Thursday, February 22, 2018

Conrad Black On Clinton Political Mischief and Robert Mueller's Russian Drama

Special Counsel Robert Mueller
Clinton Political Mischief
Emerges as Key Tale
In an Astounding Drama
It is both dismal and amusing to see the rationalizations of the diehard Kremlin collusionists after Robert Mueller’s spurious indictment of the 13 Russians who will never encounter the vagaries of United States justice. The charge of conspiring against the United States is nonsense, and the whole ambiance of the investigation now is that of a phantom consolation prize for the absence of a crime, a victim, or a culprit, all amplified by the hollow sanctimony of an official America that has meddled countless times in the elections of other countries (usually for the general good of the Western alliance).
 
The desperation of the Trump impeachers is piquant: This indictment doesn’t cover hacking — where might that lead? And the fact that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein said, “This indictment refers to no Americans,” and that it contains no allegation of affecting the election result or of collusion by Americans, may mean that perhaps another indictment will. It is to this pathetic wisp that the New York Times’ Tom Friedman’s claim of a Russian assault on American sovereignty equivalent to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and Senator Mark Warner’s thousand Russian agents delivering Wisconsin to Mr. Trump on election night, have been reduced.
 
It is all, and always has been, nonsense. The Russian activities Mr. Mueller has attacked began before Mr. Trump had announced his candidacy, were favorable to Senator Sanders and the Green candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, as well as to Mr. Trump, and were almost entirely Internet advertisements decrying the state of the country in terms many Americans would sadly endorse — violence, corruption, poverty, crime, racism, etc. — in a presidential campaign in which the major candidates spent $2.5 billion, and Mrs. Clinton spent the unheard-of sum of $250 million on attack ads.
 
This was her version of “going high when they go low”: She was obviously speaking of money spent, not moral tone. And that was without counting the 10 to 12 million dollars the Clinton campaign contributed to assembling the outrageous Steele dossier, which Mrs. Clinton cites in her book as evidence of the ”treason” Trump committed with Russia to cheat her of the election. Trump critics are correct to say that this piffling pseudo-prosecution is not “a complete vindication,” in that it is not an explicit exculpation, but it is a stark confession of the extent of the collusion fiction.
 
When the rabidly Americophobic British newspaper the Guardian is reduced to finding evidence of collusion in Trump’s supposed generosity to Russia, the Red Queen is made to sound like Louis Brandeis. We must be fairly close to the point where it is impartially recorded that Trump-Kremlin collusion was a nasty fairy tale commissioned and paid for and carpet-bombed on the press by the Clinton campaign, and used to infect and mislead the Justice Department and the FBI, by senior Clinton-campaign and Obama-administration officials.

Peter Strzok
The Steele dossier remains the only visible justification for a false Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant against Carter Page and, incidentally, the Trump campaign; and for the Mueller investigation itself, even though that investigation was prompted by fired FBI director James Comey with an illegal leak to the New York Times of a memo of contested accuracy that was probably illegally removed government property. Mr. Mueller arrived after Mr. Comey had dismissed the Steele dossier as “malicious and unverified” and after the Trump-hating Clinton-helper Peter Strzok, whom Mr. Mueller inexplicably recruited, had reluctantly concluded that there was “no there there.”
 
With this Russian indictment and whatever flailing about Mr. Mueller may commit over hacking and WikiLeaks, Mr. Mueller can make his gesture to the fact that the Russians nibbled ineffectually at the edges of the 2016 election, and use that as his cover to withdraw from the whole misconceived collusion foolishness in which the United States is being reduced to a laughingstock for the whole world. Or, Mr. Mueller can exercise the plenitude of his mandate and unearth the proportions of the chaos caused by the Steele dossier (which the egregious Senator Warner assured us “is taken seriously by the British, our ally”).
 
It is an astounding tale that is emerging of Clinton political mischief tainting the entire justice system and misleading tens of millions of Americans to imagine their political system was being manipulated by foreigners and might have produced an illicit presidential-election result. This is the exposure that must be made, and while I would not necessarily favor prosecuting them all, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Comey, deputy FBI director McCabe, and quite possibly former senior Justice Department officials including Loretta Lynch and Sally Yates, have committed offenses that put them in the danger zone of indictable acts.
 
Instead of Keystone Kops charges against untouchable Russians and shock-and-awe intimidation of prior bit-players for alleged tax offenses and minor indiscretions, Mr. Mueller should lay this immense, scandalous rotten egg before the country. If he can’t face that challenge and service, he should shut down this charade so that Attorney General Sessions can end his recusal and we can bring on the main event and identify the authors of this monstrous farce.
 
