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America’s War on Pain Pills Is Killing Addicts and Leaving Patients in Agony

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Jacob Sullum writes in Reason:

Craig, a middle-aged banking consultant who was on his school’s lacrosse team in college and played professionally for half a dozen years after graduating, began developing back problems in his early 30s. “Degenerative disc disease runs in my family, and the constant pounding on AstroTurf probably did not help,” he says. One day, he recalls, “I was lifting a railroad tie out of the ground with a pick ax, straddled it, and felt the pop. That was my first herniation.”

After struggling with herniated discs and neuropathy, Craig consulted with “about 10 different surgeons” and decided to have his bottom three vertebrae fused. He continued to suffer from severe lower back pain, which he successfully treated for years with OxyContin, a timed-release version of the opioid analgesic oxycodone. He would take a 30-milligram OxyContin tablet twice a day, supplemented by immediate-release oxycodone for breakthrough pain when he needed it.

Then one day last May, Craig’s pain clinic called him in for a pill count, a precaution designed to detect abuse of narcotics or diversion to nonpatients. The count was off by a week’s worth of pills because Craig had just returned from a business trip and forgot that he had packed some medication in his briefcase. He tried to explain the discrepancy and offered to bring in the missing pills, to no avail. Because the pill count came up short, Craig’s doctor would no longer prescribe opioids for him, and neither would any other pain specialist in town.

“I have lived my life by the rules,” says Craig (whose name I’ve changed at his request). “I made one mistake, and they condemned me for it. They were basically saying that I’m a druggie when I have been fine for four years. My first pill count ever, and they boot me.” He says a nurse at the practice told him “the doctors were getting tired of all the scrutiny, so they were booting all the opioid patients.”

Without the OxyContin, Craig says, “every morning is a challenge to get out of bed.” Even with liberal use of ice packs and Biofreeze, he says, “It’s horrible. I can’t expect to live a life like this. I’m not a junkie. I’m not a threat to society. I’m not a threat to myself. I simply want to live my life without pain.”

Like other patients across the country, Craig is a victim of the recent crackdown on prescription opioids, which is based on a narrative that mistakenly blames pain treatment for a plague of addiction and death. Most Americans believe we are in the midst of an “opioid crisis” that began in the 1990s with the introduction of OxyContin. According to the generally accepted account, deceptive marketing encouraged reckless prescribing, which led to widespread addiction among patients and record numbers of opioid-related fatalities—a situation President Donald Trump has declared a public health emergency.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who chaired the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, invokes that narrative when he talks about “the injured student-athlete who becomes addicted after [his] first prescription” or remembers the law school classmate who died of an overdose after getting hooked on the oxycodone he was taking for back pain. Such examples are misleading because they are rare, accounting for only a small percentage of opioid-related deaths.

Contrary to the impression left by most press coverage of the issue, opioid-related deaths do not usually involve drug-naive patients who accidentally get hooked while being treated for pain. Instead, they usually involve people with histories of substance abuse and psychological problems who use multiple drugs, not just opioids.

Conflating those two groups results in policies like the pill count that left Craig without the pain medication he needed to get out of bed in the morning, go to work, and lead a normal life. The rationale is that cutting people like him off will stop them from ending up dead of an overdose in a Walmart parking lot next to a baggie of fentanyl-laced heroin.

But the truth is that patients who take opioids for pain rarely become addicted. A 2018 study found that just 1 percent of people who took prescription pain medication following surgery showed signs of “opioid misuse,” a broader category than addiction. Even when patients take opioids for chronic pain, only a small minority of them become addicted. The risk of fatal poisoning is even lower—on the order of two-hundredths of a percent annually, judging from a 2015 study.

Despite such reassuring numbers, the government is responding to the “opioid epidemic” as if opioid addiction were a disease caused by exposure to opioids, a simplistic view that ignores the personal, social, and economic factors that make these drugs attractive to some people. Treating pain medication as a disease vector, the government has restricted access to it by monitoring prescriptions, investigating doctors, and imposing new limits on how much can be prescribed, for how long, and under what circumstances. That approach hurts pain patients by depriving them of the analgesics they need to make their lives livable, and it hurts nonmedical users by driving them into a black market where the drugs are deadlier.

