Later On

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

Archive for June 13th, 2017

Read Kevin Drum’s post on the GOP’s healthcare bill

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From his column:

The Senate health care bill will take away insurance from millions. It will slash Medicaid. It will wipe out Obamacare’s promise of coverage for essential benefits. It will gut protections for pre-existing conditions. It will reduce subsidies for the poor and working class. And it will give millionaires a big tax break.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 5:10 pm

Saudi Arabia is destabilizing the world

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And Trump is selling them $100 billion worth of arms. The Saudis export terrorism-seeds in the form of Wahhabism, and it flowers in many countries. Here it’s taken root in Indonesia, as reported by Stephen Kinzer in the Boston Globe:

JUST A FEW months ago, the governor of Indonesia’s largest city, Jakarta, seemed headed for easy re-election despite the fact that he is a Christian in a mostly Muslim country. Suddenly everything went violently wrong. Using the pretext of an offhand remark the governor made about the Koran, masses of enraged Muslims took to the streets to denounce him. In short order he lost the election, was arrested, charged with blasphemy, and sentenced to two years in prison.

This episode is especially alarming because Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, has long been one of its most tolerant. Indonesian Islam, like most belief systems on that vast archipelago, is syncretic, gentle, and open-minded. The stunning fall of Jakarta’s governor reflects the opposite: intolerance, sectarian hatred, and contempt for democracy. Fundamentalism is surging in Indonesia. This did not happen naturally.

Saudi Arabia has been working for decades to pull Indonesia away from moderate Islam and toward the austere Wahhabi form that is state religion in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis’ campaign has been patient, multi-faceted, and lavishly financed. It mirrors others they have waged in Muslim countries across Asia and Africa.

Successive American presidents have assured us that Saudi Arabia is our friend and wishes us well. Yet we know that Osama bin Laden and most of his 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and that, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a diplomatic cable eight years ago, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

Recent events in Indonesia shine a light on a Saudi project that is even more pernicious than financing terrorists. Saudi Arabia has used its wealth, much of which comes from the United States, to turn entire nations into hotbeds of radical Islam. By refusing to protest or even officially acknowledge this far-reaching project, we finance our own assassins — and global terror.

The center of Saudi Arabia’s campaign to convert Indonesians to Wahhabi Islam is a tuition-free university in Jakarta known by the acronym LIPIA. All instruction is in Arabic, given mainly by preachers from Saudi Arabia and nearby countries. Genders are kept apart; strict dress codes are enforced; and music, television, and “loud laughter” are forbidden. Students learn an ultra-conservative form of Islam that favors hand amputation for thieves, stoning for adulterers, and death for gays and blasphemers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 5:01 pm

They in fact have no shame: How the Republican Coward Caucus is about to sell out its own constituents — in secret

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Paul Waldman writes in the Washington Post:

The fate of the American health-care system now rests with a group of allegedly “moderate” senators, who are getting ready to approve a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a repeal bill so monumental in its cruelty that they feel they have no choice but to draft it in secret, not let the public know what it does, hold not a single hearing or committee markup, slip it in a brown paper package to the Congressional Budget Office, then push it through to a vote before the July 4th recess before the inevitable backlash gets too loud.

“We aren’t stupid,” one GOP Senate aide told Caitlin Owens — they know what would happen if they made their bill public. Even Republican senators who aren’t part of the 13-member working group crafting the bill haven’t been told exactly what’s in it.

Today, we learned that in a break with long-standing precedent, “Senate officials are cracking down on media access, informing reporters on Tuesday that they will no longer be allowed to film or record audio of interviews in the Senate side hallways of the Capitol without special permission.” Everyone assumes that it’s so those senators can avoid having to appear on camera being asked uncomfortable questions about a bill that is as likely to be as popular as Ebola. As Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News tweeted about the secrecy with which this bill is being advanced, “I have covered every major health bill in Congress since 1986. Have NEVER seen anything like this.”

