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A Rundown of the Kelly-Trump-Sanders-Wilson Phone Call Scandal

Sat, 2017-10-21 12:02
An ISIS attack in Niger, a general libeling a congresswoman, a heartless phone call from Trump. What is going on?

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spent Friday afternoon's press briefing playing defense, sparring with frustrated reporters questioning the facts around President Trump’s consolation — or lack thereof — of the family of late Sergeant La David Johnson. Most egregiously, when reporters asked Sanders about John Kelly — who had lied about the contents of a speech given by congresswoman Frederica Wilson in an attempt to discredit her— Sanders brushed off their questions. Her reasoning? Any criticism of “a four-star marine general" would be “highly inappropriate.”

Thus ended a whirlwind 48-hour period of back-and-forth that showed the White House's penchant for making grand accusations — which often contradict public knowledge — that conveniently happen off-camera in front of witnesses unknown. But how did we get here, you ask? Strap in, folks.

The call that started it all

It began with (what should have been) a routine phone call to the family of deceased Sergeant La David Johnson, a call that any capable leader could have carried out with dignity and respect. Sgt. Johnson was one of four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger during an ISIS ambush on October 4th, 2017 — an operation has been called “Trump’s Benghazi” by many, including Representative Frederica Wilson (D - Fl.). The Department of Defense formally launched an investigation into the ambush on Tuesday of this week. By the time the bodies of the fallen soldiers were on U.S. soil, Trump was already under fire for failing to call the families of the deceased. When questioned about it by reporters, Trump retorted that former President Obama never called families of fallen troops during his time in office (which was patently untrue).

“If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls — a lot of them didn't make calls. I like to make calls when it's appropriate," Trump said. Within the day, former Obama-era aides and officials took to Twitter to debunk the President's claim.

that's a fucking lie. to say president obama (or past presidents) didn't call the family members of soldiers KIA - he's a deranged animal.

— Alyssa Mastromonaco (@AlyssaMastro44) October 16, 2017

Stop the damn lying - you’re the President. I went to Dover AFB with 44 and saw him comfort the families of both the fallen military & DEA.

— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) October 17, 2017

POTUS 43 & 44 and first ladies cared deeply, worked tirelessly for the serving, the fallen, and their families. Not politics. Sacred Trust.

— GEN(R) Marty Dempsey (@Martin_Dempsey) October 17, 2017 

In the same Rose Garden news conference, Trump said, “I will, at some point, during the period of time, call the parents and the families, because I have done that, traditionally.”

Finally, Trump made the phone call heard round the world. On Tuesday of this week, Trump attempted to console Sgt. Johnson’s pregnant widow, Myeshia Johnson. But according to Representative Frederica Wilson (D-Florida), who was in the car with Johnson at the time, Trump’s consolation was anything but. Trump told Ms. Johnson, “[her husband] knew what he signed up for ... but when it happens, it hurts anyway.”

Enter Wilson

After Sgt. Johnson’s mother confirmed Rep. Wilson's claims — and further stated that Trump “did disrespect my son and my daughter, and also me and my husband” — eyes turned to the congresswoman, whom Trump has fervently accused of lying (and unjustly “listening in”), with “proof” to match.

When Wilson came forward with claims of what Trump had said, she set off a national firestorm. Not only had Trump allegedly said “he knew what he signed up for,” but according to Wilson, “He never said his name because he did not know his name. So he kept saying, ‘Your guy. Your guy. Your guy.’ And that was devastating to [Ms. Johnson].”

In a meeting later on Wednesday, Trump told a room of senators, “I didn’t say what that congresswoman said. Didn’t say it at all, she knows it.” Sanders echoed this sentiment in a press briefing, telling reporters, “to try to create something from that, that the congresswoman is doing, is frankly appalling and disgusting.”

Since being accused of “fabricating” the phone call, Wilson has called Trump “a liar,” telling Politico that four other witnesses were in the car at the time, the phone being on speaker.

Proof or no proof?

Trump alleges he has some form of proof to back up his version of events, though he neither specified in what form it came, nor if he would release it. However, Sanders later said that a tape of the call did not exist. To emend Trump’s faux pas, Sanders then claimed General Kelly was among some White House administrators on the call with Trump and Ms. Johnson. Perhaps, Trump conflated having witnesses with a concrete form of evidence such as a recording. Later, Trump then went back on what Sanders had said, telling reporters, “let her make her statement again and then you’ll find out."

To confuse matters further, Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, contradicted Sanders and said that transcripts do, in fact, exist. Once again, Sanders did damage control and told reporters in a Friday press briefing that no such transcript exists as Lara Trump described.

General Kelly attempts a rescue

General Kelly made a seemingly unrehearsed and emotionally charged speech at Thursday’s daily press briefing to defend Trump and lash out at Rep. Wilson for publicizing the call. “It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation — absolutely stuns me,” Kelly said.

Rather than knowing “what he signed up for,” Kelly says Trump talked about Sgt. Johnson doing what he loved and what he wanted to do. “That’s what the President tried to say to four families the other day,” Kelly said.

Kelly then turned the conversation to Wilson, calling her an “empty barrel making the most noise.” From there, Kelly told an anecdote about Rep. Wilson in an attempt to paint her in a negative light.

General Kelly's fable about Rep. Wilson

Kelly homed in on a 2015 speech that Rep. Wilson had given at the dedication of a new FBI building that was dedicated to two slain FBI agents. Politifact quoted General Kelly as claiming that Wilson

"stood up there ... and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money -- the $20 million -- to build the building. And she sat down."

Kelly believed that this speech illustrated Wilson’s lack of respect for fallen soldiers and agents. “We were stunned — stunned that she’d done it,” Kelly remarked. “Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.”

But a video of the dedication ceremony later uncovered shows Kelly misrepresented Rep. Wilson’s speech. Though Wilson did take credit for “securing approval of the naming of the building," she spent much of her speech praising the FBI agents slain in the line of duty.

Before this incident, Kelly's son had become something of a political football: Trump claimed Obama had not called Kelly when his son, Second Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. General Kelly did not comment on the matter during the press briefing.

Playing the blame game at a Friday debate

Friday afternoon's White House press briefing came of as more of a defensive who-said-what brawl than a normal Q&A, echoing the days of Sean Spicer's tenure as press secretary. It has thus far been easy for the White House to go up against a Democratic congresswoman (and a woman of color inherently critical of Trump) and treat her as their political enemy; many Trump devotees have fallen in line to attack Wilson. More challenging for the Trump machine, however, has been the task of debunking and delegitimizing comments made by Sgt. Johnson’s mourning family. When Press Secretary Sanders was asked why the Johnson family said Trump’s comments were “disrespectful,” Sanders turned the blame back on them, and said Trump’s comments were being misrepresented and mischaracterized.

“Certainly if the spirit of which those comments were intended were misunderstood, but as the president has said, as General Kelly has said — who I think has a very deep understanding of what that individual would be going through — his comments were very sympathetic,” Sanders remarked. “That was the spirit in which the president intended them. If that was taken the other way, that’s certainly an unfortunate thing.”

Continuing to point fingers, Sanders brought to the defense that Trump’s Twitter fingers were an answer to the press, the only ones “talking about it a lot.”

Diverting attention from “the issue at hand”

The White House has dogmatically insisted that President Trump’s heart was in the right place, that the spirit of his comments had respectful and admirable intent. All the while, the controversy surrounding the ambush in Niger itself remains a mystery. Sanders continued to ward off questions about Niger, and said that the investigation simply cannot be discussed in detail.

Yet perhaps the public’s attention is misdirected. Yes, Trump’s attempts to deflect and redirect criticism are egregious. But The Atlantic’s David A. Graham argues that the entirety of the phone call controversy — from failing to reach out, to Obama, to Wilson — has been a grand diversion from what started it all.

Why were the soldiers in Niger, and why hadn’t he spoken about it sooner? This is a pattern with Trump, in which he manages to say something so inflammatory, or so untrue, or both, that it obscures the central question…The broader question, of what the soldiers who were killed were doing and what went wrong, remains unaddressed by the president, and Trump’s jab at other presidents may, unfortunately, help to keep it that way.

The elusive manner in which Sanders has discussed Niger, and Trump’s damn near failure to do so, makes one thing clear: Niger was an accident waiting to happen, and we need answers. Trump can manipulate the media into focusing on PhoneCallGate, but the public is waiting.

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Trump Continues to Attack a Black Congresswoman on Twitter Even After the White House Was Caught for Lying About Her

Sat, 2017-10-21 11:57
Trump claimed that the black lawmaker was ‘killing the Democrat Party."

President Donald Trump continued his attacks on a black congresswoman who called him out for botching a phone call to a grieving widow of a fallen soldier early Saturday morning.

A day after White House reporters challenged the administration over attacks on Rep. Frederika Wilson (D-FL) – which proved to be false — Trump claimed that the black lawmaker was ‘killing the Democrat Party.”

Writing on Twitter, the president tweeted: “I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she, as a representative, is killing the Democrat Party!”

Trump’s attack on the “Fake News Media” is in line with many Trump weekend tweets attacking the media for reporting his misdeeds during the week.

You can see Trump’s Tweet below:


I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she, as a representative, is killing the Democrat Party!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 21, 2017  Related Stories

Trump Says He'll Allow Release of Kennedy Assassination Files

Sat, 2017-10-21 11:50
The files are due to be opened in their entirety Thursday.

US President Donald Trump said Saturday he will allow long blocked secret files on the 1963 assassination of John F Kennedy to be opened to the public for the first time. The November 22, 1963 assassination -- an epochal event in modern US history -- has spawned multiple theories challenging the official version that Kennedy was…

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Trump's Pick for Top Environmental Job Has Said Some Really Nutty Things About Climate Change

Sat, 2017-10-21 02:50
Click here for reuse options! Kathleen Hartnett White's comments are pretty extreme, even for a fossil fuel-loving climate denier.

From EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, President Trump has filled his administration with a rogue's gallery of fossil fuel-loving climate deniers. Now he's set to sign up another: Kathleen Hartnett White.

Last week, Trump nominated Hartnett White, a longtime critic of climate change policy, to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which advises the administration on environmental policy. If she is confirmed by the Senate, America will have yet another fox in charge of the henhouse, putting the global environment further at risk.

On Thursday, CNN reported on some particularly incredible remarks she made last year during an interview on a conservative online talk show. Hartnett White claimed that environmental leaders were using climate policy "to undermine the system of economic growth and industrialization."

She added, "There's a real dark side of the kind of paganism—the secular elites' religion now being, evidently, global warming."


A staunch supporter of the fossil fuel industry who served as a Texas environmental regulator, Hartnett White is currently on the staff at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank that fights environmental regulations and clean energy policy. 

While at the TPPF, she was tasked to "explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels," arguing that carbon dioxide "makes life possible on the earth and naturally fertilizes plant growth."

Kathleen Hartnett-White: Trump's pick to chair CEQ fought to "End regulation of CO2 as a pollutant" #protectcpp

— Energy & Policy Inst (@EnergyandPolicy) October 13, 2017

"Whether emitted from the human use of fossil fuels or as a natural (and necessary) gas in the atmosphere surrounding the earth, carbon dioxide has none of the attributes of a pollutant," she wrote in a 2014 paper, in which she argued that "global warming alarmists are misleading the public about carbon dioxide emissions."

In a tweet, Earthjustice called on followers not to let the "frack first, ask questions later" climate denier "undermine science."

Don't let “frack first, ask questions later” climate denier Kathleen Hartnett undermine science. #ProtectNEPA

— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) October 13, 2017

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Trump Is So Awful, CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin Can't Decide If We're Even Still on Earth

Sat, 2017-10-21 01:33
Click here for reuse options! The president's ability to ruin everything is otherworldly.

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin has one question in the wake of President Trump's infamous phone call to Myeisha Johnson, the widow of fallen soldier Sgt. La David Johnson: "What planet are we on?"

“What country has controversy over condolence calls?” Toobin said. “It’s an example of what a surreal moment we are in."

Trump's initial deflection about a question regarding U.S. soldiers killed in Niger is what started the controversy that included false statements about Obama, the phone call with Johnson and a smear campaign against a sitting Democratic legislator who recounted the call to the press.

Toobin placed the blame for the snowballing mess squarely on Trump's shoulders for making "false statements" about President Barack Obama's practices toward military families who lose loved ones.

"[T]here's no misinterpretation that Donald Trump made false statements about Barack Obama's practices in this area."

Watch the full segment below.

Toobin “What planet are we on when we talk... by sarahburris

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The Antidote to Health Care Chaos Is a Single-Payer System—and That's Exactly Where the Debate Is Going

Fri, 2017-10-20 21:00
Click here for reuse options! If you're suffering from Trump trauma, there's a solution.

Not sleeping well since the election? Anxious about Trump? You're not alone. Sometimes you have to have a bedtime story to take your mind off all your troubles and all the things that are keeping you up at night, like Trump's policies and all the things currently screwing up the planet.

So I've started making short stories that should help us fall asleep—stories about ways to win on issues that matter, like health care. Here's a five-minute story about Medicare for All, featuring the voices of Susan Sarandon and Laura Gómez, and a leech with an existential crisis.

