President Obama has commuted the sentences of eight people convicted of drug crimes, saying their terms were unusually harsh due to a system that treated crack cocaine as a more serious offense than powder cocaine.
The president also pardoned 13 others convicted of various other offenses.
The commutations come after the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. The act is aimed at reducing disparities in the way the law treats cocaine possession.
"If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society," Obama said in a written statement.
"Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year."
"The eight have each served more than 15 years in prison. A White House official said their sentences had been unduly harsh and helped contribute to 'an expensive and ineffective overcrowding of our prisons.'"
The Associated Press writes:
"Previously, Obama had commuted only one sentence in the five years of his presidency, involving another drug case. He previously had pardoned 39 people. A pardon forgives a crime and wipes out the conviction, while a commutation leaves the conviction but ends the punishment."
"In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a major shift in federal sentencing policies, targeting long mandatory terms that he said have flooded the nation's prisons with low-level drug offenders and diverted crime-fighting dollars that could be far better spent."
If you're confused about the latest recommendations for treating high blood pressure, take heart. Doctors are confused, too.
On Wednesday, a panel of specialists called the Eighth Joint National Committee published guidelines saying that many people over 60 don't need to start taking medications to lower blood pressure until it's above 150/90 millimeters of mercury.
If doctors follow the advice, they'll be less likely to prescribe blood pressure drugs to people at milder risk for heart problems.
Why? There's a lack of conclusive evidence that using drugs to get pressures lower than that will reduce a person's risk of heart attack and stroke — or increase life expectancy.
That's a substantial change from the current recommendation for all adults to get their systolic blood pressure (the first number) below 140, which is endorsed by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, two big medical professional societies. People with diabetes or kidney disease were told to go even lower, to 130.
In the new guidelines, the systolic goal for adults under 60 remains at 140, but it wipes out the lower target for people with diabetes and kidney disease.
You may wonder why there are dueling guidelines when the Joint National Committee was convened by the National Institutes of Health five years ago to come up with a single national standard. Well, there's a story behind that.
Earlier this year, the NIH decided it was going to get out of the guidelines business, handing it over to the professional societies.
That left the Joint National Committee orphaned. Figuring that joining up with the AHA and the ACC would substantially delay release, the group published its own guidelines in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.
"Producing guidelines in the United States has become increasingly more complicated and contentious," one of three editorials accompanying the guidelines noted.
Indeed, one reason that NIH may have bailed is because the process has become so politicized. The Obama administration came under serious heat from the American Cancer Society and patient groups for a 2009 decision to raise the recommended age to start mammograms to 50. And in 2006 the Infectious Diseases Society of America was sued by the state of Connecticut for recommending against long-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease.
"This is a funny situation," says Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at the Yale School of Medicine. "What's good here is that they're really adhering to evidence and being honest about what we don't know. I think in earlier guidelines there's been this false sense of security."
People with very high blood pressure, like 160 or 170 systolic and above, clearly benefit from aggressive treatment with medication to lower blood pressure, Krumholz says. But the evidence shows that people with moderately elevated blood pressure don't gain the same reduction in risk of heart attacks and stroke, even if they manage to lower their numbers.
"We should be going after people with marked elevation to make sure they're all getting treated," Krumholz told Shots. "People with mild risk, you have to be honest with them, and say, 'I don't know if I'm doing much for you.' "
The new guidelines also reflect the fact that after a point it becomes increasingly difficult to push blood pressure lower with drugs.
"It's easy to bring someone from 170 to 150," says Dr. Domenic Sica, a nephrologist at Virginia Commonwealth University, and president-elect of the American Society For Hypertension. "But if you're on three drugs and you're at 150, you may need three more drugs to get from 150 to 130."
The low odds of making that big a change can discourage both patients and doctors. "It's a daunting task," Sica tells Shots. Having more reasonable evidence-based goals may encourage people to work with their doctors to come up with a liveable plan, including healthful eating, exercise, and perhaps less medication and blood pressure monitoring.
But for now, patients and doctors will have to decide what guidelines they like best.
