Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chronic fatigue syndrome

"I split my clinical time between the two illnesses, and I can tell you if I had to choose between the two illnesses I would rather have H.I.V. But C.F.S., which impacts a million people in the United States alone, has had a small fraction of the research dollars directed towards it."— Dr. Nancy Klimas, AIDS and CFS researcher and clinician, University of Miami

ALTHOUGH I'm a New York Times subscriber, it was ever-on-top-of-things friend Heidi Utz who made we aware of this piece. I'm sharing it especially for a friend whose birthday is today.

Getting It Wrong on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By Julie Rehmeyer and David Tuller
March 18, 2017

What are some of the treatment regimens that sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome should follow? Many major medical organizations cite two: psychotherapy and a steady increase in exercise. There’s just one problem. The main study that has been cited as proof that patients can recover with those treatments overstated some of its results. In reality, the claim that patients can recover from these treatments is not justified by the data.

That’s the finding of a peer-reviewed preliminary re-analysis of previously unpublished data from the clinical trial, the largest ever for chronic fatigue syndrome. Nicknamed the PACE trial, the core findings of the British study appeared in The Lancet in 2011 and Psychological Medicine in 2013. Patients battled for years to obtain the underlying data, and last spring, a legal tribunal in Britain, the General Regulatory Chamber, directed the release of some of the study’s information.

Credit: Jacqueline Tam

The impact of the trial on treatment options for the estimated one million chronic fatigue patients in the United States has been profound. The Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, WebMD, the American Academy of Family Physicians and others recommend psychotherapy and a steady increase in exercise.

But this approach can be harmful. According to a 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine, now the National Academy of Medicine, even minimal activity can cause patients prolonged exhaustion, muscle pain, cognitive problems and more. In severe cases, a short conversation or a trip to the bathroom can deplete patients for hours, days or more. In surveys, patients routinely report deterioration after a program of graded exercise. The psychotherapeutic intervention also encourages patients to increase their activity levels.

Many patients (including one of us) have remained ill for years or decades with chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME/CFS. It can be triggered by a viral infection, resulting in continuing or recurring immunological and neurological dysfunction. The Institute of Medicine dismissed any notion that it is a psychiatric illness.

Proponents of these therapies argue that these very sick patients harbored “unhelpful beliefs” that they had an organic illness that limited their capacity to exert themselves. According to this theory, patients are deconditioned from too much rest and can recover if they overcome their fear of activity and get back into shape.

But as the new re-analysis by an academic researcher and three patients showed, the promise of recovery using the two treatments appeared to be an illusion. When the study’s findings were first published, patients and some scientists noted a stunning problem: The investigators had weakened their outcome measures from their trial protocol so much that participants could actually deteriorate on physical function and still qualify as “recovered.” Thirteen percent entered the trial already having met the definition of “recovered” on that measure. The investigators have argued that this didn’t matter since participants also had to meet additional recovery criteria.

These critiques received little attention until 2015, when Virology Blog, a science site, published a 15,000-word investigation of PACE written by one of us. This led dozens of scientists and clinicians to demand that The Lancet seek an independent review.

In December, the journal Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health and Behavior published the re-analysis of some of the data. The PACE investigators claimed in the journal Psychological Medicine that 22 percent of those undergoing either psychotherapy or graded exercise “recovered” from their illness. But that was not based on the study’s original definition for recovery but on the looser one adopted by the researchers after the trial began.

Using the original definition, the re-analysis found that 7 percent or less had “recovered” with no statistically significant differences between those who did and did not receive the treatments. In their response, the investigators argue that there is no “generally agreed-on measure of recovery.”

Last week, Virology Blog posted an open letter to Psychological Medicine, which one of us helped draft and which was signed by more than 100 clinicians, scientists, experts and patient groups, requesting the retraction of the PACE recovery study results to “protect patients from ineffective and possibly harmful treatments.” The journal has said it has no plans to retract the study but is open to publishing a re-analysis of data in any papers it has published.

In The Lancet, the trial also claimed that around 60 percent of patients in the exercise and psychotherapy arms “improved.” But according to the investigators’ own recent re-analysis of their data, using their stricter protocol measure of improvement rather than the looser one they used for The Lancet, only about 20 percent receiving each therapy in addition to medical care “improved” — and half of those would have improved with specialized medical care alone.

Even that limited finding is questionable. The improvement rates and other reported findings were based largely on patients’ subjective self-ratings, which are vulnerable to bias. In contrast, none of the trial’s objective measures supported the claims of treatment success.

In short, this episode has damaged public trust in science.

Doctors and medical organizations must stop recommending these two therapies for ME/CFS as treatment options. Next, the disputed findings must be retracted. Finally, health agencies must ramp up funding for medical research to develop accurate diagnostic tests and pharmacological treatments.

A million Americans are waiting.

