CRF Blog

Making Medicines Affordable

by Bill Hayes

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have issued a report on making medicines more affordable. You can download a PDF file of the full report here. Below is a summary of the recommendations taken from Highlights from Making Medicines Affordable: A National Imperative (PDF)

Consumer access to effective and affordable medicines is an imperative for public health, social equity, and economic development; however, this imperative is not being adequately served by the biopharmaceutical sector today. To approach the proper balance between affordability and future availability of medicines in the interest of public health, this report offers a set of eight specific recommendations, with interlinked implementation actions in the biopharmaceutical sector.

To read the supporting findings and the report’s recommendations directed at the U.S. Congress, federal agencies, and other participants in the biopharmaceutical sector, please visit nationalacademies.org/NASEMAffordableDrugs.

The federal government should consolidate and apply its purchasing power to directly negotiate prices with the producers and suppliers of medicines, and strengthen formulary design and management. The government should also improve methods for assessing the “value” that drugs provide and also ensure that incentives to develop drugs for rare diseases are not extended to widely sold drugs. In addition, increased disclosure about the financial flows and profitability among the participants in the biopharmaceutical sector should be required.

Actions to continually foster greater access to off-patent generic drugs, which are usually much less expensive than branded products, should be taken. One way this could be accomplished would be to prevent the common industry practices that delay entry of generics into the market and extend market exclusivity of branded products. Another critical step is to speed up the review processes that are required of manufacturers to produce generic drugs, to ensure healthy competition and lower costs.

Various actions should be taken to eliminate incentives in the system that encourage clinicians and patients to prescribe or use more expensive drugs rather than less expensive alternatives that provide comparable results. One such action would be to discourage direct-to-consumer advertisements for prescription drugs and to provide more useful information to patients about the potential benefits and costs of treatments, thereby reducing inappropriate demand for higher-priced drugs.

Current insurance benefit designs for prescription drugs often expose consumers to considerable financial risk and can unfavorably affect patients’ adherence to treatment regimens. Insurance plans should be modified to reduce the financial burden that patients and their families currently experience when they need costly prescription drugs, and individual cost-sharing arrangements that are based on drug prices should be calculated as a fraction of net purchase prices rather than the list prices from manufacturers. Limits should also be placed on the total annual out-of-pocket costs paid by enrollees in Medicare plans that cover prescription drugs by removing the cost-sharing requirement for patients who reach the catastrophic coverage limit. The government should also tighten qualifications for discount programs that have drifted from their original intent to help vulnerable populations.

Financial incentives for the prevention and treatment of rare diseases should not be extended to widely sold drugs. Congress should revise the Orphan Drug Act to achieve its original intent, by ensuring that drugs with orphan designation receive benefits only for the target rare disease (and not other indications), and getting rid of unnecessary sub-categories that can create artificial eligibility for orphan drug status.

Finally, actions can be taken to increase available information and implement reimbursement incentives to more closely align prescribing practices of clinicians with treatment value. Specifically, payment policies should not differentiate among differing sites of care. Payment practices based on the list prices of drugs should be replaced with fixed fees that support clinical care and the costs of storing and administering drugs in outpatient clinics. [more PDF]

For free classroom lessons related to health-care reform, see “The Continuing Struggle for U.S. Health-Care Reform,” “The U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision on the Affordable Care Act,” and “Health Care: What Do Other Countries Do?” These lessons are available from our Bill of Rights in Action Archive. They are currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

How Does Fracking Work?

by David De La Torre

A TED-ED lessons explores: How Does Fracking Work?

Does terrorism work as a political strategy?

by Bill Hayes

In Does terrorism work as a political strategy? for the Los Angeles Times, Max Abrahms argues that the evidence says no.

Statistically, my research establishes that attacks on civilians actually lower the likelihood of government concessions. This is true even after we account for all sorts of other factors that could possibly explain the association between terrorism and political failure, like the capability of the perpetrators and the nature of their demands. Rather than appeasing the perpetrators, governments almost always go on the offensive when their civilians are struck.

Indeed, it’s the politicians least sympathetic to terrorists who tend to benefit most from their violence. [more]

Special Report on India and Pakistan

by David De La Torre

The Economist’s special report on India and Pakistan features the following articles:

Hissing cousins gives an overview of the two countries.

Post-partum depression provides a history of the conflict.

The elephant in its labyrinth reports that India is becoming more nationalist.

The pushmi-pullyu explores the conflict between Pakistan’s military and its politicians.

