Ken Starr makes irony look easy


My hands are clean…

❝ On CNN’s “New Day” Friday morning, former independent counsel Ken Starr raised questions about whether current special counsel Bob Mueller might be over-stepping the bounds of his mandate in investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

❝ Here’s the key part:

“I think the gravamen of the original complaint was, was there collusion, to the extent you’re moving beyond collusion with Russian operatives or Russian interests or the Russian government itself, and into that which doesn’t seem to have a direct tie to Russia, then these questions are in fact raised. It becomes a litigable question that people are going to sidewalk about and disagree about it. I don’t think it’s clear one way or the other, but i do think it is a certainly a serious matter.”

❝ First of all, Ken Starr is the most prominent — and controversial — independent counsel ever. If you asked a person on the street to name an independent counsel not named Bob Mueller, Ken Starr would be the only one anyone would come up with…

Second, Starr is the reason that all presidents — Trump included — are extremely leery of independent or special prosecutors. He is the definitional example of an investigation starting small and growing huge.

❝ Remember that Starr took over the Whitewater investigation, an examination into an Arkansas land deal gone bad, in 1994. By the time Starr released the eponymous report of his findings on Sept. 11, 1998, his investigation had turned its focus to Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair with a White House intern. It took four years and cost roughly $40 million.

While Starr succeeded in initiating Clinton’s impeachment, he also knew [or should have] it wasn’t going to succeed. But, he managed to waste even more taxpayer dollar$ on his crusade against the Clintons. Fact-based legal decisions sometimes seem as rare as Trump keeping promises.

Bipartisan [remember that?] bill, written by a Democrat [imagine that?] restricting Trump’s ability to wage war OK’d by House committee


Click to enlargeAP/Andrew Harnik

❝ A House committee has earned a rare bipartisan round of applause for beginning to roll back the US president’s ability to wage war.

❝ The House Appropriations Committee recently approved an amendment to revoke the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which allows the president to undertake war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates without Congressional approval. The law, passed shortly after the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001, has been used to approve conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

The new amendment, introduced by Democratic Representative Barbara Lee, would sunset these presidential powers eight weeks after Congress passes the 2018 defence spending budget. The appropriations committee has sent the budget to the House floor for a vote.

❝ A visibly surprised Ms Lee welcomed the addition of the amendment on Thursday, condemning the AUMF as “a blank check to wage war anywhere, at any time, and for any length”.

The AUMF has been used to justify military action more than 37 times in 14 countries since 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service…

❝ “This issue is more urgent given the erratic behaviour and inexperience of our current Commander-in-Chief,” Ms Lee said. “No president should have a blank check for endless war, least of all President Donald Trump.”

Members of Congress were falling over each other to pass this bill in 2001 – excepting Barbara Lee, the sole vote against its passage. She understood and declared the foolishness of a bill so broad and unchecked it would be used [and was] by any president for any war they wished for.

I wish her well trying to shepherd her sanity through the rest of a Congress notable for cowardice and capitulation to religion, bigotry and corporate pimps. I compliment the members of the House Appropriations Committee for doing exactly what they are chartered to do.

Two Common Medications = One $455 Million Specialty Pill

❝ Everything happened so fast as I walked out of the doctor’s exam room. I was tucking in my shirt and wondering if I’d asked all my questions about my injured shoulder when one of the doctor’s assistants handed me two small boxes of pills.

“These will hold you over until your prescription arrives in the mail,” she said, pointing to the drug samples…

“Don’t worry,” she said. “It won’t cost you any more than $10.”

❝ …As an investigative reporter who has covered health care for more than a decade, the interaction was just the sort of thing to pique my interest. One thing I’ve learned is that almost nothing in medicine — especially brand-name drugs — is ever really a deal. When I got home, I looked up the drug: Vimovo.

❝ The drug has been controversial, to say the least. Vimovo was created using two readily and cheaply available generic, or over-the-counter, medicines: naproxen, also known by the brand Aleve, and esomeprazole magnesium, also known as Nexium. The Aleve handles your pain and the Nexium helps with the upset stomach that’s sometimes caused by the pain reliever. The key selling point of this new “convenience drug”? It’s easier to take one pill than two.

❝ Of course I also did the math. You can walk into your local drugstore and buy a month’s supply of Aleve and Nexium for about $40. For Vimovo, the pharmacy billed my insurance company $3,252. This doesn’t mean the drug company ultimately gets paid that much. The pharmaceutical world is rife with rebates and side deals — all designed to elbow ahead of the competition. But apparently the price of convenience comes at a steep mark-up…

❝ So if Vimovo is the Goober of drugs, then why have Americans been spending so much on it? My insurance company, smartly, rejected the pharmacy’s claim. But I knew Vimovo’s makers weren’t wooing doctors like mine for nothing. So I looked up the annual reports for the Ireland-based company, Horizon Pharma, which makes Vimovo. Since 2014, Vimovo’s net sales have been more than $455 million. That means a lot of insurers are paying way more than they should for their Goober.

