Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Insulting Colin Kaepernick Says More About Our Patriotism Than His

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (photo: Unknown)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (photo: Unknown)

By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, The Washington Post

30 August 16 

uring the Olympics in Rio a couple of weeks ago, Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks was sprinting intently in the middle of his pole vaulting attempt when he heard the national anthem playing. He immediately dropped his pole and stood at attention, a spontaneous expression of heartfelt patriotism that elicited more praise than his eventual bronze medal. Last Thursday, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose not to stand with his teammates during the national anthem.

To some, Kendricks embodies traditional all-American Forrest Gump values of patriotism, while Kaepernick represents the entitled brattish behavior of a wealthy athlete ungrateful to a country that has given him so much.

In truth, both men, in their own ways, behaved in a highly patriotic manner that should make all Americans proud.

The discussion of the nuances of patriotism is especially important right now, with Trump and Clinton supporters each righteously claiming ownership of the “most patriotic” label. Patriotism isn’t just getting teary-eyed on the Fourth of July or choked up at war memorials. It’s supporting what the Fourth of July celebrates and what those war memorials commemorate: the U.S. Constitution’s insistence that all people should have the same rights and opportunities and that it is the obligation of the government to make that happen. When the government fails in those obligations, it is the responsibility of patriots to speak up and remind them of their duty.

One of the ironies of the way some people express their patriotism is to brag about our freedoms, especially freedom of speech, but then brand as unpatriotic those who exercise this freedom to express dissatisfaction with the government’s record in upholding the Constitution. Colin Kaepernick explained why he will not stand during the national anthem: “There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust [that] people aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for — freedom, liberty, justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”

What makes an act truly patriotic and not just lip-service is when it involves personal risk or sacrifice. Both Kendricks and Kaepernick chose to express their patriotism publicly because they felt that inspiring others was more important than the personal cost. Yes, Kendricks is a world-record pole-vaulter, but every athlete knows that breaking focus and concentration during a high-pressure competition can be devastating to the athlete’s performance. The Olympics was filled with favorites who faltered because of loss of focus. Halting his run in order to honor the national anthem could have cost Kendricks his medal. He was willing to take that chance.

Likewise, Kaepernick’s choice not to stand during the national anthem could create a public backlash that might cost him millions in future endorsements and affect his value as a player on his team, reducing salary earnings or even jeopardizing his job. If team ticket sales seriously dipped as a result, he would pay for his stance.

We should admire those who risk personal gain in the service of promoting the values of their country. Both athletes are in fine company of others who have shown their patriotism in unconventional ways. In 1989, when a federal law prohibiting flag desecration went into effect, Vietnam Veterans burned the American flag as a protest to a law curbing the First Amendment. Their argument was that they fought for the freedoms in the Constitution, not a piece of cloth, and to curtail those freedoms was an insult to their sacrifice. Ironically, the original purpose of flag desecration laws between 1897 and 1932 wasn’t to prevent political dissent, but to prevent the use of flag imagery for political campaigns and in advertising.

One sign of the maturation of American society is the willingness of those in the public eye, especially athletes, to openly take a political stand, even if it could harm their careers. The modern era of athletes speaking out began in 1966 with Muhammad Ali refusing to be drafted to fight other people of color. In 1967, I joined with football great Jim Brown, basketball legend Bill Russell, Muhammad Ali and other prominent athletes for what was dubbed “The Cleveland Summit.” Together we tried to find ways to help Ali fight for his right of political expression. I don’t know how much we were able to accomplish on a practical level, but seeing black athletes in support of Ali inspired others to speak out. The following year at the 1968 Olympics, African Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the medal ceremony as a protest to the treatment of people of color in the United States. In 2014, NBA players LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Jack, Alan Anderson, Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett and NFL players from the Rams and Browns wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts during warm-ups for a game to protest police killings of unarmed blacks.

What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after Ali was banned from boxing for his stance and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised fists caused public ostracization and numerous death threats, we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities. Failure to fix this problem is what’s really un-American here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Coffee Production May Drop 50 Percent Thanks to Climate Change

A farmer harvests robusta coffee at the Tutur Plantation in Pasuruan, East Java, Indonesia. (photo: Antara Foto/Reuters)
A farmer harvests robusta coffee at the Tutur Plantation in Pasuruan, East Java, Indonesia. (photo: Antara Foto/Reuters)

By Alejandro Dávila Fragoso, ThinkProgress
30 August 16
Climbing temperatures and altered rainfall are affecting coffee yields, quality, and pests.

offee production worldwide could decline by as much as 50 percent in the next three decades thanks to climate change, according to a new report.

Published late last week, the Climate Institute report says a hotter climate and altered rainfall are colluding to cut the worldwide area suitable for coffee in half by 2050. That would be catastrophic for some 120 million people in more than 70 countries — mostly developing nations—that depend on the coffee trade.

It would also affect billions of consumers worldwide, who together drink about 2.25 billion cups of coffee every day, according to the report, which warns of rising prices. The ecology is also projected to suffer, as coffee production may be forced to move away from the equator, and further up mountains and forests.

Rising temperatures could make Mexican coffee unviable sooner than 2050, while Nicaragua will lose most of its coffee zone by 2050, according to the report.

Brazil, the world’s largest coffee grower, is set to experience “substantial losses,” the report notes. Already, Brazil’s coffee-growing areas are facing a growing number of heat waves, as cold extremes declined between 1960 and 2011.