One Lifebelt, One Road examines how China is helping Pakistan.

Don’t hold your breath looks at the prospects for peace.

American Chipmakers Had a Toxic Problem. Then They Outsourced It

by Bill Hayes

In American Chipmakers Had a Toxic Problem. Then They Outsourced It for Bloomberg Businessweek, Cam Simpson reports on how American chipmakers kept their promise to stop using carcinogenic chemicals by having the chips made overseas (where the same chemicals were used).

Results in epidemiology often are equivocal, and money can cloud science (see: tobacco companies vs. cancer researchers). Clear-cut cases are rare. Yet just such a case showed up one day in 1984 in the office of Harris Pastides, a recently appointed associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

A graduate student named James Stewart, who was working his way through school as a health and safety officer at Digital Equipment Corp., told Pastides there had been a number of miscarriages at the company’s semiconductor plant in nearby Hudson, Mass. Women, especially of childbearing age, filled an estimated 68 percent of the U.S. tech industry’s production jobs, and Stewart knew something few outsiders did: Making computer chips involved hundreds of chemicals. The women on the production line worked in so-called cleanrooms and wore protective suits, but that was for the chips’ protection, not theirs. The women were exposed to, and in some cases directly touched, chemicals that included reproductive toxins, mutagens, and carcinogens. Reproductive dangers are among the most serious concerns in occupational health, because workers’ unborn children can suffer birth defects or childhood diseases, and also because reproductive issues can be sentinels for disorders, especially cancer, that don’t show up in the workers themselves until long after exposure.

Digital Equipment agreed to pay for a study, and Pastides, an expert in disease clusters, designed and conducted it. Data collection was finished in late 1986, and the results were shocking: Women at the plant had miscarriages at twice the expected rate. In November, the company disclosed the findings to employees and the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group, and then went public. Pastides and his colleagues were heralded as heroes by some and vilified by others, especially in the industry.

SIA, representing International Business Machines Corp., Intel Corp., and about a dozen other top technology companies, established a task force, and its experts flew to Windsor Locks, Conn., to meet Pastides at a hotel near Bradley International Airport. It was Super Bowl Sunday, January 1987. “That was a day I remember being at a tribunal,” Pastides says. The atmosphere “bordered on hostility. I remember being shellshocked.” Soon after the meeting the panel formally concluded that the study contained “significant deficiencies,” according to internal SIA records. Nevertheless, facing public pressure, SIA’s member companies agreed to fund more research.

Scientists from the University of California at Davis designed one of the biggest worker-health studies in history, involving 14 SIA companies, 42 plants, and 50,000 employees. IBM opted out, hiring Johns Hopkins University to study its plants, because IBM executives said their facilities were safer than the others, recalls Adolfo Correa, one of the lead Johns Hopkins scientists.

In epidemiology, follow-up studies usually get bigger and tougher, and for that reason they often contradict one another. But by December 1992, something rare had happened. All three studies — all paid for by the industry — showed similar results: roughly a doubling of the rate of miscarriages for thousands of potentially exposed women. [more]

This Is What A 21st-Century Police State Really Looks Like

by Bill Hayes

In This Is What A 21st-Century Police State Really Looks Like for BuzzFeed News, Megha Rajagopalan argues that, “Far from the booming metropolis of Beijing, China is building a sprawling system that combines dystopian technology and human policing.”

KASHGAR, China — This is a city where growing a beard can get you reported to the police. So can inviting too many people to your wedding, or naming your child Muhammad or Medina.

Driving or taking a bus to a neighboring town, you’d hit checkpoints where armed police officers might search your phone for banned apps like Facebook or Twitter, and scroll through your text messages to see if you had used any religious language.

You would be particularly worried about making phone calls to friends and family abroad. Hours later, you might find police officers knocking at your door and asking questions that make you suspect they were listening in the whole time.

For millions of people in China’s remote far west, this dystopian future is already here. China, which has already deployed the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship system, is building a surveillance state in Xinjiang, a four-hour flight from Beijing, that uses both the newest technology and human policing to keep tabs on every aspect of citizens’ daily lives. The region is home to a Muslim ethnic minority called the Uighurs, who China has blamed for forming separatist groups and fueling terrorism. Since this spring, thousands of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have disappeared into so-called political education centers, apparently for offenses from using Western social media apps to studying abroad in Muslim countries, according to relatives of those detained.

