Cancer the latest health woe for resilient Justice Ginsburg
By MARK SHERMAN
Saturday, December 22
WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is resting in a New York hospital following surgery to remove two malignant growths in her left lung, the third time the Supreme Court’s oldest justice has been treated for cancer and her second stay in a hospital in two months.
Worries over Ginsburg’s health have been a constant of sorts for nearly 10 years, and for liberals, particularly in the last two. Ginsburg, the leader of the court’s liberal wing and known to her fans as the Notorious RBG, has achieved an iconic status rare for Supreme Court justices.
If she did step down, President Donald Trump would have another opportunity to move a conservative court even more to the right. “Wishing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a full and speedy recovery!” Trump tweeted after the court’s announcement Friday.
But Ginsburg has always bounced back before, flaunting her physical and mental fitness.
After past health scares, she has resumed the exercise routine popularized in a book written by her personal trainer and captured in a Stephen Colbert video. Weeks after cracking three ribs in a fall at the Supreme Court in November, the 85-year-old Ginsburg was asking questions at high court arguments, speaking at a naturalization ceremony for new citizens and being interviewed at screenings of the new movie about her, “On the Basis of Sex.”
Ginsburg will remain in the hospital for a few days, the court said. She has never missed arguments in more than 25 years as a justice. The court next meets on Jan. 7.
While it’s hard to refer to good luck and cancer diagnoses in the same breath, this is the second time for Ginsburg that cancerous growths have been detected at an apparently early stage through unrelated medical tests.
The nodules on her lung were found during X-rays and other tests Ginsburg had after she fractured ribs in a fall in her Supreme Court office on Nov. 7, the court said. In 2009, routine follow-up screening after Ginsburg’s colorectal cancer 10 years earlier detected a lesion on her pancreas. Doctors operated and removed the growth they’d previously spotted, plus a smaller one they hadn’t seen before. The larger growth was benign, while the smaller one was malignant.
Doctors who are not involved in Ginsburg’s care said she may have gotten lucky again, although they caution it is too soon to know.
“This is just luck” that the growths were found through those rib X-rays because accidentally discovered lung tumors tend to be early-stage when surgery works best, said Dr. Giuseppe Giaccone, an oncologist at Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Dr. John Lazar, director of thoracic robotic surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said it’s not uncommon to see slow-growing lung cancers in women in their 80s, and they tend to respond well to surgery and go on to die of something unrelated, he said.
Ginsburg’s previous bouts with cancer were so long ago they’re unlikely to be related, Giaccone said.
“If she doesn’t need anything but the surgery, it is a very good sign,” Lazar said.
Both doctors said patients typically spend three days or four days in the hospital after this type of operation.
On Friday, doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York performed a procedure called a pulmonary lobectomy on Ginsburg. The growths they removed were determined to be malignant in an initial pathology evaluation, the court said, citing Ginsburg’s thoracic surgeon, Dr. Valerie W. Rusch.
But there was “no evidence of any remaining disease” and scans taken before the surgery showed no cancerous growths elsewhere in her body, the court said. No additional treatment is currently planned, it said.
Among other health problems, she also broke two ribs in a fall in 2012 and had a stent implanted to open a blocked artery in 2014. She was hospitalized after a bad reaction to medicine in 2009.
Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg rebuffed suggestions from some liberals that she should step down in the first two years of President Barack Obama’s second term, when Democrats controlled the Senate and would have been likely to confirm her successor.
She already has hired clerks for the term that extends into 2020, indicating she has no plans to retire.
AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report.
Supreme Court rejects Trump plea to enforce asylum ban
By MARK SHERMAN
Saturday, December 22
WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Supreme Court won’t let the Trump administration begin enforcing a ban on asylum for any immigrants who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined his four more liberal colleagues Friday in ruling against the administration in the very case in which President Donald Trump had derided the “Obama judge” who first blocked the asylum policy.
New Justice Brett Kavanaugh and three other conservative justices sided with the administration.
There were no opinions explaining either side’s votes.
The court’s order leaves in place lower court rulings that blocked Trump’s proclamation in November automatically denying asylum to people who enter the country from Mexico without going through official border crossings.
Trump said he was acting in response to caravans of migrants making their way to the border.
The administration had also complained that the nationwide order preventing the policy from taking effect was too broad. But the court also rejected the administration’s suggestion for narrowing it.
