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Does Glenn Greenwald Know More Than Robert Mueller?

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Simon van Zuylen-Wood writes in New York magazine:

It’s 10:45 p.m. Rio de Janeiro time. Glenn Greenwald and I are finishing dinner at a deserted bistro in Ipanema. The restaurant, which serves its sweating beer bottles in metal buckets and goes heavy on the protein, is almost aggressively unremarkable (English menus on the table, a bossa-nova version of “Hey Jude” on the stereo). Greenwald avoids both meat and alcohol but seems to enjoy dining here. “I really believe that if I still lived in New York, the vast majority of my friends would be New York and Washington media people and I would kind of be implicitly co-opted.” He eats a panko-crusted shrimp. “It just gives me this huge buffer. You’ve seen how I live, right? When I leave my computer, that world disappears.”

Greenwald, now 50, has seemed to live in his own bubble in Rio for years, since well before he published Edward Snowden’s leaks and broke the domestic-spying story in 2013 — landing himself a Pulitzer Prize, a book deal, and, in time, the backing of a billionaire (that’s Pierre Omidyar) to start a muckraking, shit-stirring media empire (that’s First Look Media, home to the Intercept, though its ambitions have been downgraded over time). But he seems even more on his own since the election, just as the agitated left has regained the momentum it lost in the Obama years.

The reason is Russia. For the better part of two years, Greenwald has resisted the nagging bipartisan suspicion that Trumpworld is in one way or another compromised by a meddling foreign power. If there’s a conspiracy, he suspects, it’s one against the president; where others see collusion, he sees “McCarthyism.” Greenwald is predisposed to righteous posturing and contrarian eye-poking — and reflexively more skeptical of the U.S. intelligence community than of those it tells us to see as “enemies.”

And even if claims about Russian meddling are corroborated by Robert Mueller’s investigation, Greenwald’s not sure it adds up to much — some hacked emails changing hands, none all that damaging in their content, maybe some malevolent Twitter bots. In his eyes, the Russia-Trump story is a shiny red herring — one that distracts from the failures, corruption, and malice of the very Establishment so invested in promoting it. And when in January, as “Journalism Twitter” was chastising the president for one outrage or another, Congress quietly passed a bipartisan bill to reauthorize sweeping NSA surveillance, you had to admit Greenwald might have been onto something.

“When Trump becomes the starting point and ending point for how we talk about American politics, [we] don’t end up talking about the fundamental ways the American political and economic and cultural system are completely fucked for huge numbers of Americans who voted for Trump for that reason,” he says. “We don’t talk about all the ways the Democratic Party is a complete fucking disaster and a corrupt, sleazy sewer, and not an adequate alternative to this far-right movement that’s taking over American politics.”

Greenwald’s been yelling about this, quite heatedly, since before the election. “In the Democratic Echo Chamber, Inconvenient Truths Are Recast As Putin Plots,” reads the headline of an Intercept piece published in October 2016. “The Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric Comes From a Long-Standing U.S. Playbook,” reads another, from February 2017. As Mueller’s investigation widened, no fallen domino — not the guilty plea of former Trump national-security adviser Michael Flynn, not the indictment of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort — chastened Greenwald. When it was recently reported that Steve Bannon had lobbed a “treason” charge in the direction of Donald Trump Jr. — precipitating his break with the president — Greenwald rolled his eyes. Bannon’s “motives are pure & pristine and he is simply trying to inform the public about the truth,” Greenwald tweeted sarcastically.

This is a year in which even the most anti-Establishment liberals have found themselves rooting for Mueller, a Republican who ran George W. Bush’s war-on-terror FBI. “It is not an insubstantial portion of Democratic online loyalists who believe that if you deviate from Democratic Party orthodoxy on the Trump-Russia question, you are a paid Kremlin agent,” Greenwald says. And many of those who don’t believe Greenwald works for Vladimir Putin tend to think he does his bidding for free. “I love him,” says former Gawker editor John Cook, who worked with Greenwald at the Intercept. “He’s dead, tragically wrong on this.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2018 at 3:45 pm

What happens when a party becomes unmoored from the truth and the American creed

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Jennifer Rubin has a strongly worded column in the Washington Post:

The sight of conservative Republicans cheering President Trump as a great success in his first year in office tells us much about the state of conservatism and the future of the GOP. There are two components to the reverential treatment of Trump: first, praise for allegedly conservative wins, and second, a willingness to tolerate falsehoods and attacks upon democratic norms and the American creed, as though these are matters of style.

