The inescapable conclusion: Bland was Murdered

Matt Taibbi: Sandra Bland Was Murdered:

So news broke yesterday that authorities in Waller County, Texas, have “full faith” that Sandra Bland committed suicide. They said there was “no evidence of a struggle” on the body of the 28-year-old African-American woman who was ludicrously jailed last week after an alleged lane change violation.

In related news, the Texas Department of Safety ruled that Brian Encina, the officer who arrested Bland, pulled her from her car, and threatened her with a Taser, had merely violated the state’s “courtesy policy.” The state said there was “no evidence” yet of criminal behavior on Encina’s part.

So barring something unexpected, we know now how this is going to play out in the media.

Many news outlets are going to engage in an indirect version of the usual blame-the-victim game by emphasizing the autopsy finding of suicide, questioning Bland’s mental health history, and by highlighting the reports of marijuana found in her system.

Beyond that, we can expect a slew of chin-scratching “legal analyses” concluding that while there may have been some minor impropriety on officer Encina’s part, the law governing police-motorist encounters is too “complicated” to make this anything more than a tragic accident.

Media scandals are like criminal trials. They’re about assigning blame. Because Bland may have technically taken her own life, the blame is now mostly going to fall on a woman with a history of depression and drugs, instead of on a criminal justice system that morally, if not legally, surely murdered Sandra Bland.

And this:

But nobody yet has dared to say Sandra Bland would still be alive today, if only she’d used her blinker. That’s a bridge too far even for TownHall.com types.

Suddenly even hardcore law-and-order enthusiasts are realizing the criminal code is so broad and littered with so many tiny technical prohibitions that a determined enough police officer can stop and/or arrest pretty much anybody at any time.

Bland was on her way to a new job at Prairie A&M university when she was pulled over for failing to signal when changing lanes, something roughly 100 percent of American drivers do on a regular basis. Irritated at being stopped, she was curt with Encina when he wrote her up. He didn’t like her attitude and decided to flex his muscles a little, asking her to put out her cigarette.

She balked, and that’s when things went sideways. Encina demanded that she get out of the car, reached for his Taser, said, “I’ll light you up,” and eventually threw her in jail. 

Many editorialists following this narrative case suddenly noticed, as if for the first time, how much mischief can arise from the fact that a person may be arrested at any time for “failing to obey a lawful order,” which in the heat of the moment can mean just about anything.

If a cop wants to arrest you, he can arrest you. And very, very bad things can happen to you for which no one will ever be held accountable until and unless we drastically reform the way we police our society.

Goddammit, Garmin.

Ho. Lee. Fuck.

Longtime readers may recall the trouble I had with a Garmin bike GPS device last summer and fall. They could not get me a model 510 that worked for love or money — Bluetooth connectivity (and thus LiveTrack) never worked reliably, and (worse) the device would sometimes just plain eat data. On two such occasions, it did so on rides I was doing out of town in novel places, where I couldn’t easily duplicate the track. Well done, jackasses!

Anyway, they sorta-fixed it by agreeing to let me swap the 4th or 5th 510 for the next model up, and since then it’s worked better. Bluetooth still only works about 80% of the time, but at least it’s not eating data. I declared victory.

However, as it turns out, Garmin’s aggressive Suck program has other areas of focus, too!

Bike computers of all types generally use a wheel sensor to track speed. You tell the computer how big your wheel is, and the sensor tracks rotations, which gives you pretty accurate speed and distance readings. (GPS devices can work without these with a loss of accuracy, but since they’re easy to use there’s little reason not to use them.)

If you’re really paying attention to training, then you probably also want a cadence sensor, which tells you how many revolutions your feet are making every minute. Typically, you want to pedal faster instead of mashing harder — you’ll be more efficient that way, and get a more aerobic workout.

Traditionally, both speed and cadence sensors have used a pair of magnets to capture data: one affixed to the bike frame, and another affixed to the thing that goes around. For speed, you usually see it on the front fork with the companion magnet affixed to a spoke. For cadence, you get magnets on the chainstay and crank arm on the non-drivetrain side. (Most of the time these days, the sensors require no wires to communicate with the head unit.)

I have sensors like this on my older bike. It’s obviously somewhat fiddly and visually cluttered, but they work fine.

