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Trump Is Not Well

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Peter Wehner wrote in the Atlantic a week ago:

During the 2016 campaign, I received a phone call from an influential political journalist and author, who was soliciting my thoughts on Donald Trump. Trump’s rise in the Republican Party was still something of a shock, and he wanted to know the things I felt he should keep in mind as he went about the task of covering Trump.

At the top of my list: Talk to psychologists and psychiatrists about the state of Trump’s mental health, since I considered that to be the most important thing when it came to understanding him. It was Trump’s Rosetta stone.

I wasn’t shy about making the same case publicly. During a July 14, 2016, appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, for example, I responded to a pro-Trump caller who was upset that I opposed Trump despite my having been a Republican for my entire adult life and having served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the George W. Bush White House.

“I don’t oppose Mr. Trump because I think he’s going to lose to Hillary Clinton,” I told Ben from Purcellville, Virginia. “I think he will, but as I said, he may well win. My opposition to him is based on something completely different, which is, first, I think he is temperamentally unfit to be president. I think he’s erratic, I think he’s unprincipled, I think he’s unstable, and I think that he has a personality disorder; I think he’s obsessive. And at the end of the day, having served in the White House for seven years in three administrations and worked for three presidents, one closely, and read a lot of history, I think the main requirement for president of the United States … is temperament, and disposition … whether you have wisdom and judgment and prudence.”

That statement has been validated.

Donald Trump’s disordered personality—his unhealthy patterns of thinking, functioning, and behaving—has become the defining characteristic of his presidency. It manifests itself in multiple ways: his extreme narcissism; his addiction to lying about things large and small, including his finances and bullying and silencing those who could expose them; his detachment from reality, including denying things he said even when there is video evidence to the contrary; his affinity for conspiracy theories; his demand for total loyalty from others while showing none to others; and his self-aggrandizement and petty cheating.

It manifests itself in Trump’s impulsiveness and vindictiveness; his craving for adulation; his misogynypredatory sexual behavior, and sexualization of his daughters; his open admiration for brutal dictators; his remorselessness; and his lack of empathy and sympathy, including attacking a family whose son died while fighting for this countrymocking a reporter with a disability, and ridiculing a former POW. (When asked about Trump’s feelings for his fellow human beings, Trump’s mentor, the notorious lawyer Roy Cohn, reportedly said, “He pisses ice water.”)

The most recent example is the president’s bizarre fixation on falsely insisting that he was correct to warn that Alabama faced a major risk from Hurricane Dorian, to the point that he doctored a hurricane map with a black Sharpie to include the state as being in the path of the storm.

“He’s deteriorating in plain sight,” one Republican strategist who is in frequent contact with the White House told Business Insider on Friday. Asked why the president was obsessed with Alabama instead of the states that would actually be affected by the storm, the strategist said, “You should ask a psychiatrist about that; I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment.”

We have repeatedly heard versions of that sentiment over the course of Trump’s presidency. It’s said that speculating on Trump’s mental health is inappropriate and unwise, especially for those who are not formally trained in the field of psychiatry or psychology.

That’s true, up to a point. Yes, it is best to leave it to experts to determine whether Trump satisfies the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, some combination of both, or nothing at all.

But if a clinical diagnosis is beyond my own expertise, Trump’s psychological impairments are obvious to all who are not willfully blind. On a daily basis we see the president’s chaotic, unstable mind on display. Are we supposed to ignore that?

An analogy may be helpful here. If smoke is coming out from under the hood of your car, if you notice puddles of oil under it, if the engine is overheating and you smell burning oil, you don’t have to be a car mechanic to know that something is wrong with your car.

Accepting the reality about Trump’s disordered personality is important and even essential. For one thing, it will help us to better react to Trump’s freak show.Even now, almost a thousand days into his presidency, the latest Trump outrage elicits shock and disbelief in people. The reaction is, “Can you believe he said that and did this?”