This is how a party acts when it is ashamed of what it is about to do to the American people. Yet all it would take to stop this abomination is for three Republicans to stand up to their party’s leaders and say, “No — I won’t do this to my constituents.” With only a 52-48 majority in the Senate, that would kill the bill. But right now, it’s looking as though this Coward Caucus is going to be unable to muster the necessary courage.

To understand the magnitude of what they’re doing, let’s focus on Medicaid, because it was supposed to be a sticking point on which some senators wouldn’t budge, particularly those whose states accepted the ACA’s expansion of the program. But according to various reports, the moderates have already caved.

Take Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, a state where more than 175,000 people have gotten insurance thanks to the Medicaid expansion. For a while, Capito made noises about she wanted to preserve the expansion to protect her constituents. “I mean, we can’t just drop them off and wish them good luck,” she said. But no more.

Last week The Hill reported that Capito now supports eliminating the expansion after all — just doing it over seven years instead of the three years that the House bill required. The Charleston Gazette-Mail in Capito’s home state noted that Capito had said she didn’t want to drop all those West Virginians off a cliff, but “Instead, she would drop them off a cliff on the installment plan — around 25,000 per year for seven years.”

Or how about Ohio Sen. Rob Portman? In his state, 700,000 people gained insurance as a result of the Medicaid expansion. He drafted a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stating his opposition to the House bill because it didn’t protect those who gained insurance from the expansion. Now Portman also wants to phase outthe expansion over seven years.

What about Sen. Susan Collins, supposedly the most moderate Republican in the Senate? While Maine hasn’t accepted the expansion due to the resistance of America’s Worst Governor™, Paul LePage, Collins has said that she would like to see her state accept the expansion (with some provisions that make it more uncomfortable for recipients, just so those poors don’t get the idea that they should accept it without shame). But we’ve been through this dance with Collins before — Democrats hope she’ll be a vote for moderation; she talks about how she wants to find a compromise; and in the end she votes with the GOP on every important bill.

It’s important to know that the Medicaid question isn’t just about the millions who would lose coverage if the expansion is eliminated. Paige Winfield Cunningham reports today that Senate Republicans are considering even deeper cuts to Medicaid than the $880 billion the House bill slashed out of the program. They’d pay for the slower elimination of the expansion by cutting money out of the existing program, so they could get rid of all of the ACA’s tax increases — which mostly affected the wealthy. In other words, they want to cut Medicaid to give a tax break to rich people.

Just as critical, they want to end Medicaid’s status as an entitlement, meaning that the program wouldn’t cover everyone who’s eligible. States would get a chunk of money to spend, and if more people turned out to need coverage, tough luck for them. . .

Continue reading.

I hope this is a wake-up call for Trump supporters, but I imagine they’ll blame libtards and minorities.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 4:48 pm

Good thing Uber has a lot of drivers because they’ve got a LONG way to go: Uber board member cracks ‘inappropriate’ joke about women at company event on sexual harassment

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Brian Fung and Craig Timburg report in the Washington Post:

Billionaire businessman David Bonderman, a member of Uber’s board, apologized Tuesday for making what he called an “inappropriate” comment about women at a company-wide meeting that was aimed at addressing the harassment of women and other unprofessional conduct within the company.

At the event, Bonderman made a joke about women, saying that adding female board members would make it “much more likely there’ll be more talking,” according to several people who heard the remarks.

The comment came as an interruption of fellow board member Arianna Huffington, who was explaining the benefits of having more female representation on Uber’s board. . .

Continue reading.

The tree is found just above the apple.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Business

Democracies are no better at educating students than autocracies

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Sirianne Dahlum and Carl Henrik Knutsen report in the Washington Post:

Democracies outperform autocracies on education. At least that’s what many political scientists believe: Because voters care about the future of their children, democratic politicians should have strong incentives to build schools, reduce fees, enroll children and so on. Autocrats, who are not responsible to voters, should lack such incentives. At best, autocrats may offer university education that benefits the children of elites supporting them. And indeed, according to the evidence, in democratic countries, more kids go to school.