A year or so ago, we started to see more clever sensors for both things. Garmin has a pair that attach only at single points, and require no magnet alignment: the speed sensor attaches to the hub of one of your wheels, and the cadence sensor attaches to a crank arm. Both sense motion itself, not magnetic field flux. They’re much less fiddly (nothing to keep aligned) and are drastically more visually appealing on the bike. I chose those for the new bike last fall. So far, they’ve worked fine, too — with one exception I encountered last week.

The cadence sensor is a little thin pod about the size of two quarters that you attach to the interior of your crank arm using one of three supplied (but proprietary) rubber bands. I say they include three, but they’re in three sizes, so you only get one that will actually work with your bike.

I was a little dubious of this choice on installation, and it turns out I had good reason. Last Tuesday I noticed that the band on mine was partly broken. They get credit for using a design wherein a single break won’t allow the sensor to fall off, but that’s where credit stops.

You see, you can’t just go to the Garmin web store (or your favorite retailer) and buy a pack of replacement bands. They’re nowhere. I opened a support ticket about this last night; here’s what I got back:

Thank you for contacting Garmin International.

I would be happy to assist you.  

The replacement straps aren’t available through our website, but we do have them available for sale through the number below. A set of three straps is $10 plus shipping and any applicable sales tax. Please call us at the number below to place your order as we are unable to take payment information over email. 

Now, note that he says “set of three.” That sounds reasonable at first, but it turns out they mean “one each of three different sizes.” In other words, they’re asking you to spend ten bucks for a single goddamn rubber band when the first one didn’t even last a year.

When I pointed this out somewhat firmly, the dude I got on the phone offered to send me a set (again, of which two are useless) gratis, which arrived on Saturday.

What’s the over/under on how many times I can shame them into replacing the band for free?

There, and Back Again

So the last year has, for me, been kind of up and down.

Last summer I got very serious about cycling for the first time, really in response to having entered MS150 training season out of shape despite the gains of the previous year. I decided that wouldn’t happen again, so I kept riding — an average of 100 miles per week from just before the 150 until the third week in November. It’s higher if I grant myself weather or travel related mulligans, even.

Then, of course, that came to a grinding halt when I broke my hip in November. That was a pretty discouraging turn of events, to say the least. The medical saga that followed was a serious pain in the ass; I don’t want to make too much of it, since so many other folks have so much worse tales of woe, but spending 10 days in the hospital sucks for anybody. Needing PICC line to quash a post-op infection sucks for anybody. And obviously not being able to put any weight on your leg for three months sucks OUT LOUD for anybody.

The infection got its ass kicked, though. My wounds healed. I got cleared for weight and PT again in February, right on schedule. I started riding again a month later, slow and tentative at first, but regularly.

I got faster, again. I got stronger, again. Part of this was frustrating, because I could remember how strong I had been in the fall, but the other side of starting over is that you get to re-do the part with the most dramatic gains.

I’m still not quite what I was in every way, but I can see it from here.

So here is this, now: the point of this post, in two pictures.

Exhibit A, or, Chet Has Internal Jewelry Now:

Chet has hardware

Exhibit B, or, How Chet Spent His Sunday:

Screen Shot 2015 07 20 at 8 30 33 AM

I did this same ride last summer — The Katy Flatland Century — as I was approaching Peak (pre-wreck) Chet. I was very slightly faster yesterday than I was last summer.

The other punchline is this: I rode 109.2 miles in the week ending yesterday. That’s my first hundred mile week since November 9.

If I’m honest, I admit that two factors actually erase the speed difference, or even put yesterday behind my achievement last year.

  • First, I rode with part of my team yesterday, in a paceline, taking turns at the front; last summer, I was alone.

  • Second, last year I was riding my 30 pound Surly; this time, I was on 18 pounds of carbon designed for go-fast behavior.

It’s not just about the number, though. It’s about going through something and coming out on the other side, just about 8 months later. It’s about regaining this level of fitness, even if it’s not where I was at my peak (yet!). It’s about getting here not on your own, because that’s impossible; it’s about getting here with the support of your friends, your family, and the professionals who put me back together and showed me how to get strong again.

And most of all it’s about being married to my best friend, without whom absolutely none of this would have happened.

Confused about the Iran deal?

Josh Marshall has you covered, at least until more is known.

