The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Opioid Crisis Has Reached a New High

Today making the click-through worthwhile: more jaw-dropping statistics on the scope of the country’s epidemic of addiction to opioids, the risk in trusting Jared Kushner with your presidency, some utopian promises on education in Virginia’s governor’s race, and a key point about the cost of journalism and staying informed.

The Real ‘Opium of the People’ Is . . .

Karl Marx confidently declared that religion is the opium of the people. Come on. America in 2017 is proving that the opium of the people is . . . actual opium, or at least opioids.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 2.6 million people are now addicted to drugs derived from the opium poppy. The CDC says there were 33,000 such fatalities last year, helping turn drug overdoses into the leading cause of death among the under-50s.

If you’re wondering about those estimated 1.5 million working-age people who are missing from the labor force, not working or looking for work . . .  a considerable percentage are probably dropping out of the workforce (and most of life itself) because of their addictions:

Research from the National Safety Council and the NORC research group at the University of Chicago show opioid users miss twice as many days of work than those with alcohol addiction. According to Princeton economist Alan Krueger, 47 percent of prime-age men not in the labor force used pain medication — and two-thirds of that subgroup used prescription drugs.

The most baffling statistic is that within a quarter of U.S. counties, opioid prescriptions exceed one per person, at least according to 2015 statistics. Hey, guys, I think I’ve got a lead on where people are writing phony prescriptions.

Some Trump Lawyers Wanted Jared to Exit Stage Left

Does jumping on the Trump Train require jumping on the Jared Kushner Train as well? Because that’s a jump I doubt I’ll ever be willing to make, because of the accumulating evidence that Kushner just doesn’t have good judgment. Maybe he knows the world of Manhattan real estate really well, but he’s a novice in politics, governing, and the ways of Washington, and it’s hard to believe the president is well served by relying on him so much.

Apparently some of the president’s lawyers agree:

Some of President Donald Trump’s lawyers earlier this summer concluded that Jared Kushner should step down as senior White House adviser because of possible legal complications related to a probe of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election and aired concerns about him to the president, people familiar with the matter said.

Among their concerns was that Mr. Kushner was the adviser closest to the president who had the most dealings with Russian officials and businesspeople during the campaign and transition, some of which are currently being examined by federal investigators and congressional oversight panels. Mr. Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, has said he had four such meetings or interactions.

Another issue was Mr. Kushner’s initial omission of any contacts with foreign officials from the form required to obtain a security clearance. He later updated the form several times to include what he has said were more than 100 contacts with foreign officials.

The president’s lawyers were not united in the view that Mr. Kushner should step down.

What does Kushner bring to Trump that no other adviser in or out of government can bring him? Ivanka’s approval?

The Difficulty in Finding True Northam

We haven’t had a new poll in the Virginia governor’s race in about three weeks, and campaign commercials are starting to pop up more frequently on the local television airwaves. In a dramatic change from last cycle, when wealthy Democrat Terry McAuliffe outspent Republican Ken Cuccinelli two to one, this year Republican Ed Gillespie is spending more — $1.7 million compared to Democrat Ralph Northam’s $1.1 million.

The Washington Post notices that a Northam ad tells viewers to go online and check out his tax plan . . . without, you know, actually having a tax plan on his web site.

There is no detailed tax plan on Northam’s campaign website, aside from his call to lower grocery taxes for poor people and to create a bipartisan tax panel.

What’s more, Northam’s campaign said in April it would release a set of “guiding principles” on tax reform within a week. It never did, and a reference to that promise to voters was removed from the campaign’s website — until a reporter pointed it out.

This is what happens on Democratic campaigns when the left hand doesn’t know what the other left hand is doing.

On NRO today, I take a look at another one of Northam’s ads, focused (and focus-group tested, probably) on education and point out that the rhetoric seems pretty rote and aimed more at addressing suburban parents’ feelings than any actual problems in Virginia schools:

Northam pledges in a new commercial that if he is elected, he will raise teacher pay, emphasize science and math, and make college more affordable — because “every child in Virginia should know if they work hard, there is a bright future ahead of them.” The agenda laid out in that commercial is really a list of solutions looking for problems. Virginia students are actually exemplary compared with students in the rest of the country; according to the Virginia Education Department, they ranked best in the country in science and third in the nation in math in the most recent national tests in these subjects.

A study of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics concluded that Virginia teachers rank tenth in the nation in average pay and related benefits, at $63,493 per year. The National Education Association puts the salary alone (not benefits) at merely $50,834, ranking it as the 30th in the country. But that measuring stick leaves out a lot: A first-year teacher in Virginia Beach City Public Schools system will collect $14,492 in fringe benefits including insurance and contribution to the Virginia retirement system. (For perspective, the average per capita personal income in Virginia is $53,723.)

The more I thought about this, the more irked I became at the implied message that the best way to ensure your children have a bright future is just to vote for some guy. What the heck is he going to do for you child that you can’t do?

Can a governor really help your child get a better education? Perhaps on the margins, but how much your child learns in the classroom largely depends upon your child, your child’s teacher, you, your spouse, and perhaps the rest of the community helping out a bit. If you really want your child’s school to get better, then interact with your child’s teacher, join the PTA, volunteer in the classroom, and do all the little things that help young students thrive. Despite the grandiose promises, Northam can’t do it for you while sitting in the governor’s office in Richmond, and neither can Gillespie.

Politicians love this passivity, this pervasive belief that your life stinks and the only thing that can change it is their election and the ever-expanding power of the state.

ADDENDA: Avi Woolf with an observation that I should probably share around the time of our fundraising drive: “Folks, you get what you pay for. You can’t complain about low-quality reporting and empty hot takes if you won’t pay for more.”


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