Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

District Federal Court Rips Administration on Census

I have had enough court time to last a life time. While mine was not fun and it was a battle, this I find hilarious. It is a well placed shot across the bow of someone who believes they are impervious to society, the courts, and morality.

The census case arrived in front of Manhattan District Federal Judge Furman requesting that he delay proceedings. Calling it the ‘latest and strangest effort’ in its crusade to delay proceedings in the case. He said what made the request ‘most puzzling, if not sanctionable’ is that the Trump administration had made a similar request before the trial started, and had been rejected by not only the district court judge, but by an appeals court and the Supreme Court.

Furman pointed out, “when the Supreme Court announced last week it was taking up the case, “it knew that this Court had completed trial, and it presumably expected that the Court would enter final judgment before the date that it set for oral argument.”

Bashing the administration for taking its request to an appeals court before he had a chance to rule on it. The appeals court again denied that request as premature.

“If Defendants’ motion in this Court comes close to the sanctionable line, that filing would sure seem to cross it,” Furman wrote in his order.”

Other quotable quotes?

– “Unless burdening Plaintiffs and the federal courts with make-work is a feature of Defendants’ litigation strategy, as opposed to a bug, it is hard to see the point. To borrow from Camus, “[o]ne must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

– “Tellingly, this time, Defendants do not even attempt to argue that they are entitled to the extraordinary relief of a stay of all proceedings under the traditional factors…In fact, the words ‘harm” and ‘injury’ do not appear anywhere in their motion. That is for good reason, as the notion that they — or anyone else — would suffer ‘irreparable harm’ without a stay is laughable.”

– “Defendants’ motion makes so little sense, even on its own terms, that it is hard to understand as anything but an attempt to avoid a timely decision on the merits altogether.

– “Enough is enough.”

State of New York vs US Department of Commerce

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Pelosi Challenging Outdated Norms

From Washington Monthly Nancy LeTourneau

On Wednesday some young climate activists joined by newly elected Alexandria Ocasio Cortez held a demonstration at Nancy Pelosi’s office. While we can debate whether it is a smart move to hold such an event at the office of a leader who is on your side as opposed to the myriad of Republican leaders who are climate deniers, Pelosi welcomed them with open arms.

Pelosi Nov 13, 2018

Deeply inspired by the young activists & advocates leading the way on confronting climate change. The climate crisis threatens the futures of communities nationwide, and I strongly support reinstating the select committee to address the crisis.

We welcome the presence of these activists, and we strongly urge the Capitol Police to allow them to continue to organize and participate in our democracy.

These types of actions are what makes Pelosi a great leader and is a wonderful example of how Democrats embrace grassroots activism and organizing.

As it happened on the same day some House Democrats were organizing against the election of Pelosi as the next Speaker of the House, there are those who mistakenly conflate the two developments. But the group challenging Pelosi’s leadership is completely different.

As Paul Krugman noted on twitter, this is a group that is “still in the old cringe position, buying into GOP demonization (which happens to any strong Democrat) despite a huge midterm victory.” Cringing at the GOP’s demonization is a tactic that too many Democrats embraced in the past and is what sent so many of them on a journey rightward in search of validation. In other words, it is a losing strategy undermining liberal values. The really superb Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterms completely rejected the approach and it is clear that Nancy Pelosi joins them.

The theme demonstrated by Nancy Pelosi and well articulated by Nancy LeToureau at WM? In her leadership role, Pelosi is challenging some of the old vestiges of power and strengthening the small “d” democratic processes in overall party. It should come as no surprise that these changes are being resisted as power shifts from top-down to bottom-up. But it’s important for all of us to be clear about exactly what’s happening and weigh in accordingly.

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The AMA is Calling for a Relaxing of CMC Opioid Prescription Restrictions

A little history:

In 1980, the Porter and Jick letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine by the Boston Collaborative Drug Surveillance Program stated:

“the risk of addiction was low when opioids such as oxycodone were prescribed for chronic pain.”