This paragraph says volumes, imo, about the nature of right-wing objections:

There’s a lot of Iran pony thinking going on about what would be cool if we could have everything we want. But as much as I fear what a Republican president might do on the Iran front, I think going to war with Iran is highly unlikely. Stiffening sanctions won’t happen because even if we stiffened sanctions, Europe and Russia and China won’t. So all the folks saying it’s not good enough or it’s a disaster or whatever else are basically saying we should hang tough and let the Iranians do whatever they want. Indeed, adopt a maximal line of confrontation short of war, which will empower hardliners and make it more likely the Iranians will take the step from being a nuclear threshold state to an actual nuclear weapons state. It is the elevation of self-satisfaction over tangible results and reality.

Remember that the Republicans whining about this deal would likely whine about ANY deal with Iran that didn’t include the enthusiastic religious conversion of every single man, woman, and child in Iran to Presbyterianism. They’re incapable of looking at anything generated by this Administration and not dismissing it as un-American, anti-Christian, and possibly socialist, even when the plan in question was written by Republicans in the first place, so it’s not as though these people are arguing in good faith.

Of course, at the time, 1.9 billion was considered quite a lot of people.

Where were YOU thirty years ago today? And, more importantly, what were you listening to?

There is only one acceptable answer, assuming you were alive to do it: July 13, 1985 was the date of the only dual-continent concert I’m aware of: Live Aid. From Wikipedia:

Live Aid was a dual-venue concert held on 13 July 1985. The event was organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. Billed as the “global jukebox”, the event was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom (attended by 72,000 people) and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States (attended by about 100,000 people). On the same day, concerts inspired by the initiative happened in other countries, such as Australia and Germany. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time: an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast.

Who played? Well , just in case you can’t recall, here’s a partial list:

Wembley:

  • Boomtown Rats
  • Adam Ant
  • Spandau Ballet
  • Elvis Costello
  • Sade
  • Sting, Phil Collins, and Branford Marsalis
  • Howard Jones
  • Bryan Ferry with David Gilmour
  • U2 (in a performance that kind of established them as a HUGE live act — and this was before Joshua Tree)
  • Dire Straits
  • Queen
  • David Bowie
  • The Who
  • Elton John
  • Paul McCartney

JFK:

  • Joan Baez
  • Black Sabbath (with Ozzy!)
  • Run DMC
  • Rick Springfield
  • REO Speedwagon
  • CSN
  • Judas Priest
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Pretenders
  • Madonna
  • The Cars
  • Neil Young
  • Eric Clapton and Phil Collins
  • Duran Duran
  • Led Fucking Zeppelin (with two drummers, the better to mimic the missing Bonzo)

In this era of endless reunions, it’s probably hard to grasp how amazing that last part is; to my knowledge, Page, Plant, and Jones hadn’t shared a stage since Bonham’s death five years before. Zeppelin were just over. And then, here there they were.

Obviously, lots of amazing things happened at Wembley and and JFK — not the least of which is Phil Collins’ famous status as the only guy to play both venues, courtesy of the Concorde — but thirty years of discussion have led us to the inescapable conclusion that Queen turned in not just the best set of the day, but maybe the best set of rock and roll ever played on any stage.

Here you go.

Sadly, there actually aren’t any complete recordings of the whole affair — partly by design, actually. Queen were somewhat unique in that they captured their whole set, and later had it remastered in 5.1 for inclusion on their Queen Rock Montreal BluRay, which is well worth your time even if you’re only a casual Queen fan.

By the 70s, he was a joke. Except, occasionally, when he wasn’t.

He, of course, being Elvis.

On Twitter, author Lawrence Wright (The Looming Tower, Going Clear, etc.) calls our attention to this brief, brilliant performance of “Unchained Melody” apparently from a show at the Pershing Municipal Auditorium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on June 20, 1977.

Less than two months later, Presley was dead. Contrary to his commentary in the clip, the title of the upcoming album would be Moody Blue when it dropped in July of that year. Here at Heathen World HQ, we have a copy on vinyl.

Blue vinyl. Because 1977, obviously.

Happy Pride Week Indeed

Love Wins.

Ten years ago, Mrs Heathen and I used a quote from Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall’s opinion in the 2003 case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health. It’s as stellar today as it was when she wrote it in 2003:

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, marriage provides an abundance of benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations. Without question, marriage enhances the welfare of the community. It is a social institution of the highest importance.

Marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

It seems weird to me, in the Roberts era, to celebrate three major court victories in a week, and yet, here we are in a week with King v. Burwell, the fair housing case here in Texas, and Obergefell.