To which my response is, “Why are you surprised?” It’s a shock only if the assumption is that we’re dealing with a psychologically normal human being. We’re not. Trump is profoundly compromised, acting just as you would imagine a person with a disordered personality would. Many Americans haven’t yet come to terms with the fact that we elected as president a man who is deeply damaged, an emotional misfit. But it would be helpful if they did.

Among other things, it would keep us feeling less startled and disoriented, less in a state of constant agitation, less susceptible to provocations. Donald Trump thrives on creating chaos, on gaslighting us, on creating antipathy among Americans, on keeping people on edge and off balance. He wants to dominate our every waking hour. We ought not grant him that power over us.

It might also take some of the edge off the hatred many people feel for Trump. Seeing him for what he is—a terribly damaged soul, a broken man, a person with a disordered mind—should not lessen our revulsion at how Trump mistreats others, at his cruelty and dehumanizing actions. Nor should it weaken our resolve to stand up to it. It does complicate the picture just a bit, though, eliciting some pity and sorrow for Trump.

But above all, accepting the truth about Trump’s mental state will cause us to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2019 at 11:54 am

What Trump Has Shown Us About Leadership

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James Fallows had an interesting column in the Atlantic a couple of weeks ago, one that I just now happened across:

Whatever is wrong with Donald Trump is getting worse. A week ago, it seemed noteworthy that he was canceling a long-planned state visit because an allied government didn’t want to let him “buy Greenland.”

Now: proposals to stop hurricanes with nuclear bombs; turning a G-7 news conference into a late-night cable infomercial for Trump’s own badly struggling golf resort;  “imaginary-friend” discussions with Chinese leaders that the Chinese say never occurred; orders that his officials “build the wall!” with a promise to pardon them for any laws they break in the process; and general megalomania and craziness.

Last week I argued (in “If Trump Were an Airline Pilot”) that if Trump occupied any other important position in public life, responsible figures would already have removed him from the controls. In this case the “responsible figures” are the Vichy Republicans who control the U.S. Senate, which is why nothing has happened to rein Trump in. Not one of these senators will stand up to Trump, even as he is melting down.

A few days ago, readers with military, corporate, and other backgrounds responded to the proposition that a person like Trump would already have been screened out by corporate, military, medical, or other professional systems. Here’s another round in response to that.


CEOs are worse than you think: In the previous post I quoted a reader who said that a man like Trump was par for the course in big public corporations. (“Many American CEOs are as incompetent as Trump.”) I said, in response, that it would be good to have a few more examples—apart, say, from Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, who was able to con much of the financial and scientific world for a long time.

This reader wrote back to say: You want examples? I’ve got examples! Here is an abridged version of his reply:

I read your challenge regarding examples of CEOs who have destroyed the company and were not fired by the board for whatever reason in the face of incompetence. First, of course, scholarship:

1. Book that discusses this very same phenomenon, as CEOs are chosen for their ‘charisma’ vs. experience and competence. Searching for a Corporate Savior, The Irrational Quest for Charismatic CEOs  (Rakesh Khurana, Princeton, 2002). In this book there is a discussion about the parameters that boards tend to use for choosing CEOs in the US. I think you’ll find some of your examples there.

2. Examples of incompetent CEOs who destroyed or helped destroy their companies after being put on the job. Don’t take my word for it, try this list of “15 Worst CEOs in American History.” The criteria of the list:

“Those selected for the list fall into one of two simple categories – those who ruined the companies completely while they served as sitting CEOs and those who did severe damage from which their firms could never possibly recover.”…

3. Want more current examples. Sure: Take a look at “Worst CEOs of 2018.” …


We can talk about incompetence in another sense: Are they building a company that works for the world at large, or are they building a company to feed their egos?

You may say, it doesn’t matter if they do, what matters is the result. However, I think you’ll find that, if we begin to discuss the ethics of owning and managing a business, you quickly get to the ‘responsibility’ moment, where your responsibility is to your employees, your environment, your country, and your shareholders. In that order.

