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Trump campaign pushes for Nevada as COVID-19 cripples economy

LAS VEGAS – Derek Stonebarger, owner of ReBar, a bar that doubles as an antique store in the Las Vegas Arts District, was just starting to get back on his feet when Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered bars to once again close.

“It’s a scary time to be a small business owner. It’s a scary time to have your American dream literally ripped from you,” Stonebarger said.

Less than two months after reopening businesses and the iconic Las Vegas Strip, a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations prompted Gov. Sisolak to scale back the state’s reopening plan.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered bars that don’t serve food to close as COVID19 cases continue to rise. 
(Ben Brown / Fox News)

The pandemic has crippled the tourism-driven Nevada economy. The state suffered historic unemployment rates at 30.1 percent in April and 25.3 percent in May, before dropping to 15 percent in June following the reopening of the Vegas Strip.

However, the progress might be short-lived as COVID-19 cases rise – Nevada has been listed as a “red zone” in an internal document prepared by the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity for the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, according to the Review-Journal.

“We’re always slower to recover than anyplace else because we depend on tourism. People have to have little money in their pocket to want to go on holiday,” Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) told Fox News.

Stonebarger and many other small businesses are now left wondering if they’ll be able to survive a second shutdown.

Derek Stonebarger, owner of ReBAr located in the Las Vegas Arts District, questions whether he'll be able to survive a second shutdown. 

Derek Stonebarger, owner of ReBAr located in the Las Vegas Arts District, questions whether he’ll be able to survive a second shutdown. 
(Ben Brown / Fox News)

“This one is just like hell; you may never reopen. You can just dwindle your savings. You can mortgage your house and still never be able to open,” Stonebarger told Fox News.

But the economic downturn in Nevada might prove to be a silver lining for President Donald Trump in a state that he narrowly lost in 2016 to Hillary Clinton. His campaign sees an opportunity to flip Nevada from blue to red by positioning Trump as the candidate who can rebuild the economy.

BIDEN TWEETS THAT OBAMA WH LEFT TRUMP ‘PLAYBOOK’ ON PANDEMICS, GRENELL RESPONDS

“If our economy is roaring by November, the president will be in spectacular shape. If it’s not roaring, then the voters will still have to choose between two visions for Nevada and our country,” Adam Laxalt, former Nevada attorney general and current co-chair of Trump’s Nevada re-election campaign. “This is one of the few presidential elections where we have two people on the ballot where you can actually see their record.”

The polls are mixed.

A recent national poll conducted by NBC News/WSJ has Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by double-digits, however, a majority of voters still approve of Trump’s handling of the economy.

A Fox News poll conducted in January showed Biden leading Trump 47 percent to 39 percent in Nevada, however, since the pandemic, the Nevada Independent, citing findings from Democratic pollster John Anzalone between April 27-30 for a partisan group, shows the race much closer with Trump only trailing the presumptive Democratic nominee by 4 percent.

A Quinnipiac University poll between July 9-13 shows the former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee with a 15 percentage point lead nationally, with Trump losing to Biden on the economy — 50 percent to 45 percent.

“Obviously, he shouldn’t be blamed for a virus that came in from a foreign country. I think people are going to be able to remember what the economy felt like heading into the coronavirus,” Laxalt said, adding that “if we want Nevada to come back, if we want Nevada’s economy to be strong, we need a second term of President Trump.”

But Congresswoman Titus argues that Biden, not Trump has the experience to navigate Nevada and the country out of the recession.

“He helped us through the last big recession,” Rep. Titus said, referring to Biden’s role in overseeing the 2009 economic recovery for former President Barack Obama. “He was put in charge of the stimulus package when he was vice president. So, I think he can help us through this one as well. I just I feel like he’s been there, he walked in our shoes and that he can get us out of this.”

TRUMP FIRES BACK AFTER OBAMA CLAIMS CREDIT FOR ECONOMIC BOOM: ‘CON JOB’

Biden was tasked with overseeing the $787 billion economic stimulus package, to turnaround a free-falling economy during the 2008 recession.

Obama officials credit the legislation with jumpstarting the economy and setting the stage for the economic gains under the Trump Administration.

During the Obama administration, the unemployment rate fell steadily after reaching a high of 10 percent early in his first term.

Under the Trump administration, the stock market surged – it grew 31 percent in the 807 trading days before Trump’s election, but rose by 56 percent in the 807 trading days after it, up through the third anniversary of Trump’s inauguration this January, according to a Fox Business analysis.

Unemployment had continued to fall under Trump – dropping to 3.8 percent in February, among the lowest on record – before spiking as a result of the coronavirus,  which has infected 3.6 million Americans and killed more than 139,000.

In June, the country had an 11.1 percent unemployment rate and 17.8 million people unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, in the week ending July 11, a total of 1.3 million Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment, marking the 17th week the number has surpassed 1 million. The jobless rate and the number of unemployed are up by 7.6 percentage points and 12.0 million, respectively, since February.

“We’ve seen no overall plan from this president, unlike Joe Biden, who put out a pretty thorough economic plan just in the last few days that included some health care reforms as well as economic reforms,” Titus said.

BIDEN PUSHES POPULIST ‘MADE IN AMERICA’ PLAN TO PUMP UP ECONOMY

Earlier this month Biden released his “Build Back Better” plan to rival Trump’s “America First” agenda, which proposes $700 billion in spending on American products and research in hopes of bringing back millions of jobs in the aftermath of economic hardship imposed by the pandemic.

Trump laid out a vision for a potential second term during an interview with Fox News on July 10, telling Sean Hannity that after defeating coronavirus he will turn toward rebuilding the economy.

“We’re going to rebuild the economy. We’re going to bring back jobs from all these foreign lands that have stolen our jobs on horrible trade deals. We’re going to continue to make great trade deals,” Trump told Hannity during a phone interview.

TRUMP ENVISIONS BEATING CORONAVIRUS AND REBUILDING ECONOMY IN POTENTIAL SECOND TERM

Adding that, “We’re going to have a great third quarter. We’re going to have a great fourth quarter. And next year is going to be the best, I think is going to be one of the best years we’ve ever had.”

Dr. Robert Lang, professor of urban affairs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, underscored the importance of the economy and how it translates at the ballot box being “typically one of the largest, if not the largest driver of an election.”

TRUMP DOWN 15 POINTS TO BIDEN IN LATEST NATIONAL POLL

But he noted the importance of the timing of the economic recovery, which could minimize the impact of a Trump rebound heading into November.

“The second quarter tends to be the one that really determines the outcome. You don’t even know you vote in the fourth quarter. Technically, you don’t even feel the third quarter. But you remember how it felt in the late spring of an election. And the country is not great in the late spring of this election.”

But Laxalt is confident in Trump’s chances, telling Fox News the campaign has “more people on the ground, more enthusiasm” than in 2016, and the “prospects are strong to be able to hold Nevada and flip it this cycle.”

Laxalt responded to concerns from Joshua Skaggs, former Nevada regional director for the Trump campaign, who in a letter to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and obtained by the Nevada Independent, cited concerns that the president “will not prevail” in November and registration numbers are being “falsely inflated” to make the odds look more favorable than they actually are.

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“Obviously people complain on campaigns, that’s been going on since the beginning of time. Some people think they know more than other people in campaigns. I’ve had that in my own campaigns, by the way, where you have individual people that feel like other people aren’t going in the right direction,” Laxalt told Fox News.

And while the polls continue to show Biden in the lead, the campaign is not going to be caught off-guard like in 2016.

“That was a hard lesson to learn. We all thought Hillary was going to win that election. So we are not going to be complacent,” Titus said. “I think that Nevada will go blue, but we are doing everything to be sure that that’s the case.”

Fox’s Brooke Singman contributed to this report.