But in a recent article in World Development, we challenge that conventional wisdom. While it’s correct that democracies provide more education to their kids, democracies do not deliver better education. In other words, the schooling that children receive in democracies is, in general, of no higher quality than what their counterparts receive in autocracies. In fact, recent reports show that an alarmingly large proportion of schools across the world fail to teach even the most basic literacy skills. Our study suggests that improving democracy will not remedy this situation.

Consider two rich democracies, the United States and Norway (the authors’ home country). In both countries, the quality of lower-level education has been questioned; students have often scored quite poorly on international performance tests such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). For instance, in the 2015 PISA test, in mathematics, the United States and Norway scored far below the more authoritarian countries Singapore and China. And the average American student was outperformed by the average Russian or Vietnamese student.

How we did our research

While such quick comparisons are startling, we wanted to look more systematically at broader patterns across countries and time. We use an innovative data set that estimates the cognitive skills of primary and secondary school students, using different types of regional and international tests in mathematics, science and reading.

We do not find any clear relationship between democracy and student performance. Even when considering data from about 100 countries between 1965 and 2009, and no matter how we twist and tweak our statistical models, this “null result” holds up: On average, kids living in democracies are not visibly better in math, science and reading than kids in dictatorships. Neither is there any evidence that countries that have recently gone through democratization improve their education quality.

How can this be? Shouldn’t democratic politicians be concerned about giving children high-quality education, and not only about putting kids behind a desk? We suggest that, unfortunately, the answer is often “no.”

Voters have trouble holding politicians accountable for education policies

To hold politicians accountable, voters must be able to trace the outcomes they care about to specific policies. Few ordinary voters are familiar with the details of supposedly “quality-enhancing education reforms”; nor are they able to evaluate those effects. Even education experts are unsure whether such measures as reduced class sizes or homework actually affect learning outcomes. Even if parents suspect that their child is getting a subpar education, who will they blame — the teacher, the principal, the local government or the national government?

If members of a democratically elected government sense . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 12:51 pm

Obstruction of justice, part deux: Trump’s Personal Lawyer Boasted That He Got Preet Bharara Fired

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Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott report in ProPublica:

Marc Kasowitz, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer in the Russia investigation, has boasted to friends and colleagues that he played a central role in the firing of Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

Kasowitz told Trump, “This guy is going to get you,” according to a person familiar with Kasowitz’s account.

Those who know Kasowitz say he is sometimes prone to exaggerating when regaling them with his exploits. But if true, his assertion adds to the mystery surrounding the motive and timing of Bharara’s firing.

New presidents typically ask U.S. attorneys to resign and have the power to fire them. But Trump asked Bharara to stay in his job when they met in November at Trump Tower, as Bharara announced after the meeting.

In early March, Trump reversed himself. He asked all the remaining U.S. attorneys to resign, including Bharara. Bharara, a telegenic prosecutor with a history of taking on powerful politicians, refused and was fired March 11.

As ProPublica previously reported, at the time of Bharara’s firing the Southern District was conducting an investigation into Trump’s secretary of health and human services, Tom Price.

Kasowitz and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Kasowitz became a nationally recognized figure last week, after he acted as Trump’s designated spokesman to respond to former FBI Director James Comey’s landmark Senate testimony.

Kasowitz’s claimed role in the Bharara firing appears to be a sign that the New York lawyer has been inserting himself into matters of governance and not just advising the president on personal legal matters.

Kasowitz has also said in private conversations that Trump asked him to be attorney general, according to four people familiar with the matter. Kasowitz said he turned down the role. Ultimately, Trump decided to give the position to then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.

The Southern District of New York conducts some of the highest profile corporate investigations in the country. According to news reports, it is currently probing Fox News over payments made to settle sexual harassment charges against the network’s former chairman, the late Roger Ailes. The office is also looking into Russian money-laundering allegations at Deutsche Bank, Trump’s principal private lender. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 12:44 pm

Effects of the War on Drugs: How the U.S. triggered a massacre in Mexico

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Ginger Thompson reports in ProPublica:

We have testimony from people who say they participated in the crime. They described some 50 trucks arriving in Allende, carrying people connected to the cartel. They broke into houses, they looted them and burned them. Afterward, they kidnapped the people who lived in those houses and took them to a ranch just outside of Allende.

