Sep 17, 2019

The opioid villains receive their judgment.

The opioid villains receive their judgment.

Plus, a breakdown of today's huge election in Israel.

Today’s read: 7 minutes.

Israel’s election, a question about the opioid epidemic and the unnerving story behind that new app TikTok.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Legendary ABC News journalist and political commentator Cokie Roberts has died at the age of 75 from breast cancer. Roberts was an idol to many, including me and particularly women, who looked up to her sharp analysis of D.C. politics and her unwavering support of women in media. She made news dozens of times with elite interview tactics that will be studied in journalism classes for years to come.


Last night, during a rally in New Mexico, President Donald Trump addressed Steve Cortes, one of his most high-profile Hispanic supporters. Trump mused that Cortes “looks a lot more WASP” than Trump does and then asked Cortes whether he likes “his country or Hispanics” more in front of thousands of rallygoers.

What D.C. is talking about.

Israel. One of the the United States’ most important allies is holding elections today. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Just six months ago, Israel re-elected Benjamin Netanyahu as its prime minister. But in Israel, when a leader doesn’t win enough parliamentary seats to govern (which Netanyahu didn’t), the prime minister needs to form what’s called a “coalition.” Netanyahu couldn’t do that, either. Instead of allowing someone else to lead, Netanyahu took the rare step of pushing Israel’s parliament to vote on an election re-run to sort things out. Today, they run it back, and things are very, very tight for Israel’s longest-serving PM of all time (he served from 1996 to 1999 and has been in office since 2009).

What Republicans are saying.

Go Netanyahu! “Bibi,” as he’s colloquially known, is very close with the Trump family and has been a staunch supporter of the Republican party for some time. Republicans see him a reliable conservative in the Middle East who is a man of God, a soldier, not afraid to take military action and happy to take hardline stances on Iran and Syria. He’s proudly upholding the only thing close to a Democracy in the region. Internationally, Republican foreign policy stances and Netanyahu’s foreign policy stances often align. Netanyahu’s Likud party and Trump’s Republican party often align as well. You might remember a few years ago when Netanyahu took the unprecedented step of coming to Washington D.C. and speaking to Congress on an invitation from Republicans — not President Obama — in order to trash Obama’s Iran nuclear agreement. Trump and Netanyahu have also been discussing a “defense treaty”  between the United States and Israel to help combat terrorism. The two almost always speak glowingly about each other and Republicans share the love as well.

What Democrats are saying.

Corrupt. Racist. Unhinged. In essence: a lot like Trump. Netanyahu is facing a potential indictment for alleged fraud, bribery and breaches of trust. He’s been accused of offering help to destroy news organizations in exchange for favorable coverage from their rivals. He’s also been accused of taking money from businessmen and Hollywood executives. Leading up to the election six months ago, Netanyahu warned Israelis that without him, the country would suffer terrorist attacks and — in essence — an Arab invasion. This time around, he and his son are posting videos online of Arabs at polling booths to encourage Jewish Israelis to turn out, but the pictures are actually from an election in Istanbul. If he wins, he’s promised to annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank where Palestinians are trying to create their own state, an issue that’s extremely important to left-wing Jews and liberals in the U.S. And yet, you’re not hearing much about his top challenger, Benny Gantz…

My take.

I lived in Israel in 2013 and feel a great deal of connection to the country and the region. During my time there, I experienced the keen sense of danger that many Israelis share; Israel is very unique in that it is geographically surrounded almost entirely by adversaries. That fear is a big part of Israeli culture and opens the door for someone like Netanyahu to be successful. He’s seen in Israel as a larger than life figure, a strongman who was willing to take on Obama, someone who can command the international stage in a way only U.S. presidents can. But the ultra-Orthodox religious leaders he’s courting and the disinformation he pushed to scare people into voting would be totally over the top here, and it should be totally over the top there, too. Not only that, but the evidence of Netanyahu’s corruption is pretty strong and his plan for Palestine is totally reprehensible. And yet, the other likely option is Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue-White party, and he and Netanyahu hardly differ on issues relevant to American citizens. As The New York Post’s Benny Avni put it, “Gantz promises little to no change on issues like defense, diplomacy or economics. Indeed, several Blue-White leaders are even more hawkish on security than Netanyahu.” The real decision in this election is whether Netanyahu, who is credited with a booming economy, courting new allies and avoiding war, should be the face of Israel amidst his corruption scandal. The only real practical differences between Gantz and Netanyahu is that Gantz is a bit more moderate on domestic issues and has promised not to court ultra-Orthodox leaders. He’s also received tepid support from Arab citizens, who represent about 20 percent of Israel and see Gantz as the lesser of two evils. Based on the plans they’ve laid out, it’s unlikely Netanyahu or Gantz move Israel anywhere closer to peace with Palestine, and it’s just as unlikely either end up receiving much support from Democrats or liberals in the U.S.

Bernie drops new ad.

Sanders bought a new ad campaign in West Virginia. You can watch it below.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Tangle is about streamlining the information news consumers want to know. My job is to simplify and condense the news so you can stay informed without having to wade through story after story. If you have a question you want answered, you can simply reply to this email.