A large majority of opioid-related deaths now involve illicitly produced substances, primarily heroin and fentanyl. As usual, the government’s efforts to get between people and the drugs they want have not prevented drug use, but they have made it more dangerous.

‘Highly Addictive Drugs’

“We’ve known for millennia that opioids are highly addictive drugs,” says Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. “We have an epidemic of people with the disease of opioid addiction in the United States. The reason it’s become an epidemic is because opioids have been overprescribed by my colleagues, who were led to believe that we didn’t have to worry about addiction.”

Kolodny, who is also co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management, says the American Pain Society and the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM) started to “advocate for opioids” in the late 1990s, taking the position that “the risk of addiction has been overblown, even that the risk of overdose death has been overblown, and that we should be prescribing much more for people with chronic pain.” As a result, he says, “we got our patients addicted, and we stocked people’s medicine chests with addiction, so their kids wound up getting addicted.”

This gloss is superficially plausible. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the amount of opioids prescribed in the United States more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2010, rising from 180 to 782 morphine milligram equivalents (MME) per capita. During the same period, according to CDC data, the annual number of deaths involving the kinds of opioids prescribed for pain also roughly quadrupled, from about 4,300 to about 18,500.

The relationship is not quite as straightforward as it might seem. Opioid prescriptions, measured by MME per capita, fell by nearly a fifth from 2010 to 2015, while deaths involving these drugs continued to rise. The CDC’s numbers also indicate that deaths involving opioid pharmaceuticals are not always more common in states with higher prescription rates. In 2015, for instance, West Virginia’s death rate was more than twice as high as Tennessee’s, although it had fewer opioid prescriptions per capita. Rhode Island, New Mexico, and Utah had higher death rates than Oklahoma, where opioids were prescribed substantially more often.

Still, the expansion of the legal market for opioids obviously had something to do with the increase in illegal use of these drugs. Many of the pills were diverted to nonmedical users, either after they were prescribed or through theft from points higher in the distribution chain.

But greater availability of prescription opioids cannot by itself explain the rise in addiction and drug-related deaths. “The question is why so many communities were so vulnerable to developing problems with opioids in the first place,” says Daniel Raymond, policy director at the Harm Reduction Coalition. Part of the answer, he thinks, can be found in the same factors that helped elect Donald Trump. “These pockets of the Rust Belt and Appalachia, with the loss of manufacturing jobs or traditional industry jobs, were extremely primed for developing a drug problem,” he says. “It happened to be opioids, but it could have just as easily been—and arguably it has also been—alcohol or methamphetamine.”

When Kolodny says “we got our patients addicted,” he discounts the way unhappy circumstances, such as unemployment and dim economic prospects, make drug use more appealing. He also implies that pain treatment has been the main route to opioid addiction during the last two decades. But that is not what the evidence indicates.

According to a 2014 analysis of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 54 percent of nonmedical users got prescription opioids for free from friends or relatives. Another 16 percent bought or stole pills from friends or relatives, while 4 percent bought them from strangers. About 6 percent mentioned other sources, including online purchases, forged prescriptions, and theft from doctors’ offices or pharmacies. Just 20 percent of nonmedical users said they obtained opioids through prescriptions written for them.

Although some people who now obtain opioids indirectly may have had prescriptions at some point, these results undercut the notion that nonmedical users typically start as bona fide patients. Even among the heaviest users, just 27 percent had prescriptions at the time of the survey, and it is not clear how many of those were legitimate at the outset. In most cases, says Sidney Schnoll, a physician specializing in addiction and pain treatment who works for the consulting firm Pinney Associates, “These are people who were drug-seeking. They are not people who went to a physician, got a prescription, and suddenly became addicted to the drug.”

Stefan Kertesz, a University of Alabama at Birmingham internist who, like Schnoll, specializes in pain and addiction, agrees that the prevalence of iatrogenic opioid addiction (that is, addiction resulting from medical treatment) has been exaggerated. “I think a meaningful percentage did start in care of pain,” he says, “but everything I’ve read leaves me with the sense that the overwhelming majority of the people who are dying of overdose began with diverted pills.” . . .