Over the past two months, I interviewed more than two dozen Uighurs, including recent exiles and those who are still in Xinjiang, about what it’s like to live there. The majority declined to be named because they were afraid that police would detain or arrest their families if their names appeared in the press.

Taken along with government and corporate records, their accounts paint a picture of a regime that at once recalls the paranoia of the Mao era and is also thoroughly modern, marrying heavy-handed human policing of any behavior outside the norm with high-tech tools like iris recognition and apps that eavesdrop on cell phones.

China’s government says the security measures are necessary in Xinjiang because of the threat of extremist violence by Uighur militants — the region has seen periodic bouts of unrest, from riots in 2009 that left almost 200 dead to a series of deadly knife and bomb attacks in 2013 and 2014. The government also says it’s made life for Uighurs better, pointing to the money it’s poured into economic development in the region, as well as programs making it easier for Uighurs to attend university and obtain government jobs. Public security and propaganda authorities in Xinjiang did not respond to requests for comment. China’s Foreign Ministry said it had no knowledge of surveillance measures put in place by the local government.

“I want to stress that people in Xinjiang enjoy a happy and peaceful working and living situation,” said Lu Kang, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, when asked why the surveillance measures are needed. “We have never heard about these measures taken by local authorities.”

But analysts and rights groups say the heavy-handed restrictions punish all of the region’s 9 million Uighurs — who make up a bit under half of the region’s total population — for the actions of a handful of people. The curbs themselves fuel resentment and breed extremism, they say. [more]

Amanpour Interviews Brett Favre and Dr. Bennet Omalu

by David De La Torre

Christiane Amanpour interviews Brett Favre and Dr. Bennet Omalu on the NFL’s concussion crisis.

Ukraine’s War Wounds

by Bill Hayes

In Ukraine’s War Wounds for Radio Free Europe, Christopher Miller reports on the effects of the war in the east, now in its fourth year. His report includes several pieces of video.

This past summer I was back, looking for any signs of healing. I drove through the government-controlled area and the length of the entire front line, revisiting people and places familiar from my early years here. Russia-backed separatist leaders denied me access to areas under their control.

What I found were open wounds. Towns reduced to rubble. Fighting where a shaky cease-fire has failed. And Ukrainians: tracing the last days of a lost son; running a vital factory between bouts of shelling to keep the region’s lights on; fighting for a common future; or rocking a stadium full of fans near the front line in an effort to hold together the stitches of a frayed nation.

More than three years of war has transformed much of the Donbas into a wasteland. Vital infrastructure — airports, bridges, buildings, highways, and power and water lines — has been destroyed. Tens of thousands of mines and unexploded ordnance have contaminated much of its precious black earth, rendering it unfarmable.

The devastation to property is estimated at more than $50 billion. Life has been made wretched for many of the roughly 6 million people who reside in the designated conflict zone, especially some 300,000 along the front line.

Some places are so badly destroyed that they are no longer inhabitable. [more]

The Addicts Next Door

by Bill Hayes

In The Addicts Next Door for the New Yorker, Margaret Talbot looks at how West Virginia is responding to the drug overdose crisis.

Michael Barrett and Jenna Mulligan, emergency paramedics in Berkeley County, West Virginia, recently got a call that sent them to the youth softball field in a tiny town called Hedgesville. It was the first practice of the season for the girls’ Little League team, and dusk was descending. Barrett and Mulligan drove past a clubhouse with a blue-and-yellow sign that read “Home of the Lady Eagles,” and stopped near a scrubby set of bleachers, where parents had gathered to watch their daughters bat and field.

Two of the parents were lying on the ground, unconscious, several yards apart. As Barrett later recalled, the couple’s thirteen-year-old daughter was sitting behind a chain-link backstop with her teammates, who were hugging her and comforting her. The couple’s younger children, aged ten and seven, were running back and forth between their parents, screaming, “Wake up! Wake up!” When Barrett and Mulligan knelt down to administer Narcan, a drug that reverses heroin overdoses, some of the other parents got angry. “You know, saying, ‘This is bullcrap,’ ” Barrett told me. “ ‘Why’s my kid gotta see this? Just let ’em lay there.’ ” After a few minutes, the couple began to groan as they revived. Adults ushered the younger kids away. From the other side of the backstop, the older kids asked Barrett if the parents had overdosed. “I was, like, ‘I’m not gonna say.’ The kids aren’t stupid. They know people don’t just pass out for no reason.” During the chaos, someone made a call to Child Protective Services.

