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The First Amendment is now missing the point, if it’s not irrelevant altogether

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In the Washington Post Jonathan Capeheart has a very thought-provoking audio interview, accompanied by a report that includes an interesting quotation from the interview. That reportbegins:

“We’re in a period analogous, truly analogous, to the time in Europe just after Gutenberg mechanized the Chinese invention of the printing press,”Alberto Ibargüen, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, told me. “After Gutenberg, any Tom, Dick or Martin Luthercould print whatever they want, and it took a hundred years to figure out, to sort it all out.”

The 11th episode of “Cape Up” is all about the state of journalism in the age of social media. “Confused,” is how Ibargüen describes it. The former publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald pointed out that while two Supreme Court decisions have shaped our present-day understanding of the First Amendment as it pertains to newspapers and broadcast television, “The law of First Amendment as to Internet … simply isn’t settled.”

In an effort to “help shape First Amendment law” in the digital age, the Knight Foundation and Columbia University announced in May the creation of the Knight First Amendment Institute at the Ivy League school in New York. Ibargüen told me that when such cases come before the court, “I want somebody at the table, somebody at the courthouse that is saying, ‘Let’s err on the side of transparency. Let’s err on the side of free speech.’ ” But what he said next highlighted the unanswered legal questions facing all of us: Congress, companies, courts and consumers.

That’s not to say that everything is black-and-white. We know it isn’t. The First Amendment itself isn’t. Although, the First Amendment is fairly clear. It says, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly, a redress of grievance.” Five phenomenal rights. But they also don’t say, well, what happens if it is not Congress? What happens if it’s Google? … Think about it. Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook have more ability to control what we know or think we know than anything in history. Than anyone in history. Than any government has ever had.

We talked about the power of search-engine programmers to mold what we accept as facts. “Even algorithms have parents,” Ibargüen said, “and the parents, the programmers, imbue the algorithm, consciously or not consciously, with some kind of values.” He went on to talk about what happened when you typed “thug” into Google. The ensuing controversy forced changes, so now when you type the word in you get an array of “thug” choices to search. “Somehow that algorithm knows what it is supposed to present,” Ibargüen told me, “and that affects what we think and what we think we know.”

Continue reading.

And read this as well: how corporations are programming you—that sounds like corny science-fiction, but it’s behavioral design: it’s here now and it works. On you, and me.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2016 at 12:37 pm

Ayn Rand’s description of the US becoming more popular with the GOP: Now Ryan’s doing it

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Note, as Paul Krugman points out in his excellent column, those stark, dark, despairing profiles of the US in Atlas Shrugged were her impressions of the Eisenhower years. Good grief.

From that column:

. . . [C]onsider the portrait of America Mr. Ryan painted last week, in a speech to the College Republicans. For it was, in its own way, as out of touch with reality as the ranting of Donald Trump (whom Mr. Ryan never mentioned).

Now, to be fair, Mr. Ryan claimed to be describing the future — what will happen if Hillary Clinton wins — rather than the present. But Mrs. Clinton is essentially proposing a center-left agenda, an extension of the policies President Obama was able to implement in his first two years, and it’s pretty clear that Mr. Ryan’s remarks were intended as a picture of what all such policies do.

According to him, it’s very grim. There will, he said, be “a gloom and grayness to things,” ruled by a “cold and unfeeling bureaucracy.” We will become a place “where passion — the very stuff of life itself — is extinguished.” And this is the kind of America Mrs. Clinton “will stop at nothing to have.”

Does today’s America look anything like that? No. We have many problems, but we’re hardly living in a miasma of despair. Leave government statistics (which almost half of Trump supporters completely distrust) on one side; Gallup finds that 80 percent of Americans are satisfied with their standard of living, up from 73 percent in 2008, and that 55 percent consider themselves to be “thriving,” up from 49 percent in 2008. And there are good reasons for those good feelings: recovery from the financial crisis was slower than it should have been, but unemployment is low, incomes surged last year, and thanks to Obamacare more Americans have health insurance than ever before.

So Mr. Ryan’s vision of America looks nothing like reality. It is, however, completely familiar to anyone who read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” as a teenager. Nowadays the speaker denies being a Rand devotee, but while you can at least pretend to take the boy out of the cult, you can’t take the cult out of the boy. Like Ms. Rand — who was basically writing about America in the Eisenhower years! — he sees the horrible world progressive policies were supposed to produce, not the flawed but hopeful nation we actually live in.

