the toxic voice is just one among many other voices. It’s a reminder that not everyone is like that.”

                    When asked what the Overwatch League was doing to attract more female players, nobody at Blizzard could point to any specific outreach or recruiting efforts. Nanzer says he’s been looking at data from women-only sports leagues like the WNBA that suggest a women’s league would bring more women into the game. “The idea comes up all the time: Should we have a women’s-only tournament or league?” he says. “I think there’s a way to do that where it’s awesome and supportive and grows the sport. I think there is a way to do it where it’s actually detrimental and it makes it seem like, oh, you’re not as good as men. We kind of go back and forth on that.”

                    Back in Redondo Beach, the early evening sunlight is streaking in through gaps in the curtains as the Los Angeles Valiant begins its last scrim of the day. Tonight’s match is against another Overwatch League team, the San Francisco Shock, which recently made headlines by signing superstar damage-dealer Jay “sinatraa” Won for a rumored $150,000 a year.

                    And while I’m still a noob at Overwatch, even I can tell that this San Francisco team plays with an unusual intensity. “They’re a team of 17-year-olds who just do not stop,” says Coxall, the Valiant coach, making the Shock sound young and insane as opposed to the Valiant’s qualities of wisdom and tactics. “If you think you’ve won a fight, you haven’t,” he tells the team. “These guys will keep throwing themselves at you. And one of them will clutch. Always expect that.”

                    I ask him about that word, “clutch,” and he explains that it refers to someone overcoming dubious odds to win. In other words, the Shock’s strategy is not necessarily to maneuver as a team but rather to have their players engage in seemingly suicidal encounters and trust that they have the skill to pull it off. It’s unrelenting, high-intensity pressure designed to fluster opponents.

                    It’s a reminder that this is truly a young person’s game—not just in its audience but also in its players. When I asked Christopher Schaefer, aka Grim, how long he thought he’d be a pro, he didn’t have high hopes. “Normally you can compete until you’re about 25,” he says. “Right now, up until when I’m around 21, 22-ish, I’m going to be the sharpest. But as soon you hit 25, your reaction speeds are going to slow down.”

                    Stefano Disalvo said the same thing: “How long do I think I’ll play? I say maybe four years, five years.”

                    When he decided to become an esports professional, Disalvo did not know that Overwatch League would exist. He committed to going pro during a time when the pay was uncertain and there was no job security, despite knowing that it would last only five years max.

                    Which seems just astonishingly irrational. What drove him to do it? “I saw everybody doing the norm: college, university, major in something,” he says. “But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something more because I felt like I wanted to prove something. I don’t know. It felt like this thing that I had to prove.”

                    Which makes sense to me. That, yes, for the people who go pro in esports, there’s a certain happiness in playing videogames for a living. But maybe more than that, esports allows people an avenue to do something different, to be special. Like musicians or actors or writers pursuing an unlikely dream, it strikes me as both romantic and brave.

                    Meanwhile, to try to absorb the Shock’s frantic offense, the Valiant team has figured out a new strategy. They go with a hero lineup that’s bigger—more tanks, more health.

                    “Niiiiiiice,” comes a chorus from around the room when they finally win a round.

                    “There you go, boys,” Coxall says into his headset’s microphone. “You took control. ”

                    The sun has gone down, but nobody seems to have noticed. By the end of the last scrim of the day, they are playing in the dark.

                    Nathan Hill (@nathanreads) is the author of The Nix. This is his first piece for WIRED.

                    This article appears in the January issue. Subscribe now.

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                    Three Months After Hurricane Maria, 45 Percent Of Puerto Rico Is STILL Without Power

                    Are you listening,

                    It’s been three full months since the hurricane made landfall on the American island, and now, officials are saying 45 percent of the nearly 1.5 million customers there STILL don’t have any power.

                    How is that possible in this day and age, and in THIS country???

                    A woman named Susan Tierney, an expert on this type of thing who testified before a U.S. Senate committee on restoration efforts in Puerto Rico recently, put it best in a new

                    But, like, seriously… he has time to whine about mid-term elections (of which he’s not involved) and try to slam-dunk on

                    And we need to be mindful of it ourselves. Puerto Rico still desperately, badly needs help.

                    Go HERE and HERE if you’re interested in some more new, good journalism coming out of the island today.

                    This problem will not just go away in time.

                    [Image via Getty Images.]

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                    Excitement as trial shows Huntington’s drug could slow progress of disease

                    Hailed as enormously significant, results in groundbreaking trial are first time a drug has been shown to suppress effects of Huntingtons genetic mutation

                    A landmark trial for Huntingtons disease has announced positive results, suggesting that an experimental drug could become the first to slow the progression of the devastating genetic illness.

