please don’t kill us

In this episode, we talk about the Republican legislative agenda, about how it’s fundamentally incompatible with Trump’s tax plan that promises tax cuts for all, and how an ACA repeal without an equivalent program in place isn’t merely an inconvenience, it’s a literal death sentence for an alarmingly high number of Americans.  There’s also a sidebar about That Document, and an open question about the Watergate fire.

The Senators mentioned, and their phone numbers, are:

Senator Bob Corker – (202) 224-3344

Senator Lisa Murkowski – (202) 224-6665

Senator Rob Portman – (202) 224-3353

Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523

Senator Bill Cassidy – (202) 224-5824

eighty bucks and deamonte driver

Deamonte Driver, who lived not far from where I live, would have been looking forward to his 23rd birthday this year, a young life at the very peak of its potential – instead, his mother is looking at the tenth anniversary of his death. Because she lost Medicaid due to a paperwork mixup that resulted from the family having to move, and not having the $80 for an extraction, she could not find anyone willing to remove the abscessed tooth.

Eighty bucks. That’s about what the average family spends on groceries in a week (source: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm) For want of eighty bucks, the bacteria in Deamonte’s mouth spread to his brain, where it killed him on February 25, 2007 despite emergency brain surgery.

That surgery, and the costs of the healthcare that started when his health declined to the point where he was rushed to a hospital, totalled to about a quarter million dollars. Since Deamonte’s mom didn’t have eighty bucks, she sure as hell didn’t have a quarter million, so that cost went unpaid, where it was picked up partially by taxpayers and partially by the healthcare industry (and therefore by healthcare consumers).

Congress soon afterward passed a bill requiring pediatric dental coverage to be included in Medicaid, a provision which was eventually included in the Affordable Care Act. Repealing Obamacare would mean creating the same situation that killed Deamonte Driver for want of eighty bucks, instead forcing the public in general – whether they can afford health coverage or not – to help shoulder the burden of a young man’s life and a quarter million dollar bill.

It goes without saying that I’d rather not be complicit in the death of a 12 year old kid. It also goes without saying that I’d rather pay part of $80 than part of $250,000. There is no situation where a straight repeal of the ACA makes sense.

Opponents of the ACA will scream about how much it costs to cover everybody. They’ll scream about how it’s not fair that the costs of one person’s healthcare should be spread among everybody. What they won’t tell you is that it costs LESS to cover everybody, BECAUSE the costs of one person’s healthcare DOES get spread among everybody if they don’t happen to be independently wealthy enough to pay it out of pocket. (And if you think anyone wealthy enough to pay for their healthcare out of pocket does so, and doesn’t have very good health coverage, you’re out of touch with reality.)

Eighty bucks is less than two hundred fifty thousand bucks. I don’t care what direction you look at it from, I don’t care if it’s a great big 80 made out of diamond and an itty bitty 250,000 made out of balsa wood. Eighty is, was, and always shall be less than 250,000.

And a mother should never have to put flowers on her baby’s grave because she didn’t have $80 for the dentist.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/…/02/27/AR2007022702116_3.html

(liquor) cabinet

In this episode, we talk about Trump’s appointees for cabinet and cabinet-level positions, and I bust out a personal theory that I’m pretty sure is true, but has some terrifying implications.

rule 41 – modified slightly

Some folks couldn’t hear the podcast that well, so I jiggered levels a bit and here’s the result.  New episode drops tomorrow, thanks for waiting!

rule 41

In this, our inaugural podcast episode, we talk about the changes to the Department of Justice’s Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 41.  We talk about privacy, the rule of law, and how the WAY things are done is often just as important, if not more so, than THAT they are done.

what now?

