Later On

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

Archive for June 7th, 2017

Trumpcare Could Screw Millions With Employer Insurance

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Uh-oh. Corporations can now cut their employer contributions to your healthcare by a LOT. Kevin Drum has a post that explains:

Here’s something that’s been brewing for a while, but is only now starting to get some attention. The Trumpcare bill that passed the House allows states to waive the ten essential benefits mandated by Obamacare. But this doesn’t just affect individual insurance purchased on the exchanges. It also affects employer insurance:

Under the House bill, large employers could choose the benefit requirements from any state—including those that are allowed to lower their benchmarks under a waiver, health analysts said. By choosing a waiver state, employers looking to lower their costs could impose lifetime limits and eliminate the out-of-pocket cost cap from their plans under the GOP legislation.

A company wouldn’t have to do business in a state to choose that state’s benefits level, analysts said. The company could just choose a state to match no matter where it is based.

….A House GOP spokesman [said] the bill didn’t intend to touch employer plans and any unintended consequences could be addressed by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Please raise your hand if you trust Tom Price to take care of this little boo-boo after the fact. Anyone? . . .

Continue reading.

And definitely read this post by Drum.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 4:12 pm

Why I can’t trust cops: The death of Tashii Brown, who asked police for help

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D. Watkins writes in Salon:

It’s crazy to think that in this phase of my life — I’m a 30-plus-year-old writer, speaker and college professor — I would probably not stop for the police if I was standing outside, especially not in my own neighborhoods in Baltimore. Even though I pay their salaries, I still feel like they are not working for me.

People who are lucky enough to be equipped with privilege and resources often find themselves confused about why. When they hear about a cop hurting a civilian, they say things like “Why did that person run away from the police?” and “People who run must be guilty.”

I can’t blame those people for not being able to understand a reality outside of their own. It seems like most American’s can’t. But I do feel that we all are responsible for offering counter narratives as often as possible in an effort to dilute the beliefs of the ignorant — specifically, the belief that black always equals “wrong.” Even though they’ll never probably fully understand, at least they’ll have a glimpse into the world that us with dark skin are forced to endure.

Here is such a glimpse: According to news reports, Tashii S. Brown, 40, approached police officer Kenneth Lopera in a Las Vegas casino on May 14 and asked for help. Brown was African American and Lopera is not, which is why I’m not surprised that Brown, the person requesting help from a police officer, ended up being chased, tased repeatedly, punched and placed in a martial arts-style chokehold. According to the coroner, Brown died of asphyxiation due to police restraint.

Lopera was arrested on Monday and charged with involuntary manslaughter. The narrative of how the situation turned from Brown asking for help to being suspected of car jacking and then ending up dead is for Lopera and his lawyers to create as they prepare for trial — the victim isn’t around to tell his side of the story.

According to Las Vegas Police Protective Association official Steve Grammas, Lopera will plead not guilty even though there is body camera footage of Brown, who was unarmed, on the ground with both of his hands up.

“Officer Lopera did nothing criminal,” Grammas stated. “We prepared him for the worst case scenario, and it came true.”

Like so many other police employees and law enforcement apologists, Grammas apparently sees nothing wrong with killing an unarmed black man. Police killings of innocent black people are usually excused away as a matter of improper training or a simple mistake or mishap, not racism.

Lopera is now out on $6,000 bail and . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 4:08 pm

Sam Brownback’s trickle-down “experiment” has officially failed

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Sophia Tesfaye reports in Salon:

After five long years, a coalition of conservatives, moderate Republicans and Democrats finally came together to deliver the major death blow to Gov. Sam Brownback’s failed supply-side economics experiment — by voting for the largest tax increase in state history.

Although the Republican governor of the Sunflower State had earlier vetoed the effort to overturn his failed tax-reform experiment, his action proved impotent after lawmakers immediately voted to override his veto late on Tuesday night.

The Senate voted 27 to 13, and the House followed by agreeing 88 to 31 to override Brownback’s veto, The Kansas City Star reported. Both Republican-led chambers of the Kansas legislature had already voted to end the state’s failed trickle-down economics experiment in February, but the Senate had been unable to muster enough votes to override Brownback’s veto.

