Israel: On The Cliff At The Edge Of Democracy

August 10th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

For the last eight months, Israel, America’s foremost ally in the cauldron of the middle east, has been an ally controlled by far-right extremists. This was driven home again this week in another episode of its government doing everything it can to antagonize its Arab citizens and the permanent residents of East Jerusalem.¹

Israel’s previous government had allocated Arab municipalities $85.5 million for educational programs in East Jerusalem. Moreover, additional funding was allocated for higher education preparatory programs for young Palestinians, designed to enable students from East Jerusalem to study in preparatory programs at Israeli academic institutions. Some 500 Palestinians have studied in them in recent years.

Although, given Israel’s precarious relationship with Palestinians, this educational funding may seem like one drop in a great big barrel of rain, it is at least a step toward the integration of East Jerusalem’s Arab population into academia that holds social, economic, and security importance for the long-term good of the country.

But now, defying stark warnings from Israel’s Shin Bet security service, as well as her international allies, the new government has frozen the funding and refuses to release it for the legislated purpose. The funding freeze can be laid at the door of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionist Party noted for his far right extremist views, especially with respect to Palestinians. He told Arab Israeli lawmakers in October 2021, “It’s a mistake that Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and didn’t throw you out in 1948.”

Smotrich is also a settler in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The UN Security Council, its General Assembly, the International Red Cross, and others have all agreed settlements on the West Bank and the Golan Heights violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Doesn’t matter to Smotrich and his colleagues now leading Israel. They just keep building new ones.

This is all just more fuel thrown on the burning Israeli blaze opponents now call the Judicial Coup of 2023, which began less than one week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cobbled together a coalition government in late 2022 after two previous elections that year had failed.

The coalition government consists of six political parties—Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, Religious Zionist Party, Otzma Yehudit, and Noam—and is led by Likud’s Netanyahu, who has taken office as the Prime Minister of Israel for the sixth time. With the exception of Likud, the other five parties are right-wing and religiously conservative, hugely influenced, perhaps dominated, by Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, known as the Haredim.

The Haredim have long enjoyed benefits unavailable to other Israeli citizens: exemption from army service for Torah students, government stipends for those choosing full-time religious study over work and separate schools that receive state funds even though their curricula barely touch government-mandated subjects.

This new government, with dynamite in one hand and a flaming match in the other, is now in charge and, as I have written before, is doing its best to remake Israel’s judicial system by emasculating the country’s Supreme Court and consolidating all power in its own hands.

Israel does not have a constitution, It has 13 rather vague Basic Laws enacted at various times between 1958 and 2018. The 8th Basic Law, The Judiciary, enacted in 1984, lays out common sensible judicial requirements about honesty, transparency, judicial probity, process, and the like.

Unlike the United States, with two legislative bodies, an Executive, and a judicial system to provide tripartite balance, Israel has only its Knesset, controlled by the Prime Minster’s coalition, and its Supreme Court, which is the only check on government overreach.

The Basic Laws place a heavy burden on the country’s judiciary and its Supreme Court, the High Court of Justice, making it the final arbiter. By nature, the Court is always involved in a tense relationship with its sister institution, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. In this regard, both are critical pillars in Israel’s foundational house of democracy.

Every one of Israel’s allies has strongly urged Netanyahu to pause his judicial “reforms.” But Netanyahu wants to stay in power, and if he loses the loyalty of his far-right coalition, he won’t. Simple as that. So, he and his colleagues, the ones who, to the bottom of their cores, believe deeply in what they are doing, are marching toward the cliff at the edge of democracy. Eyes wide shut.

Two weeks ago, they prevailed, despite country-wide protests, in the first of their attacks on the Supreme Court by passing a law prohibiting the Court from exercising one of its foremost functions: ruling on the “reasonableness” of laws passed by the Knesset, which is akin to our Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of any law. Now, in a judicial irony of the first order, the same Supreme Court will rule on the “reasonableness” of the “reasonableness” law just passed. What happens if, as expected, it rules the new “reasonableness” law is unreasonable, is anybody’s guess.

To give you an idea of just how ferociously this problem has torn at the country, consider this. Israel, being a small country with areas that often can pretty much resemble a war zone, is one of the world’s few countries with mandatory, two-year conscription for its armed forces. In addition, following their time on duty, many soldiers continue service as reservists. There are 400,000 of them right now, many of them Air Force pilots, and they are essential to Israel’s defense. However, many reservists and active duty soldiers have publicly vowed not to serve if the judicial coup continues. As you can imagine, this is tremendously concerning  to the country’s military leaders (who also oppose the judicial “reforms”), its security services, and, most important, its allies—us, in particular. But it does not appear, despite the best efforts of President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken, that Netanyahu and his coalition partners are prepared to budge one bit. At this moment, there is no resolution on the horizon for this impasse.

Hard to believe, but Israel is now standing at the edge of that democracy cliff and thinking about jumping. There’s not a parachute in sight.

¹ Although offered citizenship after the 1967 war, many Arabs refused. That is why, though comprising 20% of Israel’s population, many Arab’s living in East Jerusalem are designated as “permanent residents.”

A Witch’s Brew Florida

August 9th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

During the summer of my 15th year, my father walked into our very Roman Catholic home to find me reading a paperback book on the couch in our living room. “What are you reading, Tommy?” he asked. So, I showed him the book I was well into. It was The Tropic of Cancer. Whereupon, Dad became somewhat apoplectic, and rushed into the kitchen where my mother was starting to cook supper. “Mary, do you know what your son is reading?” he demanded. “Of course,” my mother replied. “I gave it to him.”

Tropic of Cancer is an autobiographical novel by Henry Miller, published in France in 1934 and, because of censorship, not published in the United States until 1961. And it is racy, indeed. It is also superbly well-written and compelling as it takes the reader on a tour of Miller’s mind as he lived a hedonistic life in the Paris of his youth. We should all be so lucky.

My mother knew a book would never hurt me. People could and would, but not books. And I’m happy to say she eventually convinced my father of the value of that proposition.

And it was my mother who introduced me to the works of William Shakespeare when I was 13. The play was Romeo and Juliet, the story of the star-crossed teenaged lovers from Verona. It’s a story of young love, but also a story of what hate can do when left to run amok. The writing was beautiful, especially to a new teenager whose hormones were flowing like Romeo’s.

Two years later, my sophomore class was assigned Julius Caesar. It was magnificent, and, to this day, is still my favorite Shakespeare play. I can quote large sections. Marc Antony was a part for the ages.

I bring this history up because of what’s happening right now in the Florida of Ron DeSantis where fair is made foul and foul becomes fair.

Like Donald Trump, Governor DeSantis has surrounded himself with sycophants, and the sycophant of the moment is his Education Commissioner Manny Diaz.

Diaz is an interesting character with an educational history that would cause neither Henry James, not his friend Edith Wharton, to sit up and take notice. He’s a politician first and an educator second. With a 1998 Master’s Degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, he became a teacher and baseball coach at Miami Springs High School. Following that, he taught social studies at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School, where he spent eight years as an assistant principal. He filed for bankruptcy is 2012, citing $1.3 million in debts.

