Daily Archive: 02/04/2014

Feb 04 2014

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial Board: The Mayor and the Unions

On Feb. 12, the mayor is scheduled to present his first budget, a preliminary document that will say a lot about his priorities for the coming fiscal year. Looming over it, a horizon’s worth of storm clouds ready to burst, is the challenge he warned of last week in Albany: negotiating new contracts with nearly all the city’s labor unions.

Mr. de Blasio likes to talk about the city’s yawning “chasm” of social and economic inequality, which he has pledged his mayoralty to closing. But there is another chasm close at hand. In one of his last acts as mayor, Michael Bloomberg declared that he was leaving a balanced budget. That sketchy assertion relied heavily on one-shot revenues and overlooked uncertainty about cuts in federal aid, the recovery from Hurricane Sandy and, most of all, more than 150 bargaining units, representing about 300,000 city employees, that are working on expired contracts, some for five or six years.  [..]

Still, his job demands more than affability. Now is the time for Mr. de Blasio to be bold to the point of confrontational, to endure name-calling, resentment and lower poll numbers. The rap on him is that he hasn’t run anything; the rap on liberal Democrats is that they can’t run this unruly city. Mr. Bloomberg, for all his efficiency and tough talk, never hammered out a deal to put the city and its labor costs on a sound footing. Now is Mr. de Blasio’s chance to achieve that goal and upend the widely held, if unfair, expectations of what a Democrat can do.

Robert Redford: Reality Check on Keystone XL: Despite Industry Spin, New Environmental Report Lays Ground for Denial

The more people learn about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the less they like it. Despite what we might be hearing in industry spin, the environmental report released by the State Department Friday confirms that tar sands crude means a dirtier, more dangerous future for our children all so that the oil industry can reach the higher prices of overseas markets. That’s right, overseas markets, which is where the majority of this processed oil will end up. This dirty energy project is all risk and no reward for the American people.

You’ll remember that the president said he won’t greenlight a project that raises the dangers of climate change. The State Department report makes it clear that this is exactly what Keystone XL would do. Bottom line: the tar sands pipeline fails the president’s climate test. It’s a bad idea. It needs to be denied.

Eugene Robinson: We’re Losing This Drug War

Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is yet another victim of the war on drugs. Prohibition is not working. It is time to try something new. [..]

Why would a man held in such high esteem, a man with so much going for him and so much to live for, risk it all by buying illegal drugs from a criminal on the street and then injecting them into his veins? For the same reason any addict uses drugs: to get high.

Perhaps this desire was a moral failing on Hoffman’s part. Perhaps its origin lies buried in his personal history, with some trauma having triggered it. Perhaps it is written in his genetic code. I doubt we’ll ever know for sure.

What we do know is that this need to get high is beyond some people’s control. Our drug policy of prohibition and interdiction makes it difficult and dangerous for people like Hoffman to get high, but not impossible-and makes these tragic overdose deaths more common than they have to be.

Dean Baker: The Attack of the Robots: Economists’ Silly Fantasies

Economists are not very good at economics. We know this because we had a huge housing bubble that collapsed, which almost none of them saw. The pre-crash projections from the Congressional Budget Office imply that this downturn has already cost us more than $7.6 trillion, or $25,000 per person. This could have been prevented if we had economists in policy positions who understood how the economy worked.

But even if economists aren’t very good at dealing with the economy, they still can provide value to society. In particular they can be a great source of entertainment. That’s how we should view the story that robots will take all of our jobs and leave most of the population unemployed.

This story has become a popular theme lately among Washington policy types. There are important people from across the political spectrum running around town wringing their hands over the prospect that the economy may not provide jobs for large segments of the labor force.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: The Populist Moment

Of all the myths that circulate in Washington, perhaps none is more prevalent or intractable than the one that says that the United States is a “moderate” nation — and that the “center” of public opinion lies somewhere between the views of conservative Democrats and those of less extreme Republicans (a relative term at best).

The polling data shows conclusively that this is wrong, but the mythology refuses to die.

According to the myth, the rise of populism is to be condemned as “polarization,” a situation that the capital’s insider subculture routinely laments — even when it involves something that in other historical moments would be described as “a debate.”

In this worldview, “populists” are as extreme as Tea Party radicals and are to be treated with equal disdain. At best they’re useful naïfs who can be trotted out to stir up the base at election time, then to be conveniently sidelined again for the next four years. And that worst they’re childlike ideologues, to be condescended to and dismissed.

Cenk Uygur: The Sniveling Apologizers at MSNBC Don’t Represent Progressives

First, let me be clear that this is not intended for the hosts on MSNBC. It’s management that’s the issue. The way Phil Griffin has his hosts trot out for one apology after another is revolting. At least, he included himself in the genuflecting to the right-wing last time around. The whole display is pathetic.

Let’s also be clear about another thing. Phil Griffin, who happens to be the head of MSNBC, is not a liberal or progressive. I worked at MSNBC, I talked to Phil Griffin many times, I know Phil Griffin. He is not remotely progressive. All he cares about is success in his own career. He even basically admitted in this recent interview that he would head a conservative network if it made more money. The idea that he represents progressives as he keeps groveling to conservatives is absurd and sickening.

