CNN host Alisyn Camerota could only joke about President Donald Trump’s tweet boasting about the size of his “Nuclear Button.”

“No. 1, I don’t think you should ever refer to any of your body parts as a button,” Camerota told the CNN panel, noting the tweet is causing many to question Trump’s mental state. “No. 2, I don’t know what to do with this.”

Daily Beast editor John Avlon said that Trump’s tweet would have been rejected in the script of the nuclear war film “Dr. Strangelove.”

“This is a president of the United States doing a measuring contest about nuclear weapons,” he continued. “We can’t begin to normalize this. This is dangerous. This is childish. It’s unpresidential. It’s not befitting to the leader of the free world.”

He said that there have been two responses in the White House: “A full face-palm and a silent scream,” while other “sycophants” are saying “great job boss.” Both, according to Avlon, are unacceptable. “Somehow we’ve reached a pathetic new low.”

Co-host Chris Cuomo noted that it was “too bad” that press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to address the tweet given that she’s the voice of the White House. “She represents their administration,” he said.

“And the president of the United States,” Camerota stated.

Cuomo noted, however, that these tweets are just more of the same the world has seen from Trump. “This is what he does. He’s hyperbolic. He’s personal. He’s incendiary,” Cuomo said.

Chris Cillizza agreed, saying, “we’ve always known that size matters to Donald Trump, everything is the biggest. But we’re talking about nuclear arsenals. Kim Jong-Un is demonstrably not stable. It takes on a different cast, I think, given the stakes.”

Cuomo noted that while this was happening, South Korea and North Korea reopened talks. Cilizza said that he anticipates by 6:30 a.m. Trump will take credit for it.

Cilizza also argued that this isn’t something outside of the norm for Trump. “If an alien landed on earth and you needed to explain the idea of Donald Trump’s presidency you could show them the 16 or so tweets yesterday that culminated in this North Korea tweet and be like, ‘This is it.'”

“We have the precedent on of 44 other presidents to judge by what is presidential in an American context,” Avlon said. “This is not in that same universe because there’s no assumption of responsibility for power. And the administration can take credit for being aggressive and much tougher with North Korea and maybe challenging the calculus, putting aside the possibility of catastrophic miscalculation, based on the president’s comments. Even and especially without those tweets, these tweets are simply, pull back the veneer of toughness and show someone who’s too often insecure, impetuous and childish with enormous power. And that diminishes American leadership around the world.”

India is considering imposing a daily limit of 40,000 on the number of domestic tourists permitted to visit the Taj Mahal, to protect the 17th-century monument from wear and tear.

Visitors may also be restricted to three hours within the Mughal-era complex under proposals by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) being examined by the Indian tourism ministry.

The cap of 40,000 tickets per day would apply to the 40-rupee (46p) passes available to Indian visitors, but no such limits would be placed on foreigners, who are charged 1,000 rupees. Indians would be allowed to get around the limits by paying for the pricier ticket.

A senior ASI official confirmed the proposals had been sent to the tourism minister, Mahesh Sharma, who was yet to make an official announcement. Sharma told the Indian Express on Tuesday: “We have no option but to go by these measures.”

The ASI has long sought to impose restrictions on tourism at the monument, but reportedly renewed its efforts after a stampede at the entry gates last week left five people injured.

Indian tourism numbers are relatively low and visits to the country make up about 1% of global travel. Other ticketed sites around the world receive greater numbers of visitors than the 8 million who come to the Taj Mahal yearly: the Forbidden City in Beijing, for instance, attracts about 15 million visitors per year, and Disneyland nearly 18 million.

A monkey walks past the Taj Mahal
Monkeys have been blamed for some of the wear and tear. Photograph: Matt King/Getty Images

But as it nears 400 years old, the famed tribute to Mumtaz Mahal, the deceased wife of Emperor Shah Jahan, is beginning to suffer the ravages of time, popularity and the air and water pollution that besets much of north India.

Visitor numbers have been bolstered in recent decades by the growing ability and willingness of Indians to sightsee. Daily numbers reach 70,000 on weekends or holidays.

Air pollution is turning the Taj Mahal’s marble facade yellow, leading to parts of the monument being obscured by scaffolding and a clay treatment intended to restore its sheen. Monkeys have been blamed for weakening the minarets.

Insects that breed on the heavily contaminated Yamuna river, on the banks of which the Taj Mahal sits, have left green splotches on its surface, while activists are concerned the falling water table in Agra may be weakening the wooden foundations of the tomb.

According to the tourism ministry, about £1.2m was spent in the three years to 2016 on conserving the world heritage-listed monument, which generated about £8.8m from ticket sales and tours in that period.

If the 2017 box office was typified by any one movie, it was surely Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a smart, intelligently curated yet ever so slightly soulless example of machine-honed franchise film-making. It ticked every box for fans of the venerable space saga, without ever really pushing the envelope; a movie that eventually made the Kessel Run, but 40 years or so after Han Solo and Chewie had already achieved that legendary feat.

The Last Jedi, like Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 and Wonder Woman before it in 2017, proved that Hollywood probably has the tools and talent to keep churning out episodic blockbuster fantasy until at least 2050. To complain at this state of affairs would be churlish, especially when studios are delivering substandard and ill-considered material such as Justice League. But it does feel as if the Hollywood zeitgeist has crystallised in recent times, and we are in an era of fabulously made yet increasingly homogenous Marvel and Star Wars flicks that leave us only semi satisfied. Perhaps this is why the year’s greatest celluloid treasure, Blade Runner 2049, failed to gain traction with modern audiences who had perhaps never seen anything like it.

In that spirit, here’s a guide to upcoming films that might just move things on this year. Sequels, remakes and mega-franchise fare are therefore largely banned as we go looking for the films with the best chance of leading us into a brave new world of sci-fi and fantasy in 2018.

First up is Alex Garland’s Annihilation, due out in February, which would merit a place solely because the British film-maker’s last effort, Ex Machina, was a singular example of a cerebral, gripping futuristic think piece. Annihilation’s premise, on the face of it, is not all that exceptional, with Garland adapting Jeff VanderMeer’s novel about a biologist (Natalie Portman) who heads into an environmental disaster zone in search of answers after her soldier husband (Oscar Isaac) returns alone injured and close to death from a mission there. A quick dip into the book, however, suggests a discombobulating trip into the heart of darkness, where unknown, unearthly horrors lurk. Could Garland’s movie be the Alien on Earth movie we were promised as far back as 1992, but have so far never got to see?

