Originally Published: 10/21/2017
Drug Companies & the DEA: A Washington Post/60 Minutes investigation exposed the lobbying effort that led to Congress’ weakening the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) ability to go after drug distributors, “even as opioid-related deaths continue to rise.” The investigation found that in 2016 “a handful” of congress critters, “allied with the nation’s major drug distributors,” got the DEA and the Justice Department “to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to staunch the flow of pain pills. . . The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market.” The chief advocate was Rep. Tom Marino (R, PA). (See below.) In the years 2000 through 2016 there have been 197,713 deaths from prescription opioid overdoses. The report also names the many congress critters and administration officials, particularly from the Justice Department, who’ve left public service to go to work for the pharmaceutical companies. This is an amazing, comprehensive investigation and I suggest that you peruse it.
Drug Companies & Congress: Marino isn’t the only one in the pockets of drug companies. According to the Guardian, “pharmaceutical companies spend far more than any other industry to influence politicians. Drugmakers have poured close to $2.5 billion into lobbying and funding members of Congress over the past decade.” Hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY). 9 out of 10 members of the House of Representatives and all but 3 of the senators have taken campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies “seeking to affect legislation on everything from the cost of drugs to how new medicines are approved.” Drug companies also spent more than $20 million directly to political campaigns last year. “About 60% went to Republicans.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R, WI) “was the single largest beneficiary, with donations from the industry totaling $228,670.”
Federal Prosecutors: Trump personally interviewed at least 2 potential candidates for U.S. attorney positions in New York, “a move that critics say raises questions about whether they can be sufficiently independent from the president.” According to Politico, at least one interviewee “would have jurisdiction over Trump Tower and be in a position to investigate the Trump administration.”
Tom Marino: He’s Trump’s pick for drug czar. (TWW, Drug Czar, 4/15/17) He withdrew his name after the publication of the Washington Post/60 Minutes investigation. (See above.) (Washington Post)
Gregory Katsas: Trump has picked him for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In a Senate hearing he refused to describe waterboarding as torture. (District Sentinel)
NAFTA: Renegotiation talks have broken down, with Canada and Mexico “rejecting what they see as hard-line U.S. proposals and negotiators exchanging their strongest public barbs yet.” They’ve abandoned their December deadline and extended it to March. (Bloomberg)
Chad: Now we know why Chad was included in Trump’s travel ban. (TWW, Travel Ban, 9/30/17) Chad ran out of passport paper. (Slate) In what appears to be retaliation, Chad withdrew hundreds of troops from Niger, “where they were helping local forces fight Boko Haram Islamist militants.” (Reuters) Niger is where the 4 special forces soldiers were killed. (TWW, Niger, 10/7/17)
Germany: The Hertha Berlin soccer team, both players and coaches, “took a knee” at their game last Saturday “in a call for ‘tolerance and responsibility.’” The announcer at the game said: “Berlin is colorful. Hertha BSC stands for diversity and against violence. For this reason, we are joining forces with the protest of our fellow American athletes to take a stand against discrimination. For a tolerant Berlin, both now and forevermore.” (Washington Post)
Italy: They’re doing an experiment “in cooperation with leading digital companies including Facebook,” to train their students how to recognize fake news and conspiracy theories online. (NY Times)
Kurdistan: Iraqi forces have begun an operation to seize the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk “and its surrounding oil fields.” All this to keep the Kurds from becoming an independent state. (TWW, Kurdistan, 10/7/17) Both the Iraqis and the Kurds are U.S. allies and both militaries have been trained by us. (NY Times)
Spain: It announced it would “quickly move to take control” of the autonomous Catalonia region and restore “constitutional order” after the region’s president refused to back away from a push for independence. (Washington Post) Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy vowed “to sack Catalonia’s leaders and to hold a fresh round of elections” within the next 6 months. (Washington Post) Just as a little background, Catalonia, with its capital city of Barcelona, has the highest GDP in Spain. In 2011 it was ranked the 64th largest country subdivision by GDP. (Wikipedia) According to a good friend of mine who has lived in Spain and still spends a lot of time there, the secession of Catalonia from Spain is tantamount to the secession of California from the U.S.
Alaska: The Interior Department is going to “set aside a decades-old ban on development in federally protected wilderness areas.” It’s proposing to build a nearly 12-mile road through a wildlife refuge. Alaska officials have long wanted a road built through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge because they say it is a link between a remote Aleutian Islands town of 925 people with the rest of the state. (Washington Post)
Arizona: U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton refused to clear former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s record after his pardon by Trump. (TWW, Arizona, 9/2/17) She said the pardon only freed him from possible punishment. Bolton wrote: “The power to pardon is an executive prerogative of mercy, not of judicial recordkeeping. To vacate all rulings in this case would run afoul of this important distinction. The Court found Defendant guilty of criminal contempt.” Arpaio’s attorney has filed a notice of appeal. (Washington Post)
California: Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed the Gender Recognition Act which will allow California to recognize a third gender. Residents will be able to change their gender on state identification and birth certificates to “nonbinary.” The state defines nonbinary as an “umbrella term for people with gender identities that fall somewhere outside of the traditional conceptions of strictly either female or male” including, but not limited to, “some transgender individuals and those born with intersex traits.” (Sacramento Bee)
Kentucky: A federal judge ruled that a Kenton County sheriff’s deputy “who handcuffed an 8-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl at school” violated the children’s constitutional rights, saying it was “excessive force.” (Washington Post) Ya think?
