Thursday, September 20, 2012

Chaos on Bullshit Mountain

How Big Pharma Hooked America on Legal Heroin

by Kelly_Bourdet on Tuesday, Sep 18, 2012 - Mother Board
  • Picture_39_large

Matthew began taking painkillers – Percocet, then OxyContin – as a teenager. His father was battling cancer, so narcotics were readily available in the house. While vacationing in Florida, he was unable to take the number of pills his body had become dependent upon. At the peak of his addiction, Matthew was taking nine 80mg pills a day, for a combined 720mg. He bought them off of a local friend who was prescribed 300 per month for her Fibromyalgia, a syndrome in which a person has long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. He told me about his confusion at his typical withdrawal symptoms – vomiting, aches, sweating, headaches. He thought he had a bad flu.

He went to the hospital because he felt so ill, though he didn’t honestly answer doctors’ questions about his drug use. Doctors were confused by his symptoms, even giving Matthew a spinal tap to investigate. After leaving the hospital, he took some pills and his horrible “flu symptoms” miraculously disappeared.

Courtney, 28, was already a seasoned drug addict at age seventeen. When she left a treatment facility after overcoming a methamphetamine addiction, she tried OxyContin, thinking it would be easier to control. She immediately liked it. Within two months she was taking it everyday – and getting extremely dope-sick when she couldn’t find it. In a familiar sequence of events, she went from snorting to shooting Oxy, and then shooting heroin when she couldn’t find any Oxys. She bought blank prescription pads on the black market, forging OxyContin prescriptions to fuel her habit. She was eventually caught trying to fill a fake prescription at a local pharmacy. She eventually detoxed in a jail cell.

Next April, the patent on the original formulation of OxyContin expires; what happens next depends upon, to a large extent, what’s already happened. And it’s been a mess.

The active ingredient behind the drug, oxycodone, isn’t new. The compound was originally synthesized in Germany in 1916. The patent on the medication had expired well before Purdue Pharma, a Stamford, Connecticut-based pharmaceutical company and the industry leader in pain medication, released it under the brand name in 1996. The genius of Purdue’s continued foray into pain-management medication – they had already produced versions of hydromorphone, oxycodone, fentanyl, codeine, and hydrocodone – was twofold. They not only created a drug from an already readily available compound, but they were able to essentially re-patent the active ingredient by introducing a time-release element. Prior to the 1990s, strong opioid medications were not routinely given for miscellaneous or chronic, moderately painful conditions; the strongest classes of drugs were often reserved for the dying.

But Purdue parlayed their time-release system not only into the patent for OxyContin. They also went on a PR blitz, claiming their drug was unique because of the time-release element and implied that it was so difficult to abuse that the risk of addiction was “under 1%.”

To cement the brand’s reputation among doctors, Purdue conducted more than 40 national pain-management and speaker-training conferences at resorts in Florida, Arizona, and California between 1996 and 2001. They invited over 5,000 physicians, pharmacists, and nurses to these all-expenses-paid symposia. Many were recruited and trained for Purdue’s national speaker bureau. Purdue offered starter coupons offering a free 7-30 day trial of their medication, a practice that’s common among pharmaceutical companies for everything from skincare medicine to contraceptives. OxyContin became an instant hit among doctors, many of whom saw it as a wonder drug in the battle against the debilitating effects of chronic pain. As the good news spread sales of the drug mushroomed, rising from $40 million in 1996 to more than $1 billion in 2001, outstripping even Viagra. Meanwhile, Purdue’s campaign to extend the use of powerful narcotics to ordinary chronic ailments – for which the drug has been well documented to help – proved highly successful. By 2003, over half of the OxyContin prescriptions written in the United States were written by a primary care physician.

Anyone who has ever had to face the sad reality of being close to a drug addict or alcoholic quickly learns an important lesson. Namely, that when it comes to getting and using mind-altering substances, active drug addicts are among the most resourceful, ingenious, and crafty humans on the planet. I’ve known people who drank hairspray in detox units to get a buzz. So how difficult was it to circumvent the time-release element of the original OxyContin?
“The fact that I could freebase it the way that I did,” Frank says, “is really freaky.”

See, the proprietary time-release mechanism was essentially a waxy coating that could be peeled off using a razor blade or dissolved using water or saliva. Turning the “safe” version of OC into a highly-abusable form was about as difficult as peeling a tiny apple. The death rate from overdoses of opioids in 2007 was roughly three times that of 1991. In 2008, deaths from opiate overdose surpassed the combined overdose deaths of cocaine and heroin. This year the CDC says that, “opioid overdose resulted in 14,800 deaths, accounting for 73.8% of all prescription overdose deaths.”

Young Markets

Many safety trials for pharmaceuticals do not test children under the age of sixteen. To combat the rampant prescription of adult drugs to kids by pediatricians, the Food and Drug Administration offers incentives for companies who design tests specifically for children. One of these incentives is a six-month patent extension.

Sometime this year, Purdue Pharma began paying dozens of clinical sites around the country to document what happens when OxyContin is given to children. This wasn’t the first time the company had conducted pediatric trials of OxyContin: they initiated tests on children in 2004, but halted the study citing financial constraints. That year, a federal District Court in Manhattan found the company guilty of deliberately misleading federal officials in order to retain exclusive patents and prevent cheaper generic versions of OxyContin from hitting the market.

When Purdue’s new trials were reported this year by The Daily, critics and especially addiction specialists, concerned about administering a highly addictive drug to children, wondered if the tests had something to do with the expiration date of Purdue’s patent for the drug: April 2013.
“[Purdue is] doing [the pediatric trial] for patent exclusivity, there’s no doubt about it in my mind – not out of largesse,” Dr. Elliot Krane of Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital told The Daily in July. “That’s important for their bottom line.” In 2004, Purdue Pharma reported $1.7 billion in gross sales of OxyContin. Last year, Purdue saw $2.8 billion in sales of the drug.

Still, Purdue said that “resources” were an issue. “We reinitiated the remaining pediatric trials once we had the necessary resources to continue them,” said James W. Heins, a company representative. “These trials are challenging to conduct and can take years to complete.”

20mg and 80mg OxyContin pills (via)

However ulterior Purdue’s motives are, and however risky testing OxyContin on kids might sound, the trials aren’t without basis. Despite the skepticism of critics, Purdue says it doesn’t plan to attempt to market its drug to pediatricians, a shift that would require rigorous FDA review. But doctors already regularly prescribe Oxy for children suffering conditions of moderate or severe pain, a practice that’s accompanied by little to no data predicting how it might affect them and what their long-term outcomes might be. This phenomenon is called “off-label use,” one defined as the practice of prescribing pharmaceuticals for an unapproved indication or in an unapproved age group, unapproved dose or unapproved form of administration."

Pharmaceutical companies can’t officially promote their drugs for the treatment of any conditions for which it has not received formal FDA approval. But that doesn’t stop off-label prescribing from happening all the time. In the United States, physicians are granted generous leeway in prescribing drugs for uses and patients other than their intended ones. Last month, GlaxoSmithKline, the British multinational pharmaceutical maker, was slapped with a $3 billion fine, the largest in the industry’s history, for promoting the off-label use of the antidepressants Wellbutrin and Paxil.

Kids are a popular audience for off-label drugs. A 2008 study published in the journal Academic Pediatrics found that 62 percent of pediatric outpatient visits resulted in the prescription of a drug for off-label use. When you look at only the prescription of pain medications, the number jumps to 86 percent. Tests on children then are a good thing: without them, we might not know what the drugs we’re already prescribing to them might actually be doing to them.