First they killed them. They put them inside a storage shed filled with hay. They doused them with fuel and lit them on fire, feeding the flames for hours and hours.

José Juan MoralesInvestigative director for the disappeared in the Coahuila State Prosecutor’s Office

THERE’S NO MISSING the signs that something unspeakable happened in Allende, a quiet ranching town of about 23,000, just a 40-minute drive from Eagle Pass, Texas. Entire blocks of some of the town’s busiest streets lie in ruins. Once garish mansions are now crumbling shells, with gaping holes in the walls, charred ceilings, cracked marble countertops and toppled columns. Strewn among the rubble are tattered, mud-covered remnants of lives torn apart: shoes, wedding invitations, medications, television sets, toys.

In March 2011 gunmen from the Zetas cartel, one of the most violent drug trafficking organizations in the world, swept through Allende and nearby towns like a flash flood, demolishing homes and businesses and kidnapping and killing dozens, possibly hundreds, of men, women and children.

The destruction and disappearances went on in fits and starts for weeks. Only a few of the victims’ relatives — mostly those who didn’t live in Allende or had fled — dared to seek help. “I would like to make clear that Allende looks like a war zone,” reads one missing person report. “Most people who I questioned about my relatives responded that I shouldn’t go on looking for them because outsiders were not wanted, and were disappeared.”

But unlike most places in Mexico that have been ravaged by the drug war, what happened in Allende didn’t have its origins in Mexico. It began in the United States, when the Drug Enforcement Administration scored an unexpected coup. An agent persuaded a high-level Zetas operative to hand over the trackable cellphone identification numbers for two of the cartel’s most wanted kingpins, Miguel Ángel Treviño and his ​brother Omar.

Then the DEA took a gamble. It shared the intelligence with a Mexican federal police unit that has long had problems with leaks — even though its members had been trained and vetted by the DEA. Almost immediately, the Treviños learned they’d been betrayed. The brothers set out to exact vengeance against the presumed snitches, their families and anyone remotely connected to them.

Their savagery in Allende was particularly surprising because the Treviños not only did business there — moving tens of millions of dollars in drugs and guns through the area each month — they’d also made it their home.

For years after the massacre, Mexican authorities made only desultory efforts to investigate. They erected a monument in Allende to honor the victims without fully determining their fates or punishing those responsible. American authorities eventually helped Mexico capture the Treviños but never acknowledged the devastating cost. In Allende, people suffered mostly in silence, too afraid to talk publicly.

A year ago ProPublica and National Geographic set out to piece together what happened in this town in the state of Coahuila — to let those who bore the brunt of the attack, and those who played roles in triggering it, tell the story in their own words. They did so often at great personal risk. Voices like these have rarely been heard during the drug war: Local officials who abandoned their posts; families preyed upon by both the cartel and their own neighbors; cartel operatives who cooperated with the DEA and saw their friends and families slaughtered; the U.S. prosecutor who oversaw the case; and the DEA agent who led the investigation and who, like most people in this story, has family ties on both sides of the border.

When pressed about his role, the agent, Richard Martinez slumped in his chair, his eyes welling with tears. “How did I feel about the information being compromised? I’d rather not say, to be honest with you. I’d kind of like to leave it at that. I’d rather not say.”

S SUNDOWN APPROACHED on Friday, March 18, 2011, gunmen from the Zetas cartel began pouring into Allende.

Guadalupe GarcíaRetired government worker
We were eating at Los Compadres, and two guys came in. We could tell they weren’t from here. They looked different. They were kids — 18 to 20 years old. They ordered 50 hamburgers to go. That’s when we figured something was going on, and we decided we’d better get home.

