U.S. judge finds that Aetna deceived the public about its reasons for quitting Obamacare

LA Times

U.S. judge finds that Aetna deceived the public about its reasons for quitting Obamacare

Michael Hiltzik, Contact Reporter   May 12, 2017

Aetna claimed this summer that it was pulling out of all but four of the 15 states where it was providing Obamacare individual insurance because of a business decision — it was simply losing too much money on the Obamacare exchanges.

Now a federal judge has ruled that that was a rank falsehood. In fact, says Judge John D. Bates, Aetna made its decision at least partially in response to a federal antitrust lawsuit blocking its proposed $34-billion merger with Humana. Aetna threatened federal officials with the pullout before the lawsuit was filed, and followed through on its threat once it was filed. Bates made the observations in the course of a ruling he issued on Monday blocking the merger.

Aetna executives had moved heaven and earth to conceal their decision-making process from the court, in part by discussing the matter on the phone rather than in emails, and by shielding what did get put in writing with the cloak of attorney-client privilege, a practice Bates found came close to “malfeasance.”

Aetna tried to leverage its participation in the exchanges for favorable treatment from DOJ regarding the proposed merger. — U.S. District Judge John D. Bates

The judge’s conclusions about Aetna’s real reasons for pulling out of Obamacare — as opposed to the rationalization the company made in public — are crucial for the debate over the fate of the Affordable Care Act. That’s because the company’s withdrawal has been exploited by Republicans to justify repealing the act. Just last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) cited Aetna’s action on the “Charlie Rose” show, saying that it proved how shaky the exchanges were.

Bates found that this rationalization was largely untrue. In fact, he noted, Aetna pulled out of some states and counties that were actually profitable to make a point in its lawsuit defense — and then misled the public about its motivations. Bates’ analysis relies in part on a “smoking gun” letter to the Justice Department in which Chief Executive Mark Bertolini explicitly ties Aetna’s participation in Obamacare to the DOJ’s actions on the merger, which we reported in August. But it goes much further.

Among the locations where Aetna withdrew were 17 counties in three states where the Department of Justice asserted that the merger would produce unlawfully low levels  of competition on the individual exchanges. By pulling out, Aetna could say that it wasn’t competing in those counties’ exchanges anyway, rendering the government’s point moot: “The evidence provides persuasive support for the conclusion that Aetna withdrew from the on-exchange markets in the 17 complaint counties to improve its litigation position,” Bates wrote. “The Court does not credit the minimal efforts of Aetna executives to claim otherwise.”

Indeed, he wrote, Aetna’s decision to pull out of the exchange business in Florida was “so far outside of normal business practice” that it perplexed the company’s top executive in Florida, who was not in the decision loop.

“I just can’t make sense out of the Florida decision],” the executive, Christopher Ciano, wrote to Jonathan Mayhew, the head of Aetna’s national exchange business. “Based on the latest run rate data . . . we are making money from the on-exchange business. Was Florida’s performance ever debated?” Mayhew told him to discuss the matter by phone, not email, “to avoid leaving a paper trail,” Bates found. As it happens, Bates found reason to believe that Aetna soon will be selling exchange plans in Florida again.

As for Aetna’s claimed rationale for withdrawing from all but four states, Bates accepted that the company could credibly call it a “business decision,” since the overall exchange business was losing money; he just didn’t buy that that was its sole reason. He observed that the failings in the marketplace existed before Aetna decided to withdraw, but that as late as July 19, the company was still planning to expand its footprint to as many as 20 states. In April, top executives had told investors that Aetna had a “solid cost structure” in Florida and Georgia, two states it dropped.

While the Department of Justice was conducting its investigation of the merger plans but before the DOJ lawsuit was filed, “Aetna tried to leverage its participation in the exchanges for favorable treatment from DOJ regarding the proposed merger,” Bates observed. During a May 11 deposition of Bertolini, an Aetna lawyer said that if the company “was not ‘happy’ with the results of an upcoming meeting regarding the merger, ‘we’re just going to pull out of all the exchanges.’”

