Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 20th, 2016

Compare and contrast how President Obama and Governor McCrory approach yielding their office to a successor of the other party

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David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times:

President Obama and Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina don’t agree on many policy questions. But they have found themselves facing a similar political situation this year. And their very different reactions capture the deep — and alarming — differences between our two political parties right now.

Both Obama and McCrory essentially had their accomplishments on the ballot. McCrory, a Republican, was running for re-election. Obama wasn’t, but his chosen successor was running against a candidate who had personally demeaned him and promised to repeal his agenda.

As you’d expect, Obama and McCrory each campaigned hard. There, however, the similarities stopped. The differences have played out in three acts.

In the first act, before Election Day, Obama was faced with evidence that Russia was trying to help Donald Trump win. Obama erred on the side of nonpartisan caution, opting not to announce the C.I.A. findings on Russia’s motives. He was willing to use the presidential bully pulpit to criticize Trump, but not the levers of presidential power to disadvantage him.

McCrory went so far using his levers that a federal appeals court unanimously slapped him back. It threw out legislation he had signed to restrict voting access, saying it targeted African-Americans with “almost surgical precision” and “discriminatory intent.” Still, McCrory and his allies managed to take steps to make voting harder for many Democrats.

The mischief didn’t keep him from losing narrowly, and in the second act, McCrory initially refused to accept the outcome. He invented stories of “massive voter fraud” and spent weeks refusing to concede.

Meanwhile, Obama — despite Russia’s interference and Hillary’s Clinton’s popular-vote win — immediately congratulated Trump and announced “we are now all rooting for his success.”

The third act is happening now. Obama has instructed his staff to help Trump’s staff. McCrory has signed two bills that strip his successor, Roy Cooper, of some powers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2016 at 8:59 pm

Posted in Government, Politics

Ex-CIA Officer: Here’s What Will Happen if Trump Doesn’t Stop Scorning the CIA

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Worth reading in its entirety. From J.C. Carleson’s article in Fortune:

Why should someone risk his or her life to provide sensitive information that the world now knows will go unread in our highest office? Why should assets continue to provide insight, data, access, or materials, when all of those things can be summarily dismissed in a blithe morning talk show comment?

He has a point.

Maybe Trump is not so smart as he thinks he is.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2016 at 7:23 pm

“Are there any news?”

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I’m watching another Norwegian TV series, a Netflix original, “Nobel.” In the subtitles as a politician walks into the building, she asks an assistant, “Are there any news?”

If not, the best response is, “Not a new.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2016 at 7:16 pm

Posted in Daily life

This Pesticide Is Prohibited in Britain. Why Is It Still Being Exported?

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That’s the NY Times headline for an article by Danny Hakim, and the answer is obvious: when a corporations product is so damaging to the public health that it can no longer be sold in the country of origin, most corporations will sell it wherever they can, since profits outweigh all other considerations. The American tobacco countries continue to sell and promote cigarettes in other countries (and advertise them to young people); Purdue Pharma is busy selling OxyContin in other countries, which will create the same epidemic of addiction as in the US (and grow profits), and now paraquat.

HUDDERSFIELD, England — The factory here, set amid a brick campus in a green and hilly industrial town, recently celebrated its centennial.

It produces paraquat, one of the world’s most enduring weed killers — but not one that can be purchased in this part of northern England, in the rest of Britain or across the Channel in the rest of the European Union.

So it will be sent to the United States, or another part of the globe that still allows paraquat to be sprayed on weeds.

Paraquat has long been controversial because of its use in suicides in many parts of the world, since drinking one sip can be lethal. But now regulators in the United States are grappling with a wave of research linking paraquat to a less immediately apparent effect — Parkinson’s disease.

In a recent, little noticed regulatory filing, the Environmental Protection Agency said, “There is a large body of epidemiology data on paraquat dichloride use and Parkinson’s disease.” The agency is weighing whether to continue allowing the chemical to be sprayed on American cropland, although a decision is not expected until 2018, and it is unclear how the incoming administration of Donald J. Trump will view the matter.

In the meantime, many of the nations that ban paraquat and other chemicals whose use is contentious still allow them to be manufactured as long as they are exported to faraway fields. The Huddersfield plant is owned by Syngenta, the pesticide giant based in Switzerland, which has not allowed paraquat since 1989.

