August 29th, 2019

9 Ways to Stay Sane During the Primaries

Chelsea Purgahn/Tyler Morning Telegraph/Associated Press

Students filled out voter registration forms at the University of Texas at Tyler prior to the 2018 elections. Once you’re registered to vote, make sure your friends and family are too.

As the presidential primaries get under way, it’s easy to get burnt out or overwhelmed by all the candidates and their platforms. Here are 9 ways to stay sane through the madness of the presidential primaries.

1. Look for a candidate with the right ingredients to inspire you and others. The next president will have to be someone who can bring together Americans from all walks of life—across race, class, gender, ethnicity, and religion—into a movement against the hatred, bigotry, and cronyism that now pervades Washington.

2. Don’t get distracted by the horse race, who’s up or who’s down in the polls. Focus on the substance: what their vision is for the country and how it will affect all of our lives.

3. Reach out to independents. Avoid political labels, and talk kitchen table issues like the rising cost of health care, housing, and education. Focus on solutions rather than slogans or what you hear on cable news.

4. Get involved. Devote your time and energy to getting others organized and mobilized. It’s going to take a grassroots movement of Americans to take our country back from those who seek to divide us.

5. Study up on the candidates and their positions on issues you care about and see if they align. Visit their websites to explore their policy positions, read independent analyses of their proposals, dig deeper into their records in elected office.

6. Take a deep breath. The most important goal is to reclaim our democracy and forge an economy that works for all. Don’t succumb to divisiveness or carping criticism of other primary candidates. And remember that you can stay centered, mentally, regardless of how close you are to the political center.

7. Make sure you’re registered to vote, and know when and where to vote. The work you put into learning about the candidates means little if you don’t actually show up on Election Day. Once you’re registered, make sure your friends and family are too.

8. Follow the money. Some candidates have already pledged not to take money from wealthy donors or corporate political action committees. Make sure all of them follow suit.

9. Lastly, don’t lose faith in America. We’ve been through dark times before, but we have come out stronger on the other side. We will do so again.


A Bill in California Has Split the Democratic Party

Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

Supporters of California’s AB-5 circle the Capitol during a rally in Sacramento on Wednesday. The legislation would require companies like Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees.

On Wednesday, a caravan of Lyft and Uber drivers, some 200 in total, arrived on the steps of the state capitol building in Sacramento. It marked the most recent stop in a multiday demonstration that started Tuesday, as drivers have traversed a route from Los Angeles to Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, then on to the capitol, all in support of AB-5, a bill currently under consideration in the California State Senate.

If passed, that bill would reclassify Uber and Lyft drivers as employees, rather than independent contractors, a decision that could have profound and lasting consequences for both drivers and ridesharing companies themselves, along with numerous other companies that use freelancers or independent contractors. For the 220,000 Uber and Lyft drivers in the state, some of whom have been shown to make far less than minimum wage and all of whom are without benefits, reclassification as employees could result in significant increases in pay; for the ridesharing companies themselves, an increased cost of labor would make things even more difficult as they struggle to turn anything resembling a profit even currently. The decision could send shock waves not just through Silicon Valley, but through the gig economy broadly.

Drivers aren’t the only ones taking a keen interest in the bill. It’s quickly become a political litmus test for Democrats at the national level. And it’s fracturing the Democratic Party along battle lines, with Obama-era Democrats lining up behind Uber and Lyft while the presidential candidates and recently elected Democrats stump on behalf of AB-5.

The strange, fractious coalitions that have emerged tell the story of the embattled soul of the Democratic Party in miniature. On one side, the presidential candidates have marshaled their support of the bill, which is being backed by SEIU, a powerful and important labor union whose endorsement many are courting. Support from Elizabeth Warren, who proclaimed that “all Democrats need to stand up and say, without hedging, that we support AB 5 and back full employee status for gig workers,” and Bernie Sanders, who introduced a comparable proposal at the federal level and has endorsed AB-5 unequivocally, come as no surprise.

But other centrist candidates with weaker labor bona fides have also come out in support of it. Pete Buttigieg turned out at Uber’s headquarters on Market Street in San Francisco to join the caravan of protesters as they demonstrated on Tuesday. And Kamala Harris (somewhat tepidly) voiced her support as well, telling Vice News through a spokesperson that she “believes we need to go even further to bolster worker protections and benefits and elevate the voice of workers.” Beto O’Rourke has said he’s behind it too.

