The War on Facts Is a War on Democracy

In a time when facts don’t matter, and science is being muzzled, American democracy is the real victim

 Credit: Gage Skidmore Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Credit: Gage Skidmore Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Jonathan Foley

There is a new incumbent in the White House, a new Congress has been sworn in, and scientists around the country are nervous as hell.

We’re nervous because there seems to be a seismic shift going on in Washington, D.C., and its relationship with facts, scientific reality, and objective truth has never been more strained.

Already, in the opening days of his administration, Mr. Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, willfully ignored clear, empirical evidence about the size of the inauguration crowds, and bristled at the suggestion experts said they were smaller than in years past. He seemed almost paranoid, and insinuated that a media conspiracy—rather than simple arithmetic—was trying to embarrass his boss. And the Trump Administration continues to claim, without any evidence, that widespread voter fraud cost Mr. Trump the popular vote, even though this has been thoroughly debunked by numerous, bipartisan sources—including his own lawyers.

Even more bizarrely, Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to Mr. Trump, has offered up the notion that “alternative facts”, rather than actual truth, were in play now. I don’t know what “alternative facts” are, but I think my parent’s generation would have called them “falsehoods” or even “lies.”

But it’s not just absence of facts that’s troubling, it is the apparent effort to derail science and the pursuit of facts themselves.

Ultimately, a healthy democracy depends on science. The pursuit of truth, having an informed citizenry, and the free and open exchange of ideas are all cornerstones of our democracy. That’s one thing that always made America truly great—the fact that, when all is said and done, evidence and the truth would always win the day in America. Without that, we join the league of ordinary nations.

Scientific American

How an obscure drug’s 4,000% price increase might finally spur action on soaring health-care costs

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By Carolyn Johnson

Spectacularly high drug prices have become a political punching bag, especially since Turing Pharmaceuticals struck a nerve by increasing the price of a 62-year-old drug by more than 4,000 percent — a mind-boggling increase similar to waking up one day and finding out a gallon of gas costs nearly $100.

Hillary Rodham Clinton announced on Twitter that she’d lay out a plan to help control the “price gouging” in the pharmaceutical industry, which she called “outrageous.” Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) this summer launched an investigation into exorbitant drug prices and began sending letters to drug companies requesting information about their prices.

The details do indeed turn out to be as insane as they sound. But behind them lurks a real lesson about the way drugs are priced in the United States and what role they actually play in the trillion-dollar fight over controlling health-care costs.

New York-based Turing bought the drug called Daraprim for $55 million this summer. It is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can be severe in patients with compromised immune systems, such as HIV, and for pregnant women. Earlier this month, the head of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association condemned the price increase from $13.50 a pill to $750, noting that the average cost per year for a patient weighing more than 132 pounds would be $634,500

Read more at The Washington Post

 Bernie Sanders Speaks

In his most revealing interview, the socialist presidential candidate sets out his vision for America.

 (Photography by Marius Bugge)
(Photography by Marius Bugge)

By John Nichols in The Nation

 When Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders told The Nation last year that he was “prepared to run for president,” he said he would do so only if it was clear that progressives were enthusiastic about a movement campaign seeking nothing less than “a political revolution.” It was an audacious proposal—but after traveling the country for a year, Sanders decided that the enthusiasm was there and announced in late April as a candidate for the Democratic nomination. There were plenty of doubters then. Two months into the campaign, however, everything about this candidacy—the crowds, the poll numbers, the buzz—is bigger than expected. That says something about Sanders. But it also says something about the prospects for progressive politics. In late June, The Nation sat down with Sanders for several conversations that asked the longtime Nation reader (“started when I was a University of Chicago student in the early 1960s”) to put not just his campaign but the moment in historical perspective for our 150th-anniversary issue:


The Nation: Your campaign for the presidency has surprised people. The crowds are big; the poll numbers are stronger than the pundits predicted. You’re a student of political history. Put what’s happening now in perspective. Are we at one of those pivot points—as we saw in the 1930s—where our politics could open up and take the country in a much more progressive direction?


Sanders: Obviously, we’re not in the midst of a massive depression, as we were in the 1930s. But I think the discontent of the American people is far, far greater than the pundits understand. Do you know what real African-American youth unemployment is? It’s over 50 percent. Families with a member 55 or older have literally nothing saved for retirement. Workers are worried about their jobs ending up in China. They’re worried about being fired when they’re age 50 and being replaced at half-wages by somebody who is 25. They’re disgusted with the degree that billionaires are able to buy elections. They are frightened by the fact that we have a Republican Party that refuses to even recognize the reality of climate change, let alone address this huge issue.

