The Homeless Opioid Epidemic

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This post originally appeared at WeStandUp.org back in April; since the site folded, I’m reposting it here.

More than 115 Americans die every day as a result of opioid overdoses. But as is often the case, the attention paid to the opioid epidemic most often focuses on abuses of prescription pain medication by otherwise stable middle- or upper-class individuals. Less visible in this narrative are marginalized populations like the homeless, for whom opioid addiction is not a new phenomenon, but an ongoing crisis.

New York City is no exception. In 2016, overdose deaths — primarily from opioids — rose 46% from the previous year, prompting Mayor Bill De Blasio to increase spending to $36 million to address opioid addiction through the city’s Healing NYC program. The New York Times recently reported that city officials are cautiously optimistic about the program’s success, citing a “leveling off” in opioid-related deaths following a sharp increase in 2016.

This optimism is certainly well-founded. However, it overlooks data which suggests that opioid overdoses among the city’s homeless population are not falling. Quite the opposite, in fact: opioid overdoses among the homeless are rising at an alarming rate. The New York Daily News recently reported that there have been 81 opioid overdoses in the first four months of fiscal year 2018; compared to the same time period last year, when the shelter system reported just 12 overdoses, that represents a 575% increase.

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Abolish The Cash Bail System

This post originally appeared at WeStandUp back in March; since the site has folded, I’m reposting it here. 

Kalief Browder spent three years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

By now, his story is known to many: arrested in 2010 and charged with robbery, grand larceny and assault, the then-16-year-old Browder spent the next three years of his life imprisoned at Rikers Island. During his incarceration, Browder developed severe depression; his family attributes Browder’s depression — and multiple suicide attempts, both at Rikers and after his release — to the time Browder spent in solitary confinement. Following his release in 2013, Browder’s mental health continued to deteriorate. On June 6, 2015, one week after his 22nd birthday, Browder hanged himself from an air conditioning unit outside his bedroom window.

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4chan Is Trying To Get #NoMenMidterms Trending

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If you count yourself among the ranks of the Terminally Online, you may have seen a hashtag called “#NoMenMidterms” making the rounds over the past week or so. #NoMenMidterms is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a call for men or anyone who identifies as male to not vote in the 2018 midterm elections. Or, as a number of memes bearing the hashtag put it: “Sit this one out.”

Historically speaking, the Republican Party’s position on women’s rights ranges anywhere from indifference to complete disregard. As such, the strategy of achieving female empowerment by providing the GOP a clear path to victory in the midterms would seem a tad ill-advised. And with so much riding on the outcome of the 2018 midterms, who in the world would think forfeiting the elections to strike a blow against The Patriarchy™ is a good idea? More to the point, how does encouraging women to vote for a slate of largely-male candidates even achieve that goal?

To normal people, this suggestion is incomprehensible. But to the aggrieved trolls of 4chan’s /pol/, it’s the perfect ruse to prevent Democrats from regaining control of the House and Senate.

A Google search of “NoMenMidterms” yields relatively few (for Google) results, but what does show up is telling. The first mention of it occurred on July 17th /pol/, when a user posted a blank meme template and urged others to “Create these and spread them over Twitter under the tag #NoMenMidTerms.” The plan soon migrated to Reddit, finding a home at r/The_Donald, Reddit’s one-stop shop for racism, misogyny, and xenophobia.

A Twitter account called @NMidterms, was also recently created, seemingly for the purpose of propagating use of #NoMenMidterms. The account’s bio identifies the user as a “Proud Latinx de Mexico” and uses the hashtags #Democrats, #NoMenMidterms and #DemocraticSocialism. That someone would identify with both the Democrats and the DSA, given the latter’s unbridled disdain for the former is curious; even more eyebrow-raising, however, are the accounts with whom @NMidterms interacts.