Not such a veiled threat? Aetna’s Mark Bertolini tells the DOJ what will happen if it blocks the Humana merger. After the DOJ sued to kill the deal, Aetna cut back even more.

In private talks with the DOJ, Aetna executives continually linked the two issues, even while they were telling Wall Street that the merger was “a separate conversation” from the exchange business. Bertolini seemed almost to take the DOJ’s hostility to the merger personally: “Our feeling was that we were doing good things for the administration and the administration is suing us,” he said in a deposition.

Bates found “persuasive evidence that when Aetna later withdrew from the 17 counties, it did not do so for business reasons, but instead to follow through on the threat that it made earlier.”

The threat certainly was effective in terms of its impact on the Affordable Care Act, since Aetna’s withdrawal has become part of the Republican brief against the law. That it says so much more about Aetna executives’ honesty and integrity probably won’t get cited much by GOP functionaries trying to repeal the law. Aetna is at least partially responsible for placing the health coverage of more than 20 million Americans in jeopardy; that it did so at least partially to promote a merger that would bring few benefits, if any, to its customers is an additional black mark.

If there’s a saving grace in this episode, it’s that the company’s goal to protect the merger hasn’t worked, so far. The DOJ brought suit, and Bates has now thrown a wrench into the plan. Aetna has said it’s considering an appeal, but the merger is plainly in trouble, as it should be.

The EPA isn’t focused on environmental protection. So does it need a new name?

CNN Politics

The EPA isn’t focused on environmental protection. So does it need a new name?

By John D. Sutter, CNN     May 9, 2017

John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN who focuses on climate change and social justice.  

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s mission in the era of President Donald Trump seems to have very little to do with, well, protecting the environment.

Consider a few of the most recent news items:

  • EPA head Scott Pruitt recently dismissed half of the members from an important science advisory board; an EPA spokesperson told CNN the agency wants scientists from various backgrounds, including those from industry.
  • The EPA has removed many references to “climate change” on its website, replacing real, science-based information with a note saying the site is “being updated.”
  • And the Trump administration has called for a 31% cut to the EPA’s budget.

Also consider the rhetoric and history of EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who let a fossil fuel company essentially write a letter he sent to the EPA when he was Oklahoma attorney general, according to emails released through a public records request. (Pruitt did not comment at the time and an EPA spokesman said the agency would not be commenting).

Pruitt has repeatedly made a mockery of the role of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide pollution in causing global warming, and before he took the helm at EPA, he sued the agency repeatedly in an effort to combat environmental regulations.

“The war on coal is over; the war on fossil fuel is over, ” Pruitt said outside a power plant in April. Never mind that coal and fossil fuels contribute to global warming, which is expected to raise sea levels, worsen droughts, contribute to crop failure and threaten our very existence.

Yeah, none of this looks good. “They are not just isolated acts,” said David Doniger, director and senior attorney of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, an environmental group. “On any one thing, (Pruitt) might have deserved … the benefit of the doubt. But there are so many of these things that there is no doubt where this is headed.”

Rename the EPA?

Given that, it seems reasonable to ask a provocative question: Is the Environmental Protection Agency still worthy of its name? Maybe, given the sweeping changes in the  agency’s apparent focus, the EPA needs a new and more-accurate acronym. I realize that’s an unlikely if not impossible request.

Yes, I would rather see the Environmental Protection Agency simply live up to its mandate. And no, I wouldn’t want the name change to reflect poorly on the EPA as an enduring institution or on its many smart, hardworking scientists and policy experts.

But there is risk in doing nothing.

Namely: We move further into “1984” territory. That George Orwell novel, which is a best seller again these days, highlights the absurdity of government bodies whose names belie their actual purposes.

The fictional Ministry of Truth promotes propaganda, for example. The Ministry of Plenty, oversees rationing programs. The Ministry of Peace, is actually waging war. By continuing to call the EPA the Environmental Protection Agency, we risk further sapping those words of their meaning. We might enter a world not only of “alternative facts” but alternative reality.

‘It was bold’

These shifts are especially troubling when you know the history of the EPA — and its name.

