Later On

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Archive for October 5th, 2017

As ACA enrollment nears, administration keeps cutting federal support of the law

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Despicable. Juliet Eilperin reports in the Washington Post:

For months, officials in Republican-controlled Iowa had sought federal permission to revitalize their ailing health-insurance marketplace. Then President Trump read about the request in a newspaper story and called the federal director weighing the application.

Trump’s message was clear, according to individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations: Tell Iowa no.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act see the president’s opposition even to changes sought by conservative states as part of a broader campaign by his administration to undermine the 2010 health-care law. In addition to trying to cut funding for the ACA, the Trump administration also is hampering state efforts to control premiums. In the case of Iowa, that involved a highly unusual intervention by the president himself.

And with the fifth enrollment season set to begin Nov. 1, advocates say the Health and Human Services Department has done more to suppress the number of people signing up than to boost it. HHS has slashed grants to groups that help consumers get insurance coverage, for example. It also has cut the enrollment period in half, reduced the advertising budget by 90 percent and announced an outage schedulethat would make the website less available than last year.

The White House also has yet to commit to funding the cost-sharing reductions that help about 7 million lower-income Americans afford out-of-pocket expenses on their ACA health plans. Trump has regularly threatened to block them and, according to an administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly, officials are considering action to end the payments in Novembe

The uncertainty has driven premium prices much higher for 2018. A possible move by the Treasury Department to ease the requirement that most Americans obtain coverage could further erode a core element of the law.

On Friday, Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan (D-N.H.) called on the administration to abandon its “attempts to sabotage health care markets and raise health care costs for millions.” Such efforts, warn health advocates as well as state and local officials, will translate into more uninsured Americans.

“In Ohio, the Trump administration has already inflicted the damage,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. After its nearly $1.7 million enrollment-assistance grant was cut 72 percent last month, the group decided it no longer could effectively participate. “We are past the point of no return on this,” Hamler-Fugitt said.

HHS has told its regional administrators not to even meet with on-the-ground organizations about enrollment. The late decision, which department spokesman Matt Lloyd said was made because such groups organize and implement events “with their own agenda,” left leaders of grass-roots organizations feeling stranded.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask the agency tasked with outreach and enrollment to be involved with that,” said Roy Mitchell, executive director for the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, which receives no federal funding for its ACA efforts. “There’s money for HHS to fly around on private jets, but there’s not money and resources to do outreach in Mississippi.”

Administration officials make no apologies for actions scaling back federal support for the ACA, also known as Obamacare. Trump, Vice President Pence and those carrying out the law at different agencies take most every opportunity to claim that it is failing. HHS Secretary Tom Price’s abrupt resignation Friday, prompted by the furor over his use of expensive chartered planes for work trips, is not expected to shift this overall approach.

“Obamacare has never lived up to enrollment expectations despite the previous administration’s best efforts,” Lloyd said in an email last week. “The American people know a bad deal when they see one, and many won’t be convinced to sign up for ‘Washington-knows-best’ health coverage that they can’t afford.”

Trump and his aides also are looking for ways to loosen the existing law’s requirements, now that the latest congressional attempt to repeal it outright has failed. The Treasury Department may broaden the ACA’s “hardship exemption” so that taxpayers don’t face costly penalties for failing to obtain coverage, a Republican briefed on the plan said. That is sure to depress enrollment among the younger, healthier consumers whom insurers count on to help buffer the health-care costs of sicker customers. . .

Continue reading.

Words fail me.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 5:03 pm

The FBI’s Hunt for Two Missing Piglets Reveals the Federal Cover-Up of Barbaric Factory Farms

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Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:

This article includes graphic images some readers may find disturbing.

FBI AGENTS ARE devoting substantial resources to a multistate hunt for two baby piglets that the bureau believes are named Lucy and Ethel. The two piglets were removed over the summer from the Circle Four Farm in Utah by animal rights activists who had entered the Smithfield Foods-owned factory farm to film the brutal, torturous conditions in which the pigs are bred in order to be slaughtered.

While filming the conditions at the Smithfield facility, activists saw the two ailing baby piglets laying on the ground, visibly ill and near death, surrounded by the rotting corpses of dead piglets. “One was swollen and barely able to stand; the other had been trampled and was covered in blood,” said Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), which filmed the facility and performed the rescue. Due to various illnesses, he said, the piglets were unable to eat or digest food and were thus a fraction of the normal weight for piglets their age.