Mississippi: The Biloxi School District has pulled the book To Kill a Mockingbird from the 8th grade reading list. The decision has drawn “severe” comments from around the world. The school district says they pulled it “because parents complained that language in the book made them uncomfortable.” One reader said it was “because of the use of the N-word.” (Biloxi SunHerald)
Budget Process: The Senate adopted a budget Resolution for FFY (federal fiscal year) 2018 that was amended by Michael Enzi (R, WY) “at the 11th hour with the aim of making it acceptable enough to House Republicans to avoid a conference committee and speed the consideration of a tax overhaul.” The amendment passed 52 to 48 and the bill passed 51 to 49. “The House could take up the legislation and adopt it when it returns next week, triggering the next stage in the reconciliation process when the House Ways and Means Committee would mark up a tax overhaul with the goal of passing it and sending it to the Senate.” Enzi’s amendment “ensures that the only reconciliation instruction applicable to the House is for Ways and Means to overhaul the tax code.” The changes also allow the tax overhaul bill to skip the House Budget Committee, “where a markup would normally be needed to comply with reconciliation rules.” This makes the process go much more quickly. Under the Senate’s budget resolution, the Finance Committee will write a tax cut that increases the deficit by up to $1.5 trillion over a decade, but the reconciliation instructions direct the Ways and Means Committee to write a tax bill that is deficit-neutral, meaning they’ll have to come up with massive spending cuts. (Roll Call) There were several amendments proposed to Enzi’s amendment. They were: Jeff Flake’s (R, AZ) No. 1178 “to make the American tax system simpler and fairer. It passed 98 to 0. Tammy Baldwin’s (D, WI) No. 1139 “to prohibit reconciliation legislation that would increase the deficit or reduce a surplus.” It failed 47 to 51. Tim Kaine’s (D, VA) No. 1301 to remove specific reconciliation instructions “to prevent oil and gas development within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” It failed 48 to 52. Interestingly, almost no one “on or off Capitol Hill” has seen the tax overhaul bill “that Republicans are drafting behind closed doors.” Senator Bob Corker (R, TN) said: “This is the biggest hoax cast upon the American people ever that this budget process even exists.” He was one of the 51 that voted for it. (Newsweek) “The NY Times wrote: “The swift pace to complete, release, and quickly vote on a tax cut is aimed at leaving little time for the type of dissent that has scuttled previous tax proposals.” I would add that they don’t want the populace weighing in and killing it like what happened with all the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “repeal and replace” attempts. Passage of this Resolution, if passed by the House, means that the Senate can pass a budget with tax and spending cuts with only 50 votes, with VP Pence casting the 51st vote.
Travel Ban: U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii again blocked Trump’s latest travel ban just hours before it was to go into effect. (TWW, Travel Ban, 9/30/17) He wrote that this ban “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor.” He also wrote that it “plainly discriminates based on nationality” in a way that is opposed to federal law and “the founding principles of this Nation.” (Washington Post) Then U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland issued a second block, “asserting that the president’s own comments on the campaign trail and on Twitter convinced him that the directive was akin to an unconstitutional Muslim ban. (Washington Post) I wonder what this means for the Supreme Court hearing that has now been cancelled. (TWW, Travel Ban, 10/14/17)
Immigration: A 17-year-old woman who crossed illegally into the U.S. last month and is now in federal custody in Texas wanted an abortion. The U.S. government denied the woman’s request, saying she had no constitutional right to an abortion and that the government has an interest in “promoting child birth and fetal life.” U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan was “astounded,” and ordered the government to either transport her for an abortion or allow her guardian to take her. (Washington Post) The Trump administration appealed the decision. U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanagh asked why, when the government facilitates abortions for women in federal custody, that this woman was being treated differently. The answer is that undocumented immigrant minors are overseen by the Department of Health and Human Service’s (DHHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement and, under Trump, “that office has actively discouraged teens in its custody from having abortions.” Kavanaugh gave the government until October 31st to find a sponsor for the pregnant teenager. Her attorneys argued that it will be difficult to find a government-approved sponsor and for that person to take custody by the 31st. Extending the timeline may pose a problem. The girl was 15 weeks pregnant in September when this all began and Texas law forbids abortions after 20 weeks and requires patients seeking abortions to undergo counseling by a doctor at least 24 hours before the procedure. (Washington Post)
Fake News: According to AlterNet, Google’s new algorithm “designed to combat fake news,” is affecting many progressive sites. AlterNet averaged 2.7 million unique visitors a month over the past 2-1/2 years. But since Google instituted its new plan, “AlterNet’s search traffic has plummeted by 40% - a loss of an average of 1.2 million people every month.” But AlterNet isn’t alone. “Dozens of progressive and radical websites have reported marked declines in their traffic.” So, the author writes, 2 companies - Google and Facebook - “which are not media companies, do not have editors or fact-checkers, and do no investigative reporting - are deciding what people should read, based on a failure to understand how media and journalism function.”