Okay here’s the scoop.
Let me preface this by pointing out that the National Suicide Hotline exists, its number is 800/273-8255, it is open 24 hours a day, and exists to talk to you if you or someone you know are in crisis. They are not going to laugh at you or preach at you, they are not going to dismiss your concerns. If you’re thinking of hurting yourself, or worried that someone close to you is, please call that number. Won’t cost you a dime. There is help.
Regardless of whether you were disconsolate or elated by last night’s results, the last few months have made one thing extremely clear: Our political system is sort of broken. We’ve lost the ability to see our neighbor as a person with hopes and ideas if we see them with an opposing political candidate’s sign in their yard. We’ve stopped treating each other like fellow citizens of a nation and started treating them as potential enemies. All sides are guilty of this, and I’m not excluding myself from the path of this wide paintbrush either, we’ve all done it.
This has gotta stop.
For good or ill, Trump is the president-elect, and whether this makes you scream in terror or delight, we all still have a job to do: Making the next four (or eight) years go as smoothly as possible for everyone. Whether you want to support him or battle him, the answer is the same: Participate in our government. You don’t have to brush up your resume and run for local office or anything like that, but take a few minutes a day and read the news, national and local. Pay attention when they say an election is coming up, no matter how local or miniscule. If you’re not happy with either of the two parties, well, starting from the bottom is how a new political party gets going.
Stein or Johnson didn’t exactly have a hope of winning the election last night, but at least they were on the ballot – because a lot of hard work by a WHOLE lot of people brought their parties up from the bottom. That same effort could apply to any new political party, and heck, more work from more people and they could easily have a shot in four (or eight) years.
Voter turnout went up this election – but a whoooole lot of people stayed home. This worries me. I hear from a lot of people who refuse to vote because they think the system is broken – and, well, if we’re being honest with each other, it is. But the way to fix it is to vote out the jerks that broke it, and vote in the people to fix it.
Please, please, PLEASE participate in our government. It needs you more than ever, no matter which side you fall on, or whether you fall on no side at all. I’m not asking you to agree to political ideas you hate, or make compromises – all I’m asking is that you make your ideas known at the ballot box. None of the candidates for a given race satisfy you? Write someone in, or don’t pick anyone at all. I’ll bet you a Snickers that there’s SOMETHING on the ballot you have an opinion on, you don’t have to fill out the whole thing.
To close, I’ll fall back on the words of Ben Franklin: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Be excellent to each other, I love you all.

matthew 25:40

I want you to do me a favor.  It won’t take long and won’t cost a penny.  Think back to when you were five years old, and try to remember what the biggest worries in your life were.  The sort of things that kept you up at night.  For the vast overwhelming number of people fortunate enough to have the internet connection required to be reading this in the first place, it’s probably stuff like ‘I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow so I can go play on the swings’ or ‘I wonder what I want for my birthday’.  Simple worries from small times, nothing too earth-shattering, despite the fact that at five, those were definitely Big Concerns.

And then there’s Omran Daqneesh.

I’m sure by now you’ve seen That Photo – if not, here’s a New York Times article that has That Photo right at the top.  That’s Omran – he’s a five year old boy living in Aleppo.  For pretty much as long as he’s been alive, his homeland has been the site of a brutal and hard-fought civil war.  He has literally never known the sort of peace required for one’s biggest concerns to be ‘I hope Mom doesn’t make me eat brussels sprouts again’.  I obviously don’t know the family, but it’s probably safe to assume that the parents do their best to try to make their children’s lives as happy and fulfilling as possible – but needs must, and happiness necessarily takes a back seat to simple survival; so I can only imagine that despite their best efforts, Omran and his siblings have had to see and experience the sort of things that you and I couldn’t imagine even in our worst nightmares.

There’s a video, if you can bring yourself to watch it.  In the video, Omran is sitting alone in the back of an ambulance after having been pulled free from the wreckage.  He’s covered in dirt and blood – blood that he only notices when he wipes some off his face, and looks at it with only mild surprise.  A world where a five year old kid is only barely surprised by blood coming out of his head is troubling.

A few days after that iconic photo of Omran was taken, his brother Ali died.  So now Omran has one less shoulder to cry on when the blasts get too close, one less set of arms to hug him and tell him he is loved and that he will be safe, and one more hole in his life when he already has so many.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Ali is one of a hundred children that have died in Aleppo since July 31.  As of the time of this writing, that’s 22 days.  A little more than once a day, one more Ali closes their eyes forever; one more Omran learns far too soon the meaning of grief and loss and that the world is not fair; one more family tries to figure out how to move on, like a car missing a wheel.

We’re lucky.  We can get through a basic day without worrying about our homes being blasted to ash or roaming death squads shooting us to ribbons because we go to the wrong church.  For all of its problems – and it does have problems – America truly is a land of plenty.  We need to use these gifts for the greater good.  We need to house and feed and clothe and care for as many refugees from Syria and all other places, as best we can, as many as we can, for as long as we can.  It’s on the Statue of Liberty, for sanity’s sake:  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We need to do it, otherwise we’re all talk.  We owe it to ourselves, so we don’t have to feel ashamed of the missed opportunity.  We owe it to our children, to show them the meaning of compassion.  We owe it to fellow nations, if we have any hope whatsoever of the favor being returned should we need it later.