Rather than leave the two piglets at Circle Four Farm to wait for an imminent and painful death, the DxE activists decided to rescue them. They carried them out of the pens where they had been suffering and took them to an animal sanctuary to be treated and nursed back to health.

This single Smithfield Foods farm breeds and then slaughters more than 1 million pigs each year. One of the odd aspects of animal mistreatment in the U.S. is that species regarded as more intelligent and emotionally complex — dogs, dolphins, cats, primates — generally receive more public concern and more legal protection. Yet pigs – among the planet’s most intelligent, social, and emotionally complicated species, capable of great joy, play, love, connection, suffering and pain, at least on a par with dogs — receive almost no protections, and are subject to savage systematic abuse by U.S. factory farms.

At Smithfield, like most industrial pig farms, the abuse and torture primarily comes not from rogue employees violating company procedures. Instead, the cruelty is inherent in the procedures themselves. One of the most heinous industry-wide practices is one that DxE activists encountered in abundance at Circle Four: gestational crating.

Where that technique is used, pigs are placed in a crate made of iron bars that is the exact length and width of their bodies, so they can do nothing for their entire lives but stand on a concrete floor, never turn around, never see any outdoors, never even see their tails, never move more than an inch. That was the condition in which the activists found the rotting piglet corpses and the two ailing piglets they rescued.

Female pigs give birth in this condition. They are put in so-called farrowing crates when they give birth, and their piglets run underneath them to suckle and are often trampled to death. The sows are bred repeatedly this way until their fertility declines, at which point they are slaughtered and turned into meat.

The pigs are so desperate to get out of their crates that they often spend weeks trying to bite through the iron bars until their gums gush blood, bash their heads against the walls, and suffer a disease in which their organs end up mangled in the wrong places, from the sheer physical trauma of trying to escape from a tiny space or from acute anxiety (called “organ torsion”).

So cruel is the practice that in 2014, Canada effectively banned its usage, as the European Union had done two years earlier. Nine U.S. states, most of which host very few farms, have banned gestational crating (in 2014, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, with his eye on the GOP primary in farm-friendly Iowa, vetoed a bill that would have made his state the 10th).

But in the U.S. states where factory farms actually thrive, these devices continue to be widely used, which means a vast majority of pigs in the U.S. are subjected to them. The suffering, pain, and death these crates routinely cause were in ample evidence at Smithfield Foods, as accounts, photos, and videos from DxE demonstrate.

FBI raids animal sanctuaries

Under normal circumstances, a large industrial farming company such as Smithfield Foods would never notice that two sick piglets of the millions it breeds and then slaughters were missing. Nor would they care: A sick and dying piglet has no commercial value to them.

Yet the rescue of these two particular piglets has literally become a federal case — by all appearances, a matter of great importance to the Department of Justice. On the last day of August, a six-car armada of FBI agents in bulletproof vests, armed with search warrants, descended upon two small shelters for abandoned farm animals: Ching Farm Rescue in Riverton, Utah, and Luvin Arms in Erie, Colorado.

These sanctuaries have no connection to DxE or any other rescue groups. They simply serve as a shelter for sick, abandoned, or otherwise injured animals. Run by a small staff and a team of animal-loving volunteers, they are open to the public to teach about farm animals.

The attachments to the search warrants specified that the FBI agents could take “DNA samples (blood, hair follicles or ear clippings) to be seized from swine with the following characteristics: I. Pink/white coloring; II. Docked tails; III. Approximately 5 to 9 months in age; IV. Any swine with a hole in right ear.” . . .

Continue reading.

The photos in the article are chilling.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 4:13 pm

People Walked a Little Differently During Medieval Times

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The above video is from Open Culture, which notes:

Roland Warzecha runs a Youtube channel where he delves into the world of medieval weapons and combat. If you want to learn something about Viking shields and swordsmedieval spears and combat techniques, spend some time there.

