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Media ‘jokes’ not so funny

By Barbara Starr CNN Pentagon Correspondent

(CNN) — Some unsettling recent incidents suggest violence against journalists — and claims that it’s just a joke — is gaining ground as a “new normal” for reporters. Howard Altman, who covers military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times, reported Saturday that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn made what Buckhorn thought was a “joke” at a military conference attended by special operations troops, commanders and industry. While riding on a military boat as part of a demonstration during a special operations forces industry conference last May, Buckhorn, a Democrat, was allowed to fire blanks from a machine gun, “and so the first place I point that gun is at the media,” the mayor told the crowd. “I’ve never seen grown men cry like little girls, for when that gun goes off those media folks just hit the deck like no one’s business. It’s great pay-back. I love it.”

The sometimes-adversarial relationship between journalists and the leaders they cover — and joking references thereof — is nothing new; some would say it’s even necessary, as Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush have in recent months.

But is Buckhorn’s attempt to draw laughs funny? Of late, maybe not so much. This week, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was caught on a hot mic joking with President Donald Trump about a ceremonial saber the President received after giving a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy — a speech that was laced with references to being treated “unfairly,” “especially by the media.”

“You can use that on the press,” Kelly told the President, who responded laughingly, “Yeah, that’s right.” A DHS official later said Kelly’s remark clearly was a joke. Journalists, of course, are no strangers to gallows humor and might once have laughed along. But Trump’s unrelenting criticism of the media and divisive rhetoric at rallies — which during the campaign included hostility and violence directed at protestors and journalists — seem to have engendered a creeping permissiveness about such attitudes among his followers, those looking to vent their hatred, and now, apparently, even those in government, which should give everyone pause.

This week, longtime defense writer John Donnelly of CQ Roll Call, which covers federal government, says he was pinned against a wall by security guards at the Federal Communications Commission while trying to pose a question to Commissioner Michael O’Rielly after a news conference. (Ironically, Donnelly is the respected chair of the National Press Club’s press freedom efforts.)

Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire have written the FCC asking for answers. Their letter said, in part, that the incident at the FCC “is not an isolated one and seems to be part of a larger pattern of hostility towards the press characteristic of this administration, which underscores our serious concern.”

But Secretary Kelly is a recently retired four-star Marine Corps general who has served on the front lines, lost his son in combat and personally knows journalists injured on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Buckhorn, meanwhile, enjoys a good relationship with his local press corps, and Tampa is home to both the US Central Command, which runs the wars in the Middle East, and the US Special Operations Command, which oversees units like Seal Team Six and Delta Force, which do not ride around firing blanks. Troops from both those commands repeatedly have gone out of their way over the years to help journalists stay safe on the front lines. So, is the press corps just too sensitive? Has it lost its sense of humor? Journalists who cover the military know the heavy price that has been paid by our colleagues in recent years. We’ve lost friends. We have colleagues who struggle with grievous battlefield injuries, including amputations, severe burns, brain injuries and post-traumatic stress — all for just doing their jobs.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 1,237 journalists have been killed around the world since 1992. Every journalist I know would like to see less tragedy for reporters as well as the civilians caught in the middle of the conflicts they cover. And that is no joke.

TM & 2017 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Public restrooms become ground zero in opioid epidemic

By Martha BebingerWBURKaiser Health News

A man named Eddie threaded through the midafternoon crowd in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was headed for a sandwich shop, the first stop on a tour of public bathrooms.

I know all the bathrooms that I can and can t get high in, said Eddie, 39, pausing in front of the shop s plate-glass windows, through which we can see a bathroom door. Eddie, whose last name we re not including because he uses illegal drugs, knows which restrooms along busy Massachusetts Avenue he can enter, at what hours and for how long. Several restaurants, offices and a social services agency in this neighborhood have closed their restrooms in recent months, but not this sandwich shop.

With these bathrooms here, you don t need a key. If it s vacant, you go in. And then the staff just leaves you alone, Eddie said. I know so many people who get high here. At the fast-food place right across the street, it s much harder to get in and out.

You don t need a key, but they have a security guard that sits at the little table by the door, directly in front of the bathroom, Eddie said. Some guards require a receipt for admission to the bathroom, he said, but you can always grab one from the trash.

A chain restaurant a few stores down has installed bathroom door locks opened by a code that you get at the counter. But Eddie and his friends just wait by the door until a customer goes into the restroom, then grab the door and enter as the customer leaves.

For every 10 steps they use to safeguard against us doing something, we re going to find 15 more to get over on their 10. That s just how it is. I m not saying that s right, that s just how it is, Eddie said. Eddie is homeless and works at a restaurant. Public bathrooms are among the few places where he can find privacy to inject heroin. He says he doesn t use the drug often these days. Eddie is on methadone, which curbs his craving for heroin, and he says he now uses the drug only occasionally to be social with friends. He understands why restaurant owners are unnerved.

