• ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, October 17

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Biggest story of the week is just under the radar: China’s Xi is consolidating his power to become most powerful leader since Mao

    Comment: This week’s Party Congress, held every five years, is the moment when Xi will try to push aside many of the constraints installed after Mao to prevent one-man rule. He has already done a lot of that, installing his people in the military and using the anti-corruption campaign to remove adversaries (and leave political friends and family untouched).

    By the end of the week, we’ll know if Xi has succeeded since some rule-breaking will be obvious by then (particularly waiving a rule that would require his political enforcer to retire because of age).

     No Cigar for the Drug Czar: Nominee Tom Marino Withdraws after news reports he weakened an anti-opioid bill (Washington Post)

    The Washington Post/CBS 60 Minutes piece showed he not only weakened the bill, his office was very close to big pharma companies with interest in the legislation.

    Comment: The swift move by Trump was inevitable after the report, given Trump’s focus on the Washington Swamp and the importance of opioid issues to the country and especially to his base.

     FBI Uncovered Russian Bribery Plot Before Obama Administration Approved Controversial Nuclear Deal with Moscow (The Hill)

    • Clintons were involved
    • The FBI kept it all under wraps

    Before the deal was approved

    The FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.

    Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.

    They also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill. –John Solomon and Alison Spann in The Hill

    Austria’s new leader: very young (31), very opposed to floods of new immigrants (x)

    NYT headline: Austria Shifts Right as Refashioned Conservatives Win. Socialists finished third, slightly behind nationalist-populist “Freedom Party”

    Under Mr. Kurz, the staid, traditionally conservative People’s Party was refashioned into a social-media-savvy political movement that attracted hundreds of thousands of new supporters in a campaign focused on limiting immigration and strengthening the country’s social welfare system.

    Kurz will need to form a coalition government.

    The most likely coalition partner appeared to be the nationalist, populist Freedom Party, which initial results showed winning 27.1 percent of the vote. The party complained during the election campaign that Mr. Kurz had stolen its playbook, seizing on issues like limits to immigration and the threat posed to Austrian identity by Islam.–New York Times

    North Korea warns that “nuclear war could break out at any moment” (Bloomberg)

    Comment: Kim Jong Un’s desire for a deliverable nuclear arsenal is comprehensible as a defense for his regime. These kinds of threats are not comprehensible–or are badly misjudged. Presumably, they are trying to move the US off any military option. But Kim’s statements do highlight the very real danger of accident or inadvertent escalation.

     Trump and McConnell show unity . . . at least for now

    The New York Times story is here.

    Comment: It is all tactical, and it’s all about the tax reform bill, which is essential politically for Republicans on the Hill.

    They will also look for other areas to notch some wins, including judicial nominees, which have moved far too slowly through the Senate, as conservatives see it. Democrats have used every delaying tactic on the nominees and Republicans have let them get away with it.

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    Hat Tip to

    Clarice Feldman for the FBI-Russia story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, July 11

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     NYT: Trump Jr was told by email that his meeting with a Russian lawyer was part of a Kremlin effort to aid their campaign  The NYT has not seen the email but has been told about it by 3 anonymous people.

    Trump Jr’s lawyer says it is “much ado about nothing” and that he was simply meeting with someone who might have info that could help the campaign.

    In fairness, the Times notes that Trump Jr. has said he would be willing to meet with Congressional investigators and that he

    had a reputation during the campaign for having meetings with a wide range of people eager to speak to him, did not join his father’s administration. He runs the family business, the Trump Organization, with his brother Eric.

    Comment: The fact that Jr’s story has changed several times is not a good sign for him; it suggests he has something to conceal.

    The better news for him is that it strongly indicates to me they did not already have good contacts with the Russians (a point that I have not seen made elsewhere). If that is true, it is strong evidence that they had not been colluding prior to the June 2016.

    Final point: we don’t know yet if this meeting was a dirty trick. Could be–but if it was then why wouldn’t the Clinton people have revealed it during the campaign? They would have. So that seems unlikely.