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Declassified documents undercut Steele dossier and Russian collusion narrative

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham released declassified FBI documents on Friday that appear to undercut the reliability of British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier and the case against onetime Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

The South Carolina Republican has been conducting an investigation into the Trump-Russia investigators and thanked Attorney General William Barr for releasing the long-sought-after records, which remain heavily redacted.

“It is clear to me that the memo regarding the FBI interview of the primary subsource in January 2017 should have required the system to stop and reevaluate the case against Mr. Page,” Graham said. “Most importantly, after this interview of the subsource and the subsequent memo detailing the contents of the interview, it was a miscarriage of justice for the FBI and the Department of Justice to continue to seek a FISA warrant against Carter Page in April and June of 2017.”

The FBI interviewed Steele’s primary subsource, whose identity remained concealed, in January 2017 over the course of three days, and the newly released 57-page transcript spans a host of topics, shedding light on Steele’s effort to dig up Russia-related dirt on Trump and those in his circle. The primary subsource told the FBI that Steele contracted him to look into four or five Trump associates, naming Paul Manfort, Page, and Michael Cohen specifically, and that he then reached out to his own source network for info on them.

The primary subsource told the FBI that although he was often in contact with Russian government officials, he did not believe he had been in contact with Russian intelligence services — and the FBI noted that the primary subsource’s attorney stressed how that was only true to the primary subsource’s knowledge. Though his descriptions were heavily redacted, the primary subsource also shed light on some of Steele’s other sources, though their names were redacted and they were assigned numbers in the report. The primary subsource cast doubt on a number of the Steele dossier’s assertions.

Graham argued: “The dossier was a critical document to justify a FISA warrant against Mr. Page, and this DOJ memo clearly indicates that the reliability of the dossier was completely destroyed after the interview with the primary subsource in January 2017. Those who knew or should have known of this development and continued to pursue a FISA warrant against Mr. Page anyway are in deep legal jeopardy in my view.”

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s lengthy December report criticized the DOJ and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Page and for the bureau’s reliance on Steele’s unverified dossier. Steele put his research together at the behest of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the Perkins Coie law firm. Declassified footnotes now show that the FBI was aware that Steele’s dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation.

Horowitz said FBI interviews with Steele’s primary Moscow-based source “raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting” and cast doubt on some of its biggest claims. The DOJ watchdog’s report said Steele’s dossier included information from a subsource who was said to be “close” to President Trump. Steele told DOJ investigators that this subsource provided the person described as his “Primary Sub-source” with information and that this subsource met with the primary subsource two or three times.

Stephen Somma, a counterintelligence investigator in the FBI’s New York field office, is believed to be “Case Agent 1.” Horowitz has said he was “primarily responsible for some of the most significant errors and omissions” in the Page FISA warrant applications. RealClearInvestigations cited congressional sources who said that veteran FBI analyst Brian Auten was involved as a “Supervisory Intel Analyst.” Graham is seeking interviews with both men.

The second document released by Graham on Friday contained fired FBI special agent Peter Strzok’s typed comments critiquing the assertions made in a New York Times article from February 2017 about alleged Russian intelligence ties to the Trump campaign, with Strzok apparently referencing the January 2017 conversation with Steele’s primary subsource, writing that “recent interviews and investigation, however, reveal Steele may not be in a position to judge the reliability of his sub-source network.”

The notes by Strzok also appear to cut against the FBI’s assertion in FISA application filings that “the FBI believes that Russia’s efforts to influence U.S. policy were likely being coordinated between the RIS [Russian Intelligence Services] and [Trump campaign associate] Carter Page, and possibly others” — Strzok’s notes indicate that “we have not seen evidence of any individuals affiliated with the Trump team in contact with IOs [intelligence officials]” and “we are unaware of ANY Trump advisers engaging in conversations with Russian intelligence officials.”

“The comments of Peter Strzok regarding the Feb. 14 New York Times article are devastating in that they are an admission that there was no reliable evidence that anyone from the Trump campaign was working with Russian Intelligence Agencies in any form,” Graham said. “The statements by Mr. Strzok question the entire premise of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign and make it even more outrageous that the Mueller team continued this investigation for almost two and a half years. Moreover, the statements by Strzok raise troubling questions as to whether the FBI was impermissibly unmasking and analyzing intelligence gathered on U.S. persons.”

Graham concluded: “These documents, which I have long sought, tell a damning story for anyone who’s interested in trying to find the truth behind the corrupt nature of the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016 and beyond.”

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Judicial Watch Uncovers Explosive FBI Emails, Appearing To Reference A WH ‘Confidential Informant’

A top government watchdog group obtained 136 pages of never before publicized emails between former FBI lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and one in particular appears to refer to a confidential informant inside the White House in 2017, according to a press release from Judicial Watch.

Those emails, some of which are heavily redacted, reveal that “Strzok, Page and top bureau officials in the days prior to and following President Donald Trump’s inauguration discussing a White House counterintelligence briefing that could “play into” the FBI’s “investigative strategy.”

Moreover, another email sent by Strzok to Bill Priestap, the Former Assistant Director for the Counterintelligence Division, refers to what appears to be a confidential informant in the White House. The email was sent the day after Trump’s inauguration.

“I heard from [redacted] about the WH CI briefing routed from [redacted],” wrote Strzok. “I am angry that Jen did not at least cc: me, as my branch has pending investigative matters there, this brief may play into our investigative strategy, and I would like the ability to have visibility and provide thoughts/counsel to you in advance of the briefing. This is one of the reasons why I raised the issue of lanes/responsibilities that I did when you asked her to handle WH detailee interaction.” 

In April, 2019 this reporter first published information that there was an alleged confidential informant for the FBI in the White House. In fact, then senior Republican Chairmen of the Senate Appropriations Committee Charles Grassley and Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson submitted a letter to Department of Justice Attorney General William Barr revealing the new texts from Strzok to Page showing the pair had discussed attempts to recruit sources within the White House to allegedly spy on the Trump administration.

The Chairmen revealed the information in a three page letter. The texts had been already been obtained by SaraACarter.com and information regarding the possible attempt to recruit White House sources had been divulged by several sources to this news site last week.

At the time, texts obtained by this news site and sources stated that Strzok had one significant contact within the White House – at the time that would have been Vice President Mike Pence’s Chief of Staff Joshua Pitcock, as reported.

Over the past year, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, along with years of numerous Congressional investigations, has uncovered a plethora of documentation revealing the most intimate details of the FBI’s now debunked investigation into Trump’s campaign and its alleged conspiracy with Russia.

For example, in a series of emails exchanged by top bureau officials – in the FBI General Counsel’s office, Counterintelligence Division and Washington Field office on Jan. 19, 2017 – reveal that senior leadership, including former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe were coordinating with each other in their ongoing attempt to target the incoming administration. Priestap was also included in the email exchanges. The recent discovery in April, of Priestap’s handwritten notes taken in January, 2017 before the Strzok and his FBI partner interviewed Flynn were a bombshell. In Priestap’s notes he states, “What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”

In one recent email chain obtained by Judicial Watch, FBI assistant general counsel in the FBI’s National Security Law Branch stated in an email to Strzok [which was almost entirely redacted]

“I’ll give Trisha/Baker a heads up too,” it stated. Strzok’s reply to the assistant general counsel, however, was redacted by DOJ. The response back to Strzok has also been redacted.

Then later in the evening at 7:04 p.m., Strzok sends another emails stating, “I briefed Bill (Priestap) this afternoon and he was trying without success to reach the DD [McCabe]. I will forward below to him as his [sic] changes the timeline. What’s your recommendation?”

The reply, like many of the documents obtained by Judicial Watch from the DOJ, is almost entirely redacted. The email response to Strzok was from the Counterintelligence Division.