Continue reading.There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2018 at 6:20 pm

An Iraqi Family Sought Asylum in the U.S., Thinking the Worst Was Over. Then Their American Nightmare Began.

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Ryan Devereaux reports in the Intercept:

NOTHING ABOUT THE Laredo Processing Center’s physical appearance immediately suggests it is run by a multimillion-dollar, for-profit prison corporation. Located just off the highway, about 5 miles from the Rio Grande, the drab one-story building, with its chain-link fencing and razor wire, is sandwiched between Ruben’s Paint and Body Shop and Martinez Wrecker Services.

If not for the sign outside, the immigrant detention center could easily be mistaken for a well-guarded junkyard. For the people locked inside, who sleep in open areas crammed with bodies — if they are not being held in isolation — days consist of head counts, the echoing voices of shouting guards, and a lot of waiting. If you’re lucky, you have the money to make short calls home and a loved one to pick up the phone.

For Safaa Al Shakarchi, this was life for more than a year. Along with his wife, Zinah, and their two small children — 2-year-old Sidrah and 6-year-old Yousif — Safaa crossed the bridge linking Reynosa, Mexico, to McAllen, Texas, on January 14, 2017. Nearly six months had passed since the family was expelled from their adopted home in the United Arab Emirates. Zinah and Safaa had been building a life in the Gulf nation since 2009, when a militia commander in Baghdad shot Zinah and murdered her colleague, prompting her to flee Iraq.

In the months that followed the expulsion, the family’s unwelcome odyssey brought them to six countries, through multiple times zones, and across numerous borders. They endured detention at the hands of Mexican authorities, including officials who beat Safaa as his children watched, and navigated some of the most treacherous cartel-controlled territory in the Western Hemisphere.

It was not the life they had planned, but the family was at the mercy of forces beyond their control. Passports in hand, the Shakarchis presented themselves before U.S. immigration officials in Texas. Invoking a right enshrined in both U.S. and international law, they applied for asylum. While his wife and children were eventually permitted to enter the country to begin the asylum process, Safaa was not. After a long and difficult experience, he ultimately found himself locked up in Laredo, accused of no crime, with deportation orders but no country willing to accept him.

We met in a harshly lit, depressing waiting room furnished with plastic furniture, accessed via a darkened hallway. The walls were painted a yellowish beige and featured Corrections Corporation of America promotional posters highlighting the “CCA Way” and posters urging detainees to report sexual abuse.

There was nobody else in the room when the lock on the heavy metal door clicked. A short guard in a shabby, two-tone blue uniform, carrying a set of jingling keys and a squawking radio, pushed it open and Safaa walked in. Of medium height and build, dressed in a dark blue prison jumpsuit with salt-and-pepper hair, he stood tall as he entered the visiting area, moving briskly over the tile floor.

When we first spoke by phone, Safaa was in the midst of his second hunger strike, part of an effort to force the U.S. government to resolve his case. He told me that he had lost 22 pounds and that his guards had forcibly placed him in isolation for his protests, in a frigid cell where air conditioning blasted over his bed. Later that night, his wife told me Safaa had started eating again. Guards had come into his cell, she said, telling him that if he did not eat, he would be sent to another facility where he would be force-fed.

Safaa took his seat across from me, folded his hands on the plastic table, and smiled politely. Physically, at least, he seemed to be relatively fine. But then he began to speak. His voice was so small, so depleted, that I could barely hear it. “I’m tired of crying,” Safaa said, leaning forward. No sooner had our conversation begun than the guard who had opened the door walked over to us. “Excuse me, sir,” he said to me. “Give us a minute.” Safaa looked at the guard, looked at me, then got up from the table.

The door closed behind the two men. The only sound was the radios crackling and the voices carrying down the hall where they had disappeared. Minutes later, Safaa returned. When I asked why he had been removed, he shrugged. Maybe they wanted to turn on a recording device, he suggested. Mostly, that was just the nature of being locked up — guards make decisions, give you little or no explanation, and you have to comply. “They are bad,” Safaa said. “They are very fucking bad.”