This time around, however, supporters of the bill to raise taxes had four votes more than the two-thirds majority needed to override Brownback’s veto — provided by GOP leaders in the legislature. As the Star reported:

A major vote in the House came from the leading Republican in the chamber.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, resisted tax increases for much of the 2017 session.

But Tuesday night, Ryckman voted to override the governor’s veto. He had not voted for the tax plan when it passed the House Monday night.

Immediately after the House adjourned Ryckman rushed to his office and didn’t answer a question from a reporter about his vote.

After Brownback took office in 2011, he and the Republican-dominated legislature joined forces to cut the state’s already low tax rates even further. Brownback pursued even more aggressive reforms in the following years, completely eliminating the state income tax for owner-operated businesses, known as pass-through entities.

Brownback promised at the time that his “experiment” would act “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.”

Instead, the Kansas economy tanked.

Since the right-wing conservative became governor, Kansas’ growth rate has been below that of the Midwest region and the nation every year. Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls nearing nearly $1 billion through June 2019. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 2:05 pm

Posted in GOP, Government

Who Is Dangerous, and Who Dies?

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Errol Morris writes in the NY Times:

The death penalty, like abortion, is one of those hot-button topics that keeps popping up into the public consciousness, a roach motel for meretricious ideas and bad public policy — including racism. I would bet that if it involved putting white people to death for killing black people, it would have been abolished years ago. Still, it persists. Except our society — until recently — has come to believe that overt expressions of racism might not be a good thing. Better to keep a fig leaf over it than to explore its underbelly.

In 1972, the Supreme Court found in the 5-4 decision of Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty as practiced in this country was unconstitutional under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. But the majority couldn’t agree on a rationale for its decision, so instead of one majority opinion, five separate concurrences were produced. While Justices Brennan and Marshall found the death penalty itself to be cruel and unusual punishment, Justices Stewart, White and Douglas focused on its arbitrariness, leaving the door wide open for states to rejigger their statutes and return to executions.

In 1973, Texas did just that — the sentencing phase of a capital trial was separated from the guilt phase, and the jury was asked to consider “whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society [future dangerousness].” In response to the Furman decision, Governor Preston Smith commuted the death sentences of 52 inmates in Texas, clearing out death row entirely. In 1976, consolidating cases from five different states (Georgia, Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Louisiana), the court in Gregg v. Georgia found that the death penalty was not unconstitutional in every case. Executions in Texas, now by lethal injection — Old Sparky, the Texas electric chair, had been retired — started back up in 1982.

I first became involved with all this while making my film “The Thin Blue Line.” I had read about Dr. James Grigson, an expert witness regularly called by the state of Texas. Some referred to him as “Dr. Death” because he would routinely find that the defendant posed a risk of future dangerousness, and thus should be executed. I met with Dr. Grigson in 1985, and on his recommendation I started interviewing Texas death row inmates. Among those Dr. Grigson had testified posed a risk of future dangerousness was Randall Dale Adams, a convicted cop killer — or at least, so it seemed.

My film was finished, and Mr. Adams was exonerated. I had thought — stupidly, it turned out — that Dr. Grigson had been put out of business. Not so. The “dangerousness” provision of the Texas law remained very much in place. But I forgot about it. I had done my fair share of good — got an innocent man out of prison.

Then, not long ago, I read about the case of Buck v. Davis, decided by the Supreme Court on Feb. 22. Duane Buck had been convicted of capital murder in 1997. He killed his ex-girlfriend and one of her friends. The details of the crime are appalling, but no less appalling is that Dr. Walter Quijano discussed Mr. Buck’s race as a factor in determining his future dangerousness. African-Americans, Dr. Quijano argued, are more likely to commit acts of violence. Though Dr. Quijano opined that Mr. Buck was not a risk of future dangerousness, his testimony about race remained an element for the jury to consider.

Dr. Quijano has given similar testimony in other death penalty cases since 1991. Prompted by the Supreme Court’s decision in Saldaño v. Texas (2000), which vacated the sentence of Victor Hugo Saldaño because Dr. Quijano had testified that Mr. Saldaño’s Hispanic ethnicity made him a greater risk of future dangerousness, State Attorney General John Cornyn promised that his office would not object if the other defendants (Mr. Buck among them) sought to overturn their death sentences based on Dr. Quijano’s testimony. In Mr. Buck’s case, though, they did object, claiming that since it was the defense attorney who put Dr. Quijano on the stand and allowed his testimony into the record without objection, the State of Texas owed the defendant nothing.

