Later On

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

Archive for July 6th, 2017

Another narcotics task force is in the midst of a corruption and brutality scandal. This is nothing new.

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

There’s a massive and growing drug task force scandal unfolding in New Orleans.

For the past year, the U.S. Justice Department has grappled with the fallout from a New Orleans-based narcotics task force accused of peddling painkillers, threatening confidential informants and swiping cash during drug raids.

The scandal has upended a growing number of federal criminal cases and prompted felony charges against two members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force, including a Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy who quickly pleaded guilty to his role in a wide-ranging drug conspiracy.

The FBI continues to review a host of allegations — some too old to be prosecuted — against Chad Scott, a veteran DEA agent and former leader of the task force who has been stripped of his gun and badge.

But even as the full scope of the inquiry remains unclear, new questions are emerging regarding the oversight of the task force and a series of red flags that officials appear to have overlooked for years before launching a secretive investigation in early 2016.

Interviews with four current and former law enforcement officials and documents reviewed by The Advocate show the DEA had been warned more than a decade ago by its own agents, confidential informants and other sources of information that task force members, including Scott, were playing by their own rules, disregarding DEA policies and at times even profiting from an illicit drug trade . . .

None of this is new, or particularly surprising. These task forces have a long history of misconduct, of violence and of running roughshod over constitutional rights. It was a task force that killed Georgia pastor Jonathan Ayers. The same task force was involved in securing the warrant for a raid in which a toddler was critically injured by a flash grenade. Another Georgia task force shot and killed David Hooks in 2014. It was a task force that shot and killed 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda.  It was a South Carolina task force shot Julian Betton multiple times, then lied about whether they knocked and announced, and whether Betton had fired his weapon. The Minnesota cop recently caught assaulting a motorist in a road-rage video that went viral was a member of a task force that boasts about “aggressive enforcement.” An Ohio task force member shot and killed Krystal Barrows in 2013. It was a Utah task force that shot and killed Todd Blair during a nighttime drug raid. The same task force then lost one of its own members after another nighttime raid resulted in a shootout with Matthew David Stewart. That task force had taken out bus ads featuring members dressed in full battle armor, encouraging citizens to call in tips about drug use.

In Texas, it was a task force that was responsible for the mass arrests of black residents in the towns of Tulia and Hearne, most of whom turned out to be innocent. In fact, things got so bad in Texas that Republican Gov. Rick Perry tried to phase out the task forces. Just in the past few years, there have been task force scandals in LouisvilleChicagoReynoldsburg, OhioNorthern KentuckySouth TexasSalem, Va.; and along the Texas-Mexico border.

There are a number of reasons these task forces keep encountering problems. I outlined a few of them in my 2013 book about police militarization:

While the Reagan and [first] Bush administrations had set up a number of drug task forces in border zones, the Byrne grant program established similar task forces all across the country. They seemed particularly likely to pop up in rural areas that didn’t yet have a paramilitary police team (what few were left).

The task forces are staffed with local cops drawn from the police agencies in the jurisdictions where the task force operates. Some squads loosely report to a state law enforcement agency, but oversight tends to be minimal to nonexistent. Because their funding comes from the federal government—and whatever asset forfeiture proceeds they reap from their investigations—local officials can’t even control them by cutting their budget. This organizational structure makes some task forces virtually unaccountable, and certainly not accountable to any public official in the region they cover.

As a result, we have roving squads of drug cops loaded with SWAT gear who get more money if they conduct more raids, make more arrests and seize more property, and they are virtually immune to accountability if they get out of line. In 2009 the U.S. Department of Justice attempted a cost-benefit analysis of these task forces but couldn’t even get to the point of crunching the numbers. The task forces weren’t producing any numbers to crunch. “Not only were data insufficient to estimate what task forces accomplished,” the report read, “data were inadequate to even tell what the task forces did for routine work.”

That lack of transparency has continued. In 2015, the marijuana advocacy group Show Me Cannabis tried to uncover how Missouri’s various drug task forces were funded. They didn’t learn much about funding, but they did discover some disturbing thingsabout the culture of these units.

  • The St. Louis Metropolitan Drug Task Force denies its own existence to citizens filing open records requests.
  • The MUSTANG Drug Task Force harasses citizens who attempt to obtain basic information about their public finances.
  • The NITRO Drug Task Force pretended we had the wrong number when we called their publicly listed number to file an open records request, before admitting to the lie minutes later. NITRO maintains they are not subject to Missouri’s Sunshine Law.
  • The COMET Drug Task Force accidentally copied us on an internal email discussing how to best avoid complying with the Sunshine Law. They later attempted to avoid providing records that showed the task force failed to maintain adequate oversight with the claim that the records could be closed under an exception to the Sunshine Law relating to terrorism.
  • The Jefferson County Drug Task Force failed to establish an oversight board as required by state law (RSMo 195.509). Their commanding officer responded to open records requests by mocking our request and refusing to comply with the Sunshine law.
  • Despite claims that drug task forces help combat the spread of dangerous drugs like methamphetamine and heroin, most of the state’s task forces primarily seize marijuana.