As to the first, “conservatism” these days has become (both in the eyes of liberals who think conservatism is interchangeable with “right-wing extremism” and those claiming the conservative mantle) a cartoon version of itself. A tax cut that grows the deficit and gives disproportionate benefits to the rich is a “win” and “conservative” because, because … why? Because conservatism demands that whatever the needs of the moment and whatever the politics, the first order of business is to starve the government of revenue? Tax cuts unmoored from reasonable ends (e.g. fiscal sobriety, focused help for the working and middle class) are not “conservative”; deficits and widening of income inequality should not be cause for celebration.

Likewise, denying climate change or calling all regulatory repeal “conservative” (is it conservative to allow restaurants to take away employees’ tips?) doesn’t strike us as evidence of truth-based, modest government. In sum, much of the cheering for “conservative” ends skips over the details, disregards the substance and ignores context — none of which are indices of conservative thought. It is not conservative to favor reversing everything President Barack Obama did without regard to changed circumstances or alternatives. That doesn’t make Obama’s political legacy wonderful; it makes those advocating blind destruction without reasoned alternatives anything but conservative.

Moreover, the president’s policies seeking to ban Muslims, break up families, run roughshod over local policing priorities, treat those from poor countries as undesirables and build a useless wall derive from a very unconservative aversion to immigration. Means that do not respect values that conservatives used to hold dear (e.g. free markets, federalism, family unity) are no cause for celebration.

In sum, if conservatives think Trump’s accomplishments are conservative, then conservatism has morphed into something foreign to those who spent decades advocating a governing philosophy rooted in opportunity for all, civility, federalism, the rule of law, free markets and limited but vigorous government. Trump’s “accomplishments” are a dumbed-down version, a distortion of conservative policy prescriptions that require one to overlook the substance of what he has achieved.

Even more than celebrating an extreme, distorted view of conservatism, Trump’s right-wing apologists would have us treat Trump’s racism, attacks on democratic norms, dishonesty and contempt for independent democratic institutions as matters of style. “Well I don’t much like his tweeting but …” “Well, we don’t really agree that there are good people on the neo-Nazi side.” “Well, we all knew he was a bit of a liar.

Call this the “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” syndrome. If one puts racism so far down the list of priorities that it barely deserves a raised eyebrow — or worse, requires some fudging to cover it up — one has become an enabler of racism. If one brushes off repeated, deliberate falsehoods because they are embarrassing, one becomes an enabler of lying, a handmaiden to attacks on objective truth. These are not inconsequential matters; they are not style issues. Truth-telling and repudiation of racism are or should be top principles both for America and for conservatism.

The “shithole” episode vividly illustrates this. The sentiment underlying Trump’s attack on African immigrants entails a repudiation of the “all men are created equal” creed, a disregard of facts (e.g., education levelsof African immigrants) and a rejection of economic reality verging on illiteracy. (We do need skilled and unskilled workers, we do not have a finite number of jobs, etc.) Put on top of that the willingness to prevaricate (Well, if we say it was “shithouse” and not “shithole,” we can say Sen. Dick Durbin was lying!) and you have an assault on principles that are the foundation for our democracy and for conservatism (or what it used to be). It’s not a minor episode. It’s in many ways a defining episode, not only for Trump but, worse, for his defenders.

The assertion that we can disregard everything the president says so long as it does not become cemented in law misconceives the role of the presidency and ignores his oath. It suggests, contrary to conservative dogma, that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2018 at 2:39 pm

1 Son, 4 Overdoses, 6 Hours

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Katherine Q. Seelye reports in the NY Times:

The first time Patrick Griffin overdosed one afternoon in May, he was still breathing when his father and sister found him on the floor around 1:30. When he came to, he was in a foul mood and began arguing with his father, who was fed up with his son’s heroin and fentanyl habit.

Patrick, 34, feeling morose and nauseous, lashed out. He sliced a love seat with a knife, smashed a glass bowl, kicked and broke a side table and threatened to kill himself. Shortly after 3, he darted into the bathroom, where he shot up and overdosed again. He fell limp, turned blue and lost consciousness. His family called 911. Emergency medical workers revived him with Narcan, the antidote that reverses opioid overdoses.