I called Mr. Buck’s attorney Christina Swarns, litigation director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc., to discuss the case.

CHRISTINA SWARNS: Thank you so much for reaching out about the Duane Buck case.

ERROL MORRIS: It brought alive a lot of feelings that go back so many years. One of the horrors of the “Thin Blue Line” case involved the prediction of future violence. You had a psychiatrist, “the hanging psychiatrist,” Dr. James Grigson, who would make predictions of future violence based on a diagnosis of sociopathy. He would testify the defendant is a sociopath and will kill and kill again. I am offended that this law still exists. I believe it came out of the Dallas district attorney’s office and was written with Dr. Grigson in mind. Various prosecutors thought: “We have these psychiatrists in our hip pocket. Why not fashion a law which will allow us to make use of this in the courtroom?” And that is exactly what they did, except they overplayed their hand. As a result many of these cases were retried on grounds of improper jury selection and Fifth Amendment violations. And then 25 years later, along comes Duane Buck.

CHRISTINA SWARNS: Everyone was horrified by the fact that the damaging testimony was introduced by the defense counsel. It explicitly, out loud, links race to dangerousness. This is not implicit bias; this is explicit, first-generation racism. This is the good old stuff. And that’s bad, but it’s even worse that his own lawyer brings it in.

ERROL MORRIS: Not ineffective counsel, but counsel actively undermining the case.

CHRISTINA SWARNS: Predictions of future dangerousness are absurd, and then to be put in a capital punishment box which is already so contaminated by racial bias. The introduction of evidence linking race to dangerousness — like that which was presented in the Duane Buck case — was an inevitable product of future dangerousness in the capital punishment system in Texas. Because the Texas death penalty system was already so contaminated and corrupted by racial bias, the Duane Buck death sentence was a predictable outcome of that mess.

ERROL MORRIS: And yet you kept losing in the courts.

CHRISTINA SWARNS: Yes. For me, having litigated it for the last six years, I was astonished every time we lost. Clearly someone is going to correct this thing. It plays on so many of the obvious flaws in the system.

ERROL MORRIS: Can you tell me about the attempts made “to correct this thing”? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 12:40 pm

Initial Comments on James Comey’s Written Testimony

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Benjamin Wittes writes at Lawfare:

James Comey’s seven-page written statement, released by the Senate Intelligence Committee this afternoon in connection with Comey’s impending testimony tomorrow, draws no conclusions, makes no allegations, and indeed, expresses no opinions. It recounts, in spare and simple prose, a set of facts to which Comey is prepared to testify under oath tomorrow. Despite this sparseness, or maybe I should say because of it, it is the most shocking single document compiled about the official conduct of the public duties of any President since the release of the Watergate tapes.

Let me begin by walking through the document and annotating it a bit with those reasonable inferences that Comey leaves implicit but which a member of Congress, or a member of the public, should certainly consider. That is, let me start by considering in a narrow-bore way what some of these facts mean. Having done so, I’ll zoom out and try to make sense of the big picture as Comey takes the stand tomorrow. Comey proceeds in his statement chronologically. I am going to treat matters more thematically—which will mean bouncing around a bit in the document. The following comments will make more sense if readers first take the time to read the statement in its entirety, something I think it incumbent on citizens and other stakeholders in this society to do.

The first broad theme I want to highlight here is the effort on the part of the President to engage his FBI director in a relationship of patronage and the overwhelming discomfort this effort caused Comey. This a theme I wrote about based on my own contemporaneous conversations with Comey, but to see it fleshed out across a number of different incidents is nevertheless jarring.

Comey is explicit that he saw Trump as attempting to enmesh him in an inappropriate relationship at the time. Of the January 27 dinner, for example, he writes that, “My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.” And it’s hard to read this meeting any other way, at least not as Comey describes it. The President repeatedly asked for “loyalty,” was not satisfied with a promise of “honesty,” and the two compromised only awkwardly over the term “honest loyalty.” Trump specifically dangled the question of Comey’s keeping his job over his head. In their last conversation, on April 11, Comey reports that Trump emphasized to him that “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.”

