January 21st, 2017

I can't prescribe a vital drug

    Mr. B undid his arm bandages and revealed two large, gaping wounds where he injected his heroin. He lay back in his hospital bed, looked up at the ceiling and said with a quivering voice, "I can't inject into my veins anymore because they are all shot. I know I have a problem, Doctor. I've been trying to quit, but it's so hard."

    Mr. B (I'm identifying him only by his initial to protect his privacy) had been using heroin for 20 years after originally being prescribed a common opioid, oxycodone, to treat his pain. He, like many others who had fallen victim to the opioid epidemic, was trying to quit, but methadone hadn't worked for him. "It made me feel ill," he said.

    I knew of a medication that would treat his addiction and possibly save his life. It has been around for years, is simple to use and is safer than other options. Sadly, I can't prescribe it. We need to fix this.

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How Russian 'kompromat' destroys political opponents, no facts required

    The 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump have given Russia a wonderful opportunity to showcase one of its best national products: a particularly effective type of media manipulation called "kompromat."

    Short for "compromising material" in Russian, kompromat is the intersection of news and blackmail. It's the ability to sully the reputations of political opponents or pressure allies through hints, images, videos, promises of disclosures, perhaps even some high-quality faked documentation. Sex or pornography often figures prominently. The beauty of kompromat is that it has only to create a sense of doubt, not prove its case conclusively. This sounds a bit like "fake news," but in a classic kompromat operation, real Russian state media organizations work in tandem with the Kremlin to find appealing and effective ways to discredit the target. Often, that means in the most visceral and personal ways possible.

    Now kompromat may have come to the United States.

January 20th

Betsy DeVos wants 'school choice.' Chile tried that already.

    A confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for education secretary, begins in the Senate on Tuesday. DeVos is known as an advocate for "school choice," which means she has pushed for charter schools and voucher programs that use public funds to finance privately run schools.

    Her support for school choice is controversial, not least because the efficacy of charter schools and vouchers is hotly debated. Supporters of school choice argue a couple of things: first, that it gives students who live in underperforming school districts a chance to go to "good" schools; and second, that by fostering competition between public and private schools, it pushes both toward excellence and efficiency. Critics insist that such programs drain funds from public schools.

    Only a limited amount of U.S. data speaks to this debate. But a large-scale, countrywide experiment in school vouchers has taken place - in Chile. And Chile offers an instructive and cautionary tale about how school vouchers affect education.


How Chile's school voucher system works:

Yes, Obama’s Presidency Will Endure

    When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he understood, without quite saying it, that there had been no highly successful Democratic president in decades.

    Bill Clinton made the country a better place, but his biggest legislative plans failed and he was beset by scandal. John F. Kennedy, though popular in retrospect, had his agenda stalled in Congress when he was killed. Harry Truman left office deeply unpopular. Jimmy Carter lost re-election.

    And Lyndon Johnson, despite grand domestic achievements, was driven from office. The chant “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” doesn’t exactly suggest progressive heroism.

    This history of liberal disappointment was the subtext of a revealing early comment from Obama: “Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.” The history also led Obama to reject the advice of his first Treasury secretary that their legacy should be preventing another depression. “That’s not enough,” Obama replied.

Trump may have just destroyed the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare

    When even the most committed Republicans came around to support Donald Trump in 2016, they made a kind of bet. It wouldn't matter much that Trump had no apparent fealty to conservative ideology or that he was a complete ignoramus about policy, because he'd be leaving all that boring stuff to them. The Republican Congress would pass its agenda, he'd sign whatever they put in front of him, and they'd all live happily ever after.

    But now it's not looking so simple. In fact, Trump just dealt a huge blow to their top priority: repealing the Affordable Care Act. Accomplishing repeal without causing the GOP a political calamity is an extremely delicate enterprise, and the last thing they want is to have him popping off at the mouth and promising things they can't deliver. Which is what he just did, as The Washington Post reported Sunday:

    "President-elect Donald Trump said in a weekend interview that he is nearing completion of a plan to replace President Obama's signature health-care law with the goal of 'insurance for everybody,' while also vowing to force drug companies to negotiate directly with the government on prices in Medicare and Medicaid . . .

Trump could cause 'the death of think tanks as we know them'

    For decades, Washington think tanks have been holding pens for senior government officials waiting for their next appointments and avenues of influence for sponsors of their research. Donald Trump's incoming administration is bent on breaking that model.

    Trump's appointments have so far have been heavy on businessexecutives and former military leaders. Transition sources tell me the next series of nominations - deputy-level officials at top agencies - will also largely come from business rather than the think tank or policy communities. For example, neither the American Enterprise Institute's John Bolton nor the Council on Foreign Relations' Richard Haass is likely to be chosen for deputy secretary of state, while hedge fund manager David McCormick is on the shortlist. Philip Bilden, a private equity investment firm executive with no government experience, is expected to be named secretary of the Navy.

The importance of Russian meddling

    The hallmark of a democracy is the peaceful transfer of power following an election. An essential, if painful, corollary of that rule is to accept the outcome of the election even when its conduct may have been marred, even when questions linger about the nature of the victory.

    That was the difficult lesson of the 2000 campaign. But for a flawed butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County that diverted confused voters to Pat Buchanan, Al Gore would likely have been declared the winner in Florida and thus the 43rd president.

    But there are no do-overs in elections, especially presidential ones. There may be flaws and disputes. But at some point, after the procedures established by the rule of law have run their course, the country needs to accept the result, however difficult it may be.

Martin Luther King, institutions and power

    When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, he was in Memphis, supporting striking sanitation workers. By that time in his crusade for racial justice, he had elevated full employment to a key plank in his platform. The full name of the March on Washington was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. A common placard held up that day read, "Civil Rights Plus Full Employment Equals Freedom," a powerful economic equation indeed.

    In my experience, too few people remember this aspect of King's movement, instead emphasizing his stirring spiritual commitment to racial inclusion. But King was of course thoroughly versed in the reality of the institutional barriers blocking blacks and his unique genius was to combine deep spiritual awareness with an equally deep understanding of the role of power in economic outcomes. That's one reason he was in Memphis, supporting the union.

It's more important than ever to fight hate and bigotry

    For more than a century, our two organizations have fought on behalf of justice and equality. We have worked together on anti-lynching laws, school desegregation, voting rights legislation, hate crime laws and criminal-justice reform.

    Both the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP have done much to make the United States a fairer and stronger nation, and we often have done it together. Either organization simply could stand on its legacy, especially on a day set aside to remember a hero of the civil rights battles of the past. But on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we recognize that this is no time to wax poetic about past triumphs or rest on our laurels. Now more than ever, we must build a strong coalition of now.

Trump's nominees are putting us all at risk by ignoring ethics laws

    President-elect Donald Trump is selecting nominees to run his government. It's no secret that I have deep reservations about the policy views of many of these nominees. I will vote against some of them.

    But before we can debate and vote on whether these nominees' policy positions make them suitable to run important parts of our government, it is critical that each nominee follows basic ethics rules to ensure that they will act for the benefit of all the American people and not simply to boost their bank accounts.

    The Republican-led Congress wants to brush off these ethics requirements as a mere inconvenience. Failing that, they are willing to intimidate the public servants charged with implementing the rules. If they succeed, the Republican-led Congress will erode public confidence in our democracy and set the new administration up for scandal and failure.