America Should Look in the Mirror

Esteban Santiago, the Ft. Lauderdale airport shooter, is an Iraq war veteran. Prior to executing five innocent people and wounding seven, he told the FBI that voices were telling him to watch ISIS videos. Although clearly exhibiting the possible symptoms of a thought disorder, the authorities were not able to connect him with mental health treatment.

Santiago was able to obtain a gun legally, bring it to the airport, and check it in his bag. Because some states allow guns everywhere including schools, shopping malls, and even airports, no one read the red flags that would have stopped the horror that changed too many lives forever.

Although violence is committed by a tiny percentage of those with mental illness, Santiago had military training in the use of guns. He’d confessed to having thoughts of violence when he went to those who might have been able to stop him. But he was not stopped. The powerful gun lobby has ensured that the right to bear arms be interpreted in ways far beyond any safe limit in our modern and complex society.

Santiago’s participation in the war in Iraq may have exacerbated or contributed to his mental illness. He might have been struggling with the moral injury of being in an unjustified war or dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – or both. We don’t really know. But many who have used the shooting to bolster their arguments about terrorism fail to see that some of our soldiers have been damaged by our continued wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere. We deny the moral injury of a young man raised on American values and the good life thrown into a killing machine requiring the search for “terrorists” while killing many innocent Iraqis. Although some are able to live with the facts of what we euphemistically call “collateral damage,” killing civilians torment others.

Some believe that Saddam Hussein was a thug, and the United States saved the people of Iraq from his rule. But afterwards, we killed and wounded over a million Iraqis and left a power vacuum filled by ethnic strife, and later, ISIS. Others bought the lie about the reason for the invasion and claimed that Iraq was involved in 9/11, even though Iraq had no connection to 9/11. The latest data indicates that approximately 20 veterans commit suicide each day. There are nearly two million veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but most are from Iraq. The most recent data show that veterans represent 18 percent of all the suicides for 2014, though veterans represent about 9 percent of the population.

Thirteen years after invading Iraq, the consensus is that the invasion was an error. Whether the error was intentional or not, Iraq suffered more than a quarter of a million dead, a million wounded, and the destruction of infrastructure, education, economy and medical services. If this were murder, the culprit (and in this case the president of the United States) would be convicted either of murder if it was premeditated or manslaughter if it were not. Many around the world have called it a war crime.

Unfortunately, no president admits to the culpability of our government in committing the crime of invading a country under false pretenses. Certainly President George W. Bush is responsible for the invasion, but he neither admitted to the fact that the invasion of Iraq was in error nor apologized for the invasion to the people of Iraq. The same holds true for President Obama during his eight-year term. On the contrary, President Obama justified the war early in his term and in his farewell speech. (Of course, the call was for us to fix what we had broken, an entirely different matter.)

America is trying to wash the sin of the invasion in 2003 by fighting along with the Iraqi military to defeat ISIS and regain Iraq’s sovereignty. Fighting ISIS is a noble cause, since ISIS is one of the most vicious enemies of Iraq and America. If the United States acknowledgement that American’s involvement in defeating ISIS and regaining Iraq’s sovereignty is in part an absolution for our sins, I will accept this recognition in lieu of an apology.

Finally, when the media and our politicians accepted the lies about the Iraq invasion, it paved the way for Donald Trump to lie on a regular basis and win the presidency.

This compromising of moral values during the Iraq War had a direct impact on Iraq lives and American lives. Iraqis continue to suffer the consequences in a country still recovering from that war and dealing with the ravages of ISIS. U.S. veterans continue to suffer the consequences of their experiences in the war zones. And there has been collateral damage at home as well, as the case of Esteban Santiago sadly demonstrates.

Before wielding power in the world, America should look in the mirror to see what we have done to other nations as well as our own.

— source fpif.org By Adil Shamoo

How many people still live in poverty?

When the Millennium Development Goals reached their formal conclusion in 2015, there was a full review of the goals and whether or not they were achieved. Goal 1.A was one of the success stories. Not only did the world halve the number of people living on less $1.25 a day, it did so five years ahead of the deadline. That’s great of course, but it doesn’t mean the end of poverty.

If I was living on £1 a day, and my circumstances improved ever so slightly and I got an extra 10p a day, I wouldn’t consider my problems solved. I’d have a few things to say to anyone suggesting I had been ‘lifted out of poverty’.

There are still 800 million people living on less than $1.25 a day, which is appalling. But that’s an extremely low and mostly arbitrary line. Move the benchmark to a more realistic measure of poverty, and it gets worse – at $2.5o a day we’re talking about 2.7 billion people. Add a dollar more and we’re approaching half the world’s population.

In other words, half the world still lives in extreme poverty. That’s easy to forget if we just focus on the absolute poorest. We have a long way to go.