Abrupt changes in weather patterns poses a significant problem for Arabica beans, which account for 75 percent of the world’s coffee production and require rainy and dry seasons to be well defined. Robusta, the other type of coffee bean, is more tolerant to warming, yet the report notes both types of crop seem incapable of weathering even the mild climate change scenarios evaluated.

In the Congo, the birthplace of Robusta coffee, the wild plant may become extinct by 2050. In fact, the report says that unless climate change is addressed, wild coffee could become extinct worldwide by 2080.

“It’s not just the heat, which is a big factor which is driving some of the regions where coffee is produced uphill,” John Connor, Climate Institute’s chief executive officer, told ABC. “We’re also seeing extra diseases increasing and being able to go up into those areas.” 

Studies have long warned that a warmer world might mean a pricier morning cup of coffee, as consumption has been on the rise but coffee stockpiles have been dwindling.

U.S. consumption will be up 1.5 percent in the coming year and reach record highs, Bloomberg reported in June. Worldwide demand in various countries like China, Japan, and India also show upwards trends.

“We have a cloud hovering over our head. It’s dramatically serious. Climate change can have a significant adverse effect in the short term,” said Mario Cerutti, the Green Coffee Corporate Relations director at Lavazza, one of Italy’s most important coffee roasting companies. “It’s no longer about the future; it’s the present.”

Other industry officials have shared similar messages over the years. “What we are really seeing as a company as we look 10, 20, 30 years down the road—if conditions continue as they are—is a potentially significant risk to our supply chain,” said Jim Hanna, director of environmental affairs at Starbucks, in 2011. “If we sit by and wait until the impacts of climate change are so severe that is impacting our supply chain, then that puts us at a greater risk.”

The report says that consumers can help ameliorate the problem by choosing brands that are carbon neutral, or help coffee farmers build their capacity to adapt to climate change. Moreover, the report notes people can demand action from companies and governments to ensure all products, business models, and economies are carbon neutral or even better, carbon negative.

“Our concern is primarily for the 25 million farmers out there whose entire livelihoods depend on this incredibly important global commodity,” Molly Harriss Olson, chief executive of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, which commissioned the report, according to ABC. “We’ve got to build a new economy that doesn’t threaten things in our lifestyle such as our coffee.”

Monday, August 29, 2016

Colin Kaepernick Is Righter Than You Know: The National Anthem Is a Celebration of Slavery

Colin Kaepernick. (photo: Peter Joneleit/Cal Sport Media/AP Images)
Colin Kaepernick. (photo: Peter Joneleit/Cal Sport Media/AP Images)
By Jon Schwarz, The Intercept
29 August 16
efore a preseason game on Friday, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” When he explained why, he only spoke about the present: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Twitter then went predictably nuts, with at least one 49ers fan burning Kaepernick’s jersey.

Almost no one seems to be aware that even if the U.S. were a perfect country today, it would be bizarre to expect African-American players to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Why? Because it literally celebrates the murder of African-Americans. 

Few people know this because we only ever sing the first verse. But read the end of the third verse and you’ll see why “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not just a musical atrocity, it’s an intellectual and moral one, too:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“The Star-Spangled Banner,” Americans hazily remember, was written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. But we don’t ever talk about how the War of 1812 was a war of aggression that began with an attempt by the U.S. to grab Canada from the British Empire.

However, we’d wildly overestimated the strength of the U.S. military. By the time of the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814, the British had counterattacked and overrun Washington, D.C., setting fire to the White House.

And one of the key tactics behind the British military’s success was its active recruitment of American slaves. As a detailed 2014 article in Harper’s explains, the orders given to the Royal Navy’s Admiral Sir George Cockburn read:
Let the landings you make be more for the protection of the desertion of the Black Population than with a view to any other advantage. … The great point to be attained is the cordial Support of the Black population. With them properly armed & backed with 20,000 British Troops, Mr. Madison will be hurled from his throne.
Whole families found their way to the ships of the British, who accepted everyone and pledged no one would be given back to their “owners.” Adult men were trained to create a regiment called the Colonial Marines, who participated in many of the most important battles, including the August 1814 raid on Washington.

Then on the night of September 13, 1814, the British bombarded Fort McHenry. Key, seeing the fort’s flag the next morning, was inspired to write the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

So when Key penned “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” he was taking great satisfaction in the death of slaves who’d freed themselves. His perspective may have been affected by the fact he owned several slaves himself.

With that in mind, think again about the next two lines: “And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The reality is that there were human beings fighting for freedom with incredible bravery during the War of 1812. However, “The Star-Spangled Banner” glorifies America’s “triumph” over them — and then turns that reality completely upside down, transforming their killers into the courageous freedom fighters.

After the U.S. and the British signed a peace treaty at the end of 1814, the U.S. government demanded the return of American “property,” which by that point numbered about 6,000 people. The British refused. Most of the 6,000 eventually settled in Canada, with some going to Trinidad, where their descendants are still known as “Merikins.”

Furthermore, if those leading the backlash against Kaepernick need more inspiration, they can get it from Francis Scott Key’s later life.

By 1833, Key was a district attorney for Washington, D.C. As described in a book called Snowstorm in August by former Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley, the police were notorious thieves, frequently stealing free blacks’ possessions with impunity. One night, one of the constables tried to attack a woman who escaped and ran away — until she fell off a bridge across the Potomac and drowned.

“There is neither mercy nor justice for colored people in this district,” an abolitionist paper wrote. “No fuss or stir was made about it. She was got out of the river, and was buried, and there the matter ended.”