Above, Roland departs from his regularly scheduled programming and explores another facet of medieval life. Walking. That’s right, walking. It turns out that, as Boing Boing summarizes it, “before structured shoes became prevalent in the 16th century … people walked with a different gait, pushing onto the balls of our feet instead of rocking forward on our heels.” And that’s your lesson on medieval body mechanics for today.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Trump angry that Rex Tillerson is more concerned about the United States’ reputation than Trump’s image

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Priorities are important to Trump, and the number-one priority is always Trump, as ae priorities two through five. The US comes way down the list. Max Greenwood writes in The Hill:

President Trump has grown frustrated with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over his perception that the top diplomat is more interested in burnishing the United States’ reputation abroad than Trump’s own image, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The relationship between the two men has remained tense for months. According to the Post, Trump and Tillerson have butted heads over major policy issues, including the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, and small annoyances, like the secretary’s habit of not returning Trump’s phone calls.

Trump has also been irritated by the fact that Tillerson has advocated for a more traditional approach to foreign policy, the Post reports. The secretary of State, for example, has suggested a more diplomatic approach to North Korea and has voiced support for the U.S. to remain a party to the Iran nuclear deal.

In an unusual move on Wednesday, Tillerson held a news conference, in which he sought to quash reports that his relationship with Trump is on shaky ground.

In particular, he addressed an NBC News report claiming that he had threatened to quit over the summer and had to be talked out of it by top administration officials, including Vice President Pence.

“The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of State because I have never considered leaving,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson, however, did not address the report’s claim that the secretary of State had once referred to Trump as a “moron” after a particularly heated meeting on the administration’s strategy in Afghanistan. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 3:24 pm

Death at a Penn State Fraternity—and the power of dysfunctional organizations

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Caitlin Flanagan’s article in the Atlantic leaves me feeling that something is deeply wrong with American society and its values. (I am proud to say that I attended an undergraduate college that had no fraternities and no hazing.) She writes:

At about 3 p.m. on friday, February 3, Tim Piazza, a sophomore at Penn State University, arrived at Hershey Medical Center by helicopter. Eighteen hours earlier, he had been in the kind of raging good health that only teenagers enjoy. He was a handsome, redheaded kid with a shy smile, a hometown girlfriend, and a family who loved him very much. Now he had a lacerated spleen, an abdomen full of blood, and multiple traumatic brain injuries. He had fallen down a flight of stairs during a hazing event at his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, but the members had waited nearly 12 hours before calling 911, relenting only when their pledge “looked fucking dead.” Tim underwent surgery shortly after arriving at Hershey, but it was too late. He died early the next morning.

Listen to the audio version of this article hereFor more feature stories, read aloud, download the Audm app for your iPhone.

Every year or so brings another such death, another healthy young college man a victim of hazing at the hands of one of the nation’s storied social fraternities. And with each new death, the various stakeholders perform in ways that are so ritualized, it’s almost as though they are completing the second half of the same hazing rite that killed the boy.

The fraternity enters a “period of reflection”; it may appoint a “blue-ribbon panel.” It will announce reforms that look significant to anyone outside the system, but that are essentially cosmetic. Its most dramatic act will be to shut down the chapter, and the house will stand empty for a time, its legend growing ever more thrilling to students who walk past and talk of a fraternity so off the chain that it killed a guy. In short order it will “recolonize” on the campus, and in a few years the house will be back in business.

The president of the college or university where the tragedy occurred will make bold statements about ensuring there is never another fraternity death at his institution. But he knows—or will soon discover—that fraternity executives do not serve at the pleasure of college presidents. He will be forced into announcing his own set of limp reforms. He may “ban” the fraternity from campus, but since the fraternity will have probably closed the chapter already, he will be revealed as weak.

The media will feast on the story, which provides an excuse to pay an unwarranted amount of attention to something viewers are always interested in: the death of a relatively affluent white suburban kid. Because the culprits are also relatively affluent white suburban kids, there is no need to fear pandering to the racial bias that favors stories about this type of victim. The story is ultimately about the callousness and even cruelty of white men.

The grieving parents will appear on television. In their anger and sorrow, they will hope to press criminal charges. Usually they will also sue the fraternity, at which point they will discover how thoroughly these organizations have indemnified themselves against culpability in such deaths. The parents will try to turn their grief into meaningful purpose, but they will discover how intractable a system they are up against, and how draining the process of chipping away at it is. They will be worn down by the endless civil case that forces them to relive their son’s passing over and over. The ritual will begin to slow down, but then a brand-new pair of parents—filled with the energy and outrage of early grief—will emerge, and the cycle will begin again.