Here’s a graph from the book Reducing Global Poverty that shows the poverty headcount at several different levels, and projects the change in the decades to come. In the year 2040, half of the world is likely to be taking home less than $10 a day.

Of course, we want everyone to enjoy a healthy and fulfilling life, to reach their full potential and get an honest day’s wages. But when you consider how many people there are to raise up to anything like the Western standard of living, the environmental challenge should be obvious. Delivering that level of wealth to one billion people has brought side effects such as climate change and the 6th global extinction event. It can’t be universalized.

And that begs a question: are we content with a two tier world, or are we prepared to lower our own ecological impact to make room for others?

— source makewealthhistory.org

Millennium Development Goals

GOAL 1:
ERADICATE EXTREME POVERTY & HUNGER
Target 1.A:
Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day

The target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline.
More than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990.
In 1990, nearly half of the population in the developing regions lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate dropped to 14 per cent in 2015.
At the global level more than 800 million people are still living in extreme poverty.

Target 1.B:
Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people

Globally, 300 million workers lived below the $1.25 a day poverty line in 2015.
The global employment-to-population ratio – the proportion of the working-age population that is employed – has fallen from 62 per cent in 1991 to 60 per cent in 2015, with an especially significant downturn during the global economic crisis of 2008/2009.
Only four in ten young women and men aged 15-24 are employed in 2015, compared with five in ten in 1991.

Target 1.C:
Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

The proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions has fallen by almost half since 1990.
Globally, about 795 million people are estimated to be undernourished.
More than 90 million children under age five are still undernourished and underweight.

— source un.org

Getting Patients Hooked On An Opioid Overdose Antidote, Then Raising The Price

First came Martin Shkreli, the brash young pharmaceutical entrepreneur who raised the price for an AIDS treatment by 5,000 percent. Then, Heather Bresch, the CEO of Mylan, who oversaw the price hike for its signature Epi-Pen to more than $600 for a twin-pack, though its active ingredient costs pennies by comparison.

Now a small Virginia company called Kaleo is joining their ranks. It makes an injector device that is suddenly in demand because of the nation’s epidemic use of opioids, a class of drugs that includes heavy painkillers and heroin.

Called Evzio, it is used to deliver naloxone, a life-saving antidote to overdoses of opioids. More than 33,000 people are believed to have died from such overdoses in 2015. And as demand for Kaleo’s product has grown, the privately held firm has raised its twin-pack price to $4,500, from $690 in 2014.

Founded by twin brothers Eric and Evan Edwards, 36, the company first sought to develop an Epi-Pen competitor, thanks to their own food allergies.

Now, they’ve taken that model and marketed it for a major public health crisis. It’s another auto-injector that delivers an inexpensive medicine.

One difference, though, is that Evzio talks users through the process as they inject naloxone. The company says the talking device is worth the price because it can guide anyone to jab an overdose victim correctly, leave the needle in for the right amount of time and potentially save his or her life.

According to Food and Drug Administration estimates, the Kaleo product, which won federal approval in 2014, accounted for nearly 20 percent of the naloxone dispensed through retail outlets between 2015 and 2016, and for nearly half of all naloxone products prescribed to patients between ages 40 and 64 — the group that comprises the bulk of naloxone users.

And the cost of generic, injectable naloxone — which has been on the market since 1971 — has been climbing. A 10-mililiter vial sold by one of the dominant vendors costs close to $150, more than double its price from even a few years ago, and far beyond the production costs of the naloxone chemical, researchers say. The other common injectable, which comes in a smaller but more potent dose, costs closer to $40, still about double its 2009 cost.

Still, experts say the device’s price surge is way out of step with production costs, and a needless drain on health-care resources.

“There’s absolutely nothing that warrants them charging what they’re charging,” said Leo Beletsky, an associate professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University in Boston.

Kaleo, which is trying to blunt the pricing backlash and turn Evzio into the trusted brand, is dispensing its device for free — to cities, first responders and drug treatment programs. Such donations were also essential to the Epi-Pen’s business strategy.

The device has been invaluable to patients, said Eliza Wheeler of San Francisco’s Harm Reduction Coalition, a nonprofit that works to combat overdoses and has received donations of Evzio. But at $4,500 a package?

“I might have $10,000 to spend on naloxone for a year, to supply a whole city,” Wheeler said. “If I have 10 grand to spend, I certainly can’t buy two Evzios.”

Mark Herzog, Kaleo’s vice president of corporate affairs, said in an email that most earlier naloxone devices were “developed, designed and intended” for use in medically-supervised settings.

Prior kits contained a pre-filled syringe. The Evzio was the first to help laypeople dispense the drug. And competition is limited: One of the few consumer-friendly alternatives to Evzio is a nasal spray device for naloxone.