Republican President Richard Nixon chose the name for the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the year of its creation, according to Richard “Pete” Andrews, an emeritus professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I called up Andrews because he is an expert on the history of the EPA and author of “Managing the Environment, Managing Ourselves: A History of American Environmental Policy.”

The agency came into existence, Andrews told me, essentially because of a “nonpartisan outcry” demanding protection for the environment. “Silent Spring “ had highlighted the horrors of DDT and other chemicals in the environment; a river in Ohio caught on fire; Lake Erie was feared “dead.” Something had to be done.

That something, in part, was the EPA. “It was bold,” Andrews said of the agency and its name. Inherent in its creation was a desire to set minimum federal environmental protections so that “if you travel from one state to another you’re not going to endanger your health by breathing the air.”

Pruitt misrepresents this history, Andrews told me, by insisting that the original mandate of environmental law was to give states the power to police themselves. (Pruitt, meanwhile, says he wants to “restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.” Let’s assume that’s true. It still wouldn’t be enough in 2017, when climate change is an overarching concern.)

The EPA was cobbled together from other agencies — a clearing house, so to speak, for environmental monitoring, education and regulation. It gained authority through landmark laws, including the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. And it showed that the public could drive action.

“Nixon was seeing a mob coming at him — and jumping in front of it and calling it a parade,” Andrews said, referring to the first Earth Day demonstrations, which also occurred in 1970. “He had no prior background in this. But he saw this was a big issue and so he seized it.” If only the same could happen with Trump and Pruitt.

‘Department of Catastrophic Myopia …’

Out of curiosity, I asked Twitter and my newsletter subscribers to suggest a few (more accurate?) names for the Trump-and-Pruitt-era Environmental Protection Agency.

Among the most interesting: the Exxon Protection Agency; the Coal and Oil Management Agency, or COMA; the Environmental Destruction Agency; Enrich Pruitt’s Allies; and the Department of Catastrophic Myopia Fueled by Anti-Scientific Foolishness, or DCMFASF for short.

I don’t particularly want to see the EPA renamed DCMFASF. I’d like to see Trump learn from the public the way Nixon did. I’d like to believe the agency can return to its mission of protecting public health and the environment at a time when climate change policy, especially, is critical to the very future of humanity.

I bet Trump saw footage of the thousands of protestors who gathered at the People’s Climate March in Washington DC recently, demanding an end to the fossil fuel era.

And I hope he and Pruitt are aware of the history of EPA overhauls. Doniger, the director and senior attorney from NRDC, told me this moment feels chillingly similar to the start of President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Reagan appointed Anne Gorsuch –mother of Trump’s Supreme Court justice pick, — as his first administrator of the EPA.

“She cut the budget and dismantled the laws, fired the scientists — or at least ignored them, etc.,” Doniger said. “What happened with Gorsuch is that she got about two years into this mission of destroying the agency and there was a broad rebellion that manifested in the media and in public opinion and in the Democratically-controlled Congress,” he continued. After “a number of scandals, Reagan sacked her,” Doniger said. (Her obituary in the Washington Post says she “resigned under fire. “)

This history shows that the public — and the courts — still matter. The very creation of the EPA, remember, emerged from public outcry. Yes, things can change. But if they don’t, the EPA’s name should.

What the last Nuremberg prosecutor alive wants the world to know

CBS News 60 Minutes

What the last Nuremberg prosecutor alive wants the world to know

Correspondent Lesley Stahl,  May 7, 2017   

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-the-last-nuremberg-prosecutor-alive-wants-the-world-to-know/

At 97, Ben Ferencz is the last Nuremberg prosecutor alive and he has a far-reaching message for today’s world

  • Twenty-two SS officers responsible for the deaths of 1M+ people would never have been brought to justice were it not for Ben Ferencz.
  • The officers were part of units called Einsatzgruppen, or action groups. Their job was to follow the German army as it invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and kill Communists, Gypsies and Jews.
  • Ferencz believes “war makes murderers out of otherwise decent people” and has spent his life working to deter war and war crimes.  

