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EpiPen auto-injection epinephrine pens manufactured by Mylan NV pharmaceutical company for use by severe allergy sufferers are seen in Washington, Aug. 24, 2016. (Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Hillary Clinton takes aim at increases in drug prices

09/06/16 09:00AM

The recent controversy over EpiPen price hikes has renewed interest in what, if anything, policymakers can do to help consumers deal with increases in drug prices. To her credit, Hillary Clinton unveiled a new proposal late last week about a larger governmental role. Slate did a nice job summarizing the presidential candidate's plan:
As president, Clinton would create a task force of regulators with the power to decide whether price increases on old, essential medicines and devices were reasonable given product improvements and the amount of competition in the market. If not, the task force would have the power to mete out punishments to companies that were trying to profiteer, potentially with fines.
In fact, as some reports emphasized, the same plan would empower federal officials to purchase alternative versions of the medication, and make it available to consumers at a low cost, if the task force considers a price hike excessive.
 
Why did Slate's report characterize Clinton's proposal as "surprisingly bold"? Because if implemented, her plan would dramatically change the relationship between the public sector and the pharmaceutical industry.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion with African American business and civic leaders, Sept. 2, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pa. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump tries to explain away Florida AG controversy

09/06/16 08:00AM

The story of Donald Trump's improper contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) has been percolating for months, and yesterday, the Republican presidential hopeful addressed the story directly. The Washington Post reported:
Donald Trump on Monday dismissed questions about his failure to disclose an improper $25,000 contribution in 2013 to a political group connected to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was at the time considering whether to open a fraud investigation against Trump University. [...]
 
"I never spoke to her, first of all. She's a fine person, beyond reproach. I never even spoke to her about it at all. She's a fine person. Never spoken to her about it, never," Trump said Monday while campaigning in Ohio. "Many of the attorney generals [sic] turned that case down because I'll win that case in court. Many turned that down. I never spoke to her."
Let's take a minute to review how we reached this point, because some of Trump's explanation is problematic.
 
In 2013, Bondi, the conservative Florida A.G., briefly considered joining a multi-state suit against "Trump University," but she dropped the investigation after the Trump Foundation made a $25,000 contribution towards her re-election campaign.
 
While Trump insisted yesterday that he never spoke to Bondi directly, there's some evidence to the contrary: as the Post's report noted, a consultant on Bondi's re-election campaign "told the Associated Press in June that Bondi spoke with Trump and solicited the donation herself."
 
Complicating matters is the nature of the contribution: Trump didn't write the check himself; he made the $25,000 donation through his charitable foundation, which cannot legally support political campaigns. Trump's operation then misreported the contribution to the IRS, ultimately having to pay a fine.
 
Consider the series of events:
HI-SEAS, short for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, took place atop the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii.

Week in Geek - Mars on Earth edition

09/04/16 10:45AM

In case you missed it, last Sunday six people walked outside on the slopes of Mauna Loa in Hawaii for the first time in a year without wearing a spacesuit. Why would you wear a spacesuit in Hawaii, you ask? Because Mars.

The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) experiment is an attempt to simulate a long-duration Mars environment here on Earth. Long before The Martian, scientists and engineers have been researching what it would take for humans to travel to Mars and to live and work on its surface. That means not only what is required physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well. HI-SEAS is primarily focused on behavioral research in order to better understand how to select a team of astronauts that can work effectively in an isolated and confining environment.

The six team members of this year-long study (three women and three men) lived in a habitat of only 1,200 square feet with each crew member having only a closet sized area to themselves. To simulate living on Mars, the crew had to go through spacesuit and airlock procedures anytime they wanted to exit or re-enter the facility, just like an astronaut would. They also ate a lot of freeze-dried meat and dealt with a 20-minute delay in all communications with the outside world. The biggest factor they were unable to simulate is the reduced gravity of Mars (roughly 1/3rd of Earth).

Potentially one of the coolest things they had, which current astronauts don't yet benefit from, was virtual reality (VR). Crew members were able to virtually experience messages sent from home as well as construct their own virtual environments. (I can definitely see that coming in handy when you need an escape.)

If you want to read more about HI-SEAS and what this crew had to say about their experience, I recommend this article by Nadia Drake.

Here's some more geek from the week:

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Friday's Mini-Report, 9.2.16

09/02/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* So far, much of this appears to largely work in Clinton's favor: "The FBI on Friday released notes from its interview with Hillary Clinton and the investigation into her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state."
 