Here’s what was not redacted

“Approved by tomorrow afternoon is the request. [Redacted] – please advise if I am missing something.” An unidentified official replies, “[Redacted], Bill is aware and willing to jump in when we need him.”

Judicial Watch Timeline of Events On Emails Obtained Through FOIA

At 8 p.m., Strzok responds back (copying officials in the Counterintelligence Division, Washington Field Office and General Counsel’s office):

“Just talked with Bill. [Redacted]. Please relay above to WFO and [redacted] tonight, and keep me updated with plan for meet and results of same. Good luck.”

Strzok then forwards the whole email exchange to Lisa Page, saying, “Bill spoke with Andy. [Redacted.] Here we go again …”

The Day After Trump’s Inauguration

The day after Trump’s inauguration, on Jan. 21, 2017, Strzok forwarded Page and [a redacted person] an email he’d sent that day to Priestap. Strzok asked them to “not forward/share.”

In the email to Priestap, Strzok said, “I heard from [redacted] about the WH CI briefing routed from [redacted]. I am angry that Jen did not at least cc: me, as my branch has pending investigative matters there, this brief may play into our investigative strategy, and I would like the ability to have visibility and provide thoughts/counsel to you in advance of the briefing. This is one of the reasons why I raised the issue of lanes/responsibilities that I did when you asked her to handle WH detailee interaction.” 

Also, on January 21, 2017, Strzok wrote largely the same message he’d sent to Priestap directly to his counterintelligence colleague Jennifer Boone,” states Judicial Watch.

From Judicial Watch Press Release:

The records were produced to Judicial Watch in a January 2018 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed after the DOJ failed to respond to a December 2017 request for all communications between Strzok and Page (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:18-cv-00154)).

The FBI has only processed emails at a rate of 500 pages per month and has yet to process text messages. At this rate, the production of these communications, which still number around 8,000 pages, would not be completed until at least late 2021.

In other emails, Strzok comments on reporting on the anti-Trump dossier authored by Hillary Clinton’s paid operative Christopher Steele.

In a January 2017 email, Strzok takes issue with a UK Independent report which claimed Steele had suspected there was a “cabal” within the FBI which put the Clinton email investigation above the Trump-Russia probe. Strzok, a veteran counterintelligence agent, was at the heart of both the Clinton email and Trump-Russia investigations.

In April and June of 2017, the FBI would use the dossier as key evidence in obtaining FISA warrants to spy on Trump campaign associate Carter Page. In a declassified summary of a Department of Justice assessment of the warrants that was released by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in January of this year, it was determined that those two applications to secretly monitor Page lacked probable cause.

The newly released records include a January 11, 2017, email from Strzok to Lisa Page, Priestap, and Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Jon Moffa, New York Times report which refers to the dossier as containing “unsubstantiated accounts” and “unproven claims.” In the email, Strzok comments on the article, calling it “Pretty good reporting.”

On January 14, 2017, FBI Assistant Director for Public Affairs Michael Kortan forwards to Strzok, Page and Priestap a link to a UK Independent article entitled “Former MI6 Agent Christopher Steele’s Frustration as FBI Sat On Donald Trump Russia File for Months”.

The article, citing security sources, notes that “Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up: that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Clinton’s emails.”

Strzok responds: “Thanks Mike. Of course not accurate [the cover-up/cabal nonsense]. Is that question gaining traction anywhere else?”

The records also include a February 10, 2017, email from Strzok to Page mentioning then-national security adviser Michael Flynn (five days before Flynn resigned) and includes a photo of Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Strzok also makes a joke about how McCabe had fat shamed Kislyak.

On February 8, 2017, Strzok, under the subject “RE: EO on Economic Espionage,” emailed Lisa Page, saying, “Please let [redacted] know I talked to [redacted]. Tonight, he approached Flynn’s office and got no information.” Strzok was responding to a copy of an email Page had sent him. The email, from a redacted FBI official to Deputy Director McCabe read: “OPS has not received a draft EO on economic espionage. Instead, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce advised OPS that they received a draft, but they did not send us the draft. I’ll follow up with our detailees about this EO.” Flynn resigned on February 13, 2017.

On January 26, 2017, Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Inspection Division emailed Strzok and Priestap with the subject line “Leak,” saying, “Tried calling you but the phones are forwarded to SIOC. I got the tel call report, however [redacted]. Feel free to give me a call if I have it wrong.” Strzok forwarded the McNamara email to Lisa Page and an unidentified person in the General Counsel’s office, saying, “Need to talk to you about how to respond to this.”

On January 11, 2017, Yahoo News reporter Michael Isikoff emailed Kortan, saying he’d learned that Steele had worked for the Bureau’s Eurasian organized crime section and had turned over the dossier on Trump-Russian “collusion” to the bureau in Rome. Kortan forwards Isikoff’s email to aide Richard Quinn, who forwards to Strzok “just for visibility”. Strzok forwards to his boss, Priestap and Moffa, saying, “FYI, [redacted], you or I should probably inform [redacted]. How’s your relationship with him? Bill unless you object, I’ll let Parmaan [presumably senior FBI official Bryan Paarmann] know.” Strzok forwards the whole exchange onto Lisa Page. 

On January 18, 2017, reporter Peter Elkind of ProPublica reached out to Kortan, asking to interview Strzok, Michael Steinbach, Jim Baker, Priestap, former FBI Director James Comey and DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg for a story Elkind was working on. Kortan replied, “Okay, I will start organizing things.” Further along in the thread, an FBI Press Office official reached out to an FBI colleague for assistance with the interviews, saying Steinbach had agreed to a “background discussion” with Elkind, who was “writing the ‘definitive’ account of what happened during the Clinton investigation, specifically, Comey’s handling of the investigation, seeking to reconstruct and explain in much greater detail what he did and why he did it.” In May 2017, Elkind wrote an article titled “The Problems With the FBI’s Email Investigation Went Well Beyond Comey,” which in light of these documents, strongly suggests many FBI officials leaked to the publication.

Strzok ended up being scheduled to meet with Elkind at 9:30 a.m. on January 31, 2017, before an Elkind interview of Comey’s chief of staff Jim Rybicki. Elkind’s reporting on the Clinton email investigation was discussed at length in previous emails obtained by Judicial Watch. 

“These documents suggest that President Trump was targeted by the Comey FBI as soon as he stepped foot in the Oval Office,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “And now we see how the Comey FBI was desperate to spin, through high-level leaks, its mishandling of the Clinton email investigation. And, in a continuing outrage, it should be noted that Wray’s FBI and Barr’s DOJ continue slow-walk the release of thousands of Page-Strzok emails – which means the remaining 8,000 pages of records won’t be reviewed and released until 2021-2022!”

In February 2020, Judicial Watch uncovered an August 2016 email in which Strzok says that Clinton, in her interview with the FBI about her email controversy, apologized for “the work and effort” it caused the bureau and she said she chose to use it “out of convenience” and that “it proved to be anything but.” Strzok said Clinton’s apology and the “convenience” discussion were “not in” the FBI 302 report that summarized the interview.

Also in February, Judicial Watch made public Strzok-Page emails showing their direct involvement in the opening of Crossfire Hurricane, the bureau’s investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The records also show additional “confirmed classified emails” were found on Clinton’s unsecure non-state.gov email server “beyond the number presented” in then-FBI Director James Comey’s statements; Strzok and Page questioning the access the DOJ was granting Clinton’s lawyers; and Page revealing that the DOJ was making edits to FBI 302 reports related to the Clinton Midyear Exam investigation. The emails detail a discussion about “squashing” an issue related to the Seth Rich controversy.

In January 2020, Judicial Watch uncovered Strzok-Page emails that detail special accommodations given to the lawyers of Clinton and her aides during the FBI investigation of the Clinton email controversy.

In November 2019, Judicial Watch revealed Strzok-Page emails that show the attorney representing three of Clinton’s aides were given meetings with senior FBI officials.