And Vimovo wasn’t Horizon’s only such drug. It has brought in an additional $465 million in net sales from Duexis, a similar convenience drug that combines ibuprofen and famotidine, AKA Advil and Pepcid…

❝ “It’s a scam,” said Devon Herrick, a health care economist with the National Center for Policy Analysis. “It is just a way to gouge insurance companies or employer health care plans.”

RTFA for the marketing games Big Pharma plays with doctors and patients, insurance companies and health care plans. Capitalism is filled with creepy companies; but, I have to say – few are greedier than Pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Thanks, Helen

Here’s Canadian PM’s Plan to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

❝ Canada is advancing plans to become the first G7 nation to legalize recreational marijuana nationally, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is keeping key details hazy and allowing arrests to continue while parliament debates his plan.

Trudeau’s justice minister introduced proposed laws Thursday in the Ottawa legislature that set a minimum consumption age of 18, with individual provinces allowed to raise it as they see fit. Rules on retail sales will also be left to the provinces, with the government targeting legalization by July 2018 for a market analysts estimate to reach US$4.5 billion by 2021.

❝ Under the bills, possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis would be allowed, and up to four plants can be grown per residence. Exports of marijuana will remain a serious criminal offense and a new penalty for those convicted of impaired driving will be imposed. Details on prices, licensing fees and taxes will be announced in coming months.

The government’s aim is “putting drug dealers and organized crime out of the cannabis business,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in a statement accompanying the legislation. “It will allow law enforcement to focus on other serious offences, including the distribution of cannabis to children and youth and driving under the influence of drugs.”…

❝ Trudeau’s proposal — expanding on medical marijuana, which is already legal in Canada — is expected to spur merger activity and insiders…are already taking profits. The governing Liberals have a majority in the House of Commons that will all but guarantee the legislation’s passage. The country’s Senate typically rubber-stamps legislation, though has grown more unpredictable since measures by Trudeau boosted its independence.

All the usual phonies are whining. Nothing new. Same sort of unreal, anti-science, crap promoted by pharmaceutical manufacturers who see diminishing profits in all the US states which have already gone through this process. Still, it will be a big step forward for a G7 nation. Pointing out the silliness and hypocrisy of the rest of that political establishment.

Support for legal cannabis in the United States surged in 2016


Click to enlarge

Public support for marijuana legalization surged in 2016, according to data just released from the General Social Survey.

Last year 57 percent of Americans told the survey’s pollsters that they “think the use of marijuana should be legal,” up from 52 percent in 2014.

❝ The numbers from the General Social Survey — a large nationwide survey conducted every two years and widely considered to represent the gold standard for public opinion research — comport with other national surveys last year, which found support ranging from the upper 50s to low 60s.

But the survey indicates two significant fault lines when it comes to marijuana policy: age and political party. Fully two-thirds of respondents ages 18 to 34 supported legalization in the survey, as well as majorities of those ages 35 to 49 and 50 to 64. But seniors 65 and older stood apart, with only 42 percent supporting legalization.

Lots of my peers really are chickenshit about entering the 21st Century.

❝ Breaking the numbers down by political affiliation tells a slightly different story. In the early 2000s, opposition to marijuana legalization was more or less a bipartisan issue. Only 29 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of Republicans voiced support for legal weed in 2000…

Since then, support for legalization among Democrats and independents has risen much faster than among Republicans. In 2016, more than 60 percent of the former two groups supported legal marijuana. Among Republicans support stood at only 40 percent, a gap of more than 20 percentage points between Democrats and independents on the one hand, and Republicans on the other.

❝ …With victories for legalization in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts last year, roughly 1-in-5 Americans will soon have access to legal marijuana in their home states…But many lawmakers and law enforcement groups remain resolutely opposed to legalization. In Massachusetts, one of the most reliably Democratic states in the nation, lawmakers lobbied strongly against last fall’s voter-approved ballot initiative, and have been working since then to delay implementation of the measure. Similar efforts are underfoot in nearby Maine…

Ayup. Our lawmakers tend to be better at foot-dragging [knuckle-dragging?] than providing leadership.

❝ Meanwhile, Canadian lawmakers are expected to formally announce that nationwide marijuana legalization will be implemented by July of 2018, meaning that for Americans in northern border states, a legal pot fix is just a crossing away.

Mentally-Disturbed Copper Sheds Light On His Problem

An NYPD detective was arrested Sunday for fondling himself in front of the windows of Long Island homes…

Detective Robert Francis was arrested after one homeowner in Rockville Centre called 911 to report that a man was standing in the back yard masturbating…

Francis allegedly entered the back yards of more than one home and shined a flashlight inside until he got someone’s attention. Then, as the person was looking at him, Francis shined the light on himself to show he was fondling himself…

Police arrested Francis around 2:30 a.m. and charged him with public lewdness, endangering the welfare of a child and trespassing. It was not clear how many homes he allegedly targeted.

Whatever Detective Francis’ problem may be – hopefully he gets some treatment now. But, yes, I admit that – especially since no one was injured – it makes for a weird news item.