"It's a conundrum," Sica notes, adding that it will also affect how insurance companies rate doctors based on performance, and how they reimburse. "Do they really think insurance companies are going to accept 150 over 90?"
If this isn't confusing enough for you, stay tuned. Next year the AHA and the ACC are scheduled to release their own updated guidelines.
New Mexico's Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that same-sex marriage is legal, validating initiatives in several counties allowing the practice in the absence of a specific state law.
The ruling on Thursday means that New Mexico joins 16 states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage.
The Associated Press says:
"Eight of the state's 33 counties started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in August, when a county clerk in southern New Mexico independently decided to allow the unions. County officials asked the high court to clarify the law and establish a uniform state policy on gay marriage.
"A state district court judge in Albuquerque ruled earlier this year that it is a violation of New Mexico's constitution to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The judge based his decision on a 1972 constitutional amendment adopted by voters that prohibits discrimination 'on account of the sex of any person.'
"Two county clerks that were defendants in that case decided not to directly appeal the judge's ruling. However, the county association and the state's 31 other county clerks — including several already issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples — joined the lawsuit to provide a way to quickly move the gay marriage question to the Supreme Court."
And in Ohio, a court case is set to determine whether gay spouses should be recognized on death certificates even though the practice of same-sex marriage is not legal in the state. The AP reports:
"On one side are the two gay Ohio men who successfully got Judge Timothy Black to order their recently deceased spouses to be listed as married on their death certificates. They want that right afforded to all same-sex couples in Ohio who, like them, married in other states that allow gay marriage."
The hacking scandal in the U.K. has now gone really royal.
"Voicemails left for Kate Middleton by [then-boyfriend] Prince William were hacked by the News of the World, the phone-hacking trial has heard," the BBC writes. "In one message William used the pet name 'babykins.' "
The Guardian says that in 2006 "The News of the World hacked voicemail messages from Prince William to Kate Middleton, including one in which he [says he] 'nearly got shot' by blank rounds in an army training exercise, a court has been told. Transcripts of intimate and private messages left by the prince while he was training at Sandhurst military academy in which he call Kate, his future wife, 'baby' and 'babykins' were read to the jury in the hacking trial at the Old Bailey on Thursday."
Vanity Fair adds that "this is the first time in the trial, now some two months old, that the now-defunct publication has been accused of gaining access to the phone of actual royals; previously, the paper had been charged with illegally tapping into phones used by royal aides."
The Associated Press reminds readers that "seven people, including former News of the World editors Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, are on trial on charges related to wrongdoing at the defunct Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper.
According to the Guardian, "the intercepted voicemails produced a string of exclusives for the paper including one headlined "Harry aide helps out in Sandhurst exams" and another revealing that William was out 'beagling' [hunting with beagles]."
As for the account of the prince almost being shot, the BBC says that:
"Prince William, now the Duke of Cambridge, opened one message to his girlfriend: 'Hi baby. Um, sorry, I've just got back in off my night navigation exercise.'
"He went on: 'I've been running around the woods of Aldershot chasing shadows and getting horribly lost, and I walked into some other regiment's ambush, which was slightly embarrassing because I nearly got shot.
" 'Not by live rounds but by blank rounds, which would have been very embarrassing, though.'
"When the exercise story was reported in the News of the World the paper reported that Prince William had been shot with blanks, even though this did not actually happen."
We've discovered a text that could rank among the geekiest of all cookbooks. It's based on Settlers of Catan, that German civilization-building board game with the cult following.
If you've never played, here's how it works: In the mythical land of Catan, players are settlers attempting to build a community. The board is made up of hexagonal tiles that represent a different terrains: forest, pasture, fields, hills, mountains and desert. The terrains produce natural resources that players can use to build up settlements in between the tiles. There's cards and dice involved. The person who can build the most settlements wins.
It sounds complicated, but the game moves surprisingly fast. And a single play can easily evolve into a tournament that lasts all night.
With all the settling (and trash talking), you're bound to build up an appetite. That's where writer Chris-Rachael Oseland's cookbook comes in.
