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Good for the GOP: The Justice Department won’t return seized cash to hundreds of taxpayers. Now House Republicans are stepping in.

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Christopher Ingraham reports in the Washington Post:

Twenty-one Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee have penned a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to demand the Justice Department return millions in seized funds to several hundred U.S. taxpayers.
The money had been seized by the Internal Revenue Service in prior years under suspicion of structuring, an obscure provision in the federal code preventing repeated bank deposits of less than $10,000 for the purpose of evading federal reporting requirements. Ostensibly, the purpose of the law is to make it harder for individuals to launder money obtained through crimes like drug trafficking. But a 2017 report by the Treasury’s Inspector Generalanalyzed 278 of these cases and found that, in 91 percent of them, the people who had had their money seized had obtained the funds legally.
In part due to public outrage, in late 2014 the IRS announced that it would no longer pursue forfeiture cases when structuring was the primary offense. Earlier this year, the IRS told the House Ways and Means Committee that it had received 464 petitions for relief from people who had previously had their cash seized under suspicion of structuring. The cases in question are a small subset of the billions of dollars seized and forfeited annually by state and federal authorities.
The IRS reviewed 208 of those petitions and granted 84 percent of them. It referred the remaining 256 cases to the Department of Justice because of how the forfeitures had initially been processed, recommending that the DOJ grant 76 percent of them.
However, today’s letter alleges that the DOJ largely ignored the IRS’ recommendations and granted only 16 percent of the petitions it received, refusing to return over $22 million in seized funds.
“The Members of this Committee are profoundly troubled by the significant discrepancy between the IRS’s recommended outcomes and DOJ’s final decisions,” the letter states. “What was done was not fair, just or right in most cases. The IRS’s actions led to the destruction of many lives and small businesses, some of which will never fully recover.”
One case generating national attention was that of Lyndon McLellan, a convenience store owner in North Carolina who had his entire life savings of over $100,000 seized by the IRS solely because of how he deposited money is his bank account. He was never charged with any crime. After McLellan’s case went public, a U.S. attorney offered to settle by returning half of the money. McLellan refused, and with pro-bono legal representation from the Institute for Justice he eventually got all of his money back.
The letter praises the IRS for recognizing past “mistakes” such as the McLellan case and for “taking appropriate steps well beyond what was legally required to provide relief to taxpayers whose funds were seized.” But the lawmakers have accused the Department of Justice of being “unwilling to admit faults” on the issue. “DOJ time and time again has affirmed a position that the Committee believes is wholly indefensible.”
At a hearing in June, for instance, Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan testified that petitions for relief were denied due to various reasons, including “evidence that the petitioners were convicted in criminal cases; committed other crimes, including money laundering, fraud, tax, and drug crimes; continued to violate the structuring laws even after the forfeitures; and evaded other financial reporting requirements.”
However, Committee members did not find those arguments convincing, noting that some of the “convictions” involved defendants pleading guilty to structuring in the hopes of getting their money back.
“Individuals were often not made fully aware of their rights during these seizures,” the letter states. “They felt pressured, scared, and alone. And most importantly, many were simply trying to salvage what little they could through whatever means necessary. Those circumstances led law abiding individuals to take actions or make statements that the DOJ may feel gives it the right to deny those petitions.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been an outspoken proponent of civil asset forfeiture, calling it “a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed, and it weakens the criminals and the cartels. But reformers worry the practice is an invitation to abuse because it allows authorities to seize property from individuals never convicted or even charged with a crime.
Nevertheless, it remains widespread: according to  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2018 at 12:42 pm

Interesting development: Ecuador Will Imminently Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange and Hand Him Over to the UK. What Comes Next?

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Glenn Greenwald reports in the Intercept:

ECUADOR’S PRESIDENT Lenin Moreno traveled to London on Friday for the ostensible purpose of speaking at the 2018 Global Disabilities Summit (Moreno has been confined to a wheelchair since being shot in a 1998 robbery attempt). The concealed, actual purpose of the President’s trip is to meet with British officials to finalize an agreement under which Ecuador will withdraw its asylum protection of Julian Assange, in place since 2012, eject him from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and then hand over the WikiLeaks founder to British authorities.