Julie Rehmeyer is the author of the forthcoming “Through the Shadowlands: A Science Writer’s Odyssey Into an Illness Science Doesn’t Understand.” David Tuller is academic coordinator of the joint master’s program in public health and journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy St. Patrick's Day, hypocrites

“This would be a grand land if only every Irishman would kill a Negro, and be hanged for it. I find this sentiment generally approved, sometimes with the qualification that they want Irish and Negroes for servants, not being able to get any other.” — Edward Freeman, British historian writing on his return from America, circa 1881

TODAY is Saint Patrick's Day in the United States. Since it falls on a Friday, it will be a full three days of revelry. There will be parades and parties all across the country, green beer will flow freely in bars and pubs everywhere, Chicago will die the river green and half of everyone out and about will wear green, cuz' ya' know, everyone is Irish on St. Patty's Day

(Except, as Paul reminds me . . . Scots, who are ALWAYS only and ever Scottish!  "If it's not Scottish, it's crap.")

All this (temporary) Irishness, despite the fact that according to The Washington Post, only 11.1 % of Americans actually have Irish ancestry. 

I'm glad when any culture or ethnicity celebrates its roots, and having some amount of Irish in my lineage, I feel a little entitled to pay tribute. Nevertheless, this holiday never fails to remind me of what an ignorant bunch of hypocrites, in general, the US citizenry is, at least the 46.1% who voted for he-who-shall-not-be-named and anyone else who is vehemently, hatefully, punishingly anti-immigration. 

This epidemic of hate currently directed at Mexicans and people from Islamic-majority countries, is nothing new to us. America has a grand old tradition of despising immigrants including the Irish. (And don't even get me started on British hatred and cruelty to their Irish brethren. The Brits got the whole ball rolling in a big way.)

To all of you wearing green and swilling green beer, here's a little reminder of how we treated our now beloved Irish . . . who we claim to be this weekend . . . when they came to this country.

FYI: This is not the first time I've written on this subject. (See Something There Is That Doesn't Love a Wall.)

Below is most of a piece, reorganized for clarity, from XpatNation.  I hadn't heard of this e-zine either, so here's what they have to say about their mission:

"The United States of America truly is a nation of immigrants, internationals and expatriates. From all over the world people have come to work, settle, find love and the pursuit of happiness. This is not a new phenomenon, but one that has characterized the United States since before its inception. Founded as a place for economic, political and religious refuge, America has prospered, and so too have many lost or ambitious souls looking to make a new life in the new world.

XpatNation is a social news and lifestyle magazine, focusing on the insights and experiences of ex-patriots living in the United States. We bring together the voices, thoughts, perceptions and experiences of the people of the world who have made the USA their home. Using their insight and unique understanding of the global world we live in to discuss culture, lifestyle, geo-politics and day-to-day life of this proud and powerful nation."

The Courageous Irish Community: Bearing The Hatred Of A Racist America

By Jason Muturi 

December 4, 2015 

Irish-American people faced much prejudice, racism and discrimination after their immigration to the United States because they were poor, uneducated, less skilled, considered disruptive and were Catholics in a land of Protestant dominance.

With anti-Irish attitude dominating most of the British-American states in the 17th century, most colonies enacted laws that barred Irish immigrants from new entry into America. Maryland's legislature passed a law placing a tax of twenty shillings on Irish servants. South Carolina enacted legislation that forbade entry of the Irish altogether, while Pennsylvania adopted a law that taxed the importation of Irish servants. The laws served to either bar entry or deprive the Irish of employment opportunities their counterpart established-immigrants had. 

American political cartoon by Thomas Nast titled "The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things",
depicting a drunken Irishman lighting a powder keg and swinging a bottle.
Published September 2, 1871 in Harper's Weekly.

Irish men were branded as lazy drunkards. Irish women were stereotyped as primitive, reckless ‘‘breeders’’ due to their large family sizes compared to those of Protestants. American Protestants were afraid that high birth rates of Catholics combined with 
Irish political takeovers would ultimately result in a Protestant minority, and Catholicism becoming the dominant faith. The press derided Irish immigrants as aliens who were undisputedly loyal to their Catholic leaders instead of having allegiance to America, and published degrading, hate-mongering cartoons. 

Irish-Americans were subjected to humiliating job discrimination. Desperate for employment, they were willing to work for lower wages and soon filled most of the unskilled and manual labor jobs. Local employers considered the immigrants disposable labor, often using them to perform hazardous tasks. With major employers preferring Irish immigrant workers for their willingness to do the worst work for the least pay, a rivalry ensued between Irish immigrants and Americans.

Signs appeared in business and home windows proclaiming variations of "Help Wanted But No Irish Need Apply.’’ NINA (No Irish Need Apply) slogans were published in local papers with images of Irish women searching for domestic jobs, and a NINA song was written to further denigrate them.

Groups of Protestants burned down a Catholic convent in Boston. In Philadelphia mobs of Protestants rioted against Irish Catholics. At some point, the Irish organized and fought back in a war that lasted three years. Catholic churches were burned, there was massive destruction of Irish immigrant homes and property, and many Irish-Americans died. 