Even the government of China, a nation not known for environmental regulation, said in 2012 that it would phase out paraquat “to safeguard people’s lives.” But it still allows production for export.

As Europe and China move away from paraquat, its use is rebounding in the United States. That is particularly true for soybean fields, where the number of pounds used is up more than fourfold over the past decade, according to Department of Agriculture data.

The world’s most popular weed killer is Monsanto’s Roundup; some 220 million pounds of its active ingredient were used last year in the United States, according to the E.P.A. But weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup, and paraquat has been marketed as an alternative. Last year, seven million pounds of paraquat were used in the United States, on nearly 15 million acres, Syngenta said.

Paraquat is just one of scores of pesticidesprohibited in Europe but sold outside it. In 2013, the European Union imposed a moratorium on a widely used group of insecticides made by Syngenta and Bayer, the German giant, that were linked to a decline in bee colonies. In 2003, the European Union banned one of the most popular weed killers in America, Syngenta’s atrazine.

Industry officials and academics funded by agrochemical companies often criticize Europe’s regulators for taking a precautionary approach to regulation. They frequently claim that the risks of these various chemicals are well understood. But paraquat shows how complex the question of risk can be.

While the possibility of a Parkinson’s link has been cited in studies going back more than two decades, research in the past five years has intensified, including a prominent study by the National Institutes of Health and meta-analyses of a large body of research. The studies have looked at the exposure of farmers and others who spray paraquat, as well as people who live near where it is used, which can include nonagricultural settings like those around roads and rail tracks. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2016 at 5:49 pm

Interesting parallel: “Occupied” and our current transition

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I have just started watching on Netflix the Norwegian political thriller TV series “Occupied.” The premise is that Norway can generate abundant electricity from Thorium (which was discovered in Norway, coincidentally) and, because of global warming, is shutting down their oil and gas industry (and exports) to switch to an all-electric power system: no greenhouse gases.

This puts the EU and Russia in a bind, since they are not so interested in switching, and Norway because an occupied country, forced to restart its oil production. It’s done politely, in a way, but firmly, and part of the first two episodes consist of people trying to figure out how to react.

It occurred to me that the same change is underway in US politics—a totally different Executive Branch, with new practices and new norms, and people are still trying to figure out how to react. Trump’s decision to exploit the presidency to increase his personal wealth—e.g., having his minions suggest quite clearly that foreign governments are well advised to stay in Trump hotels, grant Trump enterprises (e.g., Ivanka’s Japanese contract) good deals to secure influence, and so on. This is quite contrary to law and the Constitution, but Newt Gingrich offers the thought that, as president, Trump can simply grant on-going pardons to all his associates working out those deals. (Since many deals are in play, he will be issuing a lot of pardons.)

So how do we react when the Federal government becomes an overtly criminal enterprise? Or how to we react to a cabinet filled with secretaries whose goal it is to destroy the departments for which they are responsible?

There’s still a lot of tentativeness in this, and you see much the same thing in “Occupied.” It adds a certain flavor to the series.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2016 at 4:33 pm

Oxycontin goes global: It works to get people addicted, so there’s money to be made

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Harriet Ryan, Lisa Girion, and Scott Glover have been reporting in the LA Times a series of really excellent articles on OxyContin’s destructive effects on public health, another example of a company deliberately doing harm to people in order to make profits. The reports so far, in order of publication:

‘You Want A Description Of Hell?’ OxyContin’s 12-Hour Problem

More than 1 million OxyContin pills ended up in the hands of criminals and addicts. What the drugmaker knew

How black-market OxyContin spurred a town’s descent into crime, addiction and heartbreak

His next pill: An OxyContin user’s journey from pain relief to obsession and addiction

Purdue Pharma issues statement on OxyContin report; L.A. Times responds

And the most recent report in the series: OxyContin goes global — “We’re only just getting started.” That report begins:

OxyContin is a dying business in America.

With the nation in the grip of an opioid epidemic that has claimed more than 200,000 lives, the U.S. medical establishment is turning away from painkillers. Top health officials are discouraging primary care doctors from prescribing them for chronic pain, saying there is no proof they work long-term and substantial evidence they put patients at risk.

