Friday, August 19, 2016

Congress and the DEA Share the Blame for Marijuana's Mystifying Misclassification


Last week the Drug Enforcement Administration was widely criticized for refusing to move marijuana out of Schedule I, the most restrictive drug category under the Controlled Substances Act. But as I explain in my latest Forbes column, Congress shares the blame for marijuana's puzzling legal status because it created a classification scheme that defies logic:

Last week, when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rejected two petitions asking it to reclassify marijuana, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith did not try to conceal his contempt. "LSD, MDMA, a plant that grows in the yard—all one thing," he said sarcastically. "The DEA announced today it will keep marijuana on the list of the most dangerous drugs in all the world, along with heroin, LSD, and MDMA….Thanks, DEA, you've really got a lot of credibility."

Smith's dismay was echoed by activists, scientists, commentators, and members of Congress from both major parties, who said the DEA's decision was at odds with what we know about marijuana's hazards and benefits. There is a lot of truth to that critique, and the DEA can reasonably be faulted for stubbornly refusing to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a category that is supposedly reserved for drugs with "a high potential for abuse," "no currently accepted medical use," and "a lack of accepted safety for use…under medical supervision."

But bureaucratic intransigence is only part of the story. The other part is the CSA itself, a legal morass that leaves crucial phrases undefined, gives the DEA wide discretion to decide where drugs belong, and establishes arbitrary, inconsistent rules that make it impossible to properly classify many drugs.

Read the whole thing.


Six Years & 1000s Of Deaths Later, UN Admits It Imported Cholera To Haiti


Poor Haiti.

It is not enough to be the poorest country in the world and to be in the sphere of corruption from the Clinton Foundation after suffering a devastating earthquake in 2010, now the UN has admitted that its peacekeeping troops literally imported cholera bacteria in its efforts to help the nation.  

The only problem is those efforts have now cost the country thousands of deaths throughout the last six years.


According to the New York Times,

“the office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has acknowledged that the United Nations played a role in the initial outbreak and that a “significant new set of U.N. actions” will be needed to respond to the crisis.”

Great. So after admitting that your help efforts actually were detrimental, you offer more of the same help. As a reminder, cholera victims suffer from dehydration caused by severe diarrhea or vomiting.

The NYT continues by stating,

“The statement comes on the heels of a confidential report sent to Mr. Ban by a longtime United Nations adviser on Aug. 8. Written by Philip Alston, a New York University law professor who serves as one of a few dozen experts, known as special rapporteurs, who advise the organization on human rights issues, the draft language stated plainly that the epidemic “would not have broken out but for the actions of the United Nations...


But it represents a significant shift after more than five years of high-level denial of any involvement or responsibility of the United Nations in the outbreak, which has killed at least 10,000 people and sickened hundreds of thousands.”

Perhaps it is time for more Clinton crony capitalism and intervention in the name of saving lives.


The cost, as we now know, is about 10,000 bodies every six years.



Thursday, August 18, 2016

Brazil Health Officials: Zika Virus Is NOT Responsible For Rise In Birth Defects, It’s Something Else


Fear surrounding the threat of Zika virus has plagued the media, and its steady spread across Latin America and Pacific island nations — along with its inevitable arrival in parts of the continental U.S. — has many worried. The mysterious virus, suspected of causing birth defects, has provoked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to update its recommendations on pregnancy and sex. But there are plenty of skeptics wondering what we should and shouldn’t believe. Now, there seems to be a breakthrough.

Amidst the growing concerns, health officials in Brazil have admitted that Zika alone may not be responsible for the rise in birth defects in parts of the country.

The virus may be linked to the birth defect called microcephaly, but while Zika has been spreading at extremely high rates throughout Brazil, microcephaly has not.

“We suspect that something more than Zika virus is causing the high intensity and severity of cases,” explains Dr. Fatima Marinho, Director of Information and Health Analysis at Brazil’s Ministry of Health.

Here are some facts you should know:

Almost All Cases Of Brazil Microcephaly Took Place In The Northeast

Since last November, Brazil has seen more than 1,700 cases of microcephaly or other birth defects of the central nervous system. When the cases were first detected, health officials believed they’d witness “an explosion of birth defects” across the country, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, data compiled by Marinho and colleagues found that socio-economic factors may be involved, since the majority of the women who gave birth to babies with microcephaly were poor and resided in small cities or on the outskirts of big cities. The outbreak also occurred in extremely poverty-stricken areas of Brazil that use massive amount of banned pesticides. Environmental pollution and toxic pesticide exposure have been linked to many adverse health effects, including birth defects.

There Is Not Enough Data

Not enough data can rightfully link the Zika virus to microcephaly, and the data that does exist mainly comes from incomplete hospital reports, with tests to confirm the virus often not carried out.

It’s even been suggested that microcephaly may be the combination of Zika along with other infections such as dengue and chikungunya, with the Brazilian doctor who first reportedly established the link between Zika virus and microcephaly now claiming Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) may be involved.

Colombian Women and Zika Virus

The New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) followed nearly 12,000 pregnant Colombian women infected with Zika virus and found no cases of microcephaly, yet four cases of microcephaly were reported among women who had Zika infection with no symptoms and were therefore not included in the study.

According to NECSI:

This gives a consistent interpretation that there is no direct link between Zika and microcephaly except for random co-occurrence. We note that the base rate of microcephaly in the absence of Zika is 140 per year in Colombia, which is consistent with the approximately 50 microcephaly cases in the first 4 months of 2016, only 4 of which have been connected to Zika. When interpreting Zika as the cause, background cases must be subtracted.

WHO Expert Weighs In

According to Florence Fouque, a World Health Organization (WHO) expert on animals that carry viruses, the public response to the Zika virus is “completely hysterical.” She said the hysteria comes from the findings of the virus harming pregnant women, and that it can be sexually transmitted.

“It’s like AIDS,” she said. “People make this link and that’s why they are really afraid.

Oliver Brady, an epidemiologist with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was asked by Brazilian officials to assess the Zika-microcephaly situation, also weighed in on the subject:

You see that with a lot of arboviruses [viruses spread by mosquitoes and other insects]. . . . They have pathogenic qualities and if you put them in the right tissue then they will cause some sort of damage. And they tend to be quite transmissible across a variety of barriers anyway. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the mechanism that’s happening out there in the field, even if it does work in the lab.

The U.S. Is Ignoring Valuable Data

Among those jumping to conclusions is the U.S., which, despite the data, has rushed to launch a clinical trial of an experimental Zika vaccine without conclusive proof that Zika causes microcephaly.

The trial will involve 80 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 35. These participants will be vaccinated with varying doses of the experimental vaccine, and placebos will be given.

There are concerns about such a vaccine, Dr. Scott B. Halstead, former senior adviser of the Dengue Vaccine Initiative and the founder of Children’s Vaccine Initiative, told the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy:

It’s happened. We have a vaccine that enhances dengue. . . . It’s clear as the nose on my face: Vaccine recipients less than 5 years old had five to seven times more rates of hospitalizations for severe dengue virus than placebo controls.

Halstead is specifically referring to a three-year study that suggested the vaccine causes antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE). He said “Over time, you make and keep protective levels of antibody from the initial infection, but you lose the cross-reactive antibodies. . . . That allows a second dengue infection to cause severe illness.”

