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Sunday, March 26, 2023

The Candidate and the Spy: James Bamford on Israel’s Secret Collusion with Trump to Win 2016 Race | Democracy Now!


Trump warns of death and destruction if he's charged

Looking at Ron DeSantis' time serving as a lawyer for the U.S. Navy in G...

Why DeSantis is struggling against Trump in the 2024 election

The simple reason DeSantis is struggling so badly against Trump

"The Florida governor's honeymoon is over -- partly because he and the Republican establishment killed their best argument against Trump.

Ron DeSantis’ honeymoon is over. 

After his re-election in November, Florida’s Republican governor cemented himself as the Republican establishment’s great non-Trump hope. But even before he formally enters the presidential race, DeSantis’ momentum has disappeared. Monmouth University’s Republican primary poll shows a 15 point gain for former President Donald Trump since December, while DeSantis has dropped 12 points. Other surveys tell a similar story. NBC News reports that "a number of the Florida governor’s donors and allies are worried his recent stumbles suggest he may not be ready."

How has DeSantis tripped up so spectacularly? As usual when it comes to Republican politics, the answer involves Trump. And DeSantis and the GOP establishment have once again played themselves.

Like many other Trump foes, he can’t even settle on how to respond to Trump’s attacks.

When DeSantis’ poll numbers started rising, Trump wasted no time hurling attacks at his rival. He road-tested numerous nicknames, settling on “Ron DeSanctimonious.” He claimed — without proof, of course — that DeSantis had groomed high school students. And he even made, by Trump standards, an almost substantive case against DeSantis’ actual record:

“It’s poorly written and has Trump’s usual weird capitalization issues,” as MSNBC columnist Michael A. Cohen tweeted, “but it is also a pretty compelling argument against a DeSantis presidential bid.” It also has Trump’s typical spin — of course a president running for re-election got more votes in Florida than a governor running in a nonpresidential election year. But the inaccuracies and distortions only slightly weaken the attacks, because their thrust — that DeSantis’ views and actions are “a mirage” — is accurate. 

Like Derek Zoolander, DeSantis has only one look. If he has a Democrat or media straw man to light on fire, then he plays the angry fighter. But take that away, and he twists in the wind, waiting for Republican voters to tell him what they want. “DeSantis looks like a Bush Republican as much as or more than he does a Trump one,” writes The New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie — a diagnosis that reveals less about DeSantis’ establishment lean than it does his ideological rootlessness. His recent twisting on the war in Ukraine echoes similar shifts on pandemic restrictions, entitlements and vaccines, to name just a few.

Such vacillating is largely a problem for the general election — Mitt Romney in 2012 and John Kerry in 2004 are just two recent nominees who struggled to overcome past flip-flops. But for the GOP primary, DeSantis’ indecision creates a different problem: Like many other Trump foes, he can’t even settle on how to respond to Trump’s attacks. For months, he tried to ignore Trump. Then he briefly tried to needle the president over his hush money case. Only in the last couple of days has DeSantis returned to citing his re-election, as he did late last year when his poll numbers were at their best.

The only way to beat Trump is to choose attacks early, dial them up to 11 and stick with them. In 2020, Joe Biden didn’t hold back on the former president’s racism, incompetence and corruption. The no-holds-barred approach doesn’t always work — ask Hillary Clinton — but it fares far better than the approach his Republican foes used in 2016. But because DeSantis depends so heavily on the GOP base telling him what it wants, he’s put himself at a disadvantage in trying to take on a candidate whom they still like.

An all-out attack on a primary rival is easier when you believe the candidate’s nomination will be a grave mistake for the party.

This isn’t only DeSantis’ fault, though. It’s the fault of the whole Republican establishment, and it goes back to the 2020 election. Trump may have insisted that he won the 2020 election primarily to assuage his own ego. But he also recognized that if Republican voters accepted that he was a “loser,” his brand was done. 

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Remember, DeSantis’ post-midterm polling bump stemmed precisely from his re-election, in contrast to the serial losses of Trump’s favorites — defeats that went by and large unchallenged. Had Republican leaders rejected the conspiracy theories two years earlier and admitted (even tacitly) that Trump was a political loser, it could have permanently damaged his standing. Instead, they pre-emptively neutered their future champion’s most compelling argument to the base: DeSantis won, and Trump didn’t.