So why does the modern right hate America? There’s not much overlap in substance between Mr. Trump’s fear-mongering and Mr. Ryan’s, but there’s a clear alignment of interests. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 1:08 pm

National The drug industry’s answer to opioid addiction: More pills

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Ariana Eunjung Cha has an interesting albeit infuriating article in the Washington Post:

Cancer patients taking high doses of opioid painkillers are often afflicted by a new discomfort: constipation. Researcher Jonathan Moss thought he could help, but no drug company was interested in his ideas for relieving suffering among the dying.

So Moss and his colleagues pieced together small grants and, in 1997, received permission to test their treatment. But not on cancer patients. Federal regulators urged them to use a less frail — and by then, rapidly expanding — group: addicts caught in the throes of a nationwide opioid epidemic.

Suddenly, Moss said, investors were knocking at his door.

“As clinicians, we wanted to help palliative patients,” said Moss, a professor and physician at University of Chicago Medicine. “The company that bought our work saw a broader market.”

Today, Moss’s side project is hailed as the next billion-dollar drug. And the once-disinterested pharmaceutical industry is bombarding doctors and the public with information about a serious, if previously unrecognized, condition common among the millions of Americans who take prescription painkillers. They call it “opioid-induced constipation,” or “OIC.”

The story of OIC illuminates the opportunism of pharmaceutical innovators and the consequences of a heavily drug-dependent society. Six in 10 American adults take prescription drugs, creating a vast market for new meds to treat the side effects of the old ones.

Opioid prescriptions alone have skyrocketed from 112 million in 1992 to nearly 249 million in 2015, the latest year for which numbers are available, and America’s dependence on the drugs has reached crisis levels. Millions are addicted to or abusing prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that, from 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people died in the United States from prescription-opioid overdoses, which have contributed to a startling increase in early mortality among whites, particularly women — a devastating toll that has hit hardest insmall towns and rural areas.

The pharmaceutical industry’s response has been more drugs. The opioid market — now worth nearly $10 billion a year in sales in the United States — has expanded to include a growing universe of medications aimed at treating secondary effects rather than controlling pain.

There’s Suboxone, financed and promoted by the U.S. government as a safer alternative to methadone for those trying to break their dependence on opioids. There’s naloxone, the emergency injection and nasal spray carried by first responders to treat overdoses. And now there’s Relistor, the drug based on Moss’s work, and a competitor, Movantik, for constipation.

In colorful charts designed to entice investors, numerous pharmaceutical makers tout the “expansion opportunity” that exists in the “opioid use disorders population.”

Indivior, a specialty pharmaceutical company listed on the London Stock Exchange, sees “around 2.5m potential patients, the majority of whom are addicted to prescription painkillers,” as opposed to illicit drugs such as heroin. Another company, New Jersey-based Braeburn Pharmaceuticals,highlights “growth drivers” for the market, noting that millions of additional Americans not yet identified are also likely to be dependent on opioid painkillers.

Analysts estimate that each of these submarkets — addiction, overdose and side effects — is worth at least $1 billion a year in sales. These economics, experts say, work against efforts to end the epidemic.

If opioid addiction disappeared tomorrow, it would wipe billions of dollars from the drug companies’ bottom lines.


A potent product

From a profit-making standpoint, opioids are a potent product. Chronic use can cause myriad side effects that usually are mild enough to keep people taking painkillers but sufficiently uncomfortable to send them back to the doctor.

Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, said this domino effect can turn a patient worth a few hundred dollars a month into one worth several thousand dollars a month.

“Many patients wind up very sedated from opioids, and it’s not uncommon to give them amphetamines to make them more alert. But now they can’t sleep, so they get Ambien or Lunesta. The amphetamines also make them anxious, paranoid and sweaty, and that means even more drugs,” said Kolodny, who also serves as chief medical officer to Phoenix House, a nonprofit organization that offers drug and alcohol treatment in 10 states and the District.

Women, in particular, are ideal customers [probably should say “victims” – LG] . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2016 at 8:51 am

Elizabeth Warren continues to hold Stumpf accountable for the Wells Fargo scam

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From an email I just received:

USA Today Headline: Elizabeth Warren isn’t done with ex-Wells Fargo CEO

The paper reports that Elizabeth Warren says retiring with $131 million package “isn’t real accountability…. As I said at the hearing last month, Mr. Stumpf should resign, return every nickel he made while this scam was going on, and face an investigation by the Justice Department and SEC. So far, he’s one for three.'”

Written by LeisureGuy

14 October 2016 at 4:36 pm

Teh stupid in Congress, explained in Vox

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Jennifer Williams reports in Vox:

The Senate on Wednesday voted 97-1 to override President Obama’s veto of a controversial bill, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for its alleged financial support of al-Qaeda.