Lee Gelernt, an American Civil Liberties Union leading the court challenge, said the high court’s decision “will save lives and keep vulnerable families and children from persecution. We are pleased the court refused to allow the administration to short-circuit the usual appellate process.”
The high court action followed a ruling Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar that kept the ban on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging it. The case could take months to resolve.
The ban conflicts with an immigration law that says immigrants can apply for asylum regardless of how they enter the U.S., Tigar said.
In the first court ruling on the issue, Tigar said on Nov. 19 that U.S. law allows immigrants to request asylum regardless of whether they entered the country legally.
The ruling prompted Trump’s criticism of Tigar as an “Obama judge” and led to an unusual public dispute between Trump and Roberts, who rebuked the president with a statement defending the judiciary’s independence.
Tigar was nominated for the federal bench by President Barack Obama.
OPINION: Should we rethink presidential powers?
By Wim Laven
On Dec. 18th it was agreed that Donald Trump’s charitable foundation would be dissolved. The decision was reached as a result of findings that Donald Trump and his family abused the tax exempt status and abused campaign finance laws.
The lawsuit is not over; a decision on $2.8 million in restitution and penalties as well as possible permanent ban against Trump and three of his children serving on nonprofits in New York still needs to be reached.
Given what was described by the State’s Attorney General office as:
“a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation — including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more. This amounted to the Trump Foundation functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests,” one hopes they are prevented from betraying the public’s trust in the future. One might ask, “what does this mean?”
Trump is selfish and willing do whatever it takes to get what he wants for himself. His favorite tool is dishonesty—it is all purpose, he lies all the time. In his version of winning the public’s loss is his gain, and we’ve been “big league” losing. Reflecting on the dissolution of his corrupt Trump Foundation, as with so much of his storied career of dishonesty, reveals an ingenious ability to deceive unfettered by any moral decorum—his absolute willingness to betray. He is proof, in financial terms, that in this broken system cheaters do win, and he publicly brags that he doesn’t pay his debts because he is smart.
On Dec. 21st his nearsightedness emerges with even greater clarity. In order to secure $5 billion in funding for a completely unnecessary border wall Trump is willing to shut down the government just in time for Christmas. Forget the fact people don’t want it, and that it cannot get the votes to pass, the cost to taxpayers for a government shutdown is $6.5 billion per week. It is a repetition of his coercive practice. Trump has regularly used this terrorist tactic, earlier this year in an effort to block funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program is one example.
But what if it is all much much worse? Trump is making everyone pay a huge price. His nuclear bomb on the economy could very well be another stunt. He has called himself a debt master, so I wouldn’t doubt that he has plans. He seems to have learned that destruction is easier than creation decades ago; he stole fortunes and left people in ruins by not paying his own bills. His echo chamber continues to get scarier, Sect. of Defense Mattis has just resigned in protest to what is ultimately Trump’s complete refusal to acknowledge expertise as he makes supreme mistakes in policy decisions. Putin and Assad are celebrating the victory Trump has gifted them this week.
Is it his ego? Does he fill his emptiness by seeing that his lies on twitter can make a complete roller coaster out of the stock market? When he bragged about accomplishments in China a couple weeks ago investors were optimistic, but when his lies were revealed for what they were the market plummeted. Or is it revenge? The reality that he is not above the law is likely setting in. Trump and kids are threatened with serving jail time for their corruption and other crimes. Is this just his way of lashing out against the people he sees as having done this to him? He has ushered in the worst December since the Great Depression.
I honestly don’t know his intentions. I’d guess with the first; that he is fully prepared to devastate the nation in securing greater personal fortune. But, that is only because he has lived his whole life with complete disregard for others. I am scared because he has truly mastered the craft of selfishness and, at least for the office of the President, he is running out of time. This all begs the question: Does Donald Trump wield too much power? Ought we rethink the destructive force of a single individual?
Trump’s singular focus appears to be wealth, and his administration shows a willingness to break and bend rules to achieve goals, but it could be worse. Foreign emoluments are a big deal, because they suggest conflicts of interest in making decisions as head of the state, but what about flat-out selfishness? It is time that we face the ugly truth that selfish interest and military power are deadly combination. We may never know how many soldiers have been killed or terrorists recruited as a direct result of Trump’s self-serving tweets. His lies have consequences, the worst of which are experienced by others. What if he decided to support his base and bomb the caravan like many of them request about his make-believe invasion? We also never thought a President would tell 6,420 lies and misstatements in 649 days in office. It just seems unthinkable that such a corrupt individual could wield so much power, and maybe it is more power than a single person should have ever held.