At this stage of the American opioid epidemic, many addicts are collapsing in public — in gas stations, in restaurant bathrooms, in the aisles of big-box stores. Brian Costello, a former Army medic who is the director of the Berkeley County Emergency Medical Services, believes that more overdoses are occurring in this way because users figure that somebody will find them before they die. “To people who don’t have that addiction, that sounds crazy,” he said. “But, from a health-care provider’s standpoint, you say to yourself, ‘No, this is survival to them.’ They’re struggling with using but not wanting to die.”

A month after the incident, the couple from the softball field, Angel Dawn Holt, who is thirty-five, and her boyfriend, Christopher Schildt, who is thirty-three, were arraigned on felony charges of child neglect. (Schildt is not the biological father of Holt’s kids.) A local newspaper, the Martinsburg Journal, ran an article about the charges, noting that the couple’s children, who had been “crying when law enforcement arrived,” had been “turned over to their grandfather.”

West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the country, and heroin has devastated the state’s Eastern Panhandle, which includes Hedgesville and the larger town of Martinsburg. Like the vast majority of residents there, nearly all the addicts are white, were born in the area, and have modest incomes. Because they can’t be dismissed as outsiders, some locals view them with empathy. Other residents regard addicts as community embarrassments. Many people in the Panhandle have embraced the idea of addiction as a disease, but a vocal cohort dismisses this as a fantasy disseminated by urban liberals.

These tensions were aired in online comments that amassed beneath the Journal article. A waitress named Sandy wrote, “Omgsh, How sad!! Shouldnt be able to have there kids back! Seems the heroin was more important to them, than watchn there kids have fun play ball, and have there parents proud of them!!” A poster named Valerie wrote, “Stop giving them Narcan! At the tax payers expense.” Such views were countered by a reader named Diana: “I’m sure the parents didn’t get up that morning and say hey let’s scar the kids for life. I’m sure they wished they could sit through the kids practice without having to get high. The only way to understand it is to have lived it. The children need to be in a safe home and the adults need help. They are sick, i know from the outside it looks like a choice but its not. Shaming and judging will not help anyone.”

One day, Angel Holt started posting comments. “I don’t neglect,” she wrote. “Had a bad judgment I love my kids and my kids love me there honor roll students my oldest son is about to graduate they play sports and have a ruff over there head that I own and food, and things they just want I messed up give me a chance to prove my self I don’t have to prove … to none of u just my children n they know who I am and who I’m not.”

A few weeks later, I spoke to Holt on the phone. “Where it happened was really horrible,” she said. “I can’t sit here and say different.” But, she said, it had been almost impossible to find help for her addiction. On the day of the softball practice, she ingested a small portion of a package of heroin that she and Schildt had just bought, figuring that she’d be able to keep it together at the field; she had promised her daughter that she’d be there. But the heroin had a strange purple tint — it must have been cut with something nasty. She started feeling weird, and passed out. She knew that she shouldn’t have touched heroin that was so obviously adulterated. But, she added, “if you’re an addict, and if you have the stuff, you do it.”

In Berkeley County, which has a population of a hundred and fourteen thousand, when someone under sixty dies, and the cause of death isn’t mentioned in the paper, locals assume that it was an overdose. It’s becoming the default explanation when an ambulance stops outside a neighbor’s house, and the best guess for why someone is sitting in his car on the side of the road in the middle of the afternoon. On January 18th, county officials started using a new app to record overdoses. According to this data, during the next two and a half months emergency medical personnel responded to a hundred and forty-five overdoses, eighteen of which were fatal. This underestimates the scale of the epidemic, because many overdoses do not prompt 911 calls. Last year, the county’s annual budget for emergency medication was twenty-seven thousand dollars. Narcan, which costs fifty dollars a dose, consumed two-thirds of that allotment. The medication was administered two hundred and twenty-three times in 2014, and four hundred and three times in 2016. [more]

How Much Food Do Cities Squander?

by Bill Hayes

In How Much Food Do Cities Squander?, City Lab reports on a study of food waste in three U.S. cities.

Across all three cities, coffee and grounds were the goods most often pitched in the trash, trailed by bananas (in Nashville and New York) and chicken (in Denver). Apples, bread, oranges, and potatoes also topped the list, as did discarded dairy products.