As his greatest problem melts, President Trump has an opportunity to build on the new need of Democrats to be more cooperative than their mindless obstructionism until recently has permitted. To build on the historic success of his tax reform, Mr. Trump should cut across party lines and do the right and surprising thing, as President Lyndon Johnson did with civil rights, President Nixon did with China, and President Reagan did with arms control.
 
He should reaffirm the right of all qualified people to own handguns and rifles, but sharply tighten access to automatic weapons, require licenses to carry concealed weapons, fund substantial security in all schools and for public meetings, including religious services and concerts, and intensify the collection of relevant behavioral information and response to it (an area bungled by the FBI and local authorities in the Parkland, Fla., massacre last week).
 
Gun supporters cannot justify a laissez-faire legal framework, but will continue to be able to collect and enjoy guns if they meet high but reasonable criteria. This might not have interdicted the Las Vegas murderer, but would have flagged the Parkland misfit. All unauthorized firearms should be seized.
 
The other march the president could usefully steal legislatively, and bring the Democrats into formation with him, would be to increase the infrastructure proposal to the $4.5 trillion that is generally recognized to be needed, and fund the increase from anticipated reductions in the gasoline price resulting from increased U.S. production, by maintaining the present price and applying the differential to this program. The anti-Trump resistance is collapsing and we are almost back to normal political blocking and tackling.
 
With these notches in his belt, Mr. Trump would have a chance of complete immigration and health-care reform in the second half of his term. There will be plenty of opportunity for the president to gloat about the collusion idiocy; now is the time to make Washington work and build credentials as a negotiator and champion of the system, and not just the great outsider.
Mr. Trump has brought down the walls like Joshua at Jericho; now is the time to bury gridlock and rebuild public confidence that America’s legislators are not just the corrupt, ineffectual lobbyists-in-waiting that a great many Americans, with some reason, think they are.
 
CBLetters@gmail.com. From the National Review.
 
By Simon Shuster , TIME 
February 21, 2018
It turns out you don’t need much to meddle in a U.S. election. Some cheap cell phones. An Internet connection. Maybe a few airline tickets and a good grasp of the English language. That was enough for the Russian troll farm to get started on their U.S. operation back in 2015. And they achieved what they set out to do.

Thirteen of them, mostly errand runners for the group known as the Internet Research Agency, have been charged for allegedly trying to skew the U.S. electoral process. The indictment against them, handed down on Friday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, reads both like a warning and a potboiler. But it could also serve as an instruction manual, one that any determined group could use to replicate the operation. This is clearly not what the Special Counsel intended.

 When it comes to catching criminals and deterring copycats, the indictment may yet succeed. It might at least become harder for the Internet Research Agency to recruit new trolls around its home base in St. Petersburg, especially now that some of them are wanted by the FBI and unable to travel outside Russia without fear of arrest and extradition. Their summer holidays may now be limited to the beaches of Sochi and Crimea.

But for the broader aims of the troll factory and its investors, the indictment could serve as a victory in disguise. Apart from providing a blueprint for their methods, it may further diminish public trust in the platforms people use to receive information, share ideas, and to engage in civic discourse. Disseminating those kind of doubts has been the aim of Russian propaganda for years.

“It does not function like traditional propaganda,” says David Patrikarakos, the author of War in 140 Characters, a recent book on modern information warfare. It doesn’t seek to promote any ideology or convince people to join any single cause. Instead, says Patrikarakos, “It tries to muddy the waters. It tries to sow as much confusion and as much misinformation as possible, so that when people see the truth, they find it harder to recognize.”

Take, for example, one of the troll factory‘s earlier campaigns in Russia, the one that followed the murder of Boris Nemtsov. On February 27, 2015, the Russian dissident and former Deputy Prime Minister was shot in the back while walking home a few steps from the Kremlin walls. Suspicion among his allies soon fell on the man he had spent his career trying to unseat: President Vladimir Putin, who denied any involvement.

The day after the killing, the staff at the Internet Research Agency received detailed instructions on how to spin the news. Their orders were to flood Russian news websites and social media with comments about Nemtsov’s killing, all in the hope of confusing the online discussion about who was responsible. “Technical instructions for Feb. 28,” the orders began, according to a copy that was later leaked to local journalists. “Create the opinion that Ukrainians could have been mixed up in the death of the Russian opposition figure.”

Other theories spouted that week by the Agency’s trolls put the blame on Nemtsov’s girlfriend, his fellow dissidents, his American allies and his former business partners. They did not focus on dispelling the notion that Putin or his allies could have been involved. They simply crowded the debate with so many theories and alternative facts that everything about the case began to seem suspicious. “Next they’ll say that space aliens did it,” Nemtsov’s personal assistant, Olga Shorina, told me after watching these theories spread on social media at the time. “I can’t even look at it anymore.”