A growing market

The opioid crisis has led more experts to call for expanded access to naloxone — for people navigating addiction and for those around them. The idea is that if someone nearby could overdose, dispensing the drug should be as easy as pulling the fire alarm.

Federal and state governments have spent millions of dollars equipping police officers and other first responders with naloxone. In communities particularly hard-hit by drug overdoses, places such as schools, libraries and coffee shops are keeping the antidote on hand. Physicians are prescribing it to patients who are taking prescription painkillers in an effort to make sure they — and their families and friends — are prepared.

The Evzio could be ideal, especially when medical professionals are not nearby, noted Traci Green, an associate professor at Boston University’s School of Medicine. But the price limits access.

“It’s a really good product,” she said. “It’s elegant. People do like it — but they can’t afford it.”

“There’s a lot of value to this formulation,” said Ravi Gupta, a medical student and lead author of a December op-ed on the pricing issue, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “But it’s not justified. This pricing is not justified.”

But consumers may not yet be pinched. In another Mylan parallel, Kaleo offers coupons to patients with private insurance, so they don’t have any co-pay when they pick up the device.

So Kaleo would say the price hikes are essentially moot. Herzog said they are necessary to subsidize programs that do not offer copayments. In a follow-up email, he added that the list price is “not a true gauge,” because insurance companies can sometimes negotiate rebates and discounts. And, he said, since the price increase, more patients have gotten Evzio prescriptions filled — so the cost doesn’t seem to be stopping them.

Mylan provides a similar Epi-Pen discount — a move that’s helped cement it as the dominant epinephrine provider. But even if consumers don’t directly pay for the price increases, they’re affected, analysts cautioned.

“When you have these kinds of programs, the cost is still borne by patients, because insurance premiums go up,” Beletsky said.

That, analysts say, undermines Kaleo’s argument that they’re somehow increasing access. After all, while some government agencies and private organizations get the drug for free or at a deep discount, that isn’t true across the board. For those who don’t get that deal, the list price matters.

Take Vermont. The state’s been particularly hard-hit by the epidemic — more than 70 people died of opioid overdose in 2015, and it’s been dubbed America’s “heroin capital.”

Its health department is trying to get naloxone into the hands of people using opioids, setting up distribution sites around the state. But because of its high cost, Evzio isn’t an option, said Chris Bell, who runs the state health department’s emergency preparedness and injury prevention division. So it is opting for the nasal spray that costs a fraction of the price.

That’s not true everywhere, though. The Veterans Health Administration, known for its especially high rate of patients taking opioid-based prescription painkillers, covers the auto-injector. It can do so, though, because of its bargaining power — the agency is legally authorized to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies.

As a result, the VA is paying “far, far less” than the Evzio list price, said Joseph Canzolino, deputy chief consultant for pharmaceutical benefits management at the VA. (He would not release the precise figure.)

The agency’s buying power is such, he added, that even when companies drive up prices, what the VA pays will stay more or less stable — far below a figure he called “pretty exorbitant.”

Thanks to an infusion of public funding to combat opioid overdoses, other institutional buyers may also be able to afford Evzios. Their budgets are larger right now, so they’re less price sensitive, said Nicholson Price, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Law School.

But that money comes from somewhere — most likely taxpayers. And it’s hardly sustainable, Price noted, saying “at some point in time the rubber’s got to hit the road.”

Kaleo has given away more than 180,000 devices, Herzog said, distributed in 34 states among about 250 organizations such as police departments and nonprofit groups that distribute naloxone to people at risk of overdose.

Advocates and pharmacy groups have made videos touting the product. In neighborhoods where overdose is common, businesses — like fast-food restaurants, grocery stores and other retail establishments — are interested in keeping readily dispensable naloxone on hand.

But those who’ve accepted free Evzio devices and have come to rely on it may soon face withdrawal. Last year, Kaleo’s donation supply was exhausted by July. Herzog said the company has added to its donation supply and is taking applications from groups hoping for free devices.

Barring a meaningful expansion, the free device program could run out of supplies even sooner if the current opioid crisis keeps up.

The problem, law professor Price noted, is that policymakers haven’t found a solution to get people needed medication and keep pricing in line with value.

“Epi-Pen happened, and everyone was like, ‘Wow, this is terrible, we shouldn’t allow this to happen,’” he said. “And we haven’t done anything about that, and it’s not clear what the solution is. Now, shocker, it’s happening again.”

— source khn.org By Shefali Luthra

Addicted individuals less responsive to reward-anticipation

It may be difficult for addicted individuals to learn when they can expect a reward. This learning problem could perhaps explain why they are more prone to addiction and find it difficult to kick the habit. Researchers at Radboud university medical center and Radboud University reached this conclusion on the basis of an extensive meta-analysis of the brain imaging literature. Their findings were published in JAMA Psychiatry on 1 February.