We owe it to Omran, for reasons I wish I had the words to express.  Just look at that picture again, and look in his eyes, and try not to shed a tear.

“I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” – Matthew 25:40

thought police

The Intercept, a news and commentary outlet not known for fabrication, recently published an article about four citizens of Detroit who were arrested for social media postings.  None of the four have been named or formally charged.

Three of the accused – or is that even the term for a person arrested but not charged? – allegedly made posts that, on their face, appear to be legally actionable.  The first was “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter.  Kill all cops.”  I was behind him one hundred percent until those last three words, but those last three words don’t take a particularly creative prosecutor to wangle into an incitement charge.  The second was less eloquent but similar – “It’s time to wage war and shoot the police first.”  Again, incitement, and pretty clearly actionable.  Number three allegedly posted photos and videos of police officers being shot and said “This needs to happen more often.” Incitement.  Then we get to the fourth.

The fourth referred to Micah Johnson as a “hero”, and stated that “He inspired me to do the exact same thing”.  This one’s a little… less clear.  Since the author isn’t commanding or even suggesting that others act, incitement doesn’t apply.  A clever prosecutor could still turn this into a terroristic threat, though.

My issue isn’t with the first three being arrested for fairly unmistakable incitement, or even really with the fourth being arrested for something that might or might not be a threat.  My issue is that all four of these men were arrested first and then attempts made afterward to determine if a crime took place.  Two of the men have been released for now with warrants pending, the other two remain in custody due to outstanding warrants.

Police Chief James Craig said (according to this Detroit News article) that ‘it should be a crime to make threats to kill police officers’ (quote from reporter) “Especially now, in this current climate […] I don’t think that’s protected speech.” (quote from Chief Craig)

Here we see the meat of the problem.  By saying it SHOULD be a crime, he’s implicitly saying it MIGHT NOT be a crime, and if it might not be a crime, why the arrests?  Last I checked, in order to be arrested, a law enforcement officer needs to have a probable cause to believe that you have committed a specific crime.  Even people who get pulled over for ‘driving while black’ are ticketed for a busted taillight (which just might have been busted when the officer ‘accidentally’ ‘tapped’ it with their nightstick) or ‘erratic driving’ (which is so far from a subjective judgment it’s impossible to prove or disprove) or something like that.  There’s at least the appearance of an actual specific infraction.

Furthermore, I’m pretty sure deciding what is and isn’t protected speech is for a judge to decide, not a law enforcement officer.  That deals with constitutional law, and that’s for high courts to decide.  There’s putting the cart before the horse, and there’s setting up the cart while you wait for the horse to be born.

Here, the four men – all black men, which should surprise precisely no one – have been arrested because ‘well, we’re pretty sure that the things we say they did shouldn’t be allowed.  We’re totally gonna check with the higher-ups to make sure, though.  We promise.’

Sure you are.  ‘Kill this cop’ – a clear and specific threat.  ‘Kill all cops’ – a clear but nonspecific threat, and generally left up to a judge to determine actionability.  ‘A cop died, I liked it, I was inspired to do the same’ – inspired isn’t the same as planning to.  I get inspired to do a lot of things I never do.  Worth keeping an eye on, sure, but arrest? And what’s next?  Are the surviving members of NWA to be arrested for their hit ‘Fuck Tha Police’ because the lyrics included nonspecific threats?  If so, is someone posting ‘fuck the police’ to twitter to be arrested because they are referencing the song’s lyrics? Or perhaps because the cops don’t like it and think it’s rude?

It doesn’t take a particularly creative mind to see where this leads.  The back-and-forth between law enforcement and civilians has long been a story of expansion and resistance – law enforcement attempts to re-interpret laws in ways that grant them more power (and honestly, they often have the best of intentions, but we all know what they say about the road to Hell…), and they keep pushing it until the citizenry (or a higher office) pushes back and gets it in front of a judge.  We’ve seen this play out time and time again from Prohibition to Jim Crow to profanity laws to speeding cameras to any number of issues where law enforcement has pushed and pushed until they get their hand slapped by a judge.