In the same year, he won a seat in the Florida House of Representatives. He became a champion of allowing students to go to private schools on state funding. He also became Chair of the Choice and Innovation and K-12 Appropriations committee during his tenure in the House. More important, he was a key member of Representative José R. Oliva’s team. Oliva rose to become Speaker of the House in Florida.

In 2018, Diaz was elected to the Florida Senate and became closely aligned with Ron DeSantis. So much so, that, like DeSantis, he opposes CoVid 19 vaccine requirements and, as of 2022, was not vaccinated, himself.

He sponsored SB148/ HB7 in the Florida Senate, the “anti-woke” legislation much beloved by Governor DeSantis. This is the legislation called “positively dystopian” by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker, as he blocked key provisions of it in his 139-page decision in November 2022. Following passage of the anti-woke act, DeSantis appointed Diaz to his current position as Commissioner of Education.

I dwell on Commissioner Diaz because yesterday Florida schools, in order to comply with the provisions of DeSantis’s “don’t say gay” and “anti-woke” legislation, announced high school students would no longer read any Shakespeare play, but would, rather, discuss “excerpts.” From now on, it’ll be Cliff Notes for Shakespeare.

As Joseph Cool, a reading teacher at Gaither High School told the Tampa Bay Times, “There’s some raunchiness in Shakespeare,” and staying with excerpts, schools can teach about Shakespeare while avoiding anything racy or sexual.

This is all part of Florida’s new Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking. Thinking, that is, of a non-prurient nature.

Shakespeare would have loved this Floridian witch’s brew, “The rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril.”¹

More “excellent student thinking” was on display last week, when Commissioner Diaz announced the cancellation of Florida’s Advanced Placement (AP) course in psychology, because the College Board, the administrator of the course, refused to take out any references to gender or sexual orientation.

This AP course has been taught in Florida high schools for the last 20 years without complaint from anyone. In 2022, 28,000 students took the course. However, in May, 2023, Commissioner Diaz’s Office of Articulation (whatever that is) “implored” the College Board to review all AP courses and remove any content that would violate Florida’s new law banning any instruction which may allude to gender identity or sexual orientation.

The College Board, to its credit, said “No.” Gender and sexual orientation, the College Board said, “must remain a required topic, just as it has been in Florida for many years.”

Now, Commissioner Diaz is scrambling to put the toothpaste back in the tube. He has turned to another course administrator, “pivoting to the college-level course offered by Cambridge International instead,” the Tampa Bay Times reports. Cambridge International says it will offer the course without the offending material. However, the College Board, which confirms student AP course completion for inclusion on student transcripts, says any course without the required content regarding gender or sexuality will not qualify.

All of this is now a certifiable mess, a full measure of “double, double, toil and trouble.”²

I wonder what Henry Miller would say? Probably something like (fill in the blank for extra credit):_________.

¹ The Merry Wives of Windsor (Act 3, Scene 5)

² Macbeth (Act 4, Scene 1)

Weekend Bits and Pieces

August 4th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

The Johnny Appleseed of Election Deniers

Douglas Frank was born and raised in Sonoma County, California, studied chemistry at Westmont College in Santa Barbara and earned a doctorate in surface analytical chemistry from the University of Cincinnati. He was Chair of the math and science department at a Cincinnati private school. Then, after the 2020 election, he quit his teaching job and, depending on whom you believe,  either went completely crazy, or became the Lord’s anointed, the Apostle bringing truth to the masses, the Johnny Appleseed of Election Deniers spreading the gospel of Donald Trump.

In contrast with other members of the congregation of election deniers who testify online and on conservative cable shows, Frank has proselytized at churches, bars, libraries and civic organizations throughout California over the last two and a half years. By going small, Douglas Frank got big.

He says he wants to eliminate electronic voting machines (the name Dominion comes to mind) and prohibit mail in voting¹, because these are the two liberal moves that allowed the 2020 election to be rigged for Joe Biden and stolen from Donald Trump.

And he’s having some success. Due in large part to his constant efforts, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors ended its contract with Dominion in January, and went a step further in March when it voted to stop using electronic machines at all to tabulate ballots. Only a small number of the roughly 10,000 election jurisdictions in the U.S. have stopped using electronic voting machines since 2020, but Frank says Shasta is a good start.

Frank speaks of Shasta County in biblical terms, holding it up to audiences as an inspiration and template.

“Once David slew Goliath, then the Hebrew children, the Israelites, chased the Philistines out of the land. They suddenly all got brave, right? Shasta just slew Goliath. Now you all need to get brave,” he said in Hemet, California.

Frank chuckled when told of his Johnny Appleseed epithet. “Instead of planting apple seeds, I think I’m going around starting little fires everywhere,” Frank said. “And then I come back and I throw gasoline on those fires.”

Frank has energized the faithful as he wanders around preaching to California choirs, who are fully on-board with his wacko theories.

Every charge Frank makes has been debunked. None of it’s true. But he’s a top-notch presenter making solid contact with his audiences.

A friend of My Pillow nutcase Mike Lindell, Frank has appeared in Lindell’s election conspiracy films, is a frequent guest on Lindell’s streaming show and has emceed Lindell’s election denial conferences. In June 2021, Frank spoke at a televised rally for Trump in Ohio.

This man is beginning to reach a wider swath of the population, and that is scary. His mission is to disrupt how elections are run, and that happens at the local level where Frank is at his best firing his rhetorical missiles.

Staying in California at the local level

The Republican Party learned long ago that former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil was right: “All politics is local.” Taking Tip’s mantra to heart, it has perfected it into a winning strategy, which is why it has done so well winning state legislatures.

Now, California Republicans have used the tactic to, in their minds, insure that Donald Trump is the Party’s nominee for the 2020 presidential election. Let me explain.

Until now, when voters cast their ballots in a presidential state primary a candidate is awarded delegates based on the percentage of the vote they win. If they win 20% of the vote, they’ll win 20% of the state’s delegates to the Republican National Convention.

That is, until now. In early June, Michigan changed its rules for awarding delegates. Under a new rather byzantine process, one-fifth of the state’s 52 national convention delegates will be given to the presidential candidate who wins the state’s 27 February 2024 primary election. However, three-quarters of the delegates, 39, will be divvied up by 13 congressional district caucus meetings occurring on the following 2nd of March. Seems a bit bizarrely unfair to me in that a candidate could win more than 50% of the vote, yet end up with only 20% of the delegates. But who am I to question the motivation of the leading lights of the Grand Old Party?

Last Saturday, California went in the other direction. Under that state’s new Republican Party rule, adopted by its executive committee, if a candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the Party will award that candidate 100% of the delegates.

In recent polling, Donald Trump is polling above 50% for the Republican primary in California, and, as can be expected, his campaign supports this change; in fact, the campaign pushed for it.

California awards more delegates than any other state—169 of them. Whoever, comes out of the primary with that bucket of delegates is well on his or her way to the Republican nomination, which will require securing 1,234 votes at the national convention.