The University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy sided with concerns discussed by Dr. Philip K. Russell, the former director of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, as well as founding president and chairman of the Sabin Vaccine Institute: “Russell said that the fact that Zika is occurring in areas where dengue has been endemic hints at a serious potential problem with ADE and Zika vaccine development.” Russell himself noted, “The current epidemic of Zika, which is usually mild disease, is made a lot worse in these populations,” and “I think there’s a major effect, but the studies haven’t been done yet to sort that out.”

Toxic Exposures For Battling Zika

Due to the media frenzy, many areas have increased their pesticide use as a means for combating the Zika virus. And while a Clean Water Act permit is typically required to spray pesticides in areas where they might end up in water, the Zika virus has been used as an excuse to further harm the planet and its inhabitants.

The Zika Vector Control Act was passed by the House of Representatives, exempting pesticide applicators from needing a Clean Water Act permit, even when spraying near water. But opponents say the bill has nothing to do with battling Zika, claiming it has been on the table for years, with the majority fighting to slap any name on it to make it convenient to the time.

Research has shown the detriments to such spraying, like the evidence presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting, which explained that aerial pesticide exposure is linked to an increased risk of developmental delays and autism spectrum disorder among children.

Mosquito Experts Know The Truth

Even mosquito experts suggest things aren’t right. According to Chris Barker, Ph.D., a researcher of mosquito-borne viruses at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine: “I think the risk for Zika actually setting up transmission cycles that become established in the continental U.S. is near zero.” He anticipates the virus to mimic other tropical diseases spread by mosquitoes, like dengue fever and chikungunya, by making its way into the U.S. with small clusters of outbreaks in Southern states and not much activity elsewhere.

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Why A Deutsche Bank Whistleblower Turned Down A $8.25 Million Reward: In His Own Words


At the height of the financial crisis, when risk assets were imploding and counterparties were in danger of overnight collapse, Deutsche Bank avoided failure and nationalization by fabricating the value of its $130 billion derivative portfolio of "leveraged super senior" trades.

Some history: back in 2005, these trades were seen as "the next big thing" in the world of credit derivatives, something which DB at the time was building a massive position in. They were designed to behave like the most senior tranche of a typical collateralised debt obligation, where assets such as mortgages or credit default swaps are pooled to give investors varying degrees of risk exposure. Deutsche became the biggest operator in this market, which involved banks buying insurance against the possibility of default by some of the safest companies, the FT writes.

There was just one problem: when it was building up its portfolio, Deutsche never accounted for the possibility of the financial world nearly collapsing. Which is why as the illiquid portfolio was careening, instead marking it to market - an act that would have resulted in the bank's insolvency - DB's risk managers misstated the value of the positions by anywhere from $1.5bn to $3.3bn.

Several years later, in 2012, the SEC found out about this, and in 2015 slapped a $55 million fine on Deutsche Bank for this criminal fabrication (nobody went to jail). “At the height of the financial crisis, Deutsche Bank’s financial statements did not reflect the significant risk in these large, complex illiquid positions,” said Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s enforcement division. “Deutsche Bank failed to make reasonable judgments when valuing its positions and lacked robust internal controls over financial reporting.”

The reason why the SEC learned about DB's massive mismarked derivative exposure, is because two former employee whistleblowers, Matthew Simpson and Eric Ben-Artzi, told it: the duo alleged that if Deutsche had accounted properly for its positions, its capital would have fallen to dangerous levels during the financial crisis and it might have required a government bailout to survive. The highest estimate for the unaccounted loss was $12bn. Which explains why Deutsche Bank was desperate to manipulated the numbers.

End result: DB got its wristslap with a token fine, the SEC came out looking like it knew what it was doing, and - as we learned today - the two whistleblowers got major awards for helping the SEC collected the $55MM fine, amounting to 15% each. 

Only, something unexpected happened: as the FT writes, one of the whistleblowers who helped expose the false accounting at Deutsche Bank turned down a multimillion-dollar award from the Securities and Exchange Commission in protest against the agency’s failure to punish executives at the bank.

Eric Ben-Artzi, the former Deutsche risk officer, told the SEC he is declining his share of a $16.5 million payout — the third largest in the whistleblower program’s history — which represents 30% of the $55 million Deutsche Bank fine.

But why turn down enough money that most people, even ex-Wall Streeters, could comfortably retire on?  Ben-Artzi said the fine should be paid by individual executives, not shareholders, and suggested the “revolving door” of senior personnel between the SEC and Germany’s largest bank had played a role in executives going unpunished (understandably he had no comment about the spike in Deutsche Bank suicides in 2013-2014, particularly those emanating from its legal department).

“This goes beyond the typical revolving-door story,” Mr Ben-Artzi wrote in an opinion article for the Financial Times. “In this case, top SEC lawyers had held senior posts at the bank, moving in and out of top positions at the SEC even as the investigations into malfeasance at Deutsche Bank were ongoing,”

Which, incidentally, reminds us of a post we wrote back in May 2010, explaining why former Deutsche Bank General Councel, and then-SEC Director of Enforcement, "Robert Khuzami Stands To Lose Up To $250,000 If He Pursues Action Against Deutsche Bank." We were right: neither Khuzami, nor the SEC, nor anyone else, pursued any charges against Deutsche Bank in the early years after the financial crisis. In retrospect, now that the German bank has been revealed to have manipulated literally everything, such oversight on behalf of the SEC was even more criminal than what DB did over the years.

Six years later, the FT comments on this too:

"Robert Khuzami, director of enforcement at the SEC between 2009 and 2013, was Deutsche’s former general counsel for the Americas. Between 2004 and 2013 Robert Rice was a senior lawyer at Deutsche Bank, where he led an internal investigation into the valuation claims; he then went to the SEC as chief counsel.  Both Mr Khuzami and Mr Rice were recused from the investigation. Dick Walker was enforcement director at the SEC between 1998 and 2001 and then joined Deutsche, later becoming general counsel; he left the bank this year. All three declined to comment. "

Needless to say, there is zero risk to Khuzami's current job as partner in Kirkland's Government & Internal Investigations Practice Group, which he joined in 2013. But hopefully, one day there will be, and if so it will be partially thanks to op-eds such as the one - written by Eric Ben-Artzi, who is currently a vice-president of risk analytics at BondIT - published in today's FT and republished below.


For all those wondering why someone would turn down a $8.25 million whistleblower award, here is the explanation, straight from the source.

* * *

We must protect shareholders from executive wrongdoing 

Eric Ben-Artzi 


I turned down a whistleblower award, writes former Deutsche Bank employee Eric Ben-Artzi


I just got word from the Securities and Exchange Commission that I am to receive half of a $16.5m whistleblower award. But I refuse to take my share. My award, which comes from a fund allocated by Congress, amounts to 15 per cent of the $55m fine the SEC imposed on Deutsche Bank in May 2015 after I informed regulators that my colleagues at the bank had been inflating the value of its massive portfolio of credit derivatives.


I was a risk officer at the bank, and one of the three whistleblowers who in 2010-11 reported the improper accounting internally and to regulators around the globe.


The SEC attorney who oversaw the investigation told the New York Times: “It’s the only enforcement action where we allege that a major financial institution failed to properly value a significant portion of its portfolio of complex securities.”


But Deutsche did not commit this wrongdoing. Deutsche was the victim. To be precise, the bank’s shareholders and its rank­-and­-file employees who are now losing their jobs in droves are the primary victims.


Meanwhile, top executives retired with multimillion­-dollar bonuses based on the misrepresentation of the bank’s balance sheet. It is therefore especially disappointing that in 2015, after a lengthy investigation helped by multiple whistleblowers, the SEC imposed a fine on Deutsche’s shareholders instead of the managers responsible.