Are you all tucked in? Comfortable? Here we go:

Like the little girl in the story says, the real leeches in this country, the real blood-sucking parasites, are the CEOs of the major pharmaceutical companies extracting huge sums of money from sick people in America. They need to be run out of town on a rail. Bernie Sanders is doing it right now with Medicare for All. As Laura Gómez tweeted:

Find out who the Real Leeches are? Listen to @joshfoxfilm’s Anti-Totalitarian Bedtime Stories #MedicareForAll

— Laura Gómez (@MsLauraGomez) October 20, 2017

Trump's open attempts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act may not be constitutional (isn't the president sworn to make sure the laws of the United States are faithfully executed instead of actively trying to collapse them?), but they are having an effect. His actions are roiling insurance markets and causing your premiums to spike. But they're also making it unmistakably clear that the antidote to all the health care chaos is a single-payer system, and the healthcare debate is increasingly going there.

On Tuesday, centrist Democratic senators Tim Kaine and Michael Bennett introduced a lesser version of single-payer called Medicare-X which would give people a public option vs. private insurance and move us toward universal coverage. It's way watered down compared to Bernie's Medicare for All bill, but it's another sign that single payer is where the healthcare debate has to head.  

As Sen. Lamar Alexander said of the anxious GOP caucus (maybe they're having trouble sleeping too?) on Wednesday, "If we do nothing we'll create chaos, and chaos will lead to a birthday present for Bernie Sanders, which is a single-payer solution."   

What he didn't say is, we have chaos already, which will continue to mount. Medicare for All is an achievable present to give Bernie, but first, you're going to have to call your senators, work the midterms and get enough support on Capitol Hill to override a Trump veto. 

It can be done. A lot of things we need to do can be done. But you're going to need a good night's sleep, so tomorrow you can be well rested. We need you to fight against horrible oil projects like the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, and fracking, and racism, and police brutality, the tyranny of the billionaire class, the destruction of the EPA, the total degradation of the American Dream, chemicals in your water and in your air, and all those completely outrageous things that would keep any normal, rational, compassionate human being awake at night.

I'll be making more Anti-Totalitarian Bedtime Stories soon. Meanwhile, sleep tight. But tomorrow, call your senators and tell them Lamar Alexander is right: Today's healthcare chaos is why we need Medicare for All.

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9 Heinous Acts of White Nationalist Terror Just This Year

Fri, 2017-10-20 19:30
Click here for reuse options! Charlottesville wasn't the first such attack, and it likely won't be the last.

Webster’s Dictionary defines terrorism as the "calculated use of violence (or threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature.” To hear neocons, Republicans, the Christian right and the so-called alt-right tell it, such violence is exercised primarily by Muslims and people of color. But history does not bear that out in the least, especially in the United States. For all the damage they've inflicted, Jihadist organizations such as ISIS, al-Qaeda and the Taliban do not have the market cornered on violent extremism. While it’s true that the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history—al-Qaeda’s assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11—was carried out by far-right Islamists, most of the country’s recent domestic terrorist activity has come from a combination of white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, extreme Christianists and far-right militia groups. 

From the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, which killed 168 people, to Christianist Jim David Adkisson’s rampage at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian University Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, on July 27, 2008, far-right white terrorism has posed the most persistent domestic terrorist threat in the U.S. And under President Donald Trump, white extremists have grown emboldened, as evidenced by the murder of activist Heather D. Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August.

We may never know the motivations or political ideology of the Las Vegas shooter, but one thing is for certain: that is one mass killing that Fox News and Ann Coulter won’t be able to blame on people of color. Here are 10 disturbing examples of terrorism carried out by white supremacists, white nationalists or radical Christianists in recent years.

1. Emanuel AME Church massacre, June 17, 2015.

The Charleston, South Carolina-based Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, aka Mother Emanuel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Booker T. Washington and many others spoke from the pulpit, has a long history of fighting for civil rights. It was all the more tragic that white supremacist Dylann Roof targeted the iconic church for a racially motivated act of domestic terrorism. Roof shot and killed nine people during a prayer service simply because they were black, including the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator. The killer, charged with multiple counts of murder, said he was hoping to launch a race war.

2. The shootings of Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, February 22, 2017.

Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, two Indian immigrants legally working as engineers in the U.S., were having a drink at Austin’s Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas, on February 22, when according to Madasani, they were confronted by an angry, middle-aged white man demanding to know if they were in the U.S. legally. “Get out of my country,” he threatened them.

About 30 minutes later, witnesses said, the man returned with a gun and shot them both. Kuchibhotla was killed, while Madasani survived, and a third man, Ian Grillot, was wounded when he tried to intervene. Adam Purinton, the alleged shooter, was charged with premeditated murder and attempted murder before being indicted on federal hate crime charges.

3. The killing of Heather D. Heyer, August 12, 2017.

Fifty-three years after Ku Klux Klan members murdered white civil rights workers Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi, along with their African-African ally James Chaney, anti-racist activist Heather D. Heyer was killed by vehicular assault on Aug. 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Unite the Right rally drew hundreds of racists, including KKK members, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, skinheads, far-right militia members and Christianists, and the 32-year-old Heyer was among the hundreds of counter-protesters. Justin Moore, a KKK grand dragon, praised the killing, saying he was “glad that girl died," not unlike the Klansmen and neo-Nazis who celebrated the terrorist murders of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner in 1964.  

4. Minnesota Islamic Center bombing, August 5, 2017.

A report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found that hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. increased by 584 percent between 2014 and 2016. During the first half of 2017, CAIR reported 134 individual anti-Muslim hate crimes. On Aug. 5, 2017, the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, was bombed while attendees were gathering for morning prayers. Had ISIS bombed a Christian church, it would have received round-the-clock coverage from Fox News and AM talk radio. But the terrorist attack on the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center was barely mentioned in the right-wing media. (Thankfully, there were no injuries.)

5. The stabbing of Timothy Caughman, March 20, 2017.

White supremacist and confessed killer James Harris Jackson did not know Timothy Caughman, the 66-year-old African American he fatally stabbed in midtown Manhattan on March 20, 2017. Jackson confessed that he traveled from Baltimore to New York City that day “for the purpose of killing black men,” and Caughman had the misfortune of being chosen at random—a killing Jackson said “was practice” for a larger terrorist attack he planned to carry out against black men in Times Square. Jackson, who was charged with first- and second-degree murder, said his motive was to discourage black men from dating white women.

6. The Portland commuter train stabbings, May 26, 2017.

On May 26, Ricky John Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Micah David-Cole Fletcher were passengers on a commuter train in Portland, Oregon when they witnessed a white man threatening and verbally abusing two women—one of whom was wearing a hijab—and screaming Islamophobic insults at them. When the passengers intervened, witnesses said, the man attacked them with a knife. Best and Meche died, while Fletcher was treated for serious injuries. Jeremy Joseph Christian, who was charged with murder, had a history of expressing white supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic views.

7. The shooting of Deep Rai, March 3, 2017.

The climate of fear and Islamophobia that has plagued the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks has imperiled not only Muslims, but also Sikhs and Hindus who have been mistakenly targeted in hate crimes. Four days after 9/11, Frank Silva Roque shot Balbir Singh Sodhi (a Sikh immigrant from India who owned a gas station in Mesa, Arizona) five times, killing him; Roque, convicted of first-degree murder, was sentenced to life in prison.

More recently, Deep Rai, a 39-year-old Sikh and Indian immigrant, was attacked by a gunman outside his home in Kent, Washington, on March 3, 2017. According to Rai, the assailant, described as a tall, stocky white man, pushed him to the ground and said, “Go back to your own country” before shooting him in the arm (Rai’s wounds were not fatal). After the attack, a Sikh activist in Seattle reported that there has been a “distinct escalation” of “hate incidents” against Seattle-area Sikhs in 2017.

8. Arson attacks on mosques, January 14 and 27, 2017.

According to a study by professor Brian Levin for the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, hate crimes have increased nationwide by about 5 percent from 2015 to 2016. In August, the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported that attacks on mosques in the U.S. have been frighteningly common in 2017. CNN’s analysis of CAIR data found 63 examples of mosques being targeted for threats, arson or vandalism between January and July of this year—an average of nine incidents per month and at least two per week.

On January 14, the Islamic Center of Eastside in Bellevue, Washington, a Seattle suburb, was burned to the ground. The Houston office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives determined a separate fire that destroyed the Victoria Islamic Center on January 27 was a product of arson. Although there were no injuries in either incident, both attacks demonstrate that CAIR has every reason to be concerned about the safety of Muslims in the U.S.

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Who Profits From the Opioid Crisis? Meet the Secretive Sackler Family Making Billions From OxyContin

Fri, 2017-10-20 16:55
They downplayed the risks of addiction and exploited doctors’ confusion over the drug’s strength.

This week, President Donald Trump’s nominee for drug czar, Republican Congressmember Tom Marino, had to withdraw from consideration after a Washington Post/”60 Minutes” investigation found he led a drug industry-backed effort to pass a law that weakened the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to crack down on addictive opioids. Meanwhile, calls are growing to look at the major pharmaceutical companies that have fueled the opioid crisis. A new investigation by Esquire magazine reveals how the secretive Sackler family, owners of the company that invented OxyContin, downplayed the risks of addiction and exploited doctors’ confusion over the drug’s strength. We speak with Christopher Glazek, the Esquire reporter behind the story.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to look at America’s staggering opioid epidemic, the secretive family making billions from the crisis, and how Congress undermined efforts to restrict the flow of pain pills that have led to tens of thousands of deaths. President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis has said, quote, “America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.”

But this week, his nominee for drug czar, Republican Congressmember Tom Marino, had to withdraw from consideration, after a Washington Post/60 Minutes investigation found he led a drug industry-backed effort to pass a law that weakened the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to crack down on addictive opioids and keep them off the black market. The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act passed in 2016. It made it nearly impossible for the Drug Enforcement Administration to intervene in cases where large, suspicious shipments of opioids are delivered to pharmacies bound for the black market. The drug industry lobbied heavily to win passage of the bill, contributing $1.5 million to its 23 congressional co-sponsors. Marino alone accepted nearly $100,000 in campaign cash from the industry.

This is Joe Rannazzisi, who ran the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, which regulates and investigates the pharmaceutical industry, speaking to 60 Minutes about the measure.

JOE RANNAZZISI: If I was going to write a book about how to harm the United States with pharmaceuticals, the only thing I could think of that would immediately harm is to take the authority away from the investigative agency that is trying to enforce the Controlled Substances Act and the regulations implemented under the act. And that’s what this bill did.

BILL WHITAKER: The bill, introduced in the House by Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, was promoted as a way to ensure that patients had access to the pain medication they needed.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Marino has said he’s proud of his work on the 2016 law, which passed without opposition in the House and Senate, was signed by President Obama.

Meanwhile, calls are growing to look at the major pharmaceutical companies who fueled the opioid crisis. A new investigation by Esquire magazine reveals how the Sackler family, owners of the company that invented OxyContin, downplayed the risks of the drug’s addiction and exploited doctors’ confusion over the drug’s strength. The piece in Esquire is headlined “The Secretive Family Making Billions from the Opioid Crisis.” It begins, “You’re aware America is under siege, fighting an opioid crisis that has exploded into a public-health emergency. You’ve heard of OxyContin, the pain medication to which countless patients have become addicted. But do you know that the company that makes Oxy and reaps the billions of dollars in profits it generates is owned by one family?”

For more, we’re joined by Christopher Glazek, the reporter behind the investigation.

Christopher, welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: So, the name Sackler is famous in the art world, because it’s hard to go into a museum where you don’t see an atrium named, whether we’re talking about the museum—the Metropolitan Museum, the Tate in London—I mean, all over. Why don’t you explain how we know the name, and how we don’t know the name when it comes to OxyContin, and how significant OxyContin is when it comes to the opioid epidemic?

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Yeah, well, the Sackler family is very interesting, because, in some ways, it’s extremely public, and then, in other ways, it’s extremely private. So, you’ll see their name on university campuses. Almost every Ivy League school has an institute or a museum named for the Sacklers. As you mentioned, there’s—

AMY GOODMAN: Like where, in universities?

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Oh, like at Yale, at Tufts, at Columbia, at NYU, at Cornell, at King’s College London, at Edinburgh, at Sussex. I mean, the list really goes on and on and on. And in the museum world, too. I mean, there’s named rooms or wings for the Sacklers at the Guggenheim, at the Louvre, at the Tate, at the Met. You know, so people know the Sackler name. But the Sacklers themselves are rarely interviewed. They basically never give interviews. They’re rarely seen in public. And almost nobody in the world, in the art world or in the world of higher education, understands that the major source of their fortune is OxyContin. And one reason for that is that the Sacklers never put their name on their company, never put their name on their product.

So, you know, as you mentioned, I mean, the reason I wanted to do the piece, we have an opioid crisis in this country, and more than 200,000 people have died from prescription drugs since OxyContin was released in 1996, and w have an accountability crisis also. You know, we tend to think of big social problems, like drug epidemics, as the product of these large, impersonal forces that are hard to understand. And there’s some truth to that. But that can also distract from the fact that a lot of social problems also have their origins in actions taken by individuals. So, that was something I wanted to shine a light on.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, how did you learn, come to learn, of the Sacklers’ involvement in this?