People with an addiction process rewards in their brain differently from people who are not addicted. However, whether this is associated with “too much” or “too little” brain activity is an open question. Indeed, past research has produced conflicting findings. In order to get a reliable answer, researchers combined 25 studies investigating brain reward sensitivity in more than 1200 individuals with and without addiction to various substances such as alcohol, nicotine, cocaine but also gambling.

By analyzing the brain images from these studies, they have discovered an important difference in brain activity between expecting a reward and receiving a reward.
Reward

Compared with non-addicted individuals, individuals with substance or gambling addiction showed a weaker brain response to anticipating monetary rewards. “There was less brain activity in the striatum, a core region of the brain reward circuit, suggesting that they did not expect much from the reward,” said Arnt Schellekens, a researcher and psychiatrist at Radboud university medical center. In addition, the striatum of individuals addicted to substances showed a stronger response to receiving the reward. “This increased response, often interpreted as increased surprise to getting the reward, could actually follow from low expectations” said Schellekens. This same effect was not found among people addicted to gambling.
Learning problem

Reward stimuli constitute an important factor in learning behaviour. The researchers interpret their findings as a sign that learning problems may lie at the basis of addiction. Because the processing of rewards is disrupted, these patients are unable to learn when they can actually expect the monetary reward. This may explain why they fail to succeed in choosing not to use drugs or not to gamble.
Treatment

Further research should reveal whether it is possible to influence these learning processes by, for example, psychological treatment or medication. “We want to compare the reactions to various types of rewards such as money, social rewards or drugs and also see how those reactions change over time. We are convinced that addiction treatment will benefit from a better understanding of the brain mechanisms that contribute to addiction,” Schellekens concluded.

— source ru.nl

The Goldman Sachs Effect

Irony isn’t a concept with which President Donald J. Trump is familiar. In his Inaugural Address, having nominated the wealthiest cabinet in American history, he proclaimed, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth.” Under Trump, an even smaller group will flourish — in particular, a cadre of former Goldman Sachs executives. To put the matter bluntly, two of them (along with the Federal Reserve) are likely to control our economy and financial system in the years to come.

Infusing Washington with Goldman alums isn’t exactly an original idea. Three of the last four presidents, including The Donald, have handed the wheel of the U.S. economy to ex-Goldmanites. But in true Trumpian style, after attacking Hillary Clinton for her Goldman ties, he wasn’t satisfied to do just that. He had to do it bigger and better. Unlike Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, just a sole Goldman figure lording it over economic policy wasn’t enough for him. Only two would do.

The Great Vampire Squid Revisited

Whether you voted for or against Donald Trump, whether you’re gearing up for the revolution or waiting for his next tweet to drop, rest assured that, in the years to come, the ideology that matters most won’t be that of the “forgotten” Americans of his Inaugural Address. It will be that of Goldman Sachs and it will dominate the domestic economy and, by extension, the global one.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, when President Teddy Roosevelt governed the country on a platform of trust busting aimed at reducing corporate power, even he could not bring himself to bust up the banks. That was a mistake born of his collaboration with the financier J.P. Morgan to mitigate the effects of the Bank Panic of 1907. Roosevelt feared that if he didn’t enlist the influence of the country’s major banker, the crisis would be even longer and more disastrous. It’s an error he might not have made had he foreseen the effect that one particular investment bank would have on America’s economy and political system.

There have been hundreds of articles written about the “world’s most powerful investment bank,” or as journalist Matt Taibbi famously called it back in 2010, the “great vampire squid.” That squid is now about to wrap its tentacles around our world in a way previously not imagined by Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.

No less than six Trump administration appointments already hail from that single banking outfit. Of those, two will impact your life strikingly: former Goldman partner and soon-to-be Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and incoming top economic adviser and National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn, former president and “number two” at Goldman. (The Council he will head has been responsible for “policy-making for domestic and international economic issues.”)

Now, let’s take a step into history to get the full Monty on why this matters more than you might imagine. In New York, circa 1932, then-Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced his bid for the presidency. At the time, our nation was in the throes of the Great Depression. Goldman Sachs had, in fact, been one of the banks at the core of the infamous crash of 1929 that crippled the financial system and nearly destroyed the economy. It was then run by a dynamic figure, Sidney Weinberg, dubbed “the Politician” by Roosevelt because of his smooth tongue and “Mr. Wall Street” by the New York Times because of his range of connections there. Weinberg quickly grasped that, to have a chance of redeeming his firm’s reputation from the ashes of public opinion, he would need to aim high indeed. So he made himself indispensable to Roosevelt’s campaign for the presidency, soon embedding himself on the Democratic National Campaign Executive Committee.

