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Mr. Ivanka Trump Now Under Investigation

Mother Jones

We now know for sure who the person “close to Trump” is:

Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation.

So the Russia investigation now has at least three targets: Manafort, Flynn, and Kushner. That seems like a lot. But maybe it’s all just a big coincidence.

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Mr. Ivanka Trump Now Under Investigation

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Meet the First Woman to Win the "Nobel Prize of Mathematics"

Mother Jones

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On Wednesday, Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman in 78 years to be awarded the prestigious Fields Medal, considered the highest honor in mathematics. She was selected for “stunning advances in the theory of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.”

The Fields Medal is awarded every four years by the International Mathematical Union to outstanding mathematicians under 40 who show promise of future achievement. With the announcement of Mirzakhani and this year’s other awardees—Arthur Avila, Manjul Bhargava, and Martin Hairer—there now have been 54 male and 1 female medalists.

Many hope Mirzakhani’s Fields medal is a sign of change to come. “I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” she said in a press release. Christiane Rousseau, vice president of the International Mathematics Union, told the Guardian this is “an extraordinary moment” and “a celebration for women,” comparable to Marie Curie’s barrier-breaking Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry in the early 20th century.

And as Canadian math professor Izabella Laba wrote: “Mirzakhani’s selection does exactly nothing to convince me that women are capable of doing mathematical research at the same level as men. I have never had any doubt about that in the first place…What I take from it instead is that we as a society, men and women alike, are becoming better at encouraging and nurturing mathematical talent in women, and more capable of recognizing excellence in women’s work.”

Mirzakhani’s accomplishment is all the more groundbreaking in light of the well-documented disadvantages and biases women face in math and science. According to the National Academy of Sciences, there are no significant biological differences that could explain women’s low representation in STEM academic faculty and leadership positions (although that doesn’t stop prominent people from making claims otherwise.) Instead, NAS says we can thank bias and academia’s “outmoded institutional structures.”

For example, in a 2008 Yale study, professors were asked to rate fictional applicants for a lab manager position. When given an application with a male name at the top, professors rated the candidate more competent and hirable than when given an otherwise identical form with a female name. This bias was found in both male and female faculty members.

And that’s not all women in STEM fields have to contend with: A July report found that a full 64 percent of women in various scientific fields were sexually harassed while doing fieldwork.

These disadvantages—along with a history of men getting the credit for discoveries and inventions made by women—help explain why only 9 to 16 percent of tenure-track positions in math-intensive fields at the top 100 US universities are held by women. According to the American Mathematical Society, the share of women earning Ph.D.s in math has remained stagnant for decades:

(Additional AMS data used in the above chart found here.)

Mirzakhani, who grew up in Iran before earning her Ph.D. at Harvard and becoming a professor at Stanford, told the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2008 that she did not initially realize her strength in math: “I don’t think that everyone should become a mathematician, but I do believe that many students don’t give mathematics a real chance. I did poorly in math for a couple of years in middle school; I was just not interested in thinking about it. I can see that without being excited mathematics can look pointless and cold.”

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Meet the First Woman to Win the "Nobel Prize of Mathematics"

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13 Badass Women of 2013

Mother Jones

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From staging filibusters and hunger strikes, to protesting drones and driving bans, women have been up to some pretty incredible things this year. This unranked list is by no means exhaustive, and behind every one of these women there are many other women and men, unsung warriors, heroes and feminists who deserve our recognition.

Here they are, in no particular order, some of the women who rocked it in 2013.

1. The women in this satirical video on the rationale of victim-blaming

Sexual assault often spurs a series of misguided comments blaming the victim. This satirical video is a response by the comedy collective All India Bakchod, weaving humor and sarcasm to bring the message home&mdash;Lets face it ladies, it’s not a man’s fault if you have a vagina. It’s time we stop blaming the real victims here.

Sexual assault often spurs a series of misguided responses blaming the victim. This video is a response by comedy collective All India Backchod to the misguided rationale, using humor and sarcasm to put forward the message—lets face it ladies, it’s not a man’s fault, you have a vagina. It’s time we stop blaming the real victims here.