About three weeks after Nemtsov’s death – when a decorated veteran of the Russian security services had already been arrested for pulling the trigger – an independent polling agency in Moscow found that only 15% of respondents believed the Russian authorities had been involved. Perhaps even more surprising, the same survey found that only 10% of respondents were even paying close attention to the highest profile political murder of the Putin era. A far larger number had simply tuned out.

The Kremlin’s main propaganda outlets – the television news – no doubt played a more powerful role in shaping public opinion around that case. But the role played by the Internet Research Agency suggested a shift in strategy. Long before Nemtsov’s killing, in 2011, Russia had overtaken Germany as the nation with the highest number of Internet users in Europe. Even then the public was beginning to turn off state TV and going online for uncensored news.

Across Russia, and especially in the big cities, the political debate was also migrating to the Web around that time, especially to the blogging platform known as LiveJournal, whose audience in Russia around 2011 had come to rival some of the state-run news networks – it had 5 million Russian accounts with 30 million monthly readers. It wasn’t long before that space also came under attack. In April 2011, hackers targeted not just the blogs of the dissidents and opposition figures who were writing on LiveJournal; they took down the entire service.

“There’s no ideology at play here, unless you want to talk about an anti-blogging ideology,” Alexander Plushchev, one of Russia’s leading tech journalists, told me at the time. “These are clearly just Internet hit men who got the order to take out LiveJournal.” The aim, in other words, was to stop the conversation. And for a little while it worked. The raucous debates on LiveJournal ground to a halt as the site remained inaccessible for days, and many of its users began migrating to Facebook, which is a lot more difficult for hackers to knock offline.

The rise of the Internet Research Agency in 2013 was, at least in part, a reaction to that shift. Its managers recognized that trying to shut down the means of political debate was no longer enough. In the age of social media, people would just find another place to exchange ideas. The best way to stop them would be to infiltrate the discourse itself — and, whenever possible, to fill it with nonsense, conspiracies and lies.

The indictment of the Internet Research Agency shows in minute detail how easily this can be done. Reading through the schemes it describes – the fake accounts the suspects created on social media, the fake activist groups they formed, the fake causes they claimed to champion, and the phony protests they were able to organize in American cities – it is hard to avoid the tug of paranoia, the feeling that the civic discourse in any democracy is vulnerable to sabotage, and that every political statement is worthy of suspicion.

The reaction to such doubts could, in many cases, be a healthy sort of skepticism. It could remind people to check their sources of information and to question the voices that reach them online. But that sort of vigilance is hard to maintain. For many people, the easier option would be to withdraw from the debate for fear of being fooled again. And as the efforts of the Agency’s trolls have shown in the past, that outcome would serve their interests perfectly well.

With reporting by Sandra Ifraimova / New York

Saturday, January 27, 2018

What Do Asthma, Heart Disease And Cancer Have In Common? Maybe Childhood Trauma

Re-posted from Parentadvocates.org
A child can be traumatized at a very early age, and this trauma will affect everything the child does and believes, from that date until way into the future.

For these reasons, we must try to deal with the consequences of our actions, as well as the health, welfare and safety of the child, often and with diligence.

Betsy Combier
Editor, ADVOCATZ.com
Editor, ADVOCATZ BLOG
Editor, Parentadvocates.org
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials  

What Do Asthma, Heart Disease And Cancer Have In Common? Maybe Childhood Trauma
CORY TURNER • JAN 23, 2018
90.1 FM WABE

“Trauma” is a heavy and haunting word. For many Americans, it conjures images of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The emotional toll from those wars made headlines and forced a healthcare reckoning at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician, would like to see a similar reckoning in every doctor’s office, health clinic and classroom in America — for children who have experienced trauma much closer to home.

Burke Harris is the founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco. She’s spent much of her career trying to spread awareness about the dangers of childhood toxic stress. Her 2014 TED talk on the subject has more than 3.5 million views; the message is simple and research-based:

Two-thirds of Americans are exposed to extreme stress in childhood, things like divorce, a death in the family or a caregiver’s substance abuse. And this early adversity, if experienced in high enough doses, “literally gets under our skin, changing people in ways that can endure in their bodies for decades,” Burke Harris writes in her new book, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity:

“It can tip a child’s developmental trajectory and affect physiology. It can trigger chronic inflammation and hormonal changes that can last a lifetime. It can alter the way DNA is read and how cells replicate, and it can dramatically increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes — even Alzheimer’s.”

In short, early stress can shorten your life.

That’s why, as a clinician, Burke Harris asks parents and guardians of new patients to fill out a short, confidential questionnaire. She wants to understand just how much stress these children have experienced.