Why throw away this golden opportunity? Why flinch every time Trump swipes? Why refuse to win the only way you can against Trump — by throwing the kitchen sink back at him? It’s certainly not as if presidential primaries are conducted with a lighter touch — ask anyone who witnessed the vicious contest between George W. Bush and John McCain

An all-out attack on a primary rival is easier, though, when you believe the candidate’s nomination will be a grave mistake for the party. And neither DeSantis nor the rest of the Republican establishment believes the man who instigated the attack on the Capitol is a threat to their party, let alone democracy. Some Republican politicians will privately bewail Trump anonymously to reporters. Some even tut-tutted him publicly once or twice after voting for most or all of his legislative agenda. Some will assure us in their future memoirs that they never liked him. But publicly, they’ll sit on their hands and condemn their party to stay in Trump’s hands.

Maybe DeSantis recovers between now and next February, when Iowa Republicans make their choices. But for now, he and the Republican establishment would rather doom their own chances than truly take on Trump. One can hope their strategy doesn’t doom the country too."

Why DeSantis is struggling against Trump in the 2024 election

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Opinion | The Lifelong Benefits of English Class - The New York Times

The Lifelong Benefits of English Class

"Readers respond to a column by Pamela Paul about the value of English courses and majors.

An illustration of a hollowed-out book with a small school chair in the opening.
Illustration by Sam Whitney/The New York Times; photographs by Bet_Noire and Zocha_K/Getty Images

To the Editor:

Re “How to Get Kids to Hate English,” by Pamela Paul (column, March 12):

Brava, Ms. Paul, for pointing out the disastrous effects of Common Core’s “English Language Arts.” As a longtime professor of English at a liberal arts college, I’ve had a ringside seat to the decline of reading, and discovered its roots in the Core’s reduction of reading and writing to drill, kill, bubble fill, which crushes students’ desire to read. But that curiosity can be rekindled if you show students the way literature relates to their lives.

And, yes, an English major is excellent preparation for a future that requires adaptability, versatility, flexibility — competencies that employers seek. When I interviewed alums for my book “Immeasurable Outcomes,” about the long-term benefits of studying literature, the words “communicate” and “connect” kept coming up.

“As long as you can read and write, synthesize information, communicate — all those things we did in our courses — you’ll find someone who wants to hire you,” one former student said.

Gayle Greene
Mendocino, Calif.
The writer is an emeritus professor at Scripps College.

To the Editor:

Pamela Paul argues that the path toward dreading literature begins in middle school. I would say that it begins much earlier.

All classrooms need to be a place where high-quality literature — and yes, it exists even at the picture book level — is enjoyed and meaningful discussions take place, way before the deep dive into literary analysis.

I agree with Ms. Paul’s idea that a love of literature must be cultivated and nurtured. When teachers only ask for “facts” or one-word answers about a book (e.g., “Who is the main character?” “What color shirt is she wearing?”) instead of asking open-ended questions (e.g., “Why do you think she acted that way?” “Do you agree with her choices?”), that is the beginning of the dread.

On long car drives, my husband and I always listened to audiobooks of the classics — “Frankenstein,” “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” — with our middle-school-age boys. Before they had much formal English education, we enjoyed these books as great stories.

Nancy Lubarsky
Cranford, N.J.
The writer is a former English teacher.

To the Editor:

In an otherwise excellent piece lamenting the decline of the English major, Pamela Paul repeats an all too common claim: that humanities degrees “don’t exactly lead to gainful employment.”

Although students with humanities, arts and soft social science degrees do earn less on average than those with STEM or business degrees, these generalizations obscure significant differences in outcomes. Political science majors, for example, earn more on average than math majors or civil engineers, and English majors more than majors in environmental science.

More important, as Ms. Paul implies at the end of her column, most students with bachelor’s degrees in the humanities earn more than enough to live well. About 90 percent of them report being satisfied with their lives, roughly the same percentage as STEM and business majors.

As Ms. Paul recognizes, well-taught courses in the humanities cultivate intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, aesthetic appreciation, civic literacy and a host of other attributes that money can’t buy — and, we would add, that are eminently useful in virtually every profession.

David Wippman
Glenn Altschuler
Mr. Wippman is the president of Hamilton College. Dr. Altschuler is a professor of American studies at Cornell University.

To the Editor:

I teach seventh- and eighth-grade English as well as eighth-grade civics. I have been using a Common Core approach in my classroom since it was introduced. Yes, it requires more nonfiction material, but classics and full-length novels are alive and well in my school district.

Students read one Shakespeare play per year starting in seventh grade. My eighth graders are reading “1984” and “Animal Farm,” by George Orwell. Yes, they also read “The Outsiders,” which you disparage as pop fiction. Well, the theme in this book is so meaningful that Shakespeare copped it from a medieval Italian love story, and Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins copped it from him for “West Side Story.”

We sit in group configurations so we can discuss and reflect. We use information literacy approaches to learn to comprehend, analyze, evaluate and synthesize what we read. My students acquire analytical skills that they can apply to any subject.

