Later On

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

Archive for May 2019

Trump-Drunk Republicans Are Choosing Russia Over the Constitution

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Stuart Stevens writes in the Daily Beast:

How did this happen? How did the Republican Party descend from the moral heights of Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” to this apologist sewer filled with the weak trying to reassure the weaker that weakness is a virtue?

For the first time in American history we have meticulously detailed evidence that a hostile foreign power attempted to influence the choice of an American commander in chief, and the collective Republican response is apparently, “Our side won, move on.”

The beating heart of America is courage. This is the nation born of the courage of a few who made the impossible appear inevitable. The 75th anniversary of D-Day is upon us, and yet Republicans don’t seem capable of summoning some mix of courage and decency to put country over their next primary. Courage is not standing up to Donald Trump. Courage is getting out of the boat when the man in front of you was just shot. That’s the legacy these Republicans are squandering and it should be called out for what it is: shameful.

The congressmen and senators of the party whose unofficial slogan is now “Lock her/him up” have a constitutional duty to defend our country and they are failing. It’s not an elective they are auditing for no credit at night school, it’s a sworn oath:

“I, ______, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

It baffles me that any member of Congress or senator can read the Mueller Report, describing how the Russians referred to their campaign to help elect Donald Trump as “information warfare,” and not respond as if America was under attack. The modern Republican Party that has pushed the Pentagon budget to over $700 billion a year, that supports American military personnel in over 150 countries, those same Republicans have suddenly decided that Lenin’s “useful idiots” are their new role models.

Why? These are not stupid men and women, though more than a few do a fair imitation. Each will have their own justifications that amount to a personal Faustian bargain predicated on the self-delusion that some particular issue or cause is more important than their oath of office. But equally powerful will be the reinforcing group mentality that Rep. Justin Amash describes:

“My colleagues tell me all the time—in fact, you wouldn’t believe how many phone conversations I’ve had, or conversations in person with colleagues… A lot of them think I’m right about the Mueller Report. And they just won’t say it. A lot of Republicans. What they’ll say to me is, Justin, you know, going out publicly with that, you know the Democrats will never support you. You know that they’re hypocrites on this stuff. And I say, you know, some of them are and some of them aren’t. It doesn’t matter to me. Because you have to look at what you’re doing first. You have to care about what you’re doing. If you have a society where all we care about is that the other side is bad, and therefore we don’t have to do the right thing, that society will break down, and you will have no liberty. I refuse to be a part of that.

At the heart of the Trump presidency is a lie: almost every Republican elected official in Washington knows Donald Trump is unfit to be president. They knew it on Nov. 9, 2016, at 7 p.m., when they were planning on how to rebuild the party from the disaster of a nominating a know-nothing racist for president; and they knew it at midnight, when they were all frantically calling the oddballs and kooks Trump had assembled into a campaign to lavishly praise their brilliance.

The Republican Party stood by a candidate who ran on a religious test to enter the United States. They knew it was unconstitutional and indecent, but they were silent. All through 2016 I had conversations with what passes for leadership in the Republican Party on the need to stand up to Trump. Most of their responses went like this: “Trump is a disaster and a disgrace. But we have to let him lose on his own. If we, the Establishment, put our thumbs on the scale, when he loses it will be our fault and not the fault of his racism, the alt-right, those idiots at Breitbart. We will have elected Hillary Clinton. We have to let him lose and rebuild.”

To which I always responded, “But what if he wins?” Truth was, though, I didn’t think he would win, and I wasn’t great at making the case for something I didn’t believe. What these Republican leaders were saying wasn’t crazy. It just proved to be wrong. And in that miscalculation began the surrender of any sense of self to Donald Trump. So now the nation is in full possession of the reality that Russians—Russians, for cryin’ out loud—worked on the same side as every Republican volunteer, donor, elected official and Trump voter. When you learn that the bank you borrowed money from was actually owned by a drug cartel, should your first reaction be, “Well, we got a good interest rate”? The simple reality is that the Republican Party was in business with Russian intelligence efforts, what used to be known as the KGB, and precious few leading the Republican Party seem to give a damn.

I’ve spent decades waking up every morning eager to fight Democrats, trying to gain every bit of advantage for every battle. God knows we made mistakes and played too often on the Dark Side. But I never woke up knowing that somewhere out there a Russian agent was waking up with the same job I had. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2019 at 8:53 pm

A Stain on the Honor of the Navy

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Eliot A. Cohen, Professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, writes in the Atlantic:

One prays to the “Eternal Father, strong to save / Whose arm hath bound the restless wave” that The Wall Street Journal has got it horribly wrong. The newspaper reports that the United States Navy, under orders from the White House and with the approval of the acting secretary of defense and the compliance of a chain of naval officers in the Seventh Fleet, did its efficient best to conceal the name John McCain from President Donald Trump’s sight when he recently visited Yokosuka Naval Base.

The ship is under repair, so it could not be moved. But sailors hung a tarp over the ship’s name, and other measures (a strategically positioned barge) helped obscure the offending words. Sailors were told to remove all coverings that might indicate that the ship is the USS John S. McCain. They were, according to the article, given the day off, lest the name John McCain, embroidered on their caps, give offense. On the day of the presidential visit, some of the sailors present wore “Make Aircrew Great Again” patches, with something that resembled Trump’s profile on them. Subsequent stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post amended the Journal’s story somewhat, to include the assertion that naval leadership intervened at the last minute to have the tarp removed. But the basic account remained intact.

Dishonor. Not to to the late senator, nor to his father and grandfather of the same name, who rendered the same distinguished service in war and peace. Their deeds and reputations are far beyond such mean contrivances. But dishonor indeed to the civilians and officers who hold the lives of young Americans in their hands and went along with this. That the president might wish such behavior is not surprising—he is mean, petty, and vindictive, and even if he did not order this (and he quickly tweeted a denial that he had), he signaled that he wished it. It is what is known in strongman governments as “working toward the Leader.” It is the effect of a personality that contaminates and corrodes every valuable thing he touches.

Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis would never have agreed to this. But his successor may well have gone along with it. He is, after all, only an acting secretary, and desires the real title from a boss who likes to string ambitious men and women along.

Naval officers of the past—a Preble or a Farragut or a Nimitz—would have disdained such requests. If called on the carpet, they would have spoken up and spoken back, with the firmness expected of officers from a service known for its ornery independence. But perhaps we have fewer of those these days. Petty officers in days gone by would have growled at their enlisted men and women to keep political statements off their shoulders, and enforced the political neutrality of the armed forces. But maybe they no longer understand that public displays of partisan attachment are anathema to good order and discipline. Maybe they wanted to wear MAGA hats, too.

That this could happen to the mightiest armed forces on Earth should worry Americans far more than reports of Chinese hypersonic missiles or ace Russian-military hacking teams. When large elements of the chain of command yield to illegitimate and morally corrupt demands of this kind, there is reason to fear veins of rottenness in the whole structure. When naval officers can agree to dishonor the memory of a real hero, who suffered five years of torment and refused early release, a statesman who in his first career was blood of their blood and flesh of their flesh, and who is buried on the grounds of the Naval Academy itself, the service is in a bad way.