It was a brief statement by the doctors conducting the study, taken out of context, and cited many times afterwards as justification for the use of oxycodone.

In a June 1, 2017 letter to the NEJM editor, the authors reported on the broad and undocumented assumptions made as a result of the 1980 Letter on the Risk of Opioid Addiction.. Using bibliometric analysis of the impact of this letter to the editor, the citations of the 1980 letter were reviewed to determine the citation’s portrayal of the letter’s conclusions.

Identified in the bar chart are the number (608) of citations of the 1980 letter over a period of time from 1981 to 2017.

“72.2% (439) of the citations, quoted the letter or used it as evidence addiction was rare in patients when treated with opioids such as oxycodone. 80.8% or 491 of the citations failed to note the patients described in the letter were hospitalized at the time they received the prescription.”

There was a sizable increase of citations after the introduction of OxyContin (extended release oxycodone) in 1995. As the analysis noted “affirmational citations of the letter have become less common in recent years in contrast to the 439 (72.2%) positive and supporting citations of the 1980 correspondence in earlier years. The frequency of citation of this 1980 letter stands out as being unusual when compared to other published and cited letters. Eleven other published, stand-alone, and more recent letters on different topics published by the NEJM were cited at a median statistic of 11 times each.

Citations of the 1980 standalone letter on “addiction being rare” from the use of opioids such as oxycodone failed to mention, the patients administered to were in a hospital setting as noted in the Porter and Jick letter. Overlooked, a mistake, intentional misquote by the people citing this letter?

In 2007 in the pharmaceutical industry, “the manufacturer of OxyContin and three senior executives of Purdue Pharma plead guilty to federal criminal charges that they misled regulators, doctors, and patients about the risk of addiction associated with OxyContin.”

This year, law makers questioned Miami-Luken and H.D. Smith wanting to know why millions of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were sent (2006 to 2016) to five pharmacies in four tiny West Virginia towns having a total population of about 22,000. Ten million pills were shipped to two small pharmacies in Williamson, West Virginia. The number of deaths increased along with the company and wholesaler profits.

60% of all drug-poisoning deaths in 2013 involved prescription opioids and/or heroin. Among individuals aged 25 to 64 years, deaths from a drug overdose—the majority of which were opioid-related—exceeded motor vehicle collisions as the leading cause of accidental death in 2013. Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers.

The information is out there as to why the abuse of opioids and related drugs is increasing. It is being ignored or argued against as limiting a patients rights to have unhindered access to opioids by doctors and patients alike. Sound familiar, similar to the gun lobby?

Today

AMA Delegates Back Physician Freedom in Opioid Prescribing At best, 20% of all doctors are members and the percentage has been declining. From the meeting; “The CDC’s guidelines on the use of opioids for pain management are well-intentioned, but some insurers and pharmacists have used them to restrict providing and need to be discouraged from doing so, members of the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates said Tuesday.”

And the CDC response as told by one doctor. “a member of a pain management task force being convened by the Department of Health and Human Services. “Draft comments will be coming out in a couple of weeks and will very specifically address the misinterpretation of the CDC guidelines,” he noted. “This is really timely because the comments from the AMA will be extremely important in weighing in [on the issue].”

Doctors do no want interference with decision- making when it comes to patients. At the same time, little has been done to rein in addiction due to prescription opioids which lead to other addictions because prescriptions are expensive or are limited in access. Here is Janet from stopnow blog and who writes about addicted babies due to mothers taking opioids:

More overdose deaths last year than the entire Viet Nam War. The FDA approves sufentanyl 10 times stronger than fentanyl. Yesterday the AMA President was quoted using the same verbiage as Big PhRMA- undertreatment of pain. And now a campaign to undo the CDC guidelines which until they were released doctor education was coming from the drug companies. We need full disclosure – is this funded by Big PhRMA.

