Later On

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

Archive for February 6th, 2018

Republicans are sore losers

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Republicans seem unable to accept defeat with any grace at all. After the US Supreme Court left the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling (that the partisan gerrymandering in Pennsylvania was so flagrant that district lines must be redrawn before the November election this year), the GOP is moving to impeach the Pennsylvania Supreme Court judges who did not abide by the GOP’s wishes:

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2018 at 11:35 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Law

Kellyanne Conway’s ‘opioid cabinet’ sidelines drug czar’s experts

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Brianna Ehly and Sarah Karlin-Smith report in Politico:

President Donald Trump’s war on opioids is beginning to look more like a war on his drug policy office.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has taken control of the opioids agenda, quietly freezing out drug policy professionals and relying instead on political staff to address a lethal crisis claiming about 175 lives a day. The main response so far has been to call for a border wall and to promise a “just say no” campaign.

Trump is expected to propose massive cuts this month to the “drug czar” office, just as he attempted in last year’s budget before backing off. He hasn’t named a permanent director for the office, and the chief of staff was sacked in December. For months, the office’s top political appointee was a 24-year-old Trump campaign staffer with no relevant qualifications. Its senior leadership consists of a skeleton crew of three political appointees, down from nine a year ago.

“It’s fair to say the ONDCP has pretty much been systematically excluded from key decisions about opioids and the strategy moving forward,” said a former Trump administration staffer, using shorthand for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has steered federal drug policy since the Reagan years.

The office’s acting director, Rich Baum, who had served in the office for decades before Trump tapped him as the temporary leader, has not been invited to Conway’s opioid cabinet meetings, according to his close associates. His schedule, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, included no mention of the meetings. Two political appointees from Baum’s office, neither of whom are drug policy experts, attend on the office’s behalf, alongside officials from across the federal government, from HHS to Defense. A White House spokesperson declined to disclose who attends the meetings, and Baum did not respond to a request for comment, although the White House later forwarded an email in which Baum stressed the office’s central role in developing national drug strategy.

The upheaval in the drug policy office illustrates the Trump administration’s inconsistency in creating a real vision on the opioids crisis. Trump declared a public health emergency at a televised White House event and talked frequently about the devastating human toll of overdoses and addiction. But critics say he hasn’t followed through with a consistent, comprehensive response.

He has endorsed anti-drug messaging and tougher law enforcement. But he ignored many of the recommendations from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential commission about public health approaches to addiction, access to treatment, and education for doctors who prescribe opioids. And he hasn’t maintained a public focus. In Ohio just this week, it was first lady Melania Trump who attended an opioid event at a children’s hospital. The president toured a manufacturing plant and gave a speech on tax cuts.

Much of the White House messaging bolsters the president’s call for a border wall, depicting the opioid epidemic as an imported crisis, not one that is largely home-grown and complex, fueled by both legal but addictive painkillers and lethal street drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

“I don’t know what the agency is doing. I really don’t,” said Regina LaBelle, who was the drug office’s chief of staff in the Obama administration. “They aren’t at the level of visibility you’d think they’d be at by now.”

Conway touts her opioids effort as policy-driven, telling POLITICO recently that her circle of advisers help “formalize and centralize strategy, coordinate policy, scheduling and public awareness” across government agencies.

That’s exactly what the drug czar has traditionally done.

Conway’s role has also caused confusion on the Hill. For instance, the Senate HELP Committee’s staff has been in touch with both Conway and the White House domestic policy officials, according to chairman Lamar Alexander’s office. But lawmakers who have been leaders on opioid policy and who are accustomed to working with the drug czar office, haven’t seen outreach from Conway or her cabinet.

“I haven’t talked to Kellyanne at all and I’m from the worst state for this,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia, which has the country’s highest overdose death rate. “I’m uncertain of her role.” The office of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), another leader on opioid policy, echoed that — although Portman’s wife, Jane, and Conway were both at the event with Melania Trump this week. . .