Schneier makes sense, which means of course we’ll never follow his advice:

Reassessing Airport Security:

News that the Transportation Security Administration missed a whopping 95% of guns and bombs in recent airport security “red team” tests was justifiably shocking. It’s clear that we’re not getting value for the $7 billion we’re paying the TSA annually.

But there’s another conclusion, inescapable and disturbing to many, but good news all around: we don’t need $7 billion worth of airport security. These results demonstrate that there isn’t much risk of airplane terrorism, and we should ratchet security down to pre-9/11 levels.

We don’t need perfect airport security. We just need security that’s good enough to dissuade someone from building a plot around evading it. If you’re caught with a gun or a bomb, the TSA will detain you and call the FBI. Under those circumstances, even a medium chance of getting caught is enough to dissuade a sane terrorist. A 95% failure rate is too high, but a 20% one isn’t.

I added the emphasis. He’s absolutely right. Go read the whole thing, but here’s a zinger from a few paragraphs in:

The TSA is failing to defend us against the threat of terrorism. The only reason they’ve been able to get away with the scam for so long is that there isn’t much of a threat of terrorism to defend against.

My assumption is that Lee was cast in some celestial thriller, and needed Coleman for the soundtrack

I saw this morning that Christopher Lee, an actor whose 93-year-run included (as pointed out by Scalzi) “stabbing Nazis, making movies, and releasing heavy metal albums in [his] 90s”, has died.

That’s pretty awful in a passage-of-titans sense, but to have it followed by the news of Ornette Coleman also shuffling off this mortal coil (at an entirely respectable 85) makes for a shitty morning, my friends.

Sure, he’s an asshole, but stop and consider how they’re doing this.

So Denny Hastert is in trouble. Mostly, my reaction is as you’d expect: depressed amusement at the predictability of a scolding hack getting popped for misconduct like this. But there’s more here, and you should delve into it, because what’s happening to him is really kind of alarming.

The always-on-point Ken White over at Popehat has written up an examination of the charges against Hastert and how they came to be, and if you’re not a little freaked out by the process I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Basically, the Federal prosecutors can target just about anyone and take them down because of how “creative” they can get with astonishingly broad interpretations of federal law that are generally supported by the courts. Put simply, if they decide they want you, they can get you. After all, you very probably commit Three Felonies A Day (more here); the extremely broad laws and broader interpretations give Federal prosecutors enormous power that is basically unchecked by anyone. “Trust us” is a shitty insurance policy against power of this nature.

Hastert isn’t going down for diddling little boys or for bribery. He’s not going down for fraud. He’s being charged with structuring transactions –his withdrawals were all less than $!0,000 — and for lying to the Feds about the purpose of the cash:

The indictment has mostly inspired chatter about what it doesn’t say. Hastert is charged with structuring withdrawals of less than $10,000 (so that they would not be reported to the IRS) so that he could pay off an unidentified person for Hastert’s unidentified past misconduct. What past misconduct, or threatened accusation of misconduct, could lead Hastert to pay $3.5 million? The indictment doesn’t say, but it has been drafted to imply that the allegation of past misconduct relates to Hastert’s job as a teacher and coach in Yorkville, Illinois. Hastert isn’t charged with doing anything to the accuser, and the accuser isn’t charged with extortion.

[...]

We imagine law enforcement operating like we see on TV: someone commits a crime, everyone knows what the crime is, law enforcement reacts by charging them with that crime. But that’s not how federal prosecution always works. Particularly with high-profile targets, federal prosecution is often an exercise in searching for a theory to prosecute someone that the feds would like to prosecute. (Emph. added)

The takeaway is simple:

From the citizen’s perspective, this situation points to one obvious conclusion: shut up. Never answer a federal agent’s questions without a thorough debriefing with a qualified lawyer first.

It may or may not be the case that Hastert did something terrible. In a free society, though, law enforcement must work within limits. If it’s the case that he molested boys, but no complaint was made at the time, and the statute of limitations has passed, it may be tempting to endorse the actions of the FBI and the federal prosecutors here, but that’s a bad path. The tactics in question are downright scary to me, even when applied to someone like Hastert.

No way this is a problem, right?

Turns out, the FBI has a secret air force they use to fly around and monitor cell phones.

Without warrants.

Scores of low-flying planes circling American cities are part of a civilian air force operated by the FBI and obscured behind fictitious companies, The Associated Press has learned.