In the accompanying kitchen diaries, respondents described why they opted to jettison these scraps. Forty-four percent of participants said they were getting rid of inedible portions; 20 percent reported moldy or spoiled food, and 11 percent indicated they weren’t interested in the leftovers. Only 4 percent of residents noted that they’d discarded food because it was past the date printed on the label, though perceived confusion over inscrutable labeling practices has spurred legislation to standardize and streamline “best by” and “use by” language. [more]

The World’s Most Visited Cities

Infographic: The World's Most Visited Cities | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

The Prophet of Germany’s New Right

by Bill Hayes

In The Prophet of Germany’s New Right for New York Times Magazine, James Angelos profiles Götz Kubitschek, a leading far-right German thinker.

Kubitschek’s views are reaching a growing audience. Despite the unique cultural taboos arising from the historical memory of Nazism, Germany has joined a long list of European countries — Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Slovakia among them — where far-right, sometimes explicitly racist political parties command significant minorities in national elections. This ethno-nationalist renaissance presents an odd paradox. European nationalists who at one time might have gone to war with one another now promote a kind of New Right rainbow coalition, in which sovereign states steadfastly maintain their ethnic and cultural identities in service of some larger “Western” ideal. This “ethno-pluralism,” as New Right activists call it, is not based on Western liberal notions of equality or the primacy of individual rights but in opposition to other cultures, usually nonwhite, that they say are threatening to overtake Europe and, indeed, the entire Western world by means of immigration. The threat to the West is also often cast in vague cultural terms as a kind of internal decay. When President Trump visited Poland, he argued in a speech that the United States and Europe were engaged in a common cultural battle. “The fundamental question of our time,” he said, “is whether the West has the will to survive.”

That question has deep roots in Germany. In 1918, the German philosopher Oswald Spengler published the first volume of “The Decline of the West,” arguing that cultures decline as regularly and predictably as any other organic entity — and that Western civilization was near the end of its cycle. Germany had just lost a war, and Spengler’s book struck a chord with disillusioned Germans looking to explain their sense of downfall. Spengler belonged to a loosely defined group of German thinkers called the Conservative Revolutionaries, who argued that Western decline was the inevitable result of materialism and soulless democracy. They opposed the fractious parliamentary democracy of the time, the liberal values of the French Revolution and ultimately modernity itself. They called for national revival by way of an authoritarian leader who could bring about an almost-mystical regeneration of the Volk — in part by pitting them against the Volk of other nations. “A people is only really such in relation to other peoples,” Spengler wrote, “and the substance of this actuality comes out in natural and ineradicable oppositions, in attack and defense, hostility and war.”

The German New Right portrays itself as the contemporary reincarnation of the Conservative Revolution. Kubitschek regularly echoed Spengler in our conversations and on more than one occasion told me that Germany was a “tired” nation in its twilight years. The New Right’s efforts to reclaim this dated political and intellectual movement serve a purpose. Despite their unmistakable ideological overlap with the National Socialists, many Conservative Revolutionaries were ambivalent toward them and rejected Hitler as a proletarian brute. That apparent distance provides New Right thinkers not just with a nationalist, antiparliamentary tradition rooted in German history but also with a useful argument: National Socialism is a deviation from their chosen ideology, not its inevitable conclusion.

The ideas of the Conservative Revolutionaries, however, cannot be separated from the rise of Hitler. In 1923, one of the movement’s most prominent thinkers, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, published “The Third Reich” — another critique of Western liberalism. As the title suggests, Moeller van den Bruck had some influence on the Nazis (Goebbels said his book was “very important for the history of National Socialist political ideas”), though they later repudiated the author himself. The Conservative Revolutionaries’ more consequential influence, however, was on the wider population. Their despair over modernity contributed to the “debility of democracy” and fueled a “politically exploitable discontent,” the historian Fritz Stern wrote in “The Politics of Cultural Despair.” In other words, their ideas helped pave the way for the arrival of a Führer, even though the one who arrived was not necessarily to their liking.

After World War II, Armin Mohler, a Swiss-born writer who had tried unsuccessfully to join the Waffen-SS, took on the project of disentangling the Conservative Revolutionary ideology from Nazism. Mohler, a self-described fascist who had an early and profound influence on Kubitschek, sought to create a more palatable tradition for the postwar era, and he is considered the father of the German New Right. Until recently, though, New Right thinking mostly remained on the fringes of German society, lacking grass-roots expression or a viable manifestation in party politics. But the German political climate changed in 2015, when Angela Merkel allowed nearly a million refugees and migrants to enter the country over the Bavarian border. While many Germans celebrated their arrival, others were angered, feeling that their worries about “Islamization,” criminality and the erosion of German identity were being ignored by the political establishment. For New Right activists, that anger is good. It is the ineradicable opposition that will bring about the political transformation they seek.