Key was furious and indicted the newspaper for intending “to injure, oppress, aggrieve & vilify the good name, fame, credit & reputation of the Magistrates & constables of Washington County.”

You can decide for yourself whether there’s some connection between what happened 200 years ago and what Colin Kaepernick is angry about today. Maybe it’s all ancient, meaningless history. Or maybe it’s not, and Kaepernick is right, and we really need a new national anthem.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Obamacare's Faltering for One Simple Reason: Profit

A Medicaid patient in Colorado looks over paperwork with a doctor. (photo: Craig F. Walker/Denver Post)
A Medicaid patient in Colorado looks over paperwork with a doctor. (photo: Craig F. Walker/Denver Post)

By Jon Schwarz, The Intercept
27 August 16
here have been dozens if not hundreds of news articles about Aetna leaving the Affordable Health Care Act’s online marketplaces in eleven states, and whether this signals serious problems for Obamacare down the road.

But none of them have truly explained that what’s happening with Aetna is the consequence of a flaw built into Obamacare from the start: It permits insurance companies to make a profit on the basic healthcare package Americans are now legally required to purchase.

This makes Obamacare fundamentally different from essentially all systems of universal healthcare on earth. (There is one tiny exception, the Netherlands, but of the four insurance companies that cover 90 percent of Dutch citizens, just one is for profit.)

Why does this matter? The answer is complicated but extremely important if Obamacare is going to avoid collapsing.

Insurance companies like Aetna complain that fewer young people than anticipated are buying insurance on the exchanges. The Obama administration was aiming at over 38 percent of the exchange pool being between 18 and 35 years old, but right now that number is just 28 percent. That means insurers have to pay more in health costs for customers who are older and sicker than anticipated, making those insurers more likely to abandon the exchanges. So a big swath of the U.S. now has just one insurance company offering Obamacare plans, and one county in Arizona has none.

The failure of young people to sign up in expected numbers is connected to the weakness of the Obamacare mandate. The amount that people who don’t buy health insurance must pay in penalties started off very low, and while it’s increased, it’s still usually significantly less than the cost of even the cheapest plan on exchanges.

By contrast, in other countries with private health insurance, the government response is ferocious if you don’t buy the basic package. Switzerland will seize your wages to pay for the necessary insurance. If you get sick in Japan without buying insurance you have to come up with all your back premiums before your insurer will pay your medical bills.

It is, of course, technically feasible to set up something similar in the U.S. But it will never be politically feasible. That’s because there would, rightfully, be an intense political backlash if the government started garnishing our paychecks and sending the money to Aetna, whose CEO made $28 million last year.

In Healing America, probably the best book ever written about how different countries provide universal healthcare, T.R. Reid explains that functioning systems have a huge variety of characteristics but several “standard building blocks” — and one is that “financing healthcare must be a nonprofit endeavor.”

As Reid writes, other countries have made it work with many different kinds of healthcare providers — doctors can work directly for the government, as in the U.K., or not, as in most other rich countries. Hospitals can be for-profit or not. But no one has been able to create a viable system of universal healthcare based on citizens being forced to help insurance companies make a profit. 

Moreover, the political ramifications of non-profit healthcare financing go far beyond making it feasible to have a strong individual mandate to buy insurance. It also is a key reason why such systems have much lower costs: “When Aetna or WellPoint declines to pay for a drug or a procedure, the money saved goes to enhance the insurer’s profit, not to pay for another person’s treatment,” Reid points out. “So people are less willing to tolerate cost controls.”

So either Obamacare will include a universally-available, non-profit public option — which in turn would likely eventually become the only option — or it will eventually expire. There is no third way.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The GOP's Stealth War Against Voters

The Crosscheck program is a response to the imaginary menace of mass voter fraud. (photo: Mark Makela/Reuters)
The Crosscheck program is a response to the imaginary menace of mass voter fraud. (photo: Mark Makela/Reuters)

By Greg Palast, Rolling Stone
Will an anti-voter-fraud program designed by one of Trump's advisers deny tens of thousands their right to vote in November?
hen Donald Trump claimed, "the election's going to be rigged," he wasn't entirely wrong. But the threat was not, as Trump warned, from Americans committing the crime of "voting many, many times." What's far more likely to undermine democracy in November is the culmination of a decade-long Republican effort to disenfranchise voters under the guise of battling voter fraud. The latest tool: Election officials in more than two dozen states have compiled lists of citizens whom they allege could be registered in more than one state – thus potentially able to cast multiple ballots – and eligible to be purged from the voter rolls.

The data is processed through a system called the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which is being promoted by a powerful Republican operative, and its lists of potential duplicate voters are kept confidential. But Rolling Stone obtained a portion of the list and the names of 1 million targeted voters. According to our analysis, the Crosscheck list disproportionately threatens solid Democratic constituencies: young, black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters – with some of the biggest possible purges underway in Ohio and North Carolina, two crucial swing states with tight Senate races.

Like all weapons of vote suppression, Crosscheck is a response to the imaginary menace of mass voter fraud. In the mid-2000s, after the Florida-recount debacle, the Bush administration launched a five-year investigation into the allegedly rampant crime but found scant evidence of wrongdoing. Still, the GOP has perpetuated the myth in every national election since. Recently, North Carolina Board of Elections chief Kim Strach testified to her legislature that 35,750 voters are "registered in North Carolina and another state and voted in both in the 2012 general election." Yet despite hiring an ex-FBI agent to lead the hunt, the state has charged exactly zero double voters from the Crosscheck list. Nevertheless, tens of thousands face the loss of their ability to vote – all for the sake of preventing a crime that rarely happens. So far, Crosscheck has tagged an astonishing 7.2 million suspects, yet we found no more than four perpetrators who have been charged with double voting or deliberate double registration.