Compare this outcome with a contemporaneous SEC enforcement action against the less connected executives of a smaller firm, Trinity Capital, and its subsidiary Los Alamos National Bank. The violations at Trinity seem similar to Deutsche, but orders of magnitude smaller. Five executives at Trinity were charged, the chief executive settled and paid a fine, and litigation continued against two senior officers.


“We will hold senior executives liable when they misstate the company’s performance and fail to come clean with shareholders,” explained Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.


So why did the SEC not go after Deutsche’s executives? The most obvious concern is that Deutsche’s top lawyers “revolved” in and out of the SEC before, during and after the illegal activity at the bank. Robert Rice, the chief lawyer in charge of the internal investigation at Deutsche in 2011, became the SEC’s chief counsel in 2013. Robert Khuzami, Deutsche’s top lawyer in North America, became head of the SEC’s enforcement division after the financial crisis. Their boss, Richard Walker, the bank’s longtime general counsel (he left the bank this year) was once head of enforcement at the SEC.


This goes beyond the typical revolving door story. In this case, top SEC lawyers had held senior posts at the bank, moving in and out of top positions at the regulator even as the investigations into malfeasance at Deutsche were ongoing.


This took place on the watch of Mary Jo White, the current chair of the SEC, whose relationship with Mr Khuzami and Mr Rice dates back 20 years. She bears ultimate responsibility for the Deutsche fine. In 2010 I joined Deutsche from Goldman Sachs as a vice­-president in the market­-risk department. I am a mathematician and had worked in risk­-modelling at other banks. When I joined Deutsche I was not made aware that an internal “investigation” was already under way into the inflated valuation of the bank’s $120bn portfolio of exotic credit derivatives.


Within a few months, though, I realised something was very wrong, and I called the internal hotline. That is when I met Mr Rice. He was then Deutsche’s top lawyer for compliance and regulatory affairs, and asserted that our conversations were subject to “attorney-client” privilege and could not be disclosed. I did not agree and was fired. My Wall Street career was ruined.


When I first helped the SEC investigation, the whistleblower award was a powerful incentive. My lawyers and ex-wife have a claim on a portion of my award, which I am not at liberty to reject.


Although I need the money now more than ever, I will not join the looting of the very people I was hired to protect. I never intended to turn a job in risk management into a crusade, but after suffering at the hands of the Deutsche executives I will not join them simply because I cannot beat them.


I request that my share of the award be given to Deutsche and its stakeholders, and the award money clawed back from the bonuses paid to the Deutsche executives, especially the former top SEC attorneys.


I would then be happy to collect any award for which I am eligible.


Slobodan Milosevic: The Killing of an Innocent Man

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague quietly acknowledged the innocence of former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic. Ten years after the very suspicious death of the Serbian leader in a Dutch prison, the 1,300th…


One Simple Chart Illustrates The Absurdity Of College Cost Inflation


The simple chart below from the American Enterprise Institute beautifully illustrates the absurd inflation of college tuition and textbooks over the past 20 years.  In real terms, the cost of college has effectively doubled over that time period.  Now what would cause such massive inflation?  Could it be our government tripping over itself to provide cheap student loans for children to spend on vacations, iPads and kegs (i.e. "college"; see "What Student Loans Are Used For: Vacations, iPads, Kegs, Entertainment").  Or, per the Daily Caller, perhaps the issue is administrative bloat at our institutions of higher education:

The exact reason prices have increased so much has been hotly debated, but one critical factor at most schools is administrative bloat. While student to faculty ratios have remained relatively steady over time, the number of administrators and other non-teaching staff has exploded at schools across the country.

But we don't want to stress out our young Millennials too much.  We're quite sure the debt burden associated with your $200,000 anthro degree will be socialized very soon. 

College Inflation

via IFTTT Officials...


Officials on Benghazi: “We made mistakes, but without malice”
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Obama administration officials who were in key positions on Sept. 11, 2012, acknowledge that a range of mistakes were made the night of the attacks on the U.S. missions in Benghazi, and in messaging to Congress and the public in the aftermath.

The officials spoke to CBS News in a series of interviews and communications under the condition of anonymity so that they could be more frank in their assessments. They do not all agree on the list of mistakes and it’s important to note that they universally claim that any errors or missteps did not cost lives and reflect “incompetence rather than malice or cover up.” Nonetheless, in the eight months since the attacks, this is the most sweeping and detailed discussion by key players of what might have been done differently.

“We’re portrayed by Republicans as either being lying or idiots,” said one Obama administration official who was part of the Benghazi response. “It’s actually closer to us being idiots.”

Where is the Benghazi cover-up Republicans promised?
GOP wants more Benghazi docs after White House release
Full coverage: U.S. Consulate attack in Benghazi
The Obama administration’s chief critics on Benghazi, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., remain skeptical. They see a pattern, even a conspiracy, to deflect attention from the idea that four Americans had been killed by al Qaeda-linked attackers, on the president’s watch. “There is no conclusion a reasonable person could reach other than that for a couple of weeks after the attack, [the Obama administration was] trying to push a narrative that was politically beneficial to the president’s re-election,” Graham told CBS News.

The list of mea culpas by Obama administration officials involved in the Benghazi response and aftermath include: standing down the counterterrorism Foreign Emergency Support Team, failing to convene the Counterterrorism Security Group, failing to release the disputed Benghazi “talking points” when Congress asked for them, and using the word “spontaneous” while avoiding the word “terrorism.”

The emergency response: “I wish we’d sent FEST”
The Foreign Emergency Support Team known as “FEST” is described as “the US Government’s only interagency, on-call, short-notice team poised to respond to terrorist incidents worldwide.” It even boasts hostage-negotiating expertise. With U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens reported missing shortly after the Benghazi attacks began, Washington officials were operating under a possible hostage scenario at the outset. Yet deployment of the counterterrorism experts on the FEST was ruled out from the start. That decision became a source of great internal dissent and the cause of puzzlement to some outsiders.

Thursday, an administration official who was part of the Benghazi response told CBS News: “I wish we’d sent it.”

Benghazi timeline: How the attack unfolded
The official said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputy, Patrick Kennedy, quickly dispensed with the idea. A senior State Department official Thursday told CBS News, “Under Secretary Kennedy is not in the decision chain on FEST deployment” but would not directly confirm whether Kennedy or somebody else dismissed the FEST.

Inside room of murdered U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens
Inside room of murdered U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens
Whoever made the decision, it came amid sharp disagreement over the FEST’s true capabilities. Kennedy and others at the State Department view the team as one that primarily restores communications at besieged embassies. However, the FEST’s own mission statement describes a seasoned team of counterterrorism professionals who can respond “quickly and effectively to terrorist attacks… providing the fastest assistance possible” including “hostage negotiating expertise” and “time-sensitive information and intelligence.” In fact, FEST leader Mark Thompson says Benghazi was precisely the sort of crisis to which his team is trained to respond.

While it was the State Department that’s said to have taken FEST off the table, the team is directed by the White House National Security Council. Those officials expressed the same limited view of FEST’s capabilities when CBS News asked on Nov. 1, 2012, why FEST hadn’t deployed. The officials argued that FEST teams were “used in the past to re-establish infrastructure, communications, etc. after a devastating attack…That wasn’t the need here.”