The idea that shareholders must always come first has always been ridiculous and only a small mind and small heart could accept that (cue the usual Republican assessments – take your examples from people like Mitch McConnell, a man who does not understand what made the US great and only cares about getting what he wants or what he thinks he wanted when he was 30 years younger.) Take your example as Bezos. Once you have made more money than God, what’s the point of not paying your employees a living wage?…

Hope you are not counting on the genius of American Business leadership to save the country from its own present course.

To reassure the reader on the final point, I’m not looking for a CEO savior. (The main theme of the recent work that I’ve been doing with my wife, Deb Fallows, is that communities need to be their own saviors.) My point was simply: Corporate oversight, however flawed, has seemed to be more effective than what we’re getting at the moment out of the U.S. Senate.

Which leads me to …


Actually, CEOs are way better than you think! A reader whom I’ve known for a long time, and whose work involves corporate governance and CEO-search processes, agrees with the original point, and disagrees with the reader above.

My friend writes:

I’d like to offer a response to the response you received [from the reader quoted above] regarding CEO’s of public companies and the Board’s judgement on their fitness to serve (“The board at a public company would have replaced him outright or arranged a discreet shift out of power.”)…

The responder’s comments are contrary to my personal experience.  For more two decades I was a Senior Partner and the Co-Leader of the [particular business area] Practice at one of the top four international retained executive search firms. My search practice was exclusively focused on C-level executive positions, not infrequently searches for CEO replacement.  In a majority of my executive searches, my client was the Board of Directors.

While the typical CEO search engagement was initiated to replace the planned retirement, often a year or more in advance, I can think of at least half a dozen searches to replace CEOs whose behavior was not only harmful to the business interests of the enterprise, but also offensive to the values of the company.

These were cases of Trump-like behavior.  This could be a painful process for the Board, particularly when the CEO was also a Founder who had overseen the selection of Board Directors over the course of many years.

I can think of four examples of CEO behavior so egregious that the Board recognized its fiduciary duty to shareholders to dismiss and the replace the CEO.  While I won’t name the companies involved, I will say that all were Fortune 100 corporations, two investor-owned systems, a specialty manufacturer, and one of the largest [insurance-related firms].  These executive searches were conducted in strictest confidence, and only the Board was aware that the CEO was to be replaced.  In contrast to your respondent’s characterization of “the medieval level at which corporate management is done,” it was clear to me and my Search Firm that in these instances the Boards acted firmly, ethically, and in the interest not only of shareholders but also of the corporation’s management and employees.


I will acknowledge that there has been a growing tendency for CEOs to recruit compliant Board Directors and undermine their independence, but I will also observe that based on many years’ experience working very closely with many of the most senior healthcare executives that the best CEOs seek strong and independent Directors on their corporate Boards.  The best CEOs of the most successful large public companies use their Directors as an extension and enhancement of management talent, and they defer to their Directors when making certain critical decisions regarding the values of the enterprise and its strategic direction.

Again, in my experience, an effective Board would not long tolerate capricious leadership, and certainly would not hesitate to act to dismiss a CEO whose personal behavior violated ethical standards, even if the enterprise was doing well.

One final note: your respondent asserts, “Many American CEOs are as incompetent as Trump.”  I demur.  With the exception of the occasional Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos), Ken Lay (Enron), or Rick Scott (Columbia HCA) – essentially Founders as well as CEOs – my personal experience and close acquaintance with a fair number of top tier executives and Board Directors is that it takes exceptional intelligence, leadership talent, and steady judgement to lead an organization as complex as a Fortune 100 corporation.


While we’re at it, let’s think more carefully about airline pilots: In the first post I used the commercial-pilot world as an example of highly consequential occupations, with checks and safeguards to thin out incompetents. And, yes, I say this in full awareness of the “Right Stuff”/“Top Gun” macho-egotist mentality among a number of pilots, which I’ve seen plenty of examples of during my own humble-private-pilot exploits over the years.