On its surface, Crosscheck seems quite reasonable. Twenty-eight participating states share their voter lists and, in the name of dispassionate, race-blind Big Data, seek to ensure the rolls are up to date. To make sure the system finds suspect voters, Crosscheck supposedly matches first, middle and last name, plus birth date, and provides the last four digits of a Social Security number for additional verification.

In reality, however, there have been signs that the program doesn't operate as advertised. Some states have dropped out of Crosscheck, citing problems with its methodology, as Oregon's secretary of state recently explained: "We left [Crosscheck] because the data we received was unreliable."

In our effort to report on the program, we contacted every state for their Crosscheck list. But because voting twice is a felony, state after state told us their lists of suspects were part of a criminal investigation and, as such, confidential. Then we got a break. A clerk in Virginia sent us its Crosscheck list of suspects, which a letter from the state later said was done "in error."

The Virginia list was a revelation. In all, 342,556 names were listed as apparently registered to vote in both Virginia and another state as of January 2014. Thirteen percent of the people on the Crosscheck list, already flagged as inactive voters, were almost immediately removed, meaning a stunning 41,637 names were "canceled" from voter rolls, most of them just before Election Day.

We were able to obtain more lists – Georgia and Washington state, the total number of voters adding up to more than 1 million matches – and Crosscheck's results seemed at best deeply flawed. We found that one-fourth of the names on the list actually lacked a middle-name match. The system can also mistakenly identify fathers and sons as the same voter, ignoring designations of Jr. and Sr. A whole lot of people named "James Brown" are suspected of voting or registering twice, 357 of them in Georgia alone. But according to Crosscheck, James Willie Brown is supposed to be the same voter as James Arthur Brown. James Clifford Brown is allegedly the same voter as James Lynn Brown.

And those promised birth dates and Social Security numbers? The Crosscheck instruction manual says that "Social Security numbers are included for verification; the numbers might or might not match" – which leaves a crucial step in the identification process up to the states. Social Security numbers weren't even included in the state lists we obtained.

We had Mark Swedlund, a database expert whose clients include eBay and American Express, look at the data from Georgia and Virginia, and he was shocked by Crosscheck's "childish methodology." He added, "God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the U.S., and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You're probably suspected of voting in 27 states."

Swedlund's statistical analysis found that African-American, Latino and Asian names predominate, a simple result of the Crosscheck matching process, which spews out little more than a bunch of common names. No surprise: The U.S. Census data shows that minorities are overrepresented in 85 of 100 of the most common last names. If your name is Washington, there's an 89 percent chance you're African-American. If your last name is Hernandez, there's a 94 percent chance you're Hispanic. If your name is Kim, there's a 95 percent chance you're Asian.

This inherent bias results in an astonishing one in six Hispanics, one in seven Asian-Americans and one in nine African-Americans in Crosscheck states landing on the list. Was the program designed to target voters of color? "I'm a data guy," Swedlund says. "I can't tell you what the intent was. I can only tell you what the outcome is. And the outcome is discriminatory against minorities."

Every voter that the state marks as a legitimate match receives a postcard that is colorless and covered with minuscule text. The voter must verify his or her address and mail it back to their secretary of state. Fail to return the postcard and the process of taking your name off the voter rolls begins.

This postcard game amplifies Crosscheck's built-in racial bias. According to the Census Bureau, white voters are 21 percent more likely than blacks or Hispanics to respond to their official requests; homeowners are 32 percent more likely to respond than renters; and the young are 74 percent less likely than the old to respond. Those on the move – students and the poor, who often shift apartments while hunting for work – will likely not get the mail in the first place.

At this point, there's no way to know how each state plans to move forward. If Virginia's 13 percent is any indication, almost 1 million Americans will have their right to vote challenged. Our analysis suggests that winding up on the Crosscheck list is hardly proof that an individual is registered in more than one state. Based on the data, the program – whether by design or misapplication – could save the GOP from impending electoral annihilation. And not surprisingly, almost all Crosscheck states are Republican-controlled.

The man behind crosscheck is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Yale-educated former law professor. After 9/11, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft tasked Kobach with creating a system to track foreign travelers. (It was later shut down over concerns about racial profiling.) He is best known as the author of Arizona's "Driving While Brown Law," which allowed cops to pull over drivers and ask for proof of their legal status. He co-wrote the ultraconservative 2016 RNC party platform, working in a recommendation that Crosscheck be adopted by every state in the Union. He's also the Trump adviser who came up with a proposal to force Mexico into paying for Trump's wall.

In January 2013, Kobach addressed a gathering of the National Association of State Election Directors about combating an epidemic of ballot-stuffing across the country. He announced that Crosscheck had already uncovered 697,537 "potential duplicate voters" in 15 states, and that the state of Kansas was prepared to cover the cost of compiling a nationwide list. That was enough to persuade 13 more states to hand over their voter files to Kobach's office.

In battleground-state Ohio, Republican Secretary of State John Husted's Crosscheck has flagged close to half a million voters. In Dayton, we tracked down several of the suspects on our lists. Hot spots of "potential duplicate" voters, we couldn't help but notice, were in neighborhoods where the streets are pocked with rundown houses and boarded storefronts. On Otterbein Avenue, I met Donald Webster, who, like most in his neighborhood, is African-American.

