Article of the Day: August 29, 2020

Below is the beginning of an article in Christianity Today. It describes an experience of a young man with the police. I have heard the same experience described by other friends of mine. I suggest that, if we have not had this experience, we should be slow to judge the response of others who have.

Paul’s Word to Police: Protect the Weak

As black Christians have long understood, the New Testament has a strong theology of law enforcement.

By Esau McCaulley, August 27, 2020

Esau McCaulleyAugust 27, 2020

I grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Huntsville, Alabama. By the time I was 16, I was confident that football would be my path to college. The letters and phone calls from college coaches had just begun. All I had to do was perform on the field, keep up my grades, and stay out of trouble.By “trouble,” I didn’t mean my own behavior. I was afraid of being harassed by the police and afraid that I might find myself in an encounter that spun out of control.I came of age in the aftermath of the Rodney King incident, which confirmed my fears of the police. But “driving while black” was not simply a problem I saw on the news. It was something I experienced.One night my junior year, my friends and I had plans to go to the mall and, later, a party in the same part of town. We stopped at a gas station to grab some snacks and fuel before continuing on to the night’s festivities. After I finished filling the tank, I climbed back into the car and got ready to leave. Then I noticed that a black SUV had pulled up close behind us. Another drove up to my left, and another parked in front of my car. I thought I was being carjacked, but who would carjack someone at a well-lit gas station?When police came filing out of the SUVs, I realized what was going on. “Put your hands where we can see them,” an officer said.“I’m not putting my hands anywhere,” one of my friends said.Right then, my future flashed before my eyes. Had all my planning been for naught? Had I exchanged my dreams for a bag of chips and a few gallons of fuel?I told my friend to be quiet and do as the officer said. When the officer ordered us to get out of the car, we complied. I asked him what was going on. He said that this particular gas station was a known drug hub and that he had seen us conducting a drug deal. I couldn’t help but think that this location was also a known place to acquire gas. But what could we do?The whole thing lasted less than 20 minutes. They found nothing in their search. I expected some apology, some further explanation for why they had detained us other than for being young and black. Instead, they gave us back our licenses and told us we were free to go.But I didn’t feel free. I felt powerless and angry. I had come too close to losing it all: the football scholarship, the path out of poverty, and the chance to help my family. I had been briefly terrorized.Over the years, I have been stopped between seven and ten times, on the road or in public spaces, for no crime other than being black. The people I love have also been stopped, searched, accused, and humiliated with little to no legal justification. These disclosures might give the impression that I don’t like police officers. On the contrary, I have known many good ones. I recognize the dangers they face and the difficulties inherent in the vocation they choose. But having a difficult job does not absolve one of criticism; it simply puts the criticism in a wider framework. That wider framework has to include the history of the police in this country—their legal enforcement of racial discrimination and the terror they have visited on black bodies.The dark silt of that history has been brought to the surface by recent events, most notably the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police. The many protesters who have marched in our nation’s streets bear witness to the fact that Floyd is not the first. Black Americans have been “under the knee” for not days or weeks but centuries, and this cumulative oppression is once again front and center in our national consciousness.More of this article may be read at

Article of the Day: August 18, 2020–A Bi-Partisan Blockbuster

G.O.P.-Led Senate Panel Details Ties Between 2016 Trump Campaign and Russian Interference

A nearly 1,000-page report confirmed the special counsel’s findings at a moment when President Trump’s allies have sought to undermine that inquiry.

By Mark Mazzetti and Nicholas FandosUpdated 11:25 a.m. ET

President Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at the Group of 20 summit in Japan last year.
President Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at the Group of 20 summit in Japan last year.Erin Schaff/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — A sprawling report released Tuesday by a Republican-controlled Senate panel that spent three years investigating Russia’s 2016 election interference laid out an extensive web of contacts between Trump campaign advisers and Russian government officials and other Russians, including some with ties to the country’s intelligence services.

The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, totaling nearly 1,000 pages, provided a bipartisan Senate imprimatur for an extraordinary set of facts: The Russian government undertook an extensive campaign to try to sabotage the 2016 American election to help Mr. Trump become president, and some members of Mr. Trump’s circle of advisers were open to the help from an American adversary.

The report drew to a close one of the highest-profile congressional inquiries in recent memory, one that the president and his allies have long tried to discredit as part of a “witch hunt” designed to undermine the legitimacy of Mr. Trump’s stunning election nearly four years ago.