Tim Piazza’s case, however, has something we’ve never seen before. This time the dead student left a final testimony, a vivid, horrifying, and inescapable account of what happened to him and why. The house where he was so savagely treated had been outfitted with security cameras, which recorded his long ordeal. Put together with the texts and group chats of the fraternity brothers as they delayed seeking medical treatment and then cleaned up any traces of a wild party—and with the 65-page report released by a Centre County grand jury, which recommended 1,098 criminal charges against 18 former members and against the fraternity itself—the footage reveals a more complete picture of certain dark realities than we have previously had.

Once again, a student is dead and a family is shattered. And all of us are co-authors of these grim facts, as we grant both the fraternities and their host institutions tax-exempt status and allow them to carry on year after year with little change. Is it time we reconsidered what we’re doing?

In 2004, a penn state alumnus from the class of 1970 named Donald Abbey visited his old fraternity house, Beta Theta Pi. He had been a star fullback in the early years of the Joe Paterno era, and gone on to become a billionaire real-estate investor and builder in California who remembered the Beta house as a central part of his college experience. But when he visited, he was shocked—it was, he recalled, “repulsive,” and he felt compelled to bring his experience in “repositioning properties” to bear on 220 North Burrowes Road. He would spend a total of $8.5 million on what would be the most extensive renovation of an American fraternity house in history.

Abbey’s taste does not run to the economic or the practical. One of the mansions he built for himself in California, in the San Gabriel Valley, has an underground firing range; a million-gallon, temperature-controlled trout pond; an oak-paneled elevator; and “Venetian plaster masterpieces throughout.” Similarly, his vision for the refurbished Beta house was like something out of a movie about college. (Exterior: the frat where the rich bastards live.) The bathrooms had heated floors, the two kitchens had copper ceilings, the tables were hand-carved mahogany imported from Colombia. At the entrances were biometric fingerprint scanners.

Abbey seems not to have considered why the house might have become so “repulsive” in the first place. A simple trip through the archives of The Daily Collegian might have revealed to him that the Alpha Upsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi was hardly the Garrick Club. This was an outfit in which a warm day might bring the sight of a brother sitting, with his pants pulled down, on the edge of a balcony, while a pledge stood on the ground below, his hands raised as though to catch the other man’s feces. At the very least, this might not have been the crowd for anything requiring a fingerprint.

The renovations were largely complete by the winter of 2007, and almost immediately the members began to trash the house. Abbey was justly furious, and at some point he had at least 14 security cameras installed throughout the public rooms, an astonishing and perhaps unprecedented step. The cameras were in no way secret, and yet the brothers continued to engage in a variety of forbidden acts, including hazing, in clear view of them. In late January 2009, the national fraternity put the chapter on probation. But the young men continued to break the rules. A few weeks later, the chapter’s probation was converted to the more serious “interim suspension.” Incredibly, with the pressure on and the cameras still recording, the behavior continued. By the end of February, the chapter had been disbanded.

The public often interprets the “closing” of a fraternity as a decisive action. In fact, it is really more of a “reopening under new management” kind of process. The national organization grooms a new set of brothers—a “colony”—and trains them carefully so that the bad behavior of the previous group will not be replicated. The first few years typically go very well. Indeed, not two years after the Penn State chapter of Beta Theta Pi reopened in the fall of 2010, it won a Sisson Award, one of the highest honors the national fraternity can confer. But just as typically, the chapter reverts to its previous behavior. Alumni visit their old house and explain how things ought to be done; private Facebook groups and GroupMe chats are initiated among brothers of different chapters, and information about secret hazing rituals is exchanged. This time, when the brothers of the newly reconstituted Beta chapter reverted to type and started hazing, the national organization did not intervene.

I wanted to learn more about the cameras, and also about something called the “Shep Test,” so in June I called the North-American Interfraternity Conference, the trade association for social fraternities, which is located in Carmel, Indiana. I asked to schedule an interview with the CEO, Jud Horras, who was also a Beta, a former assistant secretary of the fraternity’s national organization, and someone who had been intimately involved in the disbanding and recolonization of the Penn State chapter.