Crosscheck lists him registered in Ohio as Donald Alexander Webster Jr., while registered a second time as Donald Eugene Webster (no "Jr.") in Charlottesville, Virginia. Webster says he's never been a "Eugene" and has never been to Charlottesville. I explained that both he and his Virginia doppelgänger were subject to losing their ability to vote.

"How low can they go?" he asked. "I mean, how can they do that?"

I put his question to Robert Fitrakis, a voting-rights attorney who examined our Crosscheck data. I showed him Donald Webster's listing – and page after page of Ohio voters. Fitrakis says that the Ohio secretary of state's enthusiasm for Crosscheck fits a pattern: "He doesn't want to match middle names, because he doesn't want real matches. They're targeting people with clearly defined ethnic names that typically vote for the Democratic Party. He wants to win Ohio the only way he knows how – by taking away the rights of citizens to vote."

Kobach refused to speak for this story. So I went to Newton, Kansas, where he was headlining an ice-cream-social fundraiser in a public park. I approached Kobach with the Crosscheck list he had refused me, and asked, "Why are these lists so secret?"

"They aren't," Kobach answered, contradicting what his attorney had told me.

I pointed to a random match on the Crosscheck list and asked him why it identified James Evans Johnson as the same voter as James P. Johnson.

Kobach denied the name could be on the list. "Our system would not yield this match," he said. (And according to the rules of his program, it shouldn't have.)

"This is the list you gave [Virginia], and they knocked off 41,000 voters," I said.

"That is false!" he said, as he hurried away. "You know why? Federal law prohibits that."

Kobach is correct that federal regulation typically would complicate such a sweeping purge, but somehow tens of thousands of voters in Virginia got knocked off the rolls anyway.

Kobach's Crosscheck purge machinery was in operation well before Trump arrived on the political scene – and will continue for elections to come. Low voter turnout of any kind traditionally favors the GOP, and this is the party's long game to keep the rolls free of young people, minorities and the poor. Santiago Juarez of New Mexico, an attorney who has done work for the League of United Latin American Citizens, has spent years signing up Hispanic voters in the face of systemic efforts to suppress their vote. He scoffed at the idea of a massive conspiracy among Latinos to vote in two states. "Hell," he said, "you can't get people to vote once, let alone twice."

Friday, August 26, 2016

Mylan Execs Gave Themselves Raises as They Hiked EpiPen Prices

Mylan is the maker of EpiPen. (photo: Mark Zaleski/AP)
Mylan is the maker of EpiPen. (photo: Mark Zaleski/AP)

By Ben Popken, NBC News
24 August 16

piPen prices aren't the only thing to jump at Mylan. Executive salaries have also seen a stratospheric uptick.

Proxy filings show that from 2007 to 2015, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch's total compensation went from $2,453,456 to $18,931,068, a 671 percent increase. During the same period, the company raised EpiPen prices, with the average wholesale price going from $56.64 to $317.82, a 461 percent increase, according to data provided by Connecture.

In 2007 the company bought the rights to EpiPen, a device used to provide emergency epinephrine to stop a potentially fatal allergic reaction and began raising its price. In 2008 and 2009, Mylan raised the price by 5 percent. At the end of 2009 it tried out a 19 percent hike. The years 2010-2013 saw a succession of 10 percent price hikes.

And from the fourth quarter of 2013 to the second quarter of 2016, Mylan steadily raised EpiPen prices 15 percent every other quarter.

The stock price more than tripled, going from $13.29 in 2007 to a high of $47.59 in 2016.

And while sales of the life-saving drug rose to provide 40 percent of the company's operating profits in 2014, as Bloomberg reported, salaries for other Mylan executives also went up. In 2015, President Rajiv Malik's base pay increased 11.1 percent to $1 million, and Chief Commercial Officer Anthony Mauro saw his jump 13.6 percent to $625,000.

After Mylan acquired EpiPen the company also amped up its lobbying efforts. In 2008, its reported spending on lobbying went from $270,000 to $1.2 million, according to

Legislation that enhanced its bottom line followed, with the FDA changing its recommendations in 2010 that two EpiPens be sold in a package instead of one and that they be prescribed for at-risk patients, not just those with confirmed allergies. And in 2013 the government passed a law to give block grants to states that required they be stocked in public schools.

A spokeswoman for Mylan, the sole supplier of EpiPens, didn't respond to NBC News emails or voicemail seeking comment.

This isn't the first time the company's executives have been touched by a scandal.

A 2008 inquiry found Bresch didn't complete the coursework for her MBA granted by West Virginia University. The school had received a $20 million donation from Mylan chairman Milan Puskar in 2003.

Several of the university administrators resigned in the aftermath, including president Mike Garrison. The former Mylan consultant and lobbyist had gone to high school with Bresch, the daughter of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, and was a longtime family friend.

As NBC News previously reported, the sharp increases in price haven't escaped the attention of parents worried about paying for the drug in the back-to-school scramble, and Congress is starting to scrutinize Mylan's pricing.

On Monday, Senator Amy Klobuchar wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, calling for a probe.

In a statement to NBC News, an FTC spokesman said, "The Commission takes seriously its obligation to take action where pharmaceutical companies have violated the antitrust laws, and it will continue to closely scrutinize drug market competition on consumers' behalf."