Like the investigation led by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who released his findings in April 2019, the Senate report did not conclude that the Trump campaign engaged in a coordinated conspiracy with the Russian government — a fact that Republicans seized on to argue that there was “no collusion.”

But the report showed extensive evidence of contacts between Trump campaign advisers and people tied to the Kremlin — including a longstanding associate of the onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, whom the report identifies as a “Russian intelligence officer.”Mueller Report Shows Depth of Connections Between Trump Campaign and RussiansDonald J. Trump and 18 of his associates had at least 140 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, during the 2016 campaign and presidential transition.

The Senate report for the first time identified Mr. Kilimnik as an intelligence officer. Mr. Mueller’s report had labeled him as someone with ties to Russian intelligence.

Democrats highlighted those ties in their own appendix to the report, noting that Mr. Manafort discussed campaign strategy and shared internal campaign polling data with Mr. Kilimnik, and later lied to federal investigators about his actions.

Democrats also laid out a potentially explosive detail: that investigators had uncovered information possibly tying Mr. Kilimnik to Russia’s major election interference operations conducted by the intelligence service known as the G.R.U.

“The committee obtained some information suggesting that the Russian intelligence officer, with whom Manafort had a longstanding relationship, may have been connected to the G.R.U.’s hack-and-leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election,” Democrats wrote. “This is what collusion looks like.”

The assertion was a sign that even though the investigation was carried out in bipartisan fashion, and Republican and Democratic senators reached broad agreement on its most significant conclusions, a partisan divide remained on some of the most politically sensitive issues.

The Senate report said that the unusual nature of the Trump campaign — staffed by Mr. Trump’s longtime associates, friends and other businessmen with no government experience — “presented attractive targets for foreign influence, creating notable counterintelligence vulnerabilities.”

The Senate investigation found that two other people who met at Trump Tower in 2016 with senior members of the Trump campaign — including Mr. Manafort; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son — had “significant connections to Russian government, including the Russian intelligence services.”

The report said that the connections between the Russian government and one of the individuals, Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, “were far more extensive and concerning than what had been publicly known.”

Since the release of Mr. Mueller’s report, Attorney General William P. Barr and numerous Republican senators have tried to discredit the special counsel’s work — dismissing the investigation into the 2016 election as “Russiagate.”

Releasing the report less than 100 days before Election Day, lawmakers hope it will refocus attention on the interference by Russia and other hostile foreign powers in the American political process, which has continued unabated.

The report is the product of one of the few congressional investigations in recent memory that retained bipartisan support throughout. Lawmakers and committee aides interviewed more than 200 witnesses and reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents, including intelligence reports, internal F.B.I. notes and correspondence among members of the Trump campaign. The committee convened blockbuster hearings in 2017 and 2018, but much of its work took place in a secure office suite out of public view.

Portions of the report containing classified or other sensitive information were blacked out.

The Intelligence Committee released four previous volumes on its findings over the past year. The first focused on election security and Russia’s attempts to test American election infrastructure, and included policy recommendations to blunt future attacks. The second provided a detailed picture of Russia’s use of social media to sow political divisions in the United States.

Lawmakers then produced a study of the response by the Obama administration and Congress in the highly partisan run-up to the 2016 election. Most recently, they found that a 2017 intelligence community assessment, assigning blame to Russia and outlining its goals to undercut American democracy, had been untainted by politics and was fundamentally sounddespite attacks on it by Mr. Trump’s allies.

The committee focused its work on intelligence and counterintelligence matters. It did not investigate attempts by Mr. Trump to hinder the work of federal investigators.

The report arrived in a fraught political moment, particularly for Republican senators on the panel who signed off on it and thus may find themselves at odds with Mr. Trump and other influential figures in their party. Since Mr. Mueller finished his work, Republicans close to Mr. Trump have sought to recast the president as the victim of politically motivated national security officials in the Obama administration.

The Justice Department’s independent inspector general has found that law enforcement officials had sufficient basis to open the Russia investigation and acted without political bias.

But two other Senate panels, the Judiciary and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees, are conducting investigations premised on picking apart aspects of the special counsel’s inquiry. And though they have not disputed Russia’s interference, they have decidedly turned the party’s focus away from the actions of a hostile foreign power toward the workings of the investigation it spawned, arguing that Mr. Mueller should never have been appointed and that the F.B.I. should have dropped any inquiry involving the Trump campaign long before he was.