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Well, it’s very interesting. So, you know, I had read quite a bit about Purdue Pharma, which had manufactured OxyContin and which, in 2007, had to plead guilty to criminal charges for what was called criminally misbranding a prescription drug. And they had to pay a huge fine, and three of their top executives went down. And there had been a ton of writing about that, but almost no writing about the fact that the company was actually 100 percent owned by one family, and that family filled more than half of the board seats and actually supplied top executives for the company.

You know, one thing that kind of emerged is that when they signed onto this huge settlement, which got a ton of press in 2007, it seemed like the top leaders of the company took the fall, because the CEO at the time had to plead guilty to a misdemeanor. But he wasn’t the CEO during the period covered by the settlement or during the crucial period of OxyContin’s promotion and marketing. During that period, the top executive was actually a member of the Sackler family who owned the company. And yet the Sackler name appeared nowhere in the guilty plea. It was like a hundred pages. It appeared all over this other document that was attached, which was a nonprosecution agreement. And so, basically, the government said, “We’re not going to prosecute any of these 200 entities related to the Sackler family.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, Christopher Glazek, tell us the story of the Sackler family, their rise, the rise of OxyContin. Go back decades.

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Sure. So, the Sacklers were basically three brothers from Brooklyn who were—came from a Jewish immigrant family. And they got their start, really—I mean, the eldest brother, Arthur Sackler—in medical advertising. So he was a really important pioneer in the field of medical, and specifically pharmaceutical, advertising. He was one of the first people ever inducted into the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame, actually.

So, basically, when he came on the scene in the '40s, there really wasn't much pharmaceutical advertising. There were these door-to-door salesmen. They were called “detail men,” and they would basically try to push their drugs on doctors. What Arthur realized is that you could use print advertising to reach a much larger number of doctors more efficiently. And he was actually the first person to convince the Journal of American Medicine to insert a color brochure advertising a particular drug, which, at that time, was an antibiotic—and then actually got involved in this big scandal about overprescription of antibiotics, you know, another public health problem. His big, huge first influx of cash came with Valium, because he was the one who designed the marketing campaign for Roche, which was the manufacturer, and he made Valium the most widely prescribed drug in America.

AMY GOODMAN: What was his trick there?

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: So the trick, basically, was that, you know, Valium—there was another drug that had already been on the market that was the same as Valium. It was called Librium. I mean, almost indistinguishable. And so it was like this big question: Well, how are we going to market this one? Librium had been marketed pretty narrowly for a specific anxiety function. His idea was to take Valium, a new drug with a new name, and market it for every kind of problem. And so he kind of—they played with this concept called “psychic tension,” which was purported to be the source of indigestion, of depression, of sleep problems, of restless leg syndrome. And so—

AMY GOODMAN: It was the word before “stress.”

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Yes, right. It was kind of like what we now think of maybe as stress. You know, so he was, in this way, able to vastly expand the range of potential patients and indications, and, in that way, made the first $100 million drug.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what kind of use did Valium have versus Librium?

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: So, I mean, it was used by people who were suffering kind of what are called “somatic problems,” so different kind of physical manifestations which may or may not have their root in something related to anxiety. Valium was just narrowly targeted—or, sorry, Librium was narrowly targeted to people who had like a specific kind of anxiety issue, which at that time was not quite the thing that it is today.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So Valium was prescribed much, much more than Librium—


NERMEEN SHAIKH: —or Librium.

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Yeah, way, way, way more. And it became, actually, the most prescribed medication of all time, you know, at that time.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, move on from there.

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Right. So, Arthur also became a huge art collector, kind of established the family’s foothold in the art world. And throughout his entire life, he had actually passed on jobs and businesses to his younger brothers. So he was involved in the purchase of this really tiny pharmaceutical company in 1952 which was called Purdue Pharma, which was on its last legs. It had basically been a kind of patent medicine peddler. It had this drink called Gray’s Glycerin Tonic, which was—you know, in the patent medicine era, it was also marketed for all kinds of purposes—if you have a headache, if you have sex problems, if you have whatever problem. So, they bought this kind of shell, financially troubled shell.

And for years and years, Purdue Pharma didn’t really—wasn’t a major player in the pharmaceutical world. It had one really good product, which was Betadine, which it acquired in the ’60s, which was a disinfectant. And they kind of had this great fortune of acquiring the rights to Betadine just as the Vietnam War was amping up. So the government had bought huge quantities of Betadine to treat wounded soldiers. But still, you know, a midget in the pharma scene.

Then they got into the pain business, and that’s when the real money started flowing in. And they developed—you know, so the kind of company lore is that there was a doctor in London—because some of the family members moved to London—and who was associated with the hospice movement. And they said, “You have a time-release asthma pill that isn’t really selling very much. What if you made a time-release morphine pill?” And they said, “You know, we have these hospice patients who have these IVs, and it’s hard to give them enough pain medication to sleep through the night.” And so, he said, you know, “A time-release morphine pill could really be transformational.” So they made this, and it came out in the United States in 1984 as MS-Contint, which is kind of the predecessor of OxyContin. And it was targeted exclusively at the cancer market. And really, it was an amazing drug. It helped cancer patients sleep through the night without needing to redose. And, you know, addiction didn’t matter if you’re a terminal cancer patient.

There was a problem with MS-Contin: Its patent was going to expire in the '90s, and the company didn't have anything to replace, and that was really the company’s, you know, golden goose. So, basically, younger relatives of Arthur’s at the company, other executives at the company were brainstorming: What can we do about MS-Contin having its patent expire? And they said, “Well, what if we created a new time-release pain pill, but we don’t use morphine, we use another derivative of the poppy plant, oxycodone, and we create a time-release oxycodone pill, and instead of marketing it to cancer patients, we market it to 30 million back pain patients, we market it to people with menstrual problems, we market it to people with toothaches? So, what if we take this powerful drug that we know works for this one purpose, but then kind of give it to everybody?” And that was the billion-dollar idea, the $14 billion idea, that gave the Sacklers what is likely the largest fortune in pharmaceutical history.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I mean, one of the problems with the term—I mean, I realized, myself, when I was reading your piece, that there’s a lot of confusion between oxycodeine, oxycodone and the OxyContin. So, could you explain what that distinction is and whether the name itself was chosen so that precisely this confusion could be created?

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Exactly. So, you know, I talked to employees at the company, you know, and there’s some reference to this also in some internal company documents. OxyContin and MS-Contin—one’s morphine, one’s oxycodone—they’re basically the same. They’re kind of—like Librium and Valium, they’re virtually indistinguishable. But morphine had a stigma, which is that people thought if you’re on morphine, that means you’re dying. And ordinary doctors, general practitioners, family practitioners, they weren’t going to prescribe morphine. Like that sounded like some really serious stuff. Oxycodone, though, had a very different brand, because it was in Percocet and Percodan. And so, thousands of doctors, you know, ordinary doctors, general practitioners, would prescribe Percocet for injuries. And so they were familiar with it, and they were comfortable with it. But Percocet has a very small dose of oxycodone in it.

As you allude to, there was another confusion: People thought that “oxycodone” sounded like “codeine.” And codeine is another weak opioid. Doesn’t sound like morphine. Morphine sounds strong. So, they were basically playing on this misconception that doctors had, and they acknowledged this when they had to plead guilty, that doctors thought that oxycodone was weak, even though it’s actually more powerful than morphine.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s turn to a joint investigation between 60 Minutes and The Washington Post on the opioid crisis. This is Joe Rannazzisi, who ran the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, which regulates and investigates the pharmaceutical industry, speaking with CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker.

JOE RANNAZZISI: That’s out of control. What they want to do is do what they want to do and not worry about what the law is. And if they don’t follow the law in drug supply, people die. That’s just it. People die. … This is an industry that allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors’ offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs.

BILL WHITAKER: Who are these distributors?

JOE RANNAZZISI: The three largest distributors are Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen. They control probably 85 or 90 percent of the drugs going downstream.

BILL WHITAKER: You know the implication of what you’re saying, that these big companies knew that they were pumping drugs into American communities that were killing people.

JOE RANNAZZISI: That’s not an implication, that’s a fact. That’s exactly what they did.

AMY GOODMAN: Whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi, speaking with CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker. In another part of the interview, he talks about pain clinics.

JOE RANNAZZISI: Pain clinics, overnight, popping up off an entrance ramp or an exit ramp on an interstate. Then, all of a sudden, there’s a pain clinic there.

BILL WHITAKER: Had you ever seen anything like that before?

JOE RANNAZZISI: Never. In fact, it was my opinion that this made the whole crack epidemic look like nothing. These weren’t kids slinging crack on the corner. These were professionals who were doing it. They were just drug dealers in lab coats.

BILL WHITAKER: You know what a chilling picture that paints?

JOE RANNAZZISI: I do, because I watched them get arrested, and I was the one who approved the cases.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Joe Rannazzisi, who ran the Drug Enforcement Administration, the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, which regulates and investigates the pharmaceutical industry, speaking with CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker. Of course, he became a whistleblower. Christopher Glazek, talk about the significance of what this man said.

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Well, you know, the opioid epidemic has many different actors in different parts of the chain. And this investigation focused on the distributors, who are basically the people who carry the opioid pills from the manufacturer and give it to specific pharmacies. And there’s been a lot of litigation focused on them. Some thought that, you know, they knew, that they had had reason to know, that certain pharmacies maybe were involved in diversion. And they have this ongoing struggle with the DEA about what’s appropriate to seize and under what circumstances.

In my view, what you want to do when you look at the opioid crisis is look at where the real profits are. And it’s actually not with the distributors. It’s really with the manufacturers. And, you know, people kind of think they’re following the money. And McKesson and Cardinal are these huge, giant companies. But you really want to follow the margin, because that’s going to tell you who’s controlling a market and who’s kind of like a minor toll taker. And the fact is that the manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, which really created this market, created all this business for Cardinal and McKesson, etc., they had much more detailed information about where pills were going. They knew down to the prescription level, you know, what doctors were prescribing what. The distributors didn’t know that. The distributors—all distributors knew was about pharmacies. So they really are just one part of this giant chain. But Purdue had the aerial vision of the entire thing. And they—

AMY GOODMAN: Where is Purdue based?

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: It’s based in Stamford, Connecticut.



NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, one of the things that you point out in the piece is that part of the money, the money that the Sacklers made from Purdue and selling OxyContin, in a foundation they have called the Richard and Beth Sackler Foundation—could you talk about where they chose to donate some of that, the money from that foundation?

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: For sure. You know, we live in a billionaire democracy, and billionaires exert tremendous control not only over business, but also over the arts and higher education and over politics. And, you know, different members of the Sackler family have very different political leanings. Richard Sackler, who was the top executive during the time that OxyContin was mainly promoted, has given money to a variety of anti-Muslim groups. He’s actually given money to several groups designated hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He’s also given money to this organization called True the Vote, which was the original source for Trump’s claim that 3 million illegal immigrants voted in the election. You know, if you go what appears to be his Facebook page or his YouTube page, he seems to have some affection for Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and kind of Brexit types, so a lot of kind of—he also seems to be a gold bug, very concerned about inflation and things like that. Other members of the Sackler family are not right-leaning. Some are them are quite left-leaning, actually. But Richard’s foundation, you know, and the money that came from OxyContin has gone to a number of causes that raise some eyebrows.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is happening with OxyContin now? Talk about the number of deaths a day. Talk about the bill that passed last year and was signed off on by the president—not by President Trump, but by President Obama—that now has led to Congressman Marino, who was the choice to be the drug czar, having to withdraw, under Trump.

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Right. So, basically, what that legislation did is it hampered the ability of the DEA to seize suspicious shipments. And, you know, I actually—it’s quite a complex issue. Whether it really is the most important aspect of the opioid crisis is something that one could debate. It does seem pretty galling, though, that Trump nominated Marino, who was so involved in this legislation, to be the drug czar. Like you don’t want the fox guarding the chicken coop. So, that did seem pretty outrageous, and it’s a great thing that that has been exposed and brought to light.

But the key point about the opioid crisis is that what triggers addiction—you know, people talk a lot about diversion, the black market, drug dealers. That’s part of it. It’s kind of a small part. Most people become addicted to OxyContin by just taking it as prescribed. So, really, it’s the number of prescriptions, who is driving the prescriptions, and the total volume of opioid that’s circulating through the market.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, one of the—you cite a piece, an L.A. Times investigative piece, which concludes that the American market for OxyContin is actually diminishing.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: So could you explain why that is, and then how this drug is now being marketed, quite successfully, abroad?

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Yes, exactly. So, you know, OxyContin has run into a lot of regulatory problems in the United States and a lot of bad press. And, you know, kind of borrowing from the Big Tobacco playbook, it’s like when you run into problems in your home market and you’ve got all these lawsuits, maybe it’s time now to go abroad. And that seems to be what the Sackler family is doing. They have all these international companies that are related to Purdue which sell pain products abroad.