CBS News

It is not often you get the chance to meet a man who holds a place in history like Ben Ferencz.  He’s 97 years old, barely 5 feet tall, and he served as prosecutor of what’s been called the biggest murder trial ever. The courtroom was Nuremberg; the crime, genocide; the defendants, a group of German SS officers accused of committing the largest number of Nazi killings outside the concentration camps — more than a million men, women, and children shot down in their own towns and villages in cold blood.

Ferencz is the last Nuremberg prosecutor alive today. But he isn’t content just to be part of 20th century history — he believes he has something important to offer the world right now.

27-year-old Ben Ferencz became the chief prosecutor of 22 Einsatzgruppen commanders at Nuremberg.

“If it’s naive to want peace instead of war, let ’em make sure they say I’m naive. Because I want peace instead of war.”

Lesley Stahl: You know, you– have seen the ugliest side of humanity.

Benjamin Ferencz: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: You’ve really seen evil. And look at you. You’re the sunniest man I’ve ever met. The most optimistic.

Benjamin Ferencz: You oughta get some more friends.

Watching Ben Ferencz during his daily swim, his gym workout and his morning push-up regimen is to realize he isn’t just the sunniest man we’ve ever met — he may also be the fittest. And that’s just the beginning.

Ferencz made his opening statement in the Nuremberg courtroom 70 years ago. Ben Ferencz in court: “The charges we have brought accuse the defendants of having committed crimes against humanity.”

The Nuremberg trials after World War II were historic — the first international war crimes tribunals ever held. Hitler’s top lieutenants were prosecuted first. Then a series of subsequent trials were mounted against other Nazi leaders, including 22 SS officers responsible for killing more than a million people — not in concentration camps — but in towns and villages across Eastern Europe. They would never have been brought to justice were it not for Ben Ferencz.

Lesley Stahl: You look so young.

Benjamin Ferencz: I was so young.  I was 27 years old.

Lesley Stahl: Had you prosecuted trials before?

Benjamin Ferencz: Never in my life. I don’t—

Lesley Stahl: Come on.

Benjamin Ferencz: –recall if I’d ever been in a courtroom actually.

Ferencz had immigrated to the U.S. as a baby, the son of poor Jewish parents from a small town in Romania. He grew up in a tough New York City neighborhood where his father found work as a janitor.

Benjamin Ferencz: When I was taken to school at the age of seven, I couldn’t speak English– spoke Yiddish at home. And I was very small. And so they wouldn’t let me in.

Lesley Stahl: So you didn’t speak English ’til you were eight?

Benjamin Ferencz: That’s correct.

Lesley Stahl: Could you read?

Benjamin Ferencz: No, on the contrary. The silent movies always had writing on it. And I would ask my father, “Wazukas,” in Yiddish, “What does it say? What does it say?” He couldn’t read it, either.

But Ferencz learned quickly. He became the first in his family to go to college, then got a scholarship to Harvard Law School. But during his first semester, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and he, like many classmates, raced to enlist. He wanted to be a pilot, but the Army Air Corps wouldn’t take him.

Benjamin Ferencz:  They said, “No, you’re too short. Your legs won’t reach the pedals.” The Marines, they just looked at me and said, “Forget it, kid.”

So he finished at Harvard then enlisted as a private in the Army. Part of an artillery battalion, he landed on the beach at Normandy and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Toward the end of the war, because of his legal training, he was transferred to a brand new unit in General Patton’s Third Army, created to investigate war crimes.  As U.S. forces liberated concentration camps, his job was to rush in and gather evidence. Ferencz told us he is still haunted by the things he saw. And the stories he heard in those camps.

Benjamin Ferencz: A father who, his son told me the story. The father had died just as we were entering the camp. And the father had routinely saved a piece of his bread for his son, and he kept it under his arm at… He kept it under his arm at night so the other inmates wouldn’t steal it, you know.  So you see these human stories which are not — they’re not real.  They’re not real.  But they were real.