Throughout the afternoon his parents, who are divorced, tried to persuade Patrick to go into treatment. His father told him he could not live with him anymore, setting off another shouting match. Around 4, Patrick slipped away and shot up a third time. He overdosed again, and emergency workers came back and revived him again. They took him to a hospital, but Patrick checked himself out.

Back at his mother’s house and anxious to stave off withdrawal, he shot up again around 7:30, overdosing a fourth time in just six hours. His mother, frantic, tried pumping his chest, to no avail, and feared he was dead. Rescue workers returned and administered three doses of Narcan to bring him back. At that point, an ambulance took him to the hospital under a police escort and his parents — terrified, angry and wrung out — had him involuntarily admitted.

The torrent of people who have died in the opioid crisis has transfixed and horrified the nation, with overdose now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

But most drug users do not die. Far more, like Patrick, are snared for years in a consuming, grinding, unending cycle of addiction.

In the 20 years that Patrick has been using drugs, he has lost track of how many times he has overdosed. He guesses 30, a number experts say would not be surprising for someone taking drugs off and on for that long.

Patrick and his family allowed The New York Times to follow them for much of the past year because they said they wanted people to understand the realities of living with drug addiction. Over the months, their lives played out in an almost constant state of emergency or dread, their days dictated by whether Patrick would shoot up or not. For an entire family, many of the arguments, the decisions, the plans came back to him and that single question. Even in the cheeriest moments, when Patrick was clean, everyone — including him — seemed to be bracing for the inevitable moment when he would turn back to drugs.

“We are your neighbors,” his mother, Sandy Griffin, said of the many families living with addiction, “and this is the B.S. going on in the house.”

In Patrick’s home state of New Hampshire, which leads the country in deaths per capita from fentanyl, almost 500 people died of overdoses in 2016. The government estimates that 10 percent of New Hampshire residents — about 130,000 people — are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The overall burden to the state, including health care and criminal justice costs and lost worker productivity, has ballooned into the billions of dollars. Some people do recover, usually after multiple relapses. But the opioid scourge, here and elsewhere, has overwhelmed police and fire departments, hospitals, prosecutors, public defenders, courts, jails and the foster care system.

Most of all, though, it has upended families.

All of the Griffins speak of nonstop stress. They have lived through chaotic days: When the parents called the police on their children (both Patrick and his sister, Betsy, have been addicted to drugs); when Dennis, the father, a recovering alcoholic, worried that every thud on the floor was Patrick passing out; and when Sandy was, by turns, paralyzed with a common parental fear — that she had somehow caused her children’s problems — or was out driving around looking for them on the streets. . .

Continue reading.

Trump refuses to make the opioid crisis a national emergency, though he promised that he would. His promises turn out to be worthless.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2018 at 7:27 am

Our culture and economic values share the blame for epic opioid crisis

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Dr. Frank Huyler, an emergency physician in New Mexico, writes in the Daily News:

In 2017, U.S. life expectancy fell for the second consecutive year. Among all of the disturbing headlines that we’ve seen in the past 12 months, this is arguably the worst, and it should make all of us stop and pay attention.

In countries like the United States, any decline in life expectancy is unheard of. It speaks to very large forces at work, like World War II, or HIV.

In this case, opioid overdoses are to blame. They have quadrupled since 1999, and are continuing to rise. Right now that epidemic is killing more people in the U.S. than AIDS at its peak. About five people are dying per hour — all day, every day.

The story of the opioid epidemic has been told before by the media. But it hasn’t been examined nearly enough. It’s a story that should prompt far larger questions about our country, its values, and its institutions than we have asked.

Opioids affect us in complex and mysterious ways . They don’t stop sensation, like local anesthetics. Instead, these drugs work by activating natural opioid receptors in our brains. They change our experience of pain. They replace pain, in part, with pleasure.

Pain thresholds are built into us for powerful evolutionary reasons. Opioids make us feel good in the short term, but they also distort essential mechanisms necessary for survival in a Darwinian world.

Tolerance is the body’s natural attempt to restore those mechanisms. We become less sensitive to opioids, and need higher doses for the same effect. Tolerance is the first step toward physical addiction; the two are linked. As tolerance rises, the risk of overdose and death follows closely behind.

The time it takes for this process to occur is the key to understanding the opioid epidemic. A week or two of opioids may cause euphoria and pleasure, but it will rarely create physical addiction. Given a few months, however, anyone can be made into an opioid addict.