Me again: So when you raise a glass of whiskey or mug of beer to the Irish or put on your green tie or sweater, think about what you can do in opposition to the current torrent of anti-immigration hate. You'd think we'd learn.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Increasingly a police state

"True freedom requires the rule of law and justice, and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others." — Jonathan Sacks, British rabbi, philosopher and scholar 

TWO NEWS stories absolutely blew me away yesterday . . . and not in a good way. This is one of them. From NBC News:

American Citizens: U.S. Border Agents Can Search Your Cellphone

By Cynthia McFadden, E.D. Cauchi, William M. Arkin and Kevin Monahan

March 13, 2017

When Buffalo, New York couple Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick returned to the U.S. from a trip to Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017, U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers held them for two hours, took their cellphones and demanded their passwords.

"It just felt like a gross violation of our rights," said Shibly, a 23-year-old filmmaker born and raised in New York. But he and McCormick complied, and their phones were searched.

Three days later, they returned from another trip to Canada and were stopped again by CBP.

"One of the officers calls out to me and says, 'Hey, give me your phone,'" recalled Shibly. "And I said, 'No, because I already went through this.'"

The officer asked a second time..

Within seconds, he was surrounded: one man held his legs, another squeezed his throat from behind. A third reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone. McCormick watched her boyfriend's face turn red as the officer's chokehold tightened.

Then they asked McCormick for her phone.

"I was not about to get tackled," she said. She handed it over.

Shibly and McCormick's experience is not unique. In 25 cases examined by NBC News, American citizens said that CBP officers at airports and border crossings demanded that they hand over their phones and their passwords, or unlock them.

The travelers came from across the nation, and were both naturalized citizens and people born and raised on American soil. They traveled by plane and by car at different times through different states. Businessmen, couples, senior citizens, and families with young kids, questioned, searched, and detained for hours when they tried to enter or leave the U.S. None were on terror watchlists. One had a speeding ticket. Some were asked about their religion and their ethnic origins, and had the validity of their U.S. citizenship questioned.

What most of them have in common — 23 of the 25 — is that they are Muslim, like Shibly, whose parents are from Syria.

Data provided by the Department of Homeland Security shows that searches of cellphones by border agents has exploded, growing fivefold in just one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016.

According to DHS officials, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. Five-thousand devices were searched in February alone, more than in all of 2015.

"That's shocking," said Mary Ellen Callahan, former chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. She wrote the rules and restrictions on how CBP should conduct electronic searches back in 2009. "That [increase] was clearly a conscious strategy, that's not happenstance."

"This really puts at risk both the security and liberty of the American people," said Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. "Law abiding Americans are being caught up in this digital dragnet."

"This is just going to grow and grow and grow," said Senator Wyden. "There's tremendous potential for abuse here."

What CBP agents call "detaining" cellphones didn't start after Donald Trump's election. The practice began a decade ago, late in the George W. Bush administration, but was highly focused on specific individuals.

The more aggressive tactics of the past two years, two senior intelligence officials told NBC News, were sparked by a string of domestic incidents in 2015 and 2016 in which the watch list system and the FBI failed to stop American citizens from conducting attacks. The searches also reflect new abilities to extract contact lists, travel patterns and other data from phones very quickly.

DHS has published more than two dozen reports detailing its extensive technological capability to forensically extract data from mobile devices, regardless of password protection on most Apple and Android phones. The reports document its proven ability to access deleted call logs, videos, photos, and emails to name a few, in addition to the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram apps..

But the officials caution that rhetoric about a Muslim registry and ban during the presidential campaign also seems to have emboldened federal agents to act more forcefully.

American citizens Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick who had their phones
searched on two separate trips as they reentered the US from Canada.

"The shackles are off," said Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project. "We see individual officers and perhaps supervisors as well pushing those limits, exceeding their authority and violating people's rights."

And multiple sources told NBC News that law enforcement and the Intelligence Community are exploiting a loophole to collect intelligence.

Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement needs at least reasonable suspicion if they want to search people or their possessions within the United States. But not at border crossings, and not at airport terminals.

"The Fourth Amendment, even for U.S. citizens, doesn't apply at the border," said Callahan. "That's under case law that goes back 150 years."

The ACLU's Handeyside noted that while the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement doesn't apply at the border, its "general reasonableness" requirement still does, and is supposed to protect against unreasonable searches and seizures. "That may seem nuanced, but it's a critical distinction, said Handeyside. "We don't surrender our constitutional rights at the border."

Customs and Border officers can search travelers without any level of suspicion. They have the legal authority to go through any object crossing the border within 100 miles, including smartphones and laptops. They have the right to take devices away from travelers for five days without providing justification. In the absence of probable cause, however, they have to give the devices back.

CBP also searches people on behalf of other federal law enforcement agencies, sending its findings back to partners in the DEA, FBI, Treasury and the National Counterterrorism Center, among others.

Callahan thinks that CBP's spike in searches means it is exploiting the loophole "in order to get information they otherwise might hot have been able to."