Throughout the document, Comey reports extreme discomfort with Trump’s behavior generally, and this aspect of it particularly. At that dinner, Comey felt compelled to tell the President that he was not “reliable” in the way politicians expect. He reports that the President’s efforts to engage him in a “patronage” relationship “concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.” He describes the interaction as a “very awkward conversation.”

Remarkably, even before that meeting, Comey was so uncomfortable with Trump that he had already begun writing memos recording every interaction he had with the President and sharing them with the FBI’s senior leadership. After their first meeting, on January 6, Comey recounts:

I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past.

Indeed, it contrasts sharply with his interactions with Obama, whom he admired a great deal. And he makes that point specifically:

I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) – once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016. In neither of those circumstances did I memorialize the discussions. I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months – three in person and six on the phone.

In other words, Comey is saying here how little he trusted Trump from the beginning, and that Trump’s behavior caused him to behave differently than he had in the past.

This brings me to the second broad theme about Trump’s conduct, which is . . .

Continue reading. Full text of Comey’s statement in a scrolling window at the link.

See also “Takeaways From Comey’s Prepared Testimony for the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.”

See also “The critical information in James Comey’s written statement,” Jennifer Rubin’s column in the Washington Post.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 12:33 pm

The Myth of Kindly General Robert E. Lee

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Adam Sewer writes in the Atlantic:

The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.

Memorial Day has the tendency to conjure up old arguments about the Civil War. That’s understandable; it was created to mourn the dead of a war in which the Union was nearly destroyed, when half the country rose up in rebellion in defense of slavery. This year, the removal of Lee’s statue in New Orleans has inspired a new round of commentary about Lee, not to mention protests on his behalf by white supremacists.

The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.

There is little truth in this. Lee was a devout Christian, and historians regard him as an accomplished tactician. But despite his ability to win individual battles, his decision to fight a conventional war against the more densely populated and industrialized North is considered by many historians to have been a fatal strategic error.

But even if one conceded Lee’s military prowess, he would still be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of the South’s authority to own millions of human beings as property because they are black. Lee’s elevation is a key part of a 150-year-old propaganda campaign designed to erase slavery as the cause of the war and whitewash the Confederate cause as a noble one. That ideology is known as the Lost Cause, and as historian David Blight writes, it provided a “foundation on which Southerners built the Jim Crow system.”

There are unwitting victims of this campaign—those who lack the knowledge to separate history from sentiment. Then there are those whose reverence for Lee relies on replacing the actual Lee with a mythical figure who never truly existed.

In the Richmond Times Dispatch, R. David Cox wrote that “For white supremacist protesters to invoke his name violates Lee’s most fundamental convictions.” In the conservative publication Townhall,  Jack Kerwick concluded that Lee was “among the finest human beings that has ever walked the Earth.” John Daniel Davidson, in an essay for The Federalist, opposed the removal of the Lee statute in part on the grounds that Lee “arguably did more than anyone to unite the country after the war and bind up its wounds.” Praise for Lee of this sort has flowed forth from past historians and presidents alike.

This is too divorced from Lee’s actual life to even be classed as fan fiction; it is simply historical illiteracy.

White supremacy does not “violate” Lee’s “most fundamental convictions.” White supremacy was one of Lee’s most fundamental convictions.

Lee was a slaveowner—his own views on slavery were explicated in an 1856 letter that it often misquoted to give the impression that Lee was some kind of an abolitionist. In the letter, he describes slavery as “a moral & political evil,” but goes on to explain that:

I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.

The argument here is that slavery is bad for white people, good for black people, and most importantly, it is better than abolitionism; emancipation must wait for divine intervention. That black people might not want to be slaves does not enter into the equation; their opinion on the subject of their own bondage is not even an afterthought to Lee.

Lee’s cruelty as a slavemaster was not confined to physical punishment. In Reading the Man, the historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s portrait of Lee through his writings, Pryor writes that “Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families,” by hiring them off to other plantations, and that “by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.” The separation of slave families was one of the most unfathomably devastating aspects of slavery, and Pryor wrote that Lee’s slaves regarded him as “the worst man I ever see.”