* Hermine: "Tropical Storm Hermine was lashing the Carolina coasts with ferocious winds and rain Friday afternoon as it swept up the coast, while Florida began cleaning up debris and restoring power to tens of thousands of customers."
 
* Zika: "Singapore reported another big batch of Zika virus cases Friday, bringing its total count in just a week to 189, and World Health Organization officials said the spread of the virus definitely still constitutes a global health emergency."
 
* Capital punishment: "A federal appeals court said on Friday that Missouri must disclose the identities of the drug suppliers who provide the chemical used in the state's single-drug execution protocol."
 
* Chemical weapons: "The U.S. Army plans to start operating a $4.5 billion plant next week that will destroy the nation's largest remaining stockpile of mustard agent, complying with an international treaty that bans chemical weapons, officials said Wednesday."
 
* They're apparently holding a grudge: "House Republicans are preparing to reprimand Democratic lawmakers for their controversial 'sit-in' protest over gun control, sources told Politico."
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband former president Bill Clinton greet guests at the end of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Oct. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

The weakest of the not-so-controversial Clinton controversies

09/02/16 04:41PM

We talked just yesterday about the assorted Hillary Clinton "controversies" littering the political landscape, each of which turn out to be pretty underwhelming after a little scrutiny. Today's example of the same phenomenon is arguably the most striking yet.
 
The New York Times' headline this morning certainly gives the impression of a notable scoop: "Emails Raise New Questions About Clinton Foundation Ties to State Dept." Here's the lede:
A top aide to Hillary Clinton at the State Department agreed to try to obtain a special diplomatic passport for an adviser to former President Bill Clinton in 2009, according to emails released Thursday, raising new questions about whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at the department.
 
The request by the adviser, Douglas J. Band, who started one arm of the Clintons' charitable foundation, was unusual, and the State Department never issued the passport.
RedState, a prominent far-right website, quickly alerted readers to the idea that it "looks like" the Clinton Foundation "illegally obtained diplomatic passports."
 
Except, it doesn't "look like" that at all. In reality, that description is pretty much the opposite of what happened.
 
In 2009, two Americans were being held in North Korea, and former President Bill Clinton went to negotiate their release. As part of the trip, a Clinton aide reached out to one of Hillary Clinton's aides at the State Department, asking for diplomatic passports -- strictly as part of this mission.
 
The State Department rejected the request. Bill Clinton and his team were acting as unofficial emissaries, so they weren't eligible for diplomatic documents. The former president and his team went anyway and brought the hostages home.
 
That's it. That's the story. It's what we're supposed to believe "raises questions" about ... something.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump makes his way through he crowd after speaking during a campaign press conference event at the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fl., March 08, 2016. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty)

Citizens United chief takes leadership role on Team Trump

09/02/16 12:47PM

When Steve Bannon signed on as the CEO of Donald Trump's campaign, it marked a stunning development in Republican politics: Breitbart News was effectively in charge of the Republican presidential nominee's national operation. It was emblematic of the GOP's fringe taking over.
 
Perhaps, then, it shouldn't have come as too big of a surprise to see David Bossie join the same team in a leadership role. The Washington Post reported:
David N. Bossie, the veteran conservative operative who has investigated the Clintons for more than two decades, has been named Donald Trump's deputy campaign manager. [...]
 
Bossie participated Thursday in strategy sessions at Trump Tower where he was introduced to campaign aides and Trump associates, according to Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. Conway said Bossie would be assisting her with managing day-to-day operations and with strategic planning.
The challenge is knowing where to start.
 
For those who were politically engaged in the 1990s, Bossie's name may sound familiar: he rose to prominence as a relentless Republican congressional staffer, hell-bent on tearing down the Clintons at all costs. After Bossie was caught engaging in unethical behavior, House GOP leaders forced his ouster.
 
Former George H.W. Bush famously rejected Bossie's work, dismissing his "filthy campaign tactics."
 
The Republican operative eventually parlayed that notoriety into his own organization, called Citizens United, whose work was also the subject of a historic Supreme Court case that ultimately opened the door to greater corporate influence in American political campaigns. Washington Monthly's Nancy LeTourneau noted the irony of Trump, who used to denounce super PACs, hiring the guy who was responsible for creating super PACs.
 
But perhaps most interesting of all is the Republican megadonor that ties multiple, seemingly disparate threads together.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.2.16

09/02/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* In the latest USA Today/Suffolk University poll, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by seven points nationally, 48% to 41%, a bit better for the frontrunner than the six-point advantage she enjoyed two months ago. In a four-way race with the other candidates, Clinton's lead remains unchanged.
 