The interview was scheduled for 45 minutes. Before we began, I told Safaa that I had spoken with Zinah, that she sent her love, and that she wanted him to be strong. He winced at the mention of his family. We went over, again, the chronology of events that landed him Laredo. He showed me the folder where he kept the documents he had gathered along the way, a sparse collection of government papers that did little to convey what his family had been through.

As we spoke, Safaa talked again and again of the dehumanizing nature of his confinement. “I want them to respect me. I’m a human. I have kids,” he said. In conversations on the phone, Yousif, who is now 7, would ask his father why he wouldn’t come home, and if it was because he didn’t love him anymore. “What do I tell him?” Safaa asked.

More than anything, Safaa explained, he wanted to go home and do the things dads do. “I have to take him to the mall,” he said of his little boy. “I have to sit on the floor and play with him.” Those moments are important, Safaa stressed, and he was missing out on all of them.

For Safaa, the reason behind his continued detention was plain to see. The guards, the facility itself, all of it was about turning a profit. “They keep us here for business,” Safaa said. He said it was a scheme unparalleled in its cruel design, calling it the “first dirty business in the world.”

The door to the visiting room opened and the guard informed us that we had just a few minutes remaining. As we were packing up, I noticed a piece of paper colored red, white, and blue poking out of Safaa’s breast pocket. It was his prison identification document. He had colored it like an American flag. “Because really, I love America,” Safaa said, smiling. At the same time, he added, “America kill me.”

THE SUBJECT LINE of the email read: “Urgent need help please.”

Zinah Al Shakarchi sent it to the Intercept tips address at 5:30 a.m. on January 7. She described how her husband was in detention, on hunger strike, and how she had reached out to every legal organization she could find to no avail. She described how her young son was in a “bad psychic condition,” crying all the time and trying to hurt himself.

“He think if he will hurt himself, his father will come to see him,” she wrote.

When we first spoke two days later, Zinah described how her family had ended up in their situation. In the weeks that followed, we spoke frequently as Zinah navigated the complexities of U.S. immigration law. Throughout the process, she provided every piece of paper she could find to corroborate her family’s account, including government records from Mexico, the United States, and Canada, where she and her two young children are currently living.

The narrative that emerged from those conversations and documents reveals how a man who has never been accused, charged, or convicted of a crime in the U.S. nonetheless found himself in indefinite detention on American soil — and the remarkable lengths his family went to in order to get him back.

THE STORY BEGINS more than eight years ago, in Baghdad.

As part of a quality-control team with the Ministry of Trade, Zinah inspected food coming into the country before it was transferred to local retailers. In June 2009, she was inspecting a container of sugar when she detected the smell of gasoline. She informed her manager that the shipment could not be approved.

While her decision might seem straightforward enough, little in Baghdad, by that time, was that simple. In the years since the U.S. invasion, an array of armed groups had filled the power vacuum left by Saddam Hussein, grappling for money and territorial control. Later that day, fighters linked to the Jaysh al-Mahdi militia showed up at Zinah’s receiving area demanding that she let the sugar shipment through. The fighters shouted, pointing out to Zinah that she was a woman. Zinah was unfazed. The receiving area was her domain, and if she said a shipment wasn’t going through, it wasn’t going through. She yelled back, telling the fighters to leave.

The commander told Zinah that she would suffer the rest of her life for the decision she made that day. “You will see, crazy woman,” he said.

That afternoon, as Zinah was leaving work, the militia made good on its threat. At first, she said, she didn’t feel the gunshot. Then she noticed the blood pumping from her right arm. The wound was shallow, and Zinah managed to flee the scene and make it to a hospital. The terror, however, had not subsided. When she returned to the office two days later to check in with friends and colleagues, Zinah encountered the distressed father of one her co-workers — his daughter, a woman named Jenan, had not returned from work the previous day.

Jenan had been kidnapped from the receiving area the day after Zinah’s confrontation with the militia. Her body, bearing evidence of torture, was found in a garbage bin the following day. In the aftermath of the murder, Zinah said her manager encouraged her to take an extended leave of absence, reminding her that she was an unmarried virgin, and that the men she was up against were capable of anything.