And then things got weird.

Almost immediately after the vote, 28 senators who had just voted for the bill sent a letter to the bill’s Senate sponsors, Republican John Cornyn of Texas and Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, saying they were concerned about the “potential unintended consequences that may result from this legislation for the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

The Obama administration has long argued that the bill could end up putting the United States at risk of being similarly prosecuted in foreign courts by undermining a long-standing tradition in foreign relations known as “sovereign immunity.” They made this argument when the bill was first up for a vote back in May and promised to veto it if it passed. Then, when it did pass, Obama vetoed it, citing once again his argument for why he thought the bill was a bad idea.

When Congress announced it would hold a vote to override the veto, Obama wrote a letterto Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, yet again making the case against the bill. But Congress voted to override the veto anyway — the first time they’d ever done so in Obama’s entire presidency.

It was only after that final vote on Wednesday to override the veto that Congress apparently figured out that — uh oh! — there might be some negative consequences to the bill they had just voted into law.

Their excuse for why they’d passed this potentially harmful bill? The Obama administration never told them it was a bad idea.

“Nobody really had focused on the potential downside in terms of our international relationships,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said. “I think it was just a ball dropped.”

Never mind the fact that the Obama administration most definitely did explain, again and again, why they thought the bill was a bad idea, the fact is that it’s Congress’s job to understand the potential impact of any legislation they pass.

As White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest aptly put it, “what’s true in elementary school is true in the United States Congress, ignorance is not an excuse, particularly when it comes to our national security and the safety and security of our diplomats and our service members.”

Regardless, Congress still seems a little confused about all of this. Luckily, we have an explainer that should clear everything up for them — and you. Here, then, is the Obama administration’s case against the JASTA bill, and why top national security experts think he’s right. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2016 at 3:17 pm

Posted in Congress, Law, Mental Health

The veto override and Congressional puzzlement about why they did it

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Russell Berman writes in the Atlantic:

The enactment on Wednesday of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act should have been a triumphant moment for Republican leaders in Congress. They had succeeded, after years of trying, in overriding a presidential veto for the first time and forcing a bill into law over the strenuous objections of Barack Obama.

But the morning after brought no such celebration for House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnellonly pangs of regret.

“It appears as if there may be some unintended ramifications,” McConnell lamented at a press conference barely 24 hours after all but one senator voted to reject the president’s veto of the legislation, which would allow victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. court. On the other side of the Capitol, Ryan said that he hoped there could be a “fix” to the very law he allowed to pass through the House—one that would protect U.S. soldiers abroad from legal retribution that the Obama administration had warned for months would follow as a result of the law.

A White House spokesman soon derided the Republicans’ “buyer’s remorse,” and indeed, the scenario was hard to fathom: How could a Congress plagued by gridlock pass legislation with overwhelming bipartisan majorities, initiate a rare veto override, and then immediately voice regret about the problems the new law might cause?The answer is a mix of sensitive 9/11 politics, an unusually powerful bipartisan alliance, election-year timing, and a heavy dose of mistrust and miscommunication between two branches of government that rarely see eye to eye.

The bill itself is not new. For years, victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families have pushed for a change in the law that would exempt acts of terrorism on U.S. soil from the principle of sovereign immunity, which prevents lawsuits against foreign governments and officials in American court. The families want to sue the Saudi government for damages over its alleged ties to the 9/11 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi citizens. The Saudis have denied any involvement, and as CIA Director John Brennan made clear on Wednesday, the U.S. government has backed up their denial.

The 9/11 families had two influential senators in their corner: Charles Schumer of New York, likely the next Democratic leader, and John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican. With their backing, a revised version of the bill cleared the Judiciary Committee in the spring and then passed the full Senate on a voice vote—a rarity for legislation that drew such vociferous opposition from the White House. Any senator could have objected, but then as now, none wanted to go on record against a proposal billed as “justice for 9/11 families.” Yet because the legislation first passed the Senate without debate, many members only became aware of the administration’s concerns in the last several weeks after Congress returned from a long summer recess. The House passed the bill in similar fashion—without much debate—two weeks ago, and Obama returned it with a veto message last Friday.“This is a bill that should have been given a greater airing,” Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland told me on Thursday. “It was not on my radar screen until after the train was leaving the station. The next thing I know, it’s on the president’s desk.” Cardin is no backbencher; he is the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and along with the panel’s chairman, Bob Corker of Tennessee, he spent the last several days scrambling to work out a compromise with the Obama administration that would have kept the bill, as written, from becoming law. Time ran out this week, however, as McConnell decided to bring up the veto-override vote just before lawmakers left to campaign for reelection.Technically, McConnell could have waited until the lame-duck session in November, allowing more time for debate and the possibility of a compromise. Cardin said, however, that it is Senate custom to act on presidential vetoes as soon as they are received. A Senate Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, surmised that the timing had more to do with politics and a pent-up frustration with the outgoing Obama.