After victory, he was not forgotten. FDR named him to the Business Advisory Council of the Department of Commerce, even as he continued to run Goldman Sachs. He would, in fact, go on to serve as an advisor to five more presidents, while Goldman would be transformed from a boutique banking operation into a global leviathan with a direct phone line to whichever president held office and a permanent seat at the table in political and financial Washington.

Now, let’s jump forward to the 1990s when Robert Rubin, co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, took a page from Weinberg’s playbook. He recognized the potential in a young, charismatic governor from Arkansas with a favorable attitude toward banks. Since Bill Clinton was far less well known than FDR had been, Rubin didn’t actually cozy up to him from the get-go. It was another Goldman Sachs executive, Ken Brody, who introduced them, but Rubin would eventually help Clinton gain Wall Street cred and the kind of funding that would make his successful 1992 run for the presidency possible. Those were favors that the new president wouldn’t forget. As a reward, and because he felt comfortable with Rubin’s economic philosophy, Clinton created a special post just for him: first chair of the new National Economic Council.

It was then only a matter of time until he was elevated to Treasury Secretary. In that position, he would accomplish something Ronald Reagan — the first president to appoint a Treasury Secretary directly from Wall Street (former CEO of Merrill Lynch Donald Regan) — and George H.W. Bush failed to do. He would get the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 repealed by hustling President Clinton into backing such a move. FDR had signed the act in order to separate investment banks from commercial banks, ensuring that risky and speculative banking practices would not be funded with the deposits of hard-working Americans. The act did what it was intended to do. It inoculated the nation against the previously reckless behavior of its biggest banks.

Rubin, who had left government service six months earlier, wasn’t even in Washington when, on November 12, 1999, Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that repealed Glass-Steagall. He had, however, become a board member of Citigroup, one of the key beneficiaries of that repeal, about two weeks earlier.

As Treasury Secretary, Rubin also helped craft the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He subsequently convinced both President Clinton and Congress to raid U.S. taxpayer coffers to “help” Mexico when its banking system and peso crashed thanks to NAFTA. In reality, of course, he was lending a hand to American banks with exposure in Mexico. The subsequent $25 billion bailout would protect Goldman Sachs, as well as other big Wall Street banks, from losing boatloads of money. Think of it as a test run for the great bailout of 2008.

A World Made by and for Goldman Sachs

Moving on to more recent history, consider a moment when yet another Goldmanite was at the helm of the economy. From 1970 to 1973, Henry (“Hank”) Paulson had worked in various positions in the Nixon administration. In 1974, he joined Goldman Sachs, becoming its chairman and CEO in 1999. I was at Goldman at the time. (I left in 2002.) I remember the constant internal chatter about whether an investment bank like Goldman could continue to compete against the super banks that the Glass-Steagall repeal had created. The buzz was that if Goldman and similar investment banks were allowed to borrow more against their assets (“leverage themselves” in banking-speak), they wouldn’t need to use individual deposits as collateral for their riskier deals.

In 2004, Paulson helped convince the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to change its regulations so that investment banks could operate as if they had the kind of collateral or backing for their trades that goliaths like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase had. As a result, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns, to name three that would become notorious in the economic meltdown only four years later (and all ones for which I once worked) promptly leveraged themselves to the hilt. As they were doing so, George W. Bush made Paulson his third and final Treasury Secretary. In that capacity, Paulson managed to completely ignore the crisis brewing as a direct result of the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the one I predicted was coming in Other People’s Money, the book I wrote when I left Goldman.

In 2006, Paulson was questioned on his obvious conflicts of interest and responded, “Conflicts are a fact of life in many, if not most, institutions, ranging from the political arena and government to media and industry. The key is how we manage them.” At the time, I wrote, “The question isn’t how it’s a conflict of interest for Paulson to preside over our country’s economy but how it’s not?” For men like Paulson, after all, such conflicts don’t just involve their business holdings. They also involve the ideology associated with those holdings, which for him at that time came down to a deep belief in pursuing the full-scale deregulation of banking.

Paulson was, of course, Treasury Secretary for the period in which the 2008 financial crisis was brewing and then erupted. When it happened, he was the one who got to decide which banks survived and which died. Under his ministrations, Lehman Brothers died; Bear Stearns was given to JPMorgan Chase (along with plenty of government financial support); and you won’t be surprised to learn that Goldman Sachs thrived. While designing that outcome under the pressure of the moment, Paulson pled with Nancy Pelosi to press the Democrats in the House of Representatives to support a staggering $700 billion bailout. All those taxpayer dollars went with the 2008 Emergency Financial Stability Act that would save the banking system (under the auspices of saving the economy) and leave it resplendently triumphant, bonuses included), even as foreclosures rose by 21% the following year.

