Later On

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

Archive for June 20th, 2017

How Jeff Sessions is wrong about drug sentencing

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Radley Balko counts the ways in the Washington Post:

So Attorney General Jeff Sessions took to the pages of The Washington Post to write an op-ed last weekend. Sessions is rescinding an Obama administration policy that instructed federal prosecutors to avoid seeking mandatory minimums in some drug cases.

In Sessions’s defense, he did get one thing right, although he seemed to utterly miss the significance of it. And then he got a lot of things wrong. So many, in fact, that only a line-by-line review will do the whole thing justice.

So let’s get to it. Sessions begins:

Drug trafficking is an inherently violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t, and don’t, file a lawsuit in court. You collect it by the barrel of a gun.

So this is the thing Sessions got right. Drug trafficking is violent. It is violent because courts and other traditional nonviolent means of settling disputes aren’t available to anyone involved. And it isn’t just debts. Where purveyors of legal products compete for customers by offering a better product, a cheaper product or better service, drug traffickers win customers, or “turf,” by killing one another. This has always been true — of drugs, and of every other product sold on the black market.

It’s encouraging that Sessions realizes this. What’s puzzling is how Sessions can (a) acknowledge that black markets cause violence, (b) claim to worry about said violence, and yet (c) work behind the scenes to expand black markets. Sessions not only opposes legalizing drugs, but he also wants to return states that have already legalized recreational marijuana — and who seem to be doing just fine — to the days when marijuana was available only on the black market. Or to put it as Sessions does: If pot retailers in Colorado, Washington and the other legalization states need to collect on a debt today, they do what any other retailer does. They use the legal system. If Sessions had his way, pot dealers in these states would to back to collecting debts “by the barrel of a gun.”

Why does Jeff Sessions want people in Washington, Colorado, and the other states that have legalized marijuana to experience increased violence — violence that he himself acknowledges would be inevitable if he were to get his way? Is it really that important to make it more difficult for people to get high? What for Sessions would be an appropriate “dead bodies”-to-“euphorias prevented” ratio?

For the approximately 52,000 Americans who died of a drug overdose in 2015, drug trafficking was a deadly business.

About 18,000 of those deaths involved prescription opioids, which are legally available. About 8,000 involved benzodiazepines, which are also available legally. Both of those types of drugs are made by pharmaceutical companies, prescribed by doctors and sold by pharmacies. Does Sessions believe those are all inherently violent industries? The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that 88,000 people die each year from alcohol-related deaths. Does Sessions believe that Anheuser-Busch, Diageo and E & J Gallo run “deadly businesses”? What about the 480,000 people who die each year from smoking? Is tobacco a “deadly business”?

Moreover, there’s solid and mounting evidence that marijuana may be an effective substitute for opioids when it comes to treating pain. States that have legalized marijuana have seen a drop in hospitalizations for opioid addiction and overdose, suggesting that if it’s easily available, people prefer to treat pain with marijuana rather than with opioids. Which means that under Sessions’s preferred policy of pot prohibition, we’d almost certainly see much higher numbers of opioid addiction and overdose deaths.

Yet in 2013, subject to limited exceptions, the Justice Department ordered federal prosecutors not to include in charging documents the amount of drugs being dealt when the actual amount was large enough to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. Prosecutors were required to leave out objective facts in order to achieve sentences lighter than required by law.

This isn’t an accurate characterization of the memo issued by former attorney general Eric Holder. The memo states only that in cases in which a defendant was in possession of enough drugs to trigger a mandatory minimum federal sentence, federal prosecutors should decline to charge the crime that would trigger that sentence if the defendant meets a number of criteria, including not having committed an act of violence in association with the crime, not being the leader or organizer of a trafficking organization, not having ties to cartels or major drug traffickers, and not having a significant criminal history.

I suppose in some sense the memo required prosecutors to “leave out” facts in that it asked them to charge less than what federal law permits. But prosecutors have always had the discretion to bring lighter chargers than what they could conceivably bring. Moreover, when you considerthe unfair, irrational way in which federal authorities measure drug quantities for the purpose of charging and sentencing, the Holder policy at best made the playing field slightly more level.

This was billed as an effort to curb mass incarceration of low-level offenders, but in reality it covered offenders apprehended with large quantities of dangerous drugs. The result was that federal drug prosecutions went down dramatically — from 2011 to 2016, federal prosecutions fell by 23 percent. Meanwhile, the average sentence length for a convicted federal drug offender decreased 18 percent from 2009 to 2016.