Here is a counter argument from a pharmacist where he misapplies the stats to suit his argument:

“it depends what numbers of overdose deaths you are referring to because it is certainly not more deaths due to opioid pain medications. There were 72,000 overdose deaths which includes ALL overdoses from ALL classes of medications. Overdoses from opioids were 49,000 and within that group only 19,354 were from opioid pain relievers. Deaths from fentanyl (illicit) totaled over 29,000, heroin almost 16,000, and cocaine 14,500. (One death could be counted in more than one category, numbers from NIH.) Vietnam war deaths totaled 58,220 versus 19,354 deaths from opioid pain medications. By the way, there were 10,684 deaths due to benzodiazepines, should the CDC mandate doses and days of therapy for those also?

I have no connections with or any payments/gifts from any drug manufacturer. My only concern is that in the national noise of the ‘opioid epidemic’ the focus is on those who abuse opioids and I want to make sure that we still hear the cry of the patient who needs pain relief and who does NOT abuse the medications.”

Yes the pharmacist is correct when he says of the 72,000 deaths only 19,354 can be attributed to opioid pain relievers in 2018. Janet cited the 20 years of Vietnam deaths. The pharmacist conveniently sidesteps the time periods involved here. In three years and if the numbers stay the same (they have been increasing YOY), the numbers of opioid deaths will be slightly less than 20 years of Vietnam if it were to remain at 19,000/year. Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers. Of recently cited 150,000 accidental deaths, 72,000 (a record high) can be attributed to drug overdose deaths, a record high.

And this is ok?

60% of opioid deaths occur in those who were given a prescription by a physician. The other 40% of deaths are caused by people who obtained opioids by “doctor shopping,” and receive multiple scripts at once. The perceived safety and easy accessibility of these drugs have presented the highest risk for most users, even if they eventually seek out illicit opioids or “street drugs.” In 2014, only 22.1% of non-medical users obtained opioids through a doctor, meaning that the diversion rate of these drugs is very concerning. Many people are getting these medications illegally or without doctor supervision.”

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A baseline road map for the 2020 elections

A baseline road map for the 2020 elections

Now that the 2018 midterm elections are behind us, let’s take a preliminary look at 2020.
It occurred to me that a decent baseline for that election is to simply take the total 2018 House votes for each state, assume that the Presidential vote in 2020 in each state will be the same, and apply that to the Electoral College. Alternatively, you could use the results of the 2018 Senate races in those states where there were races in 2018, and apply those results for those states. That’s because the midterm turnout approached Presidential election levels, and Trump is going to engender the same intensity in two years as he did this past week.
So, using the 2018 results as the template for 2020, who wins?
It turns out that I wasn’t the only one who had that thought. Nate Silver already had the same idea and did that for the House vote. Here’s what that hypothetical 2020 Electoral College map looks like:
If you apply the 2018 House votes to the Presidency in 2020, the Democratic candidate wins handily.  As Nate Silver points out, it is a virtual duplicate of the 2012 map.
[Before I go further, let me just note that the above House map has a few glitches. Florida only went Democratic when the votes in House districts where there was no GOP candidate are added. Conversely, in North Carolina, there was a House district without a Democratic candidate. If we were to add just 2/3’s of the typical democratic vote in other GOP-dominated districts in NC to that district, then NC flips to the democratic column.]

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A Washington State Carbon Tax Goes Down in Flames

A Washington State Carbon Tax Goes Down in Flames

Initiative 1631, which would have created a carbon tax in Washington State, lost by almost 12% of the vote this week.  Commentators on all sides have interpreted this as a decisive defeat for carbon pricing, making more indirect policies like subsidies to renewables the only politically feasible option.*

I don’t have time for a lengthy analysis, but in a few words I want to suggest that this conclusion is premature.  I live in Washington State and saw the battle unfold first hand in real time.  Voters were not asked by opponents of 1631 to reject carbon pricing; on the contrary.  And it was the failure to draft and promote a straight-ahead carbon pricing law that doomed it.