                    The results have been hailed as enormously significant because it is the first time any drug has been shown to suppress the effects of the Huntingtons mutation that causes irreversible damage to the brain. Current treatments only help with symptoms, rather than slowing the diseases progression.


                    What is Huntington’s disease?

                    Huntingtons disease is a congenital degenerative condition caused by a single defective gene. Most patients are diagnosed in middle age, with symptoms including mood swings, irritability and depression. As the disease progresses, more serious symptoms can include involuntary jerky movements, cognitive difficulties and issues with speech and swallowing.

                    Currently there is no cure for Huntington’s, although drugs exist which help manage some of the symptoms. It is thought that about 12 people in 100,000 are affected by Huntington’s, and if a parent carries the faulty gene there is a 50% chance they will pass it on to their offspring.

                    Prof Sarah Tabrizi, director of University College Londons Huntingtons Disease Centre who led the phase 1 trial, said the results were beyond what Id ever hoped … The results of this trial are of ground-breaking importance for Huntingtons disease patients and families, she said.

                    The results have also caused ripples of excitement across the scientific world because the drug, which is a synthetic strand of DNA, could potentially be adapted to target other incurable brain disorders such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons. The Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche has paid a $45m licence fee to take the drug forward to clinical use.

                    Huntingtons is an incurable degenerative disease caused by a single gene defect that is passed down through families.

                    The first symptoms, which typically appear in middle age, include mood swings, anger and depression. Later patients develop uncontrolled jerky movements, dementia and ultimately paralysis. Some people die within a decade of diagnosis.

                    Most of our patients know whats in their future, said Ed Wild, a UCL scientist and consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, who administered the drug in the trial.

                    The mutant Huntingtons gene contains instructions for cells to make a toxic protein, called huntingtin. This code is copied by a messenger molecule and dispatched to the cells protein-making machinery. The drug, called Ionis-HTTRx, works by intercepting the messenger molecule and destroying it before the harmful protein can be made, effectively silencing the effects of the mutant gene.

                    How the drug works to slow the progress of Huntington’s disease

                    To deliver the drug to the brain, it has to be injected into the fluid around the spine using a four-inch needle.

                    Prof John Hardy, a neuroscientist at UCL who was not involved in the trial, said: If Id have been asked five years ago if this could work, I would have absolutely said no. The fact that it does work is really remarkable.

                    The trial involved 46 men and women with early stage Huntingtons disease in the UK, Germany and Canada. The patients were given four spinal injections one month apart and the drug dose was increased at each session; roughly a quarter of participants had a placebo injection.

                    After being given the drug, the concentration of harmful protein in the spinal cord fluid dropped significantly and in proportion with the strength of the dose. This kind of closely matched relationship normally indicates a drug is having a powerful effect.

                    For the first time a drug has lowered the level of the toxic disease-causing protein in the nervous system, and the drug was safe and well-tolerated, said Tabrizi. This is probably the most significant moment in the history of Huntingtons since the gene [was isolated].

                    The trial was too small, and not long enough, to show whether patients clinical symptoms improved, but Roche is now expected to launch a major trial aimed at testing this.

                    If the future trial is successful, Tabrizi believes the drug could ultimately be used in people with the Huntingtons gene before they become ill, possibly stopping symptoms ever occurring. They may just need a pulse every three to four months, she said. One day we want to prevent the disease.

                    The drug, developed by the California biotech firm Ionis Pharmaceuticals, is a synthetic single strand of DNA customised to latch onto the huntingtin messenger molecule.

                    The unexpected success raises the tantalising possibility that a similar approach might work for other degenerative brain disorders. The drugs like Lego, said Wild. You can target [any protein].

                    For instance, a similar synthetic strand of DNA could be made to target the messenger that produces misshapen amyloid or tau proteins in Alzheimers.

                    Huntingtons alone is exciting enough, said Hardy, who first proposed that amyloid proteins play a central role in Alzheimers. I dont want to overstate this too much, but if it works for one, why cant it work for a lot of them? I am very, very excited.

                    Prof Giovanna Mallucci, associate director of UK Dementia Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, described the work as a tremendous step forward for individuals with Huntingtons disease and their families.

                    Clearly, there will be much interest into whether it can be applied to the treatment of other neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimers, she added. However, she said that in the case of most other disorders the genetic causes are complex and less well understood, making them potentially harder to target.

                    About 10,000 people in the UK have the condition and about 25,000 are at risk. Most people with Huntingtons inherited the gene from a parent, but about one in five patients have no known family history of the disease.

                    The full results of the trial are expected to be published in a scientific journal next year.

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