On January 31, an engineer from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was pulled into additional screening upon his return to the U.S. after a two-week vacation in Chile. Despite being cleared by the Global Entry program, Sidd Bikkannavar received an "X" on his customs form. He is not Muslim, and he is not from any of the seven countries named in President Trump's original "travel ban" executive order. Half his family comes from India but he was born and raised in California.

Bikkannavar was brought into a closed room and told to hand over his phone and passcode. He paid particular notice to the form CBP handed him which explained it had the right to copy the contents of the phone, and that the penalty for refusal was "detention."

"I didn't know if that meant detention of the phone or me and I didn't want to find out," said Bikkannavar. He tried to refuse but the officer repeatedly demanded the PIN. Eventually he acquiesced.

"Once they had that, they had everything," Bikkannavar said. That access allowed CBP officers to review the backend of his social media accounts, work emails, call and text history, photos and other apps. He had expected security might physically search any travelers for potential weapons but accessing his digital data felt different. "Your whole digital life is on your phone."

The officers disappeared with his phone and PIN. They returned 30 minutes later and let him go home.

CBP also regularly searches people leaving the country.

On February 9, Haisam Elsharkawi was stopped by security while trying to board his flight out of Los Angeles International Airport. He said that six Customs officers told him he was randomly selected. They demanded access to his phone and when he refused, Elsharkawi said they handcuffed him, locked him in the airport's lower level and asked questions including how he became a citizen. Elsharkawi thought he knew his rights and demanded access to legal counsel.

"They said if I need a lawyer, then I must be guilty of something," said Elsharkawi, and Egyptian-born Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen. After four hours of questioning in detention, he unlocked his smartphone and, after a search, was eventually released. Elsharkawi said he intends to sue the Department of Homeland Security.

The current policy has not been updated since 2009. Jayson Ahern, who served in CBP under both Bush and Obama, signed off on the current policy. He said the electronic searches are supposed to be based on specific, articulable facts that raise security concerns. They are not meant to be random or routine or applied liberally to border crossers. "That's reckless and that's how you would lose the authority, never mind the policy."

The Customs & Border Patrol policy manual says that electronic devices fall under the same extended search doctrine that allows them to scan bags in the typical security line.

"As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP," a spokesperson told NBC News.

Since the policy was written in 2009, legal advocates argue, several court cases have set new precedents that could make some CBP electronic searches illegal.

Several former DHS officials pointed to a 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Riley v California that determined law enforcement needed a warrant to search electronic devices when a person is being arrested. The court ruled unanimously, and Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion.

"Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life,'" wrote Roberts. "The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought."

Because that case happened outside of the border context, however, CBP lawyers have repeatedly asserted in court that the ruling does not apply to border searches.

For now a Department of Justice internal bulletin has instructed that, unless border officers have a search warrant, they need to take protective measures to limit intrusions, and make sure their searches do not access travelers' digital cloud data. The 'cloud' is all content not directly stored on a device, which includes anything requiring internet to access, like email and social media.

Former DHS officials who helped design and implement the search policy said they agreed with that guidance.

On February 20, Sen. Wyden wrote to DHS Secretary John Kelly demanding details on electronic search-practices used on U.S. citizens, and referred to the extent of electronic searches as government "overreach". As of publication, he had yet to receive an answer.

Now Sen. Wyden says that as early as next week he plans to propose a bill that would require CBP to at least obtain a warrant to search electronics of U.S. citizens, and explicitly prevent officers from demanding passwords.

"The old rules ... seem to be on the way to being tossed in the garbage can," said Senator Wyden. "I think it is time to update the law."

Asked about the Shibly case, a CBP spokesperson declined to comment, but said the Homeland Security Inspector General is investigating. The spokesperson said the agency can't comment on open investigations or particular travelers, but that it "firmly denies any accusations of racially profiling travelers based on nationality, race, sex, religion, faith, or spiritual beliefs."

Explaining the sharp increase in electronic searches, a department spokesperson told NBC News: "CBP has adapted and adjusted to align with current threat information, which is based on intelligence." A spokesman also noted that searches of citizens leaving the U.S. protect against the theft of American industrial and national security secrets.

After repeated communications, the Department of Homeland Security never responded to NBC News' requests for comments. Nonetheless, the Homeland Security Inspector General is currently auditing CBP's electronic search practices.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also has filed two dozen complaints against CBP this year for issues profiling Muslim Americans. CAIR and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are considering legal action against the government for what they consider to be unconstitutional searches at the border. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The myth of American exceptionalism

“Rates of intergenerational income mobility are higher in France, Spain, Germany, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and other countries in the world than they are here in the United States.” — Stephen Pimpare, author and lecturer and faculty fellow at the University of New Hampshire

I WAS alerted to this piece in The Washington Post by at least two friends, so you may have already read it. If not, it's worth the time, although it's so infuriating that it's hard to stomach. Poverty has increasingly become a crime in this country, punishable by harsh and humiliating measures.