And now they’re pushing on the First Amendment.  This isn’t something we can afford to spend a decade getting cranky about before we do anything – because the nature of the issue means that if we give it time for it to be clearly something we need a judge’s input on, it could well be illegal to argue.

the art of sociological triage

Let’s say you trip over something and sprain your ankle.  Your regular doctor can’t see you for a week and a half, for whatever reason there isn’t an urgent care clinic available, so off you go to the emergency room.  At the same time you walk up to the registration desk, you see a person at the registration desk right next to you holding a wadded-up tee shirt over what appears to be a large wound on their neck that’s bleeding quite badly.  Raise your hand if you expect the gushing neck injury to be seen by a doctor before your sprained ankle.

That’s what I thought.  We expect the more urgent cases to be taken care of before the less urgent ones.  When lives are on the line, it only makes sense to prioritize care and attention to make sure that the people in the most danger get helped first.  Why, then, is it so difficult for people to understand the concepts behind Black Lives Matter?

I know, that was kind of a swerve.  Bear with me, I’m connecting the dots.

Recently, President Obama took a moment from a trip to Warsaw (he was there for a NATO conference) to say the following (quote from NPR)

According to various studies — not just one but a wide range of studies that have been carried out over a number of years — African-Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over.

After being pulled over African-Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched.

Last year African-Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites.

African-Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites.

African-American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.

Recently, two separate black men were killed by the police.  Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile in a suburb of St. Paul.  Sterling was shot by police – several times, in the chest and back – while officers were holding him on the ground.  Castile was shot during a traffic stop while following an order from the officer to produce his identification.

This is the part where the “can we please find a reason why this was Okay so I don’t have to think about it anymore” set starts wringing their hands and pointing out that Sterling had a gun on him, and the police were responding to a 911 call of him allegedly brandishing it, and that Castile had just informed the officer who killed him that he was in possession of a firearm (one which he had a concealed carry permit for, and informing the officer as early as possible that 1) the firearm exists and 2) you have a permit for it is EXACTLY what authorities tell people to do if they find themselves in a situation where they are interacting with law enforcement).  My point is none of that matters.  If you look at the video of Sterling’s shooting (widely available on the internet, I am not providing a link here as it is shocking and disturbing to watch a man be killed, if you want to see it, Google is your friend), you can see that although Sterling is struggling, he is on the ground with two officers holding him down.  He is neutralized as a threat.  Still, though, one of the officers drew his weapon, held it a couple inches from Sterling’s chest, possibly to scare him into total submission, and then when Sterling continued to struggle, fired multiple times.

Not having had the benefit of a police academy education, I can’t say for sure, but I’m reasonably certain deadly force is not necessary when dealing with a person who is armed, but prevented from accessing their weapon by the sheer force of two police officers holding them down.  One assumes that the more prudent course of action would have been to continue to restrain the subject, perhaps even with a less lethal method like a taser, without resorting to gunfire.

Castile’s killing was even less defensible.  He was pulled over.  The officer asked him to provide identification.  Castile informed the officer that there was a firearm in the vehicle, informed the officer that he was retrieving his wallet from his back pocket to comply with the officer’s instructions, began to do so, and the officer opened fire.

The fact that Castile was carrying a concealed weapon should not be a factor in his shooting.  Castile was granted a permit to carry the weapon in a concealed fashion.  He was exercising his rights as a citizen.  He followed the best practices given to him – always, always inform a police officer if you have a weapon, as early in the interaction as is possible, and narrate your actions – and followed the police officer’s instructions to provide his identification.  He did everything he was told and was killed for it.

That’s two men killed in two days.  Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota has gone on record as saying “Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver and passenger were white? I don’t think it would have.”  Gov. Edwards of Louisiana offered a significantly more hedged-bets comment of the usual promises of a full and transparent investigation, while carefully failing to mention the racial aspect of the killing.

But the hell of it is, it’s not merely being killed that black people have to fear from law enforcement – if you look at the statistics mentioned above, or speak to any of the untold millions of black families nationwide that have to sit their children down and tell them to fear the police, to be on their absolute best behavior when in public, to expect that they are going to be harassed by law enforcement, and how to survive it – it becomes clear that at every level, at every moment, black people are treated badly by our society.

We can whine and cry and wring our hands all we want about how ‘well maybe he shouldn’t have been carrying a gun’ or ‘if that Freddie Gray fellow hadn’t gotten himself arrested, he’d still be alive’ or ‘ALL lives matter, you know’ or (my personal favorite) ‘he wasn’t exactly an angel’, but the fact remains: Our bruised ego is a sprained ankle.  The way we treat black people in this society is the gushing neck wound.  One is more important to immediately address than the other.

Black lives matter.