Garland has perhaps taken the mantle of Duncan Jones as the coming man of sci-fi. After the disaster that was Jones’ adaptation of World of Warcraft, the Moon director is returning to more intimate territory with the futuristic mystery thriller Mute. Described as a “spiritual successor” to Moon, it is also said to be inspired by the original Blade Runner, which can never be a bad thing and might sate the appetites of those of us longing for yet more mesmeric visions of the android-strewn dystopian future. Word is that Sam Rockwell will return as Moon’s Sam Bell (or perhaps one of his clones) but the main storyline centres on a mute bartender with a violent past (Alexander Skarsgård) searching for his lost lover in mid 21st-century Berlin.

Next up is Captive State, in August, from Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ Rupert Wyatt, the British director’s first science fiction movie since leaving the man-versus-simians saga. With a budget of just $25m, it will be fascinating to see how Wyatt delivers a story set 10 years after an alien invasion of Chicago. Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 was shot for $30m in 2009, while Gareth Edwards completed Monsters a year later for $500,000, so it can be done.

Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, due out in March, has the unenviable task of trying to convince us to get excited all over again about virtual reality worlds, the best part of two decades after The Matrix gave us the definitive inner digital wonderland on the big screen. Based on Ernest Cline’s hugely popular novel, early trailers suggest this means swapping out Trinity, Morpheus et al for pop culture stalwarts such as Freddy Krueger, Lord of the Rings orcs, The Iron Giant and Deadpool, which all seems a little corporate. And yet if anyone is due a late-career renaissance it is Spielberg. If he proves he can still cut it in this realm, others will surely follow the three-time Oscar-winner back down the digital rabbit hole.

On to another long-lost subgenre: steampunk. Not since Chris Weitz’s ill-fated The Golden Compass a decade ago have we seen a memorable big budget example of the mode in cinemas, unless one counts Martin Scorsese’s splendid Hugo. Is it time for a renaissance? If so, Christian Rivers’ Mortal Engines, about a world in which technology has regressed to Victorian levels and wheel-mounted carnivorous cities chase each other across the plains might be the answer. Based on an adaptation of Philip Reeve’s post-apocalyptic novel by the Lord of the Rings team of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson, it stars Irish actor Robert Sheehan alongside Rings alumnus Hugo Weaving. Avatar’s Stephen Lang plays the film’s main baddie, a murderous cyborg known as Shrike, and there are three more books in Reeve’s series if audiences get a taste for this future-retro blend.

Finally,only only one superhero flick looks like it will break new ground: 20th Century Fox’s The New Mutants. With a fine cast including The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy and Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams, Josh Boone’s comic book tale will dip its toe into the resurgent horror genre. It’s set in a secret facility where several future X-Men types find themselves imprisoned and in imminent danger, and is being talked up as the first in a potential trilogy. With Deadpool and Logan emerged as two of the livelier comic book entries of the past few years, it seems that Fox is finally carving out a place for the X-Men at the more mature end of the superhero spectrum. If we have any hope that 2018 will mark the beginning of a new era in fantasy film-making, this could be a very welcome mutation indeed.

Ethiopia’s leader has announced plans to drop charges against political prisoners and close a notorious prison camp, in a surprise move he described as an effort to “widen the democratic space for all”. It is the first time the government has acknowledged that it holds political prisoners.

The prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn’s comments came after anti-government protests in recent months engulfed much of the restive Oromia and Amhara regions, bringing many businesses, universities and transport networks to a standstill. The sometimes deadly protests, the most serious since the current government came to power in 1991, spread into other parts of the east African country, leading to a state of emergency that lasted months but has since been lifted.

Hailemariam Desalegn.
Hailemariam Desalegn. Photograph: Michael Tewelde/AP

“Political prisoners that are facing prosecutions and are already under arrest will be released,” Hailemariam said. “And the notorious prison cell that was traditionally called Maekelawi will be closed down and turned into a museum.”

It was not immediately clear how many political prisoners were being held across the country, which is a close US security ally.

Ethiopians were quick to respond, even with social media sites currently blocked.

“I’m writing you this struggling with my tears,” wrote renowned blogger and former detainee Befeqadu Hailu. “All these pledges need to be implemented immediately.”

Rights groups and opposition groups in Ethiopia had been calling for the release of political prisoners, saying they were arrested on trumped-up charges and were being punished for their points of view. Ethiopia’s government has long been accused of arresting critical journalists and opposition leaders.

Some of the prominent politicians currently in custody include opposition leaders Bekele Gerba and Merara Gudina. A number of journalists also remain in detention.

Protests demanding wider freedoms began in late 2015 and led to hundreds of reported deaths and tens of thousands of arrests while disrupting one of Africa’s fastest growing economies.

“The crackdown on the political opposition saw mass arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials and violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association,” the rights group Amnesty International has said.

Hospitals in Gaza will face an almost total power blackout by the end of February unless funding is secured to keep emergency generators running, the World Health Organization has warned.

An ongoing electricity crisis in Gaza has left hospitals reliant on emergency generators for up to 20 hours a day, while medical staff have been forced to cut back on basic services such as equipment sterilisation and diagnostics. About 500,000 litres of fuel are required each month to sustain critical care in Gaza, but funding will only cover hospitals’ needs until the end of February.

Dr Mahmoud Daher, head of the WHO’s Gaza sub-office, said the health system is on “the edge of collapse”. Without urgent fundraising, hospitals will face a disastrous situation, he said. “There are at least 200 babies and people in intensive care units. It would be a really fatal situation for them. There are dozens of people who are going to surgical operations that would be affected.”

Fears over the humanitarian situation intensified following a series of tweets by Donald Trump on Tuesday, in which he threatened to cut funding for the Palestinian Authority unless it recommences peace talks. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, earlier said the US would cut funds to UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, unless the authority went back to the negotiating table.

Dr Andy Ferguson, director of programmes for Medical Aid for Palestinians (Map), an organisation that works with hospitals and other healthcare providers across Gaza and the West Bank, said electricity outages in Gaza, combined with medical shortages and severe restrictions on freedom of movement, were creating a medical emergency.

Difficulties with sterilising equipment have caused a rise in hospital infections, he added, while power fluctuations have damaged sensitive medical equipment.

“Worsening maternal malnutrition and increasing rates of premature and low-birthweight babies have led to instances of dangerous overcrowding in the neonatal intensive care unit in al-Shifa hosptial,” said Ferguson.