Also in November, Judicial Watch uncovered emails revealing that after Clinton’s statement denying the transmission of classified information over her unsecure email system, Strzok sent an email to FBI officials citing “three [Clinton email] chains” containing (C) [classified] portion marks in front of paragraphs.”

In a related case, in May 2020, Judicial Watch received the “electronic communication” (EC) that officially launched the counterintelligence investigation, termed “Crossfire Hurricane,” of President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The document was written by former FBI official Peter Strzok.

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Hawley Pushes AG Barr For Civil Rights Investigation Into Prosecutor Going After St. Louis Couple That Defended Home From BLM Protesters

Senator Josh Hawley sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr calling for a civil rights investigation into the prosecutor investigating a St. Louis couple who defended their home against Black Lives Matter protesters.

The couple, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, brandished firearms after a mob of protesters had broken onto their private property, threatening their family while chanting slogans for Black Lives Matter.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner responded by claiming the McCloskeys committed a “violent assault,” issued a warrant, and had one of the weapons seized.

“If Kimberly Gardner wants to press charges against two attorneys who are protecting their home and their family and themselves on their own property,” an attorney for the couple responded, “I will tell you that it will be nothing short of the proverbial cluster f***.”

If the Attorney General of the United States steps in at the request of Hawley (R-MO), that prediction may come to fruition.

RELATED: Protesters Break Into Private Neighborhood… Then Armed Residents Fought Back

Second Amendment

The McCloskey case is quickly shaping up to be a major stand for Second Amendment rights, something Hawley points out in his letter to Barr.

“This is an unacceptable abuse of power and threat to the Second Amendment, and I urge you to consider a federal civil rights investigation into the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office to determine whether this investigation and impending prosecution violates this family’s constitutional rights,” Hawley implored.

“There is no question under Missouri law that the McCloskeys had the right to own and use their firearms to protect themselves from threatened violence, and that any criminal prosecution for these actions is legally unsound,” the letter states.

Indeed, Missouri has the ‘Castle Doctrine‘ law, which enables people to use deadly force without fleeing if an intruder attempts to enter their property.

The BLM mob broke a gate to get into the private property.

RELATED: Fox News’ Janice Dean Slams Andrew Cuomo For ‘Tone Deaf’ Victory Lap After His Policies Helped Kill Thousands In Nursing Homes

Malicious Prosecution

Hawley proceeded to explain to Barr that there is one clear reason Gardner is going after the McCloskeys.

“The only possible motivation for the investigation, then, is a politically motivated attempt to punish this family for exercising their Second Amendment rights,” he explained.

That should frighten every American who has ever exercised their Second Amendment right in order to defend themselves or their family.

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US consumer sentiment reverses rebound amid ‘widespread resurgence’ of coronavirus, new survey says

  • Preliminary July readings from the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment gauge shows the index erasing recent gains amid new coronavirus outbreaks.
  • The university’s Index of Consumer Sentiment fell to 73.2 from 78.1, and respondents’ view of current economic conditions sank to 84.2 from 87.1.
  • “The widespread resurgence of the coronavirus” is to blame for the surprise drop, Richard Curtin, chief economist for the Surveys of Consumers, said.
  • “Another plunge in confidence and a longer recession is likely” if Congress doesn’t soon pass another fiscal stimulus bill, he added.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment gauge snapped a two-month uptrend in July, offering one of the first signs that new coronavirus outbreaks are reversing economic recovery.

The university’s Index of Consumer Sentiment fell to 73.2 from June’s reading of 78.1. Respondents’ view of current economic conditions sank to 84.2 from 87.1. The Index of Consumer Expectations posted the biggest decrease, falling to 66.2 from 72.3 through the month.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected the consumer sentiment gauge to modestly increase to 79.

“Consumer sentiment retreated in the first half of July due to the widespread resurgence of the coronavirus,” Richard Curtin, chief economist for the Surveys of Consumers, said in a release. “Unfortunately, declines are more likely in the months ahead as the coronavirus spreads and causes continued economic harm, social disruptions, and permanent scarring.”

Read more: A Wall Street expert breaks down his precise 5-part strategy that could quadruple returns for investors buying the market’s smallest companies

Friday’s readings are preliminary and final results are slated for release on July 31.

The surprise decline arrives as lawmakers debate a second fiscal stimulus bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he wants to keep the package’s size below $1 trillion. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that a virus relief bill in the works is already set to spend $1.3 trillion, adding the sum is still “not enough.” Congress has mere days to pass a bill before the $600 per week expansion to unemployment benefits expires.

An “aggressive fiscal response is urgently needed,” Curtin said. Yet the virus’ continued spread and looming policy deadlines threaten to worsen consumer sentiments before they resume their climb back to pre-pandemic levels.

“Unfortunately, there is little time left on the political calendar for Congress to act as the election season is about to begin in earnest. Without action, another plunge in confidence and a longer recession is likely to occur,” Curtin said.

Now read more markets coverage from Markets Insider and Business Insider:

US stocks edge higher, on track for mild weekly gain as Netflix tumbles

Stimulus checks were delivered faster to wealthy white households than Black and Hispanic families, study says

Bill Miller’s record-setting fund beat the market for 15 straight years. He breaks down the trio of forces that has him bullish on stocks – and lays out a ‘home run’ trade he’s making right now.

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The Conspiracy Singularity Has Arrived

A few months ago, at a time when it was still safe to have strange experiences in unusual places, I was handed a mysterious document. “ALLIANCES AND TRAITORS WITHIN THE TRUTH & UFO COMMUNITIES,” it read.

The document was a single, bright red sheet of paper, crowded with close-set black type. Different kinds of lines and arrows connected in wild formulations, linking George Soros with the Illuminati, various stars of the UFO community with their alleged handlers, the CIA with Alex Jones. The Pleidians—a race of tall, blue-eyed Nordic alien beings—connected with both Tesla and the president in ways I couldn’t quite parse.

This paper was created and handed to me by Dylan Louis Monroe, a player in the QAnon world and the creator of the Deep State Mapping Project, a one-man operation where Monroe creates dense visual maps of the supposed alliances he sees between various major players and world events. Monroe was at the New Age expo Conscious Life selling Q-branded t-shirts and promoting a YouTube show, I was there reporting, and both of us were thinking about the strange alliances and friendships that had begun to surface in various conspiracy communities.

“BE CAREFUL WHO YOU FOLLOW,” the document warned, in bold, at the bottom, just above a large black Q.

In the months that followed our chance meeting, the world buckled under the weight of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the alliances got stranger still. Conspiracy communities that have previously only brushed past each other like schools of fish borne along on different currents are suddenly, abruptly, swimming in the same direction.

Take Larry Cook, whose evolving belief system has been playing out in a remarkable way on Facebook. Cook is the man behind the largest anti-vaccine group on the platform, Stop Mandatory Vaccination, which, along with his personal Facebook page, serves as a central clearinghouse for anti-vaccine misinformation.

In the months since the pandemic began, Cook has begun to claim that it’s a pretext for the mandatory testing, tracking, and vaccination that he’s feared all along. (There is no evidence that the U.S. government will impose mandatory vaccination for the coronavirus, even though it should.) He’s also started to turn towards people who can provide some explanation for what’s really going on, and some measure of hope: Cook is promoting QAnon ideas, sometimes dozens of times a day. (QAnon is an ur-conspiracy theory which, broadly, holds that Donald Trump and his allies are bravely fighting back on a number of fronts against a shadowy, Satanic Deep State.)

“I AM A DIGITAL SOLDIER,” Cook posted recently, along with two Q-related hashtags, part of an “oath” that the mysterious Q had recently requested that his followers post. (Disgraced former Trump advisor General Michael Flynn was among those who posted the oath.) Linking to a webpage that shares Q’s missives, Cook added, in another post, “Discover why we have a lockdown and mask requirements for the healthy.” (Cook didn’t respond to an email from VICE News.)