Moreno’s itinerary also notably includes a trip to Madrid, where he will meet with Spanish officials still seething over Assange’s denunciation of human rights abuses perpetrated by Spain’s central government against protesters marching for Catalonia independence. Almost three months ago, Ecuador blocked Assange from accessing the internet, and Assange has not been able to communicate with the outside world ever since. The primary factor in Ecuador’s decision to silence him was Spanish anger over Assange’s tweets about Catalonia.

A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the President’s office, unauthorized to speak publicly, has confirmed to the Intercept that Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the UK within the next several weeks. The withdrawal of asylum and physical ejection of Assange could come as early as this week. On Friday, RT reported that Ecuador was preparing to enter into such an agreement.

The consequences of such an agreement depend in part on the concessions Ecuador extracts in exchange for withdrawing Assange’s asylum. But as former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa told the Intercept in an interview in May, Moreno’s government has returned Ecuador to a highly “subservient” and “submissive” posture toward western governments.

It is thus highly unlikely that Moreno – who has shown himself willing to submit to threats and coercion from the UK, Spain and the U.S. – will obtain a guarantee that the U.K. not extradite Assange to the U.S., where top Trump officials have vowed to prosecute Assange and destroy WikiLeaks.

The central oddity of Assange’s case – that he has been effectively imprisoned for eight years despite never having been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime – is virtually certain to be prolonged once Ecuador hands him over to the U.K. Even under the best-case scenario, it appears highly likely that Assange will continue to be imprisoned by British authorities.

The only known criminal proceeding Assange currently faces is a pending 2012 arrest warrant for “failure to surrender” – basically a minor bail violation charge that arose when he obtained asylum from Ecuador rather than complying with bail conditions by returning to court for a hearing on his attempt to resist extradition to Sweden.

That charge carries a prison term of three months and a fine, though it is possible that the time Assange has already spent in prison in the UK could be counted against that sentence. In 2010, Assange was imprisoned in Wandsworth Prison, kept in isolation, for 10 days until he was released on bail; he was then under house arrest for 550 days at the home of a supporter.

Assange’s lawyer, Jen Robinson, told the Intercept that he would argue that all of that prison time already served should count toward (and thus completely fulfill) any prison term imposed on the “failure to surrender” charge, though British prosecutors would almost certainly contest that claim. Assange would also argue that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2018 at 12:11 pm

This is perfect in a dimension I didn’t know existed

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2018 at 6:53 pm

Immigrant Shelters Drug Traumatized Teenagers Without Consent

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The US looks uglier and uglier under Trump.  Caroline Chen and Jess Ramirez report at ProPublica:

Whether they came to the U.S. alone, or were forcibly separated from their families at the border, despondent minors are often pressured into taking psychotropic drugs without approval from a parent or guardian.

Fleeing an abusive stepfather in El Salvador, Gabriela headed for Oakland, California, where her grandfather had promised to take her in. When the teenager reached the U.S. border in January 2017, she was brought to a federally funded shelter in Texas.

Initially, staff described her as receptive and resilient. But as she was shuttled from one Texas shelter to another, she became increasingly depressed. Without consulting her grandfather, or her mother in El Salvador, shelter staff have prescribed numerous medications for her, including two psychotropic drugs whose labels warn of increased suicidal behavior in adolescents, according to court documents. Still languishing in a shelter after 18 months, the 17-year-old doesn’t want to take the medications, but she does anyway, because staff at one facility told her she wouldn’t be released until she is considered psychologically sound.

Gabriela’s experience epitomizes a problem that the Trump administration’s practice of family separation exacerbated: the failure of government-funded facilities to seek informed consent before medicating immigrant teenagers. Around 12,000 undocumented minors are in custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The majority crossed the border unaccompanied, while more than 2,500 were separated from their parents while Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy was in effect from April to June.

Emotional distress and mental health issues are prevalent among these children, sometimes a result of traumatic experiences in their home countries, at other times triggered by being separated from parents at the border, or by fear that they will never be released from ORR facilities. Former shelter employees, and doctors and lawyers working for advocacy groups say the shelters lack sufficient counselors and too often turn to powerful psychotropic drugs when kids act out.