And, you know, the CDC, in this country, actually issued this warning last year, basically saying that we’re not sure that opioids are good for long-term pain at all, that maybe opioid use is not an effective treatment for chronic pain, because it changes your pain threshold and, over time, it becomes less and less effective. So, I mean, this was like a really—you know, a kind of death blow for the chronic pain market here. But now you have the company going abroad, kind of reprising all of its greatest hits from the ’90s. They released a study in Colombia saying that we believe that more than 40 percent of the population suffers from chronic pain.

AMY GOODMAN: In May, a dozen members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to the World Health Organization that warned the Sackler-owned drug companies were preparing to flood foreign countries with legal narcotics. The letter mentions the Sacklers by name, notes they own Purdue Pharma, and reads, quote, “Purdue began the opioid crisis that has devastated American communities. … Today, Mundipharma is using many of the same deceptive and reckless practices to sell OxyContin abroad.” Mundipharma, owned by the Sacklers. And the L.A. Timesreporting the company circulated a press release in Colombia that suggested 47 percent of the population suffered from chronic pain. Your final comment on all of this, Christopher Glazek, and where it goes now?

CHRISTOPHER GLAZEK: Well, the big question is complicity, and it’s a really tricky question. You know, is Tufts University complicit in the opioid epidemic because they’ve taken huge amounts of money from the Sacklers? You know, is a third-generation Sackler heir, who maybe is a documentary filmmaker or restaurateur—do they have some burden or complicity to address here? And I think that’s a complicated question. But the solution to complexity is not secrecy. And what we’ve seen again and again is that people who have taken Sackler money, and the Sacklers themselves, have concealed their connection to OxyContin. And that cannot be the solution to the problem.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, Christopher Glazek, journalist, editor, whose new exposé was just published in Esquire—we will link to it—”The Secretive Family Making Billions from the Opioid Crisis.”

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go across the pond to London to talk about what’s happening south of us in Guantánamo. Stay with us.


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How to Cope with the Trauma of Trump

Fri, 2017-10-20 16:40
This presidency has caused an enduring traumatic shock.

I am a trauma therapist in New York City. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, both my patients and colleagues were in shock. Many of them told me they felt unsafe and vulnerable. “I feel like I did after 9/11,” one said. “People on the subways look like they are in mourning,” said another.

I knew exactly how they felt. In the days following the 2016 election, my own mind struggled to focus. I was prone to spontaneous tears. It was difficult to summon the words to speak. I recognized these responses in myself and others as symptoms of traumatic shock, the possible harbingers of post-traumatic stress disorder.

When I finally managed to calm down enough to consider the intensity of our reactions, I was puzzled. It’s true that Donald Trump’s election to the presidency was alarming for many, particularly given his rageful expressions of xenophobia, sexism, racism, and Islamophobia. But it was a nonviolent event; we hadn’t been physically attacked, nor had we experienced a natural catastrophe. Or had we?

Does the election count as a traumatic event?

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” To many people, especially those in groups targeted by his campaign, Trump’s election to the highest political office in the U.S. was a truly terrible, even disastrous event.

The words of my patients in the weeks just after Trump’s win bear this out. One patient, a graduate student at NYU, saw the university’s Muslim Students Association prayer room defaced with Trump graffiti on its front door a day after the election. Another patient told me swastikas had been scrawled in Jewish students’ dorm rooms at her college, the New School. Still another patient said to me, "I have four out of six identity markers Trump will target: Arab, gay, immigrant, and woman. I just don't feel safe walking around anymore."

At least two other patients felt invalidated and hopeless, saying "we elected a rapist to the presidency," referring to the accusations of sexual assault several women have brought against Trump. One patient who was mulling over reporting her assault decided she would not, saying, "How could it matter anymore? No one would believe me now." Another forwarded me a social media post of an attack on a transgender man, whose perpetrators yelled, "Team Trump," after they scraped his face on the pavement.

It was a struggle to help my patients cope with the trauma of Trump’s election as I grappled with my own responses. When a patient asked if she should “just push away the fear and power through,” I realized that this was exactly what I had been doing to manage. And yet, as I knew, and as all psychodynamic clinicians know, repressed emotions inevitably emerge in other forms elsewhere. Outside of the therapy room, I was more anxious, less focused and more on edge. As a woman, a first-generation Asian-American, and a parent, I too felt more vulnerable in my city. I avoided darker side streets. I worried deeply about the safety of my patients, my children and my friends. I had trouble sleeping.

Not two weeks after the election, a friend alerted me that the jungle gym in my son’s favorite playground had been defaced with swastikas and the words “Go Trump.” When I saw the photos, I burst into tears. Many parents in our neighborhood had to explain what a swastika meant to our young children.  

It was an overwhelming time, and arguably, it still is. Trump’s actions have borne out my own and my patients’ worst fears. From his disastrous Muslim immigration ban and his consequential withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, to his equivocal response to white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and his dangerous war of words with North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un, Trump continues to erode our collective sense of safety and unity. The role of president is supposed to do the opposite. 

How to cope: Regain stability, safety, and strength

How do we respond to the feelings of anxiety and stress that have been unleashed by Trump's election and may still manifest whenever we read the day’s headlines on his latest outrageous policy decision or angry tweet? How do we tend to our symptoms of  post-Trump stress disorder? 

In my work as a trauma therapist, when I meet with an individual whose world has been turned upside down by sexual assault and whose psyche is clouded by shame, I seek to help them mitigate their symptoms of PTSD by reclaiming three key things: a sense of stability, a sense of safety and a sense of strength.

Stability: The objective of stabilizing a patient is to calm the hyper-activated body and mind. In crisis, an individual goes into an adrenaline-fueled “fight, flight, or freeze” response. The prefrontal cortex, or the thinking part of the brain, shuts down, and the body takes over. We become like animals under attack by a predator. In the days following Trump’s win, my patients came in feeling highly anxious and even panicky. To address this, we use stabilization techniques such as deep breathing, confirming the individual’s physical existence in space and reconnecting her with the use of her five senses.

These methods have proven effective in calming the body so that the thinking parts of the brain can come back online and the survivor can begin to think and talk about her experience. It is therapeutic to talk about one’s pain, fear, and sense of shame so that such feelings are not isolated in the body, and the individual is not isolated from others. This reestablishes a survivor’s personhood, which is crucial for someone who has been objectified. Trauma, shame, and isolation are triplets born of subjugation, and if these feelings are left alone for too long, the resulting loneliness and despair can be mentally and physically crushing.

Anyone else who feels destabilized by Trump’s election would be well served to use such grounding techniques to calm the body and mind. Stabilization uses the mindfulness skills of paying close attention to the details of one’s physical and sensory experience in the here and now. By focusing on one’s somatic—or bodily—experience, the mind is forced to slow down and is drawn away from racing thoughts, adrenaline-producing fears, and stressful worst-case scenarios. This promotes greater relaxation and clarifies one’s focus.

Safety: To shore up an individual’s violated sense of safety, we ask a survivor to identify and seek out people and places she trusts, where she feels welcomed, comforted, and accepted within her shame and vulnerability. When a survivor has been sexually assaulted, her body becomes a crime scene scarred by a hostile trespasser. Her sense of painful and raw exposure is like that of a post-operative patient in recovery. In this highly sensitized state, she needs to surround herself with people and places that soothe and protect her. She needs interpersonal and physical environments where she can begin to relax without fear of attack, so that her physical and psychic wounds can heal.

For those of us traumatized by hate expressed by Trump and his supporters in the past, present, or—heaven help us—future, finding safety in trusted companions, communities and spaces is essential. For we all must recruit a sense of safety to maintain the ability to reason, reflect and make sense of this traumatic administration, so we can act. In this climate, I have had to work intensively with patients to help them identify where and with whom they feel safe. One patient had to resort to finding mere moments of safety in her day. And yet locating even fleeting moments of safety is crucial. They can keep an individual from falling into a destabilizing panic, where clear thinking is unavailable.

Strength: Action requires strength. For a survivor to feel strong enough to act on her own behalf, trauma therapists focus on empowering her sense of self-efficacy. When an individual has been sexually violated, her sense of confidence and subjectivity has been profoundly compromised. The deep shame and shock that can result are demoralizing. They can prevent a survivor from acting or speaking up for herself. In trauma therapy, when a survivor has found enough calm and safety to think again, a therapist will, at every turn, remind her of her strengths. Doing so, we underscore the fact that she is the expert in her own life, capable of making her own decisions—whether to report her crime, to confront her perpetrator, or to share her trauma with others, or not. This is to help a survivor reclaim her selfhood, with the aim of dispelling the immobilizing experience of objectification.

In the several months following Trump’s inauguration, my patients have felt their sense of strength sapped by feelings of disappointment, fear, and uncertainty. Some have expressed, “What’s the point in fighting, when there is so much hatred out there?” Others have said, “Who’s going to listen to me now? Twelve women accused Trump of sexual assault, and nothing happened.”

To these individuals, and anyone who feels overwhelmed by the aggressive actions of President Trump and his supporters, I recruit my training to say that no act of strength or decision-making—on behalf of oneself or others—is too small. In fact, starting with small acts, such as speaking up for oneself or another at work, or with family or friends, is empowering. Such choices reinforce one’s subjectivity and open up a dialogue with others around what we want, what we need, and what we can work toward together.

For those surprised by how shaken they feel by President Trump’s aggressive, unstable and unreasonable behavior, these feelings and experiences are valid. Now, as trauma survivors, we must hasten to stabilize ourselves and to create a sense of communal safety by coming together in solidarity. Only then can we take appropriate and mindful action to demonstrate our strength. We must demand that all of our elected officials, from our city council persons to Trump himself, make every effort to serve our American body politic, not themselves. Now more than ever, we must hold each elected politician accountable to their responsibility that they ensure that every American—particularly those targeted and demonized by President Trump—has the safety, stability and strength not only to survive, but to thrive. It is these ideals, not President Trump’s bullying and self-serving actions, that define the United States as a true democracy. 

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Leaked Memo: Trump Administration Wants to Slash Birth Control, Promote Fertility Awareness

Fri, 2017-10-20 15:41
Click here for reuse options! The White House is eager to unleash a wishlist of white nationalism and misogyny.

Nine months into Trump's presidency, progressives continue to comfort themselves with the hope that his policy agenda is stalled. While a Hawaii judge just temporarily blocked the latest version of the Muslim travel ban and he can't seem to get a single piece of legislation through Congress, many of Trump's goals are being achieved through executive orders, and his administration is working overtime to roll back decades of progress on issues from civil rights and health care to foreign aid. 

Now a leaked memo from the White House's Domestic Policy Council, obtained by Crooked Media—the burgeoning podcast empire and news website started by former Obama staffers—reveals the wishlist of white nationalism and misogyny that the White House is eager to unleash by an administration "defined by ideological extremism, and tempered by incompetence," notes Brian Beutler. 

The DPC, which functions like an "internal think tank" Beutler says, does not have immediate legal weight, but does "hold considerable sway over the content of [Trump's] budget, which makes them useful proxies for the White House’s thinking and priorities." 

The document makes multiple references to promoting "fertility awareness" instead of birth control. In a move straight out of "The Handmaid's Tale," the Trump admistration aims to "halve federal funding for Title X, the grant program that provides family planning and prevention services to the poor, and divert the money into programs to promote 'fertility awareness' methods of birth control—popular among socially conservative contraception foes—which fail annually for a quarter of couples."

The White House also wants the U.S. to refrain from funding the "touchier-feelier programs” at international universities that receive U.S. funding to educate women, except, the DPC memo notes, in "Muslim countries, where we need to do a check of the curricula at the schools we’re supporting to weed out jihadism.” In addition, notes Beutler, the memo's "call to scrutinize organizations in 'Muslim countries' bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Trump’s election-season call to prohibit Muslims from entering the United States, along with subsequent efforts to codify the ban." 

Other sections of the memo call the World Health Organization a "corrupt, hostile bureaucracy that achieves no actual [public health] capacity in countries." Apparently providing vaccines and critical health care around the world is antithetical to the priorities of the Trump administration. White House staffers apparently also want to slash funding for Michelle Obama's program to reduce childhood obesity.

Read the entire memo and Crooked Media's report

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This Is How Legal Cannabis Is Improving Public Health

Fri, 2017-10-20 14:49
Click here for reuse options! Cannabis has a significant positive impact on some of America's deadliest bad habits.

Legal cannabis access is associated with numerous favorable public health outcomes. Here are just a few of them.


Changes in the legal status of cannabis is associated with significant reductions in opioid-related mortality. Data published in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine reports that medical cannabis regulation is associated with year-over-year declines in overall opioid-related mortality, including heroin overdose deaths. Specifically, medicalization states experienced a 20 percent decrease in opioid deaths as compared to non-medicalized states within one year. This decrease climbed to 33 percent by year six. Other studies have separately linked the establishment of both dispensaries and adult use retailers with reductions in opioid deaths. Traffic fatalities involving opioid-positive drivers has also fallen in states that have implemented medical marijuana laws.


Cannabis medicalization is associated with a reduction in opioid-related hospitalizations. According to a 2017 study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, “medical marijuana policies [are] significantly associated with reduced opioid pain reliever-related hospitalizations.” Specifically, legal medical cannabis states experienced a 23 percent drop in hospitalizations due to opioid dependence and a 13 percent decline in hospitalizations due to overdose.