By their end, the pediatric trials will have included approximately 150 children aged 6-16, all of whom are already taking opioid medications to treat moderate to severe pain. Of course, the costs of such tests on brains that aren’t fully developed aren’t yet well understood. One study from 2005, by a professor from the University of Michigan, found that children who are prescribed opioids are more likely to abuse painkillers in later life.

The Fine Points of Misbranding

Even after a barrage of criticism over it’s marketing, Purdue Pharma, per industry norms, continues to fund a dubious advertising campaign in the form of a “public service” program called “Partners Against Pain." Aimed at consumers and physicians, the 17-year-old “resource” for doctors is one of the company’s foremost marketing tools, extolling the virtues of opioid pain medication for chronic non-malignant pain while minimizing the risk of addiction. Today it centers around public endorsements – actress Jennifer Gray is its latest spokesperson, and has appeared on local TV newscasts to promote the program – and a website that’s been a goldmine of spin. It’s impossible to fully stress how misleading some of its “facts” have been over the years. To wit:
While opioids can be abused and may be habit forming, clinical experience shows that ‘addiction to opioids legitimately used in the management of pain is very rare… In trials in almost 25,000 patients with no history of drug dependence, there were only 7 cases of iatrogenic drug addiction.
Pretty impressive, right? As a general practitioner considering prescribing opioid drugs for chronic non-malignant pain, wouldn’t an approximately 0.028 percent addiction rate strike you as an extremely low risk?

Well, if you trace this claim back to the original literature, you find that this “information” is culled from three “studies.” The first of which was not even a study. It was a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine written in 1980, reporting that in 11,882 hospitalized patients who received at least one narcotic, there were only four cases of “reasonably well documented addiction.” Note that administration of narcotic painkillers took place in a hospital setting for acute pain, and so including this statistic in resources designed to inform on long-term, non-hospital prescription of narcotics is inherently misleading. (Despite being cited in academic journals an impressive 635 times, no abstract was available for this correspondence in the online U.S. National Library of Medicine.)

Another of the sources summarized here, Drug Dependency in Patients with Chronic Headaches, was a review of 2,369 patients experiencing headaches. Only 62 patients were actually included in the drug dependency study, however, as they had been taking medications frequently for at least six-months. Of these 62, only 23 were taking narcotics. Of these 23, three were thought to be abusing their narcotic medication.

In reviewing the website for the FDA, Dr. Art Van Zee concluded in 2001 that Purdue had “over-sold the benefits of opiod therapy for chronic non-malignant pain, while providing false reassurance about what the real risks are of addiction for patients taking opiods for chronic non-malginant pain.” It’s hard to overstate the negative effects of misinformation on the prescribing habits of physicians naïve about certain classes of drugs. A resource produced by Purdue Pharma claimed to represent addiction rates in almost 25,000 patients. In reality, only 23 of the patients were taking narcotics outside of a hospital setting, and for what could be termed chronic non-malignant pain (headaches). In this extremely small sample, approximately 13 percent were believed to be abusing their narcotic medication. These studies were cited not only on their website, but also in literature given to both physicians and to patients taking OxyContin.

In 2007, Purdue Pharma and three of its top executives were ordered to pay $634 million as a penalty for misbranding OxyContin. In court, Purdue Pharma admitted that “with the intent to defraud or mislead” it promoted OxyContin as a safer, less-abusable opioid drug. Documents filed by prosecutors in the Abingdon, Virginia, District Court demonstrated that, beginning in 1996, Purdue had waged the most aggressive marketing campaign ever for a narcotic medication, promoting OxyContin to general practitioners, lauding its safety, and encouraging its use for ailments like arthritis and back pain, maladies for which treatment with opioids of this strength would have been unthinkable only a decade prior.

All the while, representatives for the company proclaimed that “delayed absorption as provided by OxyContin Tablets is believed to reduce the abuse liability of the drug.” The “believed” statement was reinforced by sales officials, who were found to have fabricated phony scientific charts and to have suppressed certain findings about the drugs addictive effects. Three top executives, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of being liable for misleading regulators, the public and doctors about the risk of addiction, were fined a combined total of $35 million. None faced prison. And while the larger $600 million fine was one of the largest ever levied against a pharmaceutical company, it represented less than half of Purdue Pharma’s annual OxyContin sales.


Like many people, Frank Morris’ parents caught him smoking weed in high school. He had developed a bit of a pot habit by around age 18, but with his parents keeping a close eye on him, he quit smoking weed and snatched a few of his mother’s Vicodin pills instead. Within a year and a half he began trying OxyContin. Frank’s life deteriorated quickly. Almost immediately he started using daily. Six months later, he freebased the drug for the first time. Six months after that he shot Oxy intravenously for the first time. After another six months he shot heroin intravenously for the first time.

Some eighteen months after his introduction to Oxy, Frank was strung out, a junkie. Soon enough he was jailed for attempting to purchase heroin on the streets of San Francisco.

Street heroin (via U.S. Drug Enforcement administration)

For much of the time he was using OxyContin, Frank, who is now 27 and living in New York City, had a legitimate prescription from a doctor. His physician prescribed him 280 80mg pills per month for his migraines. After all, this is the drug that Purdue Pharma represented as a safe alternative to fast-acting narcotics, bragging that a patient only needed two pills per day, with a 12-hour release mechanism, to achieve around-the-clock pain management. Frank was prescribed enough of one of the highest doses of the medication to take roughly nine per day. At $40 to $50 a pill, the street value in 2006 of this number of 80mg OxyContin pills was $11,200 to $14,000. Frank sold enough of the pills – roughly a quarter of them – to cover his $11-per-pill cost at a local hospital pharmacy. He pocketed the rest. By the end of his opioid addiction, he switched to shooting black tar heroin. It was cheaper.

How could a doctor have legitimately prescribed so much Oxy for migraines? Wouldn’t a young man filling this outlandish prescription month after month at a hospital pharmacy raise some red flags? The same off-label prescribing guidelines in place for the prescription of drugs to children also applies to prescription for adults. Clinical trials might only test for the safety and efficacy of, say, two pills per day, but physicians are able to interpret this information any way they see fit. Over-prescription of this kind is undoubtedly morally questionable. It’s not, however, illegal.

“It Brought Me To My Knees”

There was a salient thread connecting all the OxyContin addicts I spoke with, and that’s how fast they all said it happens, how quickly they all became addicted, and how surprised they were at their physical dependence. Each of them recited a litany of opioid substances that they had abused in various combinations: Methadone, heroin, Diuladid, Percocet, Suboxone, Vicodin, and Morphine. They swallowed, snorted, shot, and free-based the pills, sometimes even mixing them with crack. But they all told me that the first opioid that really got them, the one that was easiest to get and gave the most powerful high, was OxyContin.

Original Oxy and new formula (via)

Frank told me he was once driving through central California going into heavy withdrawal. When he pulled over at a gas station to fill up, he saw a guy with telltale scratches on his face – opiate addicts often feel phantom itches while high and will scratch their faces, arms, and legs until they bleed. Frank approached the guy, asking if he knew where he could score some Oxys. The guy pulled two huge bottles out of the trunk of his car; he could get them right there.

None of the men and women I spoke with used street heroin before taking OxyContin. All of them used it after using OxyContin. In fact, since Purdue Pharma introduced a reformulated OxyContin in 2010 containing chemical safety-nets meant to render it less easily abused — the pills no longer dissolve in water, making them more difficult to cook and shoot intravenously — the number of addicts switching to heroin has skyrocketed.