     US soldier arrested in Hawaii for allegedly joining ISIS  (NBC)

    Ikaika Erik Kang was a convert to Islam and some of his statements lauded Hitler.

    Comment: Proper sentence: send him to Mosul for join his friends.

     Two studies say drinking more coffee leads to longer life (CNN)

    Comment: More fine research from the Starbucks Institute for Science.

     FDA: opioid pharma companies must comply with new, tougher rules to train doctors on using the painkillers properly  (Washington Post)

    Comment: A small but welcome step.

     Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Illinois should lead the way in solar energy

    Comment: No it shouldn’t. States with a lot of sunshine should lead the way.  They have the obvious advantage.

    If Illinois wants to lead the way in energy, it should use its advantage and focus on better energy use in cold weather. Conservation is an equally important part of an overall energy strategy.

     Texas judge suspended after admitting she used ecstacy and marijuana and sexted her bailiff (Daily Mail) She also misrepresented her relationship with a convicted swindler to conceal drug purchases from him.

    Her former boyfriend [whom she was seeing while she was married] also said that they used Backpage.com on two occasions to hire prostitutes for threesomes. He said Green paid $150 to a prostitute in Houston on one occasion, and $200 to a prostitute in Austin on another.  –Daily Mail

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, June 25

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Speculation grows that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will announce his retirement.

    The current Court year ends Monday, and any announcement would come soon after.

    Kennedy is 80, was appointed by a Republican, and has served 29 years on the Court, recently as a crucial swing vote.

    There are several elderly Democrats on the court, but they want to hang on (if health permits) in hopes of another Democratic president.

    Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, have lawyered up to defend against allegations of bank fraud(CBS)

    When Jane was president of Burlington (VT) College, she got big bank loans for an expansion project that ultimately failed and bankrupted the college.

    The investigation is (1) whether the loans were based on Jane’s false representations about the college’s fundraising and (2) whether Bernie used his office to pressure the bank to make the loan.

     The battle for post-ISIS Syria is shaping up

    The background: the Obama Administration did nothing in Syria and pulled out of Iraq, opening the door wide for Iran to control Baghdad and Damascus (the Assad government) and providing political space for ISIS to build its “caliphate” for Sunnis.

    The change: Trump dramatically altered US policy, and, under the leadership of Mattis at DOD and McMaster at NSC, the US has been taking the fight to ISIS.

    The result: Iran is closing in on ISIS from one direction, the US from the other.

    There are three big issues in this end-game:

    1. Will ISIS turn to move civilian attacks in Europe (and possibly America)?
    2. Will US and Iranian forces be able to avoid direct military confrontation as they converge on ISIS’ last strongholds
    3. Who controls what territory in post-ISIS Syria?

    An excellent primer on the emerging issues is Udi Dekel’s “East-West-North-South: The Race for Syria after the Islamic State” from the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS, Israel)

    The current race for control of territory in Syria now appears to be a competition between Iran and the United States, which have established two respective axes – with a vertical American (north-south) effort on the one hand, and a horizontal Iranian (east-west) effort on the other hand. In practice, this is another stage in the shaping of Syria in preparation for the day after the Islamic State. In the meantime, the country’s southwestern region, from Daraa to the Golan Heights, remains open for activity and influence by Israel and Jordan, which must begin taking action before it is too late. Contacts are apparently underway to formulate a joint Israeli-Jordanian-American strategy aimed at preventing Iranian influence and the presence of its proxies, especially Hezbollah and Shiite militias, in the southern Syria. –Udi Dekel

    ◆ Political correctness to stop free speech in Arkansas? Yep.

    But the University stepped in and did the right thing.

    The Univ. of Arkansas’ King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies decided to hold a symposium on honor killings.

    The Center’s director, a geosciences professor named Tom Paradise, included Prof. Phyllis Chesler (from CUNY) on one panel since she has published widely on the subject, arguing that scholars have underplayed the role of Islam in these killings.

    Three Arkansas professors raised holy hell about it, saying the could never “countenance” Chesler’s participation, even though it would simply be a Skype call.