Palestinian children do their homework during a power cut in Gaza City
Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power cut in Gaza City. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

As a result, explained Ferguson, incubators designed to accommodate one baby were often occupied by several. “Medical staff are having to look after as many as seven critically ill babies each at a time, compared to the UK standard of 1:1 or 1:2 care. Overcrowding of this type makes adequate monitoring and infection control impossible.”

Generators are also in need maintenance, the WHO warned, but hospitals are unable to carry out repairs due to restrictions on moving goods into Gaza.

“We have been told by doctors in a neonatal unit that there were periods when staff in the units were forced to make manual ventilation to patients in intensive care because the generators didn’t function,” said Daher. “It’s a matter of seconds sometimes.”

The WHO’s latest figures show hospitals are experiencing severe shortages of drugs and medical disposables. Of 516 medications on the essential drug list, 223 (43%) were at zero stock levels in November, which means central supplies will be totally depleted in less than a month. At the end of November, drugs used in the emergency departments and intensive care units were at 48% zero stock, while power shortages have made it harder for hospitals to collect and store large quantities of blood.

There are also “dramatic decreases” in the proportion of people securing permits to access healthcare outside Gaza, said Daher. In October, 45% of patients who applied to the Israeli authorities for such treatment were unsuccessful. Figures are expected to show that there were fewer exit permits granted in 2017 than in any year since the WHO began monitoring applications.

“Map knows of at least 30 patients who died in 2017 after being either prevented from exiting by Israel or unable to secure financial coverage for their referral from the Palestine Authority,” said Ferguson.

The Israeli government has yet to respond to a request for comment.

The UN will launch its humanitarian response plan for the occupied Palestinian territory later this month, and is expected to call for $374m (£275m) to meet humanitarian needs in the Gaza Strip.

A bomb cyclone is hitting the lower United States, and it’s dipping well into southern states not accustomed to this kind of arctic freeze.

Here are seven terrifying things about this storm, including maps and projections that should warn you to bundle up over the next several days:

1. What is a bomb cyclone?

The term “bomb cyclone” is new to meteorological terminology, though phrases like “polar vortex” have been used in previous years. If the storm continues to develop as scientists expect it will, it’s worth the impending doom weather experts are warning of. After a series of snow storms, temperatures are expected to plummet Thursday in record-setting freezes. The atmospheric pressure is also expected to drop Thursday in a way that has scientists glued to satellite data.

“It will be massive,” National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Maue warned on Twitter Tuesday.

All day Thursday meteorologists are going to be glued to the new GOES-East satellite watching a truly amazing extratopical "bomb" cyclone off New England coast. It will be massive — fill up entire Western Atlantic off U.S. East Coast. Pressure as low as Sandy & hurricane winds pic.twitter.com/6M4S3y75wT

— Ryan Maue | weather.us (@RyanMaue) January 2, 2018

2. It’s colder in the lower U.S. than in Alaska

Tuesday night, meteorologists reported temperatures in Alaska were higher than Jacksonville, Florida.

“This is not record-breaking for Canada or Alaska or northern Siberia, it’s just misplaced,” said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research. He’s forecasting a colder than normal winter for much of the U.S.

Today's National High/Low temps: 86 at Palm Springs, CA, San Bernardino, CA; -36 at Malta Airport, MT #cawx#mtwxhttps://t.co/b9vl7CR66b

— NWS WPC (@NWSWPC) January 3, 2018

3. The pressure is expected to fall incredibly fast.

In the popular natural disaster film “The Day After Tomorrow,” the eye of a freezing hurricane-like storm causes the temperatures to fall so quickly an American flag froze blowing in the wind. The atmospheric pressure isn’t expected to drop quite that quickly, but the Washington Post’s “Capital Weather Gang” believes the storm will undergo “explosive strengthening.”

4. It looks like a frozen hurricane:

polar vortex 2018

Pressure and wind visualization of storm off the coast of New England on Thursday. (WindyTV.com)

The National Weather Service has already posted winter storm up the coast of Florida. It’ll continue it’s path up the east coast like a kind of frozen hurricane

Here is the latest from WPC regarding the East Coast winter storm for Wednesday and Thursday. pic.twitter.com/kfpoWoT38n

— NWS WPC (@NWSWPC) January 2, 2018

Also like something out of “The Day After Tomorrow,” this polar vortex looks remarkably similar to the fictional one that ushered in a new Ice Age.

5. This is the first winter storm warning issued by the National Weather Service office in Tallahassee in four years.

According to the Weather Channel, the NWS in Tallahasse had to issue a winter storm warning for the first time in four years. The last time was Winter Storm Leon, which produced ice and snow all over the southeastern United States. It caused a travel nightmare in Atlanta and across Florida and Alabama.

RARE SIGHT: it's snowing in Tallahassee FL for the 1st time in 28 years. @NWSTallahassee measured 0.1" of snow/sleet on their roof @floridastate at 8:30 AM. Video via 904 Happy Hour. #snow#flwx#frozenAmericapic.twitter.com/dG5uMrTcpM

— Mike Seidel (@mikeseidel) January 3, 2018

6. An ice storm is expected into northern Florida.

Polar vortex predictions for 2018 (Photo: AccuWeather map screen capture)

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers warned that every time “you see pink in Florida” you know things are going to be bad.

7. Snow is going to be bad

(Photo: Weather channel screen capture)

In an area of the country that doesn’t see severe winter weather, things like snow plows or snow blowers aren’t a staple for municipalities. So, when they get dumped on with snow, it will cause massive infrastructure problems. Roads won’t be plowed with the speed seen in places like Ohio or Michigan.

“It’s not, ‘Let’s show black people in Chicago in a positive light,’” Lena Waithe told Entertainment Weekly about her new Showtime drama The Chi. “I want to show people in a human light.”

A different writer might have visibly struggled to “represent the race”, particularly in a place like Chicago, so often used as shorthand for “the violence problem in America”. Yet Waithe’s show is unselfconscious in its portrayal of a community of black people whose stories could be seen as stereotypes, yet are brimming with complexity and nuance.

The pilot, which is available on YouTube, opens with a lens on Coogie, a luscious-haired teenager on a bike, riding past murals of Obama with Chance the Rapper playing in his headphones. On a routine visit to feed a stray dog in the neighborhood, he happens upon another boy’s dead body. After his initial shock, he makes a bad decision: to take the dead boy’s necklace and sneakers, setting off the chain of events that ripples through every storyline.