Those who went along with these requests disgraced themselves and disgraced the oaths they took when they joined the service or became public officials. In a just world, they would lose their commissions or resign their posts, but they will not. They will burrow more deeply in. They will do so because it is the nature of the moral compromise of someone sworn to a demanding code that weakness begets weakness, yielding begets yielding, and cowardice begets still more cowardice.

Leadership teams at companies that act this way for a while eventually blow themselves up in scandal or bankruptcy. A financial reckoning comes sooner or later, and then the shareholders or the courts or scavenging capitalists slice up the remains. But there is nothing more perilous than an armed force without honor. Democratic peoples trust the armed forces with immense, almost inconceivable reservoirs of physical force and influence. That trust, once squandered, takes a long, long time to regain.

More dangerous, a service that tolerates sycophancy will get America’s sons and daughters killed, and lead them to defeat in America’s wars. War is not . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2019 at 8:47 pm

The Liberal Sciences and the Lost Arts of Learning

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Full disclosure: I am an alumnus of St. John’s College (Annapolis MD) and a decade later served as director of admissions at that campus for three years. The initial freshman assignment described in the article, drawing a dogwood tree, is since my time, but I think it’s ingenious. The essay notes:

The other question on the lips of students engaged in tree drawing, a not unreasonable one, is “Why are we doing this?” In what possible way would drawing a tree relate to the study of great books?

As an alumnus and one-time teacher, I can say with some certainty that a student who asks such a question will be requested to give an answer, and other students encouraged to join in the discussion. It would be interesting to see what the students come up with.

Brent Orrell writes in Law & Liberty:

When freshmen arrive at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, one of their first assignments is to draw a picture of the dogwood tree that stands near the center of campus. With no training, preparation, even or much in the way of explanation, the students are told to study the tree closely and to render some aspect of it with paper and pencil.

Students say this drawing assignment is surprisingly challenging. Bearing the normal worries of a college freshman, to which are added the prospect of four years of intensive “great books” study covering the canon of Western thought from Aristotle to Einstein, they are directed to observe a tree. The sheer open-endedness of the assignment catches new students flat-footed. Anxious to impress, they are flooded with performance-related fears (“How will I know if I’ve done it right?”), the product of 12 years of graded assignments, tests, and an adolescence spent climbing the greasy pole of secondary school stardom. For St. John’s to work, performative habits, many years in the making, must be undone. Observing the tree and attempting to draw what one sees is the first, halting step in that process.

A Culture of Observation

The other question on the lips of students engaged in tree drawing, a not unreasonable one, is “Why are we doing this?” In what possible way would drawing a tree relate to the study of great books? The St. John’s College seal (above) offers the beginning of an answer to that question. The motto reads, “I make free adults from children by books and a balance.” Those words and symbols are worth pondering. The balance symbolizes the enterprise of modern science which so dominates our intellectual, economic, and social lives that we barely notice it. For most Westerners, there is only one pathway to “real” knowledge and it is embodied in the scientific method. Under the weight of empiricism, other forms of knowledge crumble into opinion. The balance embodies the post-Cartesian counting and measuring that is the means by which we have converted the rest of nature into an instrument of human well-being. The books that surround the balance are the great works of pre-Cartesian learning that propose a different approach to knowledge, scientific and otherwise, based on Aristotelian observation. The question the observational approach poses is not “What can I do with this?” but “What kind of thing is this, and what is it in itself?”

In mid-March, I had the opportunity to spend two days on the St. John’s campus attending science labs and mathematics tutorials to get a better understanding of how the New Program (the name given to St. John’s great books program in the mid-1930s) seeks to achieve integration of the observational and instrumental approaches to the science. The labs and tutorials bear a strong resemblance to the seminars that make up the rest of the St. John’s program. As with the seminars that deal with seminal works of philosophy, history, and literature, the mathematics and science classes are founded on the reading of original texts. Math courses focus on the works of Euclid, Ptolemy, Nichomachus, and Leibniz in which students “re-prove” the original proofs of geometry and calculus. Science labs rely on papers written by scientists who first made or articulated key discoveries in physics, chemistry, genetics, and other fields of investigation using the modern scientific method. Frequently, these readings are accompanied by experiments that seek to replicate the results detailed in the papers.

For labs, students assemble in a laboratory room around a square table accommodating 20 to 25 students. The sessions are led by a tutor and the emphasis is on a non-hierarchical instruction and learning. The use of the title of “tutor” de-emphasizes the role of the instructor who is understood to be simply the most advanced student in the room. While almost all tutors have Ph.D.’s, none are addressed as “professor” and their academic training may or may not be in field covered by the lab. (All St. John’s tutors eventually teach every aspect of the program creating a broad, democratized base of knowledge within the faculty.)

The expectation for all classes is that students will have read the text for the class session but tutors do not have a formal lesson plan or learning objective. Typically, a tutor will raise a question for consideration but most of the conversation occurs between the students rather than between the students and the tutor. This points to an important aspect of St. John’s pedagogy: we learn not just by listening but by speaking because it is through spoken articulation that students are forced to assemble disparate thoughts into coherent statement and to have their beliefs and conclusions tested and amended by others in real time. All relevant questions are deemed valid but all assertions and interpretations must be backed by evidence and argument.

Consistent with an observational approach, questions rather than answers form the basis of St. John’s pedagogy generally, including science instruction. One St. John’s graduate described to me how the school approached that staple of biology instruction, frog dissection. In a normal science class, students are prepped to look for certain things (“Find the heart; find the spinal cord; find the lungs”). St. John’s inverts this approach and asks students, “What do you want to know about the frog?” The formulation of the questions precedes the first incision because the incision disrupts the subject. Looking for one thing may obscure other things. The most important issue the student confronts is deciding what is important to know rather than getting answers to instrumental questions of how a particular organ or system works.

A complementary aspect of the St. John’s pedagogy is its emphasis on civil exchange. In the context of higher ed systems that are riven by intersectional conflict, the St. John’s approach is remarkable. Pano Kanelos, the president of the Annapolis campus (St. John’s is collectively made up of two campuses, the other in Santa Fe, New Mexico), noted that while other colleges and universities across the country had experienced a variety of disruptions, protests, and “silencing” of controversial voices, the spirit of open inquiry and civility at St. John has had the effect of channeling those social currents into constructive dialogue. But the Socratic system at St. John’s goes much deeper than just amelioration of strong and strongly held differences between students. The underlying purpose is to develop habits of “good disagreement”: reasoned exchange in which both parties’ primary value is the pursuit of truth rather than intellectual or political victory.

Inside the classroom, tutors and students adopt a formal style, addressing one another as “Mister” or “Ms.”. This is not an affectation but critical to de-personalizing disagreement. Another place you can see this relational strategy is the floor of the U.S. Senate where the rules require members who are often at daggers drawn to address one another through the Senate president and in the third person: “my friend” (often he or she isn’t) or “my esteemed colleague” (often used to veil feelings of contempt). These rhetorical gambits help redirect passions away from the person and toward the subject at hand. In the broader American culture of anger and confrontation these social lubricants are dismissed as hypocrisy. In reality, it is a form of civility that puts guardrails around conflict and helps hold democratic systems together.