Hiding out and nursing her injury, Zinah was visited by her second cousin Safaa. For six years, Safaa had been living in the UAE, and like Zinah, his life had been touched by violence. In 2003, after a series of clashes with powerful figures in the Baath party, Safaa said he had helped prevent the kidnapping of a Christian neighbor’s daughters by Saddam’s sadistic son Uday. He soon fled the country. . .

Continue reading.

There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2018 at 11:40 am

Criminal justice reform at last—at least in Philadelphia

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Shaun King reports in the Intercept:

WHEN LIFELONG CIVIL rights attorney Larry Krasner was elected in a landslide this past November to become the new district attorney of Philadelphia, to say that his fans and supporters had high hopes would be an understatement. Anything less than a complete revolution that tore down the bigoted and patently unfair systems of mass incarceration would be a severe disappointment.

Across the country, talking the talk of criminal justice reform has gotten many people elected as DA. Once in office, their reforms have often been painfully slow and disappointing. Krasner was the first candidate elected who publicly committed not just to intermittent changes, but a radical overhaul.

So far, having been in office less than three months, he has exceeded expectations. He’s doing something I’ve never quite seen before in present-day politics: Larry Krasner’s keeping his word — and it’s a sight to behold.

In his first week on the job, he fired 31 prosecutors from the DA’s officebecause they weren’t committed to the changes he intended to make. “Change is never easy, but DA Krasner was given a clear mandate from the voters for transformational change,” his spokesperson said at the time. “Today’s actions are necessary to achieve that agenda.”

Next, Krasner obeyed a court order to release a list of 29 officers from the Philadelphia Police Department that were on a “do-not-call list” — meaning that they were so tainted that they would be considered unreliable as witnesses. The police officers on the list had either been charged with crimes or found responsible for misconduct in internal police probes conducted by the department’s Board of Inquiry. Among the offenses, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the police officers had lied to their fellow investigators, filed false reports, used excessive force, driven drunk, and burgled.

After that, Krasner’s office made it clear that he would not oppose rapper Meek Mill’s release on bail. Krasner’s office said in a motion that it was likely Mill, who was arrested almost 10 years ago on drug and gun charges, would win an appeal on his original case. (Mill is in jail for minor probation violations.) The sole officer who testified against Mill is Reginald Graham, who is not just on the list of unreliable cops, but was reported by a former police officer to have lied under oath to put Mill behind bars.

All of that is big, but nothing is as essential and revolutionary as the internal five-page guiding document of new policies that Krasner sent to his staff. While the document appears to have been sent to the staff of the Philadelphia DA’s office on February 15, 2018, it only became public a week ago.

I study prosecutors for fun and for a living. I’m that type of guy. (Separately from my work at The Intercept, I help run the Real Justice PAC, which supports progressive candidates in DA races across the country. Real Justice endorsed Krasner before I joined, and the views expressed here are my own and not related to Real Justice’s work.)

[Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner’s revolutionary memo – LG]

I’VE NEVER SEEN anything like this document. It’s a dream come true for those of us who’ve been fighting our hearts out for justice reform for years. Check out the document for yourself. I’ll amplify some of the highlights, but it’s best read in its entirety.

The first sentence says it all: “These policies are an effort to end mass incarcerations and bring balance back to sentencing.”

Then, under the heading “Decline Certain Charges,” Krasner immediately instructs prosecutors to stop prosecuting marijuana possession regardless of the weight. Furthermore, he instructed prosecutors to stop charging those with marijuana with any paraphernalia crimes.

Next, ….

….It’s what came next that genuinely shocked me. I’d like for you to read it. It’s on the third page of the memo, under the heading “Sentencing.”. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2018 at 11:05 am

Saudi Crown Prince boasted that Jared Kushner was “in his pocket”

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Jared’s been played, badly. Alex Emmons, Ryan Grim, and Clayton Swisher report in the Intercept:

UNTIL HE WAS stripped of his top-secret security clearance in February, presidential adviser Jared Kushner was known around the White House as one of the most voracious readers of the President’s Daily Brief, a highly classified rundown of the latest intelligence intended only for the president and his closest advisers.

Kushner, who had been tasked with bringing about a deal between Israel and Palestine, was particularly engaged by information about the Middle East, according to a former White House official and a former U.S. intelligence professional.