There are any number of reasons the number of federal drug prosecutions might drop. But note the range of years Sessions chooses here. The Holder memo was in 2013. Why go back to 2011? Because that’s when federal drug prosecutions peaked. But there was a big drop between 2011 and 2012, which wouldn’t have been affected by the Holder memo at all. There’s also a big drop between 2013 and 2014. You might argue the Holder memo played a role there, but the memo wasn’t issued until August of 2013. And between 2014 and 2016, the number of prosecutions dropped, but only slightly. I don’t see a handy table for average sentence length by year, but I’ll guess that Sessions chose 2009 as his baseline for that statistic.

Of course, if the Holder memo did reduce drug sentences for nonviolent offenders, good. That’s exactly what it was supposed to do. The evidence for this isn’t overwhelming, but the Sentencing Commission did report in March of 2016 that federal prosecutors were focusing less on low-level offenders, and more on serious and violent offenders. One would think that this is a positive trend, too.

For Sessions to show that this was somehow detrimental to public safety, he needs to show a link between lenient sentences and crime. And here his argument falls to pieces.

Before that policy change, . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2017 at 7:43 pm

Our first-ever drug epidemic with corporate backing and big marketing budgets

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Kevin Drum has some sobering charts. If Jeff Sessions truly does fire up the War on Drugs, our prisons are going to be overflowing—but there are big bucks to be made in building and running prisons as government contractors (i.e., private corporations). So I imagine the new War on Drugs will have strong corporate backing.

Do read Drum’s post.

And Drum points out “Donald Trump has no foreign policy” (except to be played for a sucker).

And do read, “Donald Trump, Classy as Always.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2017 at 6:02 pm

The GOP ignores its constituents and serves only its masters: Mitch McConnell flat out refuses to give Senate more than 10 hours to review healthcare bill

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Walter Einenkel writes at DailyKos:

As a small cabal of old impotent white men clandestinely put together an enormous tax break for the rich at the cost of millions of people’s lives, word has leaked that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans on bringing his Trumpcare bill to the floor for a vote sometime next week. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) questioned McConnell on the floor of the Senate Monday and tried to get something resembling “reason” out of a man and a political party that has long disappeared from democracy and into the funhouse of corruption. It led to this exchange:

Schumer: I’ll just renew my request for one more. Will we have time, more than ten hours since this is a complicated bill, to review the bill? Will it be available to us and the public more than ten hours before we have to vote for it? Since our leader has said—our Republican leader—that there will be plenty of time for a process where people can make amendments. You need time to prepare those amendments.

McConnell: I think we’ll have ample opportunity to read and amend the bill.

Schumer: Will it be more than ten hours?

McConnell: I think we’ll have ample opportunity to read and amend the bill.

Schumer: I rest my case.

There are not enough curses in the human family of languages to describe what I think of Mitch McConnell. You can watch the exchange here.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2017 at 5:22 pm

And Just Like That, Google Becomes The World’s Largest Job Board

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Mark Wilson writes in Co.Design:

Monster. CareerBuilder. GlassDoor. LinkedIn. When you’re looking for a new job, you’re required to dig through countless job boards, managing logins and apps. Or it did. Now you can just google it.

Starting today, when you search something like “jobs near me” or “restaurant jobs in Chicago,” you’ll be ushered to a new part of Google Search called Google for Jobs. Here, you can further specify the opportunity you’re looking for, and Google will list opportunities from some of the largest employer databases on the web (including every site mentioned at the top of this article).

The search tool should do a lot to streamline the job hunt. It can even give you a desktop alert or email notification as new jobs matching your criteria are posted.

But on a broader level, what’s so incredible about this feature is how swiftly and efficiently Google can disrupt an industry, just by adding some new capabilities to the Swiss army knife that is Search.

Google tells Co.Design that no money is exchanging hands to get partners using its new Cloud Jobs API–which is what powers this experience. The company has no plans for monetization of the platform at this time, aside from its standard ad practices. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2017 at 5:17 pm

How Two Common Medications Became One $455 Million Specialty Pill

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Marshall Allen reports for ProPublica:

Everything happened so fast as I walked out of the doctor’s exam room. I was tucking in my shirt and wondering if I’d asked all my questions about my injured shoulder when one of the doctor’s assistants handed me two small boxes of pills.

“These will hold you over until your prescription arrives in the mail,” she said, pointing to the drug samples.

Strange, I thought to myself, the doctor didn’t mention giving me any drugs.