Cook isn’t an outlier. As Mother Jones recently noted, coronavirus and the general uncertainty of the times we’re living in have aided the spread of QAnon specifically.

But it’s not just QAnon. The strain of living in this particular time, with a dragging, devastating pandemic and a global uprising against police brutality and racial injustice, crashing together at the highest speed, has accelerated something that’s been going on for years. Call it the conspiracy singularity: the place where many conspiracy communities are suddenly meeting and merging, a melting pot of unimaginable density. UFO conspiracy theorists and QAnon fans are advocating for drinking a bleach solution promoted by anti-vaxxers. QAnon groups and Reopen America groups alike promoted Plandemic , a film clip jam-packed with conspiratorial claims about the causes and spread of COVID. The Freedom Angels, an anti-vaccine group based in California, are among the many such groups joining anti-lockdown protests, using language that feels heavily drawn from the Patriot movement: They’re calling stay-at-home orders “tyranny,” addressing their followers as “Patriots,” and positioning themselves as “a new civil rights movements.” (They urged people to burn their facemasks on July 4th, adding, floridly: “Join millions of Americans on Independence Day as we show all these BLUE STATE GOVERNORS, SWAMP DOCS, and DEEP STATE RATS 🐀 how we feel about their latest ORDERS, DICTATES and MANDATES to wear our muzzles again.”)

More mainstream internet stars, as several outlets have noted, have also been drawn in: Lifestyle influencers are promoting COVID conspiracy theories, while the virality-seeking teens of TikTok are discovering a new obsession with Pizzagate. Sex trafficking conspiracy theories—all of which are tinged with Pizzagate and QAnon influences—seem to have an especially broad appeal: Recently, a pair of Arizona influencers promoted a baseless rumor that the furniture company Wayfair was trafficking children.

The trend towards a kind of disturbing unity is distilled in the hashtag #Covid911, backed by a lot of powerful players in both anti-vaccine and QAnon circles. It holds that what we’re living through—the pandemic and the protests against police brutality alike—is all a massive hoax, designed to sway not just the 2020 elections but usher in the New World Order. Not long ago, Joe M., a major QAnon promoter, released a video, which is still up on multiple platforms even as it’s marked as “false information,” calling the pandemic, the protests, and, of course, the push for nationwide mail-in voting all part of a “coordinated irregular warfare insurgency with multiple aims,” perpetrated by the Deep State. The nine-minute clip throws in a dizzying cocktail of claims touching on virtually every conspiracy theory of the current moment, managing to claim that the murder of George Floyd was “mysterious” and not what it seemed, that social distancing was perhaps a pretext to halt grand juries so that President Obama couldn’t be investigated for spying on the Trump campaign, and, of course, that “violent paramilitary group Antifa” had been given free rein by Democratic mayors to wreak havoc on city streets.

“COVID-19 is being sold as a natural event,” Joe M. intoned, over grim violin music and a shot of Nancy Pelosi taking a knee in kente cloth. “But we see now it is an attempt by enemies of humanity to hold onto power. After November, they stand to lose it all. But they will do everything to keep the crisis alive, and the people in fear.”

The last minute of the clip features shots of news reports about a feared second wave of coronavirus. The implication is that that, too, is part of the program to keep us afraid, and shouldn’t be acknowledged or believed.

People contain multitudes, and our ability to believe in several conspiracy theories at once is nothing new. We’ve seen hints of a conspiracy singularity before, most memorably in the worlds of Milton William Cooper, the author of the dense, chaotic, and totally unreadable conspiracy classic Behold a Pale Horse.

Cooper—before he died in a shootout with sheriff’s deputy trying to arrest him for aggravated assault—was successful in assembling a broad coalition of anti-government zealots. Behold a Pale Horse claimed to draw on his military service in the Vietnam War to expose a variety of evil deeds perpetrated by those who wanted to bring about a New World Order.

But Cooper also successfully weaved in UFO conspiracy theories—that the U.S. military shot down mysterious craft to capture alien technology, for instance—as well as medical ones, including claims that both AIDS and Hepatitis B were bioweapons loosed on the public by the CDC. As Cooper biographer Marc Jacobson noted, some of these theories gained a lot of credence among Black Americans and in the hip-hop community.

Behold a Pale Horse became a surprising mainstay across a lot of different communities, one of the only things you’d be just as likely to find in an Afrocentric bookshop in New York as at a militia rally merch table. It showed that UFO researchers and heavily armed self-proclaimed patriots had some kind of common language and view of the world, or at least places where their worlds overlapped. One devoted fan of Cooper’s radio show was Timothy McVeigh, who went on to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. Author and political scientist Michael Barkun notes in his book 2003 A Culture of Conspiracy that McVeigh also developed a fascination with UFOs around the same time, visiting Area 51 a year before he perpetrated the bombing. On death row, Barkun writes, McVeigh obsessively watched the film Contact, about a brave government scientist chosen to make contact with extraterrestrials.

Conspiracy theories that the government is hiding what it knows about aliens, or the existence of a secret “strawman” bank account assigned to each U.S. citizen, live in the same place, theoretically speaking. In his book, Barkun referred to these realms as the “domain of stigmatized knowledge.”

“That domain, as we have seen,” he wrote, “Is made up of rejected, outdated or ignored knowledge claims, regardless of subject matter. It contains material drawn from revisionist history, pseudoscience, alternative medicine, occultism, new and alternative religions and political sectarianism. Despite these differences of focus, all share certain overarching similarities: the disdain or disinterest of mainstream institutions, along with the common outsider status conferred by that disdain or disinterest, and a consequent suspicion of the institutions that have excluded them.”

Barkun’s book is broadly about the approaching conspiracy singularity, focused especially on the places where far-right, anti-government, and UFO circles had started to merge. And the same fusions Barkun observed in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, between far-right conspiracy theorists and UFO believers, could also be seen within the 9/11 “truth movement.” Conspiracy theories about 9/11 brought together the military-industrial complex-critical left and the Alex Jones-tinged right, as well as what Barkun called “the prophecies of Nostradmus, UFOs and conspiracy theories about the Illuminati.” The bedfellows were strange indeed: As a profile of Alex Jones from 2011 observed, “It turns out that the world of paranoia is round, and 9/11, with its billowing smoke and miles of video and a cast of thousands, is the terra incognita where left and right meet, fusing sixties countercultural distrust with the don’t-tread-on-me variety.”

In other words, alliances and overlaps are common, and not new. “There’s always been cross-pollination,” Michael Wood told VICE News. Wood has a PhD from the University of Kent and is an expert in conspiracy psychology. Along with his co-authors Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton, he published a 2012 paper exploring the phenomenon of people who simultaneously believe in conflicting conspiracy theories: that Princess Diana is alive and was killed by MI6, for example, or that Osama Bin Laden both died before the U.S. military raided his compound and is still alive after those same military forces supposedly killed him.

The ability to believe two things at once—even completely contradictory things—is based on an underlying level of “higher order” thinking, the paper argued, an overriding belief that can make even conflicting ideas make sense. Simply put, it’s the centralized belief that conspiracies and hidden deceptions underpin the world and guide human events.

“The idea that authorities are engaged in motivated deception of the public would be a cornerstone of conspiracist thinking due to its centrality in conspiracy theories,” the authors wrote. “Someone who believes in a significant number of conspiracy theories would naturally begin to see authorities as fundamentally deceptive, and new conspiracy theories would seem more plausible in light of that belief.”

This being so, it’s still true that conspiracy communities used to have some degree of separation. Their conventions were held in different hotel ballrooms, and targeted different audiences geographically and socially. Conspiracy theories were spread in newsletters and in-person meetings; they were narrowly targeted and often somewhat underground, part of a legitimately fringe and countercultural narrative.