    The Center caved and disinvited Chesler, according to an editorial in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

    Now, the University has done the right thing.

    They removed Prof. Paradise from the center’s leadership, saying “The decision to disinvite a participant for his or her views is not reflective of the values and practices of our institution.”

    Comment: The university did the right thing.

     Palestinians “disappointed” after “tense meeting” with Jared Kushner, Trump’s special emissary (The Hill)

    Key disagreement: US wants Palestinians to stop paying terrorists for killing Jews.

    Palestinian Authority likes paying them. Abbas told Trump it would stop and simply assumed the president knew he was lying.

    Trump held him to account.

    The PA has also been adamant about keeping incendiary, anti-Semitic materials in their school textbooks.

    The larger problems for Abbas: no succession lined up, and the Middle East is moving forward without them.

    Comment: My guess: Trump will look at Kushner’s report of the meetings and decide this is not a good time to push forward with negotiations.

    Trump has always understood something about these negotiations that most presidents don’t: the US can help if both parties want an agreement. But it cannot force an agreement on parties that don’t want one and aren’t prepared to make serious concessions.

     Oklahoma doctor prescribed so many painkillers, she’s being charged with murder in one patient’s death  (Washington Post)

    The patient, Sheila Bartels, received

    what drug addicts call “the holy trinity” of prescription drugs: the powerful painkiller Hydrocodone, the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and a muscle relaxant known as Soma.

    In total, pharmacists handed her 510 pills that day — all legal, because she had a prescription with the signature of her doctor, Regan Ganoung Nichols, scrawled at the bottom, according to a probable cause affidavit. –Washington Post

    Comment: Cracking down on excessive prescriptions is crucial in this fight.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Sam Stubbs
     for the Sanders bank fraud story
    ◆ Gregg Roman for the University of Arkansas speech-suppression story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, May 31

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     US anti-missile success over Pacific is a huge technological achievement. 

    The tasks now: keep improving the technology, keep testing, and start producing them for deployment

    These anti-missile systems are not designed to deal with a massive attack, such as one China or Russia could launch.

    They are meant to deal with rogue nations or, conceivably, an accidental launch.

    Snarky Comment about those who fought hard to stop these systems: I don’t agree with those who say that the West Coast and Hawaii should not be protected since their Senators and Congressman–and their voters–have opposed missile defense every step of the way for 35 years. True, if they had succeeded, their cities would be the first ones at risk. But leaving them defenseless, as they actually wished to be, would be very ungenerous. 

    Still, it will be interesting to see if their Senators and House members will vote for these systems even now. After all, they might end up voting for a defense bill.

    And while the folks on Nob Hill and Pacific Palisades look down their noses at the rest of America, they might want to pause and remember who worked so hard to save their sorry butts from their ill-considered judgments.

     Illinois, which models its finances on Greece and Puerto Rico, enters the last day of the legislative session without a budget. This is getting to be a habit.  (Chicago Tribune story here.)

    Comment: You can guess the story. Who controls the legislature? Mike Madigan and the Democrats. Who is the governor? A republican. Who wants few cuts, big tax increases, and no reforms to a system that has been running on fumes for years? Oh, go ahead, guess.

    Odd, isn’t it, how the low-tax states now have public services as least as good as the high-tax states? What that means is that you don’t get more potholes fixed if you pay higher taxes. You just get the same number fixed but pay higher wages and benefits to public-sector unions and to a paving contractor who knows a guy.

    Meanwhile, Illinois’ neighboring states of Wisconsin and Indiana have put their financial houses in order. Indiana is especially well run and has been for years.

     “Kathy Griffin apologizes for severed Donald Trump head photo after backlash  (Washington Post)

    Would she have apologized if Hollywood applauded (as they may well have done, privately)?

    In fact, everybody condemns it, as they should. It is disgusting. And it shows how low our public mudslinging has gotten.

    Even CNN is “rethinking” Ms. Griffin’s participation in their cash-cow show on New Year’s Eve.

    Comment: But I was more struck by how CNN presented the episode on its main web page. It illustrates what corporate fecklessness truly is.