But the German New Right has other influences as well. Nils Wegner, a young writer who translates English-language books into German for Kubitschek’s publishing house, follows the American alt-right scene with great interest — listening, for example, to podcasts by Richard Spencer, the white-supremacist leader …. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see “Putin’s Illiberal Democracy.” It is available from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive. It is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.

Dave Barry’s 2017 Year in Review

by David De La Torre

As is his custom, writing for the Miami Herald, humorist Dave Barry takes his annual month-by-month look back at the year in Dave Barry’s 2017 Year in Review.

JANUARY

… which begins with the nation still bitterly divided over the 2016 election. On one side are the progressives, who refuse to accept Donald Trump as president, their reasoning being that:

  1. 1. He is Hitler.
  1. 2. He is literally Hitler.
  1. 3. He is LITERALLY WORSE THAN HITLER.

On the other side are the Trump supporters, whose position is:

  1. 1. You lost!
  1. 2. You whiny liberal pukes.
  1. 3. SHUT UP, LOSERS.

So there does not appear to be a lot of common ground between these positions. Nevertheless as the year progresses, the two sides will gradually find a way — call it the open-minded generosity of the American spirit — to loathe each other even more.

For his part, President Trump, having campaigned on three major promises — to build a border wall, repeal Obamacare and reform the tax system — immediately, upon being sworn in, rolls up his sleeves and gets down to the vital task of disputing news-media estimates of the size of the crowd at his inauguration, which the president claims — and Fox News confirms — was “the largest group of humans ever assembled.” The president also finds time, in his role as commander in chief, to send out numerous randomly punctuated tweets.

Assisting the president as he pursues this agenda is a crack White House team that includes Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Michael Flynn, Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, all of whom will, in the coming weeks and months, disappear like teenagers in a “Friday the 13th” movie. In the Trump White House, you never know who will get whacked next, but you know somebody will. Although Melania seems reasonably secure in the post of First Lady. For now.

Meanwhile the big emerging journalism story is the Russians, who, according to many unnamed sources, messed with the election. Nobody seems to know how, specifically, the Russians affected the election, but everybody is pretty sure they did something, especially CNN, which has not been so excited about a story since those heady months in 2014 when it provided 24/7 video coverage of random objects floating in the Pacific while panels of experts speculated on whether these objects might or might not have anything to do with that missing Malaysian airliner. You can tune into CNN anytime, day or night, and you are virtually guaranteed to hear the word “Russians” within 10 seconds, even if it’s during a Depends commercial.

The most exciting Russian angle concerns an alleged “dossier” that allegedly alleges that Trump allegedly paid some alleged Russian prostitutes to allegedly urinate on an alleged bed that had allegedly been used by President Barack Obama during an alleged visit to Moscow. There appears to be no evidence whatsoever that this allegation is true, but since it involves two U.S. presidents AND prostitutes AND urine, many major news outlets — you know who you are — have no journalistic alternative but to run with it.

The biggest political story comes at the end of the month, when Trump nominates Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, noting that the letters in “Neil Gorsuch” can be rearranged to spell both “Heroic Lungs” and “Lunch Orgies.” Democratic leaders pledge to give Gorsuch a fair and open-minded hearing, then destroy him.

Finally, in the month’s non-Trump news, we have this: You’re an idiot. There WAS no non-Trump news.

This trend will continue in … [more]

Politico’s Cartoons for This Week

by Bill Hayes

See Politico’s selection of this week’s political cartoons from across the country and the political spectrum.

For how to use editorial cartoons in the classroom, see Teaching With Editorial Cartoons.

Straight Through the Heart

by Bill Hayes

In Straight Through the Heart, an essay for the New York Times Book Review, Dean Bakopolous, an English professor, reflects on how to teach literature.

Back when I was teaching first-year composition at a large state school, I’d often lament with my colleagues that so many of our incoming students hated to read (we were instructed not to use texts more than a few pages long). We bemoaned the fact that many had left high school without even knowing how to write a sentence.

But how can you teach someone to master language or read literature until he’s fallen in love with it? Maybe in place of first-year composition we should be teaching first-year fiction. In a creative writing workshop, students begin to think about literature as stories to love, the way many of them did as children. Instead of deconstructing a text (that terrible word, text), they begin to understand the well-crafted sentence and the way it energizes and adds power to a larger story. After reading masterworks and feeling the effects a writer can have on their own souls, they want to get out their laptops and try doing the same thing. [more]

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