But now the internet is the largest hotel ballroom of them all, and the novel coronavirus pandemic has forced a lot of people into a set of universalizing life circumstances. We’re all trying to make sense of the same massive global event, which seems to drive an urge towards a grand unified theory of suspicion. And with everyone using the same global platforms, conspiracy communities seem to influence and inflect each other far more rapidly. What we have today is more of a mass, a merge of conspiracy theories combining in ways that make their individual contours harder to make out.

For some people invested in multiple conspiratorial beliefs or communities, Wood said, “the evidence you’ve based your beliefs on is more like a negative argument, what you believe didn’t happen.” The actual conspiracy theories themselves “aren’t that important,” he added; they are really just “manifestations of this underlying suspicion and mistrust.”

That can take on some odd forms. In a 1954 study cited by Wood, Theodor Adorno found that German anti-Semites tended to believe that Jews were both too withdrawn from mainstream society and overly eager to participate in it. The “higher order” thinking at work was anti-Semitism and every negative belief derived from that, even when they didn’t logically cohere.

Similarly, Wood wrote, in more modern conspiracy theories, “distrust of official narratives may be so strong that many alternative theories are simultaneously endorsed in spite of any contractions between them.”

Today, alternative theories abound: that the coronavirus pandemic is both a hoax and a dangerous bioweapon unleashed by China; that Tom Hanks is dead—executed for being part of the pedophile Deep State—and alive in witness protection; that he is dead and replaced by a body double. All these theories have been promoted by the same guy, a QAnon fan named Tommy G.

At the same time that the conspiracy singularity starts to take shape, we’re seeing a distinct collapse between the fringe and the center. Nowhere is that more visible than in the increasing prominence of QAnon in relatively mainstream Republican politics. As of July, the left-leaning organization Media Matters has found 63 current and former Congressional candidates who are open and enthusiastic Q fans, some of whom, like Mary Joe Rae Perkins in Oregon and Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia, have already won their primaries. (To make it to Congress, Greene still has to defeat the second-place winner, John Cowan, in an August 11 runoff election, and is facing significant condemnation from the state GOP.)

Another useful idea referred to by Barkun, the author of Culture of Conspiracy, is the “cultic milieu,” a term coined in the 1970s by the British sociologist Colin Campbell, a sort of “cultural underground,” Barkun wrote, that’s made up of a variety of “rejected knowledge” disdained by the mainstream. The cultic milieu, Barkun wrote, is “wary of all claims to authoritative judgment,” and receptive “to all forms of revisionism, whether in history, religion, science or politics.”

It’s not a stretch to see how that domain of stigmatized knowledge extends to how people process current and ongoing events, how groups of people with seemingly nothing to bind them together on the surface might find themselves seeking explanation, order and meaning in the same places.

In fact, there’s been language for this phenomenon for a long time. People deeply embedded in the overlapping worlds of conspiracy theory tend to refer to themselves as being part of the “truth community.” And as its members come to a new and mutually reinforcing view of just what that truth is, the rest of us would do well to pay attention to just what it is.

Follow Anna Merlan on Twitter.

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Mad Mask Hysteria and Other Pandemic Hyper-Hypocrisy

Guest post by Larry C. Johnson

After watching New York Governor Mario Cuomo insist he’s done a magnificent job despite facilitating the death of more people than any other Governor in the nation, and listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci insist he was against wearing masks to ward off Covid before he was for them (true dat), and having my ears bleed from repeated dire media warnings that COVID is raging out of control (especially in Republican run states), I am starting to wonder if we are living in a Monty Python skit fueled by methamphetamines.

It is “BRING OUT YOUR DEAD” time:

TRENDING: NOT MAKING NATIONAL HEADLINES: Black Mass Shooter Kills Two Random Men in Indiana Before Being Gunned Down by CCW Holder (VIDEO)

Looks like the guys in this movie are now working on counting the number of COVID cases in the United States. (I am referring sarcastically to the discovery that labs around were declaring everyone tested as positive.) If COVID existed when the Python gang made this timeless flick, I suspect the last body we see tossed on the death wagon in the clip above probably died of COVID.

Let’s start with the Mask insanity. Despite the incessant religious mantra of the media (including Sean Hannity) on the need to wear masks, regardless of fiber or quality in order to ward off the COVID, the science says otherwise.

Kudos to Laura Ingraham who tackled this thorny topic Wednesday night succinctly and without hysterics. Crazy girl, she just used science and peer reported medical studies.

There is no conclusive evidence that wearing a face covering, especially one made of cloth, is going to keep you or those around you virus free. In fact, it may harm you.

BMJ, for example, (not exactly a righting conspiracy group) reported the following:

Very little good quality research exists on the use of cloth masks, especially in non-medical settings. One randomized controlled clinical trial of cloth masks, published in BMJ Open in 2015, compared their effectiveness with that of medical masks worn by hospital healthcare workers.2 The study, involving the industry partner 3M (which makes medical masks), reported that healthcare workers “should not use cloth masks as protection against respiratory infection. Cloth masks resulted in significantly higher rates of infection than medical masks, and also performed worse than the control arm.”

In an updated comment on the study (30 March),3 the authors said, “There have been a number of laboratory studies looking at the effectiveness of different types of cloth materials, single versus multiple layers and about the role that filters can play. However, none have been tested in a clinical trial for efficacy.”

Then we have the reporting on almost all of the media outlets warning that a tsunami of COVID is sweeping over Republican run states. Bring out your dead and run, no hide, for your lives. (Also, lock up your kids and keep them out of school).

Do not misinterpret my meaning–COVID is a real disease and some people are getting sick and some are dying. It is contagious. All true. Same can be said for influenza. COVID and Influenza kill people, but not most people.

But you would not know that if you are watching any cable news. The media, with few exceptions, is making no effort to provide context or understanding. Fueling panic appears to be their top priority.  People without a background in health care are likely to believe what they hear on TV without asking questions and demanding answers of experts, like Dr. Fauci, who has taken opposite sides on the same issue, such as wearing masks.

Since I live in Florida I’ve been getting calls and emails from concerned friends who are scattered around the country wondering if my family and I are barricaded in isolation to ward off the pandemic holocaust.

At least here, in Sarasota/Bradenton, our life goes on as normal notwithstanding stupid decisions from local officials who are caught up in the fear mongering. I continue to query friends/acquaintances about COVID—i.e., have they tested positive or do they know someone who tested positive. The answer is still no on both counts.

The AP 11am newscast broadcast on WMAL today (Thursday)would leave the gullible listener convinced that Florida is in the midst of something like the bubonic plague, complete with Monty Python morgue carts being pushed through the sunny neighborhoods accompanied by the cry, “BRING OUT YOUR DEAD.” But that’s not the case.

I checked the latest stats for the local hospital. The numbers for Sarasota Memorial tell a less alarming story. Total beds=839. Total number of Covid patients=98. That means only 12% of those hospitalized are there because of COVID. Similar story with respect to the ICU–Total ICU beds=72 (can be expanded to 100). Total Covid patients in ICU=19. I will do the math for you—COVID accounts for 26% of the critically ill patients.

No breakdown on the ages of those who are sick, but other nationwide stats show that if you are under 70 your risk of dying from COVID is 0.04%. I’d play those odds in Vegas.

Florida has some hot spots, such as Dade and Broward counties in the Southeast corner of the state. That outbreak comes courtesy of folks from Mario Cuomo land (known derisively as snowbirds) who have fled the bleak north for the sunny beaches and swaying Palm trees. But at least in Florida our Governor, Ron DeSantis, is not an idiot like Cuomo. Instead of ordering retirement centers that are filled with octogenarians to accept COVID patients, those with COVID are being kept away from the most vulnerable.

