Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 4th, 2017

Reading “War and Peace” after some life experience

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I have to say that I get definite “domestic violence” vibes from the brief exchanges between Prince Andrew Bolkonski and his wife, Princess Lise Bolkonskaya in the beginning of the book, when Pierre visits the two in their home after Anna Pavlovna’s soirée. The exchange between Andrew and Lise took place in front of Pierre, so there’s nothing explicit. But the language and attitudes certainly struck a chord.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2017 at 8:05 pm

Posted in Books

How Jeff Sessions will enable more Michael Slagers

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

This week, the Justice Department announced a plea bargain with Michael Slager, the former North Charleston, S.C., police officer who killed Walter Scott by shooting him in the back as he fled during a traffic stop. As part of the deal, Slager will plead guilty to violating Scott’s civil rights in exchange for the other charges against him being dropped, including a murder charge.

The excerpt below is from the DOJ’s statement on the agreement.

“The Department of Justice will hold accountable any law enforcement officer who violates the civil rights of our citizens by using excessive force,” said Attorney General Sessions.  “Such failures of duty not only harm the individual victims of these crimes; they harm our country, by eroding trust in law enforcement and undermining the good work of the vast majority of honorable and honest police officers.  As our Department works to support the courageous and professional law enforcement personnel who risk their lives every day to protect us, we will also ensure that police officers who abuse their sacred trust are made to answer for their misconduct.”

Those are some pretty harsh words for Slager. There are a couple of things worth remembering here, though.

First, were it not for a citizen-shot video, Slager almost certainly would never have been charged. His initial report claimed that he shot Scott because Scott was holding Slager’s Taser. The video shows that not only was this not true, it shows Slager dropping the Taser near Scott after shooting him.

Were it not for the video, Slager’s word would have been golden. The shooting would have been investigated by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), and it’s a pretty good bet that without the video, that agency would have cleared him of any wrongdoing. As I reported in a series here last year, SLED has a history of glossing over police shootings. One investigator admitted in a deposition that he doesn’t read forensics reports in police shootings. In one particularly disturbing case, SLED didn’t bother to ask the police officers who shot Laurie Jean Ellis why they claimed to have heard a gunshot and saw smoke coming from a gun that turned out to be a BB gun. When asked why he didn’t follow up, and ask the officers to explain the discrepancy, a SLED supervisor answered, “Because they’re police officers and I believe what they’re telling me.” In another case, SLED investigators didn’t bother to explain why body-camera footage of a fatal police raidon a man suspected of misdemeanor gambling completely contradicted police reports. In still another, SLED cleared officers who shot and seriously injured a man during a pot raid, despite security video showing that they clearly didn’t knock and announce, as they had claimed. The Justice Department statement about Slager praises SLED, and gives its chief, Mark Keel, a platform to make his own comments about the investigation.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, of course, wants less federal oversight of state and local police. He wants to give more power to agencies such as SLED and to police departments to investigate themselves. The Walter Scott case is a good example of why that’s a bad idea. In Scott’s case, the citizen-shot video went viral, forcing the hand of state officials. Thus the criminal charges. But justice wasn’t exactly served at the state level. Slager was tried five months ago in South Carolina. The result was a hung jury. As Jacob Sullum points out at Reason, it isn’t that the jury thought the shooting was justified, it’s that they didn’t want to convict a cop.

The jury foreman, Dorsey Montgomery, told NBC News he was initially inclined to convict Slager of murder but decided after reviewing the evidence that manslaughter was the more appropriate charge. One of the 12 jurors was firmly opposed to both charges, Montgomery said, while five others were undecided. “Part of the problem,” another, unnamed juror told the Charleston Post and Courier, “was the fact that he may not be completely innocent, but the charges we were given were possibly a little too harsh.”

The latter juror thought the undecided members of the panel (who evidently included him) would have been more inclined to convict Slager if given the option of involuntary manslaughter. But that charge clearly did not apply in this case, since involuntary manslaughter, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison with no minimum, involveskilling someone through criminal negligence, meaning the defendant acted with “reckless disregard of the safety of others.” It is obvious, as even Slager admitted during his trial, that he deliberately shot Scott. The question was whether he was justified in doing so and, if not, whether he acted out of malice.