In June, Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman ousted his cousin, then-Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and took his place as next in line to the throne, upending the established line of succession. In the months that followed, the President’s Daily Brief contained information on Saudi Arabia’s evolving political situation, including a handful of names of royal family members opposed to the crown prince’s power grab, according to the former White House official and two U.S. government officials with knowledge of the report. Like many others interviewed for this story, they declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about sensitive matters to the press.

In late October, Jared Kushner made an unannounced trip to Riyadh, catching some intelligence officials off guard. “The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported at the time.

What exactly Kushner and the Saudi royal talked about in Riyadh may be known only to them, but after the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, according to three sources who have been in contact with members of the Saudi and Emirati royal families since the crackdown. Kushner, through his attorney’s spokesperson, denies having done so.

“Some questions by the media are so obviously false and ridiculous that they merit no response. This is one. The Intercept should know better,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell. [Note: This is not a denial. – LG]

On November 4, a week after Kushner returned to the U.S., the crown prince, known in official Washington by his initials MBS, launched what he called an anti-corruption crackdown. The Saudi government arrested dozens of members of the Saudi royal family and imprisoned them in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, which was first reported in English by The Intercept. The Saudi figures named in the President’s Daily Brief were among those rounded up; at least one was reportedly tortured.

The Saudi Embassy did not respond to questions from The Intercept. The White House referred questions to National Security Council spokesperson Michael Anton. Anton declined to comment, referring questions on Kushner’s discussions with MBS to Lowell.

It is likely that Crown Prince Mohammed would have known who his critics were without Kushner mentioning them, a U.S. government official who declined to be identified pointed out. The crown prince may also have had his own reasons for saying that Kushner shared information with him, even if that wasn’t true. Just the appearance that Kushner did so would send a powerful message to the crown prince’s allies and enemies that his actions were backed by the U.S. government.

One of the people MBS told about the discussion with Kushner was UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, according to a source who talks frequently to confidants of the Saudi and Emirati rulers. MBS bragged to the Emirati crown prince and others that Kushner was “in his pocket,” the source told The Intercept.

Access to the President’s Daily Brief is tightly guarded, but Trump has the legal authority to allow Kushner to disclose information contained in it. If Kushner discussed names with MBS as an approved tactic of U.S. foreign policy, the move would be a striking intervention by the U.S. into an unfolding power struggle at the top levels of an allied nation. If Kushner discussed the names with the Saudi prince without presidential authorization, however, he may have violated federal laws around the sharing of classified intelligence.

On November 6, two days after the detentions in the Ritz began, Trump took to Twitter to defend the crackdown: . . .

Continue reading.

This reminds me of how Whitey Bulger played the FBI: acting as a confidential informant, he had the FBI take out all his rivals. See the movie Black Mass.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2018 at 10:55 am

Whistleblower Sandy Parakilas says Facebook knew risks but failed to act

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Mark Bridge reports in the Times:

The Facebook leak to Cambridge Analytica was “worse than a data breach” because the company failed to safeguard users even after it understood the risks, a whistleblower said.

Sandy Parakilas, 38, worked at Facebook in 2011 and 2012, two years before the data of 50 million users was obtained by a Cambridge University researcher and shared with the British firm in violation of Facebook’s terms.

Parakilas told MPs that he had warned senior executives that poor safeguards could enable “foreign powers” or data brokers to harvest users’ data without their consent. Speaking by video link, he told members of the digital, culture, media and sport committee that Facebook had not acted on his concerns before the leak.

He said that the company’s previous practices that permitted developers to access data of users and their friends were “far outside the boundaries of what should have been allowed”.

He added that the company had failed to properly investigate a number of other reports of data misuse, suggesting that it had turned a blind eye due to the fear of incurring legal liability.

Mr Parakilas has told The Observer that there was no control of data once it left the company’s servers.

He told the select committee that he did not remember “a single physical audit of a developer’s storage” after reports of data misuse. When Facebook stopped allowing developers to access data on the “friends” of users it had acted to prevent rival social networks from obtaining their details, he said.