In a study of 2,500 OxyContin addicts followed from July 2009 until March 2012, researchers found a 17 percent drop in OxyContin abuse. The study found that almost one-fourth of participants were able to abuse OxyContin despite the reformulation. Sixty-six percent switched to heroin. Many have also latched onto to Opana, another painkiller. But according to the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, OxyContin’s falling street price is a sign that the $100 million reformulation is working at thwarting abuse of the drug. Getting high on the new Oxy requires swallowing three or four pills rather than one, but abusers are still finding unusual ways to break down their safety mechanism, through microwaving and freezing, as well as carefully filing them down to powder.

A fourth recovering addict I spoke with, Richard, a 29-year-old living in New York, seemed near tears when describing his addiction. “It brought me to my knees,” he said. When I mentioned that Purdue would be testing the safety of their drug on children, he seemed horrified. “I wouldn’t wish [OxyContin] on anyone.” Richard also watched his father’s difficult journey quitting OxyContin after being prescribed the drug. His grandfather is currently an addict after he was prescribed OxyContin for pain.

After the Backlash

Make no mistake: OxyContin is a powerful treatment for people suffering from severe and chronic pain. Users say it has changed their lives, and anyone suffering from the effects of back surgery or a violent accident can attest to the relief that opioids bring. And addiction is a complex beast, one whose roots lie far beyond a simple pill, no matter how addictive it may be.

But having heavily promoted a drug so easily abused while downplaying the danger of that abuse – and having come under heavy criticism from regulators – Purdue Pharma has in recent years changed its approach to marketing OxyContin. After being fined for their fraudulent claims, Purdue invested in several informational sites and programs to educate doctors, pharmacists, and patients on prescription drug addiction. is mainly geared towards the parents of teens abusing prescription drugs. It offers links to resources for addicted persons, tips for parents on storage and disposal of commonly abused drugs, and the signs of symptoms of addiction. Purdue financially supported The Partnership at in their production of Time to Get Help, a resource for parents seeking addiction treatment for drug- and alcohol-abusing children.

Additionally, Purdue provides training and information to pharmacists and law enforcement on safety and proper protocol during pharmacy heists. The number of armed robberies on pharmacies in the United States rose 81 percent between 2006 and 2010, concurrent with the rise of opioid abuse and addiction. Purdue launched Rx Patrol as a resource for pharmacists.

They provide up-to-the-minute crime statistics — as of September 16, 2012, there have been 2,527 robberies and 1,541 burglaries at pharmacies since the site began compiling data in 2002 — and offer a reward of $2,500 to anyone providing a tip leading to arrests in a “significant pharmacy crime.” They also provide a “Tip of the Month” in thwarting theft. In August Purdue advised pharmacists to, “determine whether [their] building provides easy access to the roof, which is a popular entry for more seasoned criminals.”

Some pharmacies, after repeated robberies, have stopped carrying the stuff. They display signs, “No OxyContin Here,” alerting would-be robbers that holding them up wouldn’t be worth the effort.

Some pharmacies have stopped stocking Oxy to drive away robbers (via)

One wonders whether Purdue’s efforts to educate pharmacists on safety measures, though doubtless partially motivated by concern, also functions as a way to soothe pharmacists who might be coming to the conclusion that stocking the drug is more trouble than it’s worth. After all, most pharmacists didn’t anticipate a career filled with the threat of gun-wielding, ski-masked thieves and Mission Impossible -style burglars cracking the roof and shimmying down the ventilation ducts. The more prescription drug abuse creates desperate addicts, the more the pharmacy staff unwittingly fulfills the role of a drug cartel’s security, guarding a shipment of drugs prior to distribution.

The End of Oxy

Addiction to and abuse of prescription drugs will exist no matter what pharmaceutical companies do. It’s impossible to know the number of addicts directly “created” by any drug, legal or illegal, and there is likely some proportion of society that would fall prey to drug addiction or abuse regardless of the specific substances involved. The crucial question surrounding OxyContin is, how many inadvertent addicts has the drug and its marketing created? Opioids in general are highly addictive – that’s not alarming. It’s not news that Purdue admittedly defrauded the public concerning the safety of their drug. What’s disturbing is that the practice of deception and data suppression, physicians and regulators acknowledge, is common throughout the industry.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects to the OxyContin story is that it asks what, exactly, we expect from pharmaceutical companies. Purdue Pharma knew, on some level, that the amount of OxyContin they were selling absolutely couldn’t all have been used for legitimate pain. The CDC famously reported that enough painkillers were sold in 2010 to medicate every adult in America, around the clock, for one month. We can’t all be in that much pain.

Purdue had to have known it was profiting off of addiction and dependence. If it didn’t, I question why the company would’ve waited for such extreme social pressure to create a less abusable form of their drug. Maybe they really did believe they had found a magic bullet, an opioid medication with the power to “cure” pain without cultivating dependence. We’ll never really know. But now that their drug is practically synonymous with addiction and crime, now that so many exposés have explored both their marketing practices and the personal stories of addicts, now maybe we can all look more clearly and critically at a culture that reveres pharmacological solutions.

Purdue’s patent for the original formulation of OxyContin is almost up, but the era of pushing Oxy as a drug safe-for-management-of-chronic-conditions isn’t quite over. The company is now fighting to protect its reformulated version of OxyContin, which has patent protection until 2025, by lobbing 16 patent-infringement lawsuits pending against 10 generic-drug manufacturers. And unless Purdue can manage to keep its original patent, cheaper generic versions of Oxy will begin to arrive in pharmacies next year. Regulators are already worried. In a June 6 letter, Ontario’s Minister of Health, Deb Matthews, asked her federal counterpart not to approve generic versions of the drug, stating that “Ontario believes that the costs to society of the reintroduction of the more-easily abused version far outweigh the financial benefits that would accrue from the reduced price.”

I didn’t even have to cook it to shoot it. I could just drop it in some water and pump it right into my arm

The drug industry is based around the concept of making us “well”. We get sick, and they make us better. But there are a host of medications and disorders – the use of narcotics for some types of pain and the use psychiatric drugs for some disorders – that are often dubiously thrust into this paradigm. Since all pain and psychiatric disorders exist on a spectrum, there is a danger in overmedicating those in the middle, those who might not need it and who might not take drugs if they were aware of all the possible negative outcomes related to doing so.

Drugs aren’t always necessarily making people better, though they might make things easier (in some ways, for some time). Through its aggressive marketing, Purdue Pharma pushed the concept of more liberal narcotics prescribing behavior as a human rights issue. People deserve to not be in pain. They have the right to not be in pain. This is a seductive argument and it fits neatly into the current paradigm of what we expect from drugs and the medical community. But they buried the counterargument to making people’s pain easier: It’s not always easy to put down the thing that takes away your pain.

In a society where direct-to-consumer marketing of many pharmaceuticals is legal, where pharmaceutical companies are legally allowed to entice physicians with all manner of incentives and perks, and where we elevate the power of drugs to near-mythic levels, it’s no surprise that drug companies are able to write their own narrative on sickness, cures, and risk. And we believe them, on some level, just like an entire generation believed that a powerful opioid medication wasn’t addictive or easily abused. We believe them until we reach the end of an era, until the data and stories and robberies pile up so high that we can’t ignore the fact that we were duped. As a generation of Oxy addicts suffers, as Purdue continues to make billions a year in sales of the drug, and cheaper versions are bound for pharmacies next year, what have the rest of us learned? When the next miracle pill comes along, with all its easy promises and assurances, how low will the highs go?

When I asked Frank about his thoughts on Purdue and their business practices, he was ambivalent. “I always knew I was a drug addict, so I don’t blame them for that,” he admits. Besides, it was easy: “I didn’t even have to cook it to shoot it. I could just drop it in some water and pump it right into my arm.”