In 2014, the Brennan Center for Justice looked at the perverse incentives behind how the task forces get their funding, and found a slew of perverse incentives.

The Byrne JAG program, widely expanded during the War on Drugs, largely subsidizes equipment for local police. As the Brennan Center has documented in previous reports, the program inadvertently creates incentives to increase arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration. For example, it evaluates recipients on the number of criminal cases opened, but not whether crime dropped. It asks them how many kilos of cocaine were seized, but not how many people were sent to drug treatment. It asks how many cases were prosecuted, but not how many petty offenders were diverted from prison.

Strikingly, these examples are just a few among many such initiatives. In 2013, the Department of Justice administered more than 150 of these programs. Hundreds of other federal programs administered by different agencies provide additional dollars while slipping the leash of accountability and clear direction. Research by the Brennan Center indicates the federal government sends at least $3.8 billion in federal criminal justice grants across the country for crime fighting and other criminal justice purposes, not including the billions sent through national security programs run by the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

These dollars often flow on autopilot. Too frequently, they incentivize antiquated practices that we now know have little public safety value and massive human consequences.

The group sensibly recommended that grants be awarded on criteria such as reducing the crime rate instead of the number of arrests or quantity of drugs seized.

Over the years, the two major political parties have . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2017 at 7:35 pm

James Fallows, former presidential speechwriter, on Trump’s speech in Poland

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James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

Is America an idea? Or is it a specific “people” or ethnic group? On the diverging answers to that question turn some of the biggest disputes in U.S. history. Our current president began his trip to Europe with a speech in Poland that minimized the role of ideals in American identity, and maximized the importance of what he called “civilization” but which boils down to ties of ethnicity and blood.From Donald Trump this cannot be a great surprise, given the support he has courted and the American groups he has derogated during his time on the public stage. But for a president of the United States it still counts as a notable, even shocking departure. A president’s role when traveling has, until now, been to speak for the American idea.

* * *

Let me illustrate with another visiting president’s remarks in Poland, more than a generation ago. What Stephen Miller is, I once was—sort of. Miller is a 30-something White House staffer from Southern California who apparently drafts many of Donald Trump’s speeches, including this one. Back in 1977, I was a 20-something White House staffer from Southern California writing speeches for Jimmy Carter, including the one he gave on arrival at the airport in Warsaw, capital of then still-Communist Poland, just after Christmas that year.

The late-night arrival in Poland was the first stop on a multi-country tour that took Carter on to Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and several other places besides. Back at the time, Carter’s few minutes of remarks at the airport made news mainly because of a silly-in-retrospect gaffe-flap about whether the State Department’s interpreter had embarrassingly misrendered some of Carter’s words. When Carter said that he had just “left” America on his journey, did the interpreter convert that into Carter “abandoning” his country? When he said that he wanted to understand the Polish public’s “desires for the future,” did that become understanding their carnal lusts? You can read more about the ins and outs here. And interpretation questions aside, it was anything but an august moment: airport remarks rather than a formal parliamentary presentation, in the stinging snow and freezing winds on the tarmac, under portable lights at nearly midnight Warsaw time.But what strikes me on rereading Carter’s comments is how plain and simple they were on the question of what America is. Before the trip, there was nonstop negotiation, and occasional tension, among the contending foreign policy figures in the administration about the tone Carter should strike when kicking off the tour in Poland. It was a delicate time, in many ways. A new president was in his first year; crucial arms-control talks were underway with the aging Leonid Brezhnev’s aging (but still nuclear-armed) Soviet Union; anti-Communist reform pressures were building within Poland and elsewhere in what was still the “Iron Curtain” bloc; a lot was at stake.
But despite their differences on matters large and small, Carter’s Polish-born national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and his first Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, agreed that the tone in Poland, and throughout, should emphasize the ideas and the political values that the United States hoped would extend around the world. For example: Any president, going anywhere, will find a way to talk about historic, cultural, and ethnic connections with whatever place he finds himself in. Carter began, as all presidents do, by touching that base.

I am proud to begin this journey in Poland—friend of the United States since the time our Nation was founded. Poland is the ancestral home of more than six million Americans, partner in a common effort against war and deprivation.