The show has been described as a coming-of-age drama (the young character Kevin, portrayed by Moonlight’s Alex Hibbert, is who you see on the promotional poster), but the central characters – Brandon (Jason Mitchell), Emmett (Jacob Latimore) Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), and Kevin – are of varying ages, and at various levels of culpability for the problems at hand. More aptly, The Chiis a show about time, fate and consequence – who happened to be where, when; whose mother happened to be some other person’s nurse.

Handled poorly, the level of coincidence among the assorted characters could come off as hackneyed. Instead, it makes the series, and in particular, the pilot, gripping. You’re left to wonder: how do all these seemingly unrelated lives intersect? This structure – without a single protagonist, intentionally off-balance – amounts, essentially, to a storytelling choice, but one that echoes the murder-retaliation cycle that plagues Chicago: without a reliable criminal justice system, people often take matters into their own hands, creating a wide and messy web of individuals affected by violence.

Though that web is part of what propels the story forward, in moments it also creates a sense of dramatic fatigue – will these characters, many of whom are children, ever catch a break? As Kevin debates how to deal with the escalating crime around him, he also struggles to learn the words to a song from The Wiz for the school play – which he’s only joined to impress a girl. As other such small decisions reverberate through the characters’ lives, you wonder whether it is safe to enjoy these small bursts of calm in the show, or if they’re an omen whose result we can’t yet see.

As such, The Chi both echoes one reality of Chicago and exaggerates it: some people’s lives are unrelenting drama; most people are not connected in the particularly meaningful ways of these characters. But despite those moments of exaggeration and multiplying character obstacles, the show never verges on melodrama. Instead, it’s entirely engrossing, with outstanding performances from its actors. Mitchell (who’s played characters as diverse as Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton and Ronsel in Mudbound) carries much of the show’s emotional weight with his character’s multiple duties: respectful son, protective older brother, responsible partner; in a way, he represents the show’s overall thematic complexity. And Sonja Sohn (The Wire) is phenomenal as his mother LaVerne, pouring out unbridled energy in each scene she’s in.

Besides the fact that it’s a delight to watch, The Chi is also one of the few black dramas on TV now, or ever. And reveling in that palpable moment of renaissance, which has brought along with it Queen Sugar, Atlanta, Insecure, and – dare I say it – too many others to name, is part of its enjoyment: watching black characters and a black creator who are not forced to represent anyone but themselves.

  • The Chi starts on Showtime on 7 January at 10pm with a UK date yet to be confirmed

PeopleImages/Getty

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Editor’s note: After reading Mother Jones reporter Julia Lurie‘s work on the opioid crisis, a former journalist contacted us with his own story of addiction. The following is his narrative, in his own words. In order to protect his privacy, we have not included his name.

On a sunny September morning in 2012, my wife and I returned to our apartment from walking our eldest daughter to her first day of kindergarten. When we entered our home, in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Greenbelt, Maryland, I immediately felt that something was off. My Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 were missing.

My wife ran to the bedroom, where drawers were open, clothing haphazardly strewn about. It was less than a minute before a wave of terror washed over me: My work backpack was gone. Inside that bag were notebooks and my ID for getting into work at NBC News Radio, where I was an editor. But the most important item in my life was in that bag: my prescription bottle of Oxycodone tablets.

“I can’t believe this happened to us,” my wife said.

“They took my pills,” I said.

We repeated those lines to each other over and over, my wife slowly growing annoyed with me. Why didn’t I feel the same sense of violation? Why wasn’t I more upset about the break-in? Oh, but I was. Because they took my pills. The game consoles, few dollars and cheap jewelry they stole would all be replaced. But my pills! They took my fucking pills!

We had to call the police. Not because of the break-in but, rather, so I could have a police report to show my doctor. That was all I could think about. My pills.

How did I become this person? How did I get to a place where the most important thing in my life was a round, white pill of opiate pleasure?

Before 2010, I only had taken opiates a few times. In 2007, I went to the emergency room in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, because I could not stop vomiting from abdominal pain. Upon my discharge, I was given 15 Percocets, 5 milligrams each. I took them as prescribed, noticed that they made me feel happy, and never gave them another thought.

After I took a reporter job in Orlando, I began to get sick more frequently, requiring several visits to the ER for abdominal pain and vomiting. In September of 2008 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease, and put on a powerful chemotherapy drug called Remicade to quell the symptoms. My primary care doctor, knowing I was in pain, prescribed me Percocet every month. I took them as needed, or whenever I needed a pick-me-up at work. I shared a few with a coworker from time to time. We’d take them, and 20 minutes later, start giggling at each other. I never totally ran out—never took them that often. I never needed an early refill.

In March of 2010, I was hired as the news director of a radio station in Madison, Wisconsin. Before we moved, my doctor in Orlando wrote me a Percocet script for 90 pills to bridge the gap until my new insurance kicked in in Wisconsin — approximately 3 month’s worth. I went through them in four weeks. I spent about a week feeling like I had the flu and then recovered, never once realizing that I was experiencing opiate withdrawal for the first time. Soon after, I set up my primary and GI care with my new insurance, and went back to my one-to-two pills per day Percocet prescription, along with a continuation of my Remicade treatment.

Two months later, while my wife and daughter were visiting family in Cleveland, I developed concerning symptoms. My joints were swollen, I couldn’t bend my elbows, I was dizzy. I went to the ER, where for two days the doctors performed all sorts of tests as my symptoms worsened. Eventually, the rheumatologist diagnosed me with drug-induced Lupus from the Remicade. I was prescribed 60 Percocets upon leaving the hospital.

When I went back to my GI doc four weeks later for a refill, he told me he was uncomfortable prescribing pain medication, so he referred me to a pain clinic. I told the physician there how I would get cramps, sharp pains that would sometimes lead to vomiting. Did it hurt when I drove over bumps, or when bending over? Yes, sometimes. I left with a prescription for Oxycodone, with a prescription to take one pill every three to four hours. My initial script was for 120 pills. I felt like I hit the jackpot.

Soon those pills weren’t doing it for me. I told the doctor I needed to take more just to feel any effect. So he upped my script to 180 pills a month, and added a new script for 60 extended-release morphine pills.

I often found myself barely functioning at work or at home, always nodding off into a doped-up stupor. My second daughter was born in November of 2010. There is a picture of me “sleeping” while sitting up on the couch, holding her in my arms. Looking at that picture now, it breaks my heart. I don’t remember much about this time in my life—just that it was cold and snowy and dream-like and dark, and I didn’t much like Madison.