In 1998, a year after Tim Piazza was born, Beta Theta Pi launched something it called Men of Principle, intended to be a “culture-reversing initiative.” What culture was it seeking to reverse? This was best answered in the four planks of the campaign. The first was administrative: create “a five-person trained and active advisory team.” The other three were the crux of the matter: commit “to a 100% hazing-free pledge program,” institute “alcohol-free recruitment,” and eliminate the “Shep Test,” which it described as “the rogue National Test.”

The last one caught my attention, so I Googled around to find out what it was. Most fraternity secrets—their handshakes and members’ manuals and rituals—have gone the way of everything else in the time of the internet, and even those customs that members want to hide aren’t too hard to track down. But there really wasn’t anything at all about the Shep Test—except for this, from the national Beta organization:

Some chapters conduct the “Shep Test.” If Francis W. Shepardson, Denison 1882, one of the greatest leaders in our great and good fraternity knew that this practice was named after him he would be disgraced. This act is in direct violation of our third principle and second and third obligations. It contradicts everything Beta Theta Pi stands for.

It seemed to me—based on the fact that I could find nothing else about it—that the Shep Test had truly been eliminated. Or so I thought, until I read the grand jury’s presentment of the Piazza case. Text messages from members’ cellphones had been entered into evidence, and included this exchange between two brothers at the time of the fall 2016 initiation:

Casey: We were setting up
Torrye: Setting what up?
Casey: Like the shep test and the fake branding
Torrye: Ohh
Casey: I in charge of administering the shep test
Torrye: What happens first
Casey: Fake branding

And from the next night:

Casey: It starting … We have them wait in the boiler room after the shep test until we set up paddling

As people have since explained it to me, the Shep Test itself is little more than a quiz about Beta Theta Pi history, but it’s one part of a night of mind games and physical punishments. A former Beta told me that pledges were held down on a table as a red-hot poker was brought close to their bare feet and they were told they were going to be branded. With pillowcases over their heads, they were paddled, leaving bruises and, on at least one occasion, breaking the skin. They were forced to eat and drink disgusting things, denied sleep, and terrorized in a variety of other ways.

Jud Horras called me back and proposed something surprising: He would fly to Los Angeles for a day to meet with me in the lobby of an airport hotel. I said it was a pity to come all that way and not see the beach, so I would pick him up and take him to breakfast at Hermosa Beach, where he couldn’t shake me if my questions got too difficult. He was coming out to show that he had nothing to hide, but I knew he was not prepared for the hardest question I had for him, which I would return to over and over again: Why hadn’t Beta Theta Pi taken the simple, obvious steps that would have saved Tim Piazza’s life?

Jud Horras is a young man with a wife and a small son and daughter, and if Tim Piazza were alive and well—if he’d gone home to his apartment that night plastered but with a story to tell—I would have fully enjoyed my time with him. He grew up in Ames, Iowa, and spent summers working on a farm—rare for fraternity members, who are more often suburban kids of relative affluence. His parents divorced, and he lived with his father and brother; by his own estimation, he “made mistakes” in high school. When he began at Iowa State, he was a lost young man, arrogant and insecure. But Beta Theta Pi turned his life around. He learned—via, of all things, a college fraternity—how to exert self-control. Mentors—among them Senator Richard Lugar, a fellow Beta, who brought him to Washington as an intern the summer before his senior year—took him under their wing, and Horras’s gratitude to these men is immense. He loves his fraternity the way some men love their church or their country.

Horras was eager to walk me through a list of talking points that he had written on a yellow legal pad during his flight. He wanted me to understand that changes were coming to the fraternity industry, that the wild drinking could not go on indefinitely. In many regards, our conversation was like other such conversations I’ve had with fraternity executives over the years. He was willing to acknowledge problems in the fraternity, but not to connect certain of its customs to any particular death. At the national level, all fraternities vehemently prohibit hazing, and spend tremendous energy and money trying to combat it. But according to the most comprehensive study of college hazing, published in 2008 by a University of Maine professor named Elizabeth Allan, a full 80 percent of fraternity members report being hazed. It’s not an aberration; it’s the norm.