Continue reading. And read the whole thing. There’s more.

Kevin Drum comments:

The reason for sidelining the actual drug professionals is pretty obvious: they would recommend programs that cost a lot of money and regulate pharmaceutical companies, and Trump doesn’t want to do either. He just wants to sound really tough, like he did yesterday in Ohio:

America will not overcome this epidemic overnight….Our children are being decimated. You know, one drug dealer can kill thousands of people. One drug dealer. If you ever did an average — nobody has ever seen this, you’ve probably never heard this before — but if you ever did an average, a drug dealer will kill thousands of people. And we don’t even come down on these people. So it’s time to start, and that time is now. Right now.

….People form blue ribbon committees, they do everything they can. And, frankly, I have a different take on it. My take is, you have to get really, really tough — really mean — with the drug pushers and the drug dealers. We can do all the blue ribbon committees we want. We have to get a lot tougher than we are. And we have to stop drugs from pouring across our border.

There you go. If we just get a lot meaner, the opioid epidemic will go away. I wonder why no one ever thought of that before?



Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2018 at 10:48 am

Boycott the Republican Party

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Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes make a strong case in their Atlantic article:

A few days after the Democratic electoral sweep this past November in Virginia, New Jersey, and elsewhere, The Washington Post asked a random Virginia man to explain his vote. The man, a marketing executive named Toren Beasley, replied that his calculus was simply to refuse to calculate. “It could have been Dr. Seuss or the Berenstain Bears on the ballot and I would have voted for them if they were a Democrat,” he said. “I might do more analyses in other years. But in this case, no. No one else gets any consideration because what’s going on with the Republicans—I’m talking about Trump and his cast of characters—is stupid, stupid, stupid. I can’t say stupid enough times.”

Count us in, Mr. Beasley. We’re with you, though we tend to go with dangerous rather than stupid. And no one could be more surprised that we’re saying this than we are.

We have both spent our professional careers strenuously avoiding partisanship in our writing and thinking. We have both done work that is, in different ways, ideologically eclectic, and that has—over a long period of time—cast us as not merely nonpartisans but antipartisans. Temperamentally, we agree with the late Christopher Hitchens: Partisanship makes you stupid. We are the kind of voters who political scientists say barely exist—true independents who scour candidates’ records in order to base our votes on individual merit, not party brand.

This, then, is the article we thought we would never write: a frank statement that a certain form of partisanship is now a moral necessity. The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy. The problem is not just Donald Trump; it’s the larger political apparatus that made a conscious decision to enable him. In a two-party system, nonpartisanship works only if both parties are consistent democratic actors. If one of them is not predictably so, the space for nonpartisans evaporates. We’re thus driven to believe that the best hope of defending the country from Trump’s Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself, is to do as Toren Beasley did: vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes (very preferably the former).

Of course, lots of people vote a straight ticket. Some do so because they are partisan. Others do so because of a particular policy position: Many pro-lifers, for example, will not vote for Democrats, even pro-life Democrats, because they see the Democratic Party as institutionally committed to the slaughter of babies.

We’re proposing something different. We’re suggesting that in today’s situation, people should vote a straight Democratic ticket even if they are not partisan, and despite their policy views. They should vote against Republicans in a spirit that is, if you will, prepartisan and prepolitical. Their attitude should be: The rule of law is a threshold value in American politics, and a party that endangers this value disqualifies itself, period. In other words, under certain peculiar and deeply regrettable circumstances, sophisticated, independent-minded voters need to act as if they were dumb-ass partisans.For us, this represents a counsel of desperation. So allow us to step back and explain what drove us to what we call oppositional partisanship.

To avoid misunderstanding, here are some things we are not saying. First, although we worry about extremism in the GOP, that is not a reason to boycott the party. We agree with political analysts who say that the Republicans veered off-center earlier and more sharply than the Democrats—but recently the Democrats have made up for lost time by moving rapidly leftward. In any case, under normal circumstances our response to radicalization within a party would be to support sane people within that party.