Are this child’s parents or guardians separated or divorced?
Is anyone in the home depressed or mentally ill?
Has the child seen or heard household members hurt or threaten each other?
Has a household member sworn at, insulted, humiliated, or put down the child?

The list goes on, including exposure to sexual abuse, drug or alcohol addiction in the house, neighborhood violence, food insecurity and housing instability.

I recently spoke with Burke Harris about the impact this exposure can have on children and what can be done about it. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are we talking about when we talk about toxic stress?

When kids are exposed to very high levels of chronic stress or adversity — or really intense and scary experiences — it actually changes the way their brains and bodies are wired. And that can lead to changes in brain development, changes in the development of the immune system, our hormonal systems, and even all the way down to the way our DNA is read and transcribed. And that is what can lead to this condition that’s now known as toxic stress — and put folks at an increased risk of lifelong health problems.

To help our readers understand toxic stress, I’d like you to explain how, exactly, the body responds to stress. In the book, you use an analogy that makes this really accessible: The bear.

Absolutely. Imagine you’re walking in the forest, and you see a bear, right? The first thing that happens is that the amygdala, which is our brain’s alarm center, sounds the alarm. So, our brain sends a signal down to our adrenal gland, which makes adrenaline and other stress hormones, including cortisol, and so your heart begins to pound, your pupils dilate, your airways open up, and you are ready to either fight that bear or run from the bear.

But, if you were to think about it, fighting a bear wouldn’t seem like a good idea, would it? Because bears are big and they have teeth and they have claws. And that is why this alarm center in your brain, your amygdala, actually sends neurons to the part of your brain that regulates executive functioning: your prefrontal cortex. And it says, ‘You know what? We’re not going to do a lot of thinking right now. So we’re just going to turn you down. Just be quiet. Because now is not the time for thinking. Now is the time for reacting.’

Another nice thing that your brain does for you when you’re facing a mortal threat is it activates your immune system. And that’s not obvious, but when you think about it …

That’s totally not obvious.

Yeah, but it makes a ton of sense — because, if you’re getting ready to fight a bear, that bear may get his claws into you, and so you want your immune system to be primed to bring inflammation to stabilize the wound, right? All of this, it’s absolutely brilliant. It makes total evolutionary sense.

This is exactly what we need to be able to survive an encounter with a bear in the woods. And, if it happens once in a while, then that’s okay.

But the problem is: What happens when it occurs over and over and over again, especially when children’s brains and bodies are just developing?

What sorts of things in a child’s life can lead to toxic stress?

The real, seminal research that was done on this topic was the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs) that was published in the ’90s. And in that study the researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Medical Center looked at 10 categories of adverse childhood experiences. Those include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, or growing up in a household where a parent is mentally ill, substance-dependent, incarcerated, where there’s parental separation or divorce, or where there’s domestic violence.

And these 10 adverse childhood experiences from the original research are the ones that were associated with huge increases in risk for things like heart disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, even Alzheimer’s. All of these long-term health problems.

About two-thirds of the population have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, and about 13 percent have experienced four or more, according to the CDC.

Since that research was done, we’re also now understanding that there may be other risk factors that can also activate a child’s stress response and lead to changes in the way the brain and body function, and there’s still more research happening with that. You can imagine other things that would be pretty scary for kids — things like having your parent deported or being a victim of discrimination or racial violence.

What about the relationship between poverty and toxic stress?

We can’t raise kids in a bubble, right? And the key ingredient to protecting children from toxic stress is really this safe, stable, nurturing relationship from a loving caregiver who can act as a buffer.

But it’s much more difficult to act as a buffer when you’re working three jobs to put food on the table. It’s much more difficult to act as a buffer when you are dealing with existential threats.

If you are a caregiver and you’re living in a dangerous neighborhood, trying to get your kids to school and deal with the day-to-day trauma and drama of life, then physiologically your stress hormones are going to be pumping. Right?

That’s going to be much more difficult for you, and therefore, it’s going to be much more difficult to be a buffer to that child.

What we see is that poverty itself may have a very significant impact on, first, kids being exposed to adversity, and second, the probability that the kids who are exposed will go on to develop toxic stress, because of the impact of the stress of poverty on their caregiver.

How do you begin to diagnose and treat toxic stress?

I give a great example of this in the book, the story of Lila. She was a 3-year-old girl who came to see me, and her mom’s only concern was that Lila wasn’t growing well. She was itty-bitty, and I made the diagnosis of “failure to thrive.”

This was after we had already begun regular screening for adverse childhood experiences in our practice and developed our multidisciplinary intervention team. And so, as part of the regular routine physical exam for Lila, I also got her adverse childhood experiences score. It was a seven.

A seven? That’s extremely high.

Yes, especially for a 3-year-old. It’s very, very high.