The AP traced at least 50 aircraft back to the FBI, and identified more than 100 flights in 11 states over a 30-day period since late April, orbiting both major cities and rural areas. At least 115 planes, including 90 Cessna aircraft, were mentioned in a federal budget document from 2009.

For decades, the planes have provided support to FBI surveillance operations on the ground. But now the aircraft are equipped with high-tech cameras, and in rare circumstances, technology capable of tracking thousands of cellphones, raising questions about how these surveillance flights affect Americans’ privacy.

It gets worse:

Basic aspects of the FBI’s program are withheld from the public in censored versions of official reports from the Justice Department’s inspector general, and the FBI also has been careful not to reveal its surveillance flights in court documents. The agency will not say how many planes are currently in its fleet.

The planes are equipped with technology that can capture video of unrelated criminal activity on the ground that could be handed over to prosecutions. One of the planes, photographed in flight last week by the AP in northern Virginia, bristled with unusual antennas under its fuselage and a camera on its left side.

Some of the aircraft can also be equipped with technology that can identify thousands of people below through the cellphones they carry, even if they’re not making a call or in public. Officials said that practice, which mimics cell towers and gets phones to reveal basic subscriber information, is used in only limited situations.

“These are not your grandparents’ surveillance aircraft,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union. Stanley said the flights are significant “if the federal government is maintaining a fleet of aircraft whose purpose is to circle over American cities, especially with the technology we know can be attached to those aircraft.”

Let’s do more of this

TPM:

Confederate flags were reportedly burned and buried on Monday in several southern states as part of a movement to get rid of the flag and its offensive historical context.

A good start.

Dave.

The tributes are coming fast and furious this week, which makes sense: Letterman’s swan song is tonight, easily the biggest talk show event since Carson’s retirement over twenty years ago.

Two of the most moving I’ve seen so far are from other, younger comedians who grew up idolizing Letterman.

The first was from Norm MacDonald, who was on Letterman a couple nights ago to do a final standup set there. He’s funny, but he gets real towards then end as he talks about seeing a young Dave as a standup comic when he was a teenager in Toronto.

The second is from Jimmy Kimmel last night, who is no less choked up at the prospect of Letterman’s retirement. He talks openly of watching Late Night as a teen, just as everyone in our generation of a certain bent did.

He closes with something kind of awesome: he announced that tonight’s show will be a rerun, and that all his viewers should watch Dave’s final show instead.

The final bit of Kimmel’s tribute includes a segment from early in Dave’s career that I remember quite clearly, though my memory doesn’t have tracking problems.

The finest son of Itta Bena

I saw him, once.

It was 27 years ago, when I was a lad of 18. In those days, he’d play with some frequency in a Palmer’s Crossing juke joint called the Hi-Hat Club, which was under ordinary circumstances not a place a skinny white kid would likely be welcome. Shootings there weren’t unheard of. Only four years later, a policeman would be hailed as a hero for killing a gunman there, which I remember only because the cop was married to a high school acquaintance. PTSD nearly did the cop in, too.

It was that kind of place, except when it wasn’t. And one of the times it wasn’t was when BB was in town.

Then as now, Mississippi doesn’t have a whole lot to be proud of, but music is something we do well, and BB has been a jewel in the Magnolia crown since the 1940s. He toured tirelessly, playing both fancy venues and dodgy clubs like the Hi-Hat (which, violent reputation or no, is also a stop on the Mississippi Blues Trail).

Anyway, so I went out there. I don’t remember my mother protesting at all, which is either selective recollection or evidence that she didn’t realize exactly where he was playing — and the latter seems really unlikely, because the Hi-Hat wasn’t exactly obscure; even going to Palmer’s Crossing at night was probably enough to worry some folks. Still, out I went, in a 1971 Chevy pickup.

As I recall, I tried to take my girlfriend, who refused to even ask her parents about going. Her relationship with them was weird, I guess, but she was clearly wrong because after I paid my cover and walked in — past the bar, where they served me a Michelob as quickly as I could ask for one, drinking age notwithstanding — I was immediately hailed by her father. In the absence of anyone else I knew, I sat with him and enjoyed the show in a room that was surprisingly mixed. We were absolutely the minority, but BB was BB, and I guess people who loved the music were welcome regardless of shade.