Given that, one would think that the Democratic Party was unanimous in its backing of the bill, which, in a state where Dems have a two-thirds majority in the state legislature, should make it a slam dunk. But that’s far from certain, given that the other side is also staffed with Democrats, many of whom are Obama-era stalwarts.

Looking down the ranks of the mounting opposition to the bill, members of the former Obama cabinet are well represented. Tony West, who served for five and a half years in the Obama Department of Justice and was once its third-ranking member, is now the chief legal officer at Uber. He also happens to be married to Maya Harris, who, you guessed it, is Kamala’s sister.

That’s not all. Valerie Jarrett, who served eight years as a senior adviser to Obama (the role now held by Jared Kushner), has worked in Silicon Valley since leaving the administration. Promptly after leaving the White House in 2017, she accepted a position on the board of Lyft. And David Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, himself a senior adviser to the president from 2011 to 2013, served as an executive at Uber from 2014 to 2017.

Meanwhile, Barbara Boxer, the former U.S. senator from California, whom Barack Obama campaigned on behalf of in 2010, has been hired by Lyft as a special adviser, vocalizing her opposition to AB-5 in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week.

It should come as no surprise then that Joe Biden, whose chief credential is having been in the room with Obama for eight years, has refused to weigh in on AB-5, as it’s split the Democratic Party into two camps that his campaign is predicated on straddling.

One lingering question is where Governor Gavin Newsom, who has tried to stay out of the AB-5 fight, will come down if the bill reaches his desk. He has talked about “a new and modern compact” for the state’s workers, but ties to Silicon Valley, an ATM for ambitious politicians in California, have made him hesitate. Newsom recently disinvited the head of the state building trades, Robbie Hunter, for an appointment on a Future of Work Commission he’s assembling. Hunter is a vocal supporter of AB-5.

The tumult over AB-5 paints a vivid picture of the Obama-era Democratic Party and the stark differences being seen in the new crop of Democratic figureheads. Democrats during the Obama years were criticized for their coziness with Silicon Valley; indeed, the revolving door between the Obama administration and companies like Google, Facebook, and the aforementioned ridesharing companies was robust throughout his two terms, while donations from the Valley poured in. Now, these deep-pocketed tech firms are calling in the support they paid for.

But the post-Obama Democrats aren’t nearly as smitten with Silicon Valley, and have articulated a set of labor policies notably to the left of his administration. The bill has exposed the ongoing identity crisis for Democrats as they search to find their political footing in the post-Obama years. The widespread support from the presidential candidates shows the party may indeed have moved meaningfully to the left, but it will have to continue to contend with Obama holdovers who have proven hesitant to do the same.

It’s likely that the fate of AB-5 will go right down to the wire: The legislative session ends on September 13, and it would be a surprise to see a resolution before that. It’s currently held up in the senate as business groups rush to carve out exceptions for themselves. But with pressure mounting from the Democrats nationally, the fate of gig economy workers will tell us if the baton has indeed been passed to a new generation of Democratic politicians, or if Obama-era operatives still reign supreme.

Hurricane Dorian Spares Puerto Rico, but Trump Does Not


Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press

A woman poses for a photo after the passing of Tropical Storm Dorian in San Juan. There remains widespread doubt among residents and the wider Puerto Rican diaspora that the island is ready to handle an active hurricane season. 

Trump used Hurricane Dorian to launch another series of reflexively puerile insults against Puerto Rico, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, and the island’s mainland-enabled corruption. Days earlier, science writers lunged at their keyboards to respond to news of the president’s query about breaking up the storms with nuclear weapons—a discredited idea that occasionally resurfaces during hurricane season. This all before an inch of rain from the storm hit Puerto Rico.

One man died preparing for the hurricane; the island escaped severe damage and its infrastructure was not tested. Still, some on Twitter disputed official reports about power outages—the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority claimed that that service was “better than a normal day.” The storm is moving toward Florida and is currently expected to make landfall as a major hurricane.

Dorian did lay bare more evidence of Trump’s continuing abuses of power and the inability of Congress to confront and end these repeated eruptions of presidential malpractice. Only Trump could manage to link his administration’s abuses of migrants in southern border concentration camps to a Puerto Rico threatened by its third hurricane in two years.