Laziness isn’t why people are poor. And iPhones aren’t why they lack health care.

The real reasons people suffer poverty don't reflect well on the United States.

By Stephen Pimpare 

March 8, 2017

In response to a question about his party’s plan to increase the cost of health insurance, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) suggested that people should “invest in their own health care” instead of “getting that new iPhone.” He doubled-down on the point in a later interview: “People need to make a conscious choice, and I believe in self-reliance.” Chaffetz is wrong. But he isn’t alone.

While he has been met with justifiable derision for the comparison (Christopher Ingraham walked through the math for us, pointing out that a year’s worth of health care would equal 23 iPhone 7 Pluses in price), Chaffetz was articulating a commonly held belief that poverty in the United States is, by and large, the result of laziness, immorality and irresponsibility. If only people made better choices — if they worked harder, stayed in school, got married, didn’t have children they couldn’t afford, spent what money they had more wisely and saved more — then they wouldn’t be poor, or so the reasoning goes.

This insistence that people would not be poor if only they would try harder defines the thinking behind the signature welfare restructuring law of the Clinton era, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It’s the logic at the heart of efforts to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, to drug-test people collecting unemployment insurance or to prevent food stamp recipients from buying steak and lobster.

Since the invention of the mythic welfare queen in the 1960s, this has been the story we most reliably tell about why people are poor. Never mind that research from across the social sciences shows us, over and again, that it’s a lie. Never mind low wages or lack of jobs, the poor quality of too many schools, the dearth of marriageable men in poor black communities (thanks to a racialized criminal justice system and ongoing discrimination in the labor market) or the high cost of birth control and day care. Never mind the fact that the largest group of poor people in the United States are children. Never mind the grim reality that most American adults who are poor are not poor from lack of effort but despite it.

Two homeless women wait for the bus to take their children to a shelter for the night. Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

This deep denial serves a few functions, however.

First, it’s founded on the assumption that the United States is a land of opportunity, where upward mobility is readily available and hard work gets you ahead. We’ve recently taken to calling it grit. While grit may have ushered you up the socioeconomic ladder in the late 19th century, it’s no longer up to the task today. Rates of intergenerational income mobility are, in fact, higher in France, Spain, Germany, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and other countries in the world than they are here in the United States. And that mobility is in further decline here, an indicator of the falling fortunes not just of poor and low-income Americans, but of middle-class ones, too. 

To accept this as reality is to confront the unpleasant fact that myths of American exceptionalism are just that — myths — and many of us would fare better economically (and live longer, healthier lives, too) had we been born elsewhere. That cognitive dissonance is too much for too many of us, so we believe instead that people can overcome any obstacle if they would simply work hard enough.

Second, to believe that poverty is a result of immorality or irresponsibility helps people believe it can’t happen to them. But it can happen to them (and to me and to you). Poverty in the United States is common, and according to the Census Bureau, over a three-year period, about one-third of all U.S. residents slip below the poverty line at least once for two months or more.

Third — and conveniently, perhaps, for people like Chaffetz or House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) — this stubborn insistence that people could have more money or more health care if only they wanted them more absolves the government of having to intervene and use its power on their behalf. In this way of thinking, reducing access to subsidized health insurance isn’t cruel; it’s responsible, a form of tough love in which people are forced to make good choices instead of bad ones. This is both patronizing and, of course, a gross misreading of the actual outcome of laws like these.

There’s one final problem with these kinds of arguments, and that is the implication that we should be worried by the possibility of poor people buying the occasional steak, lottery ticket or, yes, even an iPhone. Set aside the fact that a better cut of meat may be more nutritious than a meal Chaffetz would approve of, or the fact that a smartphone may be your only access to email, job notices, benefit applications, school work and so on. Why do we begrudge people struggling to get by the occasional indulgence? Why do we so little value pleasure and joy? Why do we insist that if you are poor, you should also be miserable? Why do we require penitence?

Just because what Chaffetz is saying isn’t novel doesn’t mean it isn’t uninformed and dangerous. Chaffetz, Ryan and their compatriots offer us tough love without the love, made possible through their willful ignorance of (or utter disregard for) what life is actually like for so many Americans who do their very best against great odds and still, nonetheless, have little to show for it. Sometimes not even an iPhone.

Stephen Pimpare is the author of "A People’s History of Poverty in America" and the forthcoming "Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens: Down and Out on the Silver Screen." He teaches American politics and public policy at the University of New Hampshire.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Encouragement from a surprising source

“You look like a fucking pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of niggers, it will be your fault.” — Mel Gibson, recorded conversation, addressing his girlfriend of three years and mother of his child 

One source of encouragement for me of late comes from a surprising place: magazines aimed at 20-something women. Magazines that used to be . . . at least from what I could tell . . . almost entirely about clothes, shoes, handbags, jewelry, hair, men, dating, parties, sex, beach vacations and celebrities — are now featuring well-written articles on serious topics. 