Patients in states where marijuana is legal use far fewer prescription drugs than do those in jurisdictions where cannabis remains prohibited. According to a pair of recent studies published in the journal Health Affairs, the passage of medical cannabis regulations results in a significant drop in Medicare and Medicaid-related prescription drug spending. Separate studies find that many registered medical cannabis patients taper their use of pharmaceuticals. For instance, a 2017 University of New Mexico study reported that state registrants often reduced or even eliminated their prescription drug intake over time, while non-registrants with similar medical conditions did not. A study assessing state-qualified patients in Illinois concluded that many subjects consumed cannabis “intentionally to taper off prescription medications.” A 2017 analysis of Canadian-registered cannabis patients reported that a majority of subjects self-reported substituting marijuana for prescription drugs, particularly opioids, benzodiazepines, and anti-depressants. A separate review of over 1,500 state-qualified patients in New England similarly determined that patients typically used medical cannabis as a replacement for opioids, anti-anxiety drugs, and sleep aids.


Market research indicates that many adults are choosing legal pot over booze. For example, 2017 survey data from self-identified cannabis consumers in California reports that one-third of millennials have switched from beer to marijuana. Twenty percent of Gen X-ers and eight percent of boomers similarly acknowledged substituting weed in place of booze. A 2016 market analysis by the Cowan & Company research firm similarly determined that beer sales by major distributors – such as Anheuser-Bush and MillerCoors – have “collectively underperformed” in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington in the years immediately following adult use legalization.

Some medical cannabis patients also report curbing their alcohol intake. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology reported that 42 percent of medical marijuana patients surveyed reported reducing their alcohol consumption following admission into their state’s medicinal cannabis program. A 2015 review of 473 Canadian patients similarly reported that just over half of respondents substituted marijuana for alcohol.

This reported shift from booze to pot may be linked with increased traffic safety. According to a 2016 study in the American Journal of Public Health, the enactment of medical cannabis laws “are associated with reductions in traffic fatalities, particularly pronounced among those aged 25 to 44 years.” Researchers attributed this decline to be the result of fewer people driving under the influence of alcohol. A 2011 white paper published by the Institute for the Study of Labor similar reported that medical cannabis legalization in Colorado coincided with a nearly nine percent decrease in traffic fatalities, most likely to due to its impact on alcohol consumption."


The opening of medical cannabis dispensaries is correlated with an immediate decrease in narcotic-related admissions to drug treatment facilities. That is the finding of a just-published research paper by a University of Georgia economics professor which concludes, “dispensary openings experience a 20 percentage point relative decrease in painkiller treatment admissions over the first two years of dispensary operations.” A 2016 Castlight Health study of over one-million subjects similarly reported medical cannabis access was associated with far lower prevalence of opioid abuse and doctor shopping.


Changes in marijuana’s legal status is associated with an annual reduction in obesity-related medical costs. Writing in 2015 in the journal Health Economics, San Diego State University researchers reported, "[T]he enforcement of MMLs (medical marijuana laws) is associated with a 2% to 6% decline in the probability of obesity. ... Our estimates suggest that MMLs induce a $58 to $115 per-person annual reduction in obesity-related medical costs." Separate studies comparing subjects with a history of cannabis use versus controls consistently report that consumers are less likely to be obese, to suffer from diabetes, and are at a decreased risk of being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.  


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The Addict in All of Us: Dr. Gabor Maté on the Problem We All Live With

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:36
"Addiction is an attempt to solve a life problem. Only secondarily does it begin to act like a disease."

Over the past several decades, popular attitudes toward addiction have undergone a radical destigmatization. Many attribute the beginning of this shift to former first lady Betty Ford and her decision to go public about her addiction to alcohol and opiates soon after leaving the White House. She hadn’t been a public nuisance or a barfly. She’d never driven drunk, she said, or stashed bottles so she could drink secretly when she was alone. But by openly addressing her problems and becoming an outspoken advocate for rehabilitation through the Betty Ford Clinic (now the Betty Ford Center), she helped change the face of addiction. Perceptions of addicts as out-of-control gutter drunks and junkies were replaced by images of glamorous celebrities like Liza Minelli, Mary Tyler Moore, and Elizabeth Taylor as they checked in and out of Betty Ford.

While Ford’s clinic was opening, a counseling educator named Patrick Carnes was finishing Out of the Shadows, a book that proposed compulsive sexual activity was a form of addiction and popularized the notion that someone could be addicted to something other than substances. Carnes’s concept of sex addiction made a splash in the popular psyche and among many mental health professionals, and it spawned treatments that were influenced by 12-step programs all around the country. In the decades that have followed, the addiction label has ballooned in common usage to include a list of behaviors such as overeating, gambling, shopping, kleptomania, and internet overuse and gaming.

The concept of overdoing a behavior to the point of addiction has resonated with the general public, even as many mental health professionals have cringed at the implications. When the DSM-5 included gambling disorder under a new addiction heading that extended the moniker to behaviors, Allen Francis, chair of the DSM-IV, objected strongly and advised clinicians to reject the diagnostic change, writing in The Huffington Post that “If taken beyond its narrowest usage, ‘behavioral addiction’ would expand the definition of mental disorder to its breaking point and would threaten to erase the concept of normality.”

Today, as the debate over the wisdom of extending our notions of what constitutes addiction continues, one of the most eloquent and influential spokespeople for that broader conception is a haunting- looking, charismatic Canadian physician named Gabor Maté. As much social critic as clinician, Maté is the author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, a bestseller about addictions. His TED talk on “The Power of Addiction and the Addiction of Power” has had almost 700,000 views. He insists that addictive patterns of behavior are rooted in the alienation and emotional suffering that are inseparable from Western capitalist cultures, which, by favoring striving and acquiring over noticing and caring for one another, end up shortchanging—and too often traumatizing—children and families. He argues that the more stressful our early years, the likelier we are to become addicts later as a substitute for the nurture and connection we never received.

With his mop of wayward curls, heavily hooded eyes, and the Mick Jagger-ish concavity of his thin frame, Maté is a striking figure on the workshop circuit as he challenges his audience to ask not what’s wrong with addiction, but what’s right with it. What is the addict getting from it that makes his addiction worth the price he pays? Why is the ameliorative quality of a behavior or a high so necessary for so many? If addicts can find peace and control only when they’re using, what agonizing discomfort must they feel when they’re not?

Much of what Maté knows about addiction he learned doctoring to the hardcore drug addicts of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which has one of highest concentrations of active drug users in North America. His former employer, the Portland Hotel Society (PHS), is known for its controversially permissive treatment, which helps addicts get by while they’re actively using by providing food, shelter, and healthcare. PHS’s most radical service is a clinic called InSite, which goes a step beyond clean needle exchanges and helps IV drug users shoot up safely. It dispenses crack pipes for a quarter in its vending machines to reduce the spread of disease.

Part of Maté’s appeal is his willingness to talk about his own addictive tendencies and his view that most of us fit somewhere along the addiction spectrum. He’s vocal about being a workaholic: who is he if not a doctor and an author and an in-demand public speaker? he asks. For years, he freely talked about his inability to control the urge to go on shopping sprees for classical music CDs, referring to it as an addiction that “wears dainty white gloves.” He openly places himself on an addiction continuum where he believes compulsive shoppers and crack fiends can both be located. Be it a need to score horse tranquilizers in a scummy alley, or escape by melding into the glorious fantasy world of an online video game, or, in Maté’s case, plunking down cash for a set of obscure violin concertos, the denial, the craving, the temporary pleasure, the fallout—it’s all there.

Classical music thrills him, he says, but it’s not the listening to it that he’s addicted to: it’s the momentary thrill he gets from buying and possessing it. As with any addict, it’s the release he’s after: that adrenaline push when the drug is within reach (as he approaches the door to the music store) and the brief endorphin flight of freedom when he’s found and paid for what he wants. But, he confesses, he’s barely left the store before he’s fixating again on his next buy.

When he was most deeply in the throes of this addiction, Maté sometimes spent thousands of dollars in a week on music that he never listened to. At one point, he left a mother in the middle of active labor to go on a shopping spree. Seeking an answer to his bondage to this kind of behavior, he attended AA meetings in Vancouver, becoming an addict among addicts, and sometimes being recognized.

Although the shopping addiction has receded, Maté still struggles with his workaholism. He’s clear that his addictions have failed him, as they fail all the addicts he knows, but he recognizes that the trauma of his childhood enhances his enslavement to them. Born to a Jewish family in Nazi-occupied Budapest, he lived in a household filled with fear. His father was forced to labor with the brutally abused Jewish battalions in Hungary. His maternal grandparents died in Auschwitz. An aunt disappeared.

Some treatment professionals have publicly disagreed with Maté’s pronouncements about the inevitable connections between addiction and trauma, including his statement that while “every traumatized child doesn’t grow into an addict, every addict has been a traumatized child.” And they take his disagreement with the current biomedical model of addiction, and his flat-out rejection of a genetic component, as ill-informed and potentially dangerous. He counters that focusing on a disease model makes it too easy to ignore the thorny societal and familial issues that underlie the power of addiction.

Whether he’s right about the devastating effects of early trauma, or has gone so far into his cultural critique that he’s lost sight of distinguishing differences among addictions and other kinds of disorders, he clearly has a gift for articulating the suffering and desperation of people caught in the grip of deep inner compulsions, no matter how innocent seeming or how darkly self-destructive they may be. His work forces us to look closely at the sense of emptiness and the failed search for meaning that characterize our hyperstimulating times.

In the interview that follows, Maté explores the meaning of addictions and how he’s tried to come to terms with the inner demons in his own life.


PSYCHOTHERAPY NETWORKER: Let’s start off by talking about your view of addiction. You’ve written that “any passion can become an addiction.” What do you mean by that?

GABOR MATÉ: Addiction is a complex psychophysiological process, but it has a few key components. I’d say that an addiction manifests in any behavior that a person finds temporary pleasure or relief in and therefore craves, suffers negative consequences from, and has trouble giving up. So there’s craving, relief and pleasure in the short term, and negative outcomes in the long term, along with an inability to give it up. That’s what an addiction is. Note that this definition says nothing about substances. While addiction is often to substances, it could be to anything—to religion, to sex, to gambling, to shopping, to eating, to the internet, to relationships, to work, even to extreme sports. The issue with the addiction is not the external activity, but the internal relationship to it. Thus one person’s passion is another’s addiction.

PN: Okay, but the whole subject of addictions is shrouded in a certain amount of controversy these days. What do you think is the most common misconception about addictions?

MATÉ: Well, there are a number of things that people often don’t get. Many believe addictions are either a choice or some inherited disease. It’s neither. An addiction always serves a purpose in people’s lives: it gives comfort, a distraction from pain, a soothing of stress. If you look closely, you’ll always find that the addiction serves a valid purpose. Of course, it doesn’t serve this purpose effectively, but it serves a valid purpose.

PN: Lots of people believe that the term addiction has become too loosely applied. So what’s the difference between saying “I have an addiction” and “I have bad habits that give me short-term satisfaction, but don’t really serve me in the long term?”

MATÉ: The term addiction comes from a Latin word for a form of being enslaved. So if it has negative consequences, if you’ve lost control over it, if you crave it, if it serves a purpose in your life that you don’t otherwise know how to meet, you’ve got an addiction.

PN: Some people are critical of the term addiction because they believe it medicalizes and pathologizes behavior in a way that’s not helpful.

MATÉ: I don’t medicalize addiction. In fact, I’m saying the opposite of what the American Society of Addiction Medicine asserts in defining addiction as a primary brain disorder. In my view, an addiction is an attempt to solve a life problem, usually one involving emotional pain or stress. It arises out of an unresolved life problem that the individual has no positive solution for. Only secondarily does it begin to act like a disease.

PN: What’s lost by just thinking of addictions as bad habits?

MATÉ: It falls short of a full understanding of addiction. Let’s say a person has a bad habit of picking his nose in public. That’s a bad habit, right? Frequently scratching one’s genitals while giving a public talk would be regarded as a bad habit. But neither of these things is an addiction because nobody craves doing them, nor do they particularly get pleasure from them. They’re compulsive behaviors, perhaps, but if there’s no craving involved and no inability to give it up, there’s no addiction. Some bad habits aren’t addictions. But, for example, if somebody can’t stop having affairs, despite the negative consequences, that’s not just a bad habit.

PN: The notion of trauma is closely tied into your conception of addiction. Why is that?

MATÉ: If you start with the idea that addiction isn’t a primary disease, but an attempt to solve a problem, then you soon come to the question: how did the problem arise? If you say your addiction soothes your emotional pain, then the question arises of where the pain comes from. If the addiction gives you a sense of comfort, how did your discomfort arise? If your addiction gives you a sense of control or power, why do you lack control, agency, and power in your life? If it’s because you lack a meaningful sense of self, well, how did that happen? What happened to you? From there, we have to go to your childhood because that’s where the origins of emotional pain or loss of self or lack of agency most often lie. It’s just a logical, step-by-step inquiry. What’s the problem you’re trying to resolve? And then, how did you develop that problem? And then, what happened to you in childhood that you have this problem?