2. Actress Evan Rachel Wood for taking on the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) when her oral sex scene was cut


After producers cut a scene where Wood receives oral sex, she pointed out the double standards female sexuality faces in a series of Tweets:

After seeing the new cut of #Charlie Countryman, I would like to share my disappointment with the MPAA, who thought it was necessary to censor a woman’s sexuality once again. The scene where the two main characters make “love” was altered because someone felt that seeing a man give a woman oral sex made people “uncomfortable,” but the scenes in which people are murdered by having their heads blown off remained intact and unaltered.

This is a symptom of a society that wants to shame women and put them down for enjoying sex, especially when (gasp) the man isn’t getting off as well! It’s hard for me to believe that had the roles been reversed it still would have been cut or had the female character been raped it would have been cut. It’s time for people to GROW UP. Accept that women are sexual beings…

3. Sen. Wendy Davis, who filibustered an anti-abortion bill in Texas

One of this year’s most gripping political moments unfolded on the Texas Senate floor when Davis, who recently announced she’ll be running for Texas governor in 2014, stood for 11 hours to speak against a bill that would have closed all but five abortion clinics in the state. A few weeks later, despite the filibuster and the opposition it stirred, the bill passed in a special session.

In non-breaking news, male politicians continued to make legislating women’s bodies a priority in 2013.

4. Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova who went on a hunger strike to protest prison conditions.

Denis Bochkarev/ Wikimedia

Tolokonnikova and fellow Pussy Riot band members Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich were sentenced to two years in prison for a 40-second performance calling on the Virgin Mary to “kick Putin out” in a Moscow church in 2012. Samutsevich was released with a suspended sentence after an appeal, while Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were sent to penal colonies in October. In an open letter, Tolokonnikova described the slavery-like prison conditions, and declared her decision to go on a hunger strike. After 10 days, she was transferred to a prison hospital where she ended the strike, only to be returned to the penal colony, where she re-started her strike and was soon transferred to a remote Siberian penal colony as punishment.

Last Monday, Russian president Vladimir Putin freed Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina under a new amnesty bill, in a move many consider part of his administration’s efforts to improve Russia’s image before the winter Olympics in Sochi.

5. 9-year-old drone strike survivor Nabila ur-Rehman who testified in Congress

Last October, Nabila saw her grandma blown to pieces by a drone strike in the northwest of Pakistan. In October of this year she, along with her father and brother, testified in a congressional briefing on US drone policy. By showing bravery beyond her years, and putting a human face on the civilian cost of drones, Nabila helped shape the discourse around US drone policy.

6. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who delivered this amazing Ted talk

In her talk “We should all be feminists”, Adichie talks about growing up in the misogynistic culture of Nigeria.

The whole thing is amazing, but this bit in particular is worth pointing out:

…(he) looked at me and said, “You know you’re a feminist”

It was not a compliment. I could tell from his tone. The same tone you would use to say something like “you’re a supporter of terrorism.”

I did not know exactly what this word “feminist” meant…and the first thing I planned to do when I got home was to look up the word feminist in the dictionary. Now fast forward to some years later. I wrote a novel…while I was promoting my novel, a journalist, a nice, well meaning man …told me that people were saying my novel was feminist, and his advice to me, and he was shaking his head sadly as he spoke, was that I should never call myself a feminist because “feminists are women who are unhappy because they can not find husbands.”

So I decided to call myself a “happy feminist.”

Then an academic, a Nigerian woman told me feminism was not our culture. Feminism wasn’t African and that I was calling myself a feminist because I had been corrupted by Western books…I decided I would now call myself a “happy African feminist.” At some point, I was a “happy African feminist who does not hate men and who likes lip gloss and who wears high heels for herself but not for men.”

7. Women at Auckland University who did a parody of the song “Blurred Lines”

With rapey-sexist lyrics like “Just let me liberate you” and “Tried to domesticate you,” Robin Thicke’s song Blurred Lines launched a series of critiques, parodies, and memes; like this hilarious video by the not-so-good ladies at Auckland University, who are all about them defined lines.

8. These driven Saudi women who refuse to put the brakes on the protest against the driving ban


Amidst its roster of sexist laws, Saudi Arabia has a complete ban on women driving. In a powerful display of civil disobedience on October 26, more than 60 women got behind the steering wheel. Some were fined or arrested. Now, Saudi women are driving weekly to defy the ban and posting their interactions with law enforcement officials on social media platforms.