Entering the Time-Warp

A St. John’s laboratory session is something of a time-warp. Nominal time proceeds at its usual pace, but class time slows and intensifies. In the sessions I attended, the tutor provided a very brief introduction to the topic and then asked a question directed to an aspect of the paper under discussion. What ensues is what I call, “the Johnnie pause.” Silence in the classroom can be disconcerting, and St. John’s tutors are experts in allowing silence to do its work. It is possible to interpret the pause, as I initially did, as a lack of readiness or a failure to have “done the reading.” In reality, what the pause usually represents is concentrated thought, an effort to come to grips with the concept at hand and the tutor’s question. After a minute or two, a student hazards sharing a thought or question for further deliberation. This thread is picked up by another student to be affirmed, elaborated upon, or challenged. Gradually, the conversations develop momentum with the tutors intervening only if the discussion drifts too far into error or from the subject at hand. Depending on the class, this type of engagement goes on for two hours or more.

As the conversation of the physical phenomenon under discussion grows more complex, language is revealed to be inadequate to the task of describing abstract thought. At this point, students resort to drawing on the chalkboard to more clearly demonstrate their questions and hypotheses and the process of emendation continues in pictures. What this reveals is that scientific investigation is primarily a matter of imagination since the realities being investigated are frequently invisible and incompletely understood. Physical phenomena are described through analogy. During a discussion of complexities of electromagnetic lines of force, a student resorted to saying, “It’s like magic”, which has an unsatisfying feel but reflects the sense of wonder and discovery that drives the scientific process.

In the St. John’s pedagogy, scientific knowledge is not grasped but approached gradually from a distance and with the understanding that the observer will never quite arrive. In one lab, I saw students wrestle with the question of whether light is a wave or a particle with the class coming reluctantly to the same conclusion as Louis de Broglie, whose 1929 Nobel Prize-winning paper on the topic was the day’s reading: we don’t know for certain and probably can’t.

There is a tension in that statement. We crave certainty, and in the provisional nature of truth one detects the risk of relativism: there is no truth. Yet the thrust of the St. John’s program is that final knowledge, while it is held to exist and must be pursued, cannot be possessed. The more we move toward the possessive understanding of knowledge, the more mystery is discarded and knowledge takes on the instrumental character of post-Cartesian thought. In his 2010 Dean’s Statement, St. John’s tutor and former dean, Michael Dink, wrote about the school’s approach to the relationship between science and the humanities. He said . . .

Continue reading.

I was the admissions director who admitted Michael Dink, who was an impressive student.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2019 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Education

Over 200 Allegations of Abuse of Migrant Children; 1 Case of Homeland Security Disciplining Someone

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I recognize the US less and less. It is moving rather quickly in a bad direction. (Another mass shooting today, BTW. And the US says, “Nothing can be done. You just have to put up with it.”) A.C. Thompson reports in ProPublica:

From 2009 to 2014, at least 214 complaints were filed against federal agents for abusing or mistreating migrant children. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s records, only one employee was disciplined as a result of a complaint.

The department’s records, which have alarmed advocates for migrants given the more aggressive approach to the treatment of minors at the border under the current administration, emerged as part of a federal lawsuit seeking the release of the names of the accused agents.

Last month, attorneys for DHS argued before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that disclosing the names of the federal agents would infringe on their right to privacy. A district judge had earlier ordered the department to make the names public.

The fact that only a single case of discipline apparently resulted from more than 200 complaints of child abuse clearly worried the district judge, John Tuchi, of Arizona, who ruled on the matter in the spring of 2018. In his order demanding the release of the names, Tuchi faulted DHS for failing to vigorously investigate claims of misconduct, stating that “completed investigations were almost nonexistent.”

DHS declined to comment for this story. [Of course they did. They don’t have to answer to anyone. – LG]

The ongoing legal battle stretches back to 2014, when American Civil Liberties Union chapters in Arizona and Southern California began seeking details about the alleged mistreatment of minors apprehended and detained by Customs and Border Protection, an agency within Homeland Security. Using the Freedom of Information Act, attorneys with the ACLU approached DHS with a request for copies of all records regarding the verbal, physical and sexual abuse of minors by Customs or Border Patrol personnel.

The ACLU’s fact-finding initiative came as the federal government struggled to deal with a massive spike in the number of children — many from violence-plagued Central American countries, many unaccompanied by parents — crossing the southern border into the U.S.

Hoping to speed the release of the documents, the ACLU later filed suit. While the federal government eventually turned over some 30,000 pages of heavily redacted records, including 214 allegations of child abuse by agents, it has balked at disclosing the names of the Border Patrol and Customs personnel alleged to have harmed minors.

ACLU attorney Mitra Ebadolahi said that without the names of Customs and Border Protection employees — or some other way to identify them, such as tracking numbers — it’s impossible to divine basic facts about the agency’s handling of children. “We don’t know the total number of complaints submitted by a child or on behalf of a child,” Ebadolahi said in an interview, noting that there are likely far more than 214 complaints. “We don’t know the number of agents implicated. Is it a handful of agents? Are they clustered in a certain sector? Were any of those agents disciplined?”

The single disciplinary record released by DHS involved an employee with Immigration and Customs Enforcement who verbally abused a minor.

DHS maintains that the records it has already shared offer a detailed picture of the abuse allegations — including date, location and the substance of the complaint — as well as the government’s efforts to investigate them. For the public, there’s little value in “knowing the names of specific individual agents who have been subject to allegations of misconduct,” said DHS attorney Laura Myron during oral arguments before the 9th Circuit on May 16. Myron stressed that the privacy rights of Border Patrol and Customs employees would be violated by the release of their names in connection with the abuse complaints.

Myron disputed Tuchi’s view that DHS had failed to thoroughly investigate the allegations, saying his statement was not supported by the evidence presented in the case, or the documents turned over to the ACLU.

In court, Judge Sandra Ikuta expressed concern that the ACLU would “harass” the employees and endanger their lives by publishing their names.

“We would accept some alternative [to the release of the names] that would allow the public to look at the records that we’ve obtained and make sense of them, Ebadolahi responded. “There are cases where agencies have done that.”

The complaints unearthed by Ebadolahi and her colleagues, though redacted, offer glimpses of troubling patterns of behavior within the ranks. One boy told investigators “that during his apprehension by Border Patrol agents he was hit on the head with a flashlight. … He sustained a laceration to his scalp that required three (3) staples.” The boy’s story was buttressed by the fact that he had three clearly visible staples closing a fresh wound on his head. Other children reported being punched, shocked with Tasers, and denied food and medicine. Many described being bludgeoned with flashlights.

In one memo, from June 2014, a DHS investigator suggested shutting down an investigation into a minor offense because the department was deluged with a “huge amount of more serious complaints.”

This is disgusting, but this is the US today: the US government abusing children without any accountability or penalties.

Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978) served as U.S. Vice President from 1965 to 1969. At the Hubert Humphrey Building dedication in Washington, D.C. on November 1, 1977, Humphrey spoke about the treatment of the weakest members of society as a reflection of its government: “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

The measure of the US is pretty low.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2019 at 4:46 pm

In Terrifying Interview, William Barr Goes Full MAGA

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

After the legal Establishment had granted him the benefit of the doubt, Attorney General William Barr has shocked his erstwhile supporters with his aggressive and frequently dishonest interventions on behalf of President Trump. The spectacle of an esteemed lawyer abetting his would-be strongman boss’s every authoritarian instinct has left Barr’s critics grasping for explanations. Some have seized on the darker threads of his history in the Reagan and Bush administrations, when he misled the public about a secret Department of Justice memo and helped cover up the Iran-Contra scandal.

But Barr’s long, detailed interview with Jan Crawford suggests the rot goes much deeper than a simple mania for untrammeled Executive power. Barr has drunk deep from the Fox News worldview of Trumpian paranoia.

It is hard to convey how far over the edge Barr has gone without reading the entire interview, which lasted an hour. But a few key comments illustrate the depth of his investment in Trump’s perspective.

Barr, as he has done repeatedly, provides a deeply misleading account of what Robert Mueller found. “He did not reach a conclusion,” he says. “He provided both sides of the issue, and … his conclusion was he wasn’t exonerating the president, but he wasn’t finding a crime either.”

As Mueller stated in the report and again at his press conference, he felt bound by a policy preventing him from charging the president with a crime, or even saying the president had committed a crime. Mueller’s view is that his job vis-à-vis presidential misconduct is to describe the behavior and leave it up to Congress to decide if it’s a crime. Several hundred former federal prosecutors have stated, and Mueller clearly signaled, the actions he described in the Mueller report are crimes, or would be if the president could be charged with a crime.

Later in the interview, Barr grossly contradicts Mueller’s findings with regard to Trump’s ties to Russia. “Mueller has spent two and half years, and the fact is, there is no evidence of a conspiracy,” he says. “So it was bogus, this whole idea that the Trump was in cahoots with the Russians is bogus.”

This is just a wild lie. Mueller was unable to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia. He was unable to establish this, in part, because “some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right,” or “provided information that was false or incomplete,” or “deleted relevant communications.” Indeed, the two Trump campaign officials most closely linked to Russian cutouts, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, refused to cooperate with prosecutors. A failure to establish a criminal conspiracy is not the same thing as finding “no evidence of a conspiracy.” Nowhere does the Mueller report say there’s no evidence of a conspiracy. Some of the potential conspiracy elements were unprovable — Mueller never figured out why Manafort gave 75 pages of polling data to a Russian agent.

Barr, amazingly, goes even farther to say the report proved “this whole idea that the Trump was in cahoots with the Russians is bogus.” In fact, the Mueller report notes that it did not even try to establish whether the campaign was “in cahoots” with Russia. The report states that it “applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of ‘collusion.’”

The report in fact finds extensive evidence that Trump was in cahoots with Russia. His top campaign officials took a meeting with a Russian agent promising them help from the Russian government. Trump asked Russia on camera to hack his opponent’s emails, and they carried out a hacking attempt that day. Trump was pursuing a lucrative, no-risk business deal requiring Russian government approval during the campaign and lying about it, making him vulnerable to blackmail by Russia. Sharing an explosive secret that could destroy your campaign in order to potentially collect a massive payoff from a party that you know is doing illegal things to help you is the definition of being in cahoots.

Barr goes on to repeat Trump’s obsession with texts capturing the political chatter of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two romantically-involved FBI agents. “It’s hard to read some of the texts with and not feel that there was gross bias at work, and they’re appalling,” he tells Crawford.

There is, in fact, nothing unusual about FBI agents expressing political opinions. An investigation by the FBI’s Inspector General “did not find evidence to connect the political views expressed in these messages to the specific investigative decisions that we reviewed.” And no serious person doubts the overall weight of political opinion at the FBI leans rightward. The bureau has never had a Democratic director, and James Comey testifiedthat, during the campaign, agents appeared to be leaking heavily to Rudy Giuliani. (Comey violated policy by scolding Clinton, and then publicly reopening the investigation, in part due to the pressure of the leaks from the FBI’s pro-Trump cabal.) Barr’s depiction of the FBI as a bastion of anti-Trump sentiment is grossly at odds with the evidence.

Even more astonishingly, Barr proceeds from that false premise to liken the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Trump to right-wing birther conspiracies:

I think if the shoe was on the other foot we could be hearing a lot about it. If those kinds of discussions were held, you know, when Obama first ran for office, people talking about Obama in those tones and suggesting that “Oh that he might be a Manchurian candidate for Islam or something like that.” You know some wild accusations like that and you had that kind of discussion back and forth, you don’t think we would be hearing a lot more about it?

By likening the Russia scandal to birther conspiracies, Barr is tracking the arguments made by the most fanatical members of the pro-Trump commentariat, who treat it as a complete hoax. In fact, the Trump campaign had dozens and dozens of contacts with Russians, cultivating and relying on their hidden and sometimes illegal support. For Barr to liken these connections to a completely fabricated theory about Obama as a secret Muslim agent boggles the mind.

Barr portrays the Russia investigation as an effort to overturn Trump’s election:

I mean, republics have fallen because of Praetorian Guard mentality where government officials get very arrogant, they identify the national interest with their own political preferences and they feel that anyone who has a different opinion, you know, is somehow an enemy of the state. And you know, there is that tendency that they know better and that, you know, they’re there to protect as guardians of the people. That can easily translate into essentially supervening the will of the majority and getting your own way as a government official.

This is Trump’s own favorite conspiracy theory, dressed up in more elevated language than Trump himself can muster — “Praetorian Guard mentality” — but making the same ugly charge that the FBI plotted an illegal coup to stop Trump’s election.

Barr hints repeatedly throughout the interview that he has seen secret evidence he cannot share that supports his sinister conclusion. “I have not gotten answers that are well satisfactory, and in fact probably have more questions, and that some of the facts that I’ve learned don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened,” he says. “That’s all I really will say. Things are just not jiving.”

It is impossible to disprove Barr’s claim to have uncovered a secret cabal to defeat Trump. But one might wonder why this cabal chose to infiltrate Trump’s campaign in an effort to smear him as a Russian stooge, and then fail to use the dirt before the election. Indeed, even as reporters were probing Trump’s growing swath of shady Russia ties, the FBI was aggressively spinning the opposite story to the media. The New York Times reported this spin in a now-infamous story asserting “No clear link to Russia,” and “even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”

Barr’s theory is that a partisan cabal of rabid Trump-haters decided to undermine his campaign by ginning up a phony scandal that they kept secret, even lying to the media, is like the Dr. Strangelove Soviet Doomsday machine. (The device deterred a nuclear first strike by automatically launching a response, but the Soviets neglected to tell the United States because “the Premier loves surprises.”)