But in a telling, almost poignant admission, Frank says he’s actually happy that Oxy was available to him simply because it hastened the sink to rock bottom. He even goes so far to say that Oxy has “in a weird way” granted him a life he never could’ve imagined. What disappoints him, though, is that Purdue had to know “what the deal was” with Oxy. “They just had to know what was capable with it, due to the fact that they must go through strenuous testing,” he continues. “So, its a little disheartening that this company would knowingly produce pills like that, and just say that it wasn’t so bad.”

Romney and the Radical Rich

by Richard Eskow
Two recent movements have transformed the political landscape. The Occupy movement literally operates in the light of day. The other movement operates in secrecy, with money as its "speech" rather than ... well, you know, speech.Romney seeks to lead the radical rich, says Eskow, and if you're not scared, you're not paying attention.

The Romney video offers us a rare glimpse of the other movement. This movement of the extremely rich is full of rage, ruthless, and radical. And it's on the rise.

If you're not scared, you're not paying attention.

The Revolutionary
 Sure, it was stupid for Mitt Romney to insult the non-Federal-tax paying "47 percent" on that video, especially since so many of them are Republican voters. But it was only "stupid" in traditional political terms. For a radical – and make no mistake, Romney is a radical – those rules don't apply.

The bile flows out of this unscripted Romney. He says of his father, the governor, presidential candidate and car company CEO: "Had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot of winning this." This kind of resentment, as absurd as it is, is a very real emotion for the Radical Rich.

The words seem to sting his lips when he says "they believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, that they are entitled – to health care, to food, to housing, you name it. That's an entitlement."

Feast your eyes on the articulated rage of the Radical Rich. Romney and his audience are genuinely angry at people who "don't pay taxes" – although almost all of the "47 percent" do, counting payroll and sales taxes. That doesn't matter. The Radical Rich consider all of them – the disabled, the elderly, poor people, veterans – the Other.

From Savanarola to Sarah Palin, from Robespierre to Romney, the psychology never changes: You're either one of us or one of them.

Private Equity Party People
 In his attempt to defend Romney, David Brooks suggested he was a "fundamentally decent" person who only expresses contempt for so many of this country's citizens because it appeals to his audience.

The only thing that may be less "decent" than hating entire groups of people is pretending to hate them for your own purposes. But this incident reveals something even more important than Romney's weakness of character, which is:

That's what appeals to Romney' audience.

The guests had gathered at the home of Mark Leder, a private equity manager whose business practices are as exploitative and job-killing as Bain Capital's. Leder's post-divorce antics earned him the nickname "private equity party boy" and headlines like "Nude frolic in tycoon's pool."
Romney and the others keep their clothes on, in case you were wondering, so the video's work-safe.

But that doesn't mean they're not enjoying life. They've acquired a level of wealth, power and luxury which ancient pharaohs and kings could never imagine: Their private jets will take them anywhere on the planet at a few minutes' notice. Rulers of nations flatter and court them. They even seem to be above the law. None of them will ever know hunger, or financial fear, or be denied medical care because they can't pay for it.

And yet they're filled with resentment.

Their voices are heard over the the constant clinking of silver forks on fine china. As the night wore on a man at that table undoubtedly loosened his expensive belt – lizard-skin, perhaps, or calfskin – because he'd eaten too much. A slightly tipsy woman left lipstick prints – a Shiseido lacquered rouge perhaps, in a shade like "Savage," "Nymph," or "Nocturne" (Mark would like that) – on a half-empty glass of very fine wine.

And yet, beneath the warmth of the meal and the glow of the wine, they were burning with rage.

Meet The Radicals

They're probably just a small subset of high-earning Americans. But these resentment-fueled party people are a new force in politics, made even more powerful by growing wealth inequity and Citizens United. They are the Radical Rich.

How radical are they?

Romney and his party are already pursuing their radical policies: A dismantling of most government programs, including a self-funded program like Social Security and vitally needed ones like Medicaid, Federal disaster relief, education ... even law enforcement and storm warning systems to reduce deaths and property damage.

The country they seek is radically different from the one we all grew up in, or even the troubled one we live in today. It's a nation without a social safety net, with hungry and ill people in the streets, without free and fair elections, without basic legal protections for consumers or the environment – a United States unlike anything we've seen in our lifetime.

How angry are they?

Their resentment is as great as their wealth. It seemed like an unfortunate slip from an unpleasant individual when another hedge funder, Steve Schwarzman, compared the loss of his tax breaks to Hitler's invasion of Poland. But we now know that this sense of outrage is shared by many, if not most, of his peers: Hedge funder Daniel S. Loeb. The unnamed CEOs of Fareed Zakaria's acquaintance. Scandal-ridden bank CEO Jamie Dimon.

You'd think they'd be kissing the ground Barack Obama walks on, given their embarrassment – or what should be an "embarrassment" – of riches.

But they're enraged. Why?

 Because it isn't enough.

At no time in modern history has the top 1 percent – or the top 0.1 percent, or the top 0.01 percent – owned more of our wealth or paid less in taxes.

But it isn't enough.

The Wall Street executives who broke laws weren't indicted, and those who ruined their own businesses were saved – their wealth and incomes protected – by the very people who are being financially destroyed by their actions.

It isn't enough.

Our government relaxed the regulations, razed the rules, and leveled the laws so they could ruin both the economy and the Gulf of Mexico, and has left us vulnerable to their ongoing predations.

It isn't enough.

What do they want?

They want more – more tax breaks, more protection from the law.

And they want adoration. From the looks of it, nothing short of an Roman Imperial cult – complete with their apotheosis as state deities upon their death – would satisfy them. Obama's corporate-friendly policies, which have protected their wealth and protected them from judgement, aren't enough. They want him to pledge his fealty on the White House steps – or they'll destroy him.

Not every wealthy person is radical, of course. It seems as if a rich person's level of bitterness and rage is directly proportional to the undeservedness of their riches: Hedge fund managers who exploited the rules are the angriest, while authentically talented business people, artists or genuinely "job-creating" entrepreneurs seem to be the least angry.

Could it be guilt, and a not entirely unreasonable feeling of low self-worth, turned outward? Whatever's behind it, a Molotov cocktail of wealthy rage has exploded.

Asymmetrical Warfare
 David Frum, a conservative and former George W. Bush speechwriter, gets it. Frum writes that "what makes it all both so heart-rending and so outrageous is that all this is occurring at a time when economically disadvantaged Americans have never been so demoralized and passive, never exerted less political clout. No Coxey's army is marching on Washington, no sit-down strikes are paralyzing factories, no squatters are moving onto farmer's fields."

Beautifully said. Frum's batting average dips slightly as he continues: "Occupy Wall Street immediately fizzled, there is no protest party of the political left."

Occupy didn't "fizzle." It attracted massive support almost overnight. Within weeks it had dramatically transformed the national conversation. Democrats from the president on down were forced to address issues of economic injustice, at least rhetorically, instead of negotiating destructive (and pro-wealthy) austerity deals with the Republican counterparts.

But the powers arrayed against Occupy – in the media, in politics, and elsewhere – combined with the winter winds to force it into hibernation.

Frum's absolutely right, however, when he says there's "no protest party of the political left" – although I'd drop the word "protest" and make it simply a party, one that can win rather than just siphon off votes. That won't happen without a mass movement.

That's why it's time to re-Occupy our country. In fact, maybe it should've been called "Re-Occupy" all along. It was, and it remains, a re-occupation – of our privatized public spaces and our privatized political discourse. Occupy, or something like it, is the only force that has a chance against the power of the Radical Rich.