9. Mikki Kendall for starting the Twitter hashtag #Solidarityisforwhitewomen

Kendall started the hashtag to highlight the exclusion that many women of color feel in feminist discourses. Feminism is meant to be inclusive. Since many women don’t fit into the mainstream white feminist narrative, voices like Kendall are especially important.

10. Egyptian protesters who despite increased risks of sexual assault, beatings, and arrest continue to peacefully protest


Three notable pro-democracy activists: Rasha Azab, Mona Seif, and Nazly Hussein were beaten and dragged off during a Cairo protest in November of this year and abandoned on a remote highway. In worse cases, many female protestors have been sexually assaulted. Despite these risks, women continue to work towards a more democratic Egypt.

11. Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban


From the age of 11, Malala urged families in her hometown in Pakistan’s Swat Valley to resist the Taliban’s ban on girls in classrooms. Last year, when she was 15, Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban while on her way back from school.

Malala’s journey has taken her from the Northwest of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York, and the White House in DC. In her fight for girl’s education, she has become an international symbol of defiance against oppression by the Taliban, and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel peace prize.

12. Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox, who broke the trans glass ceiling

Lev Radin/Shutterstock

2013 has been quite the year for Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset on the the hit Netflix prison drama Orange Is the New Black.

The first transgender woman of color in a lead role in a mainstream scripted TV show, Cox is a sought-after speaker on transgender rights. In an industry where transgender actors are type-cast into a limited number of roles (mostly related to prostitution), Cox’s character on the show and her activism have helped humanize the transgender population.

13. Edith Windsor whose case led to the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

Edith Windsor and her spouse, Thea Spyer, shared a life as a couple in New York for 44 years. After Thea’s death, the IRS denied Windsor use of a spousal state tax exception because, under DOMA, the federal government did not recognize their marriage. Edith challenged the constitutionality of DOMA. In a landmark June decision, the US Supreme Court struck down the law.

Edith’s entire interview above with Ariel Levy of The New Yorker is beautiful, but this particular bit is stunning:

A member of the audience asked Windsor, “How do you keep love alive after death?” After a few moments of silence, Windsor said, “Sometimes I wish I knew how to make it stop.”

So there you have it: Some of 2013’s badass women to cap off your year with a little inspiration. Who run the world? Girls!


13 Badass Women of 2013

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Friday Cat Blogging – 20 September 2013

Mother Jones

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This is actually an old picture. I was diddling around yesterday with my iPhone after I updated to iOS 7 and happened to come across a series of photos I took with a fisheye attachment that Marian got me for Christmas last year. Here’s one of them, with Domino checking out the new tech and the quilter-in-chief keeping Domino’s schnoz safely away from the camera.

This week’s health news is excellent. I still don’t know for sure if all the little pinprick sores were from flea bites, but in any case, they’re all completely gone and Domino’s fur is regrowing over the bare patches. Also, to my surprise, the low-iodine food seems to be working already. I figured it would take a month or two. But she’s eaten her entire bowl of food for five days in a row now, so her appetite is obviously returning.

In other iPhone-related cat news, this is very bad news. Very bad. We are all going to have to be extremely careful in the future.

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Friday Cat Blogging – 20 September 2013

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Democrats Jump on the ‘Death Panel’ Bandwagon

Mother Jones

In 2009, Sarah Palin claimed Obamacare would create “death panels,” or bands of bureaucrats who would decide whether old or disabled Americans were worthy of medical care. That notion turned out to be a figment of her imagination. But now, a growing cohort of Democratic lawmakers is cozying up to the idea, charging that the cost-cutting board that Obama’s health care law creates will indeed hurt people on Medicare, The Hill reports.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Reps. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) have all signed onto bills repealing the powers of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel created by the Affordable Care Act that will make recommendations on how to reduce Medicare spending once Medicare cost growth reaches a certain level.

The lawmakers have said they oppose the board because it would limit care for Medicare patients, even though the health care law says that any cuts would have to affect doctor reimbursement rates or the prices for certain drugs, not patient care.

All five lawmakers are worried about losing their seats in 2014. Barber, Kirkpatrick, Sinema and Esty have also voted with Republicans to delay the law’s individual and employer mandates—the requirements that Americans purchase insurance and that employers of a certain size offer coverage, respectively.