PN: Some people have challenged your belief that addiction is inevitably connected to trauma. Looking at the research, they say that most addicts weren’t traumatized, and most traumatized people don’t become addicts.

MATÉ: Then they’re not looking at the research. The largest population study concluded that nearly two-thirds of drug-injection use can be tied to abuse and traumatic childhood events. And that’s according to a relatively narrow definition of trauma. I never said that everybody who’s traumatized becomes addicted. But I do say that everybody who becomes addicted was traumatized. It’s an important distinction. Addiction isn’t the only outcome of trauma. If you look at the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, it clearly shows that the more trauma there is, the greater the risk for addiction, exponentially so. Of course, there are traumatized people who don’t become addicts. You know what happens to them? They develop depression or anxiety, or they develop autoimmune disease, or any number of other outcomes. Or if they’re fortunate enough and get enough support in life to overcome the trauma, then they might not develop anything at all.

When I give my talks across the world, it’s not unusual to have somebody stand up and say, “Well, you know, I had a perfectly happy childhood, and I became an addict.” It usually takes me three minutes of a conversation with a person like that to locate trauma in their history by simply asking a few basic questions.

PN: What are they?

MATÉ: Sometimes I ask if either parent drank and I hear, “Yeah, my dad was an alcoholic.” At that point, the whole audience gasps because everybody in the room gets that you can’t have a happy childhood with a father who’s an alcoholic. But the person can’t see that because they dealt with the pain of it all by dissociating and scattering their attention. Maybe they developed ADD or some other problem on the dissociative spectrum. They shut down their emotions, and now they’re no longer in touch with the pain that they would’ve experienced as a child. That’s an obvious one. Less obviously, I might ask about being bullied. And when a person says, “Yeah, I was bullied as a kid”—or just sometimes felt scared, or alone, or in emotional distress as a child—I ask to whom they spoke about such feelings. The answer is almost uniformly “nobody.” And that in itself is traumatic to a sensitive child.

So trauma can be understood in the sense of the Adverse Childhood Experiences criteria: emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, a parent dying, a parent being jailed, a parent being mentally ill, violence in the family, neglect, a divorce. Or it can be understood in the sense of relational trauma. That means you don’t have to be hit or physically abused. If the parents were stressed or distressed or distracted—if their own trauma got in the way of their attuning with the child—that’s enough to create the lack of sense of self in the child. Or it’s enough to interfere with the development of a healthy sense of self, and with normal brain development itself. This point must be emphasized: the physiology of the brain develops in interaction with the environment, the most important aspect of which, to cite a seminal article from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, is the mutual responsiveness of adult–child relationships.

PN: Recently, more and more attention is being devoted to expanding our conception of addiction to include behavioral addictions. What’s the difference between substance and behavioral addictions?

MATÉ: First, let’s look at what’s similar. The pattern of compulsive engagement in the behavior that one craves, finds temporary pleasure or relief in, but suffers negative consequences from—that’s similar across all addictions. Also, many of the behaviors around both kinds of addiction, such as denial, are similar. So workaholics will deny the effect of workaholism in their own life or the lives of their family members. There will often be subterfuge and dishonesty about the addiction. The sex addict isn’t going to be publicly talking about his addiction, or even acknowledging it. Shame is the common undercurrent in addiction, whatever the object of the addiction may be.

The other thing that’s common among all addictions has to do with brain circuits. I can’t overemphasize this. It doesn’t matter if you look at the brain of a fervent shopper or a cocaine addict: the same incentive and motivation circuits are activated, and the same brain chemicals are being secreted. In the case of the shopper or the gambler or the sexaholic, it’s dopamine. If the sexaholic was only after sex, the solution would be simple: marry another sexaholic. You could have all the sex that you wanted whenever you wanted it. But what is it really about? It’s about the hunt, the search, the excitement of the chase. And that has to do with the brain’s incentive and motivation circuitry, the nucleus accumbens and its projections to the cortex, and the availability of dopamine, which is also what cocaine and crystal meth and nicotine and caffeine elevate.

So what I’m saying is that on a biochemical and brain circuitry level, there’s no difference between behavioral and substance addictions—or more accurately, only a quantitative difference, not qualitative. It all has to do with the brain’s pleasure-reward centers, pain-relief circuitry, incentive-motivation circuitry, and impulse-regulation circuits. You know that it’s not good for you, but you can’t stop yourself. That’s the same thing in all addictions.

Finally, there’s the matter of poor stress regulation. When you ask people who have some addictive behavior, like gambling or sex or shopping, what induced them to go back to the behavior after having given it up for a while, they usually say something stressful happened—which means that their own stress-regulation circuitry isn’t fully developed. They have to try to regulate it externally. And that, too, is an artifact of childhood circumstances: these crucial circuits didn’t develop properly for lack of the right conditions.

PN: What’s the distinction between having addictions and OCD?

MATÉ: The person with OCD is compelled to perform some behavior, but finds it unpleasant to have to engage in it. It’s not egosyntonic. The person doesn’t like it. There’s no pleasure in it and no craving for it.

PN: And does their brain look different than the brain of an addicted person?

MATÉ: To really answer that, I’d have to look over the research more. But I suspect that, while there may be certain similarities, the pleasure-reward centers aren’t activated in the person with OCD. I think OCD is also rooted in trauma, a different manifestation of it than addiction, but rooted in it nonetheless.

In any case, the difference between the substance addict and the so-called process or behavior addict is that the substance addict relies on an external substance to create that change in the state of their brain, and the process addict can do so just through the behavior.

PN: In your books, you’re very disclosing about your own behavioral addiction to buying classical music, what you call the “dainty white gloves form” of behavioral addiction. Could you talk a little bit about that?

MATÉ: First of all, I appreciate you seeing the distinction. I wasn’t addicted to classical music; I was addicted to shopping for classical music. I love classical music; it’s one of my passions. But if I just loved classical music, then I could just buy it and stay home listening to it. I wouldn’t have to keep running back to the store to get more and more and more. It’s the shopping that gave me that dopamine hit I was looking for. And then, when I wasn’t doing it, I was craving acquiring it. You can love classical music without being addicted to shopping for classical music. So it’s the acquisition that was really the addiction—the process of the hunt, the chase, the thrill.

PN: How did that particular addiction take root in your life?

MATÉ: Interestingly enough, it began during a therapy seminar I was attending as a participant. They were playing some of Bach’s solo violin sonatas, which I wasn’t familiar with and loved listening to. And somebody said, “There’s a classical record store just a few blocks away from here.” I walked down to that store, and I was hooked. I started buying records, and then I had to keep going back over and over again. Then CDs came out, so I had to exchange all my records for CDs. I was lost for years. One week, I spent $8,000 on recordings. Obviously, there’s a reason why the music meant so much to me. What was I looking for? I was looking for spiritual meaning, for aesthetic beauty, for depth, for a sense of completion. These were all qualities lacking in my life. So that’s what I sought to receive through the music.

PN: A striking quality of your writing is how self-disclosing you are. Is that something that comes easily to you?

MATÉ: Once we get that there’s nothing personal about these patterns, self-disclosure is perfectly natural. As Eckhart Tolle says, the ego isn’t personal. Neither are the emotional and behavioral manifestations of trauma. So I’m not ashamed of anything I write about in my personal life. Sometimes people say, “How can you compare your addiction and yourself to the heroin-addicted, HIV-ridden, downtrodden people you’re working with?” But when I talk to my clients about my own addictive patterns, they just laugh and shake their heads and say, “Doc, I get it. You’re just like the rest of us.” They don’t balk and say, “How can you possibly make that comparison?” They realize that I get their experience. The differences between us are obvious. It’s the similarities that are interesting.

PN: In your latest book, you revealed that you still had an addiction to buying classical music. Is that still true?

MATÉ: No, I don’t do it compulsively any more. I’ve been to my favorite classical music store maybe twice this year. I bought just one or two discs each time, and haven’t gone back to get more. I do notice that when I’m down or stressed or something, my tendency to start thinking about it arises. But I’d definitely say that I don’t have an addictive relationship to the purchase of music anymore.

PN: What finally enabled you to overcome your addiction?

MATÉ: I finally got that I have all this beautiful music at home that could keep me busy for a long, long time. I got really tired of myself being that person who was that much in slavery to a habit. I think I developed a degree of disgust for that helpless need. I understood where it stemmed from, but it’d become more of a bane than a benefit.

Having said that, I still haven’t resolved the issue of workaholism in my life. In fact, I’m having to deal with that right now, because it’s creating issues in my personal life that I have to confront. Who am I if I’m not out there speaking, or doing therapy with people, or teaching or leading seminars, or even contemplating another book? Just who am I, period? And that question is at the core of dealing with addictions. Who are you, really? Who are you when you’re not in that state? To be totally honest, I haven’t resolved the issue of addiction in my life in general. So it could be that I just displaced it more into work.

PN: Clearly in your own life, you haven’t found any magical solutions to the problem of addictions. But looking at the wider field, what do we understand today about addiction treatment that we didn’t 10 or 20 years ago?

MATÉ: I’d say, in my own life, I’ve found more than a few solutions. What I’m dealing with now is acquiring presence on a higher level and anticipating broader possibilities than before. At the same time, you’re quite right. I know of no magic solutions. The work continues.

All we know about the advances in addiction treatment arises out of our understanding of trauma. People often think that trauma is the bad things that happen to someone: trauma is that you were sexually abused, or that you were beaten, or your parents abandoned you, or died, or something like that. But trauma is the internal impact, which is fundamentally a disconnection from the self and from our bodies and our gut feelings. And the trauma is the discomfort, the inability to be in the present moment because the present moment is too painful.

If, as I argue, addiction is rooted in trauma, then the treatment of addiction has to aim beyond just stopping the behavior. That’s where the addiction treatment falls down so miserably. Too often it’s all aimed at behavioral regulation or behavior reform, with the thought that if people stop the behavior, then they’re going to be okay. No, they’re not—and they won’t be fully okay until they deal with the fundamental issues. So the treatment has to aim at nothing less than the restoration of the individual to themselves and to their capacity to be with the present moment, whether the present moment is pleasant or not. That’s what’s too often missing from addiction treatment.

PN: Is there any evidence that our treatment approaches today are that much more effective in resolving addictions than they once were?

MATÉ: No. Our failure rate, the relapse rate, is miserable. The problem is that most addiction treatment programs don’t have a trauma-informed perspective—meaning that, for the most part, the research evidence they rely on is based on false assumptions. When it comes to trauma work, for example, if you take the specific example of EMDR, there are pretty good results showing that it helps resolve traumatic imprints, not in everybody, but in a lot of people. But much research ignores trauma. In any case, there’s no one-size-fits-all method, but any method worth its salt needs to be trauma-informed. And the basis for success in any method—whether it involves talk therapies, somatic work, EMDR, EFT, behavioral modification, anything—must be the quality, the compassionate underpinning, of the therapeutic relationship, or what’s aptly called the therapeutic alliance.

PN: What advice do you have for therapists trying to help people change their relationship with their digital devices?

MATÉ: What a lot of what people use the internet for is really about meeting their attachment needs. So on Facebook, what do people seek? They have “friends,” they “like” each other. These are attachment dynamics. And addiction in general is rooted in disturbed attachments in the first place. So whether people are using the internet to escape their emptiness, boredom, loneliness, emotional pain, lack of meaning, or lack of connection with others, of course there’s going to be internet addiction. It’s not new; it’s just a new outlet for the same dynamic.

The reality is that instead of the internet connecting people, which it could do, it often isolates them even more. So once more, we have to ask: what does the compulsive digital activity do for you? What about it satisfies you in the moment? And how do you lose that sense of excitement with life itself, that sense of connection, that the device (falsely) promises you? From what and why do you need to distract yourself? In short, what trauma are you wanting to soothe or escape from?


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Vietnam and the War on Drugs: What We Forget, We Repeat

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:25
History has shown the anti-war protesters to be on the right side of the argument.

I just finished watching the 18-hour documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novice on the Vietnam War. To call it an epic masterpiece is an understatement–to call it a definitive documentary on one of the most complex events in U.S. history is to commit the common sin of oversimplification. Nonetheless, I found the series extremely affecting–as a person who came of age and political consciousness during the era covered, it was a reminder of how much my worldview and life path was a response to all that was happening then.  What I will say, is that of all the documentaries I have watched on the Vietnam War era, this one was the most personal, the most human, the most balanced (despite an obvious U.S. bias) and the most accurate in providing historical facts.

When all is said and done, one is left with the ultimate futility of armed combat–aka WAR. The incredible loss of life, permanent injuries to individuals, families, and communities; the decimation of the physical environment and natural resources–just never seems worth it in the end. And I must add that the thing that pains me the most is the realization that in every war of the 20th century and continuing into the 21st century, civilian deaths outnumber military deaths by almost 10 to 1. In a war where the principal measure of success was body count, soldiers were incentivized to see every Vietnamese as a potential enemy and every dead one as an indicator of success.  As poignantly noted by the journalist, Joe Galloway, the Vietnam War "turned honorable men into liars" who felt compelled to dehumanize people so that they could kill them. As explained by Marine veteran, John Musgrave, he "wasn’t killing people, he was killing ‘gooks’. This was Racism 101: the necessity of turning people into objects to retain your sanity when you have children fighting wars."