The administration ordered the Department of Homeland Security to move $271 million, including $155 million from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, to ICE to increase migrant detention and hearing facilities. Earlier this summer the department redirected $200 million from DHS agencies to ICE. In 2018, the department had steered roughly $10 million to ICE.

According to a letter from Democratic Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, under the continuing resolution funding the government, the 2019 ICE budget only supports detaining and housing an average daily population of 40,520 migrants. Yet the number of detention beds has increased from 44,000 to more than 46,000 during the fiscal year. By August, the number shot up to 55,000 even as the number of border crossings by single adults had significantly decreased. Meanwhile, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard noted, ICE workplace raids required additional detentions.

The funding transfers from FEMA and other agencies should have been signed off by Congress, since transfers boosted ICE funding above and beyond what Congress appropriated under the continuing resolution that funds agencies at the level of the previous year. Of course, since DHS did not seek permission, department officials also did not provide evidence of any “extraordinary circumstances that imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property” that, under the statute, should necessitate such transfers.

Instead, the Trump administration continues to run roughshod over the rule of law, keeping its critics flummoxed and providing reminders daily, if not several times a day, of the inability of Congress to stem the willful erosion of its own powers to check and balance the president. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the FEMA-to-ICE transfers “stunningly reckless.” While other members of the House and Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also registered their own pro forma complaints, the outcry lasted scarcely a news cycle, allowing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues to backstop Trump’s flagrant abuses of executive powers for the greater glory of the party.

The only real offensive weapons in the House’s arsenal that its leaders are willing to deploy are its investigative powers. The House Committee on Homeland Security should move quickly to add the FEMA-to-ICE transfers to its docket of investigations on matters like the border camps and HUD funding irregularities on the island.

The FEMA drawdown means that when a more powerful hurricane hits Puerto Rico the agency will have even fewer resources available to deal with the aftermath. FEMA has already admitted that the agency was unprepared to deal with the 2017 hurricane season on the island and could not cope with the devastation in the wake of Irma and Maria. Meanwhile, there is a leadership void: FEMA administrator Brock Long left the agency in March shortly before the start of the June-to-November hurricane season. His replacement Jeffrey Byard, a FEMA associate administrator, has yet to be confirmed.

There remains widespread doubt among residents and the wider Puerto

Rican diaspora that the island is ready or able to handle an active hurricane season. The day before Dorian hit, FEMA struggled to coordinate some of the basics of emergency preparations like distributing loaner satellite phones to the island’s mayors. (The agency also had satellite phone snafus—not enough working phones—in 2017.) In July, thousands of expired bottles of water were discovered on private property 25 miles outside San Juan. A FEMA official noted that the matter was “under review.” (Thousands of bottles of water were also found on a runway in late 2018.)

Yet, the most harrowing fact of the ICE-FEMA-Puerto Rico case is this: Congress continues tolerate a president backed by an executive-branch law enforcement agency to terrorize, imprison, fail to protect and give due process to thousands of Spanish-speaking migrants. Congress also sees fit to ignore how the president castigates Puerto Ricans and their leaders at every opportunity, and blocks the flow of funding and supplies to the island—all in the face of hurricanes strengthened by warming seas, a phenomenon that he cannot fathom. If any predominately white population of comparable size suffered this kind of ongoing abuse and mistreatment, impeachment proceedings against the 45th president would begin tomorrow. It is dereliction of duty of the highest order.

When the annals of the Trump administration are dissected by historians, one of the sorriest chapters of the many that will vie for that distinction will be the plight of Puerto Rico. At a certain level, adapting to more intense and frequent climate changed-fueled storms might be easier to stomach than the torrents of ignorance and calculated harm flowing from the Oval Office.

Fine Purdue Pharma? No. Nationalize It? Now We’re Talking.

Jeff Chiu/AP Photo

Purdue Pharma, makers of the market-leading opioid OxyContin, faces more than 2,000 lawsuits from states and localities across the country.

A judge’s ruling in Oklahoma, granting the state a $572 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson for its role marketing heavily addictive opioids, actually sent company stock up initially, though it’s fallen off since then. The award was far less than Oklahoma asked for, covering only one year of costs for the state to combat the opioid crisis rather than 30.

But Johnson & Johnson was not a major player in the opioid crisis, which has claimed over 400,000 lives since 1999. Its painkillers Duragesic and Nucynta were not the most popular and widely used. The verdict, the first against an opioid manufacturer in the U.S., really had its greatest implications for Purdue Pharma, makers of market-leading opioid OxyContin, which faces more than 2,000 lawsuits from states and localities across the country.