While supporters of 1631 point to money from fossil fuel interests as the “cause” of their defeat, the actual propaganda of the No side did not belittle the threat of climate change, nor did it even argue against the need for action to reduce emissions.  It hammered on these points:

1. 1631 was weak.  It excluded too much of the state’s emissions and wouldn’t have a meaningful impact on them.

2. Nevertheless it would raise energy bills for virtually all the state’s residents.

3. It proposed an undemocratic procedure for allocating carbon revenues.

The money behind this message may be “bad”, but the message itself was correct.  1631 was so poorly conceived that the arguments of the troglodytes were closer to the truth than those of the progressives.  Take them one by one:

1. 1631 was the second carbon tax initiative in two years.  Last year’s effort, I-732, had broader coverage and allowed for higher carbon prices over time.  It was opposed by progressives, who organized to defeat it and then drew up their own, weaker proposal.  There is a lot of detail to go into, but the short version is that 1631’s carbon price was essentially symbolic, a few cents on the carbon dollar.  It was not a meaningful action to deal with the threat of a climate catastrophe.

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Kristallnacht: Lights left on to mark 80th anniversary

Between 9 and 10 November 1938, more than 1,400 synagogues and prayer rooms, thousands of Jewish-owned homes, hospitals, shops and cemeteries were damaged or destroyed across Nazi Germany and Austria.

At least 91 Jewish people were killed and an estimated 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps at Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen.

It does not look like much has changed in the last 30 years and indeed has worsened for Jews and minorities as the white majority exercises its rule and capability to inflict upon them poverty. Poverty is more than just being poor. It is the loss of freedom to pursue religion, education, safety, etc. Ghandi had it right when he said Poverty is the worst form of violence. It comes is so many different forms.

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Why Gerrymandering Matters

Gerrymandering is not going away any time soon. It will just be used in different manner, a manner in which to achieve congressional districts with a fairer representation of the district’s constituency.

Why won’t gerrymandering go away? The districts are too big at an average of 700,000 people per district. This is the result of Congress freezing the number of Congressional Representatives at 435 in 1929 and reapportioning the districts of each state based upon population every 10 years. The inequality of this methodology can be seen in a comparison between Wyoming with its one Congressional Representative and it population of 586,000 as compared to California and its average size of 700,000 for each Congressional District. If the average was set at 586,000 people per district as Wyoming has, then California would gain 15 more Congressional Representatives.

The Washington Post has an article up on the impact of both unfair gerrymandering and a fairer version of gerrymandering as dictated by the court The later achieves a much fairer split of the districts meant to represent the makeup of the population within the state and their political interests as discovered through national elections.” One state fixed its gerrymandered districts, the other did not.“

The picture depicts the change in numbers of Republicans and Democrats elected to office as determined by the Congressional districts make up. Pennsylvania had its districts redrawn by the court and “a 53 percent majority in the popular vote yielded a hair under half of the contested seats for Democrats — a big difference from 2016, when 48 percent of the vote gave Democrats 27 percent of the seats.”

In North Carolina, the districts were not redrawn. “The old maps were still in place and a electoral result in 2018 was identical to that of 2016. Despite a Democratic wave in which more than half the state’s voters opted for a Democratic House candidate, Democrats won one-quarter of the contested seats.”

Michigan passed Proposal 2 which established a civilian board to redraw the boundaries of the Congressional districts. I suspect it will still have issues as it will be selected by the legislature.

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Medicaid Expansion 2018

Four states had the Medicaid Expansion on the ballot this last election and another is still fumbling around with expanding it..

The Good

Idaho: Idahoans approved Idaho Proposition 2, an initiative requiring the state to submit an amendment to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in order to implement the Medicaid expansion no later than 90 days after the approval of the act. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is required and authorized to take all actions necessary to implement the provisions of this section as soon as practicable and outgoing Governor Butch Otter endorsed the ballot initiative less than a week before the election and Republican Governor-elect Brad Little has said he will implement the initiative.