Feb 04 2014

On This Day In History February 4

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 4 is the 35th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 330 days remaining until the end of the year (331 in leap years).

On this day in 1789, George Washington becomes the first and only president to be unanimously elected by the Electoral College. He repeated this notable feat on the same day in 1792.

The peculiarities of early American voting procedure meant that although Washington won unanimous election, he still had a runner-up, John Adams, who served as vice president during both of Washington’s terms. Electors in what is now called the Electoral College named two choices for president. They each cast two ballots without noting a distinction between their choice for president and vice president. Washington was chosen by all of the electors and therefore is considered to have been unanimously elected. Of those also named on the electors’ ballots, Adams had the most votes and became vice president.

George Washington (February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799) was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1775-1783, and he presided over the writing of the Constitution in 1787. As the unanimous choice to serve as the first President of the United States (1789-1797), he developed the forms and rituals of government that have been used ever since, such as using a cabinet system and delivering an inaugural address. As President he built a strong, well-financed national government that avoided war, suppressed rebellion and won acceptance among Americans of all types, and Washington is now known as the “Father of his country”.

In Colonial Virginia, Washington was born into the provincial gentry in a wealthy, well connected family that owned tobacco plantations using slave labor. Washington was home schooled by his father and older brother but both died young and Washington became attached to the powerful Fairfax clan. They promoted his career as surveyor and soldier. Strong, brave, eager for combat and a natural leader, young Washington quickly became a senior officer of the colonial forces, 1754-58, during the first stages of the French and Indian War. Indeed, his rash actions helped precipitate the war. Washington’s experience, his military bearing, his leadership of the Patriot cause in Virginia, and his political base in the largest colony made him the obvious choice of the Second Continental Congress in 1775 as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army to fight the British in the American Revolution. He forced the British out of Boston in 1776, but was defeated and nearly captured later that year when he lost New York City. After crossing the Delaware River in the dead of winter he defeated the enemy in two battles, retook New Jersey, and restored momentum to the Patriot cause. Because of his strategy, Revolutionary forces captured two major British armies at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781. Negotiating with Congress, governors, and French allies, he held together a tenuous army and a fragile nation amid the threats of disintegration and invasion. Historians give the commander in chief high marks for his selection and supervision of his generals, his encouragement of morale, his coordination with the state governors and state militia units, his relations with Congress, and his attention to supplies, logistics, and training. In battle, however, Washington was repeatedly outmaneuvered by British generals with larger armies. Washington is given full credit for the strategies that forced the British evacuation of Boston in 1776 and the surrender at Yorktown in 1781. After victory was finalized in 1783, Washington resigned rather than seize power, and returned to his plantation at Mount Vernon, proving his opposition to dictatorship and his commitment to republican government.

Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention that drafted the United States Constitution in 1787 because of his dissatisfaction with the weaknesses of Articles of Confederation that had time and again impeded the war effort. Washington became the first President of the United States in 1789. He attempted to bring rival factions together in order to create a more unified nation. He supported Alexander Hamilton‘s programs to pay off all the state and national debts, implement an effective tax system, and create a national bank, despite opposition from Thomas Jefferson. Washington proclaimed the U.S. neutral in the wars raging in Europe after 1793. He avoided war with Britain and guaranteed a decade of peace and profitable trade by securing the Jay Treaty in 1795, despite intense opposition from the Jeffersonians. Although never officially joining the Federalist Party, he supported its programs. Washington’s “Farewell Address” was an influential primer on republican virtue and a stern warning against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars.

Washington had a vision of a great and powerful nation that would be built on republican lines using federal power. He sought to use the national government to improve the infrastructure, open the western lands, create a national university, promote commerce, found a capital city (later named Washington, D.C.), reduce regional tensions and promote a spirit of nationalism. “The name of AMERICAN,” he said, must override any local attachments.” At his death Washington was hailed as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. The Federalists made him the symbol of their party, but for many years the Jeffersonians continued to distrust his influence and delayed building the Washington Monument. As the leader of the first successful revolution against a colonial empire in world history, Washington became an international icon for liberation and nationalism. His symbolism especially resonated in France and Latin America. Historical scholars consistently rank him as one of the two or three greatest presidents.

Feb 04 2014

The United States of Addiction

In the tragic wake of the death of Academy Award winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from an apparent drug overdose this weekend, has put the ugly fact that heroin addiction is the US is on the rise and crosses all social and economic boundaries. Drug overdoses now kill more people than auto accidents with 105 deaths everyday. In the last ten years, heron use has more than doubled and overdoses from prescribed opiate pain killer has gone through the roof.

MSNBC’s “All In” host Chris Hayes took a look at the rise of heron use in the United States with his guest neuroscientist and associate professor of psychology at Columbia University, Dr. Carl Hart, who specializes in studying the effect of drugs on the populace.

Three Policies That Can Save Other Drug Users From Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Fate

by Nicole Flatow, Think Progress

As public discussion over the failed War on Drugs has escalated and politicians mull marijuana and sentencing reforms, one part of the vision is to redirect enforcement resources toward education, treatment, and other health-oriented programs that help those struggling with addiction. But for those entrenched in addiction, there are low-hanging fruit solutions passed into law in a minority of states that directly tackle the problem of stopping preventable overdose deaths.