In terms of treatment, step one was just letting Lila’s mom know what was going on, what my clinical suspicion was.
So, once I got that ACE score, I was able to explain to her mom: “Hey, because of what your child has experienced, I believe her body is making more stress hormones than it should. And I think that’s what’s leading to the problems with your child’s growth. And so this is what I’m going to recommend.”

And so we did, in this case, something called child-parent psychotherapy, when a therapist meets with both the child and the caregiver together. And it’s really focused on the experience of trauma and adversity and how to help both the child and the caregiver overcome and develop tools for reducing the amount of stress that the child is exposed to.

And what’s totally nuts is that, when I did that — along with nutritional supplementation — within six months that child was back on the growth curve.

That’s one of the reasons I created the Center for Youth Wellness here in San Francisco, because our goal is not just to advance the standard of practice here in our center but to advance the standard of practice period. Our goal is that every pediatrician in the United States or — heck! — around the world for that matter is doing routine screening for adverse childhood experiences. Because one of the things that all of this science tells us is that, the No. 1 thing that makes a difference is early intervention.

I want to ask you about schools. If you could design the ideal school support system for children with toxic stress, what would it look like?

When we’re talking about vulnerable communities and what have been traditionally called “underperforming” schools, you have huge numbers of kids who are exposed to very high levels of adversity. And we’re like, ‘Huh, I wonder why they’re not scoring well on that test?’

If you had that many kids in a class and they all had epilepsy, what would you be doing? It seems unfair, right? Because we’re talking about a neurotoxin.

In the book, I really tried to give an example of folks who are doing great work with this, specifically looking at what the team at Turnaround for Children in New York learned as they were designing interventions for schools.
Initially, their thought was providing these supports in terms of, you know, social work and counselors for kids. And then they recognized that it wasn’t 1 or 2 or 5 or 10 percent of the kids in the school that needed some kind of service or some kind of acknowledgment of the impact of adversity. It was the entire school. Sure, there may be 10 or 15 percent of kids who are so disruptive that they’re coming to our attention, but, for most of the kids in that class, they are experiencing some significant dose of adversity.

That required a totally different approach. And one of the things I talk about in the book is how Turnaround learns, like, “Hey, we need to train every single person that’s interacting with these kids. Every teacher, every counselor — the person who is taking out the garbage at night. Every single person who is working in the school environment needs to understand what toxic stress looks like, how to identify it and how to support a child in de-escalating their stress response.

What does that stress response look like in the classroom?

One of the most obvious and easy to spot manifestations is behavioral problems. Difficulty with impulse control, difficulty with self-regulation, trouble with attention. From that standpoint, the symptoms often overlap with ADHD. A lot of my patients were being referred by teachers or principals or other folks in the school environment for ADHD. The challenge is, the treatment for ADHD is stimulants. But, if your underlying problem is an overactive stress response, stimulants may not be the appropriate treatment.

Understanding how to get that stress response regulated, how to de-escalate it — that’s something the team at Turnaround for Children did in their training of all of the folks in the school environment. They helped folks recognize, “OK, when a child is becoming disregulated, here are some of the things that you can do to help them re-engage and de-escalate the situation.”

The one thing that I just want to add is, that kid who has asthma all the time — that may also be a symptom [of trauma]. Or the kid who has the chronic headaches or the chronic tummy pain. Those may be symptoms that are less obvious and certainly less intrusive in the school environment, so they can be overlooked.

We’re asking schools to do something remarkably difficult here — something that requires time and training and money. Most schools don’t have a trained social worker or psychologist on staff …

This is why I feel like this science is so important because, as I mentioned, if you had a teacher who was trying to teach a class of 30 kids with epilepsy … no way. Like, no way would you do that, right? That’s not even doable. And yet we have teachers who are teaching in a class of 30 kids and, frankly, 20 of them might be dealing with toxic stress.
Which helps explains why teacher attrition rates are so high in so many schools.

It’s crazy! For teachers, it’s a completely uphill battle. It’s completely unfair. I’m glad we’re talking about this because, if we’re talking about the school system alone trying to solve this problem, we’re hosed. If we’re talking about pediatricians alone trying to solve this problem, it’s too big for us.

Folks often ask me, like, “God, you’re talking about two-thirds of the population exposed to adverse childhood experiences, and all of this science about what it does to the brain and body is so overwhelming! How do you deal with it?”

But, knowing that the problem is so big, for me, it’s like, “Oh shoot, we need a different set of tools. This is not a problem with, you know, Dashaun or Jorge or Sam or Sarah. This is a public health problem! And in fact this is a public health crisis.”

So guess what, schools you need help! Doctors offices, you’re part of the solution! You know, if you’re in early childhood, you’re part of the solution. If you’re in juvenile justice, you’re part of the solution. We all need to be part of the solution. If we each take off our little piece, it’s nuts how far we’ll be able to go, together as a society, in terms of solving this problem.