You claim in your article that the Common Core asks “little of students.” My seventh and eighth graders would beg to differ!

Jean Gilroy
Pleasantville, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Pamela Paul lauds the classic literature she read in school and writes that, when teachers assign commercial young adult novels, they “lowball student competence.”

But there is literary merit in everything. While yes, I would agree that James Joyce has more literary merit than say, J.K. Rowling, I would ask that my fellow readers remember that reading is about examination. Of a time, an author, a character, a theme — to read is to explore.

Any distaste for contemporary literature, especially young adult literature, highlights an unwillingness to explore, to chart the seas of pages, to find things you love and things you don’t. There are modern authors I don’t care for, who I think are indicative of the commercialization of literature that is becoming more and more concerning, but I would still love to read their work in a classroom setting. From an exploratory lens.

Are classics important? Of course! Is the present just as important? Yes.

Avery Hendrix
The writer is an 11th grader.

To the Editor:

Pamela Paul is surely correct that English majors are exactly the kind of employees businesses need today. Some years ago, I taught legal writing in an undergraduate legal studies program at the University of Illinois. Most of the students majored in the subject and had taken several law courses.

One student was an English major. She already had her B.A., and was taking this one law course to see if she might want to attend law school. Not only was she the best writer in the class, but, despite having taken no other law courses, the best legal analyst — that is, the best thinker.

Literature teaches students to read, to write and to reason. Our educational system’s narrow focus on job-related subjects harms not only our students and our civic culture, but our employers as well."

Barry Bennett
Portland, Ore.

How to Get Kids to Hate English

An illustration of a hollowed-out book with a small school chair in the opening.
Illustration by Sam Whitney/The New York Times; photographs by Bet_Noire and Zocha_K/Getty Images

"Imagine a world without English majors. In the last decade, the study of English and history in college has fallen by a third. At Columbia University, the share of English majors fell from 10 percent to 5 percent between 2002 and 2020. According to a recent story in The New Yorker, “The End of the English Major,” this decline is largely a result of economic factors — which departments get funded, what students earn after graduation, etc. Fields once wide open to English majors — teaching, academia, publishing, the arts, nonprofits, the media — have collapsed or become less desirable. Facing astronomical debt and an uncertain job market, students may find majors like communication arts and digital storytelling more pragmatic.

That’s definitely a big part of the story. Yet many would-be humanities majors have turned toward, not more pragmatic degrees, but more esoteric, interdisciplinary majors, filled with courses that encourage use of words like “hegemony,” “intersectional” and “paradigm.” These educational tracks don’t exactly lead to gainful employment, either.

Another part of the story is how demanding English literature is, full of daunting passages through Middle English. Chaucer. The multivolume “Norton Anthology,” its thousands of wafery pages promising long hours of dense verse, verse, verse, but also, stories that have endured for over a thousand years. (I still cherish my copy.)

And yet another important and dispiriting part of the story is that the study of English itself may have lost its allure, even among kids who enjoy reading. They are learning to hate the subject well before college. Both in terms of what kids are assigned and how they are instructed to read it, English class in middle and high school — now reconceived as language arts, E.L.A. or language and literature — is often a misery. It’s as if once schools teach kids how to read, they devote the remainder of their education to making them dread doing so.

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This began largely with the Common Core, instituted in 2010 during the Obama administration. While glorifying STEM, these nationwide standards, intended to develop a 21st-century work force, also took care to de-emphasize literature. By high school, 70 percent of assigned texts are meant to be nonfiction. Educators can maximize the remaining fiction by emphasizing excerpts, essays and digital material over full-length novels. Immersing children in the full arc of storytelling has largely gone out that window as novels have increasingly been replaced by short stories — or shorter yet, by “texts.”

“The Common Core killed classic literature,” as Diane Ravitch noted in 2018.

So what do kids read instead? To even be considered, a work must first pass through the gantlet of book bans and the excising of those books containing passages that might be deemed antiquated or lie outside the median of student body experiences. Add to that the urge to squelch any content that might be deemed “triggering” or controversial, the current despair over smartphoned attention spans and the desire to “reach students where they are.” Toni Morrison’s short first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” a coming-of-age story, tends to be assigned over her longer, more intricate, more provocative — and to this reader, anyway, richer — novel “Beloved.”

The assumption is that kids aren’t discerning or tough enough to handle complexity or darkness, whether it’s the nastiness of Roald Dahl or the racism and sexism in 19th-century fiction, and that they can’t read within context or grasp the concept of history. But kids adopt the blinkered veil of presentism — the tendency to judge past events according to contemporary standards and attitudes — only when adults show them how.