This reader writes: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2019 at 10:38 am

Director of National Intelligence Tells Congress to Fuck Off

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The US seems to have totally lost its way. Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:

A few days ago the inspector general for the intelligence community notified Congress of a whistleblower complaint that was both credible and a matter of “urgent concern.” Rep. Adam Schiff, the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, naturally asked the Director of National Intelligence to provide a copy of the complaint, as required by law. The DNI told him to pound sand. Now Schiff is pissed off:

As Acting Director of National Intelligence, you have neither the legal authority nor the discretion to overrule a determination by the IC IG. Moreover, you do not possess the authority to withhold from the Committee a whistleblower disclosure from within the Intelligence Community that is intended for Congress.

….Your office, moreover, has refused to affirm or deny that officials or lawyers at the White House have been involved in your decision to withhold the complaint from the Committee….The Committee can only conclude, based on this remarkable confluence of factors, that the serious misconduct at issue involves the President of the United States and/or other senior White House or Administration officials. This raises grave concerns that your office, together with the Department of Justice and possibly the White House, are engaged in an unlawful effort to protect the President and conceal from the Committee information related to his possible “serious or flagrant” misconduct, abuse of power, or violation of law.

Accordingly, due to the urgency of the matter and the unlawful decision by your office to withhold from the Committee an Intelligence Community individual’s credible “urgent concern” whistleblower disclosure, the Committee hereby issues the attached subpoena compelling you to transmit immediately to the Committee the disclosure, in complete and unaltered form, as well as to produce other related materials.

The acting DNI, unsurprisingly, is claiming that the whistleblower complaint contains confidential and privileged information, which means he’s not required to turn it over. This has become the Trump administration’s go-to move, despite the fact that, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 September 2019 at 6:50 pm

Thousands of Poor Patients Face Lawsuits From Nonprofit Hospitals That Trap Them in Debt

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Maya Miller and Beena Raghavendran report in ProPublica:

Over the past few months, several hospitals have announced major changes to their financial assistance policies, including curtailing the number of lawsuits they file against low-income patients unable to pay their medical bills.

Investigative reports have spurred the moves, and they prompted criticism from a top federal official.

“We are learning the lengths to which certain not-for-profit hospitals go to collect the full list price from uninsured patients,” Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told board members of the American Hospital Association on Tuesday, according to published remarks. “This is unacceptable. Hospitals must be paid for their work, but it’s actions like these that have led to calls for a complete Washington takeover of the entire health care system.”

In June, ProPublica published a story with MLK50 on the Memphis, Tennessee-based nonprofit hospital system Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. It brought more than 8,300 lawsuits against patients, including dozens against its own employees, for unpaid medical bills over five years. In thousands of cases, the hospital attempted to garnish defendants’ paychecks to collect the debt.

After our investigation, the hospital temporarily suspended its legal actions and announced a review. That resulted in the hospital raising its workers’ wages, expanding its financial assistance policy and announcing that it would not sue its lowest-income patients. “We were humbled,” the hospital’s CEO, Michael Ugwueke, told reporters.

The same month, NPR reported that Virginia’s nonprofit Mary Washington Hospital was suing more patients for unpaid medical bills than any hospital in the state. Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins University, and fellow researchers had documented 20,000 lawsuits filed by Virginia hospitals in 2017 alone. The research team found that nonprofit hospitals more frequently garnished wages than their public and for-profit peers.

In mid-August, The Oklahoman reported that dozens of hospitals across the state had filed more than 22,250 suits against former patients since 2016. Saint Francis Health System, a nonprofit that includes eight hospitals, filed the most lawsuits in the three-year span.