Ferencz came home, married his childhood sweetheart and vowed never to set foot in Germany again.  But that didn’t last long. General Telford Taylor, in charge of the Nuremberg trials, asked him to direct a team of researchers in Berlin, one of whom found a cache of top-secret documents in the ruins of the German foreign ministry.

Benjamin Ferencz: He gave me a bunch of binders, four binders. And these were daily reports from the Eastern Front– which unit entered which town, how many people they killed. It was classified, so many Jews, so many gypsies, so many others–

Ferencz had stumbled upon reports sent back to headquarters by secret SS units called Einsatzgruppen, or action groups. Their job had been to follow the German army as it invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, and kill Communists, Gypsies and especially Jews.

Benjamin Ferencz: They were 3,000 SS officers trained for the purpose, and directed to kill without pity or remorse, every single Jewish man, woman, and child they could lay their hands on.

Lesley Stahl: So they went right in after the troops?

Benjamin Ferencz: That was their assignment, come in behind the troop, round up the Jews, kill ’em all.

Only one piece of film is known to exist of the Einsatzgruppen at work.  It isn’t easy viewing…

Benjamin Ferencz: Well, this is typical operation.  Well, see here, this– they rounded ’em up. They all have already tags on ’em. And they’re chasing them.

Lesley Stahl: They’re making them run to their own death?

Benjamin Ferencz: Yes. Yes. There’s the rabbi coming along there. Just put ’em in the ditch. Shoot ’em there. You know, kick ’em in.

Lesley Stahl: Oh, my God. Oh, my God.

This footage came to light years later. At the time, Ferencz just had the documents, and he started adding up the numbers.

Benjamin Ferencz: When I reached over a million people murdered that way, over a million people, that’s more people than you’ve ever seen in your life, I took a sample. I got on the next plane, flew from Berlin down to Nuremberg, and I said to Taylor, “General, we’ve gotta put on a new trial.”

But the trials were already underway, and prosecution staff was stretched thin. Taylor told Ferencz adding another trial was impossible.

Benjamin Ferencz: And I start screaming. I said, “Look. I’ve got here mass murder, mass murder on an unparalleled scale.”  And he said, “Can you do this in addition to your other work?” And I said, “Sure.” He said, “OK. So you do it.”

And that’s how 27-year-old Ben Ferencz became the chief prosecutor of 22 Einsatzgruppen commanders at trial number 9 at Nuremberg.

Judge: How do you plead to this indictment, guilty or not guilty?

Defendant: Nicht schuldig.

Benjamin Ferencz: Standard routine, nicht schuldig.  Not guilty.

Judge: Guilty or not guilty?

Defendant: Nicht schuldig.

Lesley Stahl: They all say not guilty.

Benjamin Ferencz: Same thing, not guilty.

But Ferencz knew they were guilty and could prove it. Without calling a single witness, he entered into evidence the defendants’ own reports of what they’d done. Exhibit 111: “In the last 10 weeks, we have liquidated around 55,000 Jews.”  Exhibit 179, from Kiev in 1941: “The city’s Jews were ordered to present themselves… about 34,000 reported, including women and children. After they had been made to give up their clothing and valuables, all of them were killed, which took several days.” Exhibit 84, from Einsatzgruppen D in March of 1942: Total number executed so far: 91,678. Einsatzgruppen D was the unit of Ferencz’s lead defendant Otto Ohlendorf. He didn’t deny the killings — he had the gall to claim they were done in self-defense.

Benjamin Ferencz: He was not ashamed of that. He was proud of that. He was carrying out his government’s instructions.

Lesley Stahl: How did you not hit him?

Benjamin Ferencz: There was only one time I wanted to– really. One of these– my defendants said– He gets up, and he says, “[GERMAN],” which is, “What? The Jews were shot? I hear it here for the first time.”  Boy, I felt if I’d had a bayonet I woulda jumped over the thing, and put a bayonet right through one ear, and let it come out the other. You know? You know?

Lesley Stahl: Yeah.

Benjamin Ferencz: That son of a bitch.

Lesley Stahl: And you had his name down on a piece of—

Benjamin Ferencz: And I’ve got– I’ve got his reports of how many he killed. You know? Innocent lamb.