The pharmaceutical industry has seen steep increases in the past few years. Along with specialized drugs like ones for cystic fibrosis, decades-old generic prices have spiked. When one company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of a drug used by HIV patients 5,000 percent overnight, the ensuing uproar pressured it to pledge lower its prices. Though, nearly a year later, a search on the drug-price comparison site GoodRx shows pharmacies are still selling it for the same amount or higher.

Among the usual advice for lower your prescription drug costs is to seek out a generic alternative. But because of the patent on the EpiPen delivery device, a true generic doesn't exist. Patients are instead buying abroad where the EpiPen is cheaper, and resorting to other devices that deliver epinephrine, including DIY syringes.

Shares of Mylan were down more than 4 percent in trading Tuesday as news of its troubles spread.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

We see evil in our enemies, never in us


The religious right has come down strongly in favor of Donald Trump, but on this matter the Bible is not unambiguous.  Proverbs 16:28 it tells us that “A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends.”  Titus 3:2 tells us “to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”
By George Templeton
Gazette Columnist


Joseph Campbell described the process of becoming a hero when he wrote, “… we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us.  The labyrinth is thoroughly known.  We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god.  And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.  Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our existence.  And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.” 

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.  Was Martin L. King a hero?  In the segregated sixties, the office cadre, wanting law and order, viewed him as a Communist, who was deliberately and unjustifiably inflaming black people.  We wonder if those, who would shoot the messenger so they could avoid the message, are angry when his holiday comes around.
Is life about winning or enjoying and appreciating?  Is what we are seeking the experience of being alive or the meaning of life?  What makes a leader is not winning an election.  It is the role that he is going to play.
The Peter Principle claimed that people rise to the level of their intellectual incompetence.  Instead, people rise only to the level permitted by their character.  Personalities have to fit the requirements of the job.  We think they can know a person’s intent from their actions, but some people just march to the beat of a different drummer.   
The Artist
Artists and craftsmen are highly independent.  Their satisfaction in life comes from creative expression.  They interpret our archetypal dream into future reality.  They don’t like to compete.  They believe in hard work, quality, and respect for others, but they hold their cards close to their vest. 
The Party Man
He identifies with the GOP or DNC.  He is a submissive bureaucrat, rigid, and ideological.  His desk is lined by three ring binders filled with management’s procedures for every possible situation.  He is driven by fear of failure and takes solace only with the support of others.  He molds himself into what he feels people want him to be.
The Gamesman
He wants to be boss and does not like taking orders from others.  He breaks the rules in order to win.  He enjoys competition and risks.  The gamesman can be highly effective at promoting team work because he is flexible and aggressive, but he expects everyone else to see life as a game.  When he wins too much, the thrill and meaning of life goes away.
The Jungle Fighter
He sees life as a battle where enemies must be destroyed.  This type of person is effective in trimming out losers and reducing bureaucracy.  He often fails when others become sick of his intimidating, self-serving conduct.
Selecting Mr. Right
Heroes don’t necessarily fit within any of the previously described boxes.  Differences in temperament compete with a desire to control.  It results in behaviors that are not aligned with organizational goals, but instead are skewed toward increasing personal power.  The ego-centric leader’s loyalty is to himself.  It causes those who work under him to be loyal to themselves because they want to keep their jobs.  They know they have to promote the self-image of their thin skinned leader.
The Madness of King George was a film describing the British King’s bizarre behavior and how the public tried to ignore it.  Their hope for the king was bigger than their pessimism.  Unfortunately, neurosis augments a disconnection between temperament and ideals.  Fortunately, the king became a force for stability by reigning rather than ruling.
Personality theorists view traits as determined by both genetics and experiences.  They remain constant over a person’s lifetime within situations like working with other people, reacting to weakness, and reacting to barriers that prevent goal attainment.  The strong aggressive leader tends to be bossy, likes to dominate, wants to win, and reacts to frustration with anger and hostility.
Is “winning” by destroying rivals Donald’s motivation?  On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he threatened to fund revenge super packs that would attack Ohio Governor John Kasich, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and others.
Alan Greenspan, in his book, The Age of Turbulence, wrote that Nixon and Clinton were by far the smartest presidents he had worked with.  Nixon had a dark side that communicated possibly hidden motivations, a cynical paranoia that justified winning and getting even.  Who would have ever dreamed that such a great and popular president could fall because of the senseless stupidity of Watergate?
When Nixon set forth his ideas, he did so in perfectly turned sentences and paragraphs, but not Trump.  His double meaning speaks clearly but twists common usage.  To hit adversaries so hard their heads would spin is not an example of Platonic debate.
Could it be that Trump is simply trying to maintain attention by abruptly changing direction and saying something outrageous?  Perhaps Trump is just easily distracted.
We remember from high school English that language follows rules.  Artificial intelligence researchers try to represent those using mathematical symbols, theorems, and axioms.  Everyone who writes original computer programs quickly discovers that computers do only what they are told, not what any perceptive person would know that you want.  Intelligence has its threads like all computer programs, but it is different because it branches massively and breaks the rules.  Trump’s third grade language breaks the rules, suggesting that he is smart.  By insinuating things Trump forges an argument.  He can say ridiculous things without being held responsible or accountable.  This is his “style”.  Trump tweeted, “I love watching these poor pathetic people (pundits) on television working so hard to try to figure me out.  They can’t!”  Can you trust a man who “derails” from his tracks in the middle of a sentence?
Constructive Criticism
Constructive criticism exists within the shadows that lie between right and wrong.  It is not an “attack” when it is politely and humbly offered.  The hero welcomes critique.  He will not demonstrate an inflated sense of his own importance and correctness.  He will adjust his position when he considers the facts. 
The weak man demonstrates his fragility by assailing the person who questions his judgment.  The validity of an opponent’s argument is not weakened by calling the person who offers it “little”.
The pageant of history can be viewed as the consequence of powerful individuals, scheming with evil intent, or it can be the outcome of complex social forces.  How one views the world influences their actions.  They can see “good guys and secretly scheming, powerful bad guys” instead of complex events.  They blame others and the rigged system instead of accepting personal responsibility.
Many groups compete to win favors.  Thomas Dye and L. Zeigler’s 1970 book, The Irony of Democracy described the “rigged system” that existed then and still exists now.  It is a system where the key political, economic, and social decisions are made by elites.  Elites are not necessarily greedy, sinister individuals conspiring to take advantage of an unsuspecting, disenfranchised public.  Anyone who has wealth, power, is educated, experienced, professional, and competent is an elite.  Most have a high regard for the public good.
Tea Party anti-intellectualism has countered elitism by electing inexperienced people, but that will not be enough to change things.  When everything changes on the first day, nothing is a priority.  Would you like a leader who makes promises that he knows are impossible but you want to believe in?  He might think, if you make the lady pregnant, she will not want to give up the baby.  
Trump supporters feel that this election is not a choice between Republicans and Democrats.  It is about “losers” voting against their government.  They should consider that Trump views losers as inferior “bad guys” who get what they deserve and “good guys” as winners who are competitive.  Weakness taints losers in the same way that race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation have done in the past.
Civics Teachers
Pity the poor high school civics teacher.  The future will be about phone-side tweets instead of fireside chats.  Politics becomes intrinsically self-destructive when it insists on going where the sun does not shine.  Reality is not a choice between true and false, or Republican and Democrat.  We have to choose whether we will join with or fight against the “unfacts” people.  We have to choose between civility and revolution.
In November of 2015, at a campaign event in Birmingham, Trump approved of a Black Lives Matter protester being roughed up.  At a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, Trump said, “Where  I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?  By February of 2016, Trump was urging supporters to “knock the crap out of” protestors and in Cedar Rapids, Iowa Trump said, “So, if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them.”  In a Las Vegas speech Donald indicated that he would like to punch a protester in the face and claimed demonstrators should go out in a stretcher.
In his North Carolina speech Donald said, “By the way, and if she gets to pick -Lower electric – lower electric bills, folks.  Hillary wants to abolish – essentially abolish the Second Amendment.  By the way, and if she gets to pick --- (Crowd Booing) If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks.  Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is.  I don’t know.  But – but I’ll tell you what.  That will be a horrible day.  If Hillary gets to put her judges – right now, we’re tied.”
Trump has made statements supporting torture and the execution of the families of terrorists.  We all want law, order, and security, but isn’t it more important to be pro justice and equal opportunity?  Our leaders should be about reconciling a divided people instead of suppressing dissent.  Sacrifice is not about winning, working hard, or creating jobs as Donald seems to think.  It is about the surrender to a heroic good regardless of personal loss.
Hijacking God
The religious right has come down strongly in favor of Donald Trump, but on this matter the Bible is not unambiguous.  Proverbs 16:28 it tells us that “A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends.”  Titus 3:2 tells us “to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”
We blame it on the other party.  We make the mistake of seeing evil only in our enemies, never in us.  It can be found in different presidents and their administrations, in decades of history, in materialism, no amnesty, pre-emptive war, irresponsible tax cuts, and unfettered investment banking.  
Lincoln’s second inaugural address captured a similar situation.  He explained that both the North and the South had collaborated, profited, and participated in slavery.  Then and now, we are one people united by our altruism and crimes.
Culture War
We are at the still point of turning.  Dye and Zeigler captured this when they wrote; Heroes “… must govern wisely if government by the people is to survive.  If the survival of the American system depended upon an active, informed, and enlightened citizenry, then democracy in America would have disappeared long ago…”