In the first week of September, The New York Times reported that Carlsbad Medical Center in New Mexico had sued 3,000 of its patients since 2015. That report was also based on findings from Makary, who just published the book “The Price We Pay: What Broke American Health Care — and How to Fix It.”

And this week, Kaiser Health News and The Washington Post chronicled how Virginia’s state-run University of Virginia Health System sued patients more than 36,000 times over a six-year span.

There is no federal law mandating that nonprofit hospitals provide a specific amount of charity care, nor is there readily accessible data measuring how aggressively each hospital pursues patients for unpaid bills. But consumer advocates say the revelations in recent coverage on hospitals’ litigation practices are troubling.

“It’s dismaying to see how common it is,” said Jenifer Bosco, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center who helped craft a Model Medical Debt Protection Act.

Nearly half of the nation’s 6,200 hospitals are nonprofits, meaning they are exempt from paying most local, state and federal taxes in return for providing community benefits.

But the issue of nonprofit hospitals engaging in aggressive debt collection practices that push the very communities they are designed to assist into poverty isn’t new.

In 2014, ProPublica reported on a small Missouri hospital that filed 11,000 lawsuits over a five-year span. In response, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, opened an investigation, and the hospital forgave the debts owed by thousands of former patients.

In 2003, The Wall Street Journal detailed how Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut had pursued a patient’s widow to pay off his late wife’s 20-year-old medical bills. The hospital canceled the debt following the article.

“Some of these things are really outrageous,” said Jessica Curtis, a policy expert with Community Catalyst who helped draft billing protections for patients in the Affordable Care Act. “There are really aggressive tactics being used and little consideration or understanding for how those tactics actually impact people.”

Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service in February to renew his inquiries into whether nonprofit hospitals provide sufficient community benefits to qualify for tax breaks.

Since publishing our story on Methodist hospital in Memphis, we’ve continued to work with communities in the city to better understand the toll these lawsuits are taking. . .

Continue reading.

I thought nonprofit hospitals were the good guys. They’re not. They must be watched and regulated, otherwise they do things such as those described above.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 September 2019 at 6:39 pm

Top Interior official who pushed to expand drilling in Alaska to join oil company there

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Seems an obvious quid pro quo. Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report in the Washington Post:

Last summer, Scott Pruitt left his job heading the Environmental Protection Agency and within a few months had started consulting for coal magnate Joseph W. Craft III. Three weeks after leaving the Interior Department, energy counselor Vincent DeVito joined Cox Oil Offshore, which operates in the Gulf of Mexico, as its executive vice president and general counsel. Now, Joe Balash — who oversaw oil and gas drilling on federal lands before resigning from Interior on Friday — is joining a foreign oil company that is expanding operations on Alaska’s North Slope.

Balash, who served as the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management for nearly two years, confirmed in a phone interview Tuesday night that he will begin working for the Papua New Guinea-based Oil Search, which is developing one of Alaska’s largest oil prospects in years. On Wednesday, Oil Search officials said he would become senior vice president for external affairs in the company’s Alaska operations.

The company is drilling on state lands that lie outside — but nearby — two federal reserves where the Trump administration is pushing to increase oil and gas development: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. During his time at Interior, Balash oversaw the department’s preparations to hold lease sales on the coastal plain of the 19.3 million-acre refuge and to expand drilling on the 22.8 million-acre reserve to the west of the refuge. Both sites are home to large numbers of migratory birds as well as caribou, polar bears and other wildlife.

Balash said that even though in his new role he would oversee employees who would work with the federal government on energy policy, he would abide by the Trump ethics pledge barring appointees from lobbying their former agencies for five years.

“I’ll supervise those who do,” he said, referring to Oil Search staffers with business before the federal government, “but I have a ton of restrictions dealing with the Department of Interior. Most of Oil Search’s properties are state lands. There isn’t really the federal nexus.”

Nonetheless, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) sent a letter to Interior’s ethics official Wednesday asking that the department provide copies of all ethics filings made by Balash and any notifications of his negotiations for future employment or compensation.