As soon as word of the Benghazi attack reached Washington, FEST members “instinctively started packing,” said an official involved in the response. “They were told they were not deploying by Patrick Kennedy’s front office… In hindsight… I probably would’ve pushed the button.”

It’s unclear what assistance FEST might have provided on site in the hours and days after the Benghazi attacks. In the end, Obama administration officials argue that its quick deployment would not have saved lives because, while the U.S.-based team might have made it to Tripoli, Libya, before the attacks ended, they most certainly wouldn’t have made it to Benghazi in time.

Still, nobody knew at the outset how long the crisis was going to last. And officials familiar with FEST say it could have helped pave the way for the FBI to get into Benghazi much faster than the three weeks it ultimately took. Said one source, “I don’t see a downside to sending FEST…if for no other reason than so no one could ask why we didn’t.”

The Counterterrorism Security Group: Not convened
Under presidential directive, an interagency task force called the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) is to be convened when emergency terrorist events are suspected. According to a public military document, it’s part of a plan to “synchronize the efforts of all the government agencies that have a role to play in the Global War on Terrorism.” But on Sept. 11, 2012, the Obama administration did not convene this body of terrorism expert advisers.

One official associated with the State Department now acknowledges that the CSG would probably have advised decision makers that FEST “was not just backup generator and radios.” Said the official: “the CSG could have made the argument, they were upset that they weren’t heard.” Another former Defense Department official says he finds no merit to using the CSG. “I’d like to hear them say what they could have done.”

Last October, National Security Council (NSC) Spokesman Tommy Vietor told CBS News that the CSG wasn’t needed because consultations were quickly underway at the highest levels. He indicated that, under the Obama administration, the function of the CSG has become a “lower level group” that “does different tasks” than under the Bush administration. “From the moment [President Obama] was briefed on the Benghazi attack, the response effort was handled by the most senior national security officials in government. Members of the CSG were of course involved in these meetings and discussions to support their bosses,” said Vietor.

However, absent the CSG’s collective advice, there’s evidence that some high-level decision makers were unaware of all available resources. In October, on a phone call that included then-Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough (now White House Chief of Staff), Vietor initially told CBS News: “I don’t know what [FEST] is… it sounds antiquated.”

In-extremis Force: On a training mission
In an unfortunate turn of events, on Sept. 11, a special U.S. military force based in Europe, designed specifically for quick reaction to unforeseen emergencies, was off on a training mission in Croatia. By the time the so-called Commander’s In-extremis Force was diverted to an airfield at Sigonella, Italy, an hour’s flight from Benghazi, the attacks were over.

“They didn’t get there in time to have an impact, which is unfortunate,” said a Defense Department source who was involved in the Benghazi response.

Another administration source says, with the benefit of hindsight, everyone wishes U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the combatant command responsible for Libya on Sept. 11, had its own In-extremis Force.

That’s already been accomplished. In what turns out to be a stroke of terrible timing, AFRICOM was just a few weeks away from getting an In-extremis Force when the Benghazi attacks happened. The Force was in the U.S. finishing training on Sept. 11 and is now in place.

The political response: “Dream Team”
A former Obama administration official says they were so confident in, and pleased with, the team of experts they pulled together to brief Congress on Benghazi, they were nicknamed the “Dream Team.” The “Dream Team” consisted of: Maj. Gen. Darryl Roberson, Vice Director of Operations, Joint Staff; Matt Olson, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center; Andy McCabe, Assistant Director of Counterterrorism for the FBI; and Linda Weissgold from CIA.

Benghazi timeline: How the probe unfolded
But some Obama administration sources now concede that, outside the “Dream Team,” their post-attack communications and spin were riddled with missteps. Yet they insist that was the result of incompetence or confusion, and that no conspiracy was in play.

The talking points
The infamous Benghazi “talking points” were born out of a request on Sept. 14 from Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. CIA chief David Petraeus had just given a classified briefing to Ruppersberger and other Intelligence Committee members. A source who was present said that following the briefing, “Ruppersberger wanted to know ‘what can I say on TV’?”

The day before, on Sept. 13, the White House had asked the office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if she would appear on the upcoming Sunday morning political talk shows. “She’d rather chew tin foil,” said someone who’s close to Mrs. Clinton. Instead, it was decided U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice would make the appearances. Ultimately, the talking points would serve two purposes: provide guidance as to what Congress could tell the public, and guide Rice for the talk shows.

One Obama administration official present for congressional briefings says the idea that the talking points were intended to hide the terrorist ties from Congress is absurd because Petraeus had already given House Intelligence Committee members full information on the suspected terrorist links.

On Sept. 14, the CIA’s early version of the talking points credited the CIA with providing warnings on Sept. 10, 2012, that the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, could come under attack and that Benghazi was in a precarious state. Others in the Obama administration saw this talking point comment as an instinctive, “knee-jerk cover your ass moment” on the CIA’s part and some officials remain bitter today.

One of them said, “We thought, ‘why are you guys throwing us under the bus?’ …They [CIA] made it seem like the State Department was given a warning they ignored. No specific warning was given.” Petraeus, who resigned amid a sex scandal days after Mr. Obama’s re-election, declined comment.

As the various agencies worked to edit and approve the talking points on Sept. 14, Mr. Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes emailed that there would be a Deputies meeting the next morning to work out the issues. “That’s polite code for let’s not debate this on e-mail for 18 hours,” said one official involved. (Ben Rhodes is the brother of CBS News President David Rhodes.)

Even today, nobody will say on the record, or even off the record to CBS News, who was at the Deputies meeting on the morning of Sept. 15, where the talking points were drastically pared down for Rice’s use. The approved version called the attacks “demonstrations” that “evolved” after being “spontaneously inspired” by protest at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. All mentions of terrorism, al Qaeda and previous warnings given by the CIA had been excised.

No “spontaneous protest”
In the view of some involved in the process at high levels, “spontaneous” was the wrong word for administration officials to use publicly when describing the attacks, because they say it didn’t translate well and it was taken out of context.

It’s unclear where the story about the Benghazi attacks growing from a protest or demonstration originated or how it gained such prominence in the Obama administration’s initial narrative. One source involved in the Benghazi response insists it wasn’t until the State Department debriefed the five surviving U.S. diplomatic security agents upon their return to the U.S. that Washington officials discovered there had been no protest.

The FBI had interviewed the survivors previously in Germany, but a source says the FBI agents didn’t type up or share their notes at the time because there was no “imminent danger” raised in the interviews. The Obama administration has resisted Congress’ demands to turn over FBI transcripts of the survivor interviews.

“Turning Point”
In the days after Rice’s Sunday talk show appearances on Sept. 15, there were building questions about the true nature of the attacks. Congress was demanding answers. On Sept. 20, a team of Obama administration officials with fresh information agreed to brief the House and Senate in closed sessions.

Amb. Rice insists Libya attack “spontaneous”
Amb. Rice insists Libya attack “spontaneous”
There, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper revealed that Benghazi “had all the earmarks of a premeditated attack.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., stormed out of the room and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., says he uttered an expletive to a colleague sitting next to him. From the view of one Obama administration official who was present, “Something just snapped. [Senators] started yelling and screaming ‘Why did Susan [Rice] lie?'”

“It was a turning point,” said the Obama administration official. “It was just a stark shift from Sunday with no groundwork laid. [Senators] just snapped… Susan was done.”