* Team Clinton's fundraising picked up in August, with her campaign collecting $143 million for her and the Democratic Party. That's the best month the campaign has had to date, but note that this lump sum is actually divided: roughly $62 million for the Clinton campaign specifically, and $81 million for the DNC and state parties.
 
* Just days after the Clinton campaign launched a direct-mail campaign in Utah, a traditional Republican stronghold, Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), made a campaign stop in Salt Lake City yesterday.
 
* Two retired four-star generals, Bob Sennewald and David Maddox, announced their support for Clinton's candidacy yesterday. Previously, neither general had ever publicly endorsed a presidential candidate.
 
* In a campaign video released yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) vowed to be a "check" on Clinton's presidency if she's elected. That's generally the sort of thing one would expect to hear from a senator who expects his party's candidate to lose.
 
* On a related note, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said on C-SPAN yesterday, "The message that [Republicans] have is pretty good ... it may turn out that Mr. Trump is not the messenger. Maybe he is. But it really seems to boil down to Mr. Trump's personality being not what people like, as opposed to some of the issues."
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points towards a demonstrator in the audience as he spoke at an election rally in Kansas City, Mo., March 12, 2016. (Photo by Nati Harnik/AP)

Trump's African-American outreach runs into trouble

09/02/16 11:24AM

A new national poll from USA Today/Suffolk broke down respondents by race, and it led to an interesting tidbit: Among African-American voters, Donald Trump is generating 2% support, which is lower than the backing for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.
 
Let that sink it for a moment: in a presidential race featuring two competitive candidates, Trump is running fourth among black voters.
 
It came on the heels of a Public Policy Polling survey, also released this week, that showed Trump with a favorability rating below 1% among African Americans.
 
When Trump famously pointed to a black audience member during a recent event, saying, "There's my African American over there," maybe the Republican was almost being literal about the number of committed supporters he has in the black community.
 
The GOP nominee, in other words, has a bit of problem when it comes to diversifying his base of support. Team Trump has some ideas about improving matters, but as the New York Times reported, even this plan is burdened by controversy.
Donald J. Trump's visit to a black church [in Detroit] on Saturday will be a major moment for a candidate with a history of offending the sensibilities of black Americans.
 
His team was leaving nothing to chance.
 
Instead of speaking to the congregation at Great Faith Ministries International, Mr. Trump had planned to be interviewed by its pastor in a session that would be closed to the public and the news media, with questions submitted in advance. And instead of letting Mr. Trump be his freewheeling self, his campaign prepared lengthy answers for the submitted questions, consulting black Republicans to make sure he says the right things.
The Times obtained an eight-page draft of what is effectively a script: Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, the church's pastor, has shared the questions he intends to ask Trump, and the candidate's responses, crafted in part by RNC aides, have also already been predetermined.
 
The document includes "the exact wording" Trump is supposed to use.
 
It'll be interesting to see whether or not the church and the candidate change things up in light of the NYT report -- because it would take some chutzpah to proceed anyway as if nothing happened.
Podiums stand empty prior to the start of a South Carolina Republican presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. on Jan. 16, 2012 (

2016 debate schedule comes into focus for Clinton, Trump

09/02/16 10:40AM

Up until fairly recently, there was quite a bit of uncertainty about whether or not Donald Trump would agree to debate Hillary Clinton at all. Evidently, there's been considerable progress on this front: the Commission on Presidential Debates this morning announced the hosts and moderators of the upcoming events.
 
First Presidential Debate:
Monday, September 26, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY
Moderator: Lester Holt, Anchor, NBC Nightly News
 
Vice Presidential debate:
Tuesday, October 4, Longwood University, Farmville, VA
Moderator: Elaine Quijano, CBSN Anchor and CBS News Correspondent
 
Second Presidential Debate:
Sunday, October 9, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
Moderator:s Martha Raddatz, ABC's Chief Global Affairs Correspondent, and Anderson Cooper, Anchor, CNN
 
Third Presidential Debate:
Wednesday, October 19, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV
Chris Wallace, Anchor, Fox News Sunday
 
Keep in mind that it was only a few weeks ago that Trump raised the prospect of skipping these showdowns, and vowed to raise a series of "demands." The bluster apparently didn't amount to much: the schedule is unchanged from the previously announced dates.
 
If Team Trump intended to use the moderator-selection process as an excuse to bow out, that opportunity has come and gone.
 
And that means we can now officially begin the next phase in the process: the quadrennial Expectations Game.

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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