Do we really trust Trump to resist deploying the military if he thinks it will be good for his investments? It isn’t just a matter of convincing ourselves that a serial liar will live up to the oath of office, every indication suggests the only work he has done as President has been to serve himself—he’s only ever been faithful to himself. Dedicated public servants, like Mattis with four decades of service, cannot do it, and it is time to consider the horrific possibility that a single Trump mistake could end life as we know it. It wasn’t good democracy, but at least we thought there were adults in the room to restrain a tantrum, but they’re all disappearing.
We have a corrupt administration, and we should seriously limit the disastrous potential of such an administration or any other. If we survive, we should take the steps to protect future generations. It is just too much that life and death are abused in pursuit of selfish interests—What if he thinks starting a war could help him win an election or protect him from investigation? What if he decided to go out with a bang?
Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a doctoral candidate in International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.
Updated lawsuit teases new details against OxyContin maker
By The Associated Press
Saturday, December 22
An updated complaint in Massachusetts’ lawsuit against Purdue Pharma claims members of the family that owns the OxyContin maker are personally responsible for fueling abuse of the deadly painkiller.
The filing late Friday in Suffolk Superior Court expands on the lawsuit the state filed in June against the drugmaker, 16 current and former executives and members of the Sackler family, which owns the company.
The suit asserts that over the past decade the Sacklers controlled a deceptive sales campaign by Purdue aimed at getting more people on higher doses of opioids to boost profits.
Much of the specifics on the allegations against Purdue Pharma executives and Sackler family members are blacked out while the state works to release a less-redacted complaint.
The state claims that the Sacklers directed the company to hire hundreds more sales representatives to visit doctors “thousands more times,” in a bid to get more doctors to prescribe its painkiller. The Sacklers also directed sales representatives to encourage doctors to prescribe more of the opioids at the highest doses, according to the complaint.
In addition, the suit contends, the Sacklers “studied unlawful tactics to keep patients on opioids longer and then ordered staff to use them.”
Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma has denied the allegations.
In a statement Saturday, the company called Massachusetts’ updated complaint “irresponsible and inaccurate,” adding that “Purdue and the individual defendants will aggressively defend against these misleading allegations.”
OxyContin has been the world’s top-selling opioid painkiller, generating billions of dollars for Purdue Pharma. In February, the company announced it was eliminating half of its sales force and would no longer market the drug to doctors.
The company is now defending lawsuits from several states and local governments. Earlier this week, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said the state will be suing Purdue Pharma and several of the company’s current and former officials on allegations their marketing of the painkiller helped drive the nation’s opioid crisis.
The drugmaker has faced legal challenges over its painkillers before.
In 2007, it agreed to pay $19.5 million to settle lawsuits with 26 states, including Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia that claimed Purdue aggressively marketed OxyContin to doctors while downplaying the risk of addiction. Purdue did not admit wrongdoing as part of that settlement.
Legal marijuana industry had banner year in 2018
By GILLIAN FLACCUS
Thursday, December 27
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The last year was a 12-month champagne toast for the legal marijuana industry as the global market exploded and cannabis pushed its way further into the financial and cultural mainstream.
Liberal California became the largest legal U.S. marketplace, while conservative Utah and Oklahoma embraced medical marijuana. Canada ushered in broad legalization , and Mexico’s Supreme Court set the stage for that country to follow.
U.S. drug regulators approved the first marijuana-based pharmaceutical to treat kids with a form of epilepsy, and billions of investment dollars poured into cannabis companies. Even main street brands like Coca-Cola said they are considering joining the party.
“I have been working on this for decades, and this was the year that the movement crested,” said U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat working to overturn the federal ban on pot. “It’s clear that this is all coming to a head.”
With buzz building across the globe, the momentum will continue into 2019.