“We should have released” talking points
In an effort to sort out who-knew-what-when, Congress asked for the talking point drafts and e-mails last November, but the Obama administration withheld them on grounds of national security and the idea that they’re deliberative materials not subject to public release. Congress continued to press and Republican senators even held up administration nominations. Finally, the administration allowed limited reviews of some of the materials but did not let members of Congress, or their staff, take documents from the room or make copies.

An Obama administration source familiar with the process now says the talking points should have been handed over much sooner. “We should have released them six months ago,” said the source, adding that the various federal agencies had agreed to do so but the White House counsel’s office was against it. In response, a White House official told CBS News that the agencies were in agreement on not releasing the materials in November, and in later providing the limited review. “The relevant Agencies and Departments concurred with that accommodation,” said the official.

Avoiding the word “terrorism”?
White House spokesman Jay Carney did not refer to the Benghazi attacks as suspected terrorism when he briefed reporters on Sept. 12, 2012. An administration official who was familiar with the messaging now says Carney should have.

Obama suspects Libya attack targeted Americans
Obama suspects Libya attack targeted Americans
A White House official responded saying: “It is easy to criticize and second-guess words nine months after the fact and with many more facts under our belt but the 100 pages of e-mails we released make abundantly clear that it in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, the administration, including the CIA, was still working through understanding what happened in Benghazi, whether there were indeed protests, and who was responsible.”

It wasn’t just the White House spokesman who seemed to be avoiding the word “terror.” Mr. Obama used the phrase “acts of terror” when speaking in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12, but not in direct reference to Benghazi. Instead, he referred to it as “an outrageous and shocking attack,” “senseless violence” and “brutal attacks.” He called the assailants “killers,” and “attackers,” but never “terrorists.”

After that event in an interview with Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes,” Kroft asked Mr. Obama about the verbiage.

KROFT: Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word “terrorism” in connection with the Libya attack.
OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: Do you believe that this was a terrorist attack?

OBAMA: Well, it’s too early to know exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans.

Likewise, Secretary Clinton did not call Benghazi a “terrorist act” in her speech at the ceremonial return of the bodies of Stevens and the three other victims on Sept. 12.

Clinton: Ambassador’s death a “senseless act of violence”
Clinton: Ambassador’s death a “senseless act of violence”
She did quote a foreign official who called it “an ugly act of terror” but Clinton termed the event an “attack”, “assault,” “rage and violence… over an awful Internet video..” and referenced the terrorist attackers as “thugs,” “killers,” and a “mob.”

A White House official said this week, “It should be surprising to no one that in a place like Benghazi and in a situation like this, perfect information was simply not available to us in the days and weeks after the attack. What matters now is not talking points – what matters is how we can prevent an incident like this from happening again.”

Mistakes but not malice?
Several Obama administration officials said not using the word “terrorism” early on was not part of a conspiracy, but an “abundance of caution.” They reiterate that any misjudgments or mistakes in the Benghazi response and aftermath would not have changed the outcome.

Critics nonetheless see a pattern that points to a cover up. “Incompetence and malice are not mutually exclusive,” said Graham. “The storyline they chose to convey for a couple of weeks was politically the most beneficial one that could be told about Benghazi, and it’s no accident that story line was chosen.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said, “If not for Congress, they would still lead us to believe it was a video gone awry.”


How Big Food Twists the Science

Food Industry Funded Research Bias

Just like mosquitos are the vectors of spread for malaria, a landmark article published recently in one of the most prestigious medical journals described large food corporations as the vectors of spread for chronic disease. Unlike “infectious disease epidemics, however, these corporate disease vectors implement sophisticated campaigns to undermine public health interventions.” Most mosquitoes don’t have as good PR firms.

A key message was that “alcohol and ultra-processed food and drink industries use similar strategies as the tobacco industry to undermine effective public health policies and programs.” What they mean by ultra-processed is things like burgers, frozen meals, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, potato chips, doughnuts and soda pop.

But how is the food industry like the tobacco industry? The “first strategy is to bias research findings.” For example, Philip Morris implemented the Whitecoat project to hire doctors to publish ghost-written studies purporting to negate links between secondhand smoke and harm, publishing biased cherry-picked scientific reports to deny harm and suppress health information. In my video Food Industry-Funded Research Bias, you can see the actual industry memo describing the Whitecoat Project, designed to reverse the scientific “misconception” that secondhand smoke is harmful.

Similarly, funding from these large food corporations biases research. Studies show systematic bias from industry funding, so we get the same kind of tactics—supplying misinformation, use of supposedly conflicting evidence, and hiding negative data. 

The same scientists-for-hire that downplayed the risks of secondhand smoke are the same hired by the likes of the National Confectioner’s Association to say candy cigarettes are A-OK as well. Of course, they declared “no conflict of interest.”

The similarities between strategies used by the tobacco, alcohol, and food and drink corporations are unsurprising in view of the flow of people, funds and activities across these industries, which also have histories of joint ownership—like Philip Morris owned both Kraft and Miller Brewing.

So what’s their strategy? As a former FDA commissioner described:

“The tobacco industry’s strategy was embodied in a script written by the lawyers. Every tobacco company executive in the public eye was told to learn the script backwards and forwards, no deviation was allowed. The basic premise was simple— smoking had not been proven to cause cancer. Not proven, not proven, not proven—this would be stated insistently and repeatedly. Inject a thin wedge of doubt, create controversy, never deviate from the prepared line. It was a simple plan and it worked.”

Internal industry memos make this explicit, stating “doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the body of fact that exists in the mind of the general public.” The internal industry memos list objective number one as “to set aside in the minds of millions the false conviction that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases; a conviction based on fanatical assumptions, fallacious rumors, unsupported claims and the unscientific statements and conjectures of publicity-seeking opportunists… [We need] to lift the cigarette from the cancer identification as quickly as possible, and to establish—once and for all—that no scientific evidence has ever been produced, presented or submitted to prove conclusively that cigarette smoking causes cancer,” similar to what’s now coming out from the food industry, from the same folks that brought us smoke and candy.

This is part of a series of “political” blogs which includes my video, Collaboration with the New Vectors of Disease. Why don’t I just “stick to the science”? When there are billions of dollars at stake, the body of evidence can be skewed and manipulated. Funders can determine which studies are performed, how they’re performed and whether or not they get published at all. That’s why I think it’s important to take a broader view to account for the ways the scientific method can be perverted for profit.

Here are some examples:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations—2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of DeathMore Than an Apple a Day2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

Image Credit: stocking / 123RF Stock Photo


The Right To Dissent


Submitted by Robbie Travers via The Gatestone Institute,

  • The irony is that these censors and would-be censors, such as the European Commission, the Dutch and Austrian courts, Facebook, Twitter are using their freedom of expression to suggest that someone else be robbed of his freedom of expression.

  • Recently, the BBC stripped the name Ali from Munich's mass-murderer so that he would not appear to be a Muslim.

  • Throughout history, it is the minorities or the lone voices that need from the majority to allow everyone to question, comment on and criticize opinions with which they disagree. Freedom to be wrong, heretical or "blasphemous" -- as we have seen with Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Darwin or Alan Turing -- is the only way that civilisation can grow.

  • Not to allow differing points of view only entrenches positions by depriving people of the opportunity to hear anything that contradicts them. For those doing the censoring, that is doubtless the point.