BB has been old forever. He was 89 when he died, which means he was “only” 62 for this particular gig, not that you could tell — the man knew how to work a crowd even though he played from a chair. He was famous for his guitar’s beautiful tone, but let me tell you no recording I’ve yet heard really captured it like I heard it that night. I was thrilled and a little shocked at how blue his stage patter was, but I suspect he tailored that to the room. At the Hi-Hat, where he’d played for decades, my guess is he probably did a lot less editing than he’d do in fancier clubs.

I’ve never sought out another set for whatever reason. I’ve had opportunities, sure, but truth be told my own blues preferences are a little louder and a little later — more Buddy Guy, say. But I’m awful glad I got to see the King, and do so in a small room in a no-shit Mississippi juke joint, illegally drinking beer with my girlfriend’s dad, late into a warm Mississippi night in 1988.

More DEA Criminality

Imagine you’re a small business owner, and one of your employees ends up needing to be a DEA informant. His handlers entice him to take one of your company trucks, fill it with weed, and haul it back to a place where they can bust the buyers.

Bad shit happens. Your driver is killed, and your truck basically destroyed in a gun battle with Mexican gangsters.

I wouldn’t even be blogging this if the next step weren’t obvious, but: clearly the DEA is refusing to take responsibility for the truck or the death, and a judge has backed them.

The government argued that it is neither culpable for the damage nor under any obligation to inform the owner of any property that it wishes to use in its operations, because “clandestine.”

No statute, regulation, or policy “specifically prescribe[d]” or prohibited the course of action Patty alleges the DEA agents followed. The DEA derives its authority from the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 801, its implementing regulations, and various executive orders…

In this case, Task Force Officer Villasana submitted a similar declaration. He states that the DEA’s decision “to proceed with such an operation is entirely discretionary, and not mandated by any statute, rule, or policy.” Whether and how to conduct such an undercover investigation and operation is “necessarily discretionary in nature.” Villasana did not try to give advance notice to Patty that the Task Force would be using his truck because of operation’s covert nature, the risks of injury and potential for damage if something went wrong, and the uncertainty about whether other individuals (including Patty) could be trusted.

The business owner’s attorney summarized it thusly:

A federally deputized corporal from the Houston Police Department decides to pay your small company’s driver to drive your truck to the Mexican border, load it up with illegal drugs, and try to catch some bad guys. He knows that the driver is lying to “the owner” – although he doesn’t know your name or identity and doesn’t bother to find out. The bad guys outwit the cops. Your company’s driver is killed. Your truck is riddled with bullet holes.

Query:   is our federal government liable to pay for the damages to you and your property?

Answer:   Nope.

The DEA and the court have taken the position, apparently, that the government can come and take your stuff, fuck it up, and bear no responsibility afterwards if they say “clandestine operation” enough. You’d think the Takings Clause would have something to say about this, you know?

Republican refuses insurance, now blames Obama. Shocker.

This story is floating around this week. You ought to look at it, because it’s sort of a distillation of know-nothing Republicanism, and it’s the rare sort of such example that illustrates how far they are from reality.

The gist: a South Carolina Republican handyman has found himself facing both blindness and financial ruin because of a health problem — and he’s blaming the ACA for it.

As the Charlotte Observer explains, Lang is a self-employed handyman who works as a contractor with banks and the federal government to maintain foreclosed properties. He was making a decent living, enough to be the sole breadwinner in the family. As the Observer puts it, Lang “he has never bought insurance. Instead, he says, he prided himself on paying his own medical bills.”

All seemed good until this February when a series of headaches led him to the doctor. Tests revealed that Lang had suffered a series of mini-strokes tied to diabetes. [...] He now also has a partially detached retina and eye bleeding tied to his diabetes. The initial medical care for the mini-strokes ran to almost $10,000 and burned through his savings. And now he can’t work because of his eye issue and can’t afford the surgery that would save his eyesight and also allowing him to continue working.

More from the Charlotte Observer story:

That’s when he turned to the Affordable Care Act exchange. Lang learned two things: First, 2015 enrollment had closed earlier that month. And second, because his income has dried up, he earns too little to get a federal subsidy to buy a private policy.

Lang, a Republican, says he knew the act required him to get coverage, but he chose not to do so. But he thought help would be available in an emergency. He and his wife blame President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats for passing a complex and flawed bill.

“(My husband) should be at the front of the line, because he doesn’t work and because he has medical issues,” Mary Lang said last week. “We call it the Not Fair Health Care Act.”