I must have looked puzzled because she tried to reassure me.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “It won’t cost you any more than $10.”

I was glad whatever was coming wouldn’t break my budget, but I didn’t understand why I needed the drugs in the first place. And why wasn’t I picking them up at my local CVS?

At first I shrugged it off. This had been my first visit with an orthopedic specialist and he, Dr. Mohnish Ramani, hadn’t been the chatty type. He’d barely said a word as he examined me, tugging my arm this way and bending it that way before rotating it behind my back. The pain made me squirm and yelp, but he knew what he was doing. He promptly diagnosed me with frozen shoulder, a debilitating inflammation of the shoulder capsule.

But back to the drugs. As an investigative reporter who has covered health care for more than a decade, the interaction was just the sort of thing to pique my interest. One thing I’ve learned is that almost nothing in medicine — especially brand-name drugs — is ever really a deal. When I got home, I looked up the drug: Vimovo.

The drug has been controversial, to say the least. Vimovo was created using two readily and cheaply available generic, or over-the-counter, medicines: naproxen, also known by the brand Aleve, and esomeprazole magnesium, also known as Nexium. The Aleve handles your pain and the Nexium helps with the upset stomach that’s sometimes caused by the pain reliever. The key selling point of this new “convenience drug”? It’s easier to take one pill than two.

But only a minority of patients get an upset stomach, and there was no indication I’d be one of them. Did I even need the Nexium component?

Of course I also did the math. You can walk into your local drugstore and buy a month’s supply of Aleve and Nexium for about $40. For Vimovo, the pharmacy billed my insurance company $3,252. This doesn’t mean the drug company ultimately gets paid that much. The pharmaceutical world is rife with rebates and side deals — all designed to elbow ahead of the competition. But apparently the price of convenience comes at a steep mark-up.

Think about it another way. Let’s say you want to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day for a month. You could buy a big jar of peanut butter and a jar of grape jelly for less than 10 bucks. Or you could buy some of that stuff where they combine the peanut butter and grape jelly into the same jar. Smucker’s makes it. It’s called Goober. Except in this scenario, instead of its usual $3.50 price tag, Smucker’s is charging $565 for the jar of Goober.

So if Vimovo is the Goober of drugs, then why have Americans been spending so much on it? My insurance company, smartly, rejected the pharmacy’s claim. But I knew Vimovo’s makers weren’t wooing doctors like mine for nothing. So I looked up the annual reports for the Ireland-based company, Horizon Pharma, which makes Vimovo. Since 2014, Vimovo’s net sales have been more than $455 million. That means a lot of insurers are paying way more than they should for their Goober.

And Vimovo wasn’t Horizon’s only such drug. . .

Continue reading.

And do read the whole thing. Later:

. . . With Vimovo, it seemed I stumbled on another waste stream: overpriced drugs whose actual costs are hidden from doctors and patients. In the case of Horizon, the brazenness of its approach was even more astounding because it had previously been called out in media reports and in a 2016 congressional hearing on out-of-control drug prices.

Health care economists also were wise to it.

“It’s a scam,” said Devon Herrick, a health care economist with the National Center for Policy Analysis. “It is just a way to gouge insurance companies or employer health care plans.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2017 at 3:37 pm

The Entire Truth of Dr. Mayim Bialik

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Michael Friedman writes in Psychology Today:

For years, Dr. Mayim Bialik has been challenging our notion of what it means to be a girl and woman.

In a world that has a clear bias against women in science, Dr. Bialik received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from UCLA. And in a world that presents few and stereotypical roles for women in television and movies, Dr. Bialik has a long history of playing norm-challenging characters. From her portrayal of a young, outspoken and ambitious CC Bloom in the movie Beaches to her role as Blossom Russo in NBC’s Blossom – a teenage girl living in a house run by men after her mother left to pursue a new life and career – to neurobiologist Amy Farah Fowler in CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, Dr. Bialik has been presenting us with a different perspective on girls and women for 30 years.

And now with her new book, Girling Up: How to be Strong, Smart and Spectacular, Dr. Bialik is continuing in this tradition – by challenging stereotypes and trying to tell the entire truth about what girls face while growing up.

There is a critical need for a different perspective. Too often, girls and women face cultural stereotypes that suggest what they can or should do, resulting in bias and discrimination, particularly in academic and work settings. And the effects are severe; not only does discrimination against girls and women result in worse physical and mental health, but also in lower pay and opportunity to be hired for jobs.