However, if no candidate wins 50% of the primary votes, the delegates will be awarded proportionately based on each candidate’s share of the statewide vote.

California’s primary has historically come at the end of the primary campaign season, in June, but for the 2024 primary, Party leaders have moved it to 5 March, the same day as 14 other states.

The night of the 5th of March will be a long one.

How goes the listing ship of DeSantis?

Simple answer: not well.

This week’s release of a new New York Times/Sienna College poll throws more of the stinky fecal matter on the anti-woke candidate.

By a wide margin—34%—Donald trump leads the combative all-his-eggs-in-one-basket DeSantis.

Trump’s lead, nationwide, is so large that the New York Times’s Nate Cohn, who compiles The Tilt, this morning wondered if Iowa could be becoming a problem for the one-time president and three-time indicted Mr. Trump. Why? Because the poll margin in Iowa was only 24% in favor of the yellow-haired, teflon-baked DT.

DeSantis has a lot of hair. He must be tearing gobs of it out right now.

Finally, staying on DeSantis

The man can’t help himself. In trying to be the toughest creampuff on the block he keeps spilling the goo all over himself.

I know in presidential elections it is de rigueur for candidates to attack federal workers for being lazy, wasteful, and incompetent. The federal workers are used to it, not that they like it, of course. But in New Hampshire this week, Ron DeSantis decided to take the attacking to a new level, as only he can.

As reported by Eric Katz of Government Executive, DeSantis attended a campaign-stop barbecue, and said, “We’re going to have all these deep state people. We’re going to start slitting throats on day one.”

Now friends, that is not the way to win the votes of the 800,000 federal workers, to say you’re going to kill them on your first day in office. Can we agree the silver tongued governor was hyperbolizing a bit? Probably. But I’m beginning to wonder if winning the presidency were dependent on a few slit throats, would Mr. DeSantis be inquiring for the location of the nearest knife.

Hope you all have a nice weekend.


¹ According to noted art historian and scholar Robert Hughes, the credit for creating mail in voting goes to Caesar Augustus who allowed it for Roman elections around the beginning of the common era (CE).





The Trials Of Donald Trump

August 2nd, 2023 by Tom Lynch

Having just concluded a marvelous vacation in the wonderful Alaskan wilderness searching for Moose and Black Bear in Denali National Park, sitting in the sea 75 yards from the great Northwestern Fjord Glacier as large hunks of it fall right in front of me, watching brown bears bulk up for the winter on deep-red Sockeye Salmon at Brooks Falls in the Katmai National Park, to what reality do I return in the beautiful Berkshires of the lower forty-eight? Why, of course, what else, another episode in the continuing saga of The Trials Of Donald Trump. What a way to come back to earth.

Hanging around the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage waiting for the long flight home, I picked up a local newspaper to while away the time, only to learn from a New York Times/Sienna College poll that the Grifter in Charge now leads his closest rival, the out-of-his-league Ron DeSantis, by 34 percentage points in the race for the Republican nomination for the presidential contest of 2024. This, despite his two indictments and recent conviction for sexually harassing E. Jean Carroll.

Then, upon landing in Boston, I was greeted by the News Flash of yet another indictment, the second brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith. This one has four charges, three involving conspiracies, and the fourth for “obstructing, or attempting to obstruct an official proceeding.” And, despite his growing laundry list of charges, he continues to have the unwavering support and adulation of his MAGA cult following. In fact, the more indictments he faces, the stronger he seems to get. As the New Yorker’s brilliant Andy Borowitz so sharply pointed out, “The former President is but a few indictments away from clinching the Republican nomination.” And he wrote that before the latest.

If The Trials Of Donald Trump weren’t real, they would make wonderful television farce. But this is all real. So, how is it possible? In America?

I am painfully aware of our country’s political mistakes. You know, all the ones Governor DeSantis is doing his best to erase from history. But how has our orange-haired charlatan persuaded, no convinced, a significant chunk of the Grand Old Party, the one Abraham Lincoln made famous, that he is innocent as driven snow and is being persecuted by a corrupt Department of Justice and FBI, which, by the way, is led by a man he appointed?

Perhaps the answer has a lot to do with the illusory truth effect. As Aumyo Hassan and Sarah J. Barber point out in their May 2021 paper, The effects of repetition frequency on the illusory truth effect:

Repeated information is often perceived as more truthful than new information. This finding is known as the illusory truth effect, and it is typically thought to occur because repetition increases processing fluency. Because fluency and truth are frequently correlated in the real world, people learn to use processing fluency as a marker for truthfulness.

In other words, people tend to believe lies that are repeated over and over. And, as Hassan and Barber showed in their study, the more often they’re repeated, the deeper the belief becomes. Further, if someone wants to believe the lie, the more likely they are to do just that even faster. The lie becomes the belief, which becomes the deeply held belief, which becomes nearly impossible to correct. This has been proven throughout history time and time again. Donald Trump is just the latest competent practitioner.

Trump also knew it was not enough for him to be the only one spreading his lies. For them to take deep root in the consciousness of his followers he would have to dangle the pearls of power in front of fawning sycophants by giving them significant positions of governmental authority. Then, they could repeat and amplify his lies. Who can forget Trump’s Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway and her “alternative facts” when defending her boss’s lies?

The real damage Donald Trump has done to the country is not measured by the indictments and trials to come. No, the real damage he has done lies in the path to power he has shown others, the Kevin McCarthys, Jim Jordans, and Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world, who walk right behind, following his example as if it were a bright red rope in the snow.

It will be a long, hard slog to wash clean the stain Donald Trump has poured over the face of America.


How Medicare’s Drug Prices Could Have Been Half What They Are

July 20th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

In yesterday’s Letter I described the torturous path taken by the Biden Administration to get to the point where Medicare would be allowed to negotiate the prices it pays for the drugs it provides to its beneficiaries. I wrote that pharmaceuticals now cost Medicare about a quarter of its entire spend for the 64 million people it insures.

The Inflation Reduction Act was the vehicle that finally ushered in negotiations, which are scheduled to begin next month, negotiations that will center on ten of the highest cost drugs and should result in lower prices beginning in 2026. In succeeding years, more negotiations will focus on more and more drugs. Given the huge dollars Pharma contributes to Washington’s politicians, stretching everything out as far as possible was a necessary compromise the President’s team made.

But Pharma, the US Chamber of Commerce and two big drugmakers, Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck, haven’t given up, not by a long shot. Within the last two weeks they have filed four lawsuits. They’re throwing everything they have up against the wall to see if anything sticks. If they succeed in derailing the train to lower prices, they will, with great big smiles, sit comfortably back in plush seats on board the gravy train they’ve come to know so well.

But while all of that plays out, I want to suggest a better result that could have happened long ago if only lawmakers had treated drugmakers differently.

There is another government health care organization that has never had a prohibition with respect to negotiating drug prices. It is the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA.

In January, 2021, the Government Accountability Office released a study that concluded:

“the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) paid, on average, 54 percent less per unit for a sample of 399 brand-name and generic prescription drugs in 2017 as did Medicare Part D, even after accounting for applicable rebates and price concessions in the Part D program.”