Udall is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

“I believe the public has a compelling interest in knowing whether the necessary steps were taken to address this potential conflict of interest,” Udall wrote.

Oil Search, along with its partner Repsol, has been expanding aggressively in Alaska, where it says it has acquired leases with more than 700 million barrels of crude reserves. In May, the company received the go-ahead from the Army Corps of Engineers, and it plans to ramp up production operations this year and over the winter.

Balash noted that Interior “was not even a cooperating agency” in the decision to grant Oil Search the recent permit under the Clean Water Act.

Oil Search staffers working on community outreach, government affairs, and communications in Alaska will report to Balash in his new position, according to a company spokeswoman.

“Joe is a proud Alaskan and brings significant regulatory and external affairs experience to Oil Search, a company relatively new to operating in the United States,” said Keiran Wulff, Oil Search executive vice president and president for Alaska. “We are excited by the opportunities in Alaska and committed to working with stakeholders in a collaborative manner.”

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said in an interview that the fact that Balash has been working to make more land available for exploration near Oil Search’s ongoing development raises concerns.

If Balash’s jump to Oil Search “ends up being legal, it’s further confirmation to me that our laws are simply inadequate,” Brian said. “It is hard to have confidence that decisions he was making while he was working for the taxpayers were not impacted by his aspirations or hopes to go work for a company that was materially affected by his work.”

Asked about Balash’s job plans last week, Interior would not comment.

Balash has extensive experience in Alaska state politics. He served as the deputy commissioner for Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources and ran the agency on an acting basis for just over a year, before becoming chief of staff for Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). He joined Interior in December 2017.

Earlier, Balash served in the governor’s office as a special assistant on energy and natural resource development. And before that, he worked on the joint legislative budget and audit committee and served as chief of staff to the state Senate president. Balash also attended high school in Fairbanks.

Ethics experts said that regardless of the Alaskan’s job description, his decision to join an oil company raises potential conflict of interest issues, depending in part on the nature of his negotiations with the firm before he left public office.

Under 18 U.S. Code Section 208, a federal official is barred “from participating personally and substantially in a particular Government matter that will affect his own financial interests, as well as the financial interests of” his spouse, children and “a person with whom he is negotiating for or has an arrangement concerning prospective employment.”

“At the point Balash began discussing employment opportunities with Oil Search, he was prohibited from personally and substantially participating in any particular matter that would affect Oil Search’s financial interests,” said Brendan Fischer, federal reform program director at the Campaign Legal Center.

Although Oil Search has not bid on federal leases in Alaska, officials from the firm met with Balash several times while he served as assistant secretary, according to his public calendar. On Jan. 10, 2018, he had a meeting classified as a video call with Wulff and other Oil Search executives, described as a “meet and greet” in his calendar notes. . .

Continue reading.

Not exactly draining the swamp.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2019 at 2:42 pm

Why official dietary guidelines are not to be trusted

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Laura REiley reports in the Washington Post:

The Trump administration is limiting scientific input to the 2020 dietary guidelines, raising concerns among nutrition advocates and independent experts about industry influence over healthy eating recommendations for all Americans.

For the first time, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, which oversee the committee giving recommendations for the guidelines, have predetermined the topics that will be addressed. They have narrowed the research that can be used only to studies vetted by agency officials, potentially leaving key studies out of the mix.

The 80 questions the committee has been asked to answer do not cover several pressing issues the panel explored five years ago. This includes the consumption of red and processed meat, as well as the dramatic proliferation of ultraprocessed foods, which account for a growing percentage of calories consumed by Americans. Nor will the committee explore appropriate sodium levels for different populations.

A wide range of experts say these are among the most critical questions as the nation faces an epidemic of lifestyle diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. They also represent the issues that large food companies find most objectionable because they would probably cast high-sodium, high-sugar, high-saturated fat and highly processed foods in a poor light.