Sometimes I would ask my pain management doctor what my “exit” plan was for getting off these pills. I shouldn’t worry, he said, I needed the meds. I was in good hands, he assured me. He was monitoring my usage.

In April 2012, when I was hired by NBC News Radio, we moved to Washington DC, where finding pain meds proved to be quite a challenge. The DC area was far ahead of the rest of the country when it came to opiates, and many doctors didn’t touch Oxycodone. I began to worry whether I had made a mistake by leaving my more permissive doctors in Madison.

I finally found a doctor who would see me, about 45 minutes outside of DC in suburban Virginia. He was a young doctor with a new urgent care practice. After marveling at how much pain medication I was on, he reluctantly prescribed me the Oxycodone and Morphine, but said he would only cover me until my insurance kicked in. The Feds were monitoring prescriptions and he didn’t want to lose his license.

The next challenge was filling my scripts. It was near impossible to find a CVS or Walgreens that kept Oxycodone pills in stock. Pharmacies didn’t want the hassle. The DEA was coming down on them. Though I lived in suburban Maryland, I would have to drive across the city into rural Virginia to find a CVS that carried the pills and was willing to fill my prescription. I went through this dance for two months.

Eventually my insurance kicked in and I could afford to see a real pain management doctor, who, like the urgent care doc, could not believe how many opiates I took on a daily basis. The doctor told me that we were eventually going to have to “do something” about this. He asked for my complete medical records, hoping to understand why I was on such high doses. This guy would end up saving my life.

While all this was happening, my wife was starting to worry about me. My behavior had changed over the few years I took the heavy doses of opiates. She saw me nod off. She saw my mood sour and lighten, up and down. I carried pills with me wherever we went. I became obsessed with video games, which are a lot of fun when you’re high. I got sick a lot, but the pills didn’t seem to help. And there were more and more reports of people dying from their opiate prescriptions. She didn’t know how to address this topic with me. She tried once or twice and I became defensive. I needed my pills, I would say. Why would the doctors give them to me if they weren’t safe?

And then we had the break-in.

I didn’t get a report from the police that day. It takes several days, apparently. I didn’t know this, and I freaked out. The officer gave me a case number and his phone number, and said the doctor was welcome to follow up for verification. A day later I drove to the pain clinic, which squeezed me in after I told them I couldn’t wait two weeks to see the doctor.

When the doctor came into the room I began telling him what happened and thrust the piece of paper with the case number and officer’s number at him. I’m sure I looked like a maniac. He smiled, set the piece of paper down on the table, and told me that it was time I got off the pills. A week prior, one of his patients died from an overdose. He was reevaluating everything. He told me that the pills were actually making me sicker, irritating my Crohn’s symptoms. With my increasing dose, I was becoming more sensitive to pain. That’s why I didn’t feel better. That’s what sent me to the ER over and over. In fact, he couldn’t believe that no one figured this out in Madison (or wanted to, he inferred). He was incredulous as to the high doses I was on. It was a miracle I was still alive. He said he was going to refer me to a doctor who would prescribe Suboxone, the brand name of a drug called buprenorphine that curbs cravings for opioids. It was time I got off the pills.

I didn’t panic. I didn’t freak out. I felt relief. I started to cry.

After seeing the Suboxone doctor for the first time, he told me to stop taking the pills right away. I would see him in 24 hours. I needed to be in withdrawal before I could take the Suboxone, as that’s the only way it works.

Those were a very exciting 24 hours. Though I went into withdrawal quickly, just knowing there was a solution on the other end got me through. I didn’t sleep well, couldn’t eat. I was on the toilet quite a bit. But I felt strong, empowered. I was getting off the poison forever.

The next day he evaluated me and deemed me ready. He wrote a script for one week of Suboxone, 14 strips. I would dissolve one strip under my tongue twice daily. I had to go fill the script at the pharmacy around the corner and come right back to his office. He would make sure the dosage was working and then send me home. In a week I would come back for an evaluation and we’d take it from there.

I called him about 45 minutes later in full panic mode. The withdrawal was still there, the medicine wasn’t working, I said. He told me to take another strip and to call back in an hour.

One hour later a relief washed over me like none before. I didn’t feel high—I felt normal. For the first time in several years I felt like me again. Color returned to my world. I could feel my life. My emotions were real, no longer numbed. I called the doctor while looking out over the backyard of my complex with tears streaming down my face, breathing in the night air.

“Thank you for this,” I said. “Thank you for helping me get my life back.”

Over the next five years, much of my life changed, most of it for the better. However, I’m still on Suboxone, taking it twice daily. It’s a lot more convenient than the alternative drug, methadone, which must be administered at a clinic.

For the past few years doctors have simply prescribed Suboxone to me—I think this is because I always appear quite “normal.” I’m a professional with a family. Maybe I don’t look like I’m addicted to drugs, but I didn’t press the issue and neither did they. No one ever asked about my addiction, or whether I had any unresolved issues.

Until now. A few weeks ago, my family and I to moved to Germany to live with my parents. At first, I was ecstatic: What a wonderful opportunity for my kids.

But then, reality struck. Suboxone. How would I obtain my Suboxone? Would I be able to get my Suboxone? What would happen if I couldn’t get my Suboxone?

As a former radio newsperson, I was used to moving and reestablishing my care in a new town. The dance was always the same: I provided my medical history, sang my sad story and showed my current prescription. Because I have a clean history without abuse, no early refills, and I was not an illegal user, I never had a problem finding a new provider.

I had an excellent relationship with my doctor in the Bay Area, and she was more than willing to write a letter which I could show my doctor in Germany, letting him know that I was a compliant patient with her program, and I had clean urine screens. In the Suboxone world that’s a ringing endorsement. It’s what any Suboxone provider wants to know about their new patient—is this guy going to waste my time?

As strict as we might think the American system is now when it comes to opiate-replacement therapy, in regards to getting a script and managing care, it’s far more regulated in Germany. I learned that when I went to see my doctor for the first time this week.

He’s a very kind man, maybe just a few years older than I, and he understood my situation. As I’ve explained, I’m in this “one-percenter” category. I was not an opiate abuser. I am taking Suboxone as a result of over-prescribing. However, as he explained to me, Germany doesn’t really care about that. All substitution-therapy patients are lumped into the same group, and I could end up in a nightmare scenario where I’m having to go to the pharmacy every day for up to six months to receive my Suboxone. It’s treated just like Methadone here. That means no vacations, no overnight excursions to Italy or Austria with the family.