This means what the VA pays is in line with the other 32 OECD countries I mentioned yesterday whose cost are half those of the US for Medicare.

Moreover, the GAO found that 233 of the 399 drugs in the sample were at least 50% cheaper in the VA than in Medicare, and 106 drugs were at least 75% cheaper. Only 43 drugs were cheaper in Medicare than in the VA.

What are the operational differences between the two organizations?

For one thing, the programs pay for drugs differently. Medicare reimburses the Part D plan sponsors to pay pharmacies through the middlemen―Pharmacy benefit Managers, but the VA buys drugs directly from manufacturers. It cuts out the middlemen. The VA can get lower prices because it can:

  • Negotiate as a single health system with a unified list of covered drugs; and,
  • Use discounts defined by law that Medicare doesn’t have.

As an aside, I’ve always thought that one of the primary causes of high costs in both Medicare and group health insurance is the presence of Pharmacy Benefit Managers, the middlemen. But that’s a topic for another day.

As in everything political, all of this comes down to economics. The VA, with only nine million health care beneficiaries, as opposed to Medicare’s 64 million, could fly under the political radar and avoid congressional restraint. It was able to keep the congressional camel’s nose and, more to the point, its sticky fingers, out of its tent.

Medicare is so big, it couldn’t do that.

And here we are.

Where Does The Medicare Drug Price Negotiation War Stand Now?

July 19th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

Medicare Part D, a prescription drug benefit plan for Medicare beneficiaries, became law on 1 January 2006 under the George W. Bush administration and a Republican controlled Congress. The legislation was enacted with no funding provisions whatsoever. Since then, Washington politicians have been arguing over whether this government program should be allowed to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies the prices it pays for drugs its members need. Medicare beneficiaries, all 64 million of them, and the public at large, have overwhelmingly supported such a move. Over the years, pharmaceutical companies have spent a king’s ransom donating to politicians to secure―should we say “buy?”―their votes in opposition.

What’s been the result?

  • study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded more than a quarter (27.2%) of Medicare spending is now for prescription drugs;
  • That would be $180 billion, as reported by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission for 2020;
  • According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the total we in the US spent on prescription drugs in 2017 was $333 billion; and,
  • The Rand Corporation studied and compared US prices to 32 other OECD countries (The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – the most developed nations) and reported our prices are “nearly twice those of other countries after adjusting U.S. prices downward to account for rebates and other discounts paid by drug companies.

And now, perhaps the gravy train may be slowing.

In August 2022, Congress finally passed―without a single Republican vote―and President Biden signed, the Inflation Reduction Act, which, among other things, allows Medicare to move forward with drug price negotiations―sort of. Right about now, you may be asking what prevented Medicare from doing that all along since 2006 as a normal part of its drug-purchasing process?

As the Kaiser Family Foundation explains:

Under the Medicare Part D program, which covers retail prescription drugs, Medicare contracts with private plan sponsors to provide a prescription drug benefit. The law that established the Part D benefit included a provision known as the “noninterference” clause, which stipulates that the HHS Secretary “may not interfere with the negotiations between drug manufacturers and pharmacies and PDP [prescription drug plan] sponsors, and may not require a particular formulary or institute a price structure for the reimbursement of covered part D drugs.”

In other words, although Medicare is buying drugs for its members, all 64 million of them, it has not been allowed to even hint that a lower price might be more fair and appropriate for the government to pay. That is the very definition of a “sweet deal” for drug manufacturers.

Giving the negotiation contrarians the benefit of a doubt they more than likely don’t deserve, their argument in opposition hangs on the slim thread that negotiations will lower the income of drug manufacturers, and that will, in turn, reduce the amount of money the companies invest in research and development to discover new life-saving drugs. My own opinion is that this argument is chock full of what makes the grass grow green and tall. And, by the way, the Congressional Budget Office agrees with me, although their analysists said it with a bit more eloquence.

And what does the aforementioned Inflation Reduction Act do, anyway?

It does a number of things, one of which is to lay down new rules for price negotiations. These are its major health care provisions, leaving out, for the moment, the negotiation issue. It will:

  • Require drug companies to pay rebates to Medicare if prices rise faster than inflation for drugs used by Medicare beneficiaries, beginning in 2023;
  • Cap out-of-pocket spending for Medicare Part D enrollees and make other Part D benefit design changes, beginning in 2024;
  • Limit monthly cost sharing for insulin to $35 for people with Medicare, beginning in 2023. This might be the most far reaching and important item in the entire legislation.
  • Eliminate cost sharing for adult vaccines covered under Medicare Part D and improve access to adult vaccines in Medicaid and CHIP, beginning in 2023;
  • Expand eligibility for full benefits under the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy Program, beginning in 2024; and,
  • Further delay implementation of the Trump Administration’s drug rebate rule, beginning in 2027.

Notice the years in which these provisions take effect. In most cases, it’s 2023. Which is now.

The negotiation provision of the Inflation Reduction Act:

  • Requires the federal government to negotiate prices for some drugs (emphasis added) covered under Medicare Part D and Part B* with the highest total spending, beginning in 2026. Note the year.

This provision targets the most expensive drugs. Here’s how.

Under the new Drug Price Negotiation Program, Medicare will negotiate the price of 10 Part D drugs for 2026, another 15 for 2027, another 15 for 2028, and another 20 for 2029 and later years. The drugs to be chosen for negotiation will be selected from among the 50 drugs with the highest total Medicare spending. The number of drugs with negotiable prices  will accumulate over time.

So, beginning three years from now, the law goes after the most expensive Medicare drugs — ever so slowly.

There are debatable reasons for delaying implementation until 2026, all dealing with operational processes. The period of negotiation between the Secretary of Health and Human Services and manufacturers of the selected drugs will occur between 1 October 2023 and 1 August 2024, and the negotiated “maximum fair prices” will be published no later than 1 September 2024 and will go into effect 1 January 2026.

This has always seemed to me a rather long and drawn out negotiation process, but it is, after all, a political compromise, and a rather elegant one, at that.

But now, into that elegant compromise has stepped the pharmaceutical industry and a bunch of high-powered allies. They lost in the fight that brought the compromise within the Inflation Reduction Act, but they’re now back with lawsuits to derail the process before it gets going this year.

Just this month, four lawsuits have been filed in four different court venues, amounting to a legal blitz in the span of just over two weeks. The complaints include a range of legal arguments, some of which overlap.

“If you find one judge or one panel, that’s all it takes. When you’re thinking of savvy and sophisticated litigants, that is the way that they try and challenge major policies at this stage,” said Zachary Baron, an associate director of the Health Policy and the Law Initiative at Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute.

The lawsuit filed by PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) and two other plaintiffs alleges the drug negotiation program is unconstitutional for three main reasons. First, the groups contend Congress shouldn’t have delegated such broad authority to the federal health department; second, the program denies manufacturers their due process rights: and third, it imposes a “staggering” tax for noncompliance.