The most frighteningly clarifying comment comes at the end, when Barr lays out his belief that President Trump poses no threat whatsoever to democratic norms. The threat is the “resistance”:

I think one of the ironies today is that people are saying that it’s President Trump that’s shredding our institutions. I really see no evidence of that, it is hard, and I really haven’t seen … particulars as to how that’s being done. From my perspective the idea of resisting a democratically elected president and basically throwing everything at him and, you know, really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president, that is where the shredding of our norms and our institutions is occurring.

In fact, the opposition to Trump has been marked, on the whole, by its fastidious restraint. At times Barr has used their restraint against them. Because Mueller believed his role prevents him from labeling Trump’s actions crimes, Barr says Mueller couldn’t decide if they were criminal or not. He says the relatively mild steps taken to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia during the campaign prove the concerns couldn’t have been serious. (“I’m wondering what exactly was the response to it if they were alarmed,” he sneers to Crawford. “Surely the response should have been more than just, you know, dangling a confidential informant in front of a peripheral player in the Trump campaign.”) If the FBI was investigating Trump, it proves they were out to get him, but if they tread lightly, it proves Trump was innocent. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2019 at 2:10 pm

Improving on the Mediterranean Diet & Do Flexitarians Live Longer?

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2019 at 8:26 am

2, 89, 400, 1411, …

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I do like my Fendrihan 400 brush, a synthetic with a nice feel and interesting handle (which comes in other colors). It made an excellent lather from the vintage Floris No. 89 (still available but the current formulation is different).

Three passes with the excellent Fendrihand Mk II razor left my face totally smooth. This razor is among my favorites. It’s a stainless steel razor, and this model is coated in bronze.

A good splash of 4711 finished the job and ushered me into the end of the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2019 at 7:47 am

Posted in Shaving

It’s Getting Worse: The IRS Now Audits Poor Americans at About the Same Rate as the Top 1%

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It makes no sense (except, of course, to the GOP). Paul Kiel reports in ProPublica:

Every year, the IRS, starved of funds after years of budget cuts, loses hundreds more agents to retirement. And every year, the news gets better for the rich — especially those prone to go bold on their taxes. According to data released by the IRS last week, millionaires in 2018 were about 80% less likely to be audited than they were in 2011.

But poor taxpayers continue to bear the brunt of the IRS’ remaining force. As we reported last year, Americans who receive the earned income tax credit, one of the country’s largest anti-poverty programs, are audited at a higher rate than all but the richest taxpayers. The new data shows that the trend has only grown stronger.

Audits of the rich continue to plunge while those of the poor hold steady, and the two audit rates are converging. Last year, the top 1% of taxpayers by income were audited at a rate of 1.56%. EITC recipients, who typically have annual income under $20,000, were audited at 1.41%.

Part of the reason is ease. Audits of EITC recipients are largely automated and far less complicated.

“While the wealthy now have an open invitation to cheat, low-income taxpayers are receiving heightened scrutiny because they can be audited far more easily. All it takes is a letter instead of a team of investigators and lawyers,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

“We have two tax systems in this country,” he said, “and nothing illustrates that better than the IRS ignoring wealthy tax cheats while penalizing low-income workers over small mistakes.”

In a statement, IRS spokesman Dean Patterson acknowledged that the sharp decline in audits of the wealthy is due to the agency having lost so many skilled auditors. And he didn’t dispute that pursuing the poor is just easier.

Because EITC audits are largely conducted through the mail by lower-level employees from a central location, they are “less burdensome for taxpayers than in-person audits as they mail in their documentation and don’t have to take time out of the workday,” Patterson said.

“Correspondence audits are also the most efficient use of IRS’ limited examination resources.”

In April, Wyden, citing ProPublica’s reporting, asked IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to deliver a plan to address the agency’s disproportionate focus on auditing the poor. The deadline has passed, but Wyden’s office said the senator still expects a response. The IRS did not comment on the delay.

The agency audited 382,000 recipients of the EITC in 2018, accounting for 43% of all audits of individuals last year. When we mapped the estimated audit rates for every county in America, the counties with the highest audit rates were poor, rural, mostly African American and in the South, a reflection of the high number of EITC claims there.

Natassia Smick and her husband were among those unlucky 382,000 households. We wrote about them last year. They live outside Los Angeles and saw their entire refund frozen in February 2018. For a couple who earned about $33,000 in 2017, that $7,300 refund was big money ($2,000 of it stemmed from the EITC). When it didn’t come, Smick said she had to abandon plans for catching up with her credit card debt.

After Smick sent in all her supporting documents, it took until this May to get a final answer from the IRS. Fourteen months after it all started, the IRS said it agreed Smick and her husband were due about $7,000, she said. But the agency disagreed on the remaining $350, because it couldn’t verify her husband’s employment for part of the year. Smick said the IRS was wrong to hold back the $350, but she couldn’t afford to contest it and further delay the $7,000. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 12:17 pm

New evidence suggests census citizenship question was crafted to benefit white Republicans

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Tara Bahrampour reports in the Washington Post:

Just weeks before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the Trump administration can add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, new evidence emerged Thursday suggesting the question was crafted specifically to give an electoral advantage to white Republicans.

The evidence was found in the files of the prominent Republican redistricting strategist Thomas Hofeller after his death in August. It reveals that Hofeller “played a significant role in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census in order to create a structural electoral advantage for, in his own words, ‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,’ ” and that Trump administration officials purposely obscured Hofeller’s role in court proceedings, lawyers for plaintiffs challenging the question wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman. Furman was one of three federal judges who ruled against the question this year.

The letter drew on new information discovered on hard drives belonging to Hofeller, which were found accidentally by Hofeller’s estranged daughter. Stephanie Hofeller Lizon then shared them with the organization Common Cause for a gerrymandering lawsuit it is pursuing in North Carolina.

The files show that Hofeller concluded in a 2015 study that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” in redistricting, and then pushed the idea with the Trump administration in 2017, according to the letter to Furman.

The evidence contradicts sworn testimony by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s expert adviser A. Mark Neuman and senior Justice Department official John Gore, as well as other testimony by defendants, the letter said.

The Commerce and Justice departments did not respond to questions about the new information.

It is unclear whether there is a way for lawyers challenging the citizenship question to get the new information to the Supreme Court, which will decide the case by the term’s end next month. Evidence in the case concluded with oral arguments April 23, when the conservative majority seemed inclined to side with the government.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion in district court Thursday morning for “sanctions and any other relief the court deems appropriate, because of apparently untruthful testimony” by Trump administration officials in the earlier trials, said Dale Ho, who argued the case at the Supreme Court on behalf of the ACLU.

“We started at the district court because that where the misrepresentations were made,” he said. “We’re evaluating what other options would be appropriate.”

The ACLU also asked the court to allow previously redacted testimony from Neuman to be made public. On Thursday, Furman ordered that the government must provide a response by 10 a.m. Friday and called a hearing on the matter for Wednesday.

The new information indicates that blueprints for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census predated the Trump administration, but Donald Trump’s election allowed them to become a reality, Ho said.