Under most states’ laws, before a child is medicated, a parent, guardian, or authority acting in the place of the parent—such as a court-appointed guardian ad litem— must be consulted and give informed consent. But in these shelters, the children are alone. Shelter staff may not know the whereabouts of the parents or relatives, and even when that information is available, advocates say that the shelters often don’t get in touch. Nor do they seek court approval. Instead, they act unilaterally, imposing psychotropic drugs on children who don’t know what they’re taking or what its effects may be.

“These medications do not come cost-free to children with growing brains and growing bodies — psychotropic medications have a substantial cost to a child’s present and future,” said Dr. Amy Cohen, a psychiatrist who has been volunteering in border shelters. “A person whose sole concern is, what is in the best interest of a child — a parent or a guardian ad litem — that role is desperately needed now.”

Gabriela is one of five immigrants under age 18 who are plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Los Angeles against Alex Azar, the head of HHS, and Scott Lloyd, director of ORR. The suit alleges that children are overmedicated without informed consent. Another plaintiff, 16-year-old Daniela, became suicidal after being separated from an older sister who accompanied her from Honduras to the U.S. border. She has been given Prozac, Abilify, Clonidine, Risperdal, Seroquel, and Zyprexa in various shelters as staff have been unable to settle on a diagnosis, detecting at different times bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, and major depressive disorder. Her older sister was released from custody and allowed to stay in the U.S., but wasn’t consulted about whether Daniela should take those medications, which have side effects including weight gain, uncontrolled spasms, and increased suicide risk. The lawsuit doesn’t disclose the last names of the plaintiffs. Another ongoing class action lawsuit in the same court, against the U.S. Department of Justice, alleges the U.S. is inappropriately medicating immigrant minors as young as 11 years old, violating standards established in a 1997 legal settlement.

In legal filings, Justice Department lawyers have said that the shelters are acting appropriately, in accord with state laws on informed consent. “There is good reason for this Court to conclude that ORR’s provision of such medications complies fully with ‘all applicable state child welfare laws and regulations,’” the department said. State and local authorities, rather than the court, are best positioned to determine whether shelters are in compliance, it also argued.

Reports of overmedication extend beyond the lawsuits. At the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center, which has a program for unaccompanied immigrant teenagers, at least 70 percent of the residents were on antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and sleep aids, often taking multiple pills, according to two former employees. The two staffers, who left the facility a few months ago, worried that the adolescents were over-medicated. Although the shelter offered group therapy, many teens didn’t participate.

Most of the teenagers had crossed the border alone, but often had family members in the U.S. who were seeking to sponsor them. Even in cases where a child had a mother or father living in the U.S., the parent was never contacted for permission to medicate, said the former employees, who asked for anonymity for fear of affecting future employment.

By law, when an unaccompanied minor crosses the border, the Department of Homeland Security must transfer the child to ORR within 72 hours. Children who arrive with parents can’t be held in a detention center for more than 20 days. The Bush and Obama administrations typically would release the family with an appointment to show up in court, while the Trump administration decided to separate the family, with the parents remaining in detention. ORR then places the unaccompanied or separated child in one of the roughly 100 shelters contracted to provide housing, education, and medical services. Immigrant children can remain in the shelters for months or even years. If the minor crossed unaccompanied but has family members in the U.S., as Gabriela did, the relative must be cleared by ORR as a sponsor, a stringent vetting process that can take months.

To provide mental health services, shelters typically have an in-house counselor who holds therapy sessions, and a psychiatrist on call to conduct mental health evaluations and prescribe medications. The troubled teens aren’t always easy to handle. Sometimes they try to run away or start fights. In a statement obtained by advocates for one of the pending class-action lawsuits, a 17-year-old boy described breaking a chair and window in frustration.

Virginia law has an exception that allows minors to give consent, without adult permission, for mental health care. The law is intended to help minors who want mental health treatment without having to disclose their diagnosis to their parents, according to Jessica Berg, dean of Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law and co-author of a book on informed consent.

Such laws presume “the individual in question actually has capacity” to make the decision, meaning that the physician should first determine that the minor can understand the consequences of treatment and make an educated choice, said Berg.