Another lawsuit from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and local business groups made similar arguments, though they also included other claims in their quest to bring down the program.

Finally, the Jones Day law firm has brought suit on behalf of drug manufacturers Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck. Their arguments assert that the rules force the drugmakers to agree to the price HHS sets and thus violate their free speech rights.

“Force the drugmakers to agree to the price HHS sets…” Except — What the Inflation Reduction Act imposed on drugmakers was a negotiation, not a drug price mandate.

One person who spoke with a Washington Post reporter suggested the lawsuits were just the first move in a complicated chess match the drugmakers were hoping would wind up in a  sympathetically conservative Supreme Court.

No one ever said this was going to be easy.

Tomorrow — A better way to lower prescription drug costs for Americans.


The March To The Sea

July 14th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

I was all set to write one of these Letters about Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville. Really. I was. Tuberville, the man who singlehandedly, by Senatorial “Hold,” has stopped Senate confirmation of more than 270 senior field grade officers, generals and admirals whom the Department of Defense would like to promote to mostly replace retiring DOD senior officers. These include members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Chairman Mark Milley, who is set to retire at the end of September.  If Tuberville’s intransigence continues we may find ourselves without a Chair of the Joint Chiefs. Already, Tuberville has left the Marine Corps leaderless for the first time in 164 years. Doesn’t matter to him.

Why has Tuberville created this mess? Because the DOD, although none of its medical facilities conduct abortions, in compliance with the Hyde Amendment of 1976, has authorized women soldiers and sailors living and working in states that severely restricted access to abortions following the Dobbs decision to travel at government expense to states where abortion is legal and obtain one at their own expense.

Until now, Tuberville’s claim to fame has been a career as a relatively successful college football coach after earning a degree in Physical Education from Southern Arkansas University. Following a 21-year career coaching college football, most notably at Auburn University, where only 53% of his players actually graduated, well below the national average, he somehow convinced Alabama voters that they should make him one of their two US Senators. And they did, by a wide margin. Of course, it helped that he jumped on Donald Trump’s back and was then carried over the goal line by the MAGA Man in Chief. In case you’re wondering, Tuberville was one of the speakers at Trump’s rally on the Ellipse on the 6th of January 2022, and, later that day, actually after midnight, was one of the Senators who refused to certify Joe Biden’s election.

Two things bother me above all else in this matter. First, I have a deep affinity for and loyalty to the US Army. Although I hated everything the Vietnam War stood for, I found myself in the thick of it and did the best I could to keep my guys alive. I suppose I could have gone to Canada or petitioned for a deferment due to bone spurs, but when a few friends came home in their own olive green shrouds, I couldn’t help myself. Second, Tuberville’s ignorance and flat-out stupidity demonstrate a sorry excuse for a United States Senator. Our founders thought Senators would be the wisest of men (sorry ladies) and the epitome of probity and thoughtfulness. Hasn’t always worked out that way. 2023’s Exhibit #1: Tommy Tuberville.

Of course, Tuberville tells his legions of critics that if they want to confirm these people he has “held,” they can do it, just one at a time, not all at once as is the usual process. And wouldn’t that be fun? I can just see some Senators wanting to discuss the pros and cons of confirming Generals Tom, Dick and Harry ad nauseam. People, it’s embarrassing.

As I said, I was all set to write about terrible Tuberville, but I won’t. Instead, because he did get me thinking about my service in the Army, and because I was once acquainted with another kind of “hold,” I’m going to tell you the story of The March To The Sea.

Orders arrive

It was a beautiful late summer day, and I and my 28-man Platoon, including Rusty the scout dog and his handler, PFC Snyder, having recently concluded one of our personally rewarding occasional encounters with some of North Vietnam’s finest, were sunning ourselves on top of what passed for a mountain in northern South Vietnam, when Bobcat called.

Bobcat, who preceded Bulldog of The Nuts and Calendar fame, was Colonel Robert Stillingworth, “Still” to his friends, Bobcat to me. And don’t worry. It’s alright to name him. Bobcat has long since become one with the universe.

Anyway, Bobcat called, and the ultimate, sub-rosa reason he called was because in his tenth month of a 13-month Vietnam tour, Bobcat had yet to win his Silver Star, which he figured was essential to becoming a 1-star general. Of course, I did not know that at the time. Why should I? But afterwards it explained everything.

As soon as I heard his voice, I knew siesta-time was over.  “Go to the secure freq. I have orders for you,” he said. I switched to our secure frequency. He said, “You are to proceed to the sea.” Then he gave me a couple of coordinates, which by deduction worthy of Sherlock Holmes I presumed to be on the coast of the South China Sea somewhere. “You are to be there no later than 0100 hours. You will receive further orders upon arrival. Any questions?”

Well, no. Seemed simple enough. Then I heard, “Bobcat out.” The man had a way with words.

I pulled out my map and saw that our upcoming little stroll would cover about 24 kilometers, we called them “clicks”, or roughly 15 miles. Twenty-four clicks in less than eight hours and, since we had just been resupplied with rations, ammo and what not a couple of hours earlier, we’d be bebopping along with about 85 pounds on our backs.

The good news was we wouldn’t have to bebop through much jungle. After we made it down from the mountain, we’d be just about one click from Highway 1, the only paved road north of Saigon. We’d take that north, and it would lead us right to where we were supposed to go. Simple. As long as we didn’t stumble into any of the bad guys.

So, we gathered up our stuff and off we went. About an hour later, we were on Highway 1. That’s when the rain began. It rained all the way to the sea.

We arrive

In the gloom of a rainy night, about one click from where we were supposed to wind up, we took a right off the highway onto a dirt path and saw the lights from a village up ahead. As we got nearer we could hear voices, a lot of them. But before we got there we smelled the bread.

In our haste to make the deadline, we hadn’t stopped to eat, just kept slogging up Highway 1 in the rain. Now, dead ahead of us, a sorry group of cold and wet-to-the-core soldiers, was an old woman, smiling from ear to ear, standing behind a table in front of a tiny building that appeared to be the village bakery. She had two hanging oil lamps, one on each side of her, and spread out on her table were loaf after loaf of newly baked bread. The lady knew we were coming.

Ravenous as we were, we bought every loaf, making her instantly wealthy, and wolfed them all down. If you ignored all the sand still in the bread it was the best we ever tasted.

Then we moved on to our rally point, where all the voices were coming from. We found ourselves in a little harbor, really little. And in it were a few small boats, not much more than Sampans, really, but they had engines.

Orders are delivered

Standing on a small pier hanging out over the water was the Intelligence Officer of our Brigade, LTC Barnacle. He gave me written orders and told me the boats behind him belonged to the South Vietnamese Navy. “Excuse me, Colonel, South Vietnam has a Navy?” I asked. “Yup, and you’re lookin’ at it.” He then said, “Your orders are to board that ship over there with your men and, ah, the dog, I see you have a dog. The ship will ferry you up the coast to just south of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), where you will conduct an amphibious assault and secure the beach.”