Once again, it was a world made by and for Goldman Sachs.

Goldman Back in the (White) House

Running for office as an outsider is one thing. Instantly inviting Wall Street into that office once you arrive is another. Now, it seems that Donald Trump is bringing us the newest chapter in the long-running White House-Goldman Sachs saga. And count on Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn to offer a few fresh wrinkles on that old alliance.

Cohn was one of the partners who ran the Fixed Income, Currency and Commodity (FICC) division of Goldman. It was the one that benefited the most from leverage, trading, and the complexity of Wall Street’s financial concoctions like collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) stuffed with derivatives attached to subprime mortgages. You could say, it was leverage that helped propel Cohn up the Goldman food chain.

Steven Mnuchin has proven particularly adept at understanding such concoctions. He left Goldman in 2002. In 2004, with two other ex-Goldman partners, he formed the hedge fund Dune Capital Management. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Dune went shopping, as Wall Street likes to do, for cheap buys it could convert into big profits. Mnuchin and his pals found the perfect prey in a Pasadena-based bank, IndyMac, that had failed in July 2008 before the financial crisis kicked into high gear, and had been seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). They would pick up its assets on the cheap.

At his confirmation hearings, Mnuchin downplayed his role in throwing homeowners (including members of the military) out of their heavily mortgaged homes as a result of that purchase. He cast himself instead as a genuine hero, the guy who convened a cadre of financial sharks to help, not harm, the bank’s customers who, without their benevolence, would have fared so much worse. He looked deeply earnest as he spoke of his role as the savior of the common — or perhaps in the age of Trump “forgotten” — man and woman. Maybe he even believed it.

But the philosophy of swooping in, attacking an IndyMac-like target of opportunity and converting it into a fortune for himself (and problems for everyone else), has been a hallmark of his career. To transfer this version of over-amped 1% opportunism to the halls of political power is certainly a new definition of, in Trumpian terms, giving the government back to “the people.” Perhaps what our new president meant was “the people at Goldman Sachs.” Think of it, in any case, as the supercharging of a vulture mentality in a designer suit, the very attitude that once fueled the rise to power of Goldman Sachs.

Mnuchin repeatedly blamed the FDIC and other government agencies for not helping him help homeowners. “In the press it has been said that I ran a ‘foreclosure machine,’” he said, “On the contrary, I was committed to loan modifications intended to stop foreclosures. I ran a ‘Loan Modification Machine.’ Whenever we could do loan modifications we did them, but many times, the FDIC, FNMA, FHLMC, and bank trustees imposed strict rules governing the processing of these loans.” Nothing, that is, was or ever is his fault — reflecting his inability to take the slightest responsibility for his undeniable role in kicking people out of their homes when they could have remained. It’s undoubtedly the perfect trait for a Treasury secretary in a government of the 1% of the 1%.

Mnuchin also blamed the Federal Reserve for suggesting that the Volcker Rule — part of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 designed to limit risky trading activities — was harming bank liquidity and could be a problem. The way he did that was typically slick. He claimed to support the Volcker Rule, even as he underscored the Fed’s concern with it. In this way, he managed both to make himself look squeaky clean and very publicly open the door to a possible Trumpian “revision” of that rule that would be aimed at weakening its intent and once again deregulating bank trading activities.

Similarly, at those confirmation hearings he said (as Trump had previously) that we needed to help community banks compete against the bigger ones through less onerous regulations. Even though this may indeed be true, it is also guaranteed to be another bait-and-switch move likely to lead to the deregulation of the big banks, too, ultimately rendering them even bigger and more dangerous not just to those community banks but to all of us.

Indeed, any proposition to reduce the size of big banks was sidestepped. Although Mnuchin did say that four monster banks shouldn’t run the country, he didn’t say that they should be broken up. He won’t. Nor will Cohn. In response to a question from Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, he added, “No, I don’t support going back to Glass-Steagall as is. What we’ve talked about with the president-elect is that perhaps we need a twenty-first-century Glass-Steagall. But, no I don’t support taking a very old law and saying we should adhere to it as is.”

So, although the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall was part of the 2016 Republican election platform, it’s likely to prove just another of Trump’s many tactics to gain votes — in this case, from Bernie Sanders supporters and libertarians who see too-big-to-fail institutions and a big-bank bailout policy as wrong and dangerous. Rest assured, though, Mnuchin and his Goldman Sachs pals will allow the largest Wall Street players to remain as virulent and parasitic as they are now, if not more so.

Goldman itself just announced that it was the world’s top merger and acquisitions adviser for the sixth consecutive year. In other words, the real deal-maker isn’t the former ruler of The Celebrity Apprentice, but Goldman Sachs. The government might change, but Goldman stays the same. And the traffic pile up of Goldman personalities in Trump’s corner made their fortunes doing deals — and not the kind that benefited the public either.