Relations are changing between North and South, between East and West. But the ties between Poland and the United States are ancient and strong.

Then Carter started down the list of Polish military heroes in the war for U.S. independence—Casimir Pulaski, Thaddeus Kosciuszko—but he used them as the pivot from “we are connected by history” to “we are connected by an ideal.” Thus (with emphasis added, for the pivot):

For his military skill and bravery, Thaddeus Kosciuszko won the respect of our first President, George Washington, during wartime. And for his commitment to freedom and justice, he won the admiration of our third President, Thomas Jefferson, in time of peace.

These brave men fought alongside Americans in the era which produced three of the great documents in the struggle for human rights. One was the Declaration of Independence from America. The second was the Declaration of the Rights of Man from France. And the third was the Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791.

Then he was on to a brief mention of the other ways in which Poland and America stood for ideas larger than their own immediate welfare, for  . . .

Continue reading.

And read the whole thing. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2017 at 7:31 pm

Kevin Drum’s 3-step plan to fix Obamacare

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Kevin Drum writes:

The prospects of the Senate health care bill are looking kind of grim these days, so Republicans have taken to taunting Democrats over Obamacare:

“Our healthcare system is collapsing, but Democrats refuse to bring anything to the table. Where’s THEIR plan?”

This is followed by a series of personal versions of this tweet. Where’s your plan, Hillary Clinton? Where’s your plan, Joe Manchin. Etc.

Sadly, nobody asked me for my plan, but I’m going to present it anyway. This is what bloggers do: demand that people listen to their ideas for curing the world’s ills whether they want to or not. Mine is a nice, simple, 3-step plan:

  1. Enforce the individual mandate and increase the penalty to 3.5 percent of income.
  2. Increase subsidies by 20 percent and extend them to 6x the poverty level.
  3. In areas where there are fewer than two insurers participating in the exchanges, make Medicaid available for the price of an average Bronze plan.

This is not a wish list of everything that would make Obamacare better. It’s a minimum set of proposals that would keep Obamacare stable, reduce premiums, and fix its worst problems. That’s it.

The point of item #1 is not to penalize poor people, it’s to get more healthy people into the system. Here’s a rough example of how this works:

  • Today: Net cost of Bronze plan for 27-year-old earning $30,000 after subsidy = $1,900. Noninsurance penalty = $700. Difference = $1,200.
  • New plan: Net cost after subsidy = $1,400. Noninsurance penalty = $1,000. Difference = $400.

Today, the difference between buying insurance and paying the penalty is fairly large. This means that a lot of young, healthy people grit their teeth and pay the penalty because they don’t think they can afford an additional $100 per month. This is a huge loser on multiple levels: it makes people bitter; it destabilizes the insurance pool; and it puts more people at risk of catastrophic financial loss if they develop a health problem. But if you increase both the subsidies and the penalty, the difference is much less. For only $30 per month, most people will go ahead and buy the insurance.

Item #2 makes insurance more affordable for everyone, and extends subsidies further into the working and middle classes. This is both the right thing to do and a political winner. Too many working-class families don’t  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

He closes with:

. . . I’m pretty sure that it would work once the details were filled in. This isn’t rocket science. Beyond those details, the big selling point for Republicans is that it might make people happy enough that it kills off the movement toward single-payer. The selling point for Democrats is that it would provide better health care for millions of people. It’s a win-win.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2017 at 5:35 pm

Stretching IOKIYAR as far as it will go: President Trump bad-mouths America in his speech in Poland

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From the NY Times evening newsletter, a reference to a story with the headline “Trump, in Poland, Asks if West Has the ‘Will to Survive’”:

President Trump cast himself as a defender of Western values in a confrontational speech in Warsaw. He attacked his own country’s leaders and institutions — the media, Barack Obama and U.S. intelligence agencies — in front of an appreciative Polish audience.

Back in the old days, Presidents tended to praise the strengths of the U.S., particularly when speaking on foreign soil. Wonder why they did that, when they could really have slammed it. JFK, for example, in his speech in Germany could have torn into America’s support of Jim Crow laws, or pointed out how bad information from American intelligence was responsible for the debacle of the Bay of Pigs. All right there, and in some ways showing that some complaints recur. But President Kennedy didn’t do that. He emphasized greatness and kinship and coming together to help one another.

But we’re taking a different path these days, because we’re so damn patriotic it hurts. Literally.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2017 at 4:35 pm

Interesting benefit of genetic test: Knowing in advance whether a medication will work

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Updated to reflect new understanding of the reasons for the rules regarding medical tests.