Martín MárquezHot dog vendor
Things began happening in the evening. Armed men began arriving. They were going house to house, looking for the people who had done them wrong. At 11 at night there was no traffic on the streets. There was no movement of any kind.

Etelvina RodríguezMiddle school teacher and wife of victim Everardo Elizondo
My husband, Everardo, usually came home between 7 and 7:30 at night. I was waiting for him. Time passed — 7, 7:30, 8, 9. I began calling him. The phone was not in service. I thought maybe he was at his mother’s house and his battery had died. I called his mother. She told me that she hadn’t seen him and that maybe he was out with friends. But that didn’t make sense to me. He would have called. So I went out looking for him.

The atmosphere felt tense. It was nine at night, which was not very late, not on a Friday. The town was completely deserted.

A few miles outside of town, the gunmen descended on several neighboring ranches along a dimly lit two-lane highway. The properties belonged to one of Allende’s oldest clans, the Garzas. The family mostly raised livestock and did odd contracting jobs, including coal mining. But according to family members, some of them also worked for the cartel.

Now those connections were proving deadly. Among those the Zetas suspected of being a snitch — wrongly it turns out — was José Luis Garza, Jr., a relatively low-level cartel operative, whose father, Luis, owned one of the ranches. It was payday, and several workers had gone to the ranch to pick up their money. When the gunmen showed up, they rounded up everyone up they could find and took them hostage. After nightfall, flames began rising from one of the ranch’s large cinder-block storage sheds. The Zetas had begun burning the bodies of some of those they’d killed. . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more.

The War on Drugs, brought to you by Richard Nixon, perpetuated ever since, and Trump and Jeff Sessions plan to dial it up to 11. Success is not the issue (obviously). I think it’s about being powerful—”We can do what we want”—plus there’s a lot of money sloshing around. Plus taking another tack would implicitly acknowledge failure—the failure is obvious, but it’s currently the elephant in the room that many try not to notice and over which the DEA is frantically pulling a sheet to hide it.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 12:10 pm

Can you spot the “potential long-term upward tick in violent crime” that Jeff Sessions sees?

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Kevin Drum posts a helpful chart so you can see what Jeff Sessions is talking about. Here’s what Sessions said:

I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.

Here’s Drum’s chart, “using numbers from the National Crime Victimization Survey for 1994-2015 (see here for background). The projection for 2016 is based on an increase of 5.3 percent reported by the FBI for the first half of 2016.”

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 11:29 am

Russian Election Hacking Was Very Serious and Very Widespread

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Kevin Drum posts in Mother Jones:

A few days ago the Intercept got hold of an NSA document outlining Russian plans to hack directly into voting operations throughout the US:

Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.

Today Bloomberg reports that this was just the tip of the iceberg:

Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

….Such operations need not change votes to be effective. In fact, the Obama administration believed that the Russians were possibly preparing to delete voter registration information or slow vote tallying in order to undermine confidence in the election. That effort went far beyond the carefully timed release of private communications by individuals and parties.

As we all know, last year the Obama administration tried to promote a bipartisan declaration that voting equipment was “national critical infrastructure,” which would have given the FBI and others more authority to investigate and deter Russian hacking. This failed because Mitch McConnell didn’t care about Russian hacking. He cared only that public acknowledgement of Russian hacking might somehow hurt Republicans. Mitch is quite the patriot, no?

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 11:23 am

Wet Shaving Products Stubby silvertip brush up for auction

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Another brush up for auction. You can see it here.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 9:53 am

Posted in Shaving

Systemic racism in America explained in just three minutes

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Jason Kottke has a powerful post, which begins with a three-minute video:

Kottke writes:

This short video shows several ways in which systemic racism is still very much alive and well in the United States in 2017. See also Race Forward’s video series featuring Jay Smooth.

“What Is Systemic Racism?” is an 8-part video series that shows how racism shows up in our lives across institutions and society: Wealth Gap, Employment, Housing Discrimination, Government Surveillance, Incarceration, Drug Arrests, Immigration Arrests, Infant Mortality… yes, systemic racism is really a thing.