Citing the need to appeal to fickle tastes with relevant and engaging content, teachers often lowball student competence. Too often, this means commercial middle grade and young adult novels such as “The Lightning Thief” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” or popular fiction like “The Outsiders,” or on the more ambitious end, accessible works of 20th-century fiction like “To Kill a Mockingbird” — all engaging novels that kids might read on their own — in lieu of knottier works that benefit from instruction and classroom discussion. The palpable desperation to just get students to read a book doesn’t come across as the kind of enticement that makes literature soar.

Those books that remain are read in a manner seemingly intended to leach all pleasure from the process. Even apart from the aims of the Common Core, the presiding goal is no longer instilling a love of literature but rather teaching to the test and ensuring students reach certain mandated benchmarks. In recent years in New York State, for example, skills like “information literacy” appear to be given priority over discussions of literature.

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A typical high school assignment now involves painstakingly marking up text with colored pencils in search of “literary devices” — red for imagery and diction, yellow for tone or mood, etc. Students are instructed to read even popular fiction at an excruciatingly slow pace in the service of close reading in unison. They’re warned not to skip ahead. You wouldn’t want anyone to get excited!

When I was in public high school in the olden ’80s, we read “The Red Badge of Courage” and “The Scarlet Letter,” with multiple forays into Shakespeare. We were assigned Faulkner, Joyce, Conrad and Henry James, authors whose work opened my mind and tested my abilities of comprehension and interpretation.

But if anyone had suggested that I be offended by a nearly all-male curriculum, I would have been insulted. Couldn’t girls read books by men just as well as boys could? And if it was true, as we also learned, that much of the world of letters had long been largely closed to women (and minorities), naturally there would be fewer books by them. At the same time, my teacher’s expectation that I could make sense of “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” despite having no knowledge of Irish culture or the Modernist movement, felt like a vote of confidence. Students were encouraged not to avoid or attack these books but to learn from them.

By asking so little of students, schools today show how little they expect of them. In underestimating kids, the curriculum undermines them.

What teenager wouldn’t do well to witness the pain of Hester Prynne’s punishment and see her push through from her guilt and suffering to newfound strength and independence? Or to grapple with the themes of fate, adversity and the human condition explored in Faulkner’s novels? Or to know how 19th-century writers like Twain used satire to galvanize a nation against the injustice of racism and toward freedom for all? To experience how the pleasures, beauty and brilliance of great literature can shine a powerful light.

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Reading these kinds of novels in school was what drove me to register for a yearlong survey in English literature my freshman year of college. I arrived on campus sorely aware, even though I didn’t major in English, that “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” was just the first bit of scenery in a huge and varied landscape — and this drove me to explore the work of other cultures, traditions and populations as well. These days, many students may not even know what they’re missing.

Nobody wants to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a useless college degree. But let’s return to the question of whether English majors are essentially unemployable. I would argue that English majors could be exactly the kind of employees who are prepared for a challenging and rapidly changing work force: intellectually curious, truth-seeking, undaunted by unfamiliar ideas, able to read complex works and distill their meaning in clear prose.

Outside specialized professions like engineering, medicine and software design, most areas of academic study have little bearing on paid jobs in the real world anyway. Students who’ve read a fair share of English literature might offer some interesting reasons as to why."

Opinion | The Lifelong Benefits of English Class - The New York Times

Scientists warned a decade ago American lives were shortening. Then it got worse : Shots - Health News : NPR

'Live free and die'? The sad state of U.S. life expectancy

"Just before Christmas, federal health officials confirmed life expectancy in America had dropped for a nearly unprecedented second year in a row – down to 76 years. While countries all over the world saw life expectancy rebound during the second year of the pandemic after the arrival of vaccines, the U.S. did not. 

Then, last week, more bad news: Maternal mortality in the U.S. reached a high in 2021. Also, a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association found rising mortality rates among U.S. children and adolescents. 

"This is the first time in my career that I've ever seen [an increase in pediatric mortality] – it's always been declining in the United States for as long as I can remember," says the JAMA paper's lead author Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. "Now, it's increasing at a magnitude that has not occurred at least for half a century."

Across the lifespan, and across every demographic group, Americans die at younger ages than their counterparts in other wealthy nations.

How could this happen? In a country that prides itself on scientific excellence and innovation, and spends an incredible amount of money on health care, the population keeps dying at younger and younger ages. 

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An unheard alarm

One group of people are not surprised at all: Woolf and the other researchers involved in a landmark, 400-page study ten years ago with a name that says it all: "Shorter Lives, Poorer Health." The research by a panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences and funded by the National Institutes of Health compared U.S. health and death with other developed countries. The results showed – convincingly – that the U.S. was stalling on health advances in the population while other countries raced ahead.