In 1936, when Roosevelt ran for reelection, he welcomed the hatred of what he called “the economic royalists”—today, they’re the billionaire class—and I’m prepared to do that as well. That’s the kind of language the American people are ready to hear.

The Nation: As long as we’re talking about the evolution of public policy, let’s talk about the evolution of a word: socialism. You appeared on ABC’s This Week and, when you were asked whether a socialist can be elected president, you did not blink; you talked about socialism in positive, detailed terms. I don’t believe a presidential candidate has ever done that on a Sunday-morning show.

Sanders: Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, often criticizes President Obama, incorrectly, for trying to push “European-style socialism,” and McConnell says the American people don’t want it. First of all, of course, Obama is not trying to push European-style socialism. Second of all, I happen to believe that, if the American people understood the significant accomplishments that have taken place under social-democratic governments, democratic-socialist governments, labor governments throughout Europe, they would be shocked to know about those accomplishments. One of the goals of this campaign is to advance that understanding…. How many Americans know that in virtually every European country, when you have a baby, you get guaranteed time off and, depending on the country, significant financial benefits as well. Do the American people know that? I doubt it. Do the American people even know that we’re the only major Western industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee healthcare for all? Most people don’t know that. Do the American people know that in many countries throughout Europe, public colleges and universities are either tuition-free or very inexpensive?

I have always believed that the countries in Scandinavia have not gotten the kind of honest recognition they deserve for the extraordinary achievements they have made…. The Danish ambassador, whom I talked to a couple of years ago, said to me that in Denmark it is very, very hard to be poor; you really have to literally want to be outside of the system. Well, that’s pretty good. In Denmark, all of their kids can go to college; not only do they go for free, they actually get stipends. Healthcare is, of course, a right for all people. They have a very strong childcare system, which to me is very important. Their retirement system is very strong. They are very active in trying to protect their environment…. And, by the way, the voter turnout in those countries is much higher; in Denmark, in the last election, it was over 80 percent. Political consciousness is much higher than it is in the United States. It’s a more vibrant democracy in many respects. So why would I not defend that? Do they think I’m afraid of the word? I’m not afraid of the word.

Read more at The Nation

Even at $10/barrel, oil can’t match solar on cost

World News Forum

Standard Oil Refinery No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio Standard Oil Refinery No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio, 1889

One of the biggest banks in the Middle East and the oil-rich Gulf countries says that fossil fuels can no longer compete with solar technologies on price, and says the vast bulk of the $US48 trillion needed to meet global power demand over the next two decades will come from renewables.

The report from the National Bank of Abu Dhabi says that while oil and gas has underpinned almost all energy investments until now, future investment will be almost entirely in renewable energy sources.

The report is important because the Gulf region, the Middle East and North Africa will need to add another 170GW of electricity in the next decade, and the major financiers recognise that the cheapest and most effective way to go is through solar and wind. It also highlights how even the biggest financial institutions in the Gulf…

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Second crude pipeline spill in Montana wreaks havoc on Yellowstone River

World News Forum

 Second crude pipeline spill in Montana wreaks havoc on Yellowstone River
Second crude pipeline spill in Montana wreaks havoc on Yellowstone River

By Nate Schweber

Environmental damage from recent oil leak ranges from contaminated water supply to polluted farmland

GLENDIVE, Montana — When an oil pipeline burst in July 2011 and poured 63,000 gallons of crude into the Yellowstone River 200 miles upstream from Dena Hoff’s farm of wheat, beans and corn on the Great Plains in Glendive, she felt disgusted.

When it happened again Saturday, she felt terror. This pipeline breach was underneath the Yellowstone River, just a few feet from her sheep pasture. The new spill poured out some 50,000 gallons of crude oil. Leaders of this small riverside farming and ranching community in northeastern Montana warned residents not to drink their tap water, because benzene, a carcinogen, was found in the municipal water system. Oil slicked the river for dozens of miles, almost to the border with North…

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Ted Cruz’s Big Adventure

If Republicans win the Senate, expect a ferocious tactical clash between Cruz and the actual leader Mitch McConnell

Ted Cruz (Credit: Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)
Ted Cruz (Credit: Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

“Ted Cruz’s big (awful) plans: Why a clash is coming if GOP wins majority” by Jim Newell in Salon

No one’s more excited about the prospects of a Republican takeover of the Senate than the incoming Senate majority leader, Ted Cruz. He’s already been serving as Speaker of the House for two years, and come Tuesday night, he may well have control of both chambers of Congress. Once he’s elected President in 2016, he’ll be the first man in history to serve concurrently as Speaker of the House, Senate majority leader, and President of the United States. Whenever as the next Supreme Court justice keels over, he’ll appoint himself to that, too. This is ultimately the America that America deserves.