It would be a fair assessment to conclude that many people consider some statements not what they would like to hear -- whether by Salman Rushdie, Geert Wilders, Ingrid Carlqvist, Douglas Murray, Lars Hedegaard, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, Theo van Gogh, the Mohammad cartoonists, St├ęphane Charbonnier and other editors at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, among others. To say their remarks are sometimes regarded as controversial would be an understatement. Often, they are vociferous and vocal critics of extremist Islam, immigration, censorship and other policies -- and they have been accused of Islamophobia, hate speech, and inflaming racial and religious tensions. Several have been threatened with jail and death. Some have been murdered for their warnings.

Importantly, though, none of them has ever directly incited violence against a religion, ethnic minority, or sexual orientation.

Do not these voices, however repellent to some, deserve the chance to be heard without threat of retaliation? Their opinions are often not of the mainstream, but should that lead to censorship, death, or for Wilders and Sabaditsch-Wolff, court trials, for expressing their views?

On May 31, the European Commission announced its decision to control so-called "hate speech."

As democratic societies, we presumably believe that what strengthens our democracies, and separates free societies from the many authoritarian regimes, is free speech: the ability to air thoughts freely without fear of punishment. There is a saying that the founder of civilization was the first person who threw a word instead of a stone.

Throughout history, it is the minorities or the lone voices that need from the majority to allow everyone to question, comment on and criticize opinions with which they disagree. Freedom to be wrong, heretical or "blasphemous" -- as we have seen with Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Darwin or Alan Turing -- is the only way that civilisation can grow.

All of us are free not to listen to people with whom we disagree. We are also free to expose their arguments as false. Currently, those who defend free expression are not discussing ideas; they are discussing whether or not one should have a right to speak. Censorship moves debate away from the issues, then the issues remain undiscussed.

The irony is that these censors and would-be censors, such as the European Commission, the Dutch and Austrian courts, Facebook and Twitter are using their freedom of expression to suggest that someone else be robbed of his freedom of expression.

If there is no discussion of ideas, we must ask which ideas are acceptable and which are not, and with such questions, we move into the territory of Orwellian thought crime, which is where the proponents of censorship apparently want us to be. George Orwell's 1984 was not a manual; it was a stark warning about authoritarianism and censorship.

Is it possible that the censors may wish not to discuss ideas because they fear the answers?

When we present uncomfortable truths, or even untruths, they need to be heard, such as those who argued the world was flat or that vaccinations caused smallpox. It was only freedom of expression that enabled the abolition of slavery, or that supported the theory of evolution, voting rights for women, the Civil Rights Act, or equal opportunity for marriage for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals.

Freedom of expression is the tool that allows those who challenge injustice, prejudice and extremism the chance at least to present their case.

If we never listened to what we find uncomfortable, we would remain stagnant, probably with unbending ideas.

As unpleasant as it may be to listen to opinions that might differ from ours, the alternative, to suffocate free speech, is worse -- and incalculably more corrosive to civilization. If the violence carried out in the name of Islam poses a serious threat to the security of the Western World, or if new arrivals in a country are heavily involved in criminal activity, such as trafficking in drugs or humans and are filling the prisons disproportionately to the rest of society, those seem problems that it should be the duty of any citizen to point out. One might wish that these were not true, but the first step in correcting any problem is to be able to state it.

Censorship, by suppressing discussion of problems, therefore fails, counter-productively, to tackle what is causing them. Stifling discussion will not make the problem go away. Meanwhile, it festers and grows worse.

One cannot have discourse if there is no opportunity for opposition. We are now seeing European courts, the European Commission, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the UN Human Rights Council seek to silence those whose views they oppose.

It even turned out, at least in Germany last September, that "hate speech" apparently included posts criticizing mass migration. It would seem, therefore, that just about anything anyone finds inconvenient can be labelled as "racist" or "hate speech."

Censoring, ironically, ultimately gives the public an extremely legitimate grievance, and could even set up the beginning of a justifiable rebellion.

There is currently a worrying trend. Facebook, evidently attempting to manipulate what news people receive, recently censored the Swedish commentator Ingrid Carlqvist by deleting her account, then censored Douglas Murray's eloquent article about Facebook's censorship of Carlqvist. Recently, the BBC stripped the name Ali from Munich's mass-murderer so that he would not appear to be a Muslim.

Yet, a page called "Death to America & Israel", which actively incites violence against Israel, is left uncensored. Facebook, it seems, agrees that calling for the annihilation of the Jewish state is acceptable, but criticism of Islam is not. While pages that praise murder, jihadis, and anti-Semitism remain, pages that warn the public of the violence that is now often perpetrated in the name of Islam, but that do not incite violence, are removed.

Even in the United States, there was a Resolution proposed in the House of Representatives, H. Res. 569, attempting to promote the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's Defamation of Religion/anti-blasphemy laws, to criminalize any criticism of "religion" – but meaning Islam.

Yesterday, at an airport, an advertisement for Facebook read, "A place to debate." Should it not instead have read, "A place to debate, but only if we agree with you"?


We should fear all censorship whenever and wherever we find it. We should welcome the right of anyone to speak. Not to allow differing points of view only entrenches positions by depriving people of the opportunity to hear anything that contradicts them. For those doing the censoring, that is doubtless the point.

But instead should we not be asking: who will be next? If voices, one by one, are silenced, who will be left to speak?


Why America’s Only Male Olympic Weightlifter Is Completely Vegan


There is one question that makes every vegan cringe: “But where do you get your protein?!” Before diving right into that topic, let’s take a look at a certain vegan who definitely gets his protein – Kendrick Farris, the only American male weightlifter competing in the Rio Olympics.

Farris has been vegan since 2014 and can currently lift over 800 pounds! When asked in an interview with HuffPost where he gets his protein, he replied: “I just research the foods I’m eating, and try to be efficient. How much protein is in this avocado?”

Clearly cutting meat and animal products out of his diet hasn’t held him back one bit, as Farris has won the gold medal at the past two Pan American weightlifting championships.

Ferris explains that, after discovering his heritage, he wanted to learn more. He said, “Israelites from the lost tribes of Israel. I knew I needed to do more research to understand the ways of the ancient,” including their kosher diet.

Why The Change Of Diet?

He attributes his shift to a deep respect for animals. “I don’t necessarily trust the way the food is being processed,” he said. “I don’t agree with the way the animals are mass-slaughtered. So that’s one thing that kind of got me looking at what they call a vegan diet.”

Once his mind was made up, the switch happened instantly, as Farris’ wife, Katrina, who also happens to be the cook in the family, confirmed: “It was so random. I believe he sent me a text message ― when he’s at the gym, he always sends me these random things ― and I believe he said, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about going vegan,’ and so I was like LOL.”

According to Katrina, Kendrick loved all things meat before making the switch: “He loved burgers and all the things you think of when you think of Olympic athletes. Meat! So I didn’t think he was going to stick with it. But two years later, I think it’s made him better.”

The Olympian says he feels much lighter, cleaner, and more clear-headed these days. “My mind is extremely clear. I’m not easily flustered [now]. My attitude is totally different. I had a really bad temper growing up, something I worked on for years. And now I’m able to recognize different emotions and I’m not governed by them. Doesn’t mean I don’t have them. I’m human. But I’m not easily moved.”

Breakdown Of What Farris Eats In A Day

Katrina told Huffpost that she’ll cook two to three meals a day and provide snacks as well like guacamole or avocado quesadillas. “If he needs a snack, it’s something quick.

Here’s an example of what a typical day of meals looks like:

For breakfast, Kendrick will have oats or pancakes; for a midday snack, a vanilla or chocolate flavoured plant-based protein shake. For lunch, avocado quesadillas and then he’ll head to the gym. He’ll come back and eat another snack, this time of guacamole and black bean chips, and then a dinner of black bean quesadillas.