But we’ve got to own it, and acknowledge that trauma is everyone’s problem …
Definitely. This is not a poverty problem. This is not a race problem. This is a function of human biology. It is the way all of our bodies are wired. And now we can use this science to improve outcomes for everyone.
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A National Tragedy: The Opioid Crisis

 
A New Jersey woman who was questioned by police officers about possession of heroin.CreditJessica Kourkounis for The New York Times

The Failed War on Drugs

 

The war on drugs in the United States has been a failure that has ruined lives, filled prisons and cost a fortune. It started during the Nixon administration with the idea that, because drugs are bad for people, they should be difficult to obtain. As a result, it became a war on supply.

As first lady during the crack epidemic, Nancy Reagan tried to change this approach in the 1980s. But her “Just Say No” campaign to reduce demand received limited support.

Over the objections of the supply-focused bureaucracy, she told a United Nations audience on Oct. 25, 1988: “If we cannot stem the American demand for drugs, then there will be little hope of preventing foreign drug producers from fulfilling that demand. We will not get anywhere if we place a heavier burden of action on foreign governments than on America’s own mayors, judges and legislators. You see, the cocaine cartel does not begin in MedellĂ­n, Colombia. It begins in the streets of New York, Miami, Los Angeles and every American city where crack is bought and sold.”

Her warning was prescient, but not heeded. Studies show that the United States has among the highest rates of drug use in the world. But even as restricting supply has failed to curb abuse, aggressive policing has led to thousands of young drug users filling American prisons, where they learn how to become real criminals.

The prohibitions on drugs have also created perverse economic incentives that make combating drug producers and distributors extremely difficult. The high black-market price for illegal drugs has generated huge profits for the groups that produce and sell them, income that is invested in buying state-of-the-art weapons, hiring gangs to defend their trade, paying off public officials and making drugs easily available to children, to get them addicted.

Drug gangs, armed with money and guns from the United States, are causing bloody mayhem in Mexico, El Salvador and other Central American countries. In Mexico alone, drug-related violence has resulted in over 100,000 deaths since 2006. This violence is one of the reasons people leave these countries to come to the United States.

Add it all up and one can see that focusing on supply has done little to curtail drug abuse while causing a host of terrible side effects. What, then, can we do?

First the United States and Mexican governments must acknowledge the failure of this strategy. Only then can we engage in rigorous and countrywide education campaigns to persuade people not to use drugs.

The current opioid crisis underlines the importance of curbing demand. This approach, with sufficient resources and the right message, could have a major impact similar to the campaign to reduce tobacco use.
We should also decriminalize the small-scale possession of drugs for personal use, to end the flow of nonviolent drug addicts into the criminal justice system. Several states have taken a step in this direction by decriminalizing possession of certain amounts of marijuana. Mexico’s Supreme Court has also declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use. At the same time, we should continue to make it illegal to possess large quantities of drugs so that pushers can be prosecuted and some control over supply maintained.

Finally, we must create well-staffed and first-class treatment centers where people are willing to go without fear of being prosecuted and with the confidence that they will receive effective care. The experience of Portugalsuggests that younger people who use drugs but are not yet addicted can very often be turned around. Even though it is difficult to get older addicted people off drugs, treatment programs can still offer them helpful services.

With such a complicated problem, we should be willing to experiment with solutions. Which advertising messages are most effective? How can treatment be made effective for different kinds of drugs and different degrees of addiction? We should have the patience to evaluate what works and what doesn’t. But we must get started now.
As these efforts progress, profits from the drug trade will diminish greatly even as the dangers of engaging in it will remain high. The result will be a gradual lessening of violence in Mexico and Central American countries.

We have a crisis on our hands — and for the past half-century, we have been failing to solve it. But there are alternatives. Both the United States and Mexico need to look beyond the idea that drug abuse is simply a law-enforcement problem, solvable through arrests, prosecution and restrictions on supply. We must together attack it with public health policies and education.

We still have time to persuade our young people not to ruin their lives.

George P. Shultz, a former secretary of the Treasury and secretary of state, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. Pedro Aspe is a former secretary of finance in Mexico.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Michigan Supreme Court Orders $550 Refund To Teachers

 ‘Major victory’ for teachers: $550M refund
Jonathan Oosting, Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart
Rick Snyder
 Lansing — Michigan plans to refund nearly 275,000 public school employees a combined $550 million plus interest for retiree healthcare paycheck deductions deemed unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, a ruling hailed by unions as a “major victory” for educators.