I just looked at the man and said, “Sir, this is a joke, right?” “No joke,” he said. “Get ready to board, cause you’re leaving in 15 minutes.” “But sir,” I said, “Are you going to brief me on the resistance my men and I will likely encounter when we do this crazy thing?”

The Colonel draped his arm over my shoulder and pulled me aside. “Lieutenant,” he said. “Believe me when I tell you it is highly unlikely you and your men will encounter much resistance, if any.”

“Is this just an exercise?” I asked. “Sort of,” he said. “But it’s kind of secret. Now get your ass on the boat.”

On the boat with Rusty

So, we did. Rusty, PFC Snyder, and the rest of us loaded ourselves into the hold on the deck of the first boat. The hold, about 20 by 20 feet, sloped from the middle out to the sides. At the middle it was about three and a half or four feet high. At the sides it was down to about 2 feet. We crammed ourselves in. It would have been a lot less uncomfortable if it weren’t for all the 85-pound rucksacks and weaponry. We pushed off from the dock, and the put-putting engine sent us all slowly into the South China Sea.

About ten minutes later my big mistake reared its shaggy head, because that was when PFC Snyder, stuck way back in the left corner, yelled over to me, “Lieutenant, the dog’s gotta go.” The mistake had been loading Rusty and Snyder in first. They always led after our Point man in the jungle. Why not here? Well, this was why not.

There was nothing we could do, no way to get him anywhere else, so Rusty did his thing, a four-plopper according to Snyder, and the rest of our trip along the coast up the South China Sea was redolent with an aroma only a dog can make.

The assault

At 0815 hours in the morning we were at the assault point. Of course, the genius who designed the “plan” didn’t allow for low tide, so we hit the water for the big battle about a quarter mile from shore.

Not a shot was fired. Heads up, we casually waded ashore, walked up the beach, and found rectangular table after table along about 100 feet of beach, behind which, with smiles to light up the sky, stood about 25 women of the American Red Cross handing out cans of Coca Cola. To the guys in the field, they were known as “Doughnut Dollies.”

Having not died in the second coming of D-Day, we occupied the beach for the next three weeks, never encountering a single moment of stress from an enemy that must have had other things on its mind.

During the time on the beach I developed an infection from a small cut I got opening a can of Bud. So, I hopped a chopper and flew back to base camp for some antibiotic. While there I met up with the Brigade Adjutant, a friend. It was he who told me the story of how Bobcat had led the charge in an amphibious assault on a tightly held enemy location on the South China Seacoast, and, .45 calibers in each hand, had led his men to victory.

At least, that’s what the citation for his Silver Star said.

The story of Reginald Lee

July 11th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

Let me ask you a question: What is the single most dangerous challenge facing America right now?

There are lots of possible answers, aren’t there? In no particular order, we face political and cultural hyper-partisanship, an ever-widening gap between the very rich and the very poor, the never-ending threat of Donald Trump and his MAGA-cult followers, the continuing decline in our human replacement rate, the accelerating rise in health care costs, the fate of Europe as the Ukraine/Russia war continues beyond 500 days… and the list goes on.

I’m sure we all have our various answers to the question of our most dangerous challenge. To get to mine, let me tell you the story of Reginald Lee.

In the early 20th century, Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, played an unexpected role in the aftermath of the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic. While the connection may not be widely known, it highlights the far-reaching impact of this historic event.

One of the survivors of the Titanic disaster was a young man named Reginald Lee. Born in Worcester in 1891, Lee was a gifted student who excelled in academics. He had an insatiable curiosity and a deep interest in scientific research. It was this passion that led him to pursue a higher education at Clark University.

Lee arrived at Clark in 1910, where he studied physics and immersed himself in the scientific community. His time at the university proved instrumental in shaping his future and setting him on a path that would intersect with the Titanic tragedy.

During his studies at Clark, Lee became fascinated with wireless telegraphy, a burgeoning field of communication technology at the time. He was particularly captivated by the work of Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor who had made significant advancements in wireless communication.

In 1912, as Lee neared the end of his studies at Clark, he received an incredible opportunity. The Marconi International Marine Communication Company, a leading wireless telegraphy company, offered him a position as a junior wireless operator aboard the RMS Titanic. This was an exciting opportunity for Lee to work with the latest wireless technology while traveling on the world’s most luxurious ocean liner.

On April 10, 1912, the Titanic set sail from Southampton, England, bound for New York City. Lee took up his duties as the junior wireless operator, working alongside senior wireless operator Jack Phillips. Their task was to maintain constant communication with other ships and relay messages to and from passengers.

Tragically, on the night of April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and began to sink. As chaos ensued, Lee and Phillips stayed at their posts, sending out distress signals to nearby ships. Their heroic efforts were instrumental in alerting the RMS Carpathia, which ultimately rescued over 700 survivors.

Lee survived the disaster and returned to Worcester, deeply affected by the tragedy. He continued his studies at Clark University, where he received support and guidance from his professors, who recognized the extraordinary experiences he had endured.

After completing his studies, Lee dedicated his career to wireless telegraphy and radio communication. He went on to work for various companies, advancing the field of wireless technology and contributing to its rapid development. His expertise and experiences aboard the Titanic shaped his understanding of the importance of effective communication and safety at sea.

Reginald Lee’s story serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring legacy of the Titanic sinking. It also highlights the often unexpected connections that exist between historical events and educational institutions like Clark University.

Quite a story, isn’t it? Except everything you just read about Reginald Lee is a lie. He never existed. Didn’t go to Clark University, didn’t work for Marconi and didn’t serve as Junior Wireless Operator on the Titanic. That duty fell to real-life Harold Bride, who, working alongside Jack Phillips, stayed at his post, repeatedly sending SOS messages, and was swept overboard, but made it to a life boat, and lived until 1956. Phillips did not survive the sinking.

The fictional account was written by ChatGPT, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) program, and was sent to me by my daughter, who is the Senior Writer & Content Editor for Clark University. She saw it on Instagram and, unlike most people who would see it, did a bit of research, because it concerned her University.

It turns out the Instagram Post came from a Clark University alum, who “asked (ChatGPT) a simple question about writing a historical story about the connectivity between Clark University and the Titanic.” The answer came back as a total fabrication.

The alum cautioned, “Be careful with ChatGPT.”

Be careful, indeed. Just think of the possibilities. If used wisely, it seems obvious that AI programs like ChatGPT can be powerful engines for good. But what if they aren’t? The story of Reginald Lee shows convincingly how these programs — that are learning all the time, every second of the day — can create potent disinformation, harmful disinformation.

In another example, a reporter asked ChatGPT for information about the Belgian chemist and philosopher, Antoine de Machelet, who is fictitious and has as much reality as a Harry Potter Unicorn. Without pause, the program replied with a cogent, well-organized biography populated entirely with imaginary facts. Compared to the demonic potential of ChatGPT, George Santos has the credibility of Pope Francis.