Since 1980, the federal government has revised dietary guidelines every five years, and the recommendations have a wide impact on American health and commerce. The guidelines, their CliffsNotes version once known as the food pyramid, are the road map to how the government administers school lunches as well as food assistance programs. And many manufacturers formulate their products based on these guidelines so they can participate in those programs, which buy $100 billion of food a year.

Half of American adults already live with one or more diet-related chronic illnesses, and poor diet is the No. 1 cause of ill health in the country, leading to 700,000 deaths annually, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group that pushes for safer and healthier foods.

Even if the debate around issues such as red meat and salt remains unresolved, leading nutritionists say it is hard to fathom why the federal panel wouldn’t try to assess the evidence and craft recommendations.

“The cutting-edge issues in dietary advice in 2019 are about eating less meat, avoidance of ultra-processed foods, and sustainable production and consumption,” says Marion Nestle, a nutrition scholar at New York University. “Guidelines that avoid these issues will be years behind the times.”

In a statement, the USDA confirmed that topics not listed among its 80 questions will not be addressed.

It said it decided on the topics based on . . .

Continue reading.

It’s well known that industry lobbyists have considerable influence on the content of the guidelines. Later in the report:

Some experts say that because the USDA has explicitly prohibited research conducted before 2000 from being considered, much of the strongest science-based advice on dietary fats and cardiovascular disease risk will be excluded. And for establishing guidance for the feeding of babies and toddlers, renowned experts have collaborated on guidelines — for example, on the role of breast-feeding in infant nutrition — that will be ineligible for consideration because they aren’t the USDA scientists’ own systematic reviews.

“Why ignore all this work already being done?” asked Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “My guess is the USDA wants to control the evidence that can be examined by the new advisory committee. By excluding existing reviews, it can essentially ignore all of the previous reviews that made meat, dairy and sugary drinks look bad.”

And in concluding, the article notes:

Critics are also concerned about the makeup of the committee itself.

The 2020 committee is composed of eminent doctors, registered dietitians and academics with degrees in public health, but many were put forward by and have worked closely with the food industry, according to a Freedom of Information Act document obtained by the Center for Science in the Public Interest that listed which organizations nominated committee members.

Thirteen of the 20 have ties to industry. Several committee members were nominated by four or more food industry groups, including the National Potato Council to National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the trade association of the snack food industry. The majority were nominated by institutes backed by food industry lobby groups, and nine were put forward by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietitians, which has received funding from McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Mars.

According to several experts in the nutrition field, the prevalence of industry ties is far greater than in previous committees. Conflict of interest statements from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee indicates that only two of 12 members had connections to industry organizations. (No exact comparative document on conflicts of interests is available for the current committee.)

The Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services staff, which administers the nation’s domestic nutrition assistance programs, is also led in this administration by former food industry executives. Chief of staff Maggie Lyons was a former lobbyist for the National Grocers Association and policy adviser Kailee Tkacz was a former lobbyist for the corn syrup and snack food industries. The latter’s appointment required an ethical waiver from former White House counsel Donald McGahn, a waiver granting her permission “to participate personally and substantially in matters regarding the Dietary Guidelines for Americans process. ”

Current members of the panel are not permitted to talk to the media about the guidelines process.

When asked about the makeup of the committee, a USDA spokesman said, “The scientists selected to serve on the committee are national leaders in the areas of nutrition and health. . . . Their extensive scientific expertise in their respective fields offers valuable knowledge that will directly benefit the consumers who depend on America’s safe, affordable, and nutritious food supply.”

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2019 at 5:20 pm

The Justice Department Can’t Keep Its Own Law Secret Forever

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Cristian Farias writes in Politico:

When the Supreme Court and lower courts interpret the Constitution and laws, their decrees are public, accessible and subject to debate. In some instances, if an interpretation of the law doesn’t sit well with the public, Congress can respond by amending the law, effectively nullifying a court’s decision. Or if a ruling on a constitutional question is especially egregious, a constitutional amendment, though unlikely, remains an option.