A former Goldman colleague recently asked me whether it was just possible that Mnuchin was a good person. I can’t answer that. It’s something only he knows for sure. But no matter how earnest or sympathetic to the little guy he tried to be before that Senate confirmation committee, I do know one thing: he’s also a shark. And sharks do what they’re best at and what’s best for them. They smell blood in the water and go in for the kill. Think of it as the Goldman Sachs effect. In the waters of the Trump-Goldman era, don’t doubt for a second that the blood will be our own.

— source tomdispatch.com By Nomi Prins

GMO Crops Are Tools of a Chemical Agriculture System

Janine Jackson: Anti-Monsanto rallies in 400 cities in 48 countries around the world failed to draw much US media attention, despite hundreds of thousands of people, from Dhaka to Paris to Cape Town, literally yelling out their opposition to the biotech giant’s products and practices, and the disturbing impact of their increasing control over the food supply.

But it’s not that US press don’t care about Monsanto. A few days later, when word came that Bayer was in talks to buy it, that was big news.

Few issues are more important than the food we eat. What would reporting that foregrounded the voices of farmers, indigenous communities and consumers look like when it comes to a phenomenon like Monsanto? We’re joined now by Patty Lovera; she’s assistant director of Food and Water Watch. She joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Patty Lovera.

Patty Lovera: Hi. Thanks for having me.

JJ: Well, I wouldn’t want to imply that US media have given no attention to controversies around Monsanto. They certainly have. I would say that a lot of that attention, especially lately, stays focused on GMOs—whether they’re safe and whether they should be labeled. I have some issues with the way they cover even that, but my bigger concern is how it presents the story as one of relatively well-off US consumers demanding to know every little thing that’s in their food—because they have too much free time, basically. But cotton farmers in India aren’t killing themselves over labeling. What does Monsanto mean around the world, that people in 400 cities would go out in the street?

PL: Monsanto at this point has become synonymous, not just with GMOs, but I think also with a type of agriculture, and it’s a type of agriculture that’s really counter to the way a lot of people want to farm around the world, and are still farming around the world. It’s chemically intensive. I mean, Monsanto was a chemical company first, and then they acquired seed companies, and engineered seeds through genetic engineering to make those crops work with their chemicals.

So they sell Roundup, and they sell Roundup Ready corn and soybeans and cotton, so you can spray the crop with this weed killer, Roundup. Before it would have killed the crop, right? It would have killed the weeds, but it would have killed the crop, too. Now the corn or the soy or the cotton is engineered to survive Roundup. That’s a hell of a business model for a chemical company, and they sell these things together.

And so it’s really become a company that’s synonymous with that type of agriculture, of very expensive inputs, expensive seeds, and chemicals that go with them, and corporate control of these basic building blocks of the food supply.

JJ: Well, I want to pick up on one word, which is you say “can,” you “can” use these seeds. It’s not as though Monsanto is saying, hey, we’re in the market, we have a seed, you can choose our seed over other seeds. That’s not the way it’s playing out in terms of choice, is it, really?

PL: It depends on what part of the world you’re talking about. But in the US, if you are growing the commodity crops that we look at, you know, corn, soybeans, cotton—not wheat, they haven’t figured wheat out yet, they haven’t genetically engineered wheat—but the other big commodity crops, they have. And odds are, if you’re growing those crops, you’re probably growing a GMO, and you’re probably growing a GMO that has a Monsanto-patented trait in it. And it’s hard for folks who don’t want to do that type of agriculture here. It’s hard for them to find options.

In other countries, Monsanto has bought seed companies that used to be independent. There is that sense that it’s hard to escape them, and that they take over a lot of market share and that choice for farmers disappears; it’s harder to avoid them. If it’s not a company you want to support, you may not have other good options.

JJ: Monsanto actually sues farmers who try to save seeds or re-use seeds, in the way that maybe their community has done for eons. But once you kind of buy in to Monsanto, you kind of have to stick with the company store.

PL: Right. And that’s one of the huge points of friction, especially outside the US. Historically, folks have held some seed back and saved it. You don’t eat everything you grow, or sell everything; you’re investing in next year. Hybrid seeds, which came before GMOs, changed this; they changed that business model. Big seed companies that then got bought by chemical companies like Monsanto or DuPont, they were very big into hybrids, and they said they offered a lot of benefits in terms of better varieties and better yields, but it did stop a lot of seed-saving.

And GMOs take that to the next level, because of the patenting that goes on. This is intellectual property that’s in those seeds, and there have been very infamous examples of Monsanto going after people who did try to save seed, and not pay that licensing fee the next year, and very high-profile lawsuits and challenges. And that’s a big disruption to the way people farm in many parts of the world. That’s a really radical shift to the economics of farming.