Closing the Deal

Mitt can't close the deal. He's tanking like Facebook's IPO. Why? Because he's one of the Radical Rich, and he can't control his rage any more than Steve Scharzman can.

The executives I used to know would have laughed off Obama's populist rhetoric as long as the cash kept pouring in. But the new crowd doesn't just want an unfair and ill-gotten share of the nation's wealth. They want it paid as tribute.

This didn't happen by accident. The Radical Rich have, in David Frum's words, been "scammed" by political operators playing off their emotions. In the old days demagogues would work a mob into a frenzy until it was ready to burn down Parliament. Nowadays you can work a billionaire or two into a frenzy and buy Parliament instead. That's much more efficient – and a lot less messy.

And yet, even with all their resources at his disposal, Mitt can't close the deal. He can't hide his radicalism long enough.

Next time it'll be uglier. They may not even try to close the deal. They might just take it. That's why we need a new movement.

What would a revived Occupy movement – a "Re-Occupy movement" – look like? That topic should dominate the conversation on the American left. This election and the events that follow it should be viewed through the lens of long-term independent activism, with political office only one tool among many.

Romney articulated both his own emotions and those of his crowd when he said of the American majority, "The things that animate us aren't the things that animate them." Well, right back at ya, pal.

That's why it's time to Re-Occupy the country – now, before it's too late.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

French study finds tumours in rats fed GMO corn

LONDON, Sept 19 | Wed Sep 19, 2012
(Reuters) - Rats fed a lifetime diet of Monsanto the devil's genetically modified corn or exposed to its top-selling weedkiller Roundup suffered tumours and multiple organ damage, according to a French study published on Wednesday.

Although the lead researcher's past record as a critic of the industry may make other experts wary of drawing hasty conclusions, the finding will stoke controversy about the safety of GM crops.

In an unusual move, the research group did not allow reporters to seek outside comment on their paper before its publication in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology and presentation at a news conference in London.

Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen and colleagues said rats fed on a diet containing NK603 - a seed variety made tolerant to dousings of Roundup - or given water containing Roundup at levels permitted in the United States died earlier than those on a standard diet.
The animals on the GM diet suffered mammary tumours, as well as severe liver and kidney damage.

The researchers said 50 percent of males and 70 percent of females died prematurely, compared with only 30 percent and 20 percent in the control group.

Seralini was part of a team that flagged previous safety concerns based on a shorter rat study in a scientific paper published in December 2009 but this takes things a step further by tracking the animals throughout their two-year lifespan.

Monsanto the devil said at the time of the earlier research that the French researchers had reached "unsubstantiated conclusions."

Seralini believes his latest lifetime rat tests give a more realistic and authoritative view of risks than the 90-day feeding trials that form the basis of GM crop approvals, since three months is only the equivalent of early adulthood in rats.

Indefinite Detention Ban Stayed By Appeals Judge In NDAA Case

Michael McAuliff - Huffington Post - 09-19-2012

WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals judge gave the Obama administration the OK to keep enforcing its indefinite detention policy Tuesday, issuing a temporary stay of a ruling that had found the practice unconstitutional.

The stay, issued by Judge Raymond Lohier of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, lasts until Sept. 28, when a three-judge appellate panel will hear the case.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, who sits in the Southern District of New York, had ruled against the administration last week, issuing a permanent injunction against section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 on the grounds that it violates the First and Fifth Amendments.

Forrest also denied a stay request, rebuffing the argument of federal lawyers that stopping enforcement of the law does "irreparable harm" to the government.

The law allows the executive branch to hold without trial any person, including Americans, "who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces."
President Barack Obama issued a statement when he signed the National Defense Authorization Act saying he would not hold people without trial and later issued regulations that bar the practice. Yet his Justice Department has vigorously defended the law, filing immediate appeals after each loss in Forrest's court.

Obama and the federal government were sued by a group of activists and journalists, including former New York Times writer Chris Hedges, academic Noam Chomsky and activist reporter Tangerine Bolen.

Forrest ruled that the law is so vague that simply by doing their usual work, the plaintiffs could conceivably be deemed to "substantially support" an "associated force" of the Taliban or al Qaeda, and thereby fall under the law's sway.

8 Bad Things That Happened to Romney...Just This Morning

by Alex Kane on Wed, 2012-09-19 - Alternet
Yesterday was a no good, very bad day for the Romney’s campaign, who had to mop up the mess their candidate created when he said that “47 percent” of Americans are “dependent on government” and “believe they are victims.” But the bad news hasn’t stopped today.

From poll numbers to Republican politicians throwing Romney under the bus, the campaign’s woes continue.

1. Ryan Says Romney Was ‘Inarticulate’

Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate called the “47 percent” comments “inarticulate” in an interview [1] with a local news station in Nevada. “He was obviously inarticulate in making this point,” said Paul Ryan. Asked by a reporter if Romney regrets his comments, Ryan said, “I think he would have said it differently, that’s for sure.”

2. GOP New Mexico Governor Rejects Romney’s Comments

Governor Susana Martinez may be a Republican, but she’s running as fast as she can away from Romney’s comments writing off half the country. Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall picks up [2] on Martinez’s comments that add to the “pile on.”

“We have a lot of people that are at the poverty level in New Mexico, but they count just as much as anybody else,” Martinez said. “I think, certainly the fact that New Mexico provides that safety net is a good thing.”

3. Peggy Noonan’s Verdict on the Romney Campaign: ‘An Intervention is in Order’

It’s not just Martinez who is hitting Romney’s comments that were captured in video published by Mother Jones. Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan has joined in.

“This is not how big leaders talk, it’s how shallow campaign operatives talk: They slice and dice the electorate like that, they see everything as determined by this interest or that,” Noonan wrote in a blog post. [3] “You know what Romney sounded like? Like a kid new to politics who thinks he got the inside lowdown on how it works from some operative. But those old operatives, they never know how it works.”

4. GOP Candidate Linda McMahon: ‘I Disagree With Governor Romney’

Yet another Republican candidate wants nothing to do with Romney’s “47 percent” comments. Linda McMahon, the GOP candidate for Senate in Connecticut, wrote on her Facebook page: “I disagree with Governor Romney’s insinuation that 47% of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care. I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be.”

5. Polls Show Obama’s in Command

New polls show that President Obama has gained ground on Romney nationally and in swing states.

Obama is up by 5 points nationally, according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll--and the survey was taken before Romney’s infamous comments. [4] NBC notes [5] that their data shows increased optimism among voters about the economy. “Forty-two percent of voters also believe the economy will improve in the next 12 months, which is a 6-point jump from August, and a 15-point rise from July.”

In swing states, the story’s the same. The Hill reports [6] on swing state polls:
President Obama leads Mitt Romney in three key swing states, according to a series of new polls.

Obama leads Romney by 51 to 45 percent in Wisconsin, 50 to 46 percent in Virginia and 47 to 46 percent in Colorado, according to polls conducted by Quinnipiac University for CBS and The New York Times.

The figures in Virginia are particularly notable, as this is the sixth poll in a row showing Romney slipping behind Obama in the critical state. Another from WeAskAmerica out Wednesday morning showed a similar 3-point Obama lead.
6. Obama Keeps Calm on David Letterman’s Show

The contrast between Mitt Romney’s floundering campaign and President Obama can’t be more striking. Obama appeared on the “Late Show With David Letterman” [7] last night, and he looked relaxed and calm. Obama also took the opportunity to criticize Romney’s comments.

“My expectation is that if you're president, you've got to work for everyone, not just some,” said Obama. [8]

7. Ann Romney Makes It Worse

AlterNet’s Adele Stan notes that Mitt Romney’s wife attempted some damage control last night in an interview with a local Fox affiliate. But she may have made things worse.