It’s important to know there are two kinds of artificial intelligence. The first, the one we’re experiencing right now is Narrow AI. Narrow AI is AI that deals with one, narrowly defined task, or a small set of related tasks. Think of the programs that now read Xrays, and do that far better than humans can. Or, think of the algorithms now reading the Resumé you just submitted and worked so hard to make stand out. Or, think of the story of Reginald Lee, which you probably would have believed if I hadn’t told you it was a complete fabrication.

The second kind of AI is Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). General AI programs are systems that demonstrate intelligent behavior across a range of cognitive tasks. It is self-aware. Think of the two Blade Runner movies, or the Terminator movies, or the whole premise behind Battlestar Gallactica. Experts think we are more than a decade away from anything even remotely resembling an embryonic General AI. We might never get to it.

But right now, Narrow AI is scary enough. It has the quality of deep-learning, which is a massive advance of technology. In traditional learning, humans, in one form or another, teach other humans how to perform a task. But Narrow AI, like ChatGPT, requires minimal instruction and instantly accesses a massive amount of data, and then learns by itself constantly.

The problem is not that Narrow AI is really smart, which it is, but that it is incredibly stupid in unpredictable ways: In one case, when New York Times technology reporter Kevin Roose was testing Microsoft’s Bing Chatbot code-named “Sydney,” Sydney tried to get him to leave his wife and marry it! Subsequently, Microsoft explained Sydney could become “confused, causing it to have disturbing and bizarre exchanges with users.” Right.

There is monumental good that will come from Narrow AI programs like ChatGPT. But I’m thinking of our current political landscape and our upcoming 2024 elections. The potential for disinformation is enormous, disinformation that comes at you like a Gatling gun and is entirely believable. Without any regulation, political, moral or ethical, an unsuspecting and unaware public can be moved from one position to another and never know it happened.

As everyone knows, disinformation has been happening on social media platforms for the last few years, but that has been human driven in mostly traditional ways. Narrow AI has the potential to explode disinformation’s impact in never-before-seen ways.

ChatGPT and other programs like it are two-edged swords, and each edge is exceedingly sharp.

Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels would have loved these programs.

How Putin, misreading the past, has gone horribly wrong

July 7th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

In his misguided attack on Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, who seems to have learned nothing from history, is making all the mistakes tyrants have made in the past. He’s in great company — Kaiser Wilhelm and Adolph Hitler come to mind. Let me explain.

In August 1914, in a war that never should have been, but was, nonetheless, inevitable, the Russian Imperial Army, poorly trained cannon fodder, lacking modern equipment, and insufficiently armed — not much artillery and fewer bullets — significantly influenced the outcome of World War I in spite of the Czar’s  apparent indifference. Here’s how it happened.

In 1870, Germany had defeated France in the  Franco-Prussian War. Germany’s overly greedy and needlessly cruel terms of surrender were excruciating for France and from that point on both countries, each of whom knew they would meet again on the battlefield, prepared for the rematch that would become World War I.

To that end, Germany’s Chief of the General Staff, Count Alfred von Schlieffen, devoted his entire tenure (1891 to 1906) to creating what would become the German Plan of Attack. The plan called for a huge, lightning-like strike through Belgium, which would result in the capture of Paris in nearly six weeks, 40 days. But there was a problem: Belgium neutrality and safety, which had been officially guaranteed in 1831 in London at an international conference of European powers — which included Russia.

The Kaiser and his generals decided to ignore Belgian neutrality and proceed with the Schlieffen plan, which was exact in every detail, a model of precision, and it factored in every possible contingency.

The only thing it lacked was flexibility. That is, what to do if something went wrong. And many things did. As that great American philosopher Mike Tyson put it, “All your plans go out the window the first time someone punches you in the mouth.”

The Germans invaded Belgium on their way to Paris on 4 August 1914. In addition to misjudging the determination of the French to defend themselves, they believed Britain would either stay out completely or join the battle late. They underestimated the valor of the Belgians, who refused to roll over and play dead. And they failed to appreciate that Russia, a signatory to the treaty for defending Belgium, would mobilize, join the war, and, with 800,000 soldiers — poorly equipped and insufficiently armed — engage with and delay the German army weeks before Schlieffen’s plan anticipated. Russia’s actions upset the Schlieffen timetable, and, rather than champagne in Paris after 40 days, the Germans settled in for four years of trench warfare and a defeat that would lay the ground for Hitler’s rise and another war that should never have been, but was, once again, inevitable.

And so it was that, after taking power in January 1933, Nazifying all of Germany in the next  seven years, conquering Poland nearly overnight in 1939, leading to the deaths of more than three million Poles, 1.4 million of them Jews, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941 and invaded the Soviet Union.

The German invasion went according to plan in the first six weeks as its troops tore into Ukraine¹ and Russia at breakneck speed. Early in the campaign they took more than three million prisoners. Stalin panicked, retreating to his Dacha not knowing what to do. But over a weekend he recovered his nerve, assembled his generals, and got to work fighting the invaders.

Like Schlieffen before him, Hitler had mistakenly thought his war with the Soviet Union would be brief, perhaps a couple of months, but as Stalin’s forces regrouped and continued to pour soldiers into battle from what seemed a nearly limitless human arsenal, — the number would eventually reach 14 million, more than half of them Ukrainians — everything slowed down. Summer and autumn turned into winter, the coldest ever recorded, once reaching -49° Fahrenheit, for which the Germans were nearly completely unprepared. With little food, overstretched supply lines, equipment that wouldn’t work in the cold, and soldiers who were, literally, freezing, they soon found themselves, just as they had 27 years earlier, in a four-year slog of a war they could never win. The eastern front was where Hitler lost World War II. The Russians don’t call it the Great Patriotic War for nothing.

And so, in both the first and second World Wars, Russians and soldiers from regions occupied by Russia (the vast majority being Ukrainians) saved Europe from German domination. More than 12 million of them died in the process (again, more than half were Ukrainian). Despite the brutality of Czars and  the cruelty of Communists, made manifest in Joseph Stalin’s malign and barbaric Ukrainian genocide by starvation², these patriots fought with heroism and profound self-sacrifice.

Today, Vladimir Putin is making precisely the same mistakes made by Schlieffen, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Hitler. Like them, he thought he could capture a docile country in less than a month, putting it back where he was sure it belonged, that would be in his pocket. His army — and mercenaries — have committed documented crimes against humanity, atrocities similar to those perpetrated by Hitler’s SS.

In his “Special Military Operation,” he has gravely miscalculated everything. He has completely underestimated the determination, and skill, of Ukrainians and their leaders to successfully resist his monstrous invasion. He has misjudged the continuing unity of NATO in providing the arsenal Ukraine needs to defend itself. In effect, he has created a unified NATO to an extent no one ever thought possible. He has weakened his position as Russia’s leader, and, despite sending Prigozhin and his 25,000 Wagner mercenaries packing off to Belarus³, he has opened the door to the carping of his critics and wanna-be successors. Rather than smashing him down like a tiny bug, he has raised Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy to superstar Churchillian status. He has been forced to buy weaponry, mostly drones, from Iran and grovel for more from China, which has been smart enough not to give any, not that we know of, anyway.