The Justice Department is doing a similar post-mortem. Mr. Barr told a congressional committee last month that he was determined “to get to the bottom of the grave abuses involved in the bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal.” He has appointed a criminal prosecutor, John H. Durham, to review the investigation and the actions of intelligence and law enforcement officials trying in 2016 to understand the Kremlin’s interference and possible links to Trump associates.

Much of the Intelligence Committee investigation was overseen by Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, but he temporarily stepped asideas the chairman of the panel in May because of a federal investigation into a rush of stock sales he made before the coronavirus pandemic began rattling the United States. As they watched a similar House investigation over Russian interference splinter under partisan bickering and Mr. Trump attacked Mr. Mueller, Mr. Burr and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the panel, worked steadily to ensure they could come to an authoritative bipartisan conclusion. Mr. Burr voted to endorse the final conclusions.

The findings broadly echo Mr. Mueller’s conclusions. His report documented attempts by Moscow to undermine confidence in the electoral process and sway the election toward Mr. Trump by hacking and dumping Democratic emails and engaging in sophisticated manipulation campaigns using social media.

After years of work, Mr. Mueller found dozens of contacts between Trump associates and Russian-connected actors, evidence that the Trump campaign welcomed the Kremlin’s attempts to sabotage the election and “expected it would benefit electorally” from the hacking and dumping of Democratic emails.

New York Times reporters are combing through the report for the most important developments. Check back for updates.

Article of the Day: August 9, 2020

The health care scare

I sold Americans a lie about Canadian medicine. Now we’re paying the price.

Wendell PotterAugust 6, 2020

In my prior life as an insurance executive, it was my job to deceive Americans about their health care. I misled people to protect profits. In fact, one of my major objectives, as a corporate propagandist, was to do my part to “enhance shareholder value.” That work contributed directly to a climate in which fewer people are insured, which has shaped our nation’s struggle against the coronavirus, a condition that we can fight only if everyone is willing and able to get medical treatment. Had spokesmen like me not been paid to obscure important truths about the differences between the U.S. and Canadian health-care systems, tens of thousands of Americans who have died during the pandemic might still be alive.

In 2007, I was working as vice president of corporate communications for Cigna. That summer, Michael Moore was preparing to release his latest documentary, “Sicko,” contrasting American health care with that in other rich countries. (Naturally, we looked terrible.) I spent months meeting secretly with my counterparts at other big insurers to plot our assault on the film, which contained many anecdotes about patients who had been denied coverage for important treatments. One example was 3-year-old Annette Noe. When her parents asked Cigna to pay for two cochlear implants that would allow her to hear, we agreed to cover only one.

Clearly my colleagues and I would need a robust defense. On a task force for the industry’s biggest trade association, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), we talked about how we might make health-care systems in Canada, France, Britain and even Cuba look just as bad as ours. We enlisted APCO Worldwide, a giant PR firm. Agents there worked with AHIP to put together a binder of laminated talking points for company flacks like me to use in news releases and statements to reporters.

Here’s an example from one AHIP brief in the binder: “A May 2004 poll found that 87% of Canada’s business leaders would support seeking health care outside the government system if they had a pressing medical concern.” The source was a 2004 book by Sally Pipes, president of the industry-supported Pacific Research Institute, titled “Miracle Cure: How to Solve America’s Health Care Crisis and Why Canada Isn’t the Answer.” Another bullet point, from the same book, quoted the CEO of the Canadian Association of Radiologists as saying that “the radiology equipment in Canada is so bad that ‘without immediate action radiologists will no longer be able to guarantee the reliability and quality of examinations.’ ”

[Trump is trying to end Obamacare during the pandemic. That puts us all at risk.]

Much of this runs against the experience of many Americans, especially the millions who take advantage of low pharmaceutical prices in Canada to meet their prescription needs. But there were more specific reasons to be skeptical of those claims. We didn’t know, for example, who conducted that 2004 survey or anything about the sample size or methodology — or even what criteria were used to determine who qualified as a “business leader.” We didn’t know if the assertion about imaging equipment was based on reliable data or was an opinion. You could easily turn up comparable complaints about outdated equipment at U.S. hospitals.