“I use black beans for everything,” his wife explained.

“I think a lot of people look at things as being restrictions, but that kind of shows me the way they view life. I don’t view it as restriction ― I look at what I can eat, what’s going to be the best source of energy for me,” Farris told HuffPost.

This is such a great statement to make. Many people simply don’t realize the variety of incredible foods available to you on a vegan diet. As Farris says, it’s not about what you can’t eat, it’s about what you can eat, and most of what you can eat offers a cleaner, more efficient way to fuel your body.

So, Where Do You Get Your Protein?

Clearly, you can eat a diet with minimal or even no animal products whatsoever and still get enough protein to be healthy (and even be an Olympian weightlifter). Who knew? The first thing that needs to be addressed here is the protein myth in general. While it is true that we need to have enough protein in our diets in order to be healthy, it isn’t true that we need as much as we have been led to believe. In fact, there are many studies that show that getting too much protein can cause adverse health effects.

Protein is actually in everything that you eat — it’s a structural component that holds the food together. Meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are NOT the only sources of protein or the only means of obtaining it. Many plant-based foods even have more protein than meat per serving.

Examples Of High Protein Plant-Based Foods

1. Quinoa

Protein: 8 grams per 1 cup serving, cooked

2. Buckwheat

Protein: 6 grams per 1 cup serving, cooked

3. Rice and Beans

Protein: 7 grams per 1 cup serving

4. Ezekiel Bread

Protein: 8 grams per 2 slice serving

5. Hummus and Pita

Protein: 7 grams per 1 whole-wheat pita and 2 tablespoons of hummus

6. Spirulina With Grains or Nuts

Protein: 4 grams per 1 tablespoon

7. Chia

Protein: 4 grams per 2 tablespoon serving

As you can see there are many plant-based alternatives that contain generous amounts of protein. One can efficiently obtain all the protein they need in a day without having to resort to animals and animal products. Below are some related CE articles if you feel like learning more about the subject.

Kendrick Farris serves as a great example of how you can get enough protein to maintain strength and muscle mass on a vegan diet. Now, hopefully this helps put an end to that dreaded question…

8 Great Sources Of Protein That Aren’t Meat

The Misinformation Wave: Protein

You Don’t Eat Meat? How Do You Get Your Protein?! Pumpkin Seeds Vs. Beef

Protein From Animal Products Is More Harmful Than From Plants

10 Protein Packed Plants

The Protein Myth

Much Love


No, New York Times, The FDA Should Not ‘Have The Power’ To Mandate National Recalls of Shampoo


After a bad batch of shampoo made some customers hair fall out, the New York Times ran a front page story on Tuesday asking whether Congress should give the Food and Drug Administration more regulatory authority over hair and skin products.

The entire piece is an exercise in "do-somethingism," since there are already better ways for the market—and yes, even the government—to deal with the problems created by Wen Hair Care, the shampoo product at the center of a $26 million class action lawsuit. It appears that the article was prompted by ongoing congressional efforts to apply more regulations to the cosmetics industry and give the FDA authority to issue recalls of skin and hair products.

More on that in a moment. First, the facts.

The piece starts off wanting you to know that Los Angeles hairstylist Chaz Dean made "millions" by selling a variety of scented hair care products. Those same products ended up prompting more than 21,000 complaints from consumers who experienced unwanted itching, rashes and even widespread hair loss after using Dean's Wen Hair Care products.

Without even pausing to consider whether those people have another sort of recourse besides an expensive expansion of federal regulatory power (spoiler alert: they do), the Times turns to U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, who are pitching new legislation to require the FDA to do additional testing of cosmetic products and give the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls for "products found to be unsafe."

There's good reason to feel sympathy for the victims here—no one expects to end up temporarily bald because they purchased a bottle of supposedly "revolutionary" shampoo and they are right to be upset about it—but the lack of federal regulations on cosmetics didn't cause this problem and isn't the best way to fix it.

Let's start by looking at what happened to those "millions" that Chaz Dean made by apparently swindling unsuspecting consumers.

A class action lawsuit against Wen Hair Care and its manufacturer, Guthy-Renker LLC, resulted in a $26 million settlement for the plaintiffs. The settlement awards $25 to any person who bought a bottle of Wen and up to $20,000 to anyone who experienced bodily harm or hair loss after using the product.

That's how the government should be involved in a situation like this: in a judiciary role to work out a settlement between the aggrieved parties and the business responsible for misleading them. The system works!

The Times article suggests this application of government is not enough; that the federal authorities must be more active to prevent this sort of thing from happening at all or at least to respond more quickly when it does. The FDA must be able to force companies to recall potentially problematic products, Feinstein and Collins argue.

When trying to decide whether the government should have the authority to force businesses to recall products, it's important to know how recalls work. In almost all cases, recalls are voluntary actions taken by manufacturers. That's true whether we're talking about cosmetic products regulated by the FDA or whether you're looking how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration oversees recalls of defective automotive parts.

Even when comes to issues of food safety—certainly an area where there is a greater potential threat to public health and safety than what is created by bad shampoo—the FDA can only request a recall. The final decision rests with the food supplier, and oftentimes businesses will initiate their own recalls without being asked by the FDA because it's generally accepted that lying to your customers or making them sick isn't good for business.

The same is true here. Good cosmetic businesses will issue recalls of faulty products as a way to maintain consumer trust (and to avoid the kinds of class action lawsuits like the one brought against Wen in this instance). Businesses that provide bad products and then don't come clean about the problems—no matter what industry they are a part of—won't stay in business for long.

At the risk of sounding facetious: shampoo that causes baldness is already pretty bad for business, even before the $25 million lawsuits start rolling in.

To recap: the people who were negatively affected by Wen Hair Care were compensated for their losses and the FDA has the same authority over recalls for cosmetic products as it does over recalls related to food safety or anything else.

What more could you want the government to do in this situation?

Feinstein and Collins want to pile more regulations onto the cosmetic industry. In addition to letting the FDA issue mandatory recalls, their bill would require the FDA to test all cosmetic products that contain at least one of five common ingredients. That's going to cost an estimated $20 billion annually, with the funds being extracted from the cosmetic industry in the form of new "fees."

This legislation is important, we're told by U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-New Jersey, because "there is effectively no regulation of cosmetics."

Except there is. The FDA's website explains that it "monitors the safety of cosmetic products that are being marketed and acts on products that are established to be harmful to consumers when used as intended." It does that by conducting inspections of manufacturing facilities and by surveying products on the market "especially if aware of a potential problem." That information is used to alert consumers, support regulatory actions or issue guidance for industry, the FDA says.

The Times touts the fact that the bill has "won the endorsement of heavyweights" in the cosmetic industry, including Clinique, Johnson & Johnson, MAC and Procter and Gamble.

Opposition comes from the Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers and Distributors, a trade group that represents portions of the industry generally not large enough to be household names and not wealthy enough to hire their own lobbyists.

This is the same story that often plays out when government tries to increase regulations. Larger companies—like those "heavyweights" of the industry rattled off by the Times—are better able to absorb the added cost of regulations and will support the expansion of regulations as a way to hurt smaller competitors. This is the same dynamic driving the FDA's expensive, destrutive and unnecessary regulations of electronic cigarettes, by the way.

In a statement to Reason, the Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers and Distributors said it did not support the Feinstein-Collins bill because "it placed too large a burden on small business, did not provide reasonable national uniformity, and would, if passed, stifle innovation in the cosmetics and personal care industry."