Lesley Stahl: Did you look at the defendants’ faces?

Benjamin Ferencz: Defendants’ face were blank, all the time. Defendants– absolutely blank. They could– like, they’re waiting for a bus.

Lesley Stahl: What was going on inside of you?

Benjamin Ferencz: Of me?

Lesley Stahl: Yeah.

Benjamin Ferencz: I’m still churning.

Lesley Stahl: To this minute?

Benjamin Ferencz: I’m still churning.

All 22 defendants were found guilty, and four of them, including Ohlendorf, were hanged. Ferencz says his goal from the beginning was to affirm the rule of law and deter similar crimes from ever being committed again.

Lesley Stahl: Did you meet a lot of people who perpetrated war crimes who would otherwise in your opinion have been just a normal, upstanding citizen?

“War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars, and all decent people.”

Benjamin Ferencz: Of course, is my answer. These men would never have been murderers had it not been for the war. These were people who could quote Goethe, who loved Wagner, who were polite–

Lesley Stahl: What turns a man into a savage beast like that?

Benjamin Ferencz: He’s not a savage. He’s an intelligent, patriotic human being.

Lesley Stahl: He’s a savage when he does the murder though.

Benjamin Ferencz: No. He’s a patriotic human being acting in the interest of his country, in his mind.

Lesley Stahl: You don’t think they turn into savages even for the act?

Benjamin Ferencz: Do you think the man who dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima was a savage? Now I will tell you something very profound, which I have learned after many years. War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars, and all decent people.

So Ferencz has spent the rest of his life trying to deter war and war crimes by establishing an international court – like Nuremburg. He scored a victory when the international criminal court in The Hague was created in 1998.  He delivered the closing argument in the court’s first case.

“If they tell me they want war instead of peace, I don’t say they’re naive, I say they’re stupid.”

Lesley Stahl: Now, you’ve been at this for 50 years, if not more. We’ve had genocide since then.

Benjamin Ferencz: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: In Cambodia—

Benjamin Ferencz: Going on right this minute, yes.

Lesley Stahl: Going on right this minute in Sudan.

Benjamin Ferencz: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: We’ve had Rwanda, we’ve had Bosnia. You’re not getting very far.

Benjamin Ferencz: Well, don’t say that. People get discouraged. They should remember, from me, it takes courage not to be discouraged.

Lesley Stahl: Did anybody ever say that you’re naive?

Benjamin Ferencz: Of course. Some people say I’m crazy.

Lesley Stahl: Are you naive here?

Benjamin Ferencz: Well, if it’s naive to want peace instead of war, let ’em make sure they say I’m naive. Because I want peace instead of war. If they tell me they want war instead of peace, I don’t say they’re naive, I say they’re stupid. Stupid to an incredible degree to send young people out to kill other young people they don’t even know, who never did anybody any harm, never harmed them. That is the current system. I am naive? That’s insane.

Ferencz is legendary in the world of international law, and he’s still at it. He never stops pushing his message and he’s donating his life savings to a Genocide Prevention Initiative at the Holocaust Museum. He says he’s grateful for the life he’s lived in this country, and it’s his turn to give back.

Lesley Stahl: You are such an idealist.

Benjamin Ferencz: I don’t think I’m an idealist.  I’m a realist. And I see the progress.  The progress has been remarkable. Look at the emancipation of woman in my lifetime. You’re sitting here as a female. Look what’s happened to the same-sex marriages. To tell somebody a man can become a woman, a woman can become a man, and a man can marry a man, they would have said, “You’re crazy.” But it’s a reality today. So the world is changing. And you shouldn’t– you know– be despairing because it’s never happened before. Nothing new ever happened before.

Lesley Stahl: Ben—

Benjamin Ferencz: We’re on a roll.

Lesley Stahl: I can’t—

Benjamin Ferencz: We’re marching forward.

Lesley Stahl: Ben? I’m sitting here listening to you. And you’re very wise. And you’re full of energy and passion.  And I can’t believe you’re 97 years old.