I asked Horras why no one at Beta Theta Pi had done anything about all the bad behavior those cameras must have recorded over the years since the reopening of the chapter. He said that no one could be expected to watch every single minute of film. He said that at some point, you have to trust young men to make the right decisions. What Beta Theta Pi had done for him as a young man, he suggested, was allow him to make some poor decisions until he started to turn around and become the man he wanted to be. Giving members the freedom to do that was part of what the fraternity was about. If they screwed up and got caught—well, that was on them. As for the death of Tim Piazza, while it constituted “a tragedy for him and his family,” it would provide the industry with the impetus needed to make some necessary reforms. In fact, his death was a “golden opportunity.”Then I asked Horras about the Shep Test, and why it endured, despite the effort that had gone into eradicating it. He interrupted me: “Wait a minute. That test doesn’t happen anymore. We have testimonials instead, where pledges can—”

“But it’s in the presentment,” I said, and he looked at me, baffled. “One kid asks where the pledges were, and the other one says they’re waiting in the boiler room after the Shep Test.”

It was clear in that moment—and as he affirmed in a later email—that Horras hadn’t read the presentment very closely.

In my notebook, I wrote:

Long pause
Long pause—
Long pause

Finally he said, with consummate feeling, “I’m fucking mad that that stuff is going on.”

And then I realized why Horras was able to see the torture and death of a 19-year-old kid as a golden opportunity: He didn’t really know that much about it. I started to ask him another question, but for a few moments he seemed lost.

“Am I just fighting for a bunch of idiots?” he asked.

Ivisited Jim and Evelyn Piazza on a lush New Jersey evening in July, when a summer rain was falling on the wide lawns and large houses of their neighborhood in Hunterdon County, one of the wealthiest areas in the United States.

Jim and Evelyn, who are both accountants, had been at work. . .

Continue reading. It’s difficult to read, but I think it shows something of what’s gone wrong: the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility, the way organizations seek only to protect themselves (much as businesses seek only to grow profits). Interest in honesty, integrity, and doing what is right seems to be but a vague memory.

Another indicator.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 2:55 pm

The Lawyer Who Beat Big Tobacco Takes On the Opioid Industry

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Esmé E Deprez and Paul Barrett report from Bloomberg:

Seven years ago, Mike Moore stepped from the 2 a.m. darkness into the light of a small home off Lakeland Drive in Jackson, Miss., to find his nephew close to death. The 250-pound 30-year-old was slumped on the living room couch, his face pale, breath shallow, and chest wet with vomit. It was his fiancée who’d called Moore, waking him in a panic. Now they were both screaming in the man’s ears, dousing him with ice cubes and water, and pinching him as his respiratory system began to collapse.

Moore had become familiar with the signs of an overdose since his nephew, for whom he’s a father figure, filled his first legal prescriptions in 2006 for Percocet, an opioid painkiller made by Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc. By 2010, his nephew, who asked not to be named, was obtaining generic fentanyl on the street. Another synthetic analog to the opium poppy, fentanyl—the drug that killed Prince—is as much as 100 times stronger than morphine. The night of the overdose, Moore’s nephew had been wearing a fentanyl patch on his arm and sucking on another. “An ordinary horse would have been dead,” Moore recalls in his Mississippi drawl.

Rather than waiting for an ambulance, Moore dragged his nephew to his car and raced toward the hospital. As doctors revived the unconscious man, the stares of the staff and other patients were made worse for Moore by recognition. Once his home state’s highest-profile public official, now he was just one more American confronting the opioid epidemic.

Moore, who’s 65, served as Mississippi’s attorney general from 1988 to 2004. In 1994, using an untested and widely derided legal strategy, he became the first state AG to sue tobacco companies for lying about nicotine addiction and hold them accountable for sick smokers’ health-care costs. A Democrat, he marshaled AGs from around the country along with private plaintiffs’ lawyers who stood to reap massive fees. He went on to negotiate the largest corporate legal settlement in U.S. history: a 50-state, $246 billion agreement that funds smoking cessation and prevention programs to this day. He even scored a Hollywood credit, playing himself in The Insider, the 1999 thriller about a tobacco industry whistleblower, starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.