That’s not happening at the Virginia center, the former employees said. While skipping consent procedures, staff also made it hard for children to say no. A federal field specialist from the Department of Homeland Security instructed staff to file a “significant incident report” every time a teen refused to take medication, said one of the former employees. That report could then be used to justify delaying reunification with family. The teenagers, fearing being written up, would take their pills, the staffer said.

Johnitha McNair, executive director of the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center, didn’t respond to phone calls and an email requesting comment.

Other states, such as Texas and California, require  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2018 at 7:19 am

The World Burns. Sarah Sanders Says This Is Fine.

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Megan Garber writes in the Atlantic:

On Wednesday, two representatives of the United States government held press briefings, both of them touching on one of the most astonishing news stories of the Trump presidency—a series of events that had begun two days earlier, when Trump traveled to Helsinki to meet, behind closed doors, with Vladimir Putin.

Here was the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, responding to a question from The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman about the notion Putin raised of a group of U.S. officials, including the former ambassador to Russia, Mike McFaul, being interrogated by Russia: “The president is going to meet with his team, and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that.”

Here, on the other hand, was Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesperson, on the same issue: “The overall assertions are absolutely absurd—the fact that they want to question 11 American citizens and the assertions that the Russian Government is making about those American citizens. We do not stand by those assertions.”

It was a striking juxtaposition, this tale of two briefings: the one spokesperson, outraged that the United States would entertain the notion of handing over its citizens to a nation that is an autocracy and an adversary; the other offering, in response to the suggestion, a pro-forma “we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.” The Stakes of Diplomacy chafing against The Art of the Deal. A house divided, live on C-SPAN.

What the collision makes clear, though, is how readily the first spokesperson, as she stands behind the White House briefing lectern, also stands behind her boss. It is a well-worn cliché of the Trump presidency—which is also to say, it is a well-worn cliché about the Trump psyche—that, within a White House as vertically integrated as this one, loyalty counts above all. And Sarah Sanders, the press secretary who will have been on the job, this week, for one year—the White House announced her promotion to the role in July of 2017—performs that loyalty every time she meets the press.

This is a White House that prioritizes the scoring of points over the complexities of compromise. Sanders, on behalf of the president she works for—a happy warrior in a culture war that has found a front in the James S. Brady briefing room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—takes for granted an assumption that would be shocking were it not so common in the American culture of the early 21st century: There are things that are more important than truth.

Things like, for example, the claiming of victory against the other side. Things like, for example, the owning of libs and the trolling of Dems and the ability to victor-write history so thoroughly that you can claim, with an air of annoyance about being asked to make such a clarification in the first place, that the president’s long history of commentary on Russia has now been nullified, because the president had, in a single public event, “misspoken.” All of which made Wednesday’s briefing—the president will work with his team—both deeply typical and astounding: Here was one of the most prominent representatives of the White House choosing partisanship over patriotism. Winning above all.

There are, in Sarah Sanders’s briefing room, a series of predictable punchlines. Even the blandest of informational updates—as in yesterday’s announcement that the President will be traveling to Kansas City, Missouri, next Tuesday to address the Veterans of Foreign Wars 119th Annual Convention, because he is committed to our veterans and has worked to reform the VA and to ensure veterans are given the care and support they deserve—tend to be punctuated with familiar end notes: the greatness of President Trump, the undeniable success of his presidency, the foolishness of those who might question those priors. (Sanders, commenting on civility after her departure from the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, sparked a national debate on the matter: “America is a great country, and our ability to find solutions despite those disagreements is what makes us unique. That is exactly what President Trump has done for all Americans by building a booming economy, with record low unemployment for African Americans and Hispanics, the defeat of ISIS, and the ongoing work to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula.”)

Sometimes far fewer words are required. Sometimes standing by the president—supporting Team Trump from within—comes down to subtler work: taking Trump’s actions and coating them with the palatable veneer of evident normalcy. Mike McFaul, Bill Browder, Vladimir Putin, the notion that the United States might decide to use its citizens as bargaining chips in order to make deals with a despotic regime known for murdering dissidents: We’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.