The most recent activity on the @NMidterms page is a retweet of a user called @AntifaBranson:

The @AntifaBranson account was created in 2009, and until late last month, most of the account’s tweets were bog-standard conservative “humor”:

A day after /pol/ unveiled its grand plan, however, the tone shifted from thinly-veiled mockery to earnest cosplaying as a leftist. But, because the folks on r/The_Donald and /pol/ would rather spend their time constructing the perfect leftist straw man than actually trying to understand leftists, the result is a mishmash of incompatible ideologies. For example, it is highly unlikely that a self-proclaimed member of Antifa would list “#TheResistance” in their bio, considering Antifa hold just as much disdain for establishment/centrist Democrats as they do for Republicans.

Meanwhile, on @NMidterms’ page, the account’s tweets have garnered likes from people who don’t normally support progressive or leftist politics: there’s a flat-earth truther, multiple accounts railing against George Soros and the Deep State, the aforementioned @AntifaBranson, and at least one account with a Kekistan avatar. (Kekistan is the fictional country adopted by alt-right trolls.)

On its face, the plan and its execution leave something to be desired; anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the difference between, say, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton would be able to sniff out a fraud. But /pol/ isn’t trying to pass the smell test with leftists. Instead, they’re banking on the inevitability of Poe’s Law: the idea that unless satire is explicitly labeled as such, there will always be those who believe it to be true.

The larger question is, what is the point of this?  The answer varies from person to person. For some, the purpose is political: they despise the left and want progressive policies to fail. If those policies fail because Democrats can’t retake Congress, great; if they fail because the general public believes that supporting Democratic candidates is a losing proposition, so much the better. For others, the politics of it all are beside the point; they merely want to stir up some shit and make people angry. The act of trolling is its own justification.

Thus far, the #NoMenMidterms hashtag hasn’t taken off, and analytics show its use has declined since the initial spike. Considering that r/The_Donald and /pol/ are pushing this strategy, it’s possible that the hashtag will see a resurgence will in the near future. And, as more than one 4chan poster pointed out, the hashtag could theoretically catch on with an unlikely crowd: #Resistance Twitter.

So named for their unyielding commitment to “resisting” Donald Trump’s policies, #Resistance Twitter is in the business of pretending that every problem in America magically appeared on January 20, 2017. Of course, these problems have existed for decades — the only difference is under Trump, it’s a lot more difficult to ignore them. Members of #Resistance Twitter firmly believe that the investigative work of lunatics like Eric Garland and Louise Mensch will be the undoing of the Trump administration. They’re the kind of people who believe Robert Mueller will fix everything, instead of acknowledging that American political discourse has become at once frighteningly toxic and profoundly stupid. They say things like “At least George W. Bush was a good man!” They teared up when Kate McKinnon dressed up as Hillary Clinton and sang “Hallelujah” on SNL.

These people, more than any other group, are the most likely to fall for 4chan’s ruse. #Resistance Twitter is bursting at the seams with people who attended the Women’s March (or totally would have, but traffic was just TERRIBLE) and spent the whole time taking Instagram shots to demonstrate off their nascent — and trendy — political awareness. These people can afford to act in half-measures because their economic and/or racial status inoculates them against the Trump administration’s most harmful policies. They’re insulated enough from reality that an expression of performative wokeness is worth two more years of a GOP-led Congress.

Even if it doesn’t catch on with the #StillWithHer set, the idea is just clever enough to trick the dumbest — and loudest — among us. Once that happens, it will become one of those pernicious myths that bounces around the internet. Conservatives will dredge it up whenever they need evidence of PC culture run amok or of liberalism as a mental disorder. Nobody on the right will bother to investigate the origin of the hashtag; why spoil a perfectly good talking point?

If this one doesn’t stick, they’ll just keep trying until they find one that does, because ultimately, the goal isn’t to actually convince left-leaning male voters to stay home. The goal is to sow confusion, to stoke anti-progressive sentiment, and to paint anyone left of Newt Gingrich as a hyper-PC reactionary. For the apolitical members of /pol/ (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one), pissing people off is reward enough.

The lesson, as always: don’t feed the trolls.

Conservatives Want A Right-Wing Version of ‘SNL,’ Which…Sure, Okay

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Saturday Night Live has been a staple of American television for nearly a half-century. Which is kind of a weird thing to write, because hardly anybody seems to actually enjoy the show. Even when the show is firing on all cylinders (and I honestly can’t recall the last time that happened), the general praise is that it reminded the viewer of the show’s golden years.