It is not that the “makers and takers” are dissatisfied with the status quo, that everything should be destroyed just for change, but rather that we should search for heroes that will build on the roots of our human agency.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Fox News and the Repercussions of Sexual Harassment

Roger Ailes. (photo: Wesley Mann/FOX News)
Roger Ailes. (photo: Wesley Mann/FOX News)

And this sleazy sexual predator is now working for the Trump campaign

By Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker

23 August 16

ne of the surprising things about the Fox News sexual-harassment story is that the women who have come forward with allegations include several of the network’s better-known anchors and reporters. You might think that professional power could stave off the kind of spin-around-and-let-me-see-your-ass leering and straight-up demands for sex that Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly, and others say they endured from former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes and other male supervisors. (Ailes and his lawyer, Susan Estrich, continue to deny the allegations.) But that does not seem to have been the case.

In some ways, the situation at Fox was extreme: the seventy-six-year-old Ailes, who stepped down from the chairmanship on July 21st, soon after Carlson filed her lawsuit, seems to have taken management tips from some minor but debauched Roman emperor. According to Gabriel Sherman, an editor at New York magazine who has kept a close eye on Ailes and Fox News for several years now, the former chairman spent millions of dollars from the network’s budget to settle sexual-harassment claims and to maintain a cadre of consultants and private detectives, who worked out of what was known as “the Black Room,” keeping tabs on journalists like Sherman and others who’d covered him aggressively. How did he get away with it? “It was the culture,” one Fox executive told Sherman. “You didn’t ask questions, and Roger wouldn’t entertain questions.” When it came to sexual harassment, ideology surely played a role, too: given the pervasive scorn at Fox for “political correctness,” or feminism of any stripe, it must have been especially hard to be an ambitious woman who chose to make a stink, to risk looking like what Carlson says Ailes called her—“a man hater.”