It is an approach that bumps up against world history and American foreign policy and, just as Nauert’s statement reminded, Trump’s own State Department. But is also an approach that is wholly consistent with the Trumpian worldview—one that valorizes strength above all (he has “great control over his country,” the president has mused of Putin), one that is populated by a collective of uses and thems, one whose sum, always, is zero. Ivana Trump tells the story of the birth of Don Jr. on New Year’s Eve of 1977: She wanted to name the boy after his father, Donald’s first wife recalls; Donald the elder, however, balked at this. “What if he’s a loser?” the future president said.

A world of winners and a world, consequently, of losers: It is perhaps the clearest distillation of Trumpism. This White House, whether it is taking on healthcare or gun policy or tax policy or immigration policy, assumes everything is a competition—and reveres, to the general exclusion of the alternative, #winning. Sickness is weakness. Poverty is weakness. Otherness is weakness. Trump understands the world according to one crucial insight: He is not weak. He is strong. He is a very fine person, and in fact the consummate winner: This is a White House that subscribes to the incontrovertible realities of the world according to one man. Donaldpolitik.

It is this world—it is this worldview—that Sarah Sanders, every day, helps to spin. Her handling of Maggie Haberman’s McFaul-related question on Wednesday was not a gaffe; it was, in fact, a tidy reminder of one of the ways that Sanders has transformed the job of the press secretary itself in the year she has spent as its occupant. Gone are tense cordialities that defined the tenures of the Obama press secretaries Robert Gibbs and Jay Carney and Josh Earnest; gone, too, are the shouted lies of Sean Spicer and the swaggering camp of Anthony Scaramucci.

Instead, briefing by briefing, Sanders strides to the lectern in the Brady briefing room and makes an argument about who belongs among the world’s winners (Trump and those in his orbit, the forgotten Americans who will be helped by Trump’s work, North Koreans, the participants in the upcoming Veterans of Foreign Wars 119th Annual Convention in Kansas City, Missouri) and who must be counted among its losers (Congressional Democrats, Democrats in general, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, the American news media who are not on the payroll of the Fox News Channel). Sanders recently responded to a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta by saying, “I know it’s hard for you to understand even short sentences.”  It’s partisanship, all the way down.

This kind of thing—civility, perhaps, by another way—seeks to justify itself through the argument that Jim Acosta is “fake news,” and that therefore Jim Acosta is a loser, and that therefore Jim Acosta needs to be mocked by the White House press secretary on national television. It’s partisanship, all the way down. (When reporters point out that the president lies—there are more than 2,000 known at this point—Sanders commonly responds by accusing them of partisanship and an anti-Trump agenda.)

In a Sanders briefing, even the most straightforward questions are often met with obfuscation and indignation. Even the most basic matters of fact are disputed. The logic of the battlefield wins out, and the assigned teams face off, and it becomes clear, if you watch for long enough, that the thing being fought for is reality itself: facts, truths, common knowledge. The content and the contours of the world as we agree to understand it. In Sanders’s briefings, the Overton window doesn’t widen or narrow so much as it angrily yells at you for not being a door.

In the summer of 1954, a group of 22 boys, all of them rising sixth graders, were invited to spend time at a summer camp in the Sans Bois mountains, in southeastern Oklahoma. While there, the idea went, the kids would swim and boat and run and play and otherwise do the things you’d expect might be done at a summer camp tailored to the tendencies of 11-year-old boys. The campers were separated into two cabins—two separate camps, effectively—that were located far enough apart to be beyond seeing and hearing distance of one another. Neither group was aware, at first, of the other one. Nor were they aware that their idyllic camp was also a psychological test—the one that would come to be known as the Robbers Cave experiment.

It went like this: The boys, extremely similar but strategically separated, were initially left to bond among themselves, within their 11-member cabins; then, once a group identity had set in, each group was made aware of the fact that there was another cabin—a different cabin—nearby. With remarkable efficiency, as the psychologist Muzafer Sherif and his team of counsellor/assistants observed it, the logic of the team took over: The boys—they had been selected not only for similarities in age, but also for race and class and intellect—immediately wanted to compete with the members of the other cabin. And the competitions were not the friendly kinds you might associate with summer camp. Members of each group started to call the strangers of the other taunting names. They conducted raids on the other cabin, stealing some possessions and destroying others. One group, attempting to lay claim to the baseball diamond the two cabins shared, staked a flag on the pitcher’s mound. The other group burned it down.