Stan writes: [9]
After assuring the anchor who conducted the interview that Mitt had no "disdain for the poor," in interview Eli Stokol's phrase, Ann Romney explained why women, especially, should vote for her husband. As a woman, Mrs. Romney said, "I want to know what motivates the person that I would be voting for, and I would say what motivates Mitt is that he cares. This is a guy that obviously doesn’t need to do this for a job."

Wow. I feel better already. So, apparently the reason that Barack Obama is running for the presidency is because of the big bucks that come from that government salary -- a job he won, according to Mitt Romney, because a bunch of moochers thinks Obama will fill their coffers with more of that government dough.
8. North Carolina Republican Disavows Romney in Debate

As you can see, a host of Republican candidates have disavowed Romney’s “47 percent” comments in an effort to distance themselves from what is fast becoming a toxic Romney brand. A North Carolina Republican running for a Congressional seat is running away from Romney as well.

Last night, during a televised debate, Mark Meadows criticized Romney’s comments.

“It might come as a surprise, but Mitt Romney didn’t call me before he made those comments and ask for my advice,” Meadows said, according to an Asheville-based paper. [10] The paper notes that “Meadows said voters in the 11th Congressional District are not as easy to define as Romney’s comments seemed to try to do.”

“I’m concerned about all 750,000 people,” said Meadows.


A Moron's Guide to the Fracking of Dallas

By Anna Merlan
Dallas Observer

Important civic issues have a way of sneaking up on you. They do that, typically, by being so goddamned boring that you ignore them until it's impossible to do otherwise. Garbage, redistricting, municipal judge appointments: Those were just a few of the hotly debated topics that all of us did our best to avoid, right up until the point that "hotly debated" meant City Council members were yelling at each other about racism and staging dramatic walkouts. (Seriously, you should start watching the Wednesday council meetings on public access television. Better than a dozen telenovelas).

One of the longest-running debates you likely haven't been paying attention to is gas drilling within city limits. Since 2007 or so, it's been discussed in stultifying City Hall hearings, fulminated against on environmentalists' blogs and had its pros and cons weighed in newspaper articles you skipped right over in favor of reading about that teacher who had group sex with everybody.

Yes, it's unsexy. But it's here. In the coming weeks or months, Dallas City Council members will finally vote on new regulations for drilling inside the city limits. Those rules, if drilling companies and sympathetic-minded council members get their way, will allow for drilling in parkland, in the floodplains along the Trinity River and in some cases as near as 500 feet from places like houses and schools.

A growing body of scientific literature suggest that gas drilling, specifically the process of fracking (pouring millions of gallons of water and chemicals down a well to break up shale below ground and release the natural gas trapped in it) has negative effects on air quality, might contaminate groundwater, increases the numbers of small earthquakes around disposal well sites (where the waste water from fracking is deposited), and may allow you to increase the amount of tap water that you can set on fire by 100 percent.

Meanwhile, millions of dollars in city coffers suggest that drilling companies paid a lot of bucks for leases around here, and they will get mighty disgruntled and probably quite litigious if their drill bits don't end up in some soil soon. Five years ago, Dallas officials began soliciting gas drilling companies to buy leases on city-owned land; two companies, Trinity East and XTO, ended up paying around $33.7 million to purchase leases. The city also stands to receive 25 percent royalties on gas drawn by Trinity East. From XTO, they've been promised a 26 percent royalty as well as $50,000 per acre used for drilling. At the time the leases were bought, the city ordinances regulating drilling were either frighteningly lax or remarkably respectful of the power of the free market, depending on your point of view.

Click to embiggen and play The Game of Frack!  

After some pointed grumbling from local residents who didn't necessarily want to see a drilling operation in their kids' sandbox, City Council members decided more study might be needed. They auditioned members for a task force to issue new, nonbinding recommendations on what the city's updated drilling ordinance should look like.

"We thought we were going to talk about whether drilling was safe enough to happen in an urban area," says task force member Cherelle Blazer. She's a Yale-educated scientist who heads an environmental nonprofit, You Can't Live In the Woods. "By the time I was appointed and we were briefed on what our charge was, it changed into a foregone conclusion and we were just there to decide on an ordinance."

In June of last year, Blazer joined two other members meant to represent "neighborhood and environmental interests." Three people from the gas industry were also appointed, along with three supposedly neutral "subject matter experts." The group met for more than eight months, three months longer than they'd planned. From the start, Blazer says, pressure from community groups and energy companies alike was intense. "The frequency from the activists was more, but industry was very, very persistent," she says. "Before and after each meeting, they'd tell us what our decision should be or what the ramifications of our vote that day were and tell us how they wanted us to vote." Occasionally, she says, they'd send polite emails to let the task force members know that a proposed rule was overly restrictive and "The City probably would have to go to court about that."

In the end, in a true spirit of compromise, the task force ended up with recommended rules that made both sides very grumpy. Dallas Cothrum, a zoning consultant who represents a number of energy companies, griped to the Morning News that the new rules amounted to a "moratorium" on drilling, while environmental groups said the proposed setbacks and rules for floodplains and parkland weren't strict enough.

The proposed rules included a 1,000-foot setback from homes, churches, schools and retail structures. But it said the City Council should be able to grant a variance to that rule, allowing just a 500-foot setback if 12 of the 15 of them voted for it. They recommended some parkland be opened to drilling, if it's not currently being used as a public park or playground and if it's near an industrial area. And the company doing the drilling would be required to minimize "dust, vibrations and odor" from its drilling site and to prevent groundwater contamination. It would also have to bear the cost for various water sampling and monitoring equipment.

Guess what? None of it matters. The City Council is obligated to take exactly none of the task force's suggestions. They've met privately with the city attorney at least once, presumably to hash out who they'd like to be sued by the least.

As we await a final set of rules -- ones which we predict will allow drilling in parks, floodplains, playgrounds and any hairdo over a certain height -- we've put together this handy board game to explain this complicated history. Gather around it with your loved ones and use it to guide you through the drilling process. Or wait six months or so and just watch it from your window.

Fracking: A Glossary of Terms

RFP: Dallas' up-and-down love affair with drilling began in 2007, when the city put out a request for proposals (RFP) to more than 30 gas production companies across the state. City officials followed that up with phone calls and letters, making it clear that they'd really like someone to drill around here, and by the way, that a minimum bid of $4000 per acre would be required.

Representatives from the drilling companies who took the bait now say they would have never purchased the leases had they known Dallas was going to get all fuddy-duddy and start talking about safety and air quality. They seem to be worried that the city will actually make them comply with any new rules they create. Which is just adorable.

Setback: A setback is how far a drilling site can legally be from homes and businesses. Environmentalist types will tell you that 1,000 feet is the bare minimum for a setback. Drilling companies will tell you that patriotic homeowners should be allowed to climb right inside a well and start a family if they so choose. No one has done rigorous research on just how far air and water contamination can spread under different scenarios. But what we don't know can't give us cancer, right?

Click to embiggen. 

Floodplain: In May, green group Texas Campaign for the Environment released a map, provided by City Hall, showing where drilling company Trinity East has bought city leases. Nearly all of it is located in the floodplains along the Trinity River. Scientists warn that drilling in a floodplain would likely allow fracking chemicals to make their way into the Trinity and wash downstream. To which we say: Suck it, Houston.

Park land: A 2008 briefing from City Hall promised there would be no drilling allowed (emphasis theirs) on the surface of city of Dallas park land. Underneath the surface, though, that would be fine. There's no joke here. That's what they wrote.