When I was researching Betsy DeVos, for example, in addition to my normal sources such as The New York Times, Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, I came across two articles in Cosmopolitan that were exceptionally thorough and clear. By that time, I'd read enough everywhere else to be able to judge — and Paul says that Teen Vogue has been killing it lately. That makes me feel hopeful.

Below is an article I found in Elle

What We Lose When We Give Awards to Men Like Casey Affleck

By endlessly forgiving abusive men, we tell women that the abuse they suffer is less important than some guy's right to get his point of view across.

By Sady Doyle

February 27, 2017 

White men in entertainment can get away with anything. That one, soul-deadening lesson has been drilled into women's heads recently. We saw reality TV star Donald Trump caught, on tape, sexually harassing a female colleague and giggling about "grabbing [women] by the pussy"—and we saw America elect him president a few weeks later. We found out that Bernardo Bertolucci and Marlon Brando had assaulted actress Maria Schneider on film to create a rape scene in Last Tango in Paris—and we also found out that, prior to her death, Schneider had been talking about this for years. 

We saw the image rehabilitation of Mel Gibson, who was similarly caught on tape telling his ex-girlfriend that "you look like a fucking pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of n—— it will be your fault," shortly before threatening to kill her and rape her himself. At the Academy Awards, the 61-year-old Gibson sat in the front row, racking up awards for Hacksaw Ridge and merrily chortling along at jokes about O.J. Simpson. And Casey Affleck took home the prize for Best Actor.

Affleck, for those who are unaware, stands accused of sexually terrorizing female colleagues on the set of his 2010 mockumentary I'm Still Here; this allegedly included everything from referring to women as "cows" to insisting that one employee, Amanda White, share his hotel room, then deluging her with abusive text messages when she refused. Another woman, Magdalene Gorka, says she woke up in a private hotel room to find Affleck "curled up next to her in the bed wearing only his underwear and a T-shirt," according to her complaint. When Gorka managed to get Affleck out of her room, he allegedly rallied crew members to harass and bully her until she quit the project.

Affleck's Best Actor win isn't the most upsetting item on this list; for one thing, an Oscar doesn't come with nuclear launch codes. But it is grim confirmation of an all-too-common pattern. An Oscar provides an invaluable career boost; Affleck will probably get more roles, better roles, and more name recognition as the result of the award. As he becomes increasingly successful, he will become increasingly untouchable; meaning, if the allegations are true, that the women he's victimized will have less and less chance to be heard. That's not just damaging to the individuals involved here, but to all women who find themselves victimized by powerful men.

Those predictions may seem bleak, but they're drawn from a long history of institutional approval of the artistic production of troubled men. Just look at Roman Polanski. No one doubts that Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl—he admitted to it not only in his guilty plea, but also in an infamous interview in which he called her his "victim"—but no one in the Academy seemed to believe it should pose much of an obstacle to his filmmaking career. When he won the Oscar for Best Director for his 2003 film The Pianist, the announcement of the award was met with a standing ovation, including from (say it ain't so) Meryl Streep. A beaming Harrison Ford accepted the award for Polanski, who could not attend the ceremony, due to, you know, being a convicted child rapist.

Polanski is not an exception. Recall Cate Blanchett in 2014, awkwardly framing her Best Actress win for Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine as a victory for women ("those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences, they're not") and praising his script—despite the fact that Allen's adult daughter, Dylan Farrow, had just published an open letter in The New York Times, repeating her 1992 allegation that Allen had raped her when she was as young as 7. Farrow specifically cited the fact that "actors praised [Allen] at awards shows" as a source of extreme trauma.

There are other, less infamous cases—Eminem, whose early musical career consisted mainly of emotionally abusing and threatening his wife, Kim Mathers, and who has heavily implied his abuse was more than just verbal, won an Oscar for romanticizing his own artistic genius in 8 Mile; allegations of domestic violence trail everyone from nominees Michael Fassbender and Johnny Depp to two-time Best Actor winner Sean Penn; again, Mel Gibson was nominated for Best Director last night—but the pattern holds.

White men who do unspeakable things to women are never kicked out of the Academy's fold; we continually insist on separating "art from artist." And Affleck's winning Best Actor, in the very year the allegations against him emerged, seemingly shows that not only has the Academy learned nothing from the blow-ups around Allen or Polanski—they're not even paying attention to the conversation.

Separating "art from artist" would be a noble sentiment if we regularly applied it to anyone other than white men. But we do not. Setting aside for a moment the different ways we assess women, this same pattern of forgiveness and selective blindness is suspiciously absent when it comes to black male artists: When director Nate Parker's history of sexual assault was revealed last year, his much-anticipated The Birth of a Nation flopped, and Parker himself went from a golden boy to an outcast pretty much overnight. Similarly, Mel Gibson was able to laugh comfortably at those O.J. jokes because O.J. Simpson is still in prison and in disgrace, excluded forever from the fame he and Gibson once shared.