The authors tried to sound an alarm, but found few in the public or government or private sectors were willing to listen. In the years since, the trends have worsened. American life expectancy is lower than that of Cuba, Lebanon, and Chechnya. 

Ten years later, here's a look back at what that eye-popping study found, and why the researchers involved believe it's not too late to turn the trends around.

Beyond bad habits

Americans are used to hearing about how their poor diets and sedentary lifestyles make their health bad. It can seem easy to brush that off as another scold about eating more vegetables and getting more exercise. But the picture painted in the "Shorter Lives" report could shock even those who feel like they know the story.

"American children are less likely to live to age 5 than children in other high-income countries," the authors write on the second page. It goes on: "Even Americans with healthy behaviors, for example, those who are not obese or do not smoke, appear to have higher disease rates than their peers in other countries."

The researchers catalog what they call the "U.S. health disadvantage" – the fact that living in America is worse for your health and makes you more likely to die younger than if you lived in another rich country like the U.K., Switzerland or Japan. 

"We went into this with an open mind as to why it is that the U.S. had a shorter life expectancy than people in other countries," says Woolf, who chaired the committee that produced the report. After looking across different age and racial and economic and geographic groups, he says, "what we found was that this problem existed in almost every category we looked at."

That's why, says Eileen Crimmins, professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California who was also on the panel that produced the report, they made a deliberate choice to focus on the health of the U.S. population as a whole. 

"That was a decision – not to emphasize the differences in our population, because there is data that actually shows that even the top proportion of the U.S. population does worse than the top proportion of other populations," she explains. "We were trying to just say – look, this is an American problem."

Digging into the 'why'

The researchers were charged with documenting how Americans have more diseases and die younger and to explore the reasons why.

"We were very systematic and thorough about how we thought about this," says Woolf. The panel looked at American life and death in terms of the public health and medical care system, individual behaviors like diet and tobacco use, social factors like poverty and inequality, the physical environment, and public policies and values. "In every one of those five buckets, we found problems that distinguish the United States from other countries."

Yes, Americans eat more calories and lack universal access to health care. But there's also higher child poverty, racial segregation, social isolation, and more. Even the way cities are designed makes access to good food more difficult.

A fruit seller at Dom Pedro market in Coimbra, central Portugal. A lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables in the U.S. may contribute to Americans shorter lifespan.


"Everybody has a pet thing they worry about and say, 'it's oral health' or 'it's suicides' – everyone has something that they're legitimately interested in and want to see more attention to," says John Haaga, who was the director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at the National Institute on Aging at NIH, before he retired. "The great value of an exercise like this one was to step back and say, 'OK, all of these things are going on, but which of them best account for these long-term population level trends that we're seeing?' "

The answer is varied. A big part of the difference between life and death in the U.S. and its peer countries is people dying or being killed before age 50. The "Shorter Lives" report specifically points to factors like teen pregnancy, drug overdoses, HIV, fatal car crashes, injuries, and violence.

"Two years difference in life expectancy probably comes from the fact that firearms are so available in the United States," Crimmins says. "There's the opioid epidemic, which is clearly ours – that was our drug companies and other countries didn't have that because those drugs were more controlled. Some of the difference comes from the fact that we are more likely to drive more miles. We have more cars," and ultimately, more fatal crashes.

"When we were doing it, we were joking we should call it 'Live free and die,' based on the New Hampshire slogan, ['Live free or die']," Crimmins says. "The National Academy of Sciences said, 'That's outrageous, that's too provocative.' "

There are some things Americans get right, according to the "Shorter Lives" report: "The United States has higher survival after age 75 than do peer countries, and it has higher rates of cancer screening and survival, better control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lower stroke mortality, lower rates of current smoking, and higher average household income." But those achievements, it's clear, aren't enough to offset the other problems that befall many Americans at younger ages.

All of this costs the country tremendously. Not only do families lose loved ones too soon, but having a sicker population costs the country as much as $100 billion every year in extra health care costs.

"Behind the statistics detailed in this report are the faces of young people – infants, children, and adolescents – who are unwell and dying early because conditions in this country are not as favorable as those in other countries," the paper's authors wrote. 

Little action, despite the stakes

"Shorter Lives" is filled with recommended next steps for the government, especially the NIH, which has a budget of more than $40 billion annually to conduct research to improve Americans' health. 

The NIH should undertake a "thorough examination of the policies and approaches that countries with better health outcomes have found useful and that may have application, with adaptations, in the United States," the authors wrote. 

In other words: let's figure out what they are doing that works in other places, and do it over here.