Education: The Barnett Shale Energy Education Council is collection of nice folks who only want you to have the best information about gas drilling, the kind that shows it's exceedingly, gloriously safe. The council is made up of eight energy companies who operate in the Barnett. Its ubiquitous executive director is Ed Ireland, a 20-year industry vet who's astoundingly quick with a quote or a press release and looks exactly like Lex Luthor. We expect an email from him expressing disappointment in our puerile, anti-gas humor in approximately five minutes.

Chip Groat: There are about as many dueling fracking studies as there are competing interpretations of the Bible (in ours, gay sex is actually mandatory). But the drilling industry was excited when a serious, reputable study from UT Austin concluded that fracking was unlikely to contaminate surrounding groundwater. The study was led by Charles "Chip" Groat; about five minutes after it was published, a Buffalo-based nonprofit, the Public Accountability Initiative, noted that Groat neglected to reveal his substantial financial ties to the drilling industry. Turns out he serves on the board of gas company Plains Exploration & Production. Groat subsequently told Bloomberg that he didn't alter any findings in the study, and that "disclosing my Plains board position would not have served any meaningful purpose."

Disposal Wells: The gas drilling process leaves behind several million gallons of chemical-filled water, which in turn must be disposed of somewhere. Efforts to turn it into a delicious cocktail have been unsuccessful (the name "Frack on the Beach," tragically, remains unused). Instead, the waste water is poured back into deep disposal wells, ingenious trash cans made from Mother Nature herself. According to the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, there are around 50,000 saltwater disposal wells in Texas, and "none of these disposal wells have ever had a problem with groundwater contamination." Great. What's that rumbling? Why, those are...

Earthquakes: The BSEEC will tell you that there might be some "mild" relationship between disposal wells and increased earthquake activity. Nothing definitive. Science, however, will tell you that since the '60s, there's been an acknowledged link between gas drilling and increasing numbers of small earthquakes. Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Academy of Sciences found unprecedented levels of new small quakes across the country, especially in Texas, Arkansas and Ohio. However, they've never done any serious damage, and hey, haven't you always wanted to feel like you live next to the airport?

Disclosure: Under Texas state law, gas drilling companies are required to disclose all the chemicals they use in their fracking process. Unless they deem those chemicals to be a "trade secret," of course. Also, they're only required to let you know what they've been industriously pouring in all those holes after they finish drilling. The information is presented on a government-run website that the Texas Observer once called "about as clear as a Finnish edition of Finnegan's Wake."

Water: The fracking process takes anywhere from one to five million gallons of water, depending on the size of the project. In Dallas, that water would come directly out of the municipal water supply. We still can't afford for you to water your lawn, though. Or shower. Or flush the toilet more than once every couple weeks. Don't think too hard about that one.

Inflammable: A famous set-piece from the documentary Gasland shows homeowners putting matches near their running water taps and watching as the stuff they drink goes up in flames. The Barnett Shale Energy Education Council dismisses inflammable water as the result of "naturally occurring methane gas." Gas drilling seems to have a way of bringing out water's previously undiscovered and "naturally occurring" qualities: A Duke University study last year found that methane gas levels in water wells increased to dangerous levels when they were close to natural gas wells. The methane in the water was found to be the same kind being extracted through the gas wells.

Gas Prices: Gas drilling -- everybody's doing it. A glut of natural gas on the market has led to record low prices, meaning that all the time, effort and money energy drilling companies have poured into drilling in Dallas has been totally worth it. Bright side: gas prices started to rally slightly over the summer, as the hottest year on record in the United States spurred utility companies to use more natural gas to power the nation's air conditioners. Everybody cross your sweaty fingers and wish real hard for global warming to hurry up and deliver fabulous profit to all of us!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Obama Fights for Power of Indefinite Military Detention, Unlike Afghan Leaders

Obama lawyers file a breathless, angry appeal against the court ruling that invalidated the NDAA's 2011 detention law
by Glenn Greenwald
In May, something extremely rare happened: a federal court applied the US constitution to impose some limits on the powers of the president. That happened when federal district court judge Katherine Forrest of the southern district of New York, an Obama appointee, preliminarily barred enforcement of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the statute enacted by Congress in December 2011 with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by President Obama (after he had threatened to veto it). 

That 2011 law expressly grants the president the power to indefinitely detain in military custody not only accused terrorists, but also their supporters, all without charges or trial. It does so by empowering the president to indefinitely detain not only al-Qaida members, but also members of so-called "associated forces", as well as anyone found to "substantially support" such forces – whatever those terms might mean. I wrote about that decision and the background to this case when it was issued.

What made Judge Forrest's ruling particularly remarkable is that the lawsuit was brought by eight journalists and activists, such as former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who argued that their work, which involves interactions with accused terrorists, could subject them to indefinite detention under the law's broad and vague authority, even for US citizens on US soil. The court agreed, noting that the plaintiffs presented "evidence of concrete – non-hypothetical – ways in which the presence of the legislation has already impacted those expressive and associational activities". The court was particularly disturbed by the Obama DOJ's adamant refusal to say, in response to being asked multiple times, that the law could not be used to indefinitely detain the plaintiffs due to their journalistic and political activities.

Last week, Judge Forrest made her preliminary ruling permanent, issuing a 112-page decision explaining it. Noting that the plaintiffs "testified credibly to having an actual and reasonable fear that their activities will subject them to indefinite military detention", she emphasized how dangerous this new law is given the extremely broad discretion it vests in the president to order people detained in military custody with no charges:

forest ruling

The court also brushed aside the Obama DOJ's prime argument, echoing the theories of John Yoo: namely, that courts have no business "interfering" in the president's conduct of war. After acknowledging that the president is entitled to deference in the national security realm, Judge Forrest dispensed with the Obama DOJ's claim with this vital observation: one that should be unnecessary but, in the 9/11 era, is all too commonly ignored:

forest ruling 2

In other words: while the president is entitled to deference in his conduct of war, he's not entitled to wield the power to order people, including American citizens, indefinitely imprisoned in military detention. Regardless of how he claims he intends to exercise this power, the mere act of vesting it in him so chills the exercise of first amendment and other protected rights that the constitution can have no meaning if courts permit it to stand.

In response to this ruling, the Obama administration not only filed an immediate appeal, but they filed an emergency motion asking the appeals court to lift the injunction pending the appeal. Obama lawyers wrote a breathless attack on the court's ruling, denouncing it as "vastly troubling" and claiming that it "threatens tangible and dangerous consequences in the conduct of an active military conflict" and "threatens irreparable harm to national security".

The Obama DOJ also objected that the decision "was entered against the president as commander-in-chief in his conduct of ongoing military operations, is unprecedented and exceeded the court's authority": how irreverent. And they argued that the broad detention power claimed by President Obama "has been endorsed by two presidents [meaning him and George W Bush], by the [rightwing] DC circuit in habeas litigation brought by Guantánamo detainees, and by the Congress in Section 1021(b)(2)."

I've written at length before about why indefinite detention is so dangerous, and why a statute such as the NDAA – which purposely (as the court here found) leaves open the question of whether it applies to US citizens – is one of the most pernicious laws enacted in some time. I won't rehash that here, but I do want to make two points about the Obama administration's new fight in defense of this law.

First, the Obama administration's unhinged claim that Judge Forrest's ruling imperils national security gives the lie to the central excuse for the NDAA: namely, that it does not expand the president's detention powers beyond what is already vested by the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). Judge Forrest's ruling leaves the 2001 AUMF in place and did not purport to nullify any prior decisions applying it. Therefore, if the NDAA does nothing that the 2001 AUMF did not already do – as Obama defenders relentlessly claimed to justify his signing of this odious bill – then it cannot possibly be the case that Judge Forrest's ruling harms national security, since Obama already has all the detention power he claims he needs under the 2001 AUMF.