This has been understood in the medical world for a hundred years.

In 1996 a single company, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, introduced a patented new opioid compound into the market with FDA approval. They called it OxyContin, and marketed it as a new drug.

OxyContin wasn’t a new drug. It was simply a new pill designed to release an old drug — oxycodone — more slowly. Oxycodone was first synthesized in 1916, and is closely related to heroin.

Since it releases oxycodone more slowly, OxyContin doesn’t have to be taken as often to relieve pain. That slower release also allowed Purdue to put higher doses of oxycodone into each pill.

Purdue Pharma used this distinction as a pretext for claims that OxyContin was safer and less addictive than other opioids and therefore should be widely prescribed for pain of all kinds. The FDA enabled this assertion, and the FDA examiner who approved OxyContin’s initial application took a job with Purdue shortly thereafter.

Once the FDA approved the drug, Purdue unleashed a fraudulent marketing campaign designed to generate as many new OxyContin consumers as possible.

A critical element of their strategy was to expand the traditional indications for opioid prescriptions beyond acute pain into the far more controversial category of chronic pain. Chronic pain is so broadly defined that tens of millions of patients became potential customers.

This was hugely consequential. When drugs are approved by the FDA, health insurance pays for them. The big money was not in acute pain, which goes away, or cancer pain, where patients die quickly, but in chronic pain, which is endless.

Other opioid manufacturers soon joined the effort, marketing their own products for chronic pain. A combination of physician complicity, patient demand and fundamentally flawed retail-based models of medical care then created a dismal synergy that flooded society with oral narcotics.

As steadily increasing numbers of people were encouraged to take prescribed opioids, and became physically addicted to them, more people also turned to heroin and other illicit drugs. Purdue Pharma and others generated enormous sales. Drug cartels and dealers were handed an abundance of new customers. Heroin and even more dangerous illegal narcotics such as fentanyl became more plentiful and cheaper across the country.

A new wave of opioid addiction eventually spread far beyond the control of Purdue Pharma or anyone else. That increased demand had the additional effect of destabilizing Mexico and supporting Islamic extremists with opium revenue from Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Opioid addiction is not a new problem. Ten years before OxyContin appeared on the market, as part of the so-called war on drugs, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which imposed harsh federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

More than 300,000 people are currently serving time in either state or federal prisons for often minor drug offenses. Most of these prisoners are poor, and a disproportionate number are minorities. Hardly any of them are drug kingpins.

Purdue’s efforts, however, were unprecedented. In 2007, three senior executives of Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for criminally misbranding OxyContin by falsely and deliberately claiming it was less addictive and safer than other opioids.

They were sentenced to a few hours of community service, and fined. Purdue Pharma was also fined some $634 million for these misrepresentations.

Purdue’s fine, large for the pharmaceutical industry, represents less than 2% of the roughly $36 billion of revenue so far generated from sales of OxyContin.

Purdue Pharma is not a publicly traded company. It is owned by a single family, the Sacklers, who control the board and hire the executives. In 2015, the Sacklers abruptly appeared on Forbes Magazine’s richest families list, at number 16, with a net worth conservatively estimated at $14 billion. Much of their wealth came from OxyContin sales.

Most of the discussion around the opioid epidemic stops there. The epidemic has been treated primarily as a tragic yet isolated phenomenon, a cautionary tale of a few bad actors mixed in with regulatory mistakes and the confluence of good intentions gone awry.

This view misses a much more fundamental point. . .

Continue reading.

There’s a lot more and it’s well worth reading—and acting upon.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2018 at 7:03 am

Congressman Combating Harassment Settled His Own Misconduct Case

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This sort of thing seemed to happen frequently in the military, where the officer responsible for fighting sexual assault and harassment was found later to be guilty of same. Katie Rogers and Kenneth Vogel report in the NY Times:

Representative Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican who has taken a leading role in fighting sexual harassment in Congress, used thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to settle his own misconduct complaint after a former aide accused him last year of making unwanted romantic overtures to her, according to several people familiar with the settlement.

A married father of three, Mr. Meehan, 62, had long expressed interest in the personal life of the aide, who was decades younger and had regarded the congressman as a father figure, according to three people who worked with the office and four others with whom she discussed her tenure there.

But after the woman became involved in a serious relationship with someone outside the office last year, Mr. Meehan professed his romantic desires for her — first in person, and then in a handwritten letter — and he grew hostile when she did not reciprocate, the people familiar with her time in the office said.