The other option is to make a case for me taking Suboxone for pain. It’s not a commonly used drug for that purpose, but if my doctor can show my history of Crohn’s, my journey through pain management, and how I wound up here, it would present a reasonable case that could be approved.

So I’m in the process of chasing down my records back to my diagnosis in 2008. I’m a bit nervous, because I only have a few more weeks worth of script left.

One day I hope to be off Suboxone forever. But with six months of language classes on the horizon, followed by several years of university study to be an interpreter in communications, I’m not sure when I’ll ever have the time for withdrawal and detox. How frustrating that, more than seven years later, the shadow of opiates looms over everything I do, no matter how far I run.

We humans aren’t meant to live in isolation – loneliness has been proven to cause serious repercussions, leading to illness and a 50% increased risk of early death.

In her New York Times Modern Love essay, writer Michelle Fiordaliso makes the case for unexpected moments of intimacy between strangers. “Touch solidifies something – an introduction, a salutation, a feeling, empathy,” she writes.

It turns out that these moments of connection, while fleeting, have a lasting impact on our wellbeing. One study published earlier this year showed that touch can be used as a tool for communicating empathy, resulting in an analgesic, painkilling effect. This ability to synchronize with others is crucial for social development – a fact that has garnered the attention of psychologists and scientists in recent years.

As a writer who regularly uses social media as a way of communicating with friends and family, I’ve noticed that the times I’m most prone to bouts of anxiety and illness coincide with the times I’m not meaningfully connecting in person. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that many of the mental health challenges we face today stem from this experience of disconnect. Last year, neuroscience researcher John Cacioppo told the Guardian that, “loneliness is like an iceberg, it goes deeper than we can see.”

Indeed, I am far from alone in my experience. It turns out that the number of people who report feeling lonely has more than doubled since 1980. And while contemporary society will have us believe that by staying fit and avoiding tobacco, we can offset the risk of disease, the truth is, we need to recognize that feeling socially connected is as fundamental to our longevity as eating the right foods.

Close ties not only help foster positive emotions, they also protect against the harmful effects of stress. For example, a hug from a close friend isn’t only comforting, it also produces feelgood hormones in the brain like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin – all of which help boost the immune system and ward off illness. But it does more than just make you feel good, it can also accurately communicate emotions like gratitude, love and sympathy.

It was Mother Teresa who said that there is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread – and she’s not wrong. Whether or not we feel loved profoundly influences how we feel on a day to day basis. A growing body of research confirms the wisdom of her words – holding a partner’s hand, cuddling, visiting with friends or family – all of these activities are just as important to our wellbeing as remembering to drink more water and get enough exercise.

Close relationships lead to a longer life – yet, despite mounting evidence showing their large-scale impact on health, they aren’t adequately acknowledged as a determinant comparable to other public health priorities.

After researching the myriad benefits of in person contact, I’ve vowed to prioritize making more coffee dates with friends and scheduling in periods of bonding time with those I’m closest to. In this way, I am not only fostering quality time with the people I love, I’m also bolstering my physical and emotional wellbeing.

Forging meaningful connections shapes who we are biologically, and this is as true for now as it was centuries ago. The notion that we should strive to be self-reliant at all costs is misguided and actively hurts those who believe it. Authors such as Brené Brown have shared stories about our fundamental need for belonging: “As members of a social species, we derive strength not from our rugged individualism, but from our collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together.”

And if we are to combat this loneliness epidemic, we need to view connection as more than some poetic expression. By making this distinction, we can see the ways it can be used as a force for positive social change.

Cindy Lamothe is a writer based in Antigua, Guatemala. Her work has appeared in Quartz, Guernica, and The Rumpus.

Sexual misconduct reports, vital signs of climate change, altering net neutrality: 2017 was a tumultuous year for America. A number of upcoming art exhibitions continue the protest, debate and argument around free speech, the environmental crisis, civil rights and feminism – and look back on a year that changed the game.

The Brooklyn Museum opens an exhibition devoted to pioneers of feminist art in Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985 on 13 April, which explores the groundbreaking work of 120 artists from 15 countries. The politically charged artwork is used as a form of social critique, especially in the works of Brazilian performance artist Lygia Pape, Cuban film-maker Sara Gómez and Afro-Latina activist and artist Marta Moreno Vega, the founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute.

How did women enter the workforce before their right to vote? After this year’s centennial of the women’s suffrage movement, In Her Words: Women’s Duty and Service in World War I opens on 2 February at the National Postal Museum in Washington, which shows how the military helped shape the women’s workforce in the early 1910s. This exhibition features four heroic women, including a nurse named Greta Wolf, by putting their personal artifacts and letters on view.

Just as 2017 became an outspoken year of social criticism, on 20 January, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles opens Unspeakable, featuring the works of three artists defined as “social critics”. One piece is by text-based artist Barbara Kruger, who shows a video inspired by the cultural theorist Homi Bhabha, while Kara Walker shows a video inspired by the civil war and the life of a Virginia slave named Sally Hemings, believed to be the mother of six children with Thomas Jefferson.

It has been a complicated year with Trump dropping climate change from the US national security strategy and on 19 May, an exhibition opens at the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York. Artists on Climate Change puts the work of a dozen artists on view who “speak to larger issues that affect regional, national, and global ecological health”, said John P Stern, the president of Storm King. The exhibition includes the works of David Brooks, who uses construction materials like roof shingles to draw attention to suburban sprawl, and Dear Climate, a group of activists who make and distribute posters to raise awareness around climate change.

Another environmentally focused art show, Designed California, opens on 27 January at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From old Apple prototypes to recycled design, it traces the history of socially conscious design in California from the 1960s to the 1980s. The show features the eco-friendly furniture of Charles and Ray Eames and brings back the Whole Earth Catalog, a counterculture publication that ran from 1968 to 1972.

It has been 50 years since the civil rights movement and the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and one exhibition opening on 13 January at the Museum of the City of New York, called King in New York, shows photos that document his public protests, church sermons and speeches across the city. In one photo, King speaks about the American intervention in Vietnam in 1967, which was taken outside the UN headquarters. It also aims to show his lesser-known side, like his personal life, friendships and family.

On the note of anniversaries, it has also been 50 years since the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive, and on 26 January the exhibition The Marines and Tet: The Battle that Changed the Vietnam War will open at the Newseum in Washington. With 20 large-format photographs by award-winning Life magazine photographer John Olson, there are photos of the marines during Battle of Huê, alongside old cameras, audio interview clips with marines and objects, which can be handled by blind and low-vision visitors.