Nebraska: Nebraskans voted in favor of Initiative 427 requiring the state to submit an amendment/documents seeking waiver approval from CMS on or before April 1, 2019 to expand Medicaid. As directed by the initiative, the state Department of Human Services to “take all actions necessary to maximize federal financial participation in funding medical assistance pursuant to this section”. Although newly reelected Governor Pete Ricketts has been a vocal opponent of expansion, he has stated he would let the voters decide if it made it onto the ballot.

Utah: Voters approved Utah Proposition 3 calling for the state to expand Medicaid coverage beginning April 1, 2019. The initiative also prohibits future changes to Medicaid and CHIP that would reduce coverage, benefits, and payment rates below policies in place on January 1, 2017. The proposition calls for a 0.15% increase to 4.85% from 4.7% the state sales tax (except for groceries) to finance the expansion or Medicaid and CHIP more broadly.

The Bad

Montana: Montanans voted down Montana I-185 after spending on campaigns for and against the initiative made it the most expensive ballot measure race in Montana history. The measure proposed raising taxes on all tobacco products and e-cigarettes and vaping products to dedicate a percentage of increased tax revenues for Montana’s current Medicaid program and veteran’s services; smoking prevention and cessation programs; and long-term care services for seniors and people with disabilities. The initiative also would have eliminated the sunset date for the Medicaid expansion of June 30, 2019. Republican controlled Montana State Legislature could still take action to continue the expansion program beyond June 2019. Tobacco companies had spent more than $17 million on advertising and other efforts to oppose the ballot measure, most of which came from cigarette maker Altria (Philip Morris).

The Ugly

Maine: Maine. Medicaid expansion was adopted in Maine through a ballot initiative in November 2017. Governor Paul LePage resisted the implementation of it and then complied with it after the Maine SC ordered him to submit an expansion state plan amendment (SPA) to CMS. He did submit the plan along with a asking CMS to reject the SPA. The newly elected Democratic governor, Janet Mills, has supported Medicaid expansion and is likely to move quickly to implement. Democrats also control the Maine legislature.

The ACA has shown up more in this last election even though it is pretty much a done deal and near impossible to repeal. Still Republicans repeat the same old “lies” even though they have been shot down repeatedly. One often repeated lie is the Democrats and the ACA stole $800 billion from Medicare to fund it. This lie was used by Mike Bishop in Michigan and our President also. Quite the opposite occurred with the Medicare TF being extended for a few more years and excess payments to Advantage plans reduced to match what Medicare pays out.

More to be read here: What Does the Outcome of the Midterm Elections Mean for Medicaid Expansion?

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Recounts and Runoffs – 2018

Senate:

Arizona:In Arizona’s race for the Senate, two candidates are separated by about 16,000 votes with approximately 75 percent of results in. Republican Rep. Martha McSally was leading her Democratic opponent Rep. Kyrsten Sinema by less than 1 percent in the race to fill outgoing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat.”

The last I read somewhere, Sinema had over taken McSally and the race was too close to call. This will not throw the Senate into a majority Democrat; but it will narrow the gap just in case a Republican suddenly wants to take the high ground.

Florida: Sen. Bill Nelson is preparing for a recount in a race too close to call against Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Scott held a 0.21 percentage lead over Nelson on Thursday afternoon. Since the results are less than .25 of 1% a recount is mandated under Florida law.

Challenger Rick Scott has filed in court alleging Broward County Supervisors of Election Brenda Snipes on Thursday, asking the court to order Snipes to turn over several records detailing the counting and collection of ballots. Scott’s thin lead over Nelson has narrowed in the vote-counting in the days since he declared victory on Tuesday. Quelle Surprise!

Florida’s phony status as a perennial swing state is reassured again in this election year as it consistently decides important National and State elections with the thinnest of margins and a ton of excuses as to why it happened this way. Since Gore, it still has not brought the voting process under control. As long as it worked for Scott and other Republicans, they were happy. When it starts to slip away from them and their popularity dissipates, they look to the courts to contest alleged violations which were perfectly alright when it favored them.