To some researchers who’ve studied sexual harassment, though, the Fox News scenario doesn’t look like that much of an outlier. For one thing, some studies have found that women in positions of authority, especially in workplaces that are dominated by men, may be more likely to experience sexual harassment than women in lower-status positions. In a 2012 study called “Sexual Harassment, Workplace Authority, and the Paradox of Power,” the authors—Heather McLaughlin, Christopher Uggen, and Amy Blackstone—found that women in supervisor positions were more likely than non-supervisors to say that they had been sexually harassed on the job in the previous year. (This doesn’t seem to have been merely because supervisors as a group may be more knowledgeable about what constitutes harassment—the same pattern did not hold true for male supervisors and subordinates, for example.) When I spoke with McLaughlin, who is now a professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University, she called the study’s finding “counterintuitive,” because “to most people the most common scenario is still the powerful male boss and the vulnerable female secretary.” That scenario still happens, of course, but sexual harassment may be even more prevalent, she said, where women are “gaining power in the workplace, and it becomes a way of trying to reëstablish who’s actually in charge.”

McLaughlin says that these findings make sense, because, she believes, workplace sexual harassment isn’t really about sex; it’s about power. There’s probably a good deal of truth to that. Not that it explains every case: the person hitting on an attractive co-worker or subordinate might, after all, just be looking for sex at the place he or she happens to spend most of his or her time. (Although, in the age of dating apps, not to mention escort services and chat rooms, there are other, less potentially career-ending ways to get some. The appeal, for a guy like Ailes, of using the office as your personal hunting ground may have more to do with trying to leverage your authority there to get women who’d be out of your league on the more even playing field of Tinder.) But it’s true that the workplace commenter/ogler doesn’t necessarily think his or her perving is going to reap actual sexual rewards. Often, these comments aren’t admiring in any way, just gross or demeaning. (McLaughlin et al. found that a lot of sexual harassment was aimed at women who didn’t comport with traditional standards of femininity.) And it’s also true that, whatever the goal, the effect of such harassment is often to embarrass, unnerve, or undermine the professional confidence of the target.

Indeed, there’s another important way in which the allegations of sexual harassment at Fox News are not at all unique: they are a reminder of what a serious disruption harassment can be to a career. Take the case of Rudi Bakhtiar, who told the Times in July that, back in 2007, she lost a promotion she was expecting—to be a regular correspondent in Fox’s Washington bureau—after she turned down the sexual advances of a colleague who was about to become the bureau chief. Bakhtiar, who had been a foreign correspondent for CNN and who speaks fluent Farsi, had just scored a reportorial coup—getting herself into Iran for a meeting between Iranian and Iraqi leaders—and she was feeling confident about her prospects at the network. But she says things went badly for her after she rebuffed her colleague, Brian Wilson, and filed a complaint:

Wilson, contacted by the Times, said he strongly objected to Bakhtiar’s characterization of events. Bakhtiar reached a settlement with Fox for an undisclosed amount.

Bakhtiar says her agent advised her that she might have to start all over again in local news and work her way up. She couldn’t bring herself to do that, but she spent a few years out of journalism, working in public relations for an Iranian-American organization, before eventually taking a job as a producer at Reuters.

For many women, the climb back up is even tougher. McLaughlin told me that she and her colleagues are about to publish a new study in which they examined the long-term consequences of harassment. They looked at women working in a variety of fields, some of whom said that they had been the targets of unwanted sexual attention on the job when they were in their late twenties. Now, eight to ten years later, eighty-two per cent of the women who said that they’d experienced severe sexual harassment had changed jobs, compared to only fifty-four per cent of those who had not. (The study defined “severe” as unwanted touching or four or more incidents of other harassing behaviors.) People change jobs a lot in their twenties—often for better jobs—so it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from these numbers alone, but the contrast between the two categories is suggestive. And the women who had experienced harassment did see their earnings trajectories climb less steeply. “Compared to other working women,” McLaughlin said, “their earnings growth over this period of time was much slower over all, plateauing throughout their early thirties.”

This stall-out might have occurred for a number of reasons. In some cases, McLaughlin said, “it’s because women are giving up seniority and other advancement opportunities by starting over again with a new employer.” Moreover, “many of the women who quit switched careers—some quite drastically.” If they moved out of “highly competitive and masculine environments” that might pay well (say, banking) but that can also “be breeding grounds for a larger culture of harassment,” they sometimes ended in up in more “feminized and less lucrative fields” (say, retail).

Finally, McLaughlin said, some women who reported offensive behavior paid the price that women often fear: “They were labelled as untrustworthy or ‘not a team player’ and were subsequently passed over for promotion or excluded by their colleagues.”

Still, the more that powerful women who have experienced harassment come forward, the less likely it will be that employers can get away with punishing them. Though Fox News is doing its best to pretend that none of this ever happened, the revelations about Ailes may help others in the long run. As Paul Farhi, of the Washington Post, reported last week, the allegations and their fallout have scarcely been mentioned on the network—“no panel discussions, no diatribes from Fox’s famously aggressive hosts, no follow-up investigations, no tributes to the Ailes era”—but, try as it might, this story won’t go away.