Benjamin Ferencz: Well, I’m still a young man.

Lesley Stahl: Clearly, clearly.

Benjamin Ferencz: And I’m still in there fighting.  And you know what keeps me going? I know I’m right.

Produced by Shari Finkelstein and Nieves Zuberbühler.

The History Of The Kentucky Derby And Black Jockeys

Always Dreaming wins the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby.

Yahoo News     May 6, 2017

Jockey John Velazquez guided Always Dreaming (5) across the finish line to win the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky.

International Business Times

The History Of The Kentucky Derby And Black Jockeys

Katherine Mooney, International Business Times  May 6, 2017

When the horses enter the gate for the 143rd Kentucky Derby, their jockeys will hail from Louisiana, Mexico, Nebraska and France. None will be African-American. That’s been the norm for quite a while. When Marlon St. Julien rode the Derby in 2000, he became the first black man to get a mount since 1921.

It wasn’t always this way. The Kentucky Derby, in fact, is closely intertwined with black Americans’ struggles for equality, a history I explore in my book on race and thoroughbred racing. In the 19th century – when horse racing was America’s most popular sport – former slaves populated the ranks of jockeys and trainers, and black men won more than half of the first 25 runnings of the Kentucky Derby. But in the 1890s – as Jim Crow laws destroyed gains black people had made since emancipation – they ended up losing their jobs.

From slavery to the Kentucky Derby

On May 17, 1875, a new track at Churchill Downs ran, for the first time, what it hoped would become its signature event: the Kentucky Derby.

Prominent thoroughbred owner H. Price McGrath entered two horses: Aristides and Chesapeake. Aristides’ rider that afternoon was Oliver Lewis, who, like most of his Kentucky Derby foes, was African-American. The horse’s trainer was an elderly former slave named Ansel Williamson.

Lewis was supposed to take Aristides to the lead, tire the field, and then let Chesapeake go on to win. But Aristides simply refused to let his stablemate pass him. He ended up scoring a thrilling victory, starting the Kentucky Derby on its path to international fame.

Meanwhile, men like Lewis and Williamson had shown that free blacks could be accomplished, celebrated members of society.

‘I ride to win’

To many black Americans, Isaac Murphy symbolized this ideal. Between 1884 and 1891, Murphy won three Kentucky Derbys, a mark unequaled until 1945.

Born a slave in Kentucky, Murphy, along with black peers like Pike Barnes, Soup Perkins and Willie Simms, rode regularly in integrated competition and earned big paychecks. Black jockeys were even the subjects of celebrity gossip; when Murphy bought a new house, it made the front page of The New York Times. One white memoirist, looking back on his childhood, remembered that “every little boy who took any interest in racing…had an admiration for Isaac Murphy.” After the Civil War, the Constitution guaranteed black male suffrage and equal protection under the law, but Isaac Murphy embodied citizenship in a different way. He was both a black man and a popular hero.

When Murphy rode one of his most famous races, piloting Salvator to victory over Tenny at Sheepshead Bay in 1890, the crusading black journalist T. Thomas Fortune interviewed him after the race. Murphy was friendly, but blunt: “I ride to win.”

Fortune, who was waging a legal battle to desegregate New York hotels, loved that response. It was that kind of determination that would change the world, he told his readers: men like Isaac Murphy, leading by example in the fight to end racism after slavery.

Destined to disappear?

Only a few weeks after the interview with Fortune, Murphy’s career suffered a tremendous blow when he was accused of drinking on the job. He would go on to win another Kentucky Derby the next spring, riding Kingman, a thoroughbred owned by former slave Dudley Allen, the first and only black man to own a Kentucky Derby winner. But Murphy died of heart failure in 1896 at the age of 35 – two months before the Supreme Court made segregation the law of the land in Plessy v. Ferguson.

Black men continued to ride successfully through the 1890s, but their role in the sport was tenuous at best. A Chicago sportswriter grumbled that when he went to the track and saw black fans cheering black riders, he was uncomfortably reminded that black men could vote. The 15th Amendment and Isaac Murphy had opened the door for black Americans, but many whites were eager to slam it shut.