Either way, neither Democrats nor Republicans objected to the vote, and the 97-1 tally was an overwhelming rebuke of the White House. Only Harry Reid, the retiring Democratic leader, supported the president’s veto. Vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine wasn’t in town to vote, but following the lead of Hillary Clinton, he said he would have gone against Obama and overturned the veto. Hours later, the House voted 348-77 to make the bill a law.

The White House was apoplectic. Josh Earnest, the press secretary, told reporters on Air Force One that the veto was “the single most embarrassing thing the Senate has done” since 1983—an apparent reference to a long-since-forgotten veto override in which Congress intervened in a federal land dispute. He went even further on Thursday, mocking lawmakers for claiming ignorance of what they were voting on and accusing them of ignoring warnings from the intelligence community, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and even the head of General Electric that the bill could put U.S. soldiers, personnel, and broader economic and diplomatic interests overseas in jeopardy. “What’s true in elementary school is true in the U.S. Congress: Ignorance is not an excuse,” Earnest said.

Appearing at a CNN veterans forum Wednesday night, Obama called the override “a mistake” motivated by lawmakers’ understandable concerns about emotional 9/11 politics and the looming election. He reiterated the objections he outlined in his three-page veto message—that by overturning sovereign immunity even for terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, Congress could be exposing U.S. personnel to lawsuits and other legal action all across the globe. Under current law, the U.S. government can exempt a country from sovereign immunity by having the State Department designate it as a state sponsor of terrorism (which it has not done for Saudi Arabia). “This is taking that out of our military and our intelligence and the hands of our national-security professionals and putting it into the courts,” Obama said. “And that’s a mistake.”

Continue reading.

What is amazing is that several in Congress are saying that this is not their fault. Although they voted for the bill in the first place, and then saw the President veto it and explain why, and then they voted to override the veto, somehow they seem themselves as not responsible for what happened.

We need a better Congress: smarter, more thoughtful, less corrupt, and more interested in serving the country.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2016 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Congress, Government, Law

Senators issue report that reveals the special interests driving opposition to Obama’s climate plan

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A press release from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):

U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Harry Reid (D-NV), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Edward Markey (D-MA) released a report today entitled, “The Brief No One Filed,” highlighting the real forces behind the legal challenge to President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The report – which is structured as an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief but was not filed with the court – demonstrates that the state officials, trade associations, front groups, and industry-funded scientists participating in the challenge actually represent the interests of the fossil fuel industry.  The Senators explain that the report is designed to “share their knowledge and understanding of the connection between the fossil fuel industry’s political spending (both open and in secret) and political blockade of any measures to address climate change.”

“The American public is aware of and alarmed by the massive influx of special interest money and considers this a top problem with elected officials in Washington,” the Senators write.  “More than 80% of Americans believe the government cannot be trusted to do what is right most of the time.  As active legislators and national leaders, [we] have a strong interest in restoring the faith of the people in our government and political system.  This starts with limiting the ability of massive dirty energy companies, either directly or through their armada of front groups, to stop anything that doesn’t serve the fossil fuel industry’s financial interests.”

The report contains substantial detail on the complex network connecting the opponents of the Clean Power Plan and the fossil fuel companies that support their effort.  The Senators note, “The briefs opposing the Clean Power Plan that some Members of Congress, state politicians, and outside organizations filed in this case may be seen as another expression of this climate denial apparatus.  In aggregate, the politician authors of these briefs have received over $107 million from the fossil fuel industry, and while they are ostensibly elected to represent the interests of their constituents, we regularly see them taking positions that are opposed to conclusions drawn about the effects of climate change by institutions and academics in their own states.”

While issuing the report to inform the public on issues surrounding the case, the Senators underscore that they “fully and enthusiastically support the brief submitted on March 31, 2016, with current and former members of Congress in support of the respondents” in the case, including the Environmental Protection Agency.  All signatories to the report released today are also signed on to that brief.

The challenge to the Clean Power Plan, West Virginia v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is slated for oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia tomorrow.

The full report can be accessed here.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2016 at 9:36 am

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