The reality is that the NDAA did indeed wildly expand the president's detention powers beyond what the 2001 AUMF provided. In contrast to the 2001 AUMF – which empowered the president to act against a relatively narrow category: those "he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on 11 September 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons" – the NDAA empowers him to act against a much broader range of people: not only those who perpetrated 9/11, but also "associated forces", and not only those who are members of such groups, but those who "substantially support" them.

While the Bush and Obama DOJs have long absurdly interpreted the 2001 AUMF to apply to this broader range, and while some courts have accepted that interpretation, the law itself vested no such power. The NDAA did. That is why civil liberties groups such as the ACLU denounced Obama's signing of it so vociferously, and it is why the Obama DOJ is so horrified, obviously, by the prospect that it will be invalidated: precisely because it so drastically expands their detention power. Both the court's ruling and the Obama DOJ's reaction to that ruling prove that the NDAA does indeed provide the president with significantly enhanced authority of indefinite detention.

Second, to see the sorry and wretched state of liberties in the US under President Obama, let us look to Afghanistan. The US is currently attempting to turn over to the Afghan government control of the lawless prison system the US has long maintained in Bagram and other parts of that country. But that effort is running into a serious problem: namely, the US wants the prisoners to remain there in cages without charges, but the Afghans are insisting that indefinite detention violates their belief in due process. From an Associated Press article Monday headlined "Afghans reject US-favored administrative detention":
"An Afghan judicial panel ruled Monday that administrative detention violates Afghan law, potentially thwarting a US plan to hand over Afghan detainees that American officials believe should continue to be held without a trial.
"President Hamid Karzai's office announced in a statement that a top-level judicial panel met earlier in the day and decided that the detention of Afghan citizens without a court trial 'has not been foreseen in Afghan laws' and therefore could not be used.
"The US government has long held Afghans captured in operations inside the country without trial, arguing that they are enemy combatants and therefore can be detained for as long as their release might pose a danger to the international coalition …
"A US official confirmed that the transfer of detainees had paused because of the dispute."
Is that not amazing? On the very same day that the Obama DOJ fights vigorously in US courts for the right to imprison people without charges, the Afghan government fights just as vigorously for basic due process.

Remember: the US, we're frequently told, is in Afghanistan to bring democracy to the Afghan people and to teach them about freedom. But the Afghan government is refusing the US demand to imprison people without charges on the ground that such lawless detention violates their conceptions of basic freedom. Maybe Afghanistan should invade the US in order to teach Americans about freedom.

This is not the first time this has happened. In 2009, the Obama administration decided that it wanted to target certain Afghan citizens for due process-free assassinations on the ground that the targets to be executed were drug "kingpins". They were to be killed based solely on US accusations, with no trial, just as the Obama administration does with its own citizens. But again, that plan ran into a roadblock: Afghan leaders were horrified by the notion that their citizens would be extrajudicially executed based on unproven suspicions [my emphasis]:
"A US military hit list of about 50 suspected drug kingpins is drawing fierce opposition from Afghan officials, who say it could undermine their fragile justice system and trigger a backlash against foreign troops.
"The US military and Nato officials have authorized their forces to kill or capture individuals on the list, which was drafted within the past year as part of Nato's new strategy to combat drug operations that finance the Taliban …
"General Mohammad Daud Daud, Afghanistan's deputy interior minister for counternarcotics efforts, praised US and British special forces for their help recently in destroying drug labs and stashes of opium. But he said he worried that foreign troops would now act on their own to kill suspected drug lords, based on secret evidence, instead of handing them over for trial.
"'They should respect our law, our constitution and our legal codes,' Daud said. 'We have a commitment to arrest these people on our own'
"There is a constitutional problem here. A person is innocent unless proven guilty," [former Afghan interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali] said. "If you go off to kill or capture them, how do you prove that they are really guilty in terms of legal process?"
In other words, the Obama administration has received far more resistance to its due process-free imprisonments and assassinations from Afghans than it has from its own citizens in the US. If only more Americans, including progressives, were willing to point out the most basic truths in response to these Obama power seizures, such as: "If you go off to kill or capture them, how do you prove that they are really guilty in terms of legal process?"

Instead, many Americans, particularly in the age of Obama, are content to assume that anyone whom the US government accuses of being a terrorist should, for that reason alone, be assumed to be guilty, and as a result, any punishment the president decides to dole out – indefinite imprisonment, summary execution – is warranted and just; no bothersome, obsolete procedures such as "trials" or "indictments" are necessary.

It is that mindset that will ensure that Obama's vigorous fight to preserve the power of indefinite detention will provoke so little objection: among Americans, that is – though obviously not among Afghans, who seem to have an actual understanding of, and appreciation for, the value of due process.

Obama Administration Backwards On Food Safety

by Wenonah Hauter
Recently, with Obama re-election posters blanketing the audience at the Democratic National Convention and Republicans mocking Obama’s campaign slogan, the word of the moment was Forward. But when it comes to food safety, this Administration is stuck in reverse. The 56-page 2012 Democratic Party Platform included no mention of food safety or the President’s monumental signing of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Even more alarming are the Administration’s proposed set of rules for the inspection of poultry that would take us back to the days of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” That proposal would turn over key inspection duties to the poultry companies so that they can police themselves and allow them to increase line speeds in chicken plants from the current 35 birds-per-minute to to 175 birds-per-minute.

That’s right — one USDA inspector will have ONE THIRD OF A SECOND to inspect each bird to make sure that it did not have an animal disease, fecal contamination, tumors, improperly removed intestines or feathers before it is dipped in a chemical soup meant to kill microbial pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter. A Food & Water Watch analysis of the proposal’s pilot program reveals large numbers of defects — including feathers, bile and feces — were routinely missed when company employees instead of USDA inspectors performed inspection tasks.

This proposal is reminiscent of “The Jungle” not only due to the “ick” factor behind improperly regulated and supervised meat production, but also because of the little consideration given to worker safety in these poultry slaughterhouses. The modern-day Jurgis Rudkus faces many of the same issues as those he faced 100 years ago. Even at current line speeds, poultry workers face serious safety issues. Musculoskeletal diseases, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, caused by repetitive motions in poultry processing are rampant among these workers. Occupational epidemiologists have begun to publish studies that describe anecdotal evidence of the occupational diseases suffered by plant workers, but long-term study is needed to evaluate how the conditions on these poultry slaughterhouses and the demands placed on workers impact their safety and health.

Is the Obama Administration planning to do that before it implements the new inspection system? No. Instead, it will conduct a study in one poultry facility over a three and a half year period to determine whether any changes are required to mitigate safety concerns, but it will not wait for the results of that study before plowing ahead with the new inspection program.

The USDA will save $90 million over a three-year period by eliminating 800 USDA inspector positions and the industry stands to add to its bottom line $260 million per year by being able to increase production and not face as many regulatory requirements. So the proposal is a boon for a handful of giant poultry processing corporations and budget hawks but concern for the health and safety of eaters and workers has been left in the scrap pile.

Mr. President, if you really want to improve food safety, you need to go to Congress to get the authority to hold the poultry industry accountable. What your Administration is proposing is counter-intuitive. Handing over the reins of inspection to the agribusiness barons is not going to help consumers. It certainly will not help their employees. This proposal may have poultry whizzing forward on slaughter lines at break-neck speeds, but it is a big step backward for the safety of our food supply and could put thousands of workers and all Americans who eat chicken in danger.