But it turns out there’s a whole category of American law that is above such checks and balances. The public knows nothing about it and there’s no way to challenge it in court, let alone debate it in the halls of Congress.

For decades, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has flexed its interpretive power as the ultimate arbiter of what the law is for the executive branch, building a whole body of secret law that remains shielded from public view. Very little is known about these opinions—which carry the force of law, resolve disputes between agencies, direct the conduct of federal officials and can even affect civil rights and liberties. In the view of one scholar, these opinions date “to the beginning of the Republic” and can even “rival the opinions of the Supreme Court.”

These decisions number in the thousands, and the few that become public see the light of day at the discretion of the Justice Department. But the vast majority stay secret—binding executive branch officials and activities across administrations. Because almost everyone who isn’t a lawyer in the office is kept in the dark about these legal conclusions, Congress and the public can’t debate them or seek amendments in the event of abuses. Courts are of no help either.

Indeed, without transparency to test these legal opinions in a court of law or the court of public opinion, it is often the case that the Justice Department has the final say on the actions of federal agencies and officers, and there’s not much anyone can do about it. From Robert Mueller’s decision to follow a 1973 Justice Department recommendationthat a president can’t be indicted while in office to numerouspronouncements shielding Donald Trump or officials in his administration from congressional oversight, the Office of Legal Counsel makes law that holds tremendous sway over issues of public concern.

And yet despite the influence of the office’s opinions across the executive branch and their centrality to many of Trump’s controversies, all the public knows about them is the smattering of decisions that are made public from time to time. The Justice Department claims to have the last word over what gets released to the public, subject to a secretive “publication review committee” that calls the shots.

According to one former Justice Department official, in 1991, when Attorney General William Barr first led the Justice Department, the government only published 13 opinions out of an estimated 625 that the Office of Legal Counsel gave to other agencies—a paltry 2 percent that leaves Americans with little understanding of the law that guided the United States’ government at the time.

In 2016, Congress amended the Freedom of Information Act to place a 25-year cap on documents previously shielded by what the Justice Department calls “deliberative process privilege”—which the government has cited in the past to keep Office of Legal Counsel’s precedent-setting legal opinions secret. By law, then, that type of privilege should no longer cover such decisions older than 25 years—though some or portions of them may still be kept from disclosure if, for example, they contain classified information. And neither should the department be allowed to claim attorney-client privilege over these opinions, which aren’t legal advice but controlling decisions of law.

With this understanding of the law and with an eye toward greater transparency, a group of scholars last week filed a lawsuit in federal courtarguing that Office of Legal Counsel memoranda that are at least 25 years old should be disclosed to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. Among the plaintiffs are historians of presidential power, the civil rights movement, the laws of war, government surveillance and immigration—all areas where the government’s enormous discretion to enforce the law has been guided by legal judgments that our citizenry would be well served to understand and reckon with, even today. The Justice Department didn’t comply with an earlier administrative request for these opinions.

Understanding past overreach could help us better understand today’s.Barr, then and now, is the kind of attorney general whose expansive views of executive power deserve legal scrutiny—and the public is entitled to know to what extent the Office of Legal Counsel abetted or disregarded his maximalist impulses. More than 25 years ago, he was behind some of the Justice Department’s darkest hours: From a lawless surveillance programhe approved that long predated the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 excesses to his role in recommending pardons for officials implicated in the Iran-Contra affair, the American people deserve to know how much secret law he helped create for the presidents he’s served—and how much of it may still be good law for the rest of the executive branch today. For all we know, some of these decisions may have been overruled by later administrations, presidents or attorneys general; the enduring secrecy of these opinions makes it difficult to tell.

Right now, we see these opinions’ weight and opacity playing out. In  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2019 at 10:57 am

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