Robbers CaveLord of the Flies but with better experimental design, remains a dire warning, not only when it comes to sociology, but also when it comes to democracy—a lurking suggestion of how readily humans can be convinced to turn against each other on the grounds of otherness itself. This phenomenon is recorded throughout American history. James Madison worried about factions and Alexander Hamilton worried about demagogues and the framers as a messy collective worried about the inevitable inertias of human pettiness—and it was because they understood intuitively what the events at Robbers Cave would suggest, centuries later, to be true: Citizens would be inclined, they realized, to argue not just in the best of ways, but in the worst. It would be exceedingly easy for their fragile new republic to lose itself in the easy temptations of partisanship.

It is a fear that is realized every time the person whose job it is to help the American people understand the daily doings of the executive branch instead mocks White House reporters to their faces. It is a fear that is realized every time Sanders, the daughter of a man who has made his career as a pundit denigrating the “media” (a collective of which, through a TV-show broadcast to the masses, he insists he is not a part), uses her pulpit to promote the president’s “fake news awards.” It is a fear that is realized every time Sanders accuses reporters of “purposely putting out information you know is false” and “purposefully misleading the American people”—offenses that, anyone familiar with the workings of the press will know, are grounds for instant firing. It is a fear that is realized every time Sanders compares professional White House reporters to her three small children.

And it is a fear that is realized every time Sanders takes a question about a specific matter of public policy—the state of diplomacy with North Korea, the fate of the Affordable Care Act, the White House attitude toward presidential self-pardons, the use of an American diplomat as a pawn to ratify the deal-making capabilities of the 45th president—and, instead of offering an answer, twists the reply to make sure it endorses the familiar talking points: the stubbornness of the Democrats, the venality of the media, the manifest greatness of Donald Trump. Team above all. Victory at all costs.

American politics, overall, have ceded so much to the logic of warfare: This is a time of factions, of widespread bad faith, of normalized trolling, of the plodding weaponization of everything. But Sanders, for her part, serves as an omen in real time: a reminder of what happens when the airy ideals of republican government—compromise, commonality, objective truth—get refracted through competition and resentment and battle. The daily victories claimed by political Darwinism. “Lol, nothing matters,” the old joke goes, but it turns out one thing still does.

Last fall, when she was still settling into the press secretary job after taking it over from Scaramucci, The New York Times asked Sanders, who is very much an evangelical Christian, what led her to want to work for Donald Trump, who is very much not. Sanders replied, matter-of-factly: “I thought he could win.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2018 at 5:52 pm

Maybe Trump revealed quite a few US intelligence assets: Mysterious rash of Russian deaths casts suspicion on Vladimir Putin

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This report of events following President Trump’s inauguration and his friendliness with Russian officials in now cast in a new light. Oren Dorell reported in USA Today in May of 2017:

A former member of the Russian parliament is gunned down in broad daylight in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. A longtime Russian ambassador to the United Nations drops dead at work. A Russian-backed commander in the breakaway Ukrainian province of Donetsk is blown up in an elevator. A Russian media executive is found dead in his Washington, D.C., hotel room.

What do they have in common? They are among 38 prominent Russians who are victims of unsolved murders or suspicious deaths since the beginning of 2014, according to a list compiled by USA TODAY and British journalist Sarah Hurst, who has done research in Russia.

The list contains 10 high-profile critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, seven diplomats, six associates of Kremlin power brokers who had a falling out — often over corruption — and 13 military or political leaders involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including commanders of Russian-backed separatist forces. Two are possibly connected to a dossier alleging connections between President Trump’s campaign staff and Kremlin officials that was produced by a former British spy and shared with the FBI.

Twelve were shot, stabbed or beaten to death. Six were blown up. Ten died allegedly of natural causes. One died of mysterious head injuries, one reportedly slipped and hit his head in a public bath, one was hanged in his jail cell, and one died after drinking coffee. The cause of six deaths was reported as unknown.

Putin has long dealt with opponents harshly. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in March that Putin “has murdered his political opponents and rules like an authoritarian dictator.”