Conceptually, Wood for Sheep: The Unauthorized Settlers Cookbook is all about recipes that take inspiration from the game. Inside, you'll find dishes like "Settlers of the Cold Salad" and the "Breakfast Taco Map."
But Oseland says it was her friends — and their many digestive restrictions — that really inspired the book.
"I don't know what it is about us geeks, but you can't get three, four or five of us together in a room without three having something wrong with our digestive systems," Oseland tells The Salt. Oseland is herself lactose intolerant, and the friends she invites over for game night have their own taboo foods. "I've got some good Muslim friends who are obviously eating Halal, some Jewish friends, tons of vegetarian friends and these days a lot [who are] gluten-free."
To accommodate picky eaters, Oseland uses hexagonal dishes made for scientists so no two ingredients have to touch. Arranged as a "board" they also mimic the game's tiles. She fills them with side dishes made from ingredients that evoke terrains — red hills, green forests, yellow fields, dark mountains and white deserts.
The recipes range from things like "Settlers of the Nacho Bar" (a deconstructed nacho platter) to the much heartier "Thanksgiving Dinner Board" (mashed potatoes, stuffing and green beans).
The second half of Oseland's book features more complete dishes and desserts that incorporate creative interpretations of wood, bricks, sheep, grain and ore - the resources that players spend and trade in game. The dishes in this section are more abstract, like "Settlement Pancakes," in which flour represents the grains and strawberries represent bricks. They're topped with "clouds of sweetened cream as white as a fresh shorn lamb."
Is it all a bit much? Probably. It's the sort of thing only a die-hard Catan fan could truly appreciate.
But to be fair, the recipes do sound pretty good.
Deconstructed Salad Nicoise
This dramatic French salad is meant to be served at room temperature and enjoyed over a long, leisurely lunch. That makes it perfect fodder for a health conscious crowd of gamers. It's also the most obscure-diet-friendly board in this book since it is already gluten-free and can be served as is to people who keep Kosher and Halal.
Hills = 6 cups cherry tomatoes
Forest = 3 lbs green beans
Pasture = 1 head iceberg lettuce
Mountains = 4 lbs baby red potatoes
Fields = 4 large pouches or medium cans tuna
Desert = 8-12 hard boiled eggs
Cut your red skinned potatoes into equal-sized pieces. Dump them in a gallon of boiling water. Add a pinch of salt and let them cook for 5 to 8 minutes, or until tender. Use a slotted spoon to fish out your potatoes. Rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking and set the potatoes aside.
You can now either dump out your potato water and start from scratch or reuse it to cook your green beans. I'm a fan of efficiency. Either way, put your fresh green beans in some boiling water and let them cook until they're tender-crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. While they're cooking, fill a large bowl with ice water. When your beans are ready, use a slotted spoon to transfer them from the boiling water to their icy bath. This stops the cooking (so they don't end up too mushy) and preserves their color.
Use the largest, prettiest lettuce leaves to make liners for your tuna mountains. In France, canned tuna is the norm, but you're welcome to pan sear fresh tuna if that's in your budget. A full can or pouch of tuna won't quite fill a hex, so fluff it up with extra lettuce before arranging your tuna on top.
After that, simply fill the rest of the hexes with their appropriate edible terrain. Drizzle everything with your freshly made dressing. This is already a massive amount of food, but feel free to enhance the continental atmosphere by adding on a store bought crusty baguette and the herb butter from the biscuit bar.
Salad Nicoise Dressing
½ cup olive oil
1 shallot, minced fine
1 lemon, juiced
2 tbsp basil
1 tbsp thyme
½ tbsp dark Dijon mustard
1tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp fresh ground black or mixed peppercorns
Simply pour everything into a large bowl and whisk it together. This board makes a dramatic amount of salad (remember, each hex holds 2 cups of food) so feel free to double the recipe if you like your salads heavily dressed.
Ports variation: substitute cooked seitan strips for the tuna to make the board vegan or cooked sweet potatoes for the red potatoes to make the board primal
Year of Plenty variation: add ½ cup olives, ½ cup anchovy filets, or ½ cup caper berries