When I am out of the house driving to one of the local commercial establishments to spend money, I entertain myself by counting the number of lone drivers tooling around wearing a mask. They are in a car by themselves but somehow believe that they are so toxic they must mask themselves to protect themselves from their own self. Where is Darwin when we need him?

I am fed up with being lectured to by media and government morons who happily endorse mobs of Antifa and Black Lives Matter running around without social distancing and masks, but melt on the fainting couch at the prospect of peaceful, law abiding folks gathering together to worship or try to run a business that serves the needs of average folks.

One last piece of anecdotal “evidence.” A kid who graduated high school in the Washington, DC Metro area this spring is now practicing on a football team with one of the powerhouses in the SEC. He came down with COVID last week. What happened? He had a headache and felt tired for one day. Two days later he was back on the field working out and mixing it up with his new team mates.

If wearing a mask makes you feel safe, do what you feel you need to do. But leave the rest of us alone and stay six feet away. Oh yeah, wash your hands and don’t pick your nose. By the way, did you remember to change your underwear?

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Doctors, Dentists Still Flooding U.S. With Opioid Prescriptions : NPR

Doctors and other health care providers still prescribe highly addictive pain medications at rates widely considered unsafe. Critics say the practice exposes tens of millions of patients each year to unnecessary risk of addiction, overdose and death.

Tracy Lee for NPR


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Tracy Lee for NPR

Doctors and other health care providers still prescribe highly addictive pain medications at rates widely considered unsafe. Critics say the practice exposes tens of millions of patients each year to unnecessary risk of addiction, overdose and death.

Tracy Lee for NPR

Despite widespread devastation caused by America’s opioid epidemic, an investigation by NPR found that doctors and other health care providers still prescribe highly addictive pain medications at rates widely considered unsafe.

Public data, including new government studies and reports in medical literature, shows enough prescriptions are being written each year for half of all Americans to have one.

Patients still receive more than twice the volume of opioids considered normal before the prescribing boom began in the late 1990s.

“We’re 5% of the world’s population, but we consume 80% of the world’s prescription opioids,” said Dr. Jonathan Chen, a physician and researcher at Stanford University Medical Center who studies prescribing patterns.

Critics say the practice exposes tens of millions of patients each year to unnecessary risk of addiction, overdose and death. It also floods communities with vast quantities of opioid medications that go unused, building up a deadly reservoir of drugs in home medicine cabinets that often wind up being abused.

“It’s not just a handful of doctors doing it. We kind of all are. It’s become part of our culture that this is normal,” Chen said.

His view reflects a growing body of research by doctors and scientists who have begun to voice alarm about the lack of progress in scaling back medical opioid consumption.

A lot of pills, a lot of deaths

The peril for patients remains high. In 2018, the last year for which complete data is available, more than 1 in 5 Americans had an opioid prescription filled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That same year, roughly 40 Americans died each day after taking prescription opioids.

Experts say far more people are dying after developing an addiction to legal pain medicines, then shifting to far more dangerous opioids such as heroin and black-market Fentanyl.

Even without overdose and death, opioid addiction can be devastating, derailing lives, destroying families and disrupting whole communities.

“We’ve had an attitude about opioids that they are similar to antibiotics, where you can prescribe and forget,” said Travis Rieder, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins University. “That’s a crazy view for a medicine like opioids.”

Rieder himself has struggled with opioid use disorder since being prescribed large quantities of pain pills following a motorcycle accident in 2015.

“I’d just call the surgeon, and he’d up the dose. They kept writing the prescriptions, and I kept taking them,” he said.

Big Pharma made the pills, but doctors were the gatekeepers

The opioid epidemic has been blamed in large part on the pharmaceutical industry and high-profile companies like Purdue Pharma, which falsely marketed the powerful medications as safe and relatively addiction-free.

As early as 2007, drugmakers were paying out massive settlements for their role sparking a wave of addiction that left more than 450,000 Americans dead. Thousands of communities have filed civil lawsuits hoping to recoup some of the staggering financial cost.

Doctors have faced far less scrutiny for their role in the crisis, but the medical profession has struggled for years to clean up its overprescribing culture. In 2014, the American Medical Association formed an opioid task force, charged in part with reforming physician practices.

“Physicians feel like we had a role to play and we wanted to be part of the solution,” said Dr. Patrice Harris, who heads the AMA’s effort. “Prescribing has been going down since 2012, but we wanted to get the word out that physicians should be more judicious.”

In 2016, the CDC issued strongly-worded guidelines, urging doctors to avoid opioids or to minimize their use whenever possible. Roughly half the states have implemented some form of regulation designed to curtail prescribing.

But scientists, government officials and front-line medical workers interviewed by NPR say those efforts have fallen dangerously short.

A CDC study released in May found many physicians regularly ignore federal guidelines, prescribing large quantities of powerful opioid medications even when better treatment options are available.

“It’s possible some clinicians just simply aren’t aware of existing evidence-based recommendations,” said Dr. Christina Mikosz, one of the CDC’s lead researchers studying opioid prescribing.

“The other possibility is that they are aware and they just choose not to follow them.”

Physicians still prescribe opioids heavily, despite research and warnings

Mikosz points to the way many doctors treat fibromyalgia, a condition that can cause severe and chronic pain. Most experts now agree opioids aren’t the safest or most effective treatment, but physicians continue to prescribe opioid pain pills aggressively anyway.

“Patients with fibromyalgia were typically prescribed at least a full month supply of opioids,” Mikosz said.

Remarkably, studies of prescribing practices reviewed by NPR show that physicians continue to regularly prescribe opioids even for relatively mild pain conditions, including lower back pain, muscle strain and headaches.

“There was a study of people who go to the hospital with a twisted ankle,” said Keith Humphreys, who teaches and studies opioid prescribing at Stanford University. “One in eight of them is coming out with opioids. That’s crazy.”

This is happening despite research that shows even a single prescription for opioid medications comes with significant risk. A study published this year in Massachusetts found that between 1% and 4% of patients who are introduced to opioids develop opioid-use disorder.

Multiply that risk times tens of millions of patients, and you have the makings of another wave of opioid addiction.

The shadow of Sen. Lindsey Graham is cast on a photograph of heroin and Fentanyl during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in 2018. Officials across the country have trying to stem the opioid crisis over the past decade.

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The shadow of Sen. Lindsey Graham is cast on a photograph of heroin and Fentanyl during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in 2018. Officials across the country have trying to stem the opioid crisis over the past decade.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“The number of adults that received any opioid prescription during the year was quite high,” said lead researcher Laura Burke, an ER doctor who teaches at Harvard Medical School.

Burke said the impact of overprescribing is still painfully visible in the emergency rooms where she works.

“Many many shifts, probably most, I see the devastating consequences of addiction and overdose and all the complications associated with opioid use disorder,” she told NPR.

American dentists also prescribing opioids at dangerous levels

Studies show doctors aren’t the only medical professionals overprescribing. Data released this year by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh showed as many as half of opioids given out by American dentists are unnecessary and inappropriate.

Often, powerful pain pills were prescribed following oral procedures associated with mild pain that experts say could be treated with Tylenol or an ice pack.

“We found that over time, overprescribing of opioids by dentists actually increased,” said Dr. Katie Suda, lead researcher on the project. She noted that up to 10% of medical opioids distributed in the U.S. each year are now prescribed by dentists.

One particular red flag turned up in her study: Dentists regularly give high-power opioid pills such as oxycodone to younger patients who are most vulnerable.

“Dentists are the primary prescribers of opioids to adolescents and young adults, who are at high risk for opioid misuse,” Suda said.

Another study published this year by researchers in Michigan found dentists regularly hand out opioids after routine wisdom teeth extractions, despite evidence that patients experienced equal relief using other, safer treatments.