The reason why this matters should be obvious. Just like extra effort can harness the power of compound interest in knowledge and productivity, even tiny losses that occur frequently can add up to a large deficit. If you are constantly getting dinged in even small ways just for being black, those losses add up and compound over time. Being charged more for a car and other purchases means less life savings. Less choice in housing results in higher prices for property in less desirable neighborhoods, which can impact choice of schools for your kids, etc. Fewer callbacks for employment means you’re less likely to get hired. Even if you do get the job, if you’re late for work even once every few months because you get stopped by the police, you’re a little more likely to get fired or receive a poor evaluation from your boss. Add up all those little losses over 30-40 years, and you get exponential losses in income and social status.

And these losses often aren’t small at all, to say nothing of drug offenses and prison issues; those are massive life-changing setbacks. The war on drugs and racially selective enforcement have hollowed out black America’s social and economic core. . .

Continue reading.

The fact is that the United States has been a racist society since its beginning, and it is obvious to those who look. However, many whites, enjoying their privileged position, will not look. (A good book in this connection: Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception, by Daniel Goleman.) To take one glaringly obvious example: the genocide of the Native Americans, who still must struggle to make their voice heard (cf. the Dakota Access Pipeline struggle at Standing Rock).  Of see the attitude many Americans express about immigrants.

One good example is the War on Drugs. When drugs were a serious problem in the black community, as in the days of crack cocaine, we got paramilitary actions against both drug suppliers and drug victims, with mandatory minimum sentences and tens of thousands sent to prison for the crime of addiction.

Now, however, the drug epidemic is affecting white victims, and lo! the tactics used are suddenly much more compassionate. See, for example, Al Baker’s report “When Opioid Addicts Find an Ally in Blue” in the NY Times:

BURLINGTON, Vt. — In this college town on the banks of Lake Champlain, Chief Brandon del Pozo has hired a plain-spoken social worker to oversee opioids policy and has begun mapping heroin deaths the way his former commanders in the New York Police Department track crime.

In New York City, detectives are investigating overdoses with the rigor of homicides even if murder charges are a long shot. They are plying the mobile phones of the dead for clues about suppliers and using telltale marks on heroin packages and pills to trace them back to dealers. And like their colleagues in Philadelphia and Ohio, they are racing to issue warnings about deadly strains of drugs when bodies fall, the way epidemiologists take on Zika.

The police in Arlington, Mass., intervene with vulnerable users. Officials in Everett, Wash., have sued a pharmaceutical firm that they say created a black market for addicts. Seattle’s officers give low-level drug and prostitution suspects a choice: treatment instead of arrest and jail.

Opioids are cutting through the country, claiming increasing deaths and, in some cities, wrecking more lives than traffic fatalities and murders combined. Police leaders are weary of the scenes: 911 calls; bodies with needles in their arms; drugs called “fire” strewn about. They are assigning themselves a big role in reversing the problems. They are working with public health officials, and carrying more antidote for heroin and its synthetic cousin fentanyl.

Continue reading the main story

Few see policing, by itself, as the answer to such a complex social problem, certainly not through enforcement alone. The law enforcement approach to the crack-cocaine scourge of the late 1980s filled jails and prisons, expanded government and did little to address the social issues driving that addiction crisis.

“The police can play a critical role in a very broadly based social and medical response,” said Samuel Walker, an emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha. “So if people think we are going to arrest our way out of the opioid crisis, they’re wrong.”

Governors like Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey, both former prosecutors, have adopted a notably compassionate tone in framing the crisis. In 2014, Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont used 34 minutes of his state-of-the state speech to urge treatment and support for addicts. As a candidate, President Trump vowed to solve America’s drug crisis, a pledge that resonated in impoverished, rural areas that have been ravaged in recent years by opioids.