The standard objection to excluding men like Affleck, Polanski, or Gibson from the entertainment industry is that it's "philistine"; excluding any great artist means we get less art, and anyway, penalties should be dealt out by courts, not bosses. Yet as Affleck becomes more successful, he becomes more of a financial asset to the people he works with—meaning they're more inclined to protect him and less inclined to give his accusers a fair hearing, because dealing justly with the accusations will endanger the bottom line. 

If the allegations are true, more and more women will be forced to work with Affleck despite the danger he poses to their physical safety and mental health, even as it becomes more and more risky to report any harassment. In the end, many of those women will do what White and Gorka did—they'll quit, either the project or the filmmaking industry altogether. Keeping great male "artists" around while they endanger their female coworkers isn't only unjust, it actively lowers the number of great female artists by creating a workplace in which women are primarily valued for their ability to accommodate and ingratiate themselves to sexist men, and not for their actual talents.

The problem with Affleck or Gibson or Polanski or Allen winning awards isn't just that it's unfair. It's that someone else could be getting them. Someone else could be standing on that stage—maybe even holding that Best Director trophy, which, to date, only one woman has ever done. By endlessly forgiving and validating abusive men, we tell women that the abuse they suffer is less important than some white guy's right to get his point of view across. We lose those women's stories, and their art, because we've told them they don't count.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Gawd-awful stuff happening in Iowa

"Have you ever wondered why Republicans are so interested in encouraging people to volunteer in their communities? It’s because volunteers work for no pay. Republicans have been trying to get people to work for no pay for a long time." — George Carlin

WANT TO know what a laughingstock my state has become? I mean besides being the proud owners of

  • reactionary whackadoodle Congressman Steve King
  • senile Republican puppet, Senator Chuck Grassley 
  • Koch Brothers-funded, pig-castrating Senator Joni Ernst 
  • animatronic, corporate give-away cash machine Governor Terry Branstad
Speaking of Ms. Ernst, according to the Muscatine Journal, after a recent public roundtable where she "was met by about 300 people, many protesters, who chanted phrases such as 'You work for us' and 'Investigate Trump,'" Ernst complained that attendees were "not really there to listen." 

That's how incredibly backwards she has it! She doesn't think it's necessary or important to listen to the people she was elected to represent.

FYI: Joni Ernst will be appearing at town hall meeting open to the public in Des Moines on March 17. If you live in the area, here's your chance to ask her what's next on her Koch Brothers-financed agenda. 

Friday, March 17 at 5 PM - 6 PM

Drake University, Sheslow Auditorium, 2507 University Ave, Des Moines

The idiocies of King would require a full length Dumb and Dumber remake, and the rubber-stamp, unconscionable voting record of Grassley would fill several encyclopedias. But I digress.

Here's what's happening now in the Iowa Statehouse to frighten and embarrass every Iowan. Below are are some of the awful bills that have made it past the first hurdle towards legislation. Sources:
 The Des Moines Register, WHO-TV, Brennan Center for Justice, Muscatine Journal, Forbes, Iowa Starting Line, Pacific Standard,

Defunding Planned Parenthood

The Iowa Senate has already passed Senate File 2, which would block public funding to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.The bill has cleared a House subcommittee. 

Indiana and Texas, in their infinite lack of wisdom, did this and the result was that the number of HIV cases spiked i
Indiana due to decreased availability of safe-sex counseling and HIV testing, and in Texas there was a significant increase in unplanned pregnancies due to decreased access to birth control. Medicaid expenses also jumped 27%.

A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll found that 77% of Iowans support continued state funding for non-abortion services at Planned Parenthood
and massive protests have taken place on the Iowa capitol grounds, in the capitol and in hearings. Have the legislators listened? They have not. Driven by religious and political ideology, they are voting contrary to their constituents, and apparently, this current batch of legislative geniuses also suck at math.

Dismantling the Des Moines Water Works

This Republican-sponsored bill would abolish the Des Moines Water Works and replace it with a regional water authority controlled by multiple, area city councils. Sound like a power-to-the-people move? Nope. It's retaliation for a federal lawsuit filed by the Des Moines Water Works against three northwest Iowa counties in pursuit of damages for letting nitrates from field fertilizer flow into the Raccoon River, where they have to be removed in an expensive process costing millions. Republicans don't want to interfere with corporate agriculture's prerogative to pollute Iowa rivers, and the punishment is to take down the public utility and turn it over to elected city council . . . i.e. political control.

Minimum Wage Pre-emption 

A Republican bill introduced in the House would block cities and counties from setting their own minimum wages, effectively rolling back wage increases approved in four Iowa counties. Iowa's minimum wage has remained at $7.25 since 2008. 

The bill also includes broader pre-emption language that would prevent cities and counties from implementing policies like requiring paid family leave. Language was also added that protects landlords who don't want to rent to those who use federal housing vouchers, such as participants in the federal Section 8 program that helps the poor. Yeah, screw the poor.

Have you noticed that Republicans are all about local control only when it's a way to thwart federal mandates and requirements and only as long as things go the way they want? The counties that have raised minimum wage have done so as a means to attract workers. Yup, those same Republicans who are always running on about how they're creating jobs. Screw poorer counties who are trying to raise the standard of living and screw the poor.