These businesses, primarily, are like family businesses; middle-class people coming in to grab a burger or a cup of coffee. They don t expect to find somebody dead, Eddie said. I get it.

Managing public bathrooms is a tricky thing

Many businesses don t know what to do. Some have installed low lighting blue light, in particular to make it difficult for people who use injected drugs to find a vein. The bathrooms at 1369 Coffee House, in the Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge, are open for customers who request the key code from staff at the counter. The owner, Joshua Gerber, has done some remodeling to make the bathrooms safer. There s a metal box in the wall next to his toilet for needles and other things that clog pipes. And Gerber removed the dropped ceilings in his bathrooms after noticing things tucked above the tiles.

We d find needles or people s drugs, Gerber said. It s a tricky thing, managing a public restroom in a big, busy square like Central Square where there s a lot of drug use. Gerber and his staff have found several people on the bathroom floor in recent years, not breathing.

It s very scary, Gerber said. His eyes drop briefly. In an ideal world, users would have safe places to go (where) it didn t become the job of a business to manage that and to look after them and make sure that they were OK.

There are such public safe-use places in Canada and some European countries, but not in the United States, at least not yet. So Gerber is taking the unusual step of training his baristas to use naloxone, the drug that reverses most opioid overdoses. He sent a training invitation email to all employees recently. Within 10 minutes, he had about 25 replies.

Mostly capital Yes!! I ll be there for sure! Count me in!’ Gerber recalled with a grin. You know, (they were) just thrilled to figure out how they might be able to save a life. Safe spaces and hospital bathrooms

Last fall, a woman overdosed in a bathroom in the main lobby of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Luckily, naloxone has become standard equipment for security guards at many hospitals in the Boston area, including that one.

I carry it on me every day, it s right here in a little pouch, said Ryan Curran, a police and security operations manager at the hospital, pulling a small black bag out of his suit jacket pocket. The woman who overdosed survived, as have seven or eight people who overdosed in the bathrooms since Curran s team started carrying naloxone in the past 12 to 18 months.

It s definitely relieving when you see someone breathing again when two, three minutes beforehand they looked lifeless, Curran said. A couple of pumps of the nasal spray and they re doing better. It s pretty incredible.

Massachusetts General Hospital began training security guards after emergency room physician Dr. Ali Raja realized that the hospital s bathrooms had become a haven for some of his overdose patients.

There s an understanding that if you overdose in and around a hospital that you re much more likely to be able to be treated, Raja said, and so we re finding patients in our restrooms, we re finding patients in our lobbies who are shooting up or taking their prescription pain medications. Many businesses, including hospitals and clinics, don t want to talk about overdoses within their buildings. Curran wants to be sure the hospital s message about drug use is clear.

We don t want to promote, obviously, people coming here and using it, but if it s going to happen, then we d like to be prepared to help them and save them and get them to the (Emergency Department) as fast as possible, Curran said. Speed is critical, especially now, when heroin is routinely mixed with the much more potent opioid, fentanyl. Some clinics and restaurants check on bathroom users by having staff knock on the door after 10 or 15 minutes, but fentanyl can deprive the brain of oxygen and cause death within that window. One clinic has installed an intercom and requires people to respond. Another has designed a reverse-motion detector that sets off an alarm if there s no movement in the bathroom.

Limited public discussion

There s very little discussion of the problem in public, says Dr. Alex Walley, director of the Addiction Medicine Fellowship Program at Boston Medical Center.

It s against federal and state law to provide a space where people can use (illegal drugs) knowingly, so that is a big deterrent from people talking about this problem, he said. Without some guidance, more libraries, town halls and businesses are closing their bathrooms to the public. That means more drug use, injuries and discarded needles in parks and on city streets. In the area around Boston Medical Center, wholesalers, gas station owners and industrial facilities are looking into renting portable bathrooms.

They re very concerned for their businesses, said Sue Sullivan, director of the Newmarket Business Association, which represents 235 companies and 28,000 employees in Boston. But they don t want to just move the problem. They want to solve the problem.

Walley and other physicians who work with addiction patients say there are lots of ways to make bathrooms safer for the public and for drug users. A model restroom would be clean and well-lit with stainless-steel surfaces, and few cracks and crevices for hiding drug paraphernalia. It would have a biohazard box for needles and bloodied swabs. It would be stocked with naloxone and perhaps sterile water. The door would open out so that a collapsed body would not block entry. It would be easy to unlock from the outside. And it would be monitored, preferably by a nurse or EMT. There are very few bathrooms that fit this model in the United States. Some doctors, nurses and public health workers who help addiction patients argue any solution to the opioid crisis will need to include safe injection sites, where drug users can get high with medical supervision.