Labeling it a health epidemic, not a war on drugs, marks a stark contrast with the criminal justice system’s approach to the crack-cocaine plague, which was met by mass arrests in mostly black and Hispanic communities. [But the opioid epidemic is affecting whites, so a totally different approach is used. – LG]

Now, policing leaders claim to have learned from the past. But they also know how violent crime can flow from illegal drugs the way Anthony Riccio, a chief in the Chicago Police Department, says is happening in his city. A big fear among police chiefs is that increased demand for low-cost, high-potency opioids will lead to more shootings, and murders, as prices drop and drug traffickers organize.

In Mexico, where almost all of the heroin entering the United States is grown and cultivated, violence surrounding the drug trade is “horrific,” said Chuck Rosenberg, who runs the Drug Enforcement Administration.

But American cities are not immune.

“In almost all of our major seizures and arrests, we’re encountering weapons,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “And there’s only one reason to have those around.”

Increasingly, the police find themselves scrambling from call to call for reports of seemingly lifeless bodies. Death counts are rising. Nearly 1,400 people died of drug overdoses in New York City last year, the highest ever and up from 937 the previous year. In Philadelphia, the tally was 906. Nationally, there were 52,000 overdose deaths in 2015, Mr. Rosenberg said. And last year, the drug overdose death count likely exceeded 59,000, according to preliminary data compiled by The New York Times. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 9:37 am

Stubborn ignorance is the worst kind: Jeff Sessions personally asked Congress to let him prosecute medical marijuana providers

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Jeff Sessions is operating on an autopilot program set several decades ago. Christopher Ingraham reports in the Washington Post:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is asking congressional leaders to undo federal medical marijuana protections that have been in place since 2014, according to a May letter that became public Monday.

The protections, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, prohibit the Justice Department from using federal funds to prevent certain states “from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

In his letter, first obtained by Tom Angell of Massroots.com and verified independently by The Washington Post, Sessions argued that the amendment would “inhibit [the Justice Department’s] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act.” He continues:

I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.

Sessions’s citing of a “historic drug epidemic” to justify a crackdown on medical marijuana is at odds with what researchers know about current drug use and abuse in the United States. The epidemic Sessions refers to involves deadly opiate drugs, not marijuana. A growing body of research (acknowledged by the National Institute on Drug Abuse) has shown that opiate deaths and overdoses actually decrease in states with medical marijuana laws on the books.

That research strongly suggests that cracking down on medical marijuana laws, as Sessions requested, could perversely make the opiate epidemic even worse.

In an email, John Hudak of the Brookings Institution characterized the letter’s arguments as a “scare tactic” that  “could appeal to rank-and-file members or to committee chairs in Congress in ways that could threaten the future of this Amendment.”

Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department also sought to undermine the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. It circulated misleading talking points among Congress to influence debate over the measure, and it attempted to enforce the amendment in a way that “defies language and logic,” “tortures the plain meaning of the statute” and is “at odds with fundamental notions of the rule of law,” in the ruling of a federal judge.

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has significant bipartisan support in Congress. Medical marijuana is incredibly popular with voters overall. A Quinnipiac poll conducted in April found it was supported by 94 percent of the public. Nearly three-quarters of voters said they disapprove of the government enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized it either medically or recreationally. . .

Continue reading.

Note that it’s not just a partisan issue. It is an issue that divides drug-warriors and normal people, and as the article points out, the drug-warriors make no sense: making medical marijuana inaccessible will increase the opioid epidemic (which, of course, increases profits for pharmaceutical companies, which might be the point). But opioids are deadly and marijuana is basically harmless: less harmful than coffee, at any rate.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 9:03 am

Scam alert: Trump’s $1 trillion ‘infrastructure plan’ is a giveaway to the rich

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In the Guardian Robert Reich talks about this next step in the looting of America:

At a roundtable discussion with state transportation officials on Friday, Donald Trump said America’s ageing roads, bridges, railways, and water systems were being “scoffed at and laughed” at. He pledged that they “will once again be the envy of the world”.

This seems to be a core theme for Trump: America’s greatness depends on others envying us rather than scoffing and laughing at us.