JJ: It shifts the economics in which a place like India, which now has upwards of 90 percent of their cotton is GMO cotton, that Monsanto is collecting these royalties, which are very, very high, on. But it also has an impact on the planet, right? I mean, some of the concerns are about biodiversity.

PL: Right. There’s a choice issue we worry about when you have this much market share, and you have a couple of companies, or one big company like Monsanto, that’s really controlling the majority of any one seed marketplace. There’s also really a biodiversity issue, right? If you’re making everybody farm, no matter where they are, with just a few varieties of something, you’re taking diversity out of that system, and that is not a smart biological bet, you know, when you’re growing something outside in places that have unpredictable weather and droughts or floods or pests or — you know, crazy things are happening with the climate. People’s growing conditions are changing, and we’re going to need more options to adapt to that around the world, and make sure people have good options and a resilient food system, not less.

JJ: I resent in some way the way that media make it a story about the proof of the danger of GMOs, as though someone needs to eat a GMO tomato and drop dead. When we’re really actually talking about health on a bigger scale, on a community, on an environmental and on ultimately a planetary scale.

PL: Absolutely. It’s one of the most frustrating things working on this issue, is the way that it gets portrayed. There’s lots of folks who make some pretty extreme claims about what GMOs do.

JJ: Right.

PL: And we don’t have evidence to show that those are happening or not happening, and that’s by design. We have a regulatory system that is designed to not look [or] to ask real questions about, are these the same as non-GMO foods? And we have a system that is incredibly good at, and designed, not to look at the chemical use that is absolutely tied to this model of production. GMO crops are tools of a chemical agriculture system, and it’s been very separated in [terms of] how we regulate things and approve things, and it really isn’t getting counted as part of the public health impact of this type of agriculture.

Europe does a better job than we do. There’s still things they could do better. But when we get information about these chemicals, it usually comes from outside the US, because our system is not designed to look for it. So it absolutely should be part of the conversation, and instead we get caught in this very reductionist look at it, where they call you names and say you’re like a climate denier if you dare to question this technology.

JJ: Sometimes I feel as though journalists think they’re waiting for something to be settled before they weigh in, but we can already raise questions about the process. It’s not as though we had a debate, and people who think monopolies, and corporate control of food, and farmers not being able to control their seeds, just convinced those people who didn’t feel that way, you know? That’s not how the process has worked, and it seems to me like maybe there’s a role for journalists in there.

PL: Absolutely. I mean, a really critical example of that just recently: The National Academies of Science put out a report, every so many years they put out these big reports on these hot topics, and they put one out on GMOs. And a lot of people referred to the format as a sandwich: The opening part said, oh, we think they’re probably fine, we think they’re safe to eat. Then there was some bad news in the middle, that, oh, oops, they don’t seem to increase yields, doesn’t seem like they actually help us produce more food. Oh, yeah, we’re seeing production problems, because the weeds we keep spraying with Roundup are now resistant to Roundup, so we’re going to have to switch to tougher herbicides. You know, like all the bad news was in the middle. And then they ended up with, but they’re probably safe to eat, so we think it’s okay, and that was the headline.

And we actually went and looked at who was on this committee, and lots of them had some tie to this industry. This was not a neutral panel of experts. A lot of them had skin in this game, and that never makes it into the coverage as well. It was a very convenient headline of, you know, “expert panel says GMOs are safe to eat.”

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Patty Lovera from Food and Water Watch. You can find their work on Monsanto and a range of other issues online at FoodAndWaterWatch.org. Patty Lovera, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

PL: Thanks for having me.

— source fair.org By Janine Jackson

The drugs don’t work, say back pain researchers

Commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat back pain provide little benefit, but cause side effects, according to new research from The George Institute for Global Health.

The findings of the systematic review, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, reveal only one in six patients treated with the pills, also known as NSAIDs, achieve any significant reduction in pain.

The study is the latest work from The George Institute questioning the effectiveness of existing medicines for treating back pain. Earlier research has already demonstrated paracetamol is ineffective and opioids provide minimal benefit over placebo.

Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is commonly managed by prescribing medicines such as anti-inflammatories. But our results show anti-inflammatory drugs actually only provide very limited short term pain relief. They do reduce the level of pain, but only very slightly, and arguably not of any clinical significance.

When you factor in the side effects which are very common, it becomes clear that these drugs are not the answer to providing pain relief to the many millions of Australians who suffer from this debilitating condition every year.

The team at The George Institute, which examined 35 trials involving more than 6000 people, also found patients taking anti-inflammatories were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from gastro-intestinal problems such as stomach ulcers and bleeding.

— source georgeinstitute.org