Border Patrol Easing Lie Detector Exams To Boost Hiring

❝ For the past three years, the U.S. Border Patrol has been using recruitment videos and job fairs to fill a gap in its ranks. It’s the largest law enforcement agency in the country but is still shy nearly 2,000 people from a target of 21,000.

That was the case even before President Donald Trump’s mandate that it bring in 5,000 more…rejection rates are high and it takes about 200 applicants to finally fill one position.

❝ “One of the things we do: we go to job fairs. We partner up with colleges and universities to look for candidates that are within the demographic of agents that we’re looking for,” Vicente Paco, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, said.

The Border Patrol also looks for military veterans and former police officers. But some agency critics said its strict lie detector tests are part of the reason it has such a hard time filling vacancies…

❝ Customs and Border Protection officials said a 2010 anti-corruption law requires it to administer these exams…The agency does appear to be trying to ease the application process by waiving the polygraph for applicants who have already worked in sensitive jobs such as certain military positions…

❝ Kevin McAleenan, the acting CBP commissioner…wrote that the Border Patrol receives 60,000 to 75,000 applications a year and since 2013, has hired an average of 523 agents a year but lost 904 agents a year to attrition.

McAleenan wrote that the agency will need to hire 2,729 agents a year to achieve the president’s order within five years.

Reliability of lie detectors is questionable. Results are still not admissible AFAIK in courts of law in the United States.

The chuckle remains – does anyone think Trump could pass a lie detector test. For anything?

How a Cold War major asked a forbidden question — it cost him his career.

❝ It was a risk. Dedicating a book to someone I’d had had a five-minute phone conversation with three decades ago. Someone who, last I’d heard, had become a long-haul trucker and whom I’d given up trying to track down.

❝ But I went ahead and dedicated my new book, How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III, to Maj. Harold Hering because Maj. Hering sacrificed his military career to ask a Forbidden Question about launching nuclear missiles. A question that exposed the comforting illusions of the so called fail-safe system designed to prevent “unauthorized” nuclear missile launches…

❝ Get ready to twist your launch keys in their slots and send anywhere from one to 50 missiles rocketing toward Russia. World War III is under way.

Or is it? Your launch order codes are “authenticated,” everything seems in order, the seconds tick away. But in what may be the last seconds of your life — for all you know Soviet missiles are about to rain down on the plains — a thought crosses your mind. About “authentication.” It’s supposed to ensure that the launch order comes from the president himself, or (if the president has been killed) from the surviving head of the nuclear chain of command.

❝ But what about that person at the top of the chain of command, the person who gives the order? Has he been “authenticated”? Who authenticates the authenticator? Can the president start a nuclear war on his own authority — his own whim or will — alone?…

Maj. Hering decided to ask his question anyway, regardless of consequences: How could he know that an order to launch his missiles was “lawful”? That it came from a sane president, one who wasn’t “imbalance[d]” or “berserk,” as Maj. Hering’s lawyer eventually, colorfully put it?

RTFA. It’s long, complex, a couple different narratives bound together by Hering’s question. Stick with it and read it all.

Alabama immigration law — Trumpkin politicians guarantee rotting crops

❝ Brian Cash can put a figure to the cost of Alabama’s new immigration law: at least $100,000. That’s the value of the tomatoes he has personally ripening out in his fields and that are going unpicked because his Hispanic workforce vanished literally overnight.

❝ For generations, Cash’s family have farmed 125 acres atop the Chandler mountain, a plateau in the north of the state about nine miles long and two miles wide. It’s perfect tomato-growing country – the soil is sandy and rich, and the elevation provides a breeze that keeps frost at bay and allows early planting.

For four months every year he employs almost exclusively Hispanic male workers to pick the harvest. This year he had 64 men out in the fields…Then HB56 came into effect, the new law that makes it a crime not to carry valid immigration documents and forces the police to check on anyone they suspect may be in the country illegally.

The provisions – the toughest of any state in America – were enforced on 28 September. By the next day Cash’s workforce had dwindled to 11

❝ Cash says that losing his pickers is much more than a commercial disaster. “Many of these people are friends and like family to us. They have been working for my family for years.”

The crew leader for Cash’s fields has been working for his family for 17 years. “He’s my age and we pretty much grew up together,” he says.

Cash has sponsored him in his application for American naturalisation – a process that the immigration authorities have said will take up to nine years and cost up to $17,000.

❝ The crew leader already has permanent residency status and his two children are US citizens, but because his wife is undocumented he was fearful of the new law and left abruptly along with the others the minute the provisions came in.

RTFA. Take the time to step past the lies and propaganda conservative and bigoted Congress-critters, state and local scum-suckers blather to pass laws like this. Itinerant foreign migrant labor is nothing new in my life. For decades migrant farm crews returned to the Connecticut River valley to follow the harvest season south until it was time to return home. In those days, mostly back to the Caribbean.

Middle of the road, traditional – and solid – defense of a Free Press

No comment. I’m not interested in changing this part of our Constitution – even if the TeaPublicans, neo-cons, Trumpkins and other proto-fascists appear to be headed in that direction. Truth-telling is still a good defense.