The Democratic death panel fear-mongering follows an editorial that former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean wrote in the Wall Street Journal in July. He called for a repeal of the cost-cutting board because, he wrote, it would have the effect of rationing care by making it hard for doctors to make money from Medicare. Dean has worked as an adviser to a major DC lobbying firm that does work on behalf of the healthcare industry, which would see profits cut if the board goes into effect.

Major healthcare industry players like the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, and the pharmaceutical lobby have supported repeal of the board, arguing the panel would cut providers’ pay arbitrarily.

Palin predicted folks would come around on death panels. “Though I was called a liar for calling it like it is, many of these accusers finally saw that ObamaCare did in fact create a panel of faceless bureaucrats who have the power to make life and death decisions about healthcare funding,” she wrote on Facebook in 2012.

But Republican lawmakers don’t seems to appreciate the Dems’ aisle-crossing. The National Republican Congressional Committee slammed the Democrats for “desperately trying to jump off the ObamaCare train.”

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Democrats Jump on the ‘Death Panel’ Bandwagon

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Top Dem Trying to Resurrect Political Intel Disclosure Requirement

Mother Jones

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Rep. Louise Slaughter, the top Democrat on the powerful House rules committee, has a response to Republican efforts to water-down financial reform legislation: Tie it to political intelligence. On Tuesday, with the rules committee set to consider the SEC Regulatory Accountability Act, a GOP bill designed to stunt the Security and Exchange Commission’s implementation of the Dodd–Frank financial reform law, Slaughter introduced an amendment that would prevent the law from going into effect unless Congress also passes a law requiring so-called political intelligence operatives to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act and disclose their clients. Slaughter would also extend revolving-door statutes to government employees who join the private sector, mandating a cooling-off period of varying length before they can begin working as a political intelligence operative.

Political intelligence is a roughly $400-million-a-year industry which collects information on Congressional and regulatory wheeling and dealing, and passes it on to clients on Wall Street. Political intel operatives insist they come in peace, and that their work at its most basic level is a lot like that done by journalists—albeit for much smaller audiences. The counterpoint from disclosure advocates is this story from the Wall Street Journal, which describes how a hedge fund gained early access to a decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and triggered a spike in the stock prices of health insurers. The SEC launched an investigation into the case in April.

Slaughter first floated regulation of political intelligence in 2006, and nearly pushed it through last year before a fierce push-back from hedge fund lobbyists slammed the door. Her amendment isn’t expected to pass, but it’s a preview of what Slaughter and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are hoping to unveil in a few months, after the SEC finishes its probe.

Here’s the amendment:


Update: Slaughter’s amendment was blocked. Here’s the relevant exchange:

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Top Dem Trying to Resurrect Political Intel Disclosure Requirement

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The IRS Shoots Itself in the Foot, Then Reloads

Mother Jones

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Here’s the thing that really puzzles me about this whole business of the IRS targeting tea party groups for extra scrutiny: the agency’s clumsy handling of the whole thing. And I’m being charitable by calling it “clumsy.” I mean, did they really think they could just announce this during an ABA conference on Friday morning and that would be the end of it? Of course not. It’s explosive. So why were they seemingly so unprepared for any followup questions?

It’s very peculiar. Especially since the evidence suggests this affair probably wasn’t quite as outrageous as it seems at first glance. Roughly speaking, what seems to have happened is that three years ago the IRS was facing an explosion of newly formed 501(c)4 groups claiming tax exempt status, something that’s legal only for groups that are primarily engaged in promoting education or social welfare, not electioneering. So some folks in the Cincinnati office tried to come up with a quick filter to flag groups that deserved extra scrutiny. But what should that flag be? Well, three years ago the explosion happened to be among tea party groups, so they began searching their database “for applications with ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Patriots,’ or ‘9/12’ in the organization’s name as well as other ‘political sounding’ names.” This was dumb, and when senior leaders found out about it, they put a quick stop to it:

On June 29, 2011, Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, learned at a meeting that groups were being targeted, according to the inspector general’s report….Lerner instructed agents to change the criteria for flagging groups “immediately,” the report says.

The problem is that the explosion of 501(c)4 groups is a genuine problem: they really have grown like kudzu, lots of them really are used primarily as electioneering vehicles, and the IRS has been either unwilling or unable to regulate them properly. So the fact that some of the folks responsible for processing these applications were looking for a way to flag potentially dubious groups is sort of understandable.