Life in the office became untenable, so she initiated the complaint process, started working from home and ultimately left the job. She later reached a confidential agreement with Mr. Meehan’s office that included a settlement for an undisclosed amount to be paid from Mr. Meehan’s congressional office fund.

After this article was published online on Saturday, John Elizandro, Mr. Meehan’s communications director, issued a statement saying that the congressman “denies these allegations” and “has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism.” . . .

Continue reading.

And see also “House and Senate Are ‘Among the Worst’ for Harassment, Representative Says.” That article begins:

A senior Senate staff member is accused of trying to tug open a junior aide’s wrap dress at a bar; she said he asked why she was “holding out.” A former aide says a congressman grabbed her backside, then winked as he walked away. A district worker said a House member told her to twirl in a dress for him, then gave her a bonus when he liked what he saw. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2018 at 12:47 pm

In bizarre reversal under Trump, consumer agency reveals moves to protect payday lenders

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David Lazarus writes in the LA Times:

In what would be a laughable move if it wasn’t so incredibly tragic, the Trump administration’s newly emasculated Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this week sided with payday lenders over consumers.

You heard right. The CFPB, now led by an appointee of a businessman-politician whose companies have gone bankrupt a half-dozen times, has decided to back off from a planned crackdown on one of the financial sector’s most blood-sucking industries.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the bureau announced Thursday it was requesting no new funds to get things done in the upcoming quarter, as opposed to the $217 million sought for the last three months, before President Trump made his presence felt.

Put it all together, and you get a clear message that consumers increasingly are on their own.

On payday lending, the bureau said in a terse statement it will “reconsider” the first federal rules providing oversight of short-term loans, including car title loans.

This is a nearly $50-billion industry, preying on millions of low-income people living paycheck to paycheck.

Say a customer borrows $400. He or she would be obligated to repay the loan within two weeks, plus $60 in interest and fees — the equivalent of an annual percentage rate of more than 300%.

If the loan can’t be repaid — and all too often it can’t — the borrower’s obligation gets rolled over into a new loan, resulting in a never-ending cycle of high-interest debt.

The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that payday and car-title lenders rake in about $8 billion a year in combined fees from beleaguered borrowers. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

The bureau’s announcement this week is a first step toward revising or repealing the rules. Odds are good that the CFPB’s payday loan rules will end up in the wastebasket.

Advance America, the country’s largest payday lender, issued a statement saying the CFPB’s move “signals a welcome return to the agency’s central mission of serving as an independent, nonpartisan government agency that protects and empowers consumers and advances evidence-based rulemaking.”

No. It signals the unwelcome prospect of the nation’s top consumer watchdog doing the bidding of business interests, including those whose profits are based on destroying the lives of hardworking people and families.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2018 at 11:12 am

A comment on the GOP failure represented by the shutdown

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

In a vote he surely knew would fail, McConnell (R-Ky.) could not get a simple majority, let alone 60 votes to proceed on the House continuing resolution. While McConnell has not cast his vote, he will likely be compelled for procedural reasons to vote no (to bring up the bill later), thereby leaving the vote at 50-48. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is battling brain cancer, did not vote.

There are several aspects worth noting at this late hour. First, although Schumer lost five Democrats (who voted to proceed), McConnell remarkably lost four votes, making it that much harder to pin the shutdown on Democrats. The degree to which the hard-line anti-immigration crowd has divided the GOP is remarkable. Second, to put on my former labor lawyer hat, McConnell’s lack of urgency today was stunning. This situation is akin to a labor contract negotiation leading up to a strike deadline. Not to have a single joint meeting with Democrats and the president or exchange any proposals in the final day represents a stunning level of irresponsibility. Republicans control both houses and the White House; not to make every effort to initiate talks and find a solution suggests they no longer know how to cut deals. Finally, having a self-described dealmaker in the Oval Office was worthless, since the dealmaker is totally incapable of mastering policy details, expressing a policy preference (and sticking with it for more than an hour) and moving both sides to conclusion. This is what comes from electing someone entirely in over his head. It did not help that Trump reportedly whined to staff about missing his party at Mar-a-Lago. His reputation as a man-child remains intact.

The shutdown awaits, but the weekend provides time to find a solution before the start of business on Monday. Let’s hope saner and more experienced heads prevail.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2018 at 9:44 am

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