“Facebook didn’t want its data to go to data brokers, but their primary motive was to motivate the huge ecosystem of apps in the fastest way,” he said. “There were people like me saying it could go to data brokers; I think it was a risk they were willing to take.

“I think it was well understood both internally and externally that there was risk with the way [it] was handling data.”

Mr Parakilas also criticised Facebook for failing to notify users, sue Cambridge Analytica or call in law enforcement after reports that the British firm used the data to target voters. Instead, it continued to accept Cambridge Analytica’s assurances that it had destroyed the records obtained without consent.

Facebook has denied reports that users were victims of a data “breach”, saying that the data was obtained by the researcher Aleksandr Kogan in line with its own terms and conditions. Mr Parakilis said: “Users had no idea that this had happened. Their data was compromised in the same way as it would have been during a technical breach.”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers warned yesterday that while Facebook has made it harder to gather users’ data since 2014, software developers could harvest large quantities of data without users’ permission or knowledge. In a blog post, they added that “such activity can be made difficult to distinguish from ordinary” browsing.

Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp, said that Facebook and YouTube were guilty of publishing “pernicious” and “reprehensible” content because they refused to spend the money required to keep their sites safe.

He warned that social media users struggled to differentiate between fact and fiction because they had been “socialised to accept” dubious content online. He also expressed fears that the tech titans could manipulate their algorithms for political and commercial gain — to penalise competitors or censor stories they did not like.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2018 at 10:50 am

IBM is a scofflaw on age discrimination

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Peter Gosselin and Ariana Tobin report in ProPublica:

As it scrambled to compete in the internet world, the once-dominant tech company cut tens of thousands of U.S. workers, hitting its most senior employees hardest and flouting rules against age bias.

FOR NEARLY A HALF CENTURY, IBM came as close as any company to bearing the torch for the American Dream.

As the world’s dominant technology firm, payrolls at International Business Machines Corp. swelled to nearly a quarter-million U.S. white-collar workers in the 1980s. Its profits helped underwrite a broad agenda of racial equality, equal pay for women and an unbeatable offer of great wages and something close to lifetime employment, all in return for unswerving loyalty.

But when high tech suddenly started shifting and companies went global, IBM faced the changing landscape with a distinction most of its fiercest competitors didn’t have: a large number of experienced and aging U.S. employees.

The company reacted with a strategy that, in the words of one confidential planning document, would “correct seniority mix.” It slashed IBM’s U.S. workforce by as much as three-quarters from its 1980s peak, replacing a substantial share with younger, less-experienced and lower-paid workers and sending many positions overseas. ProPublica estimates that in the past five years alone, IBM has eliminated more than 20,000 American employees ages 40 and over, about 60 percent of its estimated total U.S. job cuts during those years.

In making these cuts, IBM has flouted or outflanked U.S. laws and regulations intended to protect later-career workers from age discrimination, according to a ProPublica review of internal company documents, legal filings and public records, as well as information provided via interviews and questionnaires filled out by more than 1,000 former IBM employees.

Among ProPublica’s findings, IBM:

  • Denied older workers information the law says they need in order to decide whether they’ve been victims of age bias, and required them to sign away the right to go to court or join with others to seek redress.
  • Targeted people for layoffs and firings with techniques that tilted against older workers, even when the company rated them high performers. In some instances, the money saved from the departures went toward hiring young replacements.
  • Converted job cuts into retirements and took steps to boost resignations and firings. The moves reduced the number of employees counted as layoffs, where high numbers can trigger public disclosure requirements.
  • Encouraged employees targeted for layoff to apply for other IBM positions, while quietly advising managers not to hire them and requiring many of the workers to train their replacements.
  • Told some older employees being laid off that their skills were out of date, but then brought them back as contract workers, often for the same work at lower pay and fewer benefits.

IBM declined requests for the numbers or age breakdown of its job cuts. ProPublica provided the company with a 10-page summary of its findings and the evidence on which they were based. IBM spokesman Edward Barbini said that to respond the company needed to see copies of all documents cited in the story, a request ProPublica could not fulfill without breaking faith with its sources. Instead, ProPublica provided IBM with detailed descriptions of the paperwork. Barbini declined to address the documents or answer specific questions about the firm’s policies and practices, and instead issued the following statement:

“We are proud of our company and our employees’ ability to reinvent themselves era after era, while always complying with the law. Our ability to do this is why we are the only tech company that has not only survived but thrived for more than 100 years.”