“It just shows that there was a long-standing plan to weaponize the census to dilute minority voting power to try to forestall the electoral effects of the demographic changes that this country is undergoing,” he said.

Ho said sanctions could include fines imposed on witnesses or the government, a reopening of the case or an amendment of the final judgment to account for new evidence.

The population count from the decennial census is used to allocate $800 billion a year in federal funding and determine congressional representation and redistricting. Opponents of the citizenship question have argued that it will suppress response to the survey among immigrant communities, resulting in an undercount in the areas where they live.

Hofeller’s files also reveal that in August 2017, he helped ghostwrite a draft Department of Justice letter to the Commerce Department requesting a citizenship question and coming up with a rationale — to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said. He then gave this letter to Gore, the principal deputy assistant attorney general, in October 2017, they said.

The gen­esis of that request and the rationale behind it were key questions in trials challenging the question. Ross initially had told Congress that the request was initiated by the Justice Department in a December 2017 letter, but administration documents released in the case later indicated that it came at Ross’s urging, starting months earlier. Census and voting rights experts have said the question is not needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

The Justice Department letter “bears striking similarities to Dr. Hofeller’s 2015 study, stating that a citizenship question on the Census was essential to advantaging Republicans and white voters,” the letter to Furman said. It added: “Based on this new evidence, it appears that both Neuman and Gore falsely testified about the genesis of DOJ’s request to Commerce in ways that obscured the pretextual character of the request.”

Critics of the question blasted the administration after the news broke. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 11:01 am

A visual history of American public libraries

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Here’s a fascinating, long-scroll visual read by Ariel Aberg-Riger. Definitely worth the click.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 8:40 am

Former Republican Federal Prosecutors Speak Out Against President Trump’s Obstruction of Justice

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The Daily 202 in the Washington Post notes:

The video features Donald Ayer, Paul Rosenzweig, and Jeffrey Harris. Ayer served as the deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. Rosenzweig was a senior counsel to Starr and deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. Harris served as deputy associate attorney general under Ronald Reagan and was a principal assistant to Rudy Giuliani when he was in the Justice Department.

The three are among the more than 1,000 former prosecutorswho have signed onto a statement asserting that Mueller’s findings would have produced obstruction charges against Trump if he wasn’t the president.

“These veterans of the Reagan and Bush Administrations are reminding us that the law applies the same to everyone, even the president,” said Chris Truax, a spokesman for Republicans for the Rule of Law, which produced the video in partnership with Protect Democracy, a nonprofit whose charge is to hold the executive branch accountable. “Republicans and all Americans need to listen.”

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 8:26 am

1979 outbreak of breast enlargement in Italian children

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Michael Greger MD writes at NutritionFacts.org:

In 1979, an epidemic of breast enlargement was noted in Italian children. Poultry or veal was suspected, given that estrogens “may be fed to farm animals to accelerate their weight gain.” “After this episode, the European Union banned the application/use of anabolic growth promoters in agriculture,” as well as the importation of American meat from animals injected with drugs like Zeranol, sold as “Ralgro Magnum.”

Zeranol, one of the most potent known endocrine disrupters, is 100,000 times more estrogenic than the plastics chemical, BPA, for example, and is the subject of my video Zeranol Use in Meat and Breast Cancer. “Zeranol constitutes a special case among potential endocrine disrupters, because Zeranol, in contrast to all other oestrogenic ‘endocrine disrupting’ chemicals, is present in human food because it is deliberately used in the production of consumer products. Furthermore, Zeranol is designed to be a potent, fairly persistent, [estrogen] whereas the [estrogenic] properties of the chemicals that are considered potential endocrine disrupters is accidental.”

If you drip blood from a cow implanted with the drug onto human breast cancer cells in a petri dish, you can double the cancer growth rate. We don’t drink blood, though, but preliminary data showed that muscle extracts—that is, meat extracts—also stimulated breast cancer cell proliferation.

Furthermore, Zeranol may cause the transformation of normal breast cells into cancer cells in the first place. Zeranol-containing blood from implanted cattle “was capable of transforming the human normal breast epithelial cell line” into breast cancer cells within 21 days.

“[O]bese individuals may be at greater risk of developing zeranol-induced breast cancer,” since they already have high levels of leptin, which is a hormone produced by fat cells that can itself promote breast cancer growth. And, Zeranol exposure can greatly enhance this growth-promoting action. “This result also suggests that Z[eranol] may be more harmful to obese breast cancer patients than to normal weight breast cancer patients in terms of breast cancer development.”

“In conclusion, because the synthetic and the natural hormones, used as anabolic growth promoters in meat production, are by far the most potent hormones found in human food,” we should really be testing people, especially children, before and after eating this meat. It amazes me this hasn’t been done, and, until it has, we have no idea what kind of threat they may pose, though the fact that Zeranol is as potent as estradiol (the primary sex steroid in women) and DES should concern us. DES is another synthetic estrogen that was marketed to pregnant women until 1971 when it was shown to cause vaginal cancers in the daughters. But few know it was also usedin meat.

“In the absence of effective federal regulation, the meat industry uses hundreds of animal feed additives…with little or no concern about the carcinogenic and other toxic effects of dietary residues of these additives. Illustratively, after decades of misleading assurances of the safety of diethylstilbestrol (DES) and its use as a growth-promoting animal-feed additive, the United States finally banned its use in 1979 some 40 years after it was first shown to be carcinogenic. The meat industry then promptly switched to other [potentially] carcinogenic additives,” such as Zeranol.

When girls started dying from vaginal cancer, DES-treated meat was banned in Europe. However, “misleading assurances…including the deliberate suppression of residue data, managed to delay a U.S. ban on DES” in the meat supply for eight years.

Today, “[v]irtually the entire U.S. population consumes, without any warning, labeling, or information, unknown and unpredictable amounts of hormonal residues in meat products over a lifetime.” If all hormonal and other carcinogenic feed additives aren’t banned immediately, the least we should have is “explicit labeling requirements of use and of [hormone] residue levels in all meat products, including milk and eggs.”


Isn’t the DES story amazing? I had no idea it was used in meat production. Check out Illegal Drugs in Chicken Feathers for more on Big Pharma on Big Farms.

The most dangerous additive used in the meat industry is antibiotics, though. See, for example:

Continue reading. Full list is at the link, plus a list of foods that offer protection.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 8:22 am

“Best healthcare system in the world” suffers another blow: Cardiologists at UNC Chapel Hill medical center wouldn’t send their children there

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Ellen Gabler reports in the NY Times:

Tasha and Thomas Jones sat beside their 2-year-old daughter as she lay in intensive care at North Carolina Children’s Hospital. Skylar had just come out of heart surgery and should recover well, her parents were told. But that night, she flatlined. Doctors and nurses swarmed around her, performing chest compressions for nearly an hour before putting the little girl on life support.

Five days later, in June 2016, the hospital’s pediatric cardiologists gathered one floor below for what became a wrenching discussion. Patients with complex conditions had been dying at higher-than-expected rates in past years, some of the doctors suspected. Now, even children like Skylar, undergoing less risky surgeries, seemed to fare poorly.