The trauma of rupturing families lasted lifetimes for the enslaved—it was, as my colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates described it, “a kind of murder.” After the war, thousands of the emancipated searched desperately for kin lost to the market for human flesh, fruitlessly for most. In Reconstruction, the historian Eric Foner quotes a Freedmen’s Bureau agent who notes of the emancipated, “in their eyes, the work of emancipation was incomplete until the families which had been dispersed by slavery were reunited.”

Lee’s heavy hand on the Arlington plantation, Pryor writes, nearly led to a slave revolt, in part because . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The GOP has lost interest in policy

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Bob Cesca writes in Salon:

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, there was only one piece of gun control legislation that made it to a vote. The measure, introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., would have closed the gun show and internet loopholes for firearm sales, and — well, that’s it. Nothing else was attached — no gun bans, no gun confiscations, nothing.

Despite the heartbreaking impact of Sandy Hook, this was the most ballsy piece of legislation the Senate could muster — and the amendment failed anyway, even though it enjoyed the support of 86 percent of the voters surveyed in 2013. Only 13 percent of the voters polled opposed the amendment. That last part is crucial. The Republican Senate voted down the legislation despite 86 percent support, including a 74 percent level of support from National Rifle Association members.

Why did the Republicans vote against an amendment that enjoyed such overwhelming support? It could have been the piles of cash and influence being injected into to the GOP’s haggard veins by the gun lobby. It could also have been an early indication that the Republican Party is more interested in trolling liberals than legislating based on sensible policy. Regardless of whether the congressional Republicans’ opposition to the Manchin-Toomey amendment was more than trollery, it’s obvious that, today, President Donald Trump’s Republican Party is all about supporting actions aimed simply to piss off the left, rather than authoring policy-based legislation that will objectively help make life easier for Americans.

After all, a significant chunk of Trump’s reputation is wrapped up in his obnoxious Twitter habit — a habit that seems to be partly inspired by the tone and content of “Fox & Friends,” mixed with his desperate need for attention. Even before he announced his presidential candidacy, Trump was a Twitter troll, and just about everything he does is geared toward fluffing his rally supporters, including the tormenting of liberals. For example, his desire to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act isn’t about constructing a better health care system; it’s about crapping all over the legacy of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and Obama’s supporters. It’s about revenge. And his people don’t seem to care that their health coverage will be among the first to be rescinded if the law passes as written. They don’t care because repealing Obamacare pisses off liberals.

Likewise, Trump’s posture on the climate crisis — quite likely driven by alt-right troll Steve Bannon — is obviously about trolling the left as well as the meanies in Europe who (rightfully) mocked him during his Mr. Magoo-like overseas trip. In his remarks about the U.S. pulling out of the Paris climate accords last week, Trump said he represents Pittsburgh and not Paris, even though the agreement was merely composed in Paris and isn’t a product of the administration of the newly elected Emmanuel Macron. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Trump’s decision on the Paris accord was made out of spite rather than a realistic assessment of the deal. Indeed, it’s fair to assume that Trump hasn’t read the agreement at all, beyond perhaps a one-page summary composed by his beleaguered staff — at best. All he knows is that it’s linked to Europe and Europe hates him, so screw it. He’s out.

What about public support for the agreement? Irrelevant — if you’re a Trump Republican, that is. Sure, 59 percent of voters are opposed to abandoning the deal, but in the age of Trump trolling, all that matters is that the president’s disciples are jazzed about pulling out, mainly because liberals are crushed by Trump’s decision. Who cares if nearly 6 in 10 voters support it? There are liberals and Europeans to troll.

Among the many trolling tactics on climate change is the old “but it’s snowing!” line. Most of us have beaten our faces against brick walls trying to swat down this one. Accordingly, Politico reported on Monday that Trump apparently said during a golf outing, “They can’t even get the weather report right, so how come they think they can get that right?”

Yeah. I know.

Made famous by Trump’s favorite television network, Fox News, and repeated by Trump’s favorite website, Drudge Report, this fallacy involves discrediting the scientific consensus on the climate crisis by appealing to the ignorance of low-information voters who don’t know the difference between climate and weather. Yes, it snowed in Boston last year, but that doesn’t mean the planet isn’t warming at an alarming rate. The fact that it’s chilly at your house in January doesn’t mean it’s not sweltering in the Southern Hemisphere, where, during our northern winters, it’s summertime. In other words, your backyard isn’t the globe. Sorry. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 9:09 am

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