The irony of Scott and Republican’s anger at Democrats for trying to all the votes counted as Repubs have been suppressing voter turnout in both Florida and Georgia.

Mississippi: Senate candidates in a special election to replace retired Sen. Thad Cochran will go to a runoff at the end of the month because no one candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote. Republican incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith received 41.5 percent of votes and her opponent Democrat Michael Epsy received 40.6 percent. The runoff will take place on Nov. 27.

For Mississippi??? and the race is that close? Unbelievable! Stennis was the last Democrat elected to the Senate for Mississippi. I am not sure I would call him a Democrat. He served from 1949 to 1989.

House

Nearly 20 races for the House remained too close to call, with the outcomes uncertain in states such as California, New York, Georgia, New Jersey and Washington state. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., the chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, said House Democrats were still counting ballots and assessing races too close to call.

California: Some races (6) in California are still up for grabs, including four in the one-time Republican stronghold of Orange County.
Georgia: Republican Reps. Karen Handel and Rob Woodall races remain too close to call as absentee ballots are still being counted. Democrat Lucy McBath, the Democrat challenging Handel, said “this race is far from over.”

Utah: Republican Rep. Mia Love trailed Democratic challenger Ben McAdams. McAdams had a strong showing in his home county of Salt Lake County. Love hoped to flip the deficit by winning a large portion of the votes left to be counted in her stronghold of Utah County. Apparently long polling lines led to slow vote tallies.

Maine: Computer-assisted tabulations under the state’s new voting system will be used to determine the winner of the congressional race between Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Jared Golden. A test of ranked voting methodology, since neither candidate collected a majority of first-place votes under Maine’s ranked-choice voting system (used for the first time Tuesday); the results triggered an additional round of voting. As I understood this from reading the article, other finishers in the four-way race are eliminated and the votes are reallocated.

The allocation process will take place next week. Voter’s second choice will be applied to the candidates and so on till a candidate secures 50+% of the vote.

This should be an interesting test (Fair Vote Org. has been advocating for this).

Governors:

Florida: In the governor’s race, Democrat Andrew Gillum’s campaign said Thursday it is preparing for a recount. Gillum conceded to Republican Ron DeSantis on Tuesday night. The counting has continued and the race has tightened with DeSantis leading Gillum by .47 of 1% percent.

Georgia: Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams’s campaign argued in a press conference today, a recount or runoff is still possible if all the votes in the state are counted. As he did on Wednesday, Republican candidate Brian Kemp can not declare a victory as thousands of votes remain uncounted and unaccepted ballots have been reconciled.

Abrams through her litigation team demanded from Kemp’s office as the office of the secretary of state to release the data on uncounted provisional ballots and military and overseas votes. Kemp’s spokeswoman Candice Broce claimed those votes amount to around 22,000 to 24,000. There also appears to be some discrepancy on early votes being tallied. The belief is and contrary to what Kemp has stated; if all of the remaining votes are counted, there could be enough additional votes for Abrams to trigger an official recount or even a runoff election.

Kemp should have been more careful on eliminating voters. All of the effort, it was not enough, and if he loses; you can bet on a more thorough investigation on voter fraud and civil rights violations by elected officials.

I am sure there are more to be added to this list. Please do so.

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Why Congressman Mike Bishop Lost in Michigan’s 8th District

Tom MacArthur a multimillionaire former insurance broker who negotiated the House legislation to repeal the ACA taken to the wood shed by a constituent. Tom MacArthur met with his constituents in a Town Hall meeting and he listened to them and took the abuse he rightfully deserved. Mike Bishop consistently refused to meet with his constituents face to face in a high density, Gerrymandered Republican District. People were angry and we needed the right candidate to emerge and lead. Elissa Slotkin won!

It did not have to be this way. It could have been different. MacArthur like Mike Bishop chose his political party over country and constituents. Tom MacArthur and Mike Bishop lost.

The eleven minutes to hear this rebuttal are worth hearing.

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