Yet the list of fatalities — 36 men and two women — suggests that Putin’s alleged attacks on his critics and whistle-blowers are more extensive and lethal than previously known. It also raises new concerns about contacts Putin and his lieutenants had with Trump’s campaign staff.

Trump praised Putin in March 2016 as a “strong leader,” and in 2015 said “I’d get along great with” the Russian leader. On Feb 6, Trump defended Putin when Bill O’Reilly, then of Fox News, called Putin a killer. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump replied. “Do you think our country is so innocent?”

The FBI and Congress are currently investigating contacts between Kremlin officials and Trump’s campaign advisers, as part of its investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2018 at 1:51 pm

Alcohol-related liver deaths have increased sharply

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Marijuana legalization is beginning become attractive simply as harm reduction. Marijuana is not a gateway drug, but alcohol has proven to be, and one of the gates it opens is to physical illness and death. Kate Furby reports in the Washington Post:

Deaths from liver disease have increased sharply in recent years in the United States, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. Cirrhosis-related deaths increased by 65 percent from 1999 to 2016, and deaths from liver cancer doubled, the study said. The rise in death rates was driven predominantly by alcohol-induced disease, the report said.

Over the past decade, people ages 25 to 34 had the highest increase in cirrhosis deaths — an average of 10.5 percent per year — of the demographic groups examined, researchers reported.

The study suggests that a new generation of Americans is being afflicted “by alcohol misuse and its complications,” said lead author Elliot Tapper, a liver specialist at the University of Michigan.

Tapper said people are at risk of life-threatening cirrhosis if they drink several drinks a night or have multiple nights of binge drinking — more than four or five drinks per sitting — per week. Women tend to be less tolerant of alcohol and their livers more sensitive to damage.

The liver cleans blood as it exits the gut. The more toxins, sugars and fats consumed, the harder it has to work. If the liver gets overloaded, its plumbing can get blocked up, causing scarring that can reduce liver function.

“Dying from cirrhosis, you never wish this on anybody,” Tapper said.

If people with alcohol-related disease stop drinking, “there’s an excellent chance your liver will repair itself,” Tapper said. “Many other organs have the ability to regenerate to some degree, but none have the same capacity as the liver,” he added. He said that he routinely sees patients going “from the sickest of the sick to living well, working and enjoying their life.”

The problem, Tapper said, is that “we do not yet have a highly effective treatment for alcohol addiction.”

The study examined death rates in several demographic groups — divided by age, race, place of residence and gender — using death certificate data and census data. The researchers found that deaths for certain groups of people decreased between 1999 to 2008 — but rose sharply starting in 2009. They speculated that the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent rise in unemployment may have been a factor. Studies have shown that losing a job is associated with increased alcohol consumption in men.

The new study found that men were twice as likely to die from cirrhosis and nearly four times as likely to die from liver cancer as women. The study also found whites, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans are experiencing increased death rates for cirrhosis, along with people living in Kentucky, Arkansas and New Mexico. The one positive report from the study is the declining rate of deaths in Asian Americans from both cirrhosis and liver cancer.

“Scar tissue is silent, developing silently, and they [the patients] don’t know. It comes as a big surprise,” said Jessica Mellinger, a clinical lecturer at the University of Michigan  who was not involved in the study. Patients typically experience the symptoms “all of a sudden,” Mellinger said of patients suffering from cirrhosis.

Initial cirrhosis symptoms of yellowing skin, jaundice and a swollen abdomen are usually the first signs that something is wrong, Mellinger said. The fluid in the abdomen can make it look and feel “like you have multiple bowling balls” in your stomach, Tapper said. As the disease progresses, the symptoms worsen, including degenerative brain injury, severe bleeding, kidney failure and increasing frailty.

The BMJ report was consistent with data issued earlier in the week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a new report, the agency’s National Center for Health Statistics said that age-adjusted death rates for liver cancer increased steadily from 2000 through 2016 for both men and women. The agency said that  liver cancer had moved to the sixth-leading cause of cancer deaths in 2016, up from the ninth-leading cause in 2000.

The increase in liver cancer comes as  overall cancer death rates in the United States continue to decline, according to the National Cancer Institute. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2018 at 11:05 am

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