But what strikes me above all else is that in his manic drive to be seen as the second coming of Peter the Great, he has viciously and barbarically attacked the very country that, more than any other, saved his country, Russia, from defeat at the hands of the German Goliath in World War II. There’s gratitude for you.

Now, having dug himself and his country into the deepest of holes, he has yet to find anything better to do other than to keep digging.

It is only a matter of time before all the dirt he has shoveled out falls back in and buries him. Like Hitler after Operation Barbarossa, his days are numbered.


¹ In a terrible twist, in addition to millions of Ukrainians fighting with the Red Army, a significant number in the western part of the country joined forces with the Germans when the invasion came.

² In 1932 and 1933, more than 3.9 million Ukrainians were starved by man-made famine as Stalin sought to tamp down Ukrainian nationalism. In acknowledgement of its scale, the famine is often called the Holodomor, a term derived from the Ukrainian words for hunger (holod) and extermination (mor).

³ Although reports from yesterday suggest Prigozhin may have left Belarus. To go where? We don’t know.


Around the country parents are trying to stifle what children learn. This time it’s in South Carolina.

June 15th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

In the 1920s and 30s, Joseph Goebbels demonstrated to the world how easy it was to mold the thinking of the youth of Germany. His mantra of “a lie becomes the truth if you say it loud enough and often enough” co-opted an entire generation. He was able to convince university students that things he and Hitler labeled as “unGerman”  were evil and had to be eradicated from education.

On 10 May 1933, about a month after the Nazis took power and created the Third Reich, and at the instigation of Goebbels, German university students organized an “act against unGerman spirit” in nineteen university towns across the country. They compiled a list of “unGerman” books, seized them from all the libraries they could find, piled them up in public squares, and set them all alight. Goebbels joined the students at the Berlin burning, the biggest, telling them they were “doing the right thing in committing the evil spirit of the past to the flames.” One after another, books were thrown onto the funeral pyre of intellect.

We’re not burning books in America — yet, but we sure are banning them.

A case in point dropped this morning when Judd Legum’s Popular Information chronicled the story of South Carolina teacher Mary Wood, who teaches English Literature at Chapin High School in Chapin, South Carolina.

Wood teaches a variety of honors courses, including Advanced Placement (AP) English Language and Composition. She has been teaching this AP course for the last decade and getting superb results from her students. A passing score in the course is a 3; 82.6% of her students achieved a 3 or higher, as opposed to 55.7% of students in the rest of the nation. The test is given by the College Board, the same organization that administers the annual SATs.

AP courses are not normal high school courses; they go deeper than high school and require more analysis and critical thinking, the kind of thinking one would find in a college course. In AP courses, students are presented reading material aimed at expanding their minds more broadly than traditional high school texts.

As Legum writes in his article:

No one is required to enroll in an AP class. The course description, created by the College Board, specifically notes that the course involves the thoughtful consideration of controversial issues, including racial issues:


Issues that might, from particular social, historical, or cultural viewpoints, be considered controversial, including references to ethnicities, nationalities, religions, races, dialects, gender, or class, may be addressed in texts that are appropriate for the AP English Language and Composition course. Fair representation of issues and peoples may occasionally include controversial material. Since AP students have chosen a program that directly involves them in college-level work, participation in this course depends on a level of maturity consistent with the age of high school students who have engaged in thoughtful analyses of a variety of texts. The best response to controversial language or ideas in a text might well be a question about the larger meaning, purpose, or overall effect of the language or idea in context.

In February 2022, Mary Wood assigned Ta-Nehisi Coates’s memoire Between the World and Me as a supplemental text to her AP students. Coates wrote the book as a letter to his teen-aged son about being Black in America. The book won the 2015 National Book Award and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize. Wood told her school what she was doing, and the school ordered Coates’s book for her students. She also assigned reading material by Malcolm Gladwell and none other than Donald Trump.

No one complained.

In February 2023, she once again assigned Between the World and Me as supplemental reading for her AP course. This time was different.

As she did in 2022, she showed two short videos at the beginning of the course. One describes the consequences of wealth disparities and housing discrimination on marginal groups and uses a track meet as a metaphor; the other describes how Redlining can disadvantage Black Americans.

As any good teacher would, Mary Wood asked her students to discuss and think about the arguments Coates makes in his book. A writing assignment asks, “What is Coates’ primary argument about education and its role in equality? Is he justified in this stance? Explain.”

This year, two students complained, and one of them went directly to the School Board, not the teacher. Which is where newly-elected School Board member Elizabeth Barnhardt enters the plot.

Barnhardt was endorsed by Moms 4 Liberty, a far-right group responsible for many of the book complaints around the nation that have resulted in numerous books being banned in red states, or taken off library shelves while state “investigators” determine if they are suitable for the classroom.

In the student’s email to Barnhardt, they wrote that the videos “made me feel uncomfortable” and “ashamed to be Caucasian.” Moreover, the videos “portrayed an inaccurate description of life from past centuries that she (Wood) is trying to resurface.” It is “antiquated history” the student felt “too heavy to discuss.”

The other complaining student also wrote an email in which they also claimed to be “incredibly uncomfortable, and “in shock” that the videos were shown.

This second student also wrote “a teacher talking about systemic racism is illegal in South Carolina” and that Coates was “a Malcolm X fanatic” who believes “everything that is bad happened stems from the ‘whiteness’ of America.” Finally, the high school student accused Wood of trying to “subtly indoctrinate our class under the guise that she is trying to ‘get us to think about different points of view.'”

The upshot? As Legum wrote this morning:

Chapin High School sided with the two students and Barnhardt. On February 6, Wood was called into a meeting with the Assistant Principal of Instruction, Melissa Magee. According to a “script” provided to Magee and released pursuant to a document request, Wood was told that assigning Coates’ book was illegal and “we need you to cease this assignment.” The removal of Coates’ book was first reported by The State.

As has happened elsewhere with school book complaints, the decision to remove the Coates book did not follow written policy, which required the complaint to have been made in writing to the superintendent and reviewed by a special committee. Moreover, the policy stipulated that the book under review should have stayed in use until the review was completed. None of that happened.

Whether you throw books you don’t like onto an intellectual funeral pyre or simply ban students from reading them, the result is the same.

And what about the issue of the videos and the Coates book making the students “incredibly uncomfortable?”

At times, the study of history is supposed to make us uncomfortable.

Studying the French Terror of 1792/93 is supposed to make us uncomfortable. Studying the Spanish Inquisition is supposed to make us uncomfortable. Studying what Christopher Columbus did to the indigenous populations he encountered is supposed to make us uncomfortable. Studying the Insurrection of January 6th, the downing of the Twin Towers, and, yes, the Jim Crow America Coates describes should make us very uncomfortable.

But that does not mean we should not study all of it. Why? Because, as has been shown repeatedly throughout history, if we don’t learn from all of that, we’ll do it all again in a new and improved way.

What happened to Mary Wood and her AP Class is a harbinger of a future we should do all in our power to avoid. Her students wrote they were being “indoctrinated.” They were, but not by Mary Wood.