There's no way to know whether more testing and regulations would have caught the problems with Wen Hair Care shampoo before it hit store shelves, but the people injured have been compensated and the company paid the price for making a bad product.

One business' mistake should not be a reason to add to the regulatory burden faced by all others in the same field.


NPR Host Demands That Assange Do Something Its Own Reporters Are Told Never to Do


In a ten-minute interview aired Wednesday morning, NPR’s David Greene asked Wikileaks founder Julian Assange five times to reveal the sources of the leaked information he has published on the internet.

A major tenet of American journalism is that reporters protect their sources. Wikileaks is certainly not a traditional news organization, but Greene’s persistent attempts to get Assange to violate confidentiality was alarming, especially considering that there has been no challenge to the authenticity of the material in question.

In the interview, conducted over Skype, Greene pressed Assange to verify the theory that the 20,000 leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee that Wikileaks published came from Russia.

“Did those hacks that Wikileaks released, did those emails come from Russia?” Greene asked.

“Well we don’t comment as to our sources,” Assange replied. He remains confined in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has lived since 2012, despite a U.N. panel’s ruling that he has been “arbitrarily detained.”

Greene brought it up again: “Every cyber expert who’s looked at this has said it’s Russia. Are you telling me that that information did not come to you from Russia?”

Greene was exaggerating: Cybersecurity consultant Matt Tait recently told Politifact that “the consensus that Russia hacked the DNC is at this point very strong, albeit not unanimous.”

Assange replied to Greene: “No cyber expert has said that our emails that we have published have come from Russia, what they have said is that they have looked at some of the hacking of the DNC over the last two years and said that the malware in that hacking appeared to be Russian.”

Greene asked again: “Do you know where these emails came from?”

Assange replied: “Yes, I know where they came from. They came from the DNC.”

NPR’s own ethics handbook urges journalists to respect and protect sources: “As an ethical matter, we would not want to reveal the identity of an anonymous source unless that person has consented to the disclosure. That’s why we take the granting of anonymity seriously.”

NPR’s coverage of James Risen, the New York Times reporter who was pressured by the government to reveal his sources, was more respectful of the obligation to keep promises. Even Terry Gross, the notoriously tough interviewer who hosts NPR member station WHYY’s Fresh Air, did not ask Risen to reveal his sources.

Mark Memmott, NPR supervising editor for standards and practices, told The Intercept in an email: “It’s our job to ask people — experts, politicians, CEOs and even other journalists — where they’re getting their information. We should always be checking the credibility of our sources, no matter who they are. Mr. Assange was free to answer or not.”

Later in the Assange interview, Greene asked again: “Do you know the source that provided them to you?”

Assange replied: “We don’t comment on sourcing, because it makes it easier for any investigation.”

Greene began to ask again: “You brought up this question of whether there’s an argument that you’re a threat to national security. There are cyber security experts who say that someone in Russia, perhaps the Russian government, was responsible for getting this information to you. If you indeed –”

But Assange interrupted: “No there aren’t,” he said. “They’re speaking about the hacks of the DNC, not our publications. There’s a difference.”

Greene again: “If the United States government thought that you might have knowledge that a foreign government hacked into a political institution in the United States” — here Assange sighed — “during a presidential election …” Assange cut in: “They haven’t asked.”

Greene also referred to Wikileaks’ “alleged sources in Russia” and “actual sources in Russia.”

Finally, Greene asked why Wikileaks is offering a $20,000 reward for information about the death of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer who was shot and killed on July 10 in Washington, D.C.

“Any allegation that someone has been murdered because they are a Wikileaks source, even if it only has a small probability of it being true, is very concerning to us,” Assange said. “We have a perfect record in protecting the identity of our sources and we want to establish quickly exactly what the circumstances were in Seth Rich’s killing.”

“Was he a source of yours?” Greene asked.

Assange replied: “We don’t disclose sources, even dead sources.”

Naomi LaChance was formerly an intern at NPR.

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The post NPR Host Demands That Assange Do Something Its Own Reporters Are Told Never to Do appeared first on The Intercept.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Of psychopaths and presidential candidates: To what degree do modern candidates resemble psychopaths?


Donald Trump

In this Aug. 10, 2016, photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a coal mining roundtable at Fitzgerald Peterbilt in Glade Spring, Va. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Credit: AP)

This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific American Election 2016 has turned out to be a veritable field day for armchair psychologists — and some professionals, too. This is largely thanks to the unorthodox candidacy of Donald J. Trump. Almost from the moment his campaign rolled out, Trump was tagged in the media as a narcissist or even a textbook case of “narcissistic personality disorder.” Others, including Tony Schwartz, co-author/ghostwriter of Trump’s bestselling “The Art of the Deal,” have described Trump’s fleeting attention span and restless fidgeting (“like a kindergartner who can’t sit still”) in ways that suggest Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). And last week, David Brooks, a conservative columnist for The New York Times, declared that Trump was “psychologically off the chain” with disordered speech patterns that exhibit the “flight of ideas” seen in mania.

Hillary Clinton is not prone to blatant braggadocio or outrageous outbursts, but critics have persistently questioned her utter disregard for State Department rules on email security. Her biggest critics paint her as a “pathological liar.”

Is there anything to such labels? If psychiatrists could directly examine the mental health of the candidates, would any of these diagnoses stick?

And what about another label, one that, if anything, sounds even scarier? To what degree do the modern candidates for president resemble psychopaths?

That is the question Oxford University psychologist Kevin Dutton examined for the September/October issue of Scientific American Mind. Dutton, author of “The Wisdom of Psychopaths” among other books, shows that the eight qualities that define psychopathy in the psychological literature are commonly found in top politicians. And some of them are quite useful.

In his article for Mind, Dutton compared Trump, Clinton and runners-up Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders to 16 historical leaders in terms of their scores on the short revised form of the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI-R) — a standardized assessment of psychopathic traits. The form was completed on behalf of the candidates by a seasoned political reporter and, for the historical figures, by biographers or other scholars.

The table below reveals each subject’s scores for psychopathy’s eight component traits. The first three traits — social influence (SI), fearlessness (F) and stress immunity (STI), known collectively as the Fearless Dominance traits — tend to be strong in successful leaders. The next four qualities, collectively called Self-Centered Impulsivity, can be more problematic: Machiavellian Egocentricity (ME), Rebellious Nonconformity (RN), Blame Externalization (BE) and Carefree Nonplanfulness (CN). The eighth trait is Coldheartedness (C), which can be helpful in making tough decisions such as sending a nation’s youth to war but is dangerous in excess.

While there is no set score that officially renders someone a psychopath, it’s revealing to see who scores in the top 20 percent of all people who have been evaluated with the PPI-R. The table highlights those with scores in this upper quintile, which are somewhat lower for women than for men.

The verdict on the candidates: Trump, Clinton and Cruz all scored in the upper quintile in Self-Centered Impulsivity and Coldheartedness. Trump landed in the top 20 percent across the board on psychopathy traits, with a total score that placed him between Idi Amin and Adolf Hitler.

To read more of Kevin Dutton’s analysis and to see how all 42 presidents preceding Barack Obama scored in psychopathy, see the Sept/Oct issue of Scientific American Mind.

Here is a chart that shows how some of this year’s candidates match up with leaders throughout history.


Credit: Kevin Dutton, Scientific American Kevin Dutton, Scientific American