Q: I keep seeing news on the opioid epidemic, whether in articles or in John Oliver Last Week Tonight segments. Why is it that it's such a crisis yet no one seems to be talking about it as a major concern? Also, how is the Sackler family managing to move along in life despite being heavily connected to the epidemic?

- Gabriel, Atlanta, GA

Tangle: Thanks for the question, Gabriel. As some Tangle readers know, the opioid epidemic is an issue that is very personal to me. Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where I grew up, was hit harder by the opioid epidemic than just about any place in the country. One local paper estimated that the 2008 class from my high school has lost around 90 students to opioid-related deaths (we had about 950 students in every grade). One of my closest high school friends and several others from my grade who I knew well died during or after high school from heroin or opioid overdoses. Dozens more are still battling addiction today. All this is to say the opioid epidemic is something that many people in my orbit are talking about constantly — and an issue that is very important to me.

To first your question, why more people aren’t talking about it, the simple answer is that the opioid epidemic is a sticky, complex issue that isn’t very easy to cover. I think most cable television media, and lots of news websites, get better ratings and more clicks talking about Trump’s tweets, school shootings or war overseas. In a very morbid, cynical way, those stories just make for higher drama. That being said, there is good money that the issue of opioids is going to play a huge role — at least on a grassroots level — in the 2020 presidential election. In both 2017 and 2018, there were more than 47,000 opioid-related deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preliminary data shows a minor decline so far this year, but there’s still a ways to go. And there are likely hundreds of thousands of more people who are battling opioid addiction across the country, making it an issue that will resonate with voters in every state across America.

To the second part of your question, I wouldn’t be so sure the Sackler family is going to move along. For readers who don’t know, the Sacklers are the family that founded Purdue Pharma, the company that made billions of dollars selling OxyContin and became the face of the opioid addiction epidemic. This weekend, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy as part of its settlement with state and local governments who are suing the company for misleading them about the dangers of the painkiller.

On one hand, Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers are getting off easy. There is no price on the hundreds of thousands of lives they helped destroy, but the terms of the $12 billion settlement they struck left plenty to be desired. For starters, the company is not actually admitting its guilt as part of the deal. Secondly, a lot of officials are skeptical the $12 billion payouts Purdue has been ordered to administer will be paid in full. Third, the company is now trying to pivot into treating the addiction it actually helped start. In fact, the company argued that by continuing to litigate the case, plaintiffs would force them to use money they could spend to treat addiction on legal fees. They actually made the case a settlement was in the interest of the plaintiffs because there’d be more money available for treatment.

As part of the deal, Purdue will dissolve, rename itself, and continue selling OxyContin, allegedly using the revenue from sales of OxyContin to pay off the plaintiffs. It will also “donate” drugs for treating addiction and overdoses. Critics of the deal have pointed out how absurd it is that the company will pay plaintiffs for the harm it caused selling OxyContin by selling more OxyContin, instead of simply taking the money from the Sackler family.

As for the Sacklers, members of the family had already moved billions of dollars into Swiss bank accounts before these lawsuits were in motion, which will make the cash difficult for U.S. prosecutors to get their hands on. The company made $31 billion in revenue and the family itself is valued at around $13 billion, and will almost certainly walk away from the deal maintaining their status as one of the wealthiest families on the planet.

But this fight isn’t actually over. There are 2,600 lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, and while 24 states and 2,000 municipal governments have agreed to the settlements, several states are rejecting the terms of the deal and continuing to pursue the family. Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Virginia, Delaware, North Carolina and Washington D.C. have all sued both the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma and have indicated they aren’t going to agree to this settlement. For now, the Sacklers are only being held financially liable, but plenty of politicians and activists want to put members of the family — and other executives from opioid manufacturers — behind bars. I do not think this story is over, and I certainly could see a world where the Sackler family faces more punishment than what they are looking at right now.

A story that matters.

TikTok is the name of a new video-based app being used religiously by young Americans. But the app’s background is a lot less lighthearted than the content being created there. The New York Times has warned that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is actually a Chinese artificial intelligence company worth $75 billion. As the Times put it, it’s “not a mission-driven social platform,” and if you’re worried about what Facebook and Twitter do with user data, you’ll surely be a lot more concerned when you hear what Chinese companies do with user data. According to Axios, TikTok says its “user data is stored and processed in the U.S. and other markets where TikTok operates at industry-leading third-party data centers. It’s important to clarify that TikTok does not operate in China and that the government of the People's Republic of China has no access to TikTok users' data.” You can read more here.

Have a nice day.

The nation’s worst measels epidemic in 27 years could be ending. According to the CDC, there were zero new measel cases the week of September 6-12, the first such week in 11 months. Last spring, some 70 new cases were popping up a week, and the Orthodox Jewish communities in New York were being hardest hit. 1,241 new cases were reported in 2019 alone, but this week’s slowdown is an encouraging sign the epidemic may be in its final stages. Click.

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