Prescriptions for OxyContin have fallen nearly 40% since 2010, meaning billions in lost revenue for its Connecticut manufacturer, Purdue Pharma.

So the company’s owners, the Sackler family, are pursuing a new strategy: Put the painkiller that set off the U.S. opioid crisis into medicine cabinets around the world.

A network of international companies owned by the family is moving rapidly into Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and other regions, and pushing for broad use of painkillers in places ill-prepared to deal with the ravages of opioid abuse and addiction.

In this global drive, the companies, known as Mundipharma, are using some of the same controversial marketing practices that made OxyContin a pharmaceutical blockbuster in the U.S.

In Brazil, China and elsewhere, the companies are running training seminars where doctors are urged to overcome “opiophobia” and prescribe painkillers. They are sponsoring public awareness campaigns that encourage people to seek medical treatment for chronic pain. They are even offering patient discounts to make prescription opioids more affordable.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy said he would advise his peers abroad “to be very careful” with opioid medications and to learn from American “missteps.” . . .

Continue reading.

Corporations are sociopaths. The suffering of people means nothing to them except a possible source of revenue, and if more suffering brings more revenue, then it’s good. “Do no harm” makes no sense to them if it costs potential profits.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2016 at 11:26 am

Exxon Mobil fights to keep dangerous chemicals in children’s toys

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Sharon Lerner’s article at Motherboard:

Most of us know Exxon Mobil Corp. as an energy giant, which makes sense given that it is the world’s largest publicly held oil and gas company. Rex Tillerson, the company’s CEO, has spent his entire professional life prioritizing Exxon Mobil’s corporate interests over human rights, the environment, and the diplomatic interests of the U.S., all of which has prompted many journalists and commentators to point out that his appointment as secretary of state is not just a terrible idea but a joke seemingly ripped from the pages of a Marxist comic book.

What’s less well known is that Exxon Mobil is also one of the world’s biggest chemical companies, and that its chemical interests also sometimes run counter to those of people in the U.S. and beyond. Petrochemicals accounted for more than a quarter of Exxon Mobil’s $16 billion in net profits last year and wound up in wide range of consumer products such as plastics, tires, batteries, detergents, adhesives, synthetic fibers, and household detergents.

Among Exxon Mobil’s chemical products are phthalates, a family of chemicals widely used to make plastic pliable. Phthalates are in everythingfrom food containers and plastic wrap to rattles, pacifiers, bottle nipples, and teething toys for babies. More than 75 percent of Americans have at least five of the chemicals in their body, according to a 2000 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exxon Mobil insists its products pose no harm. In response to inquiries for this story, the company emailed a statement to The Intercept saying that “Exxon Mobil phthalates have been thoroughly tested, and evaluations by multiple government agencies in the U.S., EU, and Australia show they are safe in their current applications.” (The email also included a link to the company’s webpage on the health and environmental impacts of phthalates.) But numerous independent studies have linked the chemicals to health problems, including cancer, neurodevelopmental effects, endocrine disruption, and adverse harm to the male reproductive system.

Given the risks, Congress permanently banned several phthalates in 2008, temporarily banned a few others, and directed the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) to study whether several other phthalates should also be removed from kids’ products. The law required the CPSC to act within 180 days of its final decision.

An expert committee appointed by the CPSC came out with its final reporton phthalates in 2014. After years of meetings, public comments, and peer review, the panel of scientists decided that eight phthalates should be banned from use in children’s toys. The report cited studies showing that babies who were exposed to higher levels of some phthalates in utero tended to have smaller “anogenital distances” and other reproductive tract problems, effects that were also seen in animals exposed to phthalates.

Despite the clear directive of the scientific experts and the Congress-mandated timeframe, the CPSC has yet to finalize its ban. During the almost two years since the deadline passed, Exxon Mobil has been working hard to slow and reverse the commission’s decision, drafting at least one legislative rider designed to keep some of their phthalates on the market and submitting lengthy comments and objections to the ban. . .

Anyone with a moral sense would not want to endanger children. Exxon Mobil’s prime directive is not to endanger profits, regardless of the harm to people.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2016 at 11:11 am

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