The cardiologists pressed their division chief about what was happening at the hospital, part of the respected University of North Carolina medical center in Chapel Hill, while struggling to decide if they should continue to send patients to UNC for heart surgery.

Dr. Blair Robinson Cardiologist

I ask myself, ‘Would I have my children have surgery here?’

In the past, I’d always felt like the answer was ‘yes’ for something simple. …

But now when I look myself in the mirror, and what’s gone on the past month, I can’t say that. And if I can’t say it for my kids — and that should be our group discussion — if we can’t all look ourselves in the mirror and think we’re doing the right thing, then we need to change what we’re doing.

That March, a newborn had died after muscles supporting a valve in his heart appeared to have been damaged during surgery. At least two patients undergoing low-risk surgeries had recently experienced complications. In May, a baby girl with a complex heart condition died two weeks after her operation. Two days later, Skylar went in for surgery.

In the doctors’ meeting, the chief of pediatric cardiology, Dr. Timothy Hoffman, was blunt. “It’s a nightmare right now,” he said. “We are in crisis, and everyone is aware of that.”

That comment and others — captured in secret audio recordings provided to The New York Times — offer a rare, unfiltered look inside a medical institution as physicians weighed their ethical obligations to patients while their bosses also worried about harming the surgical program.

In meetings in 2016 and 2017, all nine cardiologists expressed concerns about the program’s performance. The head of the hospital and other leaders there were alarmed as well, according to the recordings. The cardiologists — who diagnose and treat heart conditions but don’t perform surgeries — could not pinpoint what might be going wrong in an intertwined system involving surgeons, anesthesiologists, intensive care doctors and support staff. But they discussed everything from inadequate resources to misgivings about the chief pediatric cardiac surgeon to whether the hospital was taking on patients it wasn’t equipped to handle. Several doctors began referring more children elsewhere for surgery.

[Listen to key moments from the recordings.]

The heart specialists had been asking to review the institution’s mortality statistics for cardiac surgery — information that most other hospitals make public — but said they had not been able to get it for several years. Last month, after repeated requests from The Times, UNC released limited data showing that for four years through June 2017, it had a higher death rate than nearly all of the 82 institutions nationwide that do publicly report.

UNC Health Care defends the surgery program, describing it as “very strong” today and citing its most recent data to support that. It denies any past problems affecting patient care. “We determined,” said Dr. Benny Joyner, chief of critical care at the children’s hospital, that “there is nothing here that is systematic, or systemic that would lead us to be concerned about the performance of operations on children that are high-risk, low-risk, no-risk.”

Other administrators, in a joint interview, said there was “a dysfunctional group” in 2016 that sowed mistrust, creating “team culture issues.” Lisa Schiller, a spokeswoman, said in a statement, “They were handled appropriately, and today we have new team members.” UNC cited leadership changes — most taking effect in 2017 or 2018, including the appointment of a new chief surgeon last year — to help improve the dynamics.

The turmoil at UNC underscores concerns about the quality and consistency of care provided by dozens of pediatric heart surgery programs across the country. Each year in the United States about 40,000 babies are born with heart defects; about 10,000 are likely to need surgery or other procedures before their first birthday.

The best outcomes for patients with complex heart problems correlate with hospitals that perform a high volume of surgeries — several hundred a year — studies show. But a proliferation of the surgery programs has made it difficult for many institutions, including UNC, to reach those numbers: The North Carolina hospital does about 100 to 150 a year. Lower numbers can leave surgeons and staff at some hospitals with insufficient experience and resources to achieve better results, researchers have found. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 8:06 am

8-year-old girl lays down dynamite drum track to Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times”

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 7:40 am

Posted in Music, Video

Dr. Jon’s 13, with the iKon Shavecraft 101

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I really like RazoRock’s Keyhole brush: knot has just the right splay and size and the handle’s comfortable. The No. 13 shaving soap from Dr. Jon made a good lather, and the inestimable iKon Shavecraft 101 did a superb job. A splash of TOBS No. 74 aftershave finished the job. I suppose the theme of this shave was numbers: 13, 101, 74. What number follows in that sequence?

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2019 at 7:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Purdue foreign arm caught up in opioid probe in Europe

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Smoking cigarettes is devastating to one’s health, and so federal and state governments in the US took steps to cut down on cigarette sales to the young (because if people don’t get addicted when they are too young to make rational decisions, most will never take up smoking as an adult). That put a squeeze on cigarette industry profits, so cigarette companies moved their marketing efforts to countries that lacked such laws. Note that they had zero concern about how their product caused illness and death: it was all about profit.

Now that same strategy is happening with opioids as the US belatedly takes some steps to stop the carnage. Claire Galofaro and Frances D’Emilio report for AP:

PARMA, Italy (AP) — The police huddled for hours each day, headphones on, eavesdropping on the doctor. They’d tapped his cellphone, bugged his office, planted a camera in a trattoria.

They heard him boast about his power to help Big Pharma make millions pushing painkillers, and about all the money they say he was paid in exchange.

Now Dr. Guido Fanelli is at the center of a sprawling corruption case alleging he took kickbacks from an alliance of pharmaceutical executives he nicknamed “The Pain League.” Its members, police say, included managers with Mundipharma — the international arm of Purdue Pharma, which is facing some 2,000 lawsuits in the United States over its role in the opioid crisis that has claimed 400,000 lives in two decades.

This is the first known case outside the U.S. where employees of the pharmaceutical empire owned by the Sackler family have been criminally implicated, more than a decade after Purdue executives were convicted over misleading the American public about the addictiveness of OxyContin.

Hundreds of pages of investigative files obtained by The Associated Press detail how Fanelli helped executives from Mundipharma’s Italian branch and other companies promote painkillers by writing papers, organizing conferences and working to counter government warnings that opioid consumption was spiking and that physicians should be cautious. The message trumpeted, the AP found, was that there is an epidemic of chronic pain, addiction fears are exaggerated and not prescribing opioids can amount to neglecting the suffering of patients.

Those are the same practices, experts say, that the pharmaceutical industry employed in the U.S. beginning in the 1990s that helped pave the road to disaster.

What Italian police overheard on their wiretaps offers a look at how pharmaceutical executives still pushed opioids abroad even after the cause and consequence of the American epidemic had become apparent.

As the U.S. market contracts, opioid consumption is climbing overseas. Canada and Australia are already following America’s catastrophic course, with rising rates of addiction and death. Others may be on the cusp of crisis: Researchers in Brazil report that prescription opioid sales have skyrocketed 465 percent in six years. Overdose deaths are going upin Sweden, Norway, Ireland and England, fueled by prescription painkillers and the illicit drug trade.

Opioid consumption has increased in Italy, too, though authorities say widespread addiction has not taken root in this country with historically strict regulations and a cultural skepticism of the drugs — both of which Fanelli apparently worked to reverse.

“It makes me feel sick more than anything else,” U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark said when she learned of the investigation from the AP.