    Here is the ONLY thing CNN has to say about Kathy Griffin there (early morning 5/31/17). She’s just “political.” Gosh. And we learn that she begs forgiveness (from whom, I wonder?).

    A reputable news organization would have headlined the vile act, not the apology, and they would not have worked so hard to protect their asset by spinning it as “political.” But then again, they are CNN.

    Kudos to Anderson Cooper, who did the right thing. Griffin’s co-host on New Year’s Eve publicly tweeted that he found it disgusting and unacceptable. Exactly right.

    Btw, ask yourself what would have happened if she had done this with the head of Pres. Obama. I can tell you. She would never work another day in her life. And she would never attend another dinner party or reception. For Trump’s head, she will suffer some, especially on TV, where advertisers will shy away. But she won’t miss a single cocktail party in Hollywood and, after a month of apologies, she’ll be working again and telling funny stories about how “shocked” people were but were privately giving her high-fives.

     Opioid Epidemic spurs race to find safer painkillers  (ScienceNews.org)

    The need for new pain medicines is “urgent,” says Nora Volkow [director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse].

    Scientists have been searching for effective alternatives for years without success. But a better understanding of the way the brain sends and receives specific chemical messages may finally boost progress.

    Scientists are designing new, more targeted molecules that might kill pain as well as today’s opioids do — with fewer side effects. Others are exploring the potential of tweaking existing opioid molecules to skip the negative effects. And some researchers are steering clear of opioids entirely, testing molecules in marijuana to ease chronic pain.

    Comment: Lots of research but no breakthroughs, so far. US prescriptions for opioids have fallen a bit since 2012 but are still around 250 million annually and have been since 2006.

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  • Treating the Opioid Epidemic

    The overuse use of opioids has become a national crisis.

    The user’s descent into pain, addition, and sometimes death often begins with physical pain, treated by prescription medicine. The patient can become addicted to the prescribed opioids, only to find they provide less and less relief or that the prescriptions run out. At that point, they turn to under-the-counter meds and sometimes move on to heroin. This descent often ends in medical emergencies and, if the addict cannot break the tenacious habit, it ends in death.
    The numbers are staggering. 2.6 million Americans are hooked on opioids such as oxycodone, fentanyl, and heroin.

    Fatalities, around 8,000 in 1999, are now over 33,000, according to the Center for Disease Control.

    A valuable, brief article in the Wall Street Journal discusses the way forward. The author, Dr. Sally Satel, is scholar-physician who treats addicts and studies the epidemic.

    Dr. Satel makes several important points:

    • Treatment is far better than punishment
    • The “medicalized rhetoric” of the public-health establishment oversimplifies the problem since the problem is more than a “brain disease”
    • Because the problem is more complex, simply prescribing anti-addiction medications will not solve it
      • Many patients use opioids even while using the anti-addiction meds
      • Others drop out of the anti-addiction med programs
      • The anti-addiction medications are subject to abuse themselves
    • More effective solutions require supervision to ensure the patient actually takes the anti-addiction medication and receives support through the difficult withdrawal process.
    • The supervision may need to be involuntary, mandated by courts, for some patients

    The problem is widespread, deadly, and hard to solve. Dr. Satel’s explanation and suggested approach makes her article well worth reading.

     

  • The Swamp: Big Pharma hired away DEA officials as the agency tried to limit Opioid Abuse

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    The Washington Post story is troubling. We know firms lobby, but lobbying to try to stop the national epidemic of opioid abuse? That’s today’s story from the swamp of corruption.

    To quote from the story:

    The hires came after the DEA launched an aggressive campaign to curb a rising opioid epidemic that has resulted in thousands of overdose deaths each year. In 2005, the DEA began to crack down on companies that were distributing inordinate numbers of pills such as oxycodone to pain-management clinics and pharmacies around the country.

    Since then, the pharmaceutical companies and law firms that represent them have hired at least 42 officials from the DEA — 31 of them directly from the division responsible for regulating the industry. –Washington Post