Just last week, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality, suggesting the internet will become a two-tier service – one for the rich, one for the poor. Two new exhibitions look at the power of mass surveillance, data collection and technology. Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen opens on 21 June at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington with roughly 100 artworks that reveals fragments of the government’s secret operations. One new video will make its debut, one which uses facial recognition algorithms, called How to See Like a Machine.

A naval base in Guantanamo by Edmund Clark.
A naval base in Guantanamo by Edmund Clark. Photograph: Edmund Clark

Over at International Center of Photography in New York City, British photographer Edmund Clark opens The Day Music Died, a 10-year survey exploring state secrecy. From Guantánamo Bay to Afghanistan and the CIA’s secret prison program, there are images of declassified documents, empty jail cafeterias and messy interrogation rooms. The artist aims to “reflect on how terror impacts us all by altering fundamental aspects of our society and culture”, writes the curator Erin Barnett. The show opens on 26 January.

Street art goes indoors at The Hole in New York City, as one artist hacker named KATSU is the subject of a solo show opening on 4 January. Memory Foam shows the New York City graffiti artist’s pioneering work from the 1990s, a mockumentary tagging the White House in Washington and his quadcopter graffiti drones, which will soon become open-source.

In light of recent social justice activism across America, one icon of 20th-century art is being honored with a survey show, the late Chicago artist Leon Golub, a painter and Vietnam War protester. The Raw Nerve show opens on 6 February at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.The artist was committed to social justice and on view are his portraits of Brazilian dictator Ernesto Geisel, interrogators, heads of state, mercenaries and victims of violence.

An image from Leonard Fink’s Out for the Camera exhibition.
An image from Leonard Fink’s Out for the Camera exhibition. Photograph: Leonard Fink

And over at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, a new exhibition honors the unseen work of New York photographer, Leonard Fink. Out for the Camera opens on 24 January with hundreds of images that he shot in the 1970s and early 1980s in the West Village, from self-portraits in mirrors to gay bar culture and New York’s annual Pride marches.

The American dream is at the core of a new, forthcoming exhibition opening at the Guggenheim museum in New York City, the first American survey of Vietnam-born Danish artist Danh Vo on 9 February, entitled Take My Breath Away. From American flags to everyday objects like washing machines and bar fridges, the sculptures on view reveal what the artist calls “the tiny diasporas of a person’s life”. The American military’s influence in south-east Asia is part of this exhibition, which also puts a critical lens towards the Statue of Liberty and the Kennedy era’s Camelot.

The New Museum Triennial opens 13 February with a sprawling exhibition themed around Songs for Sabotage. Showcasing 30 artists from 19 countries, the work explores the boundaries of society’s power and structure, and on view are the cartoonish paintings of young Los Angeles artist Janiva Ellis, who documents life as an African American millennial, and the art collective Inhabitants, an online channel who upload video episodes by ever-changing themes and topics.

As the co-curator Gary Carrion-Murayari says: “The exhibition amounts to a call for action, an active engagement, and an interference in political and social structures urgently requiring them.”

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Diddy Kong Racing for the N64 was never able to escape that long shadow cast by Mario Kart. While the game got a remake for the DS, it never got a true successor. And if we’re being honest, it probably never will. Fortunately there’s a fan video to help fill the void left by its eternal absence.

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President Donald Trump purportedly stepped away from his business interests for the duration of his term as president, but Vanity Fair‘s Tina Nguyen says that foreign governments are granting favors and greasing the wheels for Trump-branded projects around the world.

Anita Kumar at McClatchy reported that the Indonesian government has chosen to build a new road to shorten the drive between the island chain’s main airport and the new Trump golf resort.

In Panama, the national government directly intervened in a lagging sewer project connected to the new Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City. The original contractor tasked with constructing the system went bankrupt, prompting the government to use its own money to construct sewage and water pipes connecting to the resort hotel.

“And in other countries,” Kumar wrote, “governments have donated public land, approved permits and eased environmental regulations for Trump-branded developments, creating a slew of potential conflicts as foreign leaders make investments that can be seen as gifts or attempts to gain access to the American president through his sprawling business empire.”

As Nguyen noted, all of this appears to place Trump squarely in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal officials from accepting gifts or anything that might be constituted as a bribe from foreign governments.

However, she said, “Just weeks after Trump won the election, the Argentinian government suddenly granted a permit for a long-delayed Trump Tower development in Buenos Aires. In September, Trump’s Middle Eastern business partners granted a company partially owned by the Chinese government a contract to build a road to Trump World Golf Club in Dubai, seemingly going against his pledge to not engage in foreign business transactions during his presidency. And, of course, there is the ongoing constitutional crisis that is the Trump International Hotel Washington D.C., which critics claim violates the Emoluments Clause on a regular basis.”

Two lawsuits have been brought against the Trump administration alleging these violations, one of which was dismissed by a judge just before Christmas.

Kumar spoke with Noah Bookbinder of the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), who said, “If you have a foreign government providing a benefit to the Trump company that is going to violate emoluments clause of the Constitution.”

The president is reportedly receiving boons to his projects — which he claims he handed over to the management of his sons, Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump — from the governments of Uruguay, India and the Philippines.

Read the full McClatchy report here.

Mormon leader Thomas Monson dies aged 90

Thomas S Monson, who served in top leadership councils for the Mormon church for 50 years and became its president in 2008, has died. He was 90.

Monson was a church bishop at 22 and in 1963 the Salt Lake City native became the youngest church apostle ever, at 36. He was a counselor for three church presidents before assuming leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Monson died at his home in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, according to church spokesman Eric Hawkins. The next president was not immediately named, but the job is expected to go to next longest-tenured member of the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Russell M Nelson, 93, per church protocol.

Monson’s presidency was marked by his noticeably low profile during a time of intense publicity, including the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Mormon Mitt Romney. His most public acts were appearances at church conferences and devotionals as well as dedications of church temples.

He will be remembered for continuing the religion’s push to be more transparent about its past; his emphasis on humanitarian work; and lowering the minimum age for missionaries.

He will also be remembered for leading the faith’s involvement in the passage of a gay marriage ban in California in 2008. At his urging, Mormons were vigorous campaign donors and volunteers. That prompted a backlash against the church that included vandalism of church buildings, protest marches and demonstrations outside church temples nationwide.

In subsequent years, the church began utilizing a softer tone on the issue. In 2015, the church backed an anti-discrimination law in Utah that gave unprecedented protections for gay and transgender people while also protecting religious freedoms.