Workers' Compensation

Matching bills introduced in both the House and Senate would significantly scale back workers' compensation benefits for injured workers. If passed, these bills will end worker benefits at age 67, reduce benefits for injuries tied to pre-existing conditions, minimize late fees for employers who fail to pay benefits on time, and limit how much attorneys can receive for legal fees. They also would allow employers to deny benefits if an injured worker tests positive for drugs or alcohol. Screw the elderly, the sick and the disabled.

Voter Identification 

A bill driven by Republican Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate would implement new voter identification laws including a provision that would require every voter to present valid government-issued identification, such as a driver's license, passport or military ID. Despite study after study that shows that the incidence of voter fraud is minuscule — according to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, the incidence of impersonation fraud by voters is between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent — and despite the reality that implementing a voter ID law will cost the state, based on similar laws enacted in other states, an estimated $18 to $25 million, Republicans seem hellbent on passing this bill.

A study by the Brennan Center found that 11 percent of voting-age citizens lack a photo ID, disproportionately effecting people of color, senior citizens, the disabled, young voters, the and working poor, which historically, tends to depress Democratic voter turnout. Screw people of color, the elderly, the disabled and the poor. Notice a theme here?

Crackdown on Highway Protests

Political activists who block traffic on Iowa's roads are now cited with a simple misdemeanor offense and fined $35, but a Senate Republican bill would stiffen the penalties by classifying a first offense as a serious misdemeanor with punishment of up to a year in prison and fine of up to $1,875. Second-time offenders would be charged with an aggravated misdemeanor and third-time violators would face a Class D felony charge. A similar bill filed in the House, would make it a serious misdemeanor to block highways and it would be an aggravated misdemeanor to organize protests that block highways. 

These bills are retribution for an Iowa City demonstration protesting Trump's election when more than 100 marchers blocked eastbound traffic on Interstate Highway 80 for about 30 minutes. Notice the other running theme: retribution.

And this is just a portion of the Republican anti-people/pro-Koch Brothers agenda! See why I want to move?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Even worse than we thought, if that's possible

“He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not, is a slave.” ― William Drummond (of Hawthornden), Scottish poet.

YOU'VE HEARD about SCROTUS' (So-called-ruler of the United States') 200-word vocabulary. 

You haven't?! 
Don't believe me; read what Tony Schwartz has to say in the Huffington Post. He's the guy who wrote The Art of the Deal, the book that SCROTUS' put his name on. BTW: I love the editor's note at the bottom of the article.

No wonder SCROTUS thought making Betsy DeVos Secretary of Education was a fine idea. She's a regular genius orator compared to him. She might even be able to read.

But wait, there's more! I've attached a provocative video from The David Pakman Show that came to me by way of a trusted UK friend, Dee Congdon. It you weren't scared before . . .  but, of course you are; we all are . . . you'll be even more so after you watch it. 

And below that a bonus video, courtesy of our long-time friend, Don Myers, featuring singer-songwriter-guitarist Richard Thompson, OBE.

Donald Trump’s Former Ghostwriter Slams GOP Nominee’s ‘200-Word Vocabulary’

By Kim Bellware

October 24, 2016

Donald Trump has bragged about having “the best words,” but the Republican presidential nominee’s former ghostwriter says he doesn’t have very many of them. 

“He has the smallest vocabulary of any person who has ever run for any kind of office, much less president ― how about county commissioner?” Tony Schwartz said Sunday during an appearance with MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid.

Schwartz was the ghostwriter for Trump’s 1987 best-selling The Art of the Deal, and has said he wrote “every word” despite being listed as a co-author. Schwartz has said he worries that the book helped create a falsely positive impression of Trump, so the writer started speaking out against the candidate as his campaign picked up steam. 

Schwartz said Trump’s vocabulary is tiny ― evidenced by how he ad-libs his speeches with phrases like “believe me.” 

“It’s a 200-word vocabulary, so as soon he gets beyond that, you know that he’s reading someone else’s words,” Schwartz said. He theorized that Trump probably doesn’t familiarize himself with prepared remarks before delivering them because of his “incredibly short attention span.”

While most candidates speak at a sixth- to eighth-grade level, Trump “lags behind others” when it comes to vocabulary and grammar, according to a March analysis by Carnegie Mellon University.

Abraham Lincoln’s grammar sets the bar with an 11th-grade level, while former President George W. Bush’s fifth-grade grammar ranked even lower than Trump’s (although Bush’s vocabulary rates much higher).

Schwartz, who spent 18 months working closely with Trump in the 1980s, noted that the GOP nominee’s limited vocabulary is reflected by his policy positions: The candidate began his run with populist rhetoric, but his current agenda favors the ultra-wealthy.

“I don’t think he knows the word ‘irony,’” Schwartz said. “Irony, nuance, subtlety ... those aren’t part of that small vocabulary.” 

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.