It seems clear that half of the jurors bent over backward to avoid convicting Slager of manslaughter, to the point that they ignored the law. It also seems clear that they never would have cut so much slack for an ordinary defendant, one who was not wearing a uniform and badge when he committed his crime . . .

Sullum points to this piece from the Post and Courier based on interviews with the jury. From the piece:

In the end, the juror said his fellow panel members had a “very hard time” faulting the policeman for a decision he made as a result of his job. They once sent a note to the judge asking whether the self-defense requirements are any different for law officers than for citizens.

“Society as a whole has not made it easy to be a policeman,” the juror said. “The cop on the street is always being second-guessed, always going to have 5 million eyes on him. Everybody is going to Monday morning quarterback it. But he’s out there, and he’s got to make a decision within a second or two.”

If that language sounds familiar, it ought to. In his first major speech as AG, Jeff Sessions said, “Somehow, some way, we’ve undermined the respect for our police, and made, oftentimes, their job more difficult, and it’s not been well received by them.” He has warned against second-guessing police, and cautioned that “viral videos” are making cops jobs’ harder. “They’re more reluctant to get out of their squad cars and do the hard but necessary work of up-close policing that builds trust and prevents violent crime,” he said in February.

Judging from the Justice Department’s news release, Sessions thinks the killing of Walter Scott was a crime. The plea agreement indicates that he thinks Slager’s shooting of Scott violated Scott’s civil rights. Based on both, Sessions thinks Slager’s actions also “harm the country” and “erode trust in law enforcement.” But it’s telling that the members of the South Carolina jury who couldn’t bring themselves to convict Slager — despite overwhelming visual evidence — explained their reluctance with language that’s virtually indistinguishable from Sessions’s. It’s indicative of a mind-set that police officers should be trusted by virtue of the fact that they’re police officers and is skeptical of anything that makes us more skeptical of them. Sessions doesn’t like viral video of alleged police misconduct. Viral video is why Michael Slager isn’t carrying a gun and wearing a badge. And Sessions is glad Slager is no longer a cop — or at least seems to be. Sessions doesn’t want the federal government meddling in local policing. But federal meddling in local policing is why Slager is facing a felony charge. And Sessions is glad Slager is facing a felony charge — or at least seems to be. It all doesn’t quite add up. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2017 at 7:43 pm

Which Saves More Gasoline? Toyota Prius or Chevrolet Volt?

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2017 at 2:55 pm

LA Times compares and contrasts ACA (Obamacare) and ACHA (Trumpcare) in one chart

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2017 at 2:42 pm

The Valiant will be here soon

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I blogged earlier about a prototype of a stainless steel adjustable, the Valiant. Manufacturing a razor is more complicated than you might think, but I just received an email from Giovanni, one of those working on it, to say that it is now in production and they will start selling them in a couple of weeks.

I’ll provide more information as I learn it.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2017 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Shaving

Every Republican who voted for this abomination must be held accountable

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Paul Waldman minces no words in his Washington Post column:

Here at the Plum Line, we write a lot about the mechanics of politics — the processes of governing, the interplay of political forces, the back-and-forth between citizens and lawmakers, and so on. We do that because it’s interesting and because it winds up affecting all our lives. But there are moments when you have to set aside the mechanics and focus intently on the substance of what government does — or in this case, what government is trying to do.

I won’t mince words. The health-care bill that the House of Representatives passed this afternoon, in an incredibly narrow 217-to-213 vote, is not just wrong, or misguided, or problematic or foolish. It is an abomination. If there has been a piece of legislation in our lifetimes that boiled over with as much malice and indifference to human suffering, I can’t recall what it might have been. And every member of the House who voted for it must be held accountable.

There’s certainly a process critique one can make about this bill. We might focus on the fact that Republicans are rushing to pass it without having held a single hearing on it, without a score from the Congressional Budget Office that would tell us exactly what the effects would be, and before nearly anyone has had a chance to even look at the bill’s actual text — all this despite the fact that they are remaking one-sixth of the American economy and affecting all of our lives (and despite their long and ridiculous claims that the Affordable Care Act was “rammed through” Congress, when in fact it was debated for an entire year and was the subject of dozens of hearings and endless public discussion). We might talk about how every major stakeholder group — the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the AARP, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, and on and on — all oppose the bill.