But the religion came under fire again in the fall of 2015 when it banned baptisms for children living with gay parents and instituted a requirement that those children disavow homosexual relationships before being allowed to serve a mission. The changes were designed to avoid putting children in a tug-of-war between their parents and church teachings, leaders said.

Thomas Monson attends a corner stone laying ceremony at the dedication of the Draper Utah Temple in Draper, Utah, in 2009.
Thomas Monson attends a corner stone laying ceremony at the Draper Utah Temple in Draper, Utah, in 2009. Photograph: George Frey/Reuters

The revisions triggered anger, confusion and sadness for a growing faction of LGBTQ-supportive Mormons who were buoyed in recent years by church leaders’ calls for more love and understanding for LGBTQ members.

Monson also continued the church’s push to be more open about some of the most sensitive aspect of the faith’s history and doctrine. A renovated church history museum reopened in 2015 with an exhibit acknowledging the religion’s early polygamous practices, a year after the church published an essay that for the first time chronicled founder Joseph Smith’s plural wives.

Other church essays issued during Monson’s tenure addressed other sensitive topics: sacred undergarments worn by devout members; a past ban on black men in the lay clergy; and the misconception that Mormons are taught they will get their own planet in the afterlife.

The growth and globalization of the religion continued under Monson, with membership swelling to nearly 15.9 million, with more than half outside the US. There were 71,000 church missionaries serving around the world at the end of 2016.

Mormons considered Monson a warm, caring, endearing and approachable leader, said Patrick Mason, associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California.

He put an emphasis on the humanitarian ethic of Mormons, evidenced by his expansion of the church’s disaster relief programs around the world, said Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University.

Monson often credited his mother, Gladys Condie Monson, for fostering his compassion. He said that during his childhood in the Depression of the 1930s their house in Salt Lake City was known to hobos riding the railroads as a place to get a meal and a kind word.

“President Monson always seemed more interested in what we do with our religion rather than in what we believe,” Mauss said.

A second world war veteran, Monson served in the navy and spent a year overseas before returning to get a business degree at the University of Utah and a master’s degree in business administration from the church-owned Brigham Young University.

Before being tabbed to join the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Monson worked for the church’s secular businesses, primarily in advertising, printing and publishing including the Deseret Morning News.

He married Frances Beverly Johnson in 1948. The couple had three children, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Frances died in 2013 at the age of 85.

Monson was an avid fisherman who also raised homing pigeons, specifically, roller pigeons who twirled as they flew. He was known for his love of show tunes, Boy Scouts and the Utah Jazz.

The man expected to take Monson’s seat, the 93-year-old Nelson, has been a church apostle since April 1970. Nelson will choose two new counselors from the Quorum of the Twelve who will join him to form a three-person “presidency” that is the top of the religion’s governing hierarchy. Monson’s two counselors were Henry Eyring and Dieter Uchtdorf. They will go back to being regular members of the Quorum unless they are chosen again.

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How Donald Trump’s war on intelligence is destroying American national security

President Donald Trump’s insecurity over losing the popular vote and the salacious allegations in the Steele Dossier have prompted him to lash out at the intelligence community’s claims that Russia influenced the 2016 election. Now that war against the intelligence community is impacting American national security.

A Wednesday Washington Postreport revealed that the National Security Agency is hemorrhaging staff at an alarming rate. Some of these “highly skilled” staffers have become “disillusioned” with intelligence but the leadership and a reorganization effort under the new administration has sent many to update their resumes.

The work these experts do included monitoring a broad array of subjects including the Islamic State, Russian and North Korean hackers, and analyzing the intentions of foreign governments, and they were responsible for protecting the classified networks that carry such sensitive information. Yet, these staffers saying that they want a higher-paying job in the private sector or more flexible hours.

Since 2015, hundreds of hackers, engineers and data scientists have bailed on the NSA, former officials said. Now it’s reaching a level that national security can be impacted. Of the 17 spy agencies, the NSA is the largest and they’re responsible for collecting the information that goes into the presidential daily briefing that Trump doesn’t understand. Over the first year in office, aides have even been forced to tailor the briefing so it doesn’t include anything about Russian interference in the election so as to not anger Trump.

“Some synonym of the word ‘epidemic’ is the best way to describe it,” said former NSA senior researcher Ellison Anne Williams. She left her job at the NSA in 2016 to start her own data-security firm and took 10 NSA staff with her. “The agency is losing an amazing amount of its strongest technical talent, and to lose your best and brightest staff is a huge hit.”

The agency won’t disclose the number of vacancies over the last year, but it said there is 5.6 percent decrease in staff who specialize in science, technology and math. The NSA isn’t the only place the Trump administration has implemented the right-wing war on science. In Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency, scientists became the enemy. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was told never to say the words “climate change.” Losing the experts means new staff are filling the positions without the experience central to the NSA’s mission collecting huge swaths of data and analyzing it.

Former staff have complained that they felt their mission was marginalized by a restructuring of the agency. Others allege the reorganization was “an enormous distraction.” Some even call the pay structure and promotion program part of the problem. According to former staff, it prioritizes seniority over experience or expertise.

Another former employee alleged that the problems began with former contractor Edward Snowden and the arrest of former contractor Harold T. Martin III in 2016. Accessing data and information became more difficult for those trying to do their jobs. The witch hunt searching for leakers made things worse. An environment with collaboration has turned toward suspicion, a former staffer said.

“It comes down to death by a thousand cuts,” said a former employee, adding that people “tend to quit in packs. One person hits their breaking point, and once they leave, the dominoes start falling.”

NSA spokesman Tommy Groves didn’t discount the reports.

“If the price of security becomes that we drive away the very men and women that generate value in the first place, we now have a self-induced mission kill,” National Security Agency Director Administrator Michael Rogers said in a conference speech.

Trump’s attacks on the 17 intelligence agencies that confirmed the Russian interference couldn’t have made morale any better. After meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump swore that Russia didn’t do it.

“He said he didn’t meddle, he said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters in November. “Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that, and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

Trump has also waged a war with the FBI, calling it “tainted” and alleging it is part of the “deep state” shadow government.

“It is also a possible obstruction of justice, witness intimidation, and it’s obstructing justice by saying to agents, ‘you better not dig too deep, you better not find anything because I will attack you,'” former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks said to MSNBC.

The only way to maintain staff is to tape into the sense of duty “for God and country,” said former threat operations center chief Daniel Ennis. He thinks the agency will recover, because it always has.