In between my tears, I began reflecting on the parallels between the Vietnam War and the War on Drugs (which ironically was initiated just as the Vietnam War was ending). The initial U.S. involvement in Vietnam was in support of French desire to maintain it's colonial power in Vietnam. After the French army was defeated, the U.S. betrayed its agreement with Ho Chi Minh to hold democratic elections in favor of supporting the corrupt despot Diem. The U.S. public was deceived into believing Ho Chi Minh was not a nationalist seeking independence for his country, but instead solely a communist and implacable foe of America. The tens of thousands of men and women who volunteered to serve in Vietnam believed they were engaged in a fight against communism in support of freedom and democracy. Similarly, the U.S. public was deceived into believing that drug abuse was the country's biggest public safety threat and that a 'war on drugs' was the best approach, because after all, the U.S. always wins...but in declaring a ‘war on drugs’ the government was declaring war on its own citizens in much the same way the Vietnam War seemed to require the U.S. military to destroy villages in order to save them.

Yet the Vietnam War was not winnable, in much the same way as the war on drugs is not winnable. As President Lyndon Baines Johnson admitted to an aide in 1965, “there ain’t no daylight in Vietnam." Yet he couldn't admit mistakes in judgment or defeat in battle, so he and his administration engaged in a campaign of deliberate public deception. As noted in the Burns/Novick documentary, the CIA broke down the motivation behind the government's continued involvement in Vietnam: 70 percent to avoid humiliation; 20 percent to contain communism; 10 percent to help Vietnamese. I estimate much the same could be said about the federal government's motivation to retain what are admittedly disastrous drug policies, even with respect to marijuana: 70 percent to avoid humiliation (can't admit they were wrong); 20 percent to reduce drug-related crime; 10 percent to help people struggling with addiction.

The most striking parallel between the two wars is the disastrous results of the adoption of the wrong set of metrics for success. As noted by one of the Vietnam War commentators: "when you can't count what's important, you make what you can count important." In Vietnam, the principal metric was body count–how many of the enemy were killed and/or wounded in any given action, with the goal of reaching what was termed the "crossover point" where the number killed was higher than the enemy's ability to replace them. In the drug war the primary metrics are arrests and/or drugs seized, motivating police to make every arrestee a drug user and/or seller and incentivizing them to rack up large numbers of arrests by targeting vulnerable people indiscriminately or by misrepresentation–aka "juking the numbers" of arrests. In the theater of war–especially guerrilla warfare–soldiers are taught that anyone can be an enemy–any age or gender.  Consequently, in Vietnam everyone was suspect until proved otherwise.  Failure to assist in the search for the enemy made you the enemy, much the same way that drug conspiracy laws work today.  Mothers, daughters, grandmothers, and cousins were routinely arrested, tortured and sometimes killed as co-conspirators in a war they just wanted to avoid. The routine destruction of entire villages and the livelihood derived within was considered collateral damage of the war, much the same way we view as collateral damage police looting under the guise of "civil asset forfeiture laws" and denial of basic civil rights–including the right to employment–to persons convicted of drug offenses. Today entire families may find themselves targeted by prosecutors who've been instructed by this administration to aggressively use drug conspiracy laws to win convictions and impose maximum terms of imprisonment.

The intense focus on increasing the body count and/or "kill ratio," led some soldiers to engage in atrocities and wanton acts of violence that cast a shadow on all U.S. military personnel in much the same way that the money and violence endemic with the drug trade has provided cover for bad police to hide corruption and shelter brutality against the people they're charged with protecting. In both cases, the lack of accountability for such behavior led to widespread community disdain and distrust.

Finally, the parallels in the government's response to dissent are alarming. The anti-war movement grew out of the civil rights movement. Many of the students that had traveled south to participate in the civil rights struggle began to see the relationship between racial justice and pacifism–opposing unjust wars. Many civil rights activists also understood that the cost of the ongoing Vietnam conflict threatened to undermine the government's ability to wage the domestic "war on poverty." As opposition to the war grew, the anti-war movement was increasingly demonized along with the press. LBJ claimed journalist Morley Safer had ‘defaced the American flag and given support to the enemy” when he reported accurately what was happening with the war.  Safer’s interviews with soldiers revealed their routine dehumanization of the Vietnamese people similar to the dehumanization of black men, women, and children we've witnessed by some current members of law enforcement. Johnson referred to Safer’s employer–CBS–as the Communist Broadcasting System–sound familiar? 

The Vietnam War era saw the increasing militarization of local police in response to dissent by protesters. The scenes of clashes between police and anti-war protesters outside the Democratic convention in Chicago in August, 1968 evoked recent memories of Ferguson and Baltimore. Then, as now, these clashes generate public fear and dismay over the level of anger and violence expressed and for revealing just how deep our divides are. The political divide over the Vietnam War and racial justice led directly to the election of Richard Nixon, who promised to restore "law and order" on behalf of the "silent majority" of Americans not represented by the protestors and counterculture who he defined as the “real Americans." Despite Nixon's election and promises, the war and the protests continued. Hardliners saw the protestors as subversive dissidents that had to be suppressed with maximum force–and called in the national guard. This often just inflamed emotions on both sides, most tragically on the campus of Kent State in Ohio, where four students were killed when police opened fire against unarmed students when they refused to disperse. The level of political polarization over the war is revealed by the fact that despite the deaths of unarmed students, polls showed the majority of Americans supported the actions of police and believed the killings justified.  Middle America accepted the narrative that anti-war protesters were unpatriotic, dishonoring the country's history and legacy–ungrateful for the benefits the U.S. had given them. After all, if you're proud to be an American, you should be willing to die for the honor–"America, love it or leave it" was their rallying cry–many draft-eligible men responded by leaving–for Canada and other parts unknown...

One of the more important aspects of the Burns/Novick Vietnam documentary is that it gave voice and honor to all sides. I cried for the young Americans that needlessly died in the war and I cried for the young Vietnamese that needlessly died in the war. I understood and appreciated the courage it took to go and fight for your country in some far off land on behalf of a principle that you believed in and I understood and appreciated the courage it took to protest your country's involvement in war on behalf of a principle you believed in. Ideally, the mark of a free society is the ability to accommodate and honor both points of view. Today, we’re engaged in a societal debate about the legitimacy of the “war on drugs." Attorney General Sessions seems to believe the major problem with the ‘war on drugs’ is that we’ve haven’t fought it hard enough. In that he resembles Gen. Westmoreland, who remained convinced the Vietnam War could be won if we committed more troops, more firepower and increased the kill ratio. Like Westmoreland, Sessions wants more drug arrests and convictions, more drug offenders imprisoned for even longer periods of time. Others believe this is a failed strategy, that we can never arrest our way out of the problem and attempting to do so causes needless harm to individuals, families, and communities.

Ultimately, history has shown the anti-war protesters to be on the right side of the argument. There was a point where the movement shifted from one protesting U.S. involvement in Vietnam to a movement committed to ending U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. I wonder if we've reached that point in the movement against the 'war on drugs'. Are we committed to more than protesting what's wrong with the drug war–pointing out all the harm it is doing to individuals and communities? Are we committed to ending drug prohibition? If so, what does that movement look like? What are its tactics and measures of success? More importantly, like those who fought to end the Vietnam War–what price are we willing to pay to win?

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Paul Krugman: Is Trump About to Tank the U.S. Economy?

Fri, 2017-10-20 12:04
The New York Times columnist assesses the dangers of ripping up NAFTA.

Paul Krugman is the first to admit that the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement has not been all it was cracked up to be. When the deal was struck in 1994, its proponents argued NAFTA would prove a boon to Mexico's economy and allow the United States to run up a huge surpus. More than 20 years later, it has accomplished neither, while U.S. manufacturing finds itself in steep decline. For better or worse, the economist writes, "We now live in a North American economy built around the reality of free trade."

Unfortunately, Donald Trump has never had much interest in reality.

In his latest column for the New York Times, Krugman warns what might happen if the president were to tear up NAFTA in a fit of pique. And given Trump's recent sabotage of the Affordable Care Act, he believes it's a distinct possibility.

"Breaking up or degrading NAFTA would have the same disruptive effects that came from NAFTA's creation," he writes. "Plants would close, jobs would disappear, communities would lose their livelihoods. And, yes, many businesses, small, large and in some cases huge, would lose many billions of dollars."

Trump has already threatened to exit the agreement if its terms are not renegotiated, and the demands he's made thus far—that the deal be revisted every five years, and businesses be denied the ability to appeal government orders—are unlikely to prove acceptable to Mexico and Canada. Indeed, they defeat the very purpose of the pact.

"NAFTA, then, is at real risk," Krugman concludes. "And if it does get destroyed, the only question is whether the consequences will be ugly, or extremely ugly."

Read Paul Krugman's column at the New York Times.

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Does John Kelly Have Even an Ounce of Shame?

Fri, 2017-10-20 11:40
The White House attacks a congresswoman—and proves he's as devoid of empathy as his boss.

Ever since Donald Trump was asked about his curious delay in commenting on the deaths of four servicemen in Niger and, instead of answering, began to brag about how he was the only president to call all the families of fallen soldiers, this ugly story has been festering. Once again, Trump's reflexive self-aggrandizement to cover up for his failures has gotten him into trouble.

First of all, other presidents have of course called families of the fallen and have made many other gestures of sympathy and care. It was a low blow to try to tar his predecessors as failing to honor the war dead. Needless to say, the moment he made the claim that he alone called all the families, reporters went out and started asking and it turned out he hadn't done that either.

After making that ignoble boast, Trump went on a radio show and said that someone should ask John Kelly, the former Marine general who is now his chief of staff, whether President Obama had called him after his son was killed in Afghanistan, which obviously meant that was where he'd heard that Obama fell down on the job. The White House later confirmed this.

Evidently, this spurred Trump to finally call Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the soldiers killed in Niger, while she was on the way to meet the coffin at the airport. He behaved like a boor because he doesn't know how to act any other way. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who was accompanying the family to carry out this terrible duty, complained publicly about Trump's insensitive comments which the fallen soldier's mother confirmed. Instead of taking the mature and dignified course and simply apologizing for being inartful with his words, President Trump called everyone a liar and sent out one of "his generals" to clean up his mess.

Kelly has a distinguished record in the Marine Corps and is himself a Gold Star father who lost a son in Afghanistan. I don't think anyone in the country disrespects either of those things. But he is no longer in uniform and has willingly become a partisan political player working for a contemptible leader. When he decided to use his stature and experience to bail out his boss for making a hash of what he calls a sacred issue on Thursday, he sold his own reputation cheaply.

He went before the press and confirmed that Obama hadn't called him, but said he didn't see this as a negative thing. He wondered how any president can properly express himself if he's never been through the ordeal of losing a child, trying to elicit sympathy for poor Donald Trump and the burden he bears. But most presidents read a book or two about former administrations, they reach out to the living ex-presidents for insight or they just generally give a damn about aspects of the job other than holding rallies and watching "Fox & Friends." But this is Trump: He doesn't read and he doesn't ask for or take advice. He's not like any other president in our history.

After delivering what seemed to be a sincere disquisition on the way members of the military and their families face this tragedy, Kelly abruptly went on the attack, accusing everyone but his boss of lowering the discourse and destroying everything that's traditionally sacred in our society.

Kelly said that women were formerly considered sacred and implied that Khizr and Ghazala Khan and his wife had degraded the sacredness of the Gold Star family by appearing at the Democratic convention, conveniently ignoring the fact that the man he's working for is an admitted sexual predator who mercilessly attacked that Gold Star family. (He didn't mention that POWs used to be held sacred as well, or that his boss says he "prefers people who aren't captured.")  He angrily decried the politicization of the war dead, although it was his own boss who politicized a simple question about a military mission that nobody wants to talk about by attacking his predecessors' approach to dealing with this sacred duty.

Then Kelly went for the jugular and brutally attacked Rep. Wilson for "eavesdropping" on the conversation between the president and Sgt. Johnson's wife. Apparently he hadn't bothered to read anything about the incident or he would have known that the call was on a speakerphone in the car and the exchange was confirmed by others who heard it. Had he looked into it, he would also have found out that Wilson, a former educator, is a good friend of the family and ran a program Johnson attended called the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, for youths pursuing military careers.

Not that any of that matters. It was apparently decided in the White House ahead of time that the best way to protect the boss was to smear Rep. Wilson. Kelly carried out the order with relish, even though its premise was a lie.

Just like his boss, the president, Kelly never once uttered the name of Sgt. La David Johnson or his pregnant widow, Myeshia.

Much of the mainstream press was predictably breathless over Kelly's forceful performance. Interestingly, many of the military commentators were not as impressed, correctly observing that it was Trump and Kelly who were politicizing the fallen. And the president just kept going:

The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2017

Chuck Todd said on "Meet the Press Daily" that people heard what they wanted to hear from the reports of Trump's calls, suggesting that if you liked Trump you understood his reported comment, "He knew what he signed up for," as a sign of empathy and caring. I have no doubt that's true. His fans always give him the benefit of the doubt. For the rest of us it's not that simple, since Trump is a compulsive liar who has never shown empathy toward anyone but himself. As George W. Bush famously said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me ... won't get fooled again."