There are limits to better bathroom management, said Daniel Raymond, deputy director for policy and planning at the New York-based Harm Reduction Coalition. If communities like Boston start to reach a breaking point with bathrooms, having dedicated facilities like safer drug consumption spaces is the best bet for a long-term structural solution that I think a lot of business owners could buy into.

Maybe. No business groups in Massachusetts have come out in support of such spaces yet.

This story is part of a partnership that includes WBUR, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Finding old friends in the ‘Big Lonely’

I walked around the chain-link fence of Pump Station 12 of the trans-Alaska pipeline, apprehensive about the human encounter to come. It was time to send a weekly column. I needed a Wi-Fi signal or a cellular bar or two. I had walked more than a week through air devoid of communications waves. With Cora on a leash and me having not spoken to anyone all day, I reached the gate of the pump station. No one was there. No guard at the shack behind the fence. The green buildings, which looked like an occupation base on Mars in their best days, bled with rusty stains. The place had a post-apocalyptic feel.

Finding Old Friends In The 'Big Lonely'

The living quarters of trans-Alaska pipeline Pump Station 12, now unoccupied. (Ned Rozell)

There was a phone inside a box near the fence. I picked it up. Before it rang twice, a security guard named Jeff answered. Jeff was sitting at a desk in Anchorage. He did not laugh when I asked about Wi-Fi, but he might have smiled.

“You’re in the Big Lonely,” he said. “There’s not much around Pump 12.”

The decommissioned pump station was quiet, its turbine engines no longer needed to push a smaller volume of crude oil down to the Valdez terminal. There were two heavy-equipment operators inside the compound moving snow with loaders, but there seemed to be no one in the buildings. The stunning mountain-and-waterfall country between Valdez and Glennallen was a lively place 20 years ago. The last time I walked this path, I met people and stopped to chat every day. This time, there have been days I have not talked with anyone but Cora.

Is that a product of timing, with me starting my hike before summer visitors arrive? Or have people moved out? Since 1997, Alaska’s population has increased, from about 613,000 then to 737,000 today. But most of those people have moved into Alaska’s cities. In the Valdez-Cordova Census Area through which I walked, there were fewer people in 2013 than in 2000, according to researchers with the state of Alaska.

“It’s the bleeding of the Bush,” said my friend Doug Vollman, whom I sought out near Copper Center. Vollman and his daughter Taylor hosted me and Cora for an enjoyable day and night on his farm. It’s a hay-scented place of open fields and darting swallows, with a resident great gray owl.

Finding Old Friends In The 'Big Lonely'

Doug Vollman and his daughter Taylor at their home near Copper Center. (Ned Rozell)

Vollman, with whom I golfed on his homemade muskeg course 20 years ago, thinks the lack of jobs in the area have led to people moving out. His wife, Marnie, is in Jackson, Mississippi, for a two-month training program with her employer, the Bureau of Land Management. He grows vegetables for area farmers markets and drives a travel van from Glennallen to McCarthy. From Vollman’s house, I hiked one day to the aspen hilltop home of Mike and Lanette Phillips. The Phillipses, whom I also met 20 years ago and wrote about in my book “Walking my Dog, Jane,” said a good barometer of population change was the health of local schools.

Lanette, who worked in the home-school program with Copper River School District for 18 years, used her fingers to count area schools that had closed in the last two decades due to enrollment dropping to fewer than 25 students: Chistochina, Copper Center, Gakona, Paxson and the Lottie Sparks School in Nelchina. Only schools in Glennallen and Slana remain open. So maybe the quietness of this stretch is the real deal. In a world of 7.5 billion people, expected to increase to more than 11 billion by the end of the century, a place going the other way seems significant.

Finding Old Friends In The 'Big Lonely'

Lanette and Mike Phillips with Ned Rozell at the Phillips home near Copper Center. (Kristen Rozell)

But my solitary stretch seems to have ended, with visits to friends met by chance 20 years ago and a few spontaneous meetings. Thanks to LJ and Logan for the coffee at 46-Mile, bear hunters Josh and Fred for another mug at a highway crossing, my friend Elizabeth Schafer for feeding me lunch on her way to McCarthy from Anchorage. And whoever left me the bag of snacks near the Tonsina River. And, of course, Doug and Taylor Vollman, along with Mike and Lanette Phillips.

These guys haven’t seen me in 20 years, but they pulled me in like a lost brother. They have fed me, let me shower and wash clothes. With a few phone calls, Mike even enabled my crossing of the Tazlina River, finding a loaner packraft on deadline (thanks to John Rigo).

Staying with these friends the past few days, I’ve appreciated what they like about the Big Lonely: It’s full of good neighbors you don’t see all the time, but always show up when you need them.


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