Background Briefing: May 31, 2023

The Sacklers Get to Keep Most of Their Money After a Million Americans Have Died From Their Drug OxyContin

We begin with a Federal Appeals Court Ruling on Tuesday that gives the Sackler family responsible for the opioid epidemic caused by their drug OxyContin immunity from prosecution in any future civil case in order to free up money to help address the ongoing ravages of the opioid crisis that has claimed over a million American lives. Joining us is Chris McGreal, a senior writer for the Guardian US and a former correspondent in Jerusalem and Johannesburg. He has published several articles on the opioid epidemic in America and his latest book is American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts and we discuss how the family is able to hold onto billions although the Sacklers’ liability protection does not extend to possible criminal cases.


Serbia’s Authoritarian Leader and Russian Provocateurs Are Behind What Lavrov Says is a Big Explosion Looming in the Heart of Europe

Then with tensions rising between Serbs clashing with NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo we examine the role of Serbia’s authoritarian leader President Vucic who is stirring up ethnic hatreds along with Russian provocateurs out to cause trouble for NATO with Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov promising “Serbs are fighting for their rights in northern Kosovo and a big explosion is looming in the heart of Europe.” Joining us is Daniel Serwer, who is a Senior Fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies’ Foreign Policy Institute. Previously he was the vice president for centers of peacebuilding innovation at the United States Institute of Peace and from 1994 to 1996 he served as U.S. special envoy and coordinator for the Bosnian Federation, mediating between Croats and Muslims and negotiating the first agreement reached at the Dayton peace talks. He also blogs at


The March Towards Authoritarianism in States Taken Over by Republican Supermajorities

Then finally we speak with Jake Grumbach, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington whose research focuses broadly on the political economy of the United States. He is the author of Laboratories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics which measured the democratic quality of American states from 2000 to 2018. Using 51 indicators, including gerrymandering, he found that States dominated by Republicans over the previous two decades became substantially less democratic than States dominated by Democrats and those with a divided government.