Clark sent a letter to the World Health Organization in 2017, warning of “deceptive and dangerous practices” of Mundipharma and Purdue and imploring the agency to act — before the American epidemic becomes a pandemic.

“We don’t want to be proven right,” she said.

Two Mundipharma managers accepted plea bargains in January in connection to allegations that they paid the doctor to help sell more drugs. A lawyer representing them said the pleas are not an admission of guilt. The company’s Italian branch was fined. A spokesman for Mundipharma Europe said the corporation did not admit wrongdoing and denied it endorsed any message minimizing addiction risks. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it exemplifies the dangers of unregulated capitalism: so long as they can make a profit, corporations are willing to do anything at all, regardless of how harmful it is to the pubic (cf. Facebook).

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2019 at 2:19 pm

Why would politicians pass abortion bans that their voters oppose?

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Simple ignorance, it seems: legislators simply do not know what their constituents want and/or project their own opinions onto their constituency. Leah Stokes reports in the Washington Post:

Alabama’s law banning abortions even in the case of rape and incest has attracted big headlines. But the state is not alone in trying to all but eliminate abortion rights. Since the beginning of the year, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Utah have passed similar laws.

But most Americans — including four out of five people in Alabama — oppose these laws. Why would politicians pass abortion bans opposed by their voters?

One explanation is that politicians don’t know what the public wants, or so my research suggests. And with public opinion against them, these laws may fail in their goal of toppling Roe v. Wade. Despite the Kavanaugh-bolstered Supreme Court, research also suggests that public opinion still matters for judicial decisions.

Public opinion on abortion

For over 40 years, public opinion on women’s right to access abortion has been remarkably stable. In 2018, a Gallup poll found 79 percent of Americans supported abortion in at least some circumstances. When asked about the Roe v. Wadedecision, only 23 percent supported overturning it. If anything, support for abortion access has been growing in recent years.

The same holds when Americans are asked whether they support banning abortion. Using data from the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, Data for Progress estimated state-by-state support for abortion bans. In no state did even 25 percent of people support banning abortion. Even in Alabama, only one in five people support abortion bans.

In other words, over many decades, across numerous surveys, no matter how the questions are asked, the vast majority of the public supports women’s access to abortions, under at least some circumstances.

Do politicians know this?

Politicians don’t have an accurate view of what their constituents want

Why are state legislators passing laws that the vast majority of their constituents disagree with? One explanation is that state legislators do not actually know what their constituents want.

To understand whether state politicians know what the public wants on abortion, I fielded a survey with Alexander Hertel-Fernandez and Matto Mildenberger in 2017. In this survey, we asked state legislators across the country what proportion of their constituents supported banning abortions. In total, 204 state politicians responded to that question in our survey. Using standard techniques, we then estimated what proportion of people living in each politician’s district in fact supported banning abortions. We could then compare politicians’ perceptions of public opinion to actual public support.

On average, we found that state legislators overestimated their districts’ support for abortion bans by 15 percentage points. In other words, many state legislators believe that a majority of their constituents want them to ban abortions, when in fact they do not.

We are not the only researchers to find this result. In 2014, David Broockman and Christopher Skovron similarly asked almost 2,000 state politicians across the country about what proportion of their constituents supported always making abortion legal. They found that politicians underestimated public support for abortion access by almost 10 percentage points. Republican politicians were even less likely to correctly estimate public support for abortion access.

These findings hold for many issues, not just abortion. In the same research project, my co-authors and I have found that state politicians misperceive what their citizens want on everything from clean energy to background checks for gun sales to support for raising the minimum wage.

Why are state legislators getting public opinion wrong? In a research paper examining senior congressional staff, my co-authors and I found that political elites were substituting their own beliefs for the public’s beliefs. That may be true on abortion laws; politicians who personally oppose abortion access are likely projecting those views onto their constituents.

The role of public opinion in American democracy

These recent state laws represent the most aggressive attempts to limit women’s rights. But they are far from the only attempts to rollback abortion access. Since 2011, statehouses have passed hundreds of laws that limit abortion access in other, more subtle ways. In many cases, these laws are out of sync with public opinion.

And that suggests that these laws may have a hard time reaching the Supreme Court. In a democracy, public opinion influences policy and institutions — including the courts, according to a significant amount of research. Many commentators believe that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. may be particularly concerned about the legitimacy of the court as an institution if Roe v. Wade is dismantled directly. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2019 at 1:49 pm

New vegetable to me: Banana flower

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I can’t wait to try it. Here’s some info.

Also: beets. Last time I steamed beets, the recipe said 15 minutes and it took at least an hour. I bought more beets, and when I quartered these, I noticed that—unlike the earlier batch—they were easy to cut. That earlier batch was closer to wood. So I steamed these 15 minutes, and they were fine. I just had bought a woody batch of beets.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2019 at 11:53 am

Posted in Food, Plant-based diet

What a difference a blade can make: Antica Barbieria Colla and my other Baby Smooth

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The Kent Infinity i quite a nice synthetic, on the resilient side, and it made a good lather from my Antica Barbieria Colla shaving soap, though I used a little too much water (insufficient shaking for a synthetic brush) so the consistency was not quite so thick as I like.

My original Baby Smooth has, instead of a Derby Extra blade I used yesterday in the new Baby Smooth, a Personna Lab Blue, and I have to say the shave was nicer in the experience: a better feel, smoother cutting.

A small dab of ABC aftershave milk finished the job. It had separated a little, so I gave it a good shake: thus the bubbles in the bottle.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2019 at 7:33 am

Posted in Shaving

Facebook defends decision to keep up Pelosi video

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Maggie Miller reports in The Hill:

A Facebook representative on Tuesday defended the company’s decision to not take down a video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that was meant to make her appear drunk, saying flagging the video and not removing it promoted user choice.

Neil Potts, Facebook’s public policy manager, said taking that approach allows people to understand what the video is and why it has been flagged.

“It is our policy to inform people when we have information that might be false on the platform so they can make their own decisions about that content,” Potts said during a meeting of the international grand committee on big data, privacy and democracy in Ottawa, Canada.

The grand committee includes politicians from a dozen countries who meet with representatives of Facebook and other tech companies to discuss how to protect privacy and prevent abuse on social media.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle are grappling with how to handle fake and manipulated videos after the Pelosi video racked up millions of views and raised the debate in the United States. Experts are warning that manipulated videos will be a new frontier for social media companies and people running for office in 2020.

The remarks from Potts underline Facebook’s view that the videos ultimately come down to a form of free expression, and that those seeing the videos on social media simply need to be told of their full context.

The Pelosi video was slowed down to make the Speaker appear to be slurring her words.

While it did not take down the video, Facebook said it had been flagged by company fact-checkers as false, and that as a result Facebook was “heavily reducing its distribution in news feed and showing additional context from this fact-checker,” such as related articles. . .

Continue reading.

I have an idea: take of video of Mark Zuckerberg, doctor the hell out of it, and put it up on Facebook to see whether they refuse to take that one down. Somehow I think the decision would be different.

I am so tired of these over-privileged arrogant scum.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2019 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Daily life

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