After years of success, black men began getting fewer jobs on the racetrack, losing promotions and opportunities to ride top horses. White jockeys started to openly demand segregated competition. One told the New York Sun in 1908 that one of his black opponents was probably the best jockey he had ever seen, but that he and his colleagues “did not like to have the negro riding in the same races with them.” In a 1905 Washington Post article titled “Negro Rider on Wane,” the writer insisted that black men were inferior and thus destined to disappear from the track, as Native Americans had inevitably disappeared from their homelands.

Black jockey Jimmy Winkfield shot to stardom with consecutive Kentucky Derby victories in 1901 and 1902, but he quickly found it difficult to get more mounts, a pattern that became all too common. He left the United States for a career in Europe, but his contemporaries often weren’t so fortunate.

Their obituaries give us glimpses of the depression and desperation that came with taking pride in a vocation, only to have it wrenched away. Soup Perkins, who won the Kentucky Derby at 15, drank himself to death at 31. The jockey Tom Britton couldn’t find a job and committed suicide by swallowing acid. Albert Isom bought a pistol at a pawnshop and shot himself in the head in front of the clerk.

The history of the Kentucky Derby, then, is also the history of men who were at the forefront of black life in the decades after emancipation – only to pay a terrible price for it.

Katherine Mooney, Assistant Professor of History, Florida State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thoughts From a Hospital Bed

Esquire

Thoughts From a Hospital Bed

And what it means to be healthy, or unhealthy, in the United States of 2017.

By Charles P. Pierce    May 3, 2017

I wasn’t awake for 30 minutes Wednesday morning before the panel on MSNBC’s Morning Zoo Crew made me wish that there was a procedure by which they could put my gallbladder back, just so they could take it out again. The subject was Hillary Rodham Clinton’s appearance at a woman’s conference on Tuesday. First, Harold Ford came on—and who’s more of an expert of losing winnable elections than Harold Ford, Jr.?—and said that, instead of talking about the election just passed, HRC should be out there talking about “what she would be doing as president.”

Just thinking about the reactions in many quarters, from this bunch, from The New York Times’ Washington Bureau, if she actually did this—She’s Delusional! She Thinks She’s President!—made me long to be back on Toradol again. (By the way, if you know anyone who wonders why NFL players do what they call “riding the T train” before every game, send that person to me. Toradol is very good at its job.) Then, Mika informed us that one of the major blunders of the Clinton campaign was that it didn’t realize that the arrival of Donald Trump “changed the moral calculus” of the race and would sideline Bill Clinton as a political asset. That got me longing to start the whole process again, perhaps with a rusty lawnmower blade.

I can’t leave you alone for a minute, America.

So anyway, this happened. Last Tuesday, I awoke in the middle of the night feeling as though I’d swallowed an ankylosaurus, spiked tail and all. (It was a good day for dinosaur news, because it’s always a good day for dinosaur news, but it wasn’t a good day for metaphorical dinosaur news.) That brought me to the emergency room. The next afternoon, I felt as though someone was pounding a railroad spike into my right side. After a series of tests that covered 14 hours and included an endoscopy, an ultrasound, an MRI, and a more elaborate MRI, it was determined that the ol’ gallbladder had run the race, that it had to come out, but that it had not made the argument for its removal in a conventional way. I had, as they said, “an atypical presentation of a common condition.”

New title for the memoirs!

So, anyway, this happened. Before relieving me of the offending organ, the surgeon and I were chatting, and he mentioned that, in college, he’d played defensive tackle at Trinity College in Connecticut, in which capacity he annually ran into a plucky offensive lineman named…Bill Belichick. So that was weird.

The staff at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, all of them, will always have my thanks and prayers. But although Jimmy Kimmel beat me to this by a couple of days, what continued to strike me over the past week was the fact that the critical element in my care was that I could afford it.

The critical element in my care was that I could afford it.

After a while, the Toradol and I conjured up a guy in Mississippi who worked in a plastics plant. (He also works at the local Piggly Wiggly to make ends meet.