For Dr. Bialik, stereotypes against women are not an abstract concept, but rather they are hurdles that she personally faced early on both as an aspiring neuroscientist and actress. “The roles for women, especially in television and movies, have been fairly narrow for most of entertainment history. I grew up watching the sitcoms of the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and females were either the slut or the nerd – and there was nothing in between,” Dr. Bialik said. “We’ve come a long way, but our perception of women is pretty narrow. And women have been historically underrepresented in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) field for a lot of reasons.”

At the same time that girls and women face bias and discrimination in work and school, our culture over-emphasizes physical appearance. In particular, throughout history, random body ideals for women have been presented in culture, contributing to body image dissatisfaction among girls and women. In fact, negative views of one’s body are so pervasive among women that this is often referred to as “normative discontent.”

Dr. Bialik reflected on how she experienced having to compare herself to conventional societal norms of female attractiveness. “As an adult, I don’t look like a lot of women. I have ethnic features. I’m several dress sizes larger than your average actress in Hollywood … being a non-traditional looking female can be a challenge in a culture that really celebrates conventional leading ladies and attractiveness,” Dr. Bialik described. “I think part of that is having a broad understanding of how significant culture is. And how much notions of what is considered attractive varies by culture … One of the most confusing things, especially for young children, and for teenagers as well, is when their reality is not reflected by the adults around them.

“We’re not seeing entire truths presented to them.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2017 at 1:54 pm

“I believe Bill Cosby”

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Ezra Klein writes in Vox:

Bill Cosby, let me say this: I believe you.

I believe you when you say in a 2005 deposition that “yes,” you give women Quaaludes.

I believe you when you say you knew it was illegal to get the prescriptions. (I also believe that the gynecologist who gave them to you knew you really shouldn’t be his patient in the first place.)

I believe you when you describe your version of what consent means, one that isn’t so much based on “yes.”

“I don’t hear her say anything,” you say during the deposition, describing your encounter with the plaintiff. “I don’t feel her say anything. And so I continue, and I go into that area between permission and rejection. I am not stopped.”

I believe you when you say you’ve done this many, many times, giving young, slim women strong sedatives before these encounters.

I believe you when you say you first started to think the idea of drugging and sexually assaulting women was funny when you were 13 years old. You’d heard about a mythical drug, “Spanish Fly,” that could make women do things they didn’t want to do.

I believe you when you said decades later that you still thought it was funny, so funny that you included it in your comedy routine.

“Go to a party and see five girls standing alone, boy, if I had a whole jug of Spanish Fly I’d light that corner up over there. Hahaha,” you joked in 1969 about your younger days. You made the same joke for years and years after.

A jury couldn’t decide this week if you were guilty of three charges of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand, with whom you settled a civil case in 2006. That case involved an incident at your house where she said you tricked her into taking pills that left her dipping in and out of consciousness, while you assaulted her. This incident is the reason you sat for a deposition in 2005.

I believe you made a good decision when you decided it was best to settle that civil case with Constand. It wasn’t frivolous.

There are many people who don’t take you at your word, like I do. And to those people I say, you don’t have to just take Cosby’s word for it. Here are 35 women who told New York magazine about their own experiences with him. They use different words, but they paint a similar picture of strong sedatives and a man who doesn’t look for an affirmative yes. You don’t have to believe Cosby; you can chose to believe these women instead.

And look, Cosby, it’s not just you. There’s an epidemic in this country of not believing men.

Take Brock Allen Turner, a swimmer at Stanford who was sentenced to just six months in jail after two bystanders caught him violently attacking an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.

I believe Turner when he testified in court that he laughed as the two men restrained him while waiting for the police to arrive. Turner said he laughed because he found the situation “ridiculous.”

Or look at our president. When a tape surfaced last year of him joking at length about how he likes to treat women, I believed him. Here’s the full transcript. Here’s a key passage:

“You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” Donald Trump says on tape. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

“Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

A lot of people rushed to say that Trump was lying — it was all a bunch of “locker room talk.” Trump himself even tried to push that line, that we shouldn’t believe him. But I still do. . .

Continue reading.

It seems pretty clear that the reason they are not punished is because they are men, just as police are not punished because they are police. Privilege = no punishment. Good example, with two privilege steps: white privileged over black, cop privileged over civilian—so, white cop v. black civilian = two privilege steps, enough to be able to gun down a person and suffer no punishent whatsoever, and to do it in front of witnesses and be recorded in the act. Two privilege steps is quite difficult to overcome.


Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2017 at 1:35 pm

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