Halfway Houses: Trump has been “quietly” cutting support for halfway houses for federal prisoners. He has severed contracts with as many as 16 facilities in recent months, “prompting concern that some inmates are being forced to stay behind bars longer than necessary.” (Reuters)
ACA Cost-Sharing: Senators Lamar Alexander (R, TN), chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and Patty Murray (D, WA), the committee’s ranking Democrat, reached a bipartisan deal to fund the Affordable Care Act (ACA) cost-sharing payments that Trump eliminated last week for the next 2 years. (TWW, ACA Cost-Sharing, 10/14/17) The deal also includes providing states the “flexibility to skirt some requirements” of the ACA. At first, Trump appeared to support the deal (Politico) but “Senate Republican leaders did not immediately endorse the proposal.” (Washington Post) The next day the White House announced that Trump opposed the agreement. (Reuters) Then Senator Orrin Hatch (R, UT), who chairs the Finance Committee, came out against the plan. (Roll Call) But the bill moved on anyway. Alexander’s committee held a hearing but another “potentially fatal complication” has raised its ugly head. After complaining for months about the lack of “regular order” on healthcare bills, Republicans are pushing for this to go through the process, regardless of the fact that Alexander and Murray believe they have the votes to clear the chamber. (Roll Call)
ACA Truth or Fiction: Trump has referred to cost-sharing payouts as a “bailout” for the insurance companies. This is very misleading. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers must offer plans with reduced out-of-pocket costs, like deductibles and co-payments, for people who have purchased a silver-level plan and who have incomes of 100% to 250% of the poverty level. This is about $24,600 to $61,500 for a family of 4. About 7 million people, about 58% of all marketplace enrollees, qualified for that financial assistance this year. The government then compensates insurers for these reductions. The insurers don’t (supposedly) make money off of this. They’re being reimbursed for money lost due to the reductions. (NY Times) And don’t forget the ACA restricts insurance companies from making more than a 20% profit. (Fact Check)
ACA Lawsuit: The lawsuit started last week by California, Kentucky, Connecticut, and Massachusetts (TWW, ACA Cost-Sharing, 10/14/17) has been joined by 14 other states and the District of Columbia. The suit has been filed in the U.S. District Court in California. The suit seeks a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, and a permanent injunction “requiring the cost-sharing reduction payments be made.” The House had sued the Obama administration “arguing the White House was illegally funding cost-sharing reduction subsidies payments to insurers.” Early this summer the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia “ruled that a coalition of attorneys general . . . can defend the payments.” Now New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) said he will proceed with this litigation. (The Hill)
Pollution: Research published in The Lancet found that global pollution kills at least 9 million people and costs trillions of dollars every year and warns that the crisis “threatens the continuing survival of human societies.” Toxic air, water, soils, and workplaces are responsible for the diseases that kill 1 in every 6 people around the world, and the true total could be millions higher because the impact of many pollutants is poorly understood.
Oil Spill: Nearly 400,000 gallons of oil have, to date, spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from a pipe owned by LLOG Exploration Company. Bloomberg believes that this could be the largest spill in the U.S. since Deepwater Horizon.
Hurricane Ophelia: You’re not going to believe this, but a hurricane went to Ireland. It “petered out” to a tropical storm before it hit with record-breaking wind gusts. (Think Progress) Even then, it was a very strong storm. (Washington Post) Then it headed to Scotland. (CBS). Still it was “one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the northeastern Atlantic.” (NY Times) But, according to Forbes, the waters that Ophelia traveled were unusually warm - “or, rather, they would be unusually warm if humans weren’t warming up the globe at an accelerating pace.” Check out the graph of “all major hurricane points” and see how far outside those points Ireland falls. (Think Progress)
Radiation: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued new guidelines that ease the established levels of “safe” radiation. “The EPA’s determination sets a level 10 times the drinking water standard for radiation recommended” under Obama. “In the event of a dirty bomb or nuclear meltdown, emergency responders can safely tolerate radiation levels equivalent to thousands of chest X-rays.” (Bloomberg)
Insects: 75% of insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in the past 25 years. “Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife." It's been known for some time that butterflies and bees are declining. "But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is ‘on course for ecological Armageddon,’ with profound impacts on human society.” [Emphasis added.] (Guardian)