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Report: Sean Hannity's Attacks on the Press Are Concerning Colleague Chris Wallace

Fri, 2017-10-20 11:32
Wallace is starting to fight back.

According to a recent article by The Associated Press, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace is put off by his colleagues' support for President Donald Trump’s attacks on the press. As the AP notes, it’s not hard to extrapolate that one of the hosts Wallace is upset with is Sean Hannity, who “is the president’s fiercest defender on Fox,” and often references the “destroy Trump media” and “fake news” in his campaign to delegitimize the press for the sake of defending Trump.

In the October 19 article, the AP reported that Wallace takes issue with the way many of his Fox colleagues attack the press, noting that while Wallace “doesn't call out press-bashing colleagues by name,” “it's no secret that prime-time star Sean Hannity is the president’s fiercest defender on Fox.” Citing a Media Matters study on Hannity’s authoritarian approach to defending Trump, the AP explained that “Hannity criticized the press in 90 percent of his monologues from May 15 to Sept. 1, according to the liberal media watchdogs Media Matters for America, and used the term ‘fake news’ 67 times.”

The AP’s reporting shows that even Hannity’s colleagues are starting to get fed up with his sycophancy and propaganda, and for that reason and many others, Media Matters has been taking action to address and highlight Hannity’s toxic distortion of reality.

From the October 19 Associated Press article:

Sunday host Chris Wallace generally lives in peaceful co-existence with Fox News Channel's opinion folks, except when he hears some of them echo President Donald Trump's criticism of the news media.

Fake news? He's fighting back.

"It bothers me," Wallace said in an interview. "If they want to say they like Trump, or that they're upset with the Democrats, that's fine. That's opinion. That's what they do for a living.

"I don't like them bashing the media, because oftentimes what they're bashing is stuff that we on the news side are doing. I don't think they recognize that they have a role at Fox News and we have a role at Fox News. I don't know what's in their head. I just think it's bad form."


He doesn't call out press-bashing colleagues by name. It's no secret that prime-time star Sean Hannity is the president's fiercest defender on Fox, with frequent references to the "destroy Trump media." Hannity criticized the press in 90 percent of his monologues from May 15 to Sept. 1, according to the liberal media watchdogs Media Matters for America, and used the term "fake news" 67 times. [The New York Times10/19/17]

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Fox News' Pro-Trump 'War Hero' Admits He Completely Fabricated His Service—Purple Hearts and All

Fri, 2017-10-20 11:20
The network has since retracted the fake news story.

A pro-Trump Navy veteran who appeared on Fox News earlier this month has admitted that he lied about his service — including a completely false claim that he received two Purple Hearts.

The Military Times reports that John Garofalo, who appeared on Fox on October 8 to both praise President Donald Trump and to boast about his own service record, completely fabricated most of the details of his service.

Among other things, Garofalo falsely claimed that he was a Navy SEAL, that he received two Purple Hearts, and that he served in Vietnam.

“Records show Garofalo did serve in the Navy from Sept. 6, 1963, to Sept. 6, 1967, as an aviation boatswain’s mate ― aircraft handling, or ABH, a job that involves overseeing various ground-based functions involving aircraft,” the Military Times reports. “The closest he ever got to Vietnam was a tour in Rota, Spain.”

When contacted by the publication, Garofalo admitted to making up stories about his service, and he apologized to the Navy SEALs for lying about being one of them.

“What I did I‘m ashamed of, and I didn’t mean to cause so much disgrace to the SEALs,” he said.

Fox News has since retracted its story about Garofalo and has issued a correction.


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A Texas City Will Only Give Out Hurricane Harvey Relief to Residents Who Swear Not to Boycott Israel

Fri, 2017-10-20 11:16
Texas is one of multiple states in violation of the First Amendment.

Dickinson, TX has opened up its application for city aid relief for some Hurricane Harvey victims, but not for all. Residents seeking repairs and renovations because of Harvey damage may not be able to get the aid they’re looking for if they also support a boycott of Israel, or may support one in the future. 

In the four-page long Hurricane Harvey Repair Grant Application and Agreement, Item #11 of the agreement states, “Verification not to Boycott Israel. By executing this Agreement below, the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.”

The component of this agreement was highlighted Thursday in a Facebook post by the organization Jewish Voice for Peace.

“Disaster relief is being denied to those who use nonviolent tactics to support Palestinian human rights,” Rabbi Joseph Berman, JVP’s Government Affairs Liaison said. “This is outrageous. This is unconstitutional. This is Trump’s America.”

The condition of the aid application was also circulating on Twitter. Palestine Legal tweeted:

This is straight out of McCarthy's America. It's wrong to target human rights activists. And it's unconstitutional.

— Palestine Legal (@pal_legal) October 19, 2017

This May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a piece of legislation, H.B. No. 89, also referred to as “anti-BDS” legislation, or the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The legislation “prohibits all state agencies from contracting with, and certain public funds from investing in, companies that boycott Israel.”

Dickinson city attorney David Olson told ABC13 Eyewitness News that the wording in the application was following the law.

Pieces of legislation like this have been appearing in multiple states, including Kansas. The ACLU is currently representing a Kansas teacher on the grounds that the legislation violates the First Amendment. The ACLU released a statement Thursday about the situation in Dickinson.

“The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to boycott, and the government cannot condition hurricane relief or any other public benefit on a commitment to refrain from protected political expression,” ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura said in the statement. “Dickinson’s requirement is an egregious violation of the First Amendment, reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths requiring Americans to disavow membership in the Communist party and other forms of ‘subversive’ activity.”

City secretary Alun Thomas did not return a request for comment by AlterNet.

This video, shot by CNBC videographer Jerry Miller shows the extent of the damage in Dickinson


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Lawrence O'Donnell Dismantles John Kelly's Disgraceful New Defense of Donald Trump

Fri, 2017-10-20 11:08
The MSNBC host was beside himself after Thursday's press conference.

Late Thursday night, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell brought the hammer down on White House Chief of Staff John Kelly for attacking a black lawmaker from Florida who has been standing up for the family of a fallen soldier.

In the nearly 20 minute attack on Kelly, the MSNBC host excoriated President Donald Trump’s chief of staff for calling Rep. Frederika Wilson (D-FL) an ’empty barrel,” while at the same time praising Trump for his bravery.

Noting that Kelly was providing cover for Trump’s botched phone call to the widow of a soldier killed in Niger, O’Donnell pointed out that Kelly showed empathy for the family of a military family he couldn’t bring himself to say anything good about a congresswoman who was consoling a constituent.

‘He showed no empathy at all for her,” O’Donnell explained. “he talked about her a lot. He talked about her more than he talked about the president or his sons. And he never mentioned her name. He called her an ’empty barrel.’ He dehumanized her. In fact, from start to finish, John Kelly’s comments in the briefing room today were essentially a lecture about his moral superiority over her and Donald Trump’s moral superiority over her.”

“I was stunned,” he continued. "Stunned when I watched him dehumanize her and very deliberately continued to dehumanize her and refuse to give her the dignity of a name and call her an empty barrel. He went out if his way to do it.”

O’Donnell then turned his focus on Trump, all but calling him a coward after Kelly stated the president was “brave”.

“There are many words you can use for President Trump,” the MSNBC host asserted. “The word brave has absolutely no application in the same sentence with the word ‘Trump.’ And it dishonors any other use of the word brave that you might like to make if you use that word to describe Donald Trump.”

“It was especially stunning coming from a military man who knows what brave is,” he lectured. “Coming from a military man who has lived that bravery himself — has risked his won life. Whose sons have served and lived that bravery. It was especially stunning for that word about Donald Trump — ‘brave.'”

You can watch the video below via MSNBC:

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Sexual Harassment Prevention Used to Target Abuses of Power Like Harvey Weinstein—What Changed?

Fri, 2017-10-20 11:04
Today's watered-down sexual harassment training is more about social faux pas than inequality in the workplace.

When accounts of Harvey Weinstein’s harassment emerged, they reminded me of vignettes from harassment videos made by professional human resources trainers in the 1980s and 1990s.

A female employee would be invited to some nonwork location on a professional pretext (here, Weinstein’s hotel suite). Then the man would proposition the employee, and the woman would try to escape. The similarity to Weinstein’s alleged misdeeds end there, however, as harassment training generally wouldn’t depict actual sexual assault or a man emerging naked from the bathroom.

While these early harassment videos for the most part feel very dated, particularly in terms of the roles women tended to occupy, they actually offered a more complex depiction of sexual harassment than we see in current HR training sessions. Steeped in an environment of overt subordination, the older videos understood that sexual harassment, first and foremost, was an abuse of power that limited women’s employment opportunities in the workplace. Newer training, not so much.

Likewise, the accusations swirling around Weinstein risk morphing into just another tawdry sex scandal, rather than an indictment of the discriminatory Hollywood employment practices they represent.

I recently completed a study examining the content of harassment training programs from 1980 to 2016, which hadn’t previously been the subject of scholarly research. Older training materials are a reminder that harassment – like the Weinstein scandal itself – isn’t about sex so much as discrimination, inequality and power.

Vignette from 1981 training video entitled ‘The Power Pinch.’

Sexual harassment and power

The harassment training industry got its start in the early 1980s in response to guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The EEOC took its inspiration not from case law but an influential book by scholar Catharine McKinnon that recounted how sex was used to subordinate women in the workplace. The EEOC thus defined harassment in terms of sexual conduct, referring specifically to “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” It argued such advances were unlawful when used to make employment decisions or when they unreasonably interfered with an employee’s work performance.

My study compared a small collection of 18 historical harassment videos and other training materials found in libraries to 56 more recent examples collected from law firms, professional trainers and public sources. I included the older methods as a baseline of sorts to understand why current practices look and feel the way they do.

Because the early materials were structured around EEOC definitions, they were all about sexual harassment and tended not to address other types, like racial or religious harassment.

In these early videos and other documents, sex and power were closely intertwined. Women were depicted answering the phone for important men who viewed them only in terms of their appearance.

A training video from 1993.

This may be why the Weinstein story seemed familiar to me – it takes place within an industry where white men largely still control the levers of power, and everyone else is subordinate or invisible.

Early training videos portrayed sexual demands as a tax levied primarily on women in lower-level positions. Similarly, in Weinstein’s orbit, a talented male actor could get a part simply through casting. Women, meanwhile, had to pay extra.

Early training practices also understood that harassment does not require sexual attraction. It can just be another tool to exclude and marginalize. One early trainer described such behavior as a “malicious power play” where “on the surface, the behavior is about sex but the real behavior is anger, fear and power struggles.”

This too resonates with the Hollywood of today. Actor Terry Crews, who is African-American, recently reported that he was groped by an unnamed executive at an industry function.

The meaning of the assault was plain enough. This room is mine. You don’t belong.

Today it’s about civility, not rights

Many topics covered in the earliest harassment training are still covered today.

Current training continues to devote a disproportionate amount of content and attention to sexual conduct, even as the Supreme Court has moved away from the original EEOC definition and litigation has shifted to other types of harassment, such as race and religion.

Current training methods also frame sexual conduct differently. They lack the rights-based subtext that animated earlier practices. They still depict supervisors hitting on subordinates. But they also portray milder conduct that may not meet legal definitions of harassment, like marginally offensive compliments from the delivery guy.

Guys discuss a co-worker’s social media in a recent harassment training.

Today, harassment is seen as less about rights and more about civility. Violating the company’s harassment policy is portrayed as a stigmatizing faux pas, like wearing cargo shorts to a court appearance or farting in an elevator. It might have seemed like a fun idea at the time, but you really should have known better.

In decoupling sex from equality, trainers somehow forgot the equality part and now rarely emphasize that the animating principle behind harassment law is to secure equal employment opportunity in the workplace. They remind employees not to make sexual or race-based comments at networking events but omit the importance of including women or people of color at the events in the first place.

As Yale Law professor Vicky Schultz argues, employers like to focus on sexual conduct because it’s convenient. It’s far easier to prohibit dirty jokes than to grapple with the complex barriers that women and other underrepresented groups face in the workplace.

Losing harassment in the sex

Hollywood’s condemnation of Weinstein was swift. He was fired from his own company and booted from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which issued a statement saying that the “the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.”

It was the right thing to do. But the academy’s promise not to be complicit in harassment is a low bar indeed. It does nothing to address the employment practices that led to an industry largely controlled by white men.

Like modern harassment training, it’s just too tempting to address the easy problem at the expense of the harder problem and the bigger picture. Hollywood is an industry where women make up only 7 percent of directors on the largest films. Where Asian actors like Aziz Ansari and John Cho are asked to play stereotyped ethnic roles with an accent. Where “Breaking Bad” actor Giancarlo Esposito was turned down from scheduled auditions when casting directors discovered he was black.

This ultimately relates back to Weinstein, who would not have been able to do what he did, for as long as he did, in a Hollywood where opportunities are more fairly distributed among those with compelling stories to tell.

This article has been updated to correct the name of the organization that ejected Harvey Weinstein from its ranks.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.



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