But understandable or not, they bungled it horribly, leaving themselves open to equally understandable charges of politicizing the IRS. Conservative groups are as outraged as liberals would be if the Bush-era IRS were flagging groups with “environment” or “progressive” in their names. So even if, as seems likely, this whole thing turns out to have been mostly a misguided scheme cooked up by some too-clever IRS drones, it doesn’t matter. Conservatives are right to be outraged and right to demand a full investigation. They suspect there might be more to it, and so would I if the shoe were on the other foot. We need to find out for sure whether this episode was just moronic, or if it had some kind of partisan motivation.

What’s really unfortunate about all this is that it will probably put an end to any scrutiny of 501(c)4 groups, and that’s a shame. The IRS should be scrutinizing them, and it should be doing it on an ongoing basis. More than likely, though, Congress will step in to neuter them completely on this score, and the current Wild West character of 501(c)4 fundraising will continue unabated.

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The IRS Shoots Itself in the Foot, Then Reloads

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SEC Asked to Require Companies to Disclose Political Donations

Mother Jones

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The New York Times reports today on a petition asking the SEC to require public companies to disclose their political donations. Needless to day, business lobbying groups are unamused:

Earlier this month, the leaders of three of Washington’s most powerful trade associations — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable — issued a rare joint letter to the chief executives of Fortune 200 companies, encouraging them to stand against proxy resolutions and other proposals from shareholder activists demanding more disclosure of political spending.

….“The Chamber believes that the funds expended by publicly traded companies for political and trade association engagement are immaterial to the company’s bottom line,” said Blair Holmes, a spokeswoman for the business group, who added that the advocates’ “apparent goal is to silence the business community by creating an atmosphere of intimidation under the cover of investor protection.”

You have to admire the chutzpah, don’t you? Who else but the Chamber of Commerce would have the balls to claim that corporations don’t believe that political donations have any effect on their earnings? I mean, that’s pretty much the whole point of political donations, no?

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SEC Asked to Require Companies to Disclose Political Donations

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Will Monsanto Ties Influence Nutritionists’ Stance on GMOs?

Mother Jones

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The GMO seed giant Monsanto recently flexed its muscles in Congress, working with a senator to sneak a friendly rider into an unrelated funding bill. Now it appears to be having its way with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. As the New York Times reports, a dietician who’d been working on crafting the group’s GMO policy claims she was pushed aside for pointing out her colleagues’ links to Monsanto.

The controversy started during last fall’s highly contested battle over a ballot initiative that would have required labeling genetically modified food in California. The prestigious dieticians’ group was incorrectly listed by the official state voters’ guide as one of the scientific organizations that had “concluded biotech foods are safe.” Actually, the AND had taken no position on the issue, but it promised to come out with a position paper on it. (The ballot initiative ultimately failed.)

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Will Monsanto Ties Influence Nutritionists’ Stance on GMOs?

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With Israel, Obama Is Walking the High Wire With His Eyes Closed

Mother Jones

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This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

Barack Obama came to Israel and Palestine, saw what he wanted to see, and conquered the mainstream media with his eloquent words. US and Israeli journalists called it a dream trip, the stuff that heroic myths are made of: a charismatic world leader taking charge of the Mideast peace process. But if the president doesn’t wake up and look at the hard realities he chose to ignore, his dream of being the great peacemaker will surely crumble, as it has before.

Like most myths, this one has elements of truth. Obama did say some important things. In a speech to young Israelis, he insisted that their nation’s occupation of the West Bank is not merely bad for their country, it is downright immoral, “not fair… not just … not right.”

I’ve been decrying the immorality of the occupation for four decades, yet I must admit I never dreamed I would hear an American president, standing in Jerusalem, do the same.

Despite those words, however, Obama is no idealist. He’s a strategist. His Jerusalem speech was clearly meant to widen the gap between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the substantial center-left portion of Israeli Jews, who are open to a deal with the Palestinians and showed unexpected strength in recent elections. The growing political tensions in Israel and a weakened prime minister give the American president a potential opening to maneuver, manipulate, and perhaps even control the outcome of events.

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With Israel, Obama Is Walking the High Wire With His Eyes Closed

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