All that matters. But the real problem is what’s in the bill itself. Here are some of the things it does:

  • Takes health insurance away from at least 24 million Americans; that was the number the CBO estimated for a previous version of the bill, and the number for this one is probably higher.
  • Revokes the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which provided no-cost health coverage to millions of low-income Americans.
  • Turns Medicaid into a block grant, enabling states to kick otherwise-eligible people off their coverage and cut benefits if they so choose.
  • Slashes Medicaid overall by $880 billion over 10 years.
  • Removes the subsidies that the ACA provided to help middle-income people afford health insurance, replacing them with far more meager tax credits pegged not to people’s income but to their age. Poorer people would get less than they do now, while richer people would get more; even Bill Gates would get a tax credit.
  • Allows insurers to charge dramatically higher premiums to older patients.
  • Allows insurers to impose yearly and lifetime caps on coverage, which were outlawed by the ACA. This also, it was revealed today, may threaten the coverage of the majority of non-elderly Americans who get insurance through their employers.
  • Allows states to seek waivers from the ACA’s requirement that insurance plans include essential benefits for things such as emergency services, hospitalization, mental health care, preventive care, maternity care, and substance abuse treatment.
  • Provides hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for families making over $250,000 a year.
  • Produces higher deductibles for patients.
  • Allows states to try to waive the ACA’s requirement that insurers must charge people the same rates regardless of their medical history. This effectively eviscerates the ban on denials for preexisting conditions, since insurers could charge you exorbitant premiums if you have a preexisting condition, effectively denying you coverage.
  • Shunts those with preexisting conditions into high-risk pools, which are absolutely the worst way to cover those patients; experience with them on the state level proves that they wind up underfunded, charge enormous premiums, provide inadequate benefits and can’t cover the population they’re meant for. Multiple analyses have shown that the money the bill provides for high-risk pools is laughably inadequate, which will inevitably leave huge numbers of the most vulnerable Americans without the ability to get insurance.
  • Brings back medical underwriting, meaning that just like in the bad old days, when you apply for insurance you’ll have to document every condition or ailment you’ve ever had.

It is no exaggeration to say that if it were to become law, this bill would kill significant numbers of Americans. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2017 at 12:49 pm

Jennifer Rubin points out the extremely repulsive picture the GOP presents

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Her post just now begins, with emphasis added by me:

The GOP-led House passed a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act by a 217-to-213 margin, sending it to the Senate, where GOP members were already throwing cold water on a bill passed with no Congressional Budget Office score or real understanding of its implications. The picture of House Republicans wildly celebrating the bill, which will never become law and which, according to the CBO, would remove 24 million people from coverage and bestow a huge tax cut on the very, very rich, may come back to haunt them.

President Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) claimed “victory,” but their celebrations may be short-lived. A number of moderate members in districts that Hillary Clinton won were compelled to vote for a bill that the public has overwhelmingly rejected — at least according to polls. The biggest problems for Trump and the GOP (aside from getting the Senate and House to agree upon and sign something) are the decidedly unpopulist features of the bill — tax cuts for the super-rich, higher premiums for older and more rural voters and a rollback of Medicaid that allowed millions of Americans to afford coverage. If Democrats are able to portray this as a cruel repudiation of Trump’s promise to take care of the “forgotten men and women,” both he and the GOP are due for their political comeuppance.

The Trumpcare legislation, if it passes, will become an issue in every governor’s race and in hundreds of state legislative races, where Republicans have dominated. GOP state candidates on the ballot will have to make clear their position — do they favor “opt-out” or no? Do they take responsibility for high-risk pools that,  according to experts, are woefully underfunded by the American Health Care Act? Two gubernatorial races this year — one in New Jersey and the other in Virginia — will be early indications as to how this is all playing out.

The congressional race in Georgia’s 6th District — already a hyped, multimillion-dollar race — is about to get even more attention. Democrat Jon Ossoff will force Republican Karen Handel to state her position and then slam her and other Republicans for cavalier, irresponsible governance that may harm millions of Americans. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2017 at 12:39 pm

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