There is some good news. Data shows prescription rates overall have declined significantly from their peak in 2012, with the steepest reductions coming in the last few years. In some parts of the U.S., health care workers have become far more cautious.

In those communities, opioid prescribing now resembles the safer approach seen in Europe, where physicians and dentists view medications such as oxycodone and Vicodin as a last resort rather than a first option.

In much of America, the opioid boom never ended

Even with those gains, however, medical experts warn that the total volume of opioid medications prescribed to patients nationwide remains perilously high and progress is stubbornly uneven.

CDC data shows clinicians in some parts of the U.S. still write opioid prescriptions at rates between two and six times the national average.

In 11% of American counties, often in rural communities clustered in the South, enough opioid prescriptions are being written each year for every man, woman and child to have one.

Many of those doctors and dentists work in communities already hard hit by the opioid epidemic.

“We found more prescribing in counties with a higher percent of white residents, with higher rates of un-insurance and unemployment,” said Gery Guy, a CDC researcher who studies geographic disparities in opioid prescribing rates.

While highlighting overall progress cutting opioid prescribing, the AMA’s Harris said more focus is needed in areas where pills are being dispensed at a high rate.

“We should go to those counties and look at what’s going on,” she told NPR.

Experts interviewed by NPR agree opioids are an important medication when used properly. They say pain management is one of the most complicated and frustrating challenges physicians face.

Studies also suggest some of the overprescribing that continues in 2020 reflects a kind of hangover caused by past practices. By some estimates, as many as 10 million Americans were improperly exposed to high doses of medical opioids and are now profoundly addicted.

“They’ve been on opioids for 15 years and probably shouldn’t be,” said Stanford researcher Keith Humphreys. “But if you take it away, they could crash or experience horrible withdrawal or make a suicide attempt. You have to manage that legacy.”

Why is this still happening?

But researchers say that doesn’t explain why so many doctors and dentists continue to prescribe pills aggressively to new patients and young people with no history of opioid dependency.

NPR found widespread debate, disagreement and even confusion over the reasons for this kind of overprescribing.

In some instances, the behavior seems almost cavalier. One study found physicians often hand out a high number of opioid pills to their patients simply because that’s the first option offered on the dropdown menu of their medical smart devices.

“You just click a box and it’s 28 pills,” Humphreys said. “Some studies show if you change that number and make it 12 pills, a lot of physicians pick 12. Which is a little scary.”

Experts also say opioids remain temptingly convenient for doctors, whatever the long-term risk.

In a health care industry where patient consultations are measured in minutes and time pressure in emergency rooms and surgery units is intense, it’s often easier to write a scrip for pain pills rather than engage in a complicated discussion of pain management.

Indeed, some studies suggest health care workers are actually writing prescriptions for more opioid pills because of time constraints, that’s because government regulations have made prescribing more complicated and time-consuming.

“Dentists are prescribing just a couple more tablets, so they don’t have to rewrite the prescription” during follow-up patient visits, said Suda at the University of Pittsburgh.

If that happened once or twice, it might not matter.

But Suda’s study found dentists making that choice again and again with patients across the country, pushing roughly 14 million extra opioid tablets into circulation each year.

Surgeons, too, give out so many extra pills that as many as 70% of tablets are never used for their prescribed purpose.

Experts say millions of these highly addictive tablets dispensed legally each year are eventually diverted and misused.

“It’s remarkable this continues and that we put this much potentially deadly drug out on the street every year. But that’s the situation we’re in,” Humphreys told NPR.

Lack of training and resources appear to drive some decisions

Physicians say another major factor causing them to overprescribe opioids is they often don’t have the resources to offer alternatives, especially in rural areas where physical therapists and pain specialists are in short supply.

In many cases, insurance companies are also willing to pay for opioid pills while sharply limiting coverage for non-opioid treatments that are safer and often more effective.

It’s also difficult for some patients to afford the multiple co-pays and time off work needed for non-opioid pain treatments.

“Doctors are absolutely willing to have alternatives if they are in the toolbox,” said the AMA’s Harris. “We have to make sure the solutions, the alternatives to opioids, are equitably available.”

But another major driver of overprescribing, cited most frequently by critics and researchers, is a cultural attitude among many American doctors, surgeons and dentists.

For two decades, front-line medical workers were trained to view pain as “the fifth vital sign,” a condition that required immediate and aggressive treatment.

Studying in medical programs funded in part by the pharmaceutical industry, they learned to think of opioids as a convenient, safe solution.

Numerous studies reviewed by NPR suggest those attitudes remain deeply entrenched. An article in March in the Rhode Island Journal of Medicine blamed America’s opioid epidemic, in part, on “an inherent cultural ethos” within the medical community that tends to favor high-power pain pills like oxycodone.

“That’s the way I was taught,” acknowledged Chen at Stanford University. “If the patient tells you they’re in pain, it’s better to just believe what they say and give them enough medication until they say they feel better.”

He said it took years before he realized this approach was dangerous. “I realized, wait a minute, I think I’m actually contributing to the problem.”

Many experts studying this problem told NPR that they believe the next generation of physicians and dentists will be more vigilant with opioids. But Stanford’s Keith Humphreys said Americans should be outraged that doctors practicing now keep getting this wrong.

“They should be angry and at least some of them are, particularly people who’ve buried loved ones,” he said. “It is remarkable that medicine still has the trust that it does after these past 20 years.”

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CBS Interview: Trump Says He Would Bring Flynn Back To The White House

President Donald Trump told CBS Senior Investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge that he would gladly bring his former national security advisor Michael Flynn back to the White House.

Flynn’s life has been turned upside down since he was fired by the administration in February, 2017. His removal was in response to a column written by David Ignatius, with The Washington Post, which referred to leaks of highly classified phone conversations between Flynn and former Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak in December, 2016. At the time, Ignatius said that Flynn discussed sanctions imposed by the Obama administration on Russia during the conversation. Ignatius also referred to a government official who stated that Flynn violated the obscure Logan Act law.

Flynn was then interviewed by FBI Special agents Peter Strzok, who has since been fired for malfeasance, and Joe Pientka, who is still with the bureau, at the White House in January, 2017. Prior to interviewing Flynn, however, the bureau had already decided that there was no evidence derogatory evidence what-so-ever against Flynn, or anyone connected to him.

Strzok, along with other senior Obama officials, however, kept a bureau investigation open on the three star general. He later pled guilty to Special Counsel Robert Mueller prosecutors for allegedly lying to the FBI agents during the White House interview. However, Flynn withdrew his plea and stated that he was coerced into pleading guilty after his family was threatened with being dragged into the prosecution. He’s since been exonerated by the Justice Department and an appeals court has asked Judge Emmett Sullivan, who is overseeing his case, to drop all charges against him.

And Trump has made it clear on numerous occasions that he believes that Flynn was railroaded. He told Herridge that he would welcome Flynn back to the White House.

“I would. I think he’s a great gentleman,” said Trump. “He’s a great — he’s been in the military for many, many decades, actually. Highly respected. What General Flynn went through is so unfair.”

Trump also said Flynn was a victim. He noted that FBI agents, like Strzok and others, politically targeted Flynn. The investigation against Flynn was an investigation built on lies to target his administration, Trump said.

Mueller’s probe found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and neither did numerous congressional investigations. However, there was an extraordinary amount of evidence revealing that the Democrats, Hillary Clinton campaign, along with senior members of the Obama administration had conspired to target Trump.

Moreover, Attorney General William Barr appointed Connecticut prosecutor John Durham to investigate the overwhelming evidence of the bureau’s malfeasance in the case. However, there are no known indictments as of yet.

Trump told CBS that he is letting Durham’s investigation continue without any intervention on his part saying, “I’ve totally taken myself out of it.”

“You have to understand,” said Trump regarding Flynn’s firing. “I was given information that he lied.”