After his 16 years as AG, Moore left public service for a private-sector salary, opening a practice in the Jackson suburb of Flowood. The Mike Moore Law Firm specializes in complex disputes between states and companies. This spring he finished helping oversee negotiations between BP Plc and the federal government, five states, and 475 municipalities, which resulted in a $20 billion settlement for damages from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Moore now lives near Orlando, with his wife, four rescue dogs, and Jade, a capuchin monkey. He’s remained immersed in anti-tobacco efforts, chairing such nonprofits as the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi and the Truth Initiative. But as he’s watched the tobacco victory pay off in declining smoking rates, he’s also seen easy access to powerful pain medication spark a new deadly crisis. He’s convinced this is the moment to work the same mechanisms on the drug companies that forced the tobacco industry to heel—and he’s committed himself to making that happen.

On June 20, 1997, a coalition of state AGs stood behind a podium in the grand ballroom of the ANA Hotel in Washington to announce the culmination of a four-year effort. They’d filed so many individual, expensive lawsuits that tobacco companies were cornered into negotiating a collective settlement instead of fighting each one separately. The agreement punished the industry for past misconduct, created a fund to pay for tobacco-related medical costs, and banned using Joe Camel in advertisements. “We wanted this industry to have to change the way they do business—and we have done that,” a youthful Moore said to the roomful of journalists and cameras.

Twenty years later, in mid-July 2017, he was back at the same hotel, now a Fairmont. In a third-floor meeting room, he and more than a dozen private attorneys sat around a rectangular conference table discussing strategies for the legal battle they’d helped ignite with companies that make, distribute, and sell opioids.

Aided by the lawyers in the room (and others, including high-profile and high-profiting alumni of the tobacco wars, such as Joe Rice and Steve Berman), 10 states and dozens of cities and counties have sued companies including Purdue Pharma, Endo, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals—beginning in 2014 but mostly in the past few months. (Forty state AGs have launched preliminary investigations as a way to gauge the viability of litigation.) The suits allege that the companies triggered the opioid epidemic by minimizing the addiction and overdose risk of painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Duragesic. Opioids don’t just cause problems when they’re misused, the suits argue: They do so when used as directed, too.

The opioid epidemic cost the U.S. economy $78.5 billion in 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a quarter of which was paid by taxpayers through increased public costs for health care, criminal justice, and treatment. The industry, the suits contend, should bear the financial burden of this wreckage.

Paul Hanly Jr., a Manhattan attorney who’s filed on behalf of almost a dozen cities and counties, opened the discussion at the Fairmont with lessons from previous suits. P. Rodney Jackson, a lawyer from West Virginia, got heads nodding with his recommendation that suits targeting manufacturers should be amended to add distributors who sell pills to pharmacies. A retired agent from the Drug Enforcement Administration, one of several consultants, laid out the fines that distributors and pharmacies have already paid after failing to follow federal requirements to report suspiciously large pill orders.

Officially, Moore’s name is listed only on cases filed by Mississippi, which was the first state to sue, and Ohio. But this belies his outsize role in convening the like-minded while envisioning the long-term, big-picture strategy. “We’re trying to build coalitions, because it won’t get done with me and our little team,” he says, referring to a core group of longtime friends that includes former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, the first Republican AG to join the anti-tobacco crusade, and Chip Robertson, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Missouri who helped his state sue tobacco companies.

Just as he did during the tobacco-litigation era, Moore has been . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 2:06 pm

In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, a technique described by James Pennebaker may be helpful

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James Pennebaker is a social psychologist who has done some interesting research and written about it for a lay audience. His research shows that for many, doing a 30-minute free-writing exercise each day for five consecutive days 2-3 months after the event provides considerable benefit. (Doing such an exercise immediately after the event turns out to be counter-productive, since the emotions are too raw and writing can engrave flashbacks into your mind.)

After 2-3 months, one will usually have processed the emotions, and at the point the five daily 30-minute writing exercises seems to help shape one’s memories into a coherent story and allow one to learn (and move on) from the trauma.

His first description of this seems to have been written for a clinical audience (I don’t have the book, which is out of print), but he returned to the subject in a more recent book, Opening up: The Healing Power of Confiding in Others. Although “confiding in others” sounds as though you will be talking, he describes the same free-writing exercise as described above, and those pages are not necessarily shared. However, the very act of writing about the events and processing your memory of them through writing and developing how you view them will generally lead one to be able to talk to others about the experience.

The most recent edition has a title change: Opening Up by Writing It Down, Third Edition: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain. That’s probably the edition to get.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 1:54 pm

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