Purdue paid Oklahoma $270 million to settle its role in the crisis last spring, and this week’s verdict showed that figure to be woefully inadequate. If Oklahoma can get $572 million from a less-heralded manufacturer for opioid deception, then Purdue, the poster child for such shenanigans, is cooked.

Sensing this, Purdue tried to sue for peace, offering $10 to $12 billion for a “global settlement” of all claims. The last time we heard the term “global settlement,” it resulted in a $25 billion deal in 2012 with five mortgage companies for mass fraud during the foreclosure crisis. The actual benefit to homeowners bore no resemblance to that headline number, the companies were able to easily minimize their losses, and no executive saw the inside of a jail cell or had to return a penny of their bonuses. Law enforcers must do better this time; they can hardly do worse.

The Purdue case is one where individual accountability is certainly warranted. Emails of members of the billionaire Sackler family pushing for higher doses and more sales of OxyContin, even years after learning of the drug’s addictive risks, are damning. Even at the end, the Sacklers brainstormed how to move into addiction treatment services, in a brazen attempt to profit from the very pain they caused.

Elizabeth Warren has already characterized anything that doesn’t result in personal hardship for the architects of the opioid crisis as not good enough. Considering that a drug pusher selling small amounts of marijuana would almost certainly go behind bars, a pusher at a far higher and more deadly level who happens to wear a suit to work should see a more proportional response.

If there will be no jail, then the fine should be far higher. The prospect of a global settlement for $10 billion is laughable, given that a state with a little over 1 percent of the population got $572 million in a case against an opioid manufacturer with far less impact. Moreover, Purdue executives, in particular the Sackler family, should be personally liable for whatever transpires.

One possible outcome is that the Sackler family assets could be seized and placed into a trust, with the fines paid out of that. This obviously doesn’t create the full deterrent effect that jail time would. But the structure that the Sacklers have proposed could yield benefits that might provide a solution to the crisis of high prescription drug costs, as well as opioids.

The Sacklers have proposed kicking in $3 billion to settle claims against Purdue, and selling off Mundipharma, the company’s global subsidiary, to raise another $1.5 billion. They’ve also floated giving up control of the company, moving it into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and emerging with Purdue as a “public beneficiary trust” corporation. All profits from drug sales from the new Purdue Pharma would go to the plaintiffs in the cases: cities and states, mainly. Addiction treatment drugs that Purdue is in the midst of developing would be free to the public.

This effectively nationalizes Purdue, making it a company run for the public benefit. The larger the fine, the more years that Purdue could be run in this fashion. And one vision of this could be a publicly run drug company that identifies failures in the prescription drug market and seeks to remedy them.

Giving out a free version of naloxone, the nasal spray that reverses opioid overdoses, is a no-brainer. But what if, for the sake of argument, the new public beneficiary trust company decides to manufacture generic insulin and sell it virtually at cost? The public benefit of intervening in the insulin market, where millions of diabetes sufferers stand at risk from soaring prices, would be enormous.

What if the new Purdue became a low-cost generic drug competitor to hundreds of excessively priced drugs that are off patent but remain potent in the marketplace? What if its new corporate charter banned it from making “pay for delay” deals with brand-name manufacturers, who pay off generic companies to delay their entry into the market?

What if the new Purdue became the repository for executive action from the next president, who would have the power to use “march-in rights” to seize the patent of an overpriced drug created with public funding (virtually every new treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the past decade used public funding of some kind) and license it to a competitor? Purdue could be re-envisioned as a discount competitor to every mammoth pharmaceutical company seeking to rip off the public. This would fulfill its public beneficiary mission, and the lower the profit margins, the more years that this could be maintained.

Of course, a slower trickle of profits means less up-front money for the various plaintiffs in the opioid cases. But the settlement could be structured in such a way as to alleviate that as well. The government could give no-interest loans for the full headline amount to cities and states, so they can initiate their anti-opioid programs immediately. Then Purdue profits would flow into the federal Treasury to offset that outlay.

Global settlements with corporate offenders have not worked out recently for America. But in this case, law enforcers could create personal accountability for the opioid crisis, and structure a system that could not only prevent opioid deaths, but prevent deaths from lack of access to prescription drugs more generally. It’s time to think creatively about these kinds of options.