Anyone who’s remotely familiar with insurance knows there’s no system that lets people skip payments while they’re healthy and cash in when they get sick. Public systems tax everyone. Private ones rely on the premiums of the well to cover the costs of those who are ailing.

And Democrats might point out that the ACA was designed to provide Medicaid coverage for people whose income falls below the poverty line. The federal government pays 100 percent of the ACA expansion to cover low-income, able-bodied adults, but 21 Republican-led states, including North Carolina and South Carolina, declined to participate. Emph added.

Lang’s position is utter bullshit on its face, but I’m not here to point and laugh. The good news is that many donors have stepped forward to help him out, despite the fact that this shitstorm is of his own making.

The bigger issue here is that the conservative media, which we may safely assume Lang consumed voraciously given his positions, was so foursquare against the ACA (and, really, any health care law, and anything espoused by Obama) that he came away from the public debate thinking his path was a safe and rational one. That’s completely fucking criminal.

The right wing media worked themselves into a goddamn frenzy about the ACA and spouted such amazing fountains of bullshit that people still think death panels are a risk. In deciding to become the propaganda arm of the GOP, though, these people abandoned their public mission: inform and protect the public with information. In their rush to deny the President and his party a victory, they refused to engage the bill on its merits and instead obfuscated any real points with hyperbole and outright lies while fueling the idea that having insurance isn’t even necessarily something you want.

The saying points out that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. The story of Luis Lang is an example of what happens when knowable facts make clear the opinions you’ve held are bankrupt. Sure, it’s partially on him for not doing his own research, but Americans have traditionally been able to trust “news” organizations not to lie to them. That you and I know this is no longer true is probably cold comfort to someone like Lang.

Can we just admit that the DEA is a criminal organization?

How is this not just straight up highway robbery?

The agents found nothing in Rivers’s belongings that indicated that he was involved with the drug trade: no drugs, no guns. They didn’t arrest him or charge him with a crime. But they took his cash anyway, every last cent, under the authority of the Justice Department’s civil asset forfeiture program.

[...]

There is no presumption of innocence under civil asset forfeiture laws. Rather, law enforcement officers only need to have a suspicion — in practice, often a vague one – that a person is involved with illegal activity in order to seize their property. On the highway, for instance, police may cite things like tinted windows, air fresheners or trash in the car, according to a Washington Post investigation last year.

[...]

Once property has been seized, the burden of proof falls on the defendant to get it back — even if the cops ultimately never charge them with a crime. “We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty,” an Albuquerque DEA agent told the Journal. “It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty.”

This means that the DEA can basically steal any cash they ever find, and the onus is on their victims to prove the money was legitimately theirs. Because the DEA overwhelmingly target young, poorer people, they rarely have the means to contest the seizures.

Frankly, I’d like to see a RICO action against the DEA generally. Maybe not everyone there is actively involved in these sorts of thefts, but by working they they enable what has become a fundamentally criminal enterprise — and by getting paid, they receive benefits at least in part because of these crimes.

What’s in YOUR wallet?

A couple years ago, when United ruined Continental and ended the carrier’s relationship with Amex, I picked up a fancy United-branded Chase Visa in order to retain some status with United. I don’t fly much anymore, and when I do I prefer Southwest, but carrying the card gets me into the club if I need it, and just having it makes me the equivalent of their lowest elite flier tier (which is something my Amex Platinum didn’t do).

Anyway, so, fancy Visa. When I got it, I was stunned at how oddly heavy it was. I assumed they used some denser plastic for it and didn’t really give it any thought beyond that. And since I mostly just have the card for travel, I don’t pull it out of my wallet much, and so the oddness was mostly forgotten.

Yesterday I got a replacement card in the mail, as the initial one had expired (without me noticing, actually). The new one is just as heavy, which renewed my curiosity a little — but not nearly as much as what came next.

I pulled out the heavy scissors to destroy the old card, as you do, and found the card basically un-cuttable. The scissors had no shot at all. In retrospect, I’m super glad I wasn’t downstairs in my office, where I would have blithely dropped the old card into my shredder and probably ruined it in the process. I didn’t really even get very far doing the bend-it-back-and-forth thing.

What did Chase use to make this demon card? Well, the scissors WERE game enough to scratch it deeply, and this is what I found when I pulled on the top layer:

IMG 7273

The damn thing is heavy because it’s made of metal with a thin layer of plastic on either side. WTF?