Shielding ‘Good Samaritans’ From Prosecution

Last year, Vermont became at least the 13th state in addition to the District of Columbia to pass a law incentivizing witnesses to call 911, by explicitly providing legal protection to those witnesses who call the police for help. [..]

Anti-Overdose Drugs

In many states, pharmacists and other health care professionals face criminal and civil liability for distributing naloxone to third parties – even police officers – who can administer it in an emergency situation. The drug has been described as a “miracle drug,” because it knocks opiates off receptors that make a user stop breathing, without any other known side effects. [..]

Laws are now emerging in some states to provide immunity to those professionals and laypeople, while other programs are equipping police officers with both training and kits to administer when they report to the scene. In 2012, then-White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske for the first time endorsed broader distribution of naloxone. [..]

Treating The Addiction

Hoffman’s state of New York happens to be one that already has a Good Samaritan law, and just last week state lawmakers introduced another measure to expand the availability of naloxone. But neither of these solutions work for those like Hoffman who may have overdosed alone, since individuals in the midst of an overdose can’t self-administer or call 911. For that population, Clear believes the greatest tool is increased prescription of addiction treatment drugs like buprenorphine that mimic some qualities of opioids with more limited harms. Some approved U.S. doctors are permitted to prescribe these drugs to treat opioid addiction (users can take them for a less harmful high), but (Allan) Clear told ThinkProgress even those who have been through treatment should be prescribed the drug more often, recognizing the prevalence of relapse. In France, where all doctors have since 1995 been authorized to prescribe the addiction treatment, opiate overdose deaths decreased 79 percent between 1995 and 2004, according to one study.

Hoffman and the Terrible Heroin Deaths in the Shadows

by Jeff Deeney, The Atlantic

Addiction and mortality related to heroin and other narcotics in the U.S. has been steadily on the rise for years. Should it be easier for addicts to inject as safely as possible?

Now that Hoffman is gone the one purpose his passing can offer is to bring into sharp focus the fact that overdose deaths have long been on the rise in the U.S. (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from drug overdoses increased by 102 percent between 1999 and 2010), and to more vigorously continue the discussion about what to do about it. [..]

More people are using heroin, according to a 2012 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey. The survey found that between 2007 and 2012, the number of heroin users ages 12 and up increased from 373,000 to 669,000. [..]

U.S. drug policies are shifting. Slowly, and not enough, but there is progress. Mandatory minimums are being phased out. Treatment is increasingly available to those caught up in the criminal justice system. As the Affordable Care Act begins to take effect, treatment will become more broadly funded, especially for the poor. There is concern among public health professionals, myself included, that the policy shift will fall short of what we need to change conditions for injecting drug users.

Legal pot isn’t enough. For there to be an American version of Insite, Vancouver’s celebrated, medically-supervised, legal injecting space, the U.S. would need to decriminalize entirely. If Philip Seymour Hoffman had taken his last bags to a legal injecting space, would he still be alive? Had he overdosed there, medical staff on call might have reversed it with Naloxone. Had he acquired an abscess or other skin infection, he could have sought nonjudgmental medical intervention. Perhaps injection site staff could have directed him back to treatment.

Safe injecting sites are an amazing, life saving, humanity restoring intervention we can’t have because our laws preclude them. Too frequently, heroin addicts instead utilize abandoned buildings and vacant lots to shoot up in order to evade arrest. The risk for assault, particularly sexual assault for women, in off-the-grid, hidden get-high places is incredible. Overdosed bodies are routinely pulled from such spaces in North Philadelphia. [..]

Those of us in recovery need to remain vigilant in maintaining our mental health. There is much work to be done on America’s addiction problem. It involves ensuring effective treatment, expanding the science of the field, and making sure that those who are actively using can do so in a way that is safe and dignified. There is a way to make meaning from the otherwise senseless early death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and that is to let it refocus our efforts on making sure the smallest number of people possible find the same fate.

Phil Hoffman’s death was a shock to his, family, his friends and his many fans. May this terrible loss bring attention to much needed reform of drug policies and laws, as well as, a change in attitude in how we approach drug addiction in the US. If in death Phillip saves one life, he will not have died in vain.

Feb 04 2014

Snowden: The ARD Interview

Ed Snowden gave an interview, in english, to German Public TV network ARD on January 26, 2014.

Recent Interview With Edward Snowden Blacked-Out by Major Media Outlets

WRITTEN BY: Martin Hempfling, College News

January 31, 2014

It seems the only thing George Orwell got wrong in writing 1984 was the year. We are clearly living in a surveillance state which is blatantly violating the Constitution of the United States. It’s interesting to consider those who label Snowden as a “traitor” because, as Snowden himself puts it: “If I am a traitor, who did I betray? I gave all my information to the American public, to American journalists who are reporting on American issues. If they see that as treason, I think people really need to consider who they think they’re working for.”

(h/t Nicole Belle @ Crooks & Liars)