Nor is our oppositional partisanship motivated by the belief that Republican policies are wrongheaded. Republicans are a variegated bunch, and we agree with many traditional GOP positions. One of us has spent the past several years arguing that counterterrorism authorities should be granted robust powers, defending detentions at Guantánamo Bay, and supporting the confirmations of any number of conservative judges and justices whose nominations enraged liberals. The other is a Burkean conservative with libertarian tendencies and a long history of activism against left-wing intolerance. And even if we did consistently reject Republican policy positions, that would not be sufficient basis to boycott the entire party—just to oppose the bad ideas advanced by it.

One more nonreason for our stance: that we are horrified by the president. To be sure, we are horrified by much that Trump has said and done. But many members of his party are likewise horrified. Republicans such as Senators John McCain and Bob Corker and Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse, as well as former Governors Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, have spoken out and conducted themselves with integrity. Abandoning an entire party means abandoning many brave and honorable people. We would not do that based simply on rot at the top.

So why have we come to regard the GOP as an institutional danger? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2018 at 10:31 am

FEMA Contract Called for 30 Million Meals for Puerto Ricans. 50,000 Were Delivered.

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That’s less than 2/10 of 1%. Patricia Mazzei and Agustin Armendariz report in the NY Times:

The mission for the Federal Emergency Management Agency was clear: Hurricane Maria had torn through Puerto Rico, and hungry people needed food. Thirty million meals needed to be delivered as soon as possible.

For this huge task, FEMA tapped Tiffany Brown, an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience in large-scale disaster relief and at least five canceled government contracts in her past. FEMA awarded her $156 million for the job, and Ms. Brown, who is the sole owner and employee of her company, Tribute Contracting LLC, set out to find some help.

Ms. Brown, who is adept at navigating the federal contracting system, hired a wedding caterer in Atlanta with a staff of 11 to freeze-dry wild mushrooms and rice, chicken and rice, and vegetable soup. She found a nonprofit in Texas that had shipped food aid overseas and domestically, including to a Houston food bank after Hurricane Harvey.

By the time 18.5 million meals were due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000. And FEMA inspectors discovered a problem: The food had been packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them. FEMA’s solicitation required “self-heating meals.”

“Do not ship another meal. Your contract is terminated,” Carolyn Ward, the FEMA contracting officer who handled Tribute’s agreement, wrote to Ms. Brown in an email dated Oct. 19 that Ms. Brown provided to The New York Times. “This is a logistical nightmare.”

Four months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, a picture is emerging of the contracts awarded in the earliest days of the crisis. And examples like the Tribute contract are causing lawmakers to raise questions about FEMA’s handling of the disaster and whether the agency was adequately prepared to respond.

On Tuesday, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, which has been investigating the contract, asked Representative Trey Gowdy, the committee chairman, to subpoena FEMA for all documents relating to the agreement. Lawmakers fear the agency is not lining up potential contractors in advance of natural disasters, leading it to scramble to award multimillion-dollar agreements in the middle of a crisis.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a bipartisan congressional investigation found that a failure to secure advance contracts led to chaos and potential for waste and fraud. Democrats asserted that FEMA was similarly inept preparing for this storm.

“It appears that the Trump Administration’s response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico in 2017 suffered from the same flaws as the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” wrote Representatives Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Stacey E. Plaskett, the nonvoting delegate from the United States Virgin Islands.

In November, The Associated Press found that after Hurricane Maria, FEMA awarded more than $30 million in contracts for emergency tarps and plastic sheeting to a company that never delivered the needed supplies. . .

Continue reading.

I think some prison time is justified for the contractor and also for the contracting officer in FEMA. This degree of failure is so great—and the consequences for Puerto Ricans so severe—that it is clearly criminal.

Read the whole thing. Later in the report:

After Tribute’s failure to provide the meals became clear, FEMA formally terminated the contract for cause, citing Tribute’s late delivery of approved meals. Ms. Brown is disputing the termination. On Dec. 22, she filed an appeal, arguing that the real reason FEMA canceled her contract was because the meals were packed separately from the heating pouches, not because of their late delivery. Ms. Brown claims the agency did not specify that the meals and heaters had to be together.