In a unanimous 6-0 decision released Wednesday, justices ordered the refunds and upheld a Court of Appeals ruling that a 2010 Michigan law violated contract clauses of the state and federal constitutions by involuntarily reducing pay for teachers and other school employees by 3 percent to fund retiree health care benefits.

Because the paycheck deductions were unconstitutional, funds collected from more than 200,000 school employees before a replacement law took effect in 2012 “must be refunded to the plaintiffs in accordance with the Court of Appeals judgment,” justices ruled.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration is moving ahead with refunds after losing the court battle, but it’s not immediately clear how long the process will take.

The state will distribute refunds to individual school districts, which will then be tasked with repaying employees, said Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the Michigan Office of Retirement Services. The total refund will include interest, he said, meaning the state will send roughly $554 million to districts.

“I cannot imagine a better pre-holiday gift to Michigan’s school employees than getting their hard-earned money returned to them,” Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart said in a statement, praising the work her union and the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers did on behalf of their members.

“This reinforces why being a member of a union matters – working collectively, we won this case that no individual could have fought for themselves,” she said.

Refunds are expected to average about $2,000 per person but will vary based on how much each school employee earned during the roughly two-year window of illegal deductions.

A person who made $50,000 a year would be in line for a $3,000 refund plus interest, according to MEA spokesman Doug Pratt. A veteran teacher will likely receive a larger refund than a bus driver or paraprofessional, he noted.

Justice Beth Clement, appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in November, did not participate in the new supreme court decision. Unions that sued the state on behalf of teachers had asked her to sit out the case because she served as Snyder’s chief legal counsel when he decided to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Snyder said Wednesday he was “pleased that taxpayers will have resolution” to a long-running dispute over the 2010 law signed by his predecessor, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat. The law was in effect from July 2010 until September 2012, when Snyder signed a replacement version upheld by the Supreme Court that year.

“The funding has been held in escrow, so Michigan will continue to have a balanced budget,” the governor said in a statement. “We will not need to raise new revenue or remove funding from other priorities to refund the money that was collected for retirement health care.”

There is no clear timeline for when refunds may be distributed. The Office of Retirement Services is working to implement the Supreme Court ruling and return contributions to the school districts where they were initially withheld from, according to Weiss.

The state will provide additional information to school districts and employees “regarding the timing and amounts for forthcoming refunds as soon as it becomes available,” Weiss said.

The MEA “will be in close contact with members” who may qualify for refunds, Pratt said, noting the state is still working out the logistics.

Wednesday’s court ruling and the pending refunds cap a nearly eight-year battle over the paycheck deduction law. One of the lead plaintiffs in the suit against the state, veteran Lansing teacher Deborah McMillin, died before the case was resolved due to complications from a knee replacement surgery. The state had deducted roughly $4,000 from her paychecks, according to the MEA.

Snyder appealed the case to the Michigan Supreme Court last year without the help of Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose office had defended the state before the Court of Appeals but declined further involvement. Instead, Snyder hired outside attorneys to represent him as special assistant attorneys general.

AFT Michigan president David Hecker said Wednesday he hopes Snyder and Schuette now work with the unions to ensure school employees get their refunds in a timely fashion.

“Michigan’s school employees have waited eight long years to get their hard-earned money returned to them – no further delay is necessary,” Hecker said in a statement.

The 2010 law was signed by Granholm amid a budget shortfall after approval by a Democratic-controlled House and Republican-dominated Senate.

A Republican-controlled Legislature amended the law in 2012 to stave off a continued legal challenge, but the teacher unions continued to fight in the courts for a refund of money deducted from employee checks over the two-year period.

The Snyder administration held $549,871,147 collected from school employees in escrow while the legal battle played out. The funds earned $4,189,341 in interest over that period, according to Weiss, who said the state will refund districts a total of $554,060,489.

Staff writer Jennifer Chambers contributed.
joosting@detroitnews.com

Friday, December 8, 2017

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool Resigns Under Ethics Probe Cover-up



Embattled Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool resigned Dec. 8, 2017, after being
accused of  engaging in a “full-blown cover-up” during an ethics investigation by the district’s inspector
general. (Lou Foglia / Chicago Tribune) 
CPS chief Forrest Claypool resigns after being accused of ethics probe cover-up

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool resigned Friday, becoming the second district leader appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to leave office amid allegations of wrongdoing.