Luxembourg is poised to become the first European country to legalize recreational marijuana, and South Africa is moving in that direction. Thailand legalized medicinal use of marijuana on Tuesday, and other Southeastern Asian countries may follow South Korea’s lead in legalizing cannabidiol, or CBD. It’s a non-psychoactive compound found in marijuana and hemp plants and used for treatment of certain medical problems.
“It’s not just the U.S. now. It’s spreading,” said Ben Curren, CEO of Green Bits, a San Jose, California, company that develops software for marijuana retailers and businesses.
Curren’s firm is one of many that blossomed as the industry grew. He started the company in 2014 with two friends. Now, he has 85 employees, and the company’s software processes $2.5 billion in sales transactions a year for more than 1,000 U.S. retail stores and dispensaries.
Green Bits raised $17 million in April, pulling in money from investment firms including Snoop Dogg’s Casa Verde Capital. Curren hopes to expand internationally by 2020.
“A lot of the problem is keeping up with growth,” he said.
Legal marijuana was a $10.4 billion industry in the U.S. in 2018 with a quarter-million jobs devoted just to the handling of marijuana plants, said Beau Whitney, vice president and senior economist at New Frontier Data, a leading cannabis market research and data analysis firm. There are many other jobs that don’t involve direct work with the plants but they are harder to quantify, Whitney said.
Investors poured $10 billion into cannabis in North America in 2018, twice what was invested in the last three years combined, he said, and the combined North American market is expected to reach more than $16 billion in 2019.
“Investors are getting much savvier when it comes to this space because even just a couple of years ago, you’d throw money at it and hope that something would stick,” he said. “But now investors are much more discerning.”
Increasingly, U.S. lawmakers see that success and want it for their states.
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. states now have legalized some form of medical marijuana.
Voters in November made Michigan the 10th state — and first in the Midwest — to legalize recreational marijuana. Governors in New York and New Jersey are pushing for a similar law in their states next year, and momentum for broad legalization is building in Pennsylvania and Illinois.
“Let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week.
State lawmakers in Nebraska just formed a campaign committee to put a medical cannabis initiative to voters in 2020. Nebraska shares a border with Colorado, one of the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana, and Iowa, which recently started a limited medical marijuana program.
“Attitudes have been rapidly evolving and changing. I know that my attitude toward it has also changed,” said Nebraska state Sen. Adam Morfeld, a Democrat. “Seeing the medical benefits and seeing other states implement it … has convinced me that it’s not the dangerous drug it’s made out to be.”
With all its success, the U.S. marijuana industry continues to be undercut by a robust black market and federal law that treats marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin. Financial institutions are skittish about cannabis businesses, even in U.S. states where they are legal, and investors until recently have been reluctant to put their money behind pot.
Marijuana businesses can’t deduct their business expenses on their federal taxes and face huge challenges getting insurance and finding real estate for their brick-and-mortar operations.
“Until you have complete federal legalization, you’re going to be living with that structure,” said Marc Press, a New Jersey attorney who advises cannabis businesses.
At the start of the year, the industry was chilled when then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a policy shielding state-licensed medical marijuana operators from federal drug prosecutions. Ultimately the move had minimal impact because federal prosecutors showed little interest in going after legal operators.
Sessions, a staunch marijuana opponent, later lost his job while President Donald Trump said he was inclined to support an effort by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, to relax the federal prohibition.
In November, Democrats won control of the U.S. House and want to use it next year to pass legislation that eases federal restrictions on the legal marijuana industry without removing it from the controlled substances list.
Gardner and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren have proposed legislation allowing state-approved commercial cannabis activity under federal law. The bill also would let states and Indian tribes determine how best to regulate marijuana commerce within their boundaries without fear of federal intervention.
If those provisions become law, they could open up banking for the marijuana industry nationwide and make it easier for cannabis companies to secure capital.
Blumenauer’s “blueprint” to legalize marijuana also calls for the federal government to provide medical marijuana for veterans, more equitable taxation for marijuana businesses and rolling back federal prohibitions on marijuana research, among other things.
“We have elected the most pro-cannabis Congress in history and more important, some of the people who were roadblocks to our work … are gone,” Blumenauer said. “If we’re able to jump-start it in the House, I think there will be support in the Senate, particularly if we deal with things that are important, like veterans’ access and banking.”
Gillian Flaccus is a member of AP’s marijuana beat team. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus . Find complete AP marijuana coverage here: https://apnews.com/LegalMarijuana .