She is seeking a settlement of at least $70 million. Her subcontractors, Cooking With A Star LLC, and Breedlove Foods Inc., have threatened to sue her for breach of contract, Ms. Brown said. Kendra Robinson, the caterer who runs Cooking With A Star, said she has about 75,000 meals her company prepared for FEMA sitting in an Atlanta warehouse.

You have to admit that Ms. Brown has plenty of chutzpah.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2018 at 10:13 am

Progress report on weight loss

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I’ve mentioned that, beginning 26 December, I tried a new approach to losing my excess weight: I continued my low-carb diet (in which I avoid carbohydrates that are too easily and quickly digested, leading to insulin surges—see Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It, by Gary Taubes). That means I exclude rice, white potatoes, products made from refined flour and/or sugar (bread, pasta, bagels, cake, ice cream, cookies, and so on). That in itself put my Type 2 diabetes in remission, but after losing about 20 pounds I lost no more—until I started using the Weight Watchers Freestyle program. That program greatly simplifies tracking your diet (many foods are zero points and thus are not counted) and nudges you toward more healthful choices.

The combination of low-carb and WW Freestyle has been quite effective in terms of weight loss while still supporting filling and satisfying meals. We eat more fish, for example, and more boneless skinless chicken breast (which I poach), and less sausage and pork and beef. I do have an occasional cocktail, but since a Manhattan is 10 points and I get only 26 points a day (plus a weekly reserve of 42 points to accommodate an occasional splurge), the occasions are less frequent. I don’t like to touch the weekly reserve, though I have used it a few times.

I use the program on-line, so no meetings. Here are the results to date:

As you can see, there are ups and downs, but the linear trendline shows the clear direction. My weight (in pounds) is shown on the Y-axis, and the numbers at the bottom are counting the days, so I am 6 weeks 1 day into the program.

The early bumps reflect a learning curve: what foods and dishes work best. But I think there will always be ups and downs.

One change in my eating pattern: each morning I now drink a glass of water into which I’ve stirred 1/4 cup chia seed (benefits) and 1 teaspoon inulin (a type of fiber that supports benign gut microbes). This week I’m also taking Floristor, a yeast-based probiotic that is immune to antibiotics (which can wipe out bacteria in the gut, including benign bacteria). See “How probiotics and prebiotics team up in your gut” in the Washington Post. I suspect that the increase in fiber (including the fact that we are now eating more greens) has helped significantly. (I recently blogged a NY Times article that explains how fiber helps: “Fiber Is Good for You. Now Scientists May Know Why.”

It’s good to feel in control of my weight, and so far it has been surprisingly easy to lose the excess.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2018 at 9:36 am

iKon open-comb and a note about Crown King soap and balm

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Yesterday a reader (Michael) asked about Phoenix Artisan aftershave balms, and specifically about the Alt-Eleven balm shown above. He said he was running out and could not find it now on their site, so I sent a query and got this reply: “We are discontinuing our aftershave balms and will be slowly replacing them with our aftershave jellies.” In the meantime, the aftershave splashes are available.

And another note: Phoenix Artisan will have all their soaps and aftershaves bear the Crown King label, which makes sense.

My Simpson Persian Jar 2 Super easily made a very nice lather from the Alt-Eleven soap. I had shaken the brush so dry that I did have to add a little water, but that’s easily done and adding water if needed works a lot better than trying to load a brush that’s too wet.

This iKon open-comb is a particularly nice razor for me, and the shave was fully enjoyable: comfortable and leaving a perfectly smooth face. A dot of the balm rubbed between my hands and then over my beard area and neck felt good. This balm dries quickly and has no residual “slick” feeling.

Shaving, for me, continues to be an enjoyable practice and a great way to begin the day on a positive note.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2018 at 9:06 am

Posted in Shaving

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