(Contacted by The Washington Post, an AHIP spokesman said this perspective was “from the pre-ACA past. We are future focused by building on what works and fixing what doesn’t.” He added that the organization “believes everyone deserves affordable, high-quality coverage and care — regardless of health status, income, or pre-existing conditions.” An APCO Worldwide spokesperson told The Post that the company “has been involved in supporting our clients with the evolution of the health care system. We are proud of our work.” Cigna did not respond to requests for comment.)

Nevertheless, I spent much of that year as an industry spokesman, my last after 20 years in the business, spreading AHIP’s “information” to journalists and lawmakers to create the impression that our health-care system was far superior to Canada’s, which we wanted people to believe was on the verge of collapse. The campaign worked. Stories began to appear in the press that cast the Canadian system in a negative light. And when Democrats began writing what would become the Affordable Care Act in early 2009, they gave no serious consideration to a publicly financed system like Canada’s. We succeeded so wildly at defining that idea as radical that Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), then chair of the Senate Finance Committee, had single-payer supporters ejected from a hearing.

Today, the respective responses of Canada and the United States to the coronavirus pandemic prove just how false the ideas I helped spread were. There are more than three times as many coronavirus infections per capita in the United States, and the mortality rate is twice the rate in Canada. And although we now test more people per capita, our northern neighbor had much earlier successes with testing, which helped make a difference throughout the pandemic.

The most effective myth we perpetuated — the industry trots it out whenever major reform is proposed — is that Canadians and people in other single-payer countries have to endure long waits for needed care. Just last year, in a statement submitted to a congressional committee for a hearing on the Medicare for All Act of 2019, AHIP maintained that “patients would pay more to wait longer for worse care” under a single-payer system.

While it’s true that Canadians sometimes have to wait weeks or months for elective procedures (knee replacements are often cited), the truth is that they do not have to wait at all for the vast majority of medical services. And, contrary to another myth I used to peddle — that Canadian doctors are flocking to the United States — there are more doctors per 1,000 people in Canada than here. Canadians see their doctors an average of 6.8 times a year, compared with just four times a year in this country.

[The pandemic could put your doctor out of business]

Most important, no one in Canada is turned away from doctors because of a lack of funds, and Canadians can get tested and treated for the coronavirus without fear of receiving a budget-busting medical bill. That undoubtedly is one of the reasons Canada’s covid-19 death rate is so much lower than ours. In America, exorbitant bills are a defining feature of our health-care system. Despite the assurances from President Trump and members of Congress that covid-19 patients will not be charged for testing or treatment, they are on the hook for big bills, according to numerous reports.

That is not the case in Canada, where there are no co-pays, deductibles or coinsurance for covered benefits. Care is free at the point of service. And those laid off in Canada don’t face the worry of losing their health insurance. In the United States, by contrast, more than 40 million have lost their jobs during this pandemic, and millions of them — along with their families — also lost their coverage.

Then there’s quality of care. By numerous measures, it is better in Canada. Some examples: Canada has far lower rates than the United States of hospitalizations from preventable causes like diabetes (almost twice as common here) and hypertension (more than eight times as common). And even though Canada spends less than half what we do per capita on health care, life expectancy there is 82 years, compared with 78.6 years in the United States.

When the pandemic reached North America, Canadian hospitals, which operate under annual global budgets — fixed payments typically allocated at the provincial and regional levels to cover operating expenses — were better prepared for the influx of patients than many U.S. hospitals. And Canada ramped up production of personal protective equipment much more quickly than we did.

Of the many regrets I have about what I once did for a living, one of the biggest is slandering Canada’s health-care system. If the United States had undertaken a different kind of reform in 2009 (or anytime since), one that didn’t rely on private insurance companies that have every incentive to limit what they pay for, we’d be a healthier country today. Living without insurance dramatically increases your chances of dying unnecessarily. Over the past 13 years, tens of thousands of Americans have probably died prematurely because, unlike our neighbors to the north, they either had no coverage or were so inadequately insured that they couldn’t afford the care they needed. I live with that horror, and my role in it, every day.

Related stories:

Americans, take it easy. Justin Trudeau is not the liberal hero you think he is.

What happens when our insurance is tied to our jobs, and our jobs vanish?

How the U.S. health-care system puts people with diabetes in danger