You may be asking how a junior Senate backbencher who’s not in line to chair any committee will effectively serve as Senate majority leader. He’ll do so the same way that, as a junior Senate backbencher, he’s effectively served as Speaker of the House the past two years. Through whatever feats of raw political talent and nimble exploitation of congressional process, Cruz positions himself as the go-to vehicle through which all far-right rage is channeled in Washington. He’s the front man for the interests of radicalized “outside groups” (well-funded organizations with presences in Washington D.C.) like Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, Tea Party Patriots, and so forth. Whenever the specter of practical governance — funding the government, raising the debt ceiling — sweeps its way into the corridors of the Republican leadership, there materializes Ted Cruz, exorcising the demon. We simply do not care for Texas Senator Ted Cruz here at Salon dot com, but hey, the man fills a space.

Read more at Salon

You Can’t Quarantine Stupid: Ebola & Unconstitutional Health Policy

WWI propaganda poster warning soldiers against catching venereal diseases
WWI propaganda poster warning soldiers against catching venereal diseases

The year was 1918. After two and a half years of uneasy neutrality, America had finally entered The Great War and had committed over 4 million men to the war effort. As one would expect—or at least hope—the United States government took great care to prepare newly enlisted men for military service, making sure that those who had no prior military experience would be adequately trained and ready to fight when they reached Europe. However, the United States government understood that their soldiers would not only face dangers abroad, but at home as well, and worked tirelessly to keep them safe from that most dreaded of all military foes: syphilis.

Yes, at the beginning of the 20th century, venereal diseases were a massive problem for the US military, with 13% of all Americans drafted by Uncle Sam for WWI testing positive for syphilis or gonorrhea. At the time, there was a more intensely moral stigma around venereal diseases than there is today, and the primary mode of transmission for such diseases was widely thought to reside solely in sex acts that occurred outside of traditional marriage, the most pernicious of these sex acts being prostitution. In response to this, US, state and local governments eschewed the simple solution of providing their soldiers-in-training with prophylactics should they purchase a few moments of a woman’s time and tried to take away the opportunity for soldiers to contract the diseases by dismantling the prostitution trade.

In the summer of 1918, US Congress took matters into its own hands and passed the highly unconstitutional Chamberlain-Kahn Act, which granted the military $1 million to be used in a “civilian quarantine and isolation fund” that could be used to indefinitely detain prostitutes and “promiscuous women and girls.” The exact number of women who were unjustly detained as the result of this program is unknown, but estimates generally suggest a number somewhere around 30,000. The women were held in quarantine for an average of 70 days in federal detention centers and 1 year in reformatories near Army and Navy training camps.

Only 1/3 of the women that were held in these detention centers and reformatories were ever charged with prostitution. The other 2/3 were simply detained for having a venereal disease or for a host of arbitrary reasons ranging from how they dressed to the way they danced. In no way were any of the decisions on who to quarantine based on the most recent scientific findings or public health concerns. Rather, these decisions revolved around the personal moral judgements of men in power concerning women who had little or no rights. As a member of the military’s newly formed Commission on Training Camp Activities from New Jersey described after “investigating” the behavior of local women, “the manner of dancing by certain of these girls was so suggestive as to constitute almost positive proof of their indulging in sexual intercourse.” In other words, they’re whores because we say they’re whores.

The most egregious example of this pseudo-scientific posturing is from the bipartisan duo of New York and New Jersey Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, who apparently obtained masters degrees in Public Health overnight and have enacted strict quarantine policies for people returning from West Africa who have had contact with Ebola patients. Governor Christie echoed the inane violations of civil rights perpetrated nearly a century ago on prostitutes and “impure” women by quarantining Kaci Hickox, a nurse who had been working with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) to help people in Sierra Leone who were enduring the ravages of Ebola. Upon landing in New Jersey, Hickox, who was asymptomatic for Ebola or any other disease for that matter, was promptly detained and quarantined in a tent equipped with the luxury of a portable toilet, but without a shower or television.

Read more at the Daily Kos

Out of control: How the world’s health organizations failed to stop the Ebola disaster

 Two people lay dead on the floor Sept. 20 inside a ward at the Redemption Hospital, which has become a transfer and holding center for Ebola patients in the New Kru Town slum of Monrovia, Liberia.