Claypool was accused of orchestrating a “full-blown cover-up” by the district inspector general, who called for the CEO’s ouster in a blistering report given to the school board Wednesday. Emanuel staunchly defended his longtime ally for two days, but after Claypool met with all six board members Thursday, sources said it was clear he did not have their full support.
That lack of backing, paired with the intense scrutiny the investigation had brought to Emanuel’s administration, led Claypool to decide to step down, a source said.
At a late afternoon news conference that seemed more like a poignant retirement party than the political funeral of an ally, Emanuel noted the length of his relationship with Claypool and lauded academic and financial improvements at CPS under Claypool’s leadership.
“An individual in time is judged by the entirety of their service,” Emanuel said. “When you look at Forrest’s service … he has always gone to work with his sleeves rolled up, ready to get the job done.”
School board President Frank Clark said Claypool’s resignation is effective Dec. 31. CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson, who has long been seen as the heir apparent to the district's top office, was named as interim CEO. The board will vote on her appointment at its Jan. 24 meeting, Clark said.
Claypool on Friday again apologized for his actions. Neither he nor the mayor responded to questions from reporters.
“I am experienced enough to know that I’ve accomplished all that I can accomplish here at CPS,” Claypool said. “I hope that when this chapter of my career is written, people will say, even good men can make stupid mistakes.”
While Claypool is Emanuel’s second school chief in a row to resign while accused of impropriety, his alleged transgressions are nowhere near as serious of those of his predecessor, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was ultimately sent to prison for taking kickbacks.
But a report from CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler was scathing in its criticism of Claypool. The district CEO “repeatedly lied” during an ethics investigation involving the top CPS attorney, the report said.
Schuler on Friday said the latest upheaval at the district’s top ranks could have been avoided if Claypool agreed to remove General Counsel Ron Marmer from overseeing a contract with his former firm, Jenner & Block. CPS hired the firm, which was still making severance payments to Marmer, to manage a civil rights lawsuit against the state of Illinois that was ultimately dropped.
“If they’d owned up to it and they removed him, I don’t think this would’ve been a serious discipline issue,” Schuler said. “They could’ve gone public with this, asked for the board to ask for an exception, have this aired publicly. But I think the investigation showed that Mr. Claypool didn’t want this to be public."
Until Friday, Claypool was not only a longtime survivor in the rough-and-tumble world of city and state politics, but someone who was viewed as the guy to call in during times of trouble.
Among those who relied on his political and managerial skills were former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Pat Quinn as state treasurer and high-level political consultant David Axelrod.
In each case, Claypool left key campaign, business and administrative posts not only with his reputation intact, but also with an image as someone who could fix problems others couldn’t — even if he ruffled some feathers in the process.
At the start of his first term in 1989, Daley installed Claypool as chief of staff. When things got tough at the Chicago Park District, Daley sent in Claypool. Later, Daley brought him back to City Hall as the mayor faced scandals connected to his top police officials and City Council floor leader.
Claypool served eight years as a Cook County commissioner, styling himself as an effective reformist counterweight to former President John Stroger and, later, son Todd Stroger.
When Emanuel became mayor in 2011, he put Claypool in charge of the CTA, where he avoided fare hikes and oversaw the tricky but ultimately successful and lauded rebuild of the Red Line South. As Emanuel started his second term in spring 2015, he picked Claypool to be his City Hall chief of staff. A few months later, however, the mayor dispatched Claypool to CPS.
Claypool was Emanuel’s third schools chief, and his selection marked a reversal of course for a mayor who previously turned to outsiders to set policy at one of the nation’s biggest public school systems.
The mayor’s first selection, Jean-Claude Brizard, lasted a little more than a year before losing Emanuel’s confidence. He resigned in October 2012, not long after a seven-day teachers strike ended.
Brizard’s successor, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, brought with her an impressive resume of school leadership in New York, Cleveland and Detroit. She resigned after less than three years on the job while embroiled in a federal investigation into kickbacks that led to her conviction and imprisonment.
Claypool was hired to bring stability to the district after Byrd-Bennett’s abrupt departure. He inherited a financial mess, and also faced a potential labor shutdown by the Chicago Teachers Union that wasn’t settled until a contract was reached minutes before a threatened strike deadline in October 2016.
For much of his tenure, Claypool was the voice of doom as cutbacks and even the shutdown of schools was threatened if the state couldn’t overhaul its education funding formula. Claypool’s team embarked on aggressive cost-cutting plans, presented annual budgets with massive gaps state lawmakers were expected to fill, instigated furlough days and slashed school-level spending partly because of the district’s collapsing enrollment.
And as with previous schools administrations, Claypool presided over massive amounts of short- and long-term borrowing that brought much-needed cash into the system at a long-term cost to future generations.
But the district’s financial picture brightened, a bit, when state legislators finally came to terms on an education funding plan that bolstered the CPS bottom line.
Now yet another new leader will have to confront the district’s ongoing challenges.
“I think it’s the right decision for CPS, I think it’s the right decision for the students and their families,” Schuler said. “It’s a way for the district to move on and work on establishing institutional credibility, which it needs to do at this point.”
jjperez@chicagotribune.com
bruthhart@chicagotribune.com
hdardick@chicagotribune.com