A new thing, at least to me, are genetic tests specifically aimed at finding which medications are effective and which are not. For example, I know one person who was depressed, went on antidepressants, and found that did nothing whatsoever to help. He had a genetic test done, which revealed that, yes, the antidepressant he was taking (Prozac) would do nothing for him, given his genetic makeup, but a relatively new antidepressant (Pristiq) would work well. His doctor switched him to Pristiq and improvement was quickly obvious.

Another example: a friend of the family was told about the benefits of such a test but decided to pass on it. Her family doesn’t take any regular medication and so the information seemed useless—until she discover that Novocaine had no effect at all on her son, a discovery made by drilling into his teeth after getting Novocaine.

Here’s a sample of the sort of report that is produced. It is several pages, so scroll down.

There a couple of places doing this. The report at the link is from GeneSight.com. They will not sell direct to patients because they consider the test a “prescription,” but I pointed out that one does not ingest anything, so what exactly was the risk? The risk, it turns out, that with some tests people have taken drastic action because they misinterpreted the results, so states in general have laws that medical test results must go to a medical professional and not directly to the patient exactly to avoid such mistakes. Over time, things change: pregnancy tests are now available over the counter, but once were available only through a doctor. The morning-after pill is available over the counter now. But each instance required separate deliberation of risks and benefits by each state legislature involved, and the feds get into it, too, with FDA approval needed.

The site does offer a way to possibly locate a local clinic or doctor who will do the test, and some will not add a charge, acting as a middleman with no fee.

In time, I think this test will become available to the public because, really, all you can do with it is to offer a copy to your various doctors so they will know how to treat you.

But that will require coming to terms with risks. For example, a person hears (vaguely) about it and orders it on his or her own, then gets the report and photocopies it for the whole family, saying, “You all can use this since we’re the same family”—i.e., does not understand fully what is involved and what it means—could do some serious harm, particularly as copies make their way to cousins and second cousins.

So for public safety, and until more experience is obtained, the requirement that it be done by a medical professional protects the public until the risks are fully understood.

I appreciate the insight and corrections I got, and now I understand better what is involved.

BTW, IMPORTANT NOTE: If the test is a cheek swab for DNA, as these are, it’s important not to have any food or drink for an hour before the swab is taken. If you have to go through a medical professional for the test, that can be explained. If test kits are sent directly to people, I can readily imagine someone taking a swab between bites of a hamburger.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2017 at 3:54 pm

Trump Administration Wants to Take Away Right to Sue Nursing Homes

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Kevin Drum writes in Mother Jones:

You’ve probably signed away your right to sue your cell phone carrier, your cable company, and maybe your doctor and dentist too. Instead, if you have a complaint, you’re required to take it to arbitration, whether you want to or not.

How do they get away with this? Mostly by giving you no choice. You probably have only one cable company to choose from. There are four big cell phone carriers, but they all mandate arbitration. And it’s so common among doctors that you’d have a hard time finding one who doesn’t require it. In practice, they require it because they have enough market power to make it stick.

It’s ironic, then, that nursing homes don’t like it when someone with even more market power than them turns the tables:

In October 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) decided to push back on mandatory arbitration. By rule, CMS adopted a novel “condition of participation” for Medicare and Medicaid. Nursing homes that participate in the programs—which is to say, all nursing homes—could no longer ask their residents to sign away their right to sue upon entering the nursing home.

….Predictably, the nursing home industry sued, arguing that the rule exceeded CMS’s authority….Then President Trump took office. In early June, with little fanfare or notice, the administration dismissed the appeal and proposed to undo the change altogether. “Upon reconsideration, we believe that arbitration agreements are, in fact, advantageous to both providers and beneficiariesbecause they allow for the expeditious resolution of claims without the costs and expense of litigation.”

That’s from Nicholas Bagley, who says, “With health reform dominating the news, this volte-face has been overlooked. That’s a shame: it’s a big deal.” He promises to dive into it in more depth over the next couple of weeks.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2017 at 3:25 pm

I Coloniali Asylum Works Beta with Omega 20102 boar, Baili BD171, and TOBS A Gentleman’s Aftershave

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The Omega brush made a very nice lather from the I Coloniali etc. shaving soap, and the BD171 is a great little razor that costs very little. I’m tempted to get a BD173 (same razor in gold), but I’m not buying razors any more.

Three passes, BBS result, no problems, total comfort throughout, followed by a splash of Mr Taylors Fine Toiletries A Gentleman’s Aftershave Lotion, and the day gets off to a great start.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2017 at 10:53 am

Posted in Shaving

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