With nearly 400,000 people worldwide, and tens of thousands still in the U.S., IBM remains a corporate giant. . .

Continue reading.

It really looks as though corporations have no respect at all for the law, and thus vigorous investigation and enforcement is required to keep them in line. The GOP is not up to this task: they see their mission as protecting corporations and have zero concern for consumers (thus the gutting of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau). A Democratic wave election is badly needed, and that requires an informed and motivated electorate. I hope the US is up to the task.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2018 at 9:55 am

Donald Trump and the Craven Firing of Andrew McCabe

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Jeffrey Toobin has an excellent column in the New Yorker:

If you wanted to tell the story of an entire Presidency in a single tweet, you could try the one that President Trump posted after Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the F.B.I., on Friday night.

Every sentence is a lie. Every sentence violates norms established by Presidents of both parties. Every sentence displays the pettiness and the vindictiveness of a man unsuited to the job he holds.

The President has crusaded for months against McCabe, who is a crucial corroborating witness to Trump’s attempts to stymie the F.B.I.’s investigation of his campaign’s ties to Russia. McCabe had first earned Trump’s enmity for supervising, for a time, the F.B.I.’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices, which ended without charges being filed against her. In these roles, McCabe behaved with the dignity and the ethics consistent with decades of distinguished service in law enforcement. He played by the rules. He honored his badge as a special agent. But his service threatened the President—both because of the past exoneration of Clinton and the incrimination of Trump, and for that, in our current environment, he had to be punished. Trump’s instrument in stifling McCabe was the President’s hapless Attorney General, who has been demeaning himself in various ways to try to save his own job. Sessions’s crime, in the President’s eyes, was recusing himself in the Russia investigation. (Doing the right thing, as Sessions did on that matter, is often a route to trouble with Trump.)

Sessions’s apparent ground for firing McCabe, on the eve of his retirement from the Bureau, thus perhaps depriving him of some or all of his retirement benefits, involves improper contacts with the news media. As an initial matter, this is rich, coming from an Administration that has leaked to the media with abandon. Still, the charges seem unfair on their face. After McCabe was dismissed, on Friday night, he said in a statement that the “investigation has focused on information I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor. As Deputy Director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter. It was the type of exchange with the media that the Deputy Director oversees several times per week.” The idea that this alleged misdeed justifies such vindictive action against a distinguished public servant is laughable.

In his statement, McCabe spoke with bracing directness. “Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey,” he said. In other words, McCabe was fired because he is a crucial witness in the investigation led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel. The firing of Comey is the central pillar of a possible obstruction-of-justice case against the President, either in a criminal prosecution or in an impeachment proceeding. By firing McCabe, Trump (through Sessions) has attempted to neuter an important witness; if and when McCabe testifies against Trump, he will now be dismissed by the President’s supporters as an ex-employee embittered by his firing. How this kind of attack on McCabe plays out in a courtroom, or just in the court of public opinion, remains to be seen.

What’s clear, though, is the depth of the President’s determination to prevent Mueller from taking his inquiries to their conclusion, as his personal attorney, John Dowd, made clear. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Dowd said, “I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.” Of course, notwithstanding Dowd’s caveat that he was speaking only for himself, Rosenstein is on notice that his failure to fire Mueller might lead to his own departure. And Sessions, too, must know that his craven act in firing McCabe will guarantee him nothing. Trump believes that loyalty goes only one way; the Attorney General may still be fired at any moment.

To spin matters out further, Sessions could be replaced with someone already confirmed by the Senate—perhaps Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the E.P.A.—who could take office in an acting capacity. At the moment, Mueller’s investigation is supervised by Rosenstein, the deputy Attorney General, but presumably a new Attorney General, without Sessions’s conflict of interest, would take over that role. And that new Attorney General could fire Mueller. Such scenarios once seemed like the stuff of conspiracy theories. Now they look like the stuff of tomorrow’s news. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2018 at 4:22 pm

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