It’s usually not a good sign when the most fervent praise you can offer a show is “A reasonable facsimile of the heights already achieved by the show in seasons past.” Nevertheless, despite perpetually being two or three years removed from when it was good, SNL somehow remains on the air.

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The Overlooked Savagery of “The Story of Adidon”

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Technically speaking, the beef between Pusha T and Drake is really a proxy war. In 2002, the duo Clipse (comprised of Pusha and his brother, then known as Malice) guest-starred on the track “What Happened To That Boy” by Birdman, the head of Cash Money Records and Drake’s boss.

The track was produced by Pharrell, who had discovered and signed Clipse to his own record label; according to Pusha, Birdman never paid Pharrell for his production work. So, out of a sense of loyalty to Pharrell – who is too easygoing to engage in this kind of dispute – Pusha adopted the beef as his own. (The Washington Post put together a nice timeline if you want to follow along.)

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Kanye West Is An Empty Vessel

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I’m standing up and I’m telling you, I am Warhol. I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare, in the flesh. Walt Disney, Nike, Google…

-Kanye West, Creator of the Yeezy, 2013

The last time we heard from Kanye West, he was unleashing a tirade at a show in November 2016, during which he called out Jay Z and Beyoncé, proudly proclaimed he would have voted for Donald Trump (West didn’t vote), then abruptly ended the show after four songs.

At the time, it was the latest in an ongoing string of very public meltdowns, and a few weeks after that show, West was hospitalized for mental health issues. West receded from the public eye for a while, and given the news about his mental breakdown, the public was willing to attribute his previous crack-ups to a manifestation of untreated mental illness.

Last week, however, Kanye West resurfaced, and as the kids say, he’s on one.

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Is Healthcare a Privilege or a Right?

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Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, the GOP has spent the majority of its legislative efforts on one thing: repealing the Affordable Care Act. Thus far, their efforts have been for naught; the ACA has remained the law of the land, though not for lack of trying on the part of congressional Republicans.

I’ve written extensively on this topic in the past, so a rehash of the various arguments seems fruitless; moreover, these arguments are primarily focused on the legislative ins and outs of the bills introduced by the GOP thus far. And though it is worthwhile to discuss the nitty-gritty elements of how these bills might work in practice, the underlying question is more important: should healthcare be considered a privilege or a right?

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The Term “Fake News” Will Ruin Us.

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If you’ve listened to Donald Trump speak at any point over the past year and a half, you’ve likely heard him use the phrase “fake news.” It’s become one of his favorite rebuttals — so much so, in fact, that he claimed to have invented the term “fake news” in late October. Much like the man himself, this marvelously idiotic assertion is what happens when you combine boundless egotism and staggering ignorance.

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The GOP Tax Plan is a Disaster

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By now, we should be accustomed to the GOP’s preferred way of advancing legislation through the chambers of Congress: the bills are crafted behind closed doors, seemingly without any input from the constituents for whom the legislation is ostensibly created. In due time, the reason for the secrecy becomes apparent when the details of the bill are finally revealed to the public, at which point the GOP is faced with a massive public backlash.

Thus far in Trump’s presidency, this formula has not been a successful one. Invariably, the public outcry forces enough congressional Republicans to withdraw their support for the bill, most often in the form of very public attacks of conscience.

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The Hypocrisy of James O’Keefe

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On Tuesday, the Washington Post published the story of Jaime T. Phillips, a woman who approached the newspaper claiming to have engaged in a sexual relationship with Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate. Phillips told Post reporters that she and Moore had engaged in a sexual relationship, culminating in Phillips being forced to get an abortion when she was only 15 years old.

The allegation aligned perfectly with Moore’s apparent modus operandi (four women allege that Moore’s sexual misconduct took place when they were in their teens and Moore was in his thirties). Moreover, the hypocrisy of a pro-life, Bible-thumping, conservative Republican forcing his teenaged paramour to get an abortion would be extra ammunition for Moore’s political opponents.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), Phillips’ story wasn’t true.

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