He said much the same thing last week when he announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. “At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us, as a country? We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us any more. And they won’t be. They won’t be.”

To be sure, America is in dire need of vast investments in infrastructure. The country suffers from overflowing sewage drains, crumbling bridges, rusting railroad tracks, outworn roads, and public transportation systems rivaling those of third-world nations.

The American Society of Civil Engineers, giving America’s overall infrastructure a grade of D-plus, says we would need to spend $3.6tn by 2020 to bring it up to par.

The problem isn’t that we’re being laughed at. It’s that we’re spending hours in traffic jams, disrupted flights, and slow-moving trains. And we’re sacrificing billions in lost productivity, avoidable public health problems, and increased carbon emissions.

But what Donald Trump is proposing won’t help. It’s nothing but a huge and unnecessary tax giveaway to the rich.

His “$1tn infrastructure plan”, unveiled last week, doesn’t amount to $1tn of new federal investment in infrastructure. It would commit $200bn of federal dollars over ten years, combined with about $800bn of assorted tax breaks to get developers to build things instead of the federal government doing it.

And it’s hardly a plan. It’s not much more than a page of talking points.

Worse, its underlying principle is deeply flawed. It boils down to a giant public subsidy to developers and investors, who would receive generous tax credits in return for taking on the job.

Which means the rest of us would have to pay higher taxes or get fewer services in order to make up for the taxes the developers and investors would no longer pay.

For example (in one version of the plan I’ve come across), for every dollar developers put into a project, they’d actually pay only 18 cents – after tax credits – and taxpayers would contribute the other 82 cents through their tax dollars.

No one should be surprised at this scheme. It’s what Trump knows best. After all, he was a developer who made billions, often off sweeteners such as generous tax credits and other subsidies.

The public would also pay a second time. The developers would own the roads and bridges and other pieces of infrastructure they finance. They’d then charge members of the public tolls and fees to use them.

In place of public roads and bridges, we’d have private roads and bridges. Think of America turning into giant, horizontal-like Trump Tower wherever you looked.

These tolls and fees won’t be cheap. They’d have to be set high in order to satisfy the profit margins demanded by the developers and the investors who back them.

Worst of all, we’d get the wrong kind of infrastructure. Projects that will be most attractive to developers and investors are those whose tolls and fees bring in the biggest bucks – giant mega-projects like major new throughways and new bridges.

Developers and investors won’t be interested in the thousands of smaller bridges, airports, pipes, and water treatment facilities across the country that are most in need of repair. . .

Continue reading.

This is corruption, pure and simple: using public office for private gain, since I’m sure the Trump organization will be first in line to take all that taxpayer money to build things that will provide them a revenue stream through tolls.

The US is going to hell in a handbasket.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 8:57 am

Wee Scot, Stubble Trubble’s Up and Adam, Rockwell R3, and Speick

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The Wee Scot is an appealing brush, I find, and I very much like Stubble Trubble’s Up and Adam, which has a fragrance of coffee and vanilla. The ingredients:

Stearic Acid, Distilled Water, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Elaeis Guineensis (Palm) Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Sodium Hydroxide, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Sodium Lactate, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Glycerin, and Fragrance

A mentholated version is also available, but I’m not that big a fan of menthol, so I prefer this. And with the Wee Scot, I had lots of very fine lather.

Rockwell’s R3 “setting” did a great job, as usual, with no problems at all and a very smooth finish, to which I applied a splash of Speick, whose fragrance is also very appealing, particularly in the spring and summer.

Something I meant to mention yesterday, but forgot: a nice finding by Craig B, who found that using Kiss My Face shaving cream as a pre-shave works extremely well. KMF, as he points out, does not provide much cushion, but it is very slick. So he uses a thin layer of KMF on his wet stubble and then applies lather over that. It works a treat, he finds.

And in fact my treasured MR GLO works by (a) helping the stubble absorb water (soap reduces water’s surface tension) and (b) adds some slickness. I think KMF would be even better at (b).

Worth a try.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2017 at 8:34 am

Posted in Shaving

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