Two people lay dead on the floor Sept. 20 inside a ward at the Redemption Hospital, which has become a transfer and holding center for Ebola patients in the New Kru Town slum of Monrovia, Liberia.

Tom Frieden remembers the young woman with the beautiful hair, dyed a rusty gold and braided meticulously, elaborately, perhaps by someone who loved her very much. She was lying facedown, half off the mattress. She had been dead for hours, and flies had found the bare flesh of her legs.

Two other bodies lay nearby. Bedridden patients who had not yet succumbed said of the dead, “Please, get them out of here.”

Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), knew it was no simple matter to properly carry away a body loaded with Ebola virus. It takes four people wearing protective suits, one at each corner of the body bag. On that grim day near the end of August, in a makeshift Ebola ward in Monrovia, Liberia, burial teams already had lugged 60 victims to a truck for the trip to the crematorium.

Frieden had seen plenty of death over the years, but this was far worse than he expected, a plague on a medieval scale. “A scene out of Dante,” he called it.

Shaken, he flew back to the United States on Aug. 31 and immediately briefed President Obama by phone. The window to act was closing, he told the president in the 15-minute call.

That conversation, nearly six months after the World Health Organization (WHO) learned of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, was part of a mounting realization among world leaders that the battle against the virus was being lost. As of early September, with more than 1,800 confirmed Ebola deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, there was still no coordinated global response. Alarmed U.S. officials realized they would need to call in the military.

Obama eventually ordered 3,000 military personnel to West Africa; about 200 had arrived by the beginning of this month. They will be joined by health workers from countries such as Britain, China and Cuba. Canada and Japan are sending protective gear and mobile laboratories. Nonprofit organizations such as the Gates Foundation also are contributing. But it’s not at all clear that this belated muscular response will be enough to quell the epidemic before it takes tens of thousands of lives.

This is an open-ended crisis involving a microscopic threat on the move. This week came the unsettling news that the Ebola epidemic has now reached across the Atlantic Ocean to a hospital in Texas, where a Liberian man has tested positive for the virus.

So how did the situation get so horribly out of control?

Read more at The Washington Post

Archaeologists Discover Nazi Extermination Camp Gas Chambers in Poland

A rusty road sign outside the perimeter of a Nazi death camp in Sobibor, Poland, on Sept. 18, 2014. (Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

From “Archaeologists unearth hidden death chambers used to kill a quarter-million Jews at notorious camp”

By Terrence McCoy in The Washington Post

Few sites across war-torn Poland harbor more secrets of atrocity and horror than the Nazi concentration camp of Sobibor. Different from Auschwitz, which almost immediately yielded the full scope of the crimes committed there, the history of Sobibor in eastern Poland was initially hidden and opaque.

Unlike Auschwitz, the fate of Sobibor wasn’t liberation. It was obliteration. The Nazis who had run the camp tried to extinguish every remnant of it in 1943, painting over its grounds with a farm, trees and asphalt. Besides a railroad track and the commander’s house, Haaretz noted, nothing remained of the camp. Save for the testimonies of the few survivors, who could only provide scant recollections of small areas of the camp, Sobibor had been lost to history.

But now, more than 70 years later, relics of genocide have surfaced, bringing more clarity to the murder of an estimated 250,000 Jews there than ever before. Buried beneath an asphalt road were a series of well-preserved gas chamber walls that archaeologists say will help elucidate the secrets of Sobibor. Beneath the road were brick rows, stacked four deep — the exoskeleton of four gas chambers.

“The discovery of the gas chambers at Sobibor is a very important finding in Holocaust research,” historian David Silberklang, editor of Yad Vashem Studies, said in a statement. “It is important to understand that there were no survivors from among the Jews who worked in the area of the gas chambers. Therefore, these findings are all that is left of those murdered there, and they open a window onto the day-to-day suffering of these people.”

Read more at The Washington Post

DNA Evidence Identifies Jack the Ripper

Gruesome: A contemporary engraving of a Jack the Ripper crime scene in London’s Whitechapel

It is the greatest murder mystery of all time, a puzzle that has perplexed criminologists for more than a century and spawned books, films and myriad theories ranging from the plausible to the utterly bizarre.

But now, thanks to modern forensic science, The Mail on Sunday can exclusively reveal the true identity of Jack the Ripper, the serial killer responsible for at least five grisly murders in Whitechapel in East London during the autumn of 1888.

DNA evidence has now shown beyond reasonable doubt which one of six key suspects commonly cited in connection with the Ripper’s reign of terror was the actual killer – and we reveal his identity.

Read more at the Daily Mail, UK