Dr. Ravi Sawhney, who helped conceive of and launch the "Shorter Lives" study at NIH before he left the agency, had high hopes that the report would make a mark. "I really thought that when the results came out, they would be so obvious that people would say: Let's finally do this," he says.

Ten years on, how much of the detailed action plan has been done?

"To be brief, very little of that happened," Woolf says. At the time, he says, NIH officials didn't seem very interested in raising awareness about the panel's findings or in following up on its proposed research agenda. "There was some media coverage at the time that the report rolled out, but NIH was not involved in trying to promote awareness about the report."

Crimmins agrees. "There was a little bit more research, but there wasn't any policy reaction," she says. "I thought there might be, because it's embarrassing, but it just tends to be ignored." Those who are interested in this issue, she notes, tend to be those invested in "marvelous things they think are going to delay aging," even though people older than 75 are the only age group in the country that already does comparatively well.

Haaga, the former NIH division director, also thinks the response at the agency was lacking. "Not nearly enough has been done, given the stakes and given what we could learn," he says.

In response to NPR's request for comment for this story, NIH pointed to a subsequent panel on midlife mortality, several initiatives the agency has undertaken on disparities between subgroups within the U.S., and a recent paperfunded by NIH that looked again at international life expectancy. 

Outgoing NIH Director Francis Collins told NPR in 2021 that it bothered him that there hadn't been more gains to American life expectancy during his tenure. In his view, the success of NIH in achieving scientific breakthroughs hadn't translated to more gains because of problems in society that the research agency had little power to change. 

Woolf calls it a misconception to assume that America's great scientific minds and medical discoveries translate to progress for the health of the population. "We are actually very innovative in making these kinds of breakthroughs, but we do very poorly in providing them to our population," he says.

'We can't touch everything'

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra answered NPR's question at a press conference earlier this month about work the agency was doing to address lagging life expectancy by mentioning COVID-19 and vaccine hesitancy, along with mental health issues and gun violence.

"There's so many things that we're doing," Becerra said. "We can't touch everything. We can't touch state laws that allow an individual to buy an assault weapon and then kill so many people. We can only come in afterwards." 

Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra at a news conference at HHS headquarters in Washington, DC on March 9, 2023. Becerra said gun violence contributes to shorter lifespans in the U.S.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky responded by listing some of the agency's work on mental health and vaccines, and acting NIH director Larry Tabak pointed to research on health disparities.

HHS did not answer a follow up question about whether the agency has considered a national commission or similar effort to address American life expectancy and poor health. 

Sawhney thinks the federal government should try harder to fix the problems documented in the "Shorter Lives" report. He doesn't think lack of public awareness is the problem. "I really think that most Americans know that Americans are more overweight and obese and that we have higher rates of disease and live shorter lives than other countries," he says, "It's just the NIH and the CDC that don't want to take the responsibility for that failure or to do anything about it."

Crimmins says, in her experience, lawmakers and federal health officials don't like talking about how the U.S. is lagging behind other countries.

"I convened a meeting in Washington with the National Center for Health Statistics [part of CDC] about increasing healthy life expectancy," she recalls. "It was a relatively small meeting, but we brought experts from Canada." An official at the time gave what she calls a "typical" response, saying: "Oh, we can't have anything but an American solution to these issues – we can't listen to other countries." 

"International studies are not the flavor of the month – they never will be," says Haaga. "The problem with foreign countries is that they're not in someone's congressional district."

It's more than a missed opportunity, says Woolf. It's a tragedy. 

"If you add up the excess deaths that have occurred in the United States because of this unfolding problem, it dwarfs what happened during COVID-19, as horrible as COVID-19 was," Woolf says. "We've lost many more Americans cumulatively because of this longer systemic issue. And if the systemic issue is unaddressed, it will continue to claim lives going forward."

Small victories are possible

Taking stock of the many ways in which Americans are sicker and die younger can be overwhelming, says Haaga. "It's such a long list, that might partly be why the issue doesn't grab people," he says. "They just go, 'Oh, my gosh, that's depressing, what's on the other channel?' But there's a lot of things that could be done, and small victories are victories."

According to the "Shorter Lives" report, "the important point about the U.S. health disadvantage is not that the United States is losing a competition with other countries, but that Americans are dying and suffering at rates that are demonstrably unnecessary."

Rather than feel overwhelmed at the immensity of the problems, Sawhney suggests, the focus should instead be on the fact that every other rich country has been able to figure out how to help people live longer, healthier lives. That means that Americans could do it too, he says.

He believes that the changes might not be as hard as some policymakers and health officials seem to think. "You look at these healthier countries, they're free countries – England, France, Italy – they're not banning delicious foods. They're not chaining people to treadmills," he says. "Americans love to travel to Europe, to Australia, to Canada to enjoy their foods and their lifestyles, and so the idea that we might say, 'Hey, maybe we could bring some of those lifestyles back' – I don't think people are going to go up in arms that we're taking away their freedoms."

Getting policy ideas from other countries is just an obvious move, Woolf adds. "If a martian came down to earth and saw this situation, it would be very intuitive that you [would] look at other countries that have been able to solve this problem and apply the lessons learned," he says. 

In historical research he's been doing, "I found that there are dozens and dozens of countries on almost every continent of the world that have outperformed the United States for 50 years," he says. "It's worth taking a look at what they've done and Americanizing it – you don't have to take it right off the shelf."

Some of the policies he's identified as helpful include universal, better coordinated health care, strong health and safety protections, broad access to education, and more investments to help kids get off to a healthy start. These policies are "paying off for them," he says, and could for Americans, too.

Graphic by Ashley Ahn; Edited by Diane Webber"

Scientists warned a decade ago American lives were shortening. Then it got worse : Shots - Health News : NPR

Friday, March 24, 2023

Federal Judge Finds Trump Most Likely Committed Crimes Over 2020 Election

Federal Judge Finds Trump Most Likely Committed Crimes Over 2020 Election

“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” the judge wrote in a civil case. Separately, the Jan. 6 panel voted to recommend contempt of Congress charges for two former Trump aides.

The actions taken by President Donald J. Trump and the lawyer John Eastman after Mr. Trump’s election loss amounted to “a coup in search of a legal theory,” a federal judge said. 
Audra Melton for The New York Times

Follow live updates on the House committee hearing on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled on Monday that former President Donald J. Trump and a lawyer who had advised him on how to overturn the 2020 election most likely had committed felonies, including obstructing the work of Congress and conspiring to defraud the United States.

The judge’s comments in the civil case of the lawyer, John Eastman, marked a significant breakthrough for the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The committee, which is weighing making a criminal referral to the Justice Department, had used a filing in the case to lay out the crimes it believed Mr. Trump might have committed.

Mr. Trump has not been charged with any crime, and the judge’s ruling had no immediate, practical legal effect on him. But it essentially ratified the committee’s argument that Mr. Trump’s efforts to block Congress from certifying Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory could well rise to the level of a criminal conspiracy.

“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” wrote Judge David O. Carter of the Central District of California. “Our nation was founded on the peaceful transition of power, epitomized by George Washington laying down his sword to make way for democratic elections. Ignoring this history, President Trump vigorously campaigned for the vice president to single-handedly determine the results of the 2020 election.”

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The actions taken by Mr. Trump and Mr. Eastman, Judge Carter found, amounted to “a coup in search of a legal theory.”

The Justice Department has been conducting a wide-ranging investigation of the Capitol assault but has given no public indication that it is considering a criminal case against Mr. Trump. A criminal referral from the House committee could increase pressure on Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to do so.

The judge’s ruling came as the committee was barreling ahead with its investigation. This week alone, people familiar with the investigation said, the panel has lined up testimony from four top Trump White House officials, including Jared Kushner, the former president’s son-in-law and adviser, whose interview was scheduled for Thursday.

The committee also voted 9 to 0 on Monday night to recommend criminal contempt of Congress charges against two other allies of Mr. Trump — Peter Navarro, a former White House adviser, and Dan Scavino Jr., a former deputy chief of staff — for their participation in efforts to overturn the 2020 election and their subsequent refusal to comply with the panel’s subpoenas. The matter now moves to the Rules Committee, then the full House. If it passes there, the Justice Department will decide whether to charge the men. A contempt of Congress charge carries a penalty of up to a year in jail.

But Judge Carter’s decision was perhaps the investigation’s biggest development to date, suggesting its investigators have built a case strong enough to convince a federal judge of Mr. Trump’s culpability and laying out a road map for a potential criminal referral.

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Judge Carter’s decision came in an order for Mr. Eastman, a conservative lawyer who had written a memo that members of both parties have likened to a blueprint for a coup, to turn over more than 100 emails to the committee.

A lawyer for Mr. Eastman said in a statement on Monday that he “respectfully disagrees” with Judge Carter’s findings but would comply with the order to turn over documents.

In a statement hailing the judge’s decision, the chairman of the House committee, Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, and its vice chair, Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, said the nation must not allow what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, “to be minimized and cannot accept as normal these threats to our democracy.” Mr. Trump made no public statement about the ruling.

Many of the documents the committee will now receive relate to a legal strategy proposed by Mr. Eastman to pressure Vice President Mike Pence not to certify electors from several key swing states when Congress convened on Jan. 6, 2021. “The true animating force behind these emails was advancing a political strategy: to persuade Vice President Pence to take unilateral action on Jan. 6,” Judge Carter wrote.

One of the documents, according to the ruling, is an email containing the draft of a memo written for another one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, recommending that Mr. Pence “reject electors from contested states.”

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“This may have been the first time members of President Trump’s team transformed a legal interpretation of the Electoral Count Act into a day-by-day plan of action,” Judge Carter wrote.

Mr. Eastman had filed suit against the panel, trying to persuade a judge to block the committee’s subpoena for documents in his possession. As part of the suit, Mr. Eastman sought to shield from release documents he said were covered by attorney-client privilege.

In response, the committee argued — under the legal theory known as the crime-fraud exception — that the privilege did not cover information conveyed from a client to a lawyer if it was part of furthering or concealing a crime.

The panel said its investigators had accumulated evidence demonstrating that Mr. Trump, Mr. Eastman and other allies could be charged with criminal violations including obstructing an official proceeding of Congress and conspiracy to defraud the American people.

Judge Carter, who was nominated by President Bill Clinton, agreed, writing that he believed it was “likely” that the men not only had conspired to defraud the United States but “dishonestly conspired to obstruct the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.”

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“Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history,” he wrote.

In deciding that Mr. Trump and Mr. Eastman had “more likely than not” broken the law — the legal standard for determining whether Mr. Eastman could claim attorney-client privilege — Judge Carter noted that the former president had facilitated two meetings in the days before Jan. 6 that were “explicitly tied to persuading Vice President Pence to disrupt the joint session of Congress.”

At the first meeting, on Jan. 4, Mr. Trump and Mr. Eastman invited Mr. Pence and two of his top aides, Greg Jacob and Marc Short, to the Oval Office. There, Judge Carter wrote, Mr. Eastman “presented his plan to Vice President Pence, focusing on either rejecting electors or delaying the count.”

That meeting was followed by another, Judge Carter wrote, on Jan. 5, during which Mr. Eastman sought again to persuade Mr. Jacob to go along with the scheme.

Mr. Trump continued to pressure Mr. Pence even on Jan. 6, Judge Carter wrote, noting that the former president had made several last-minute appeals to Mr. Pence  on Twitter. Mr. Trump called Mr. Pence by phone, Judge Carter wrote, and “once again urged him ‘to make the call’ and enact the plan.”

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While the House committee has no authority to directly bring charges against Mr. Trump, and Mr. Trump was not a party to the Eastman civil case, Judge Carter’s ruling on Monday underscored the persistent questions of whether Mr. Trump could face criminal culpability for both his business dealings and his efforts to reverse the outcome of the election.

Last week, The New York Times reported that a prosecutor in New York City who was investigating Mr. Trump’s financial dealings believed the former president was guilty of “numerous felonies” in how he handled his real-estate and business transaction before taking office. The assessment of Mr. Trump by the prosecutor, Mark F. Pomerantz, came in a letter last month in which Mr. Pomerantz announced he was resigning from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which had stopped pursuing an indictment of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump is also facing investigation from the district attorney in Atlanta who recently convened a special grand jury to help probe the former president’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.

That inquiry centers on Mr. Trump’s actions in the two months between his election loss and Congress’s certification of the results, including a call he made to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, to pressure him to “find 11,780 votes” — the margin by which Mr. Trump lost the state.

The House committee has been seeking to assemble a definitive account of Mr. Trump’s efforts to hold on to the White House and how they led to the assault on the Capitol. Among the documents the committee will now receive from Mr. Eastman is an email that sketched “a series of events for the days leading up to and following Jan. 6, if Vice President Pence were to delay counting or reject electoral votes,” Judge Carter wrote.

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The email “maps out potential Supreme Court suits and the impact of different judicial outcomes” were Mr. Pence to enact the plan.

The committee will also get documents related to state legislators who were involved in the effort to persuade Mr. Pence not to certify some electoral votes. One of them, Judge Carter wrote, is a letter from the Republican members of the Arizona legislature to Mr. Pence. Two others are letters from a Georgia state senator to Mr. Trump.

The committee has already heard from more than 750 witnesses. John McEntee, the former president’s personnel chief, testified Monday; Anthony Ornato, the former White House chief of operations, was scheduled to testify Tuesday; and Matthew Pottinger, former deputy national security adviser, will do so at a later date, those familiar with the investigation said.

Both Mr. Navarro and Mr. Scavino have argued they are prevented from testifying by Mr. Trump’s assertions of executive privilege, and that President Biden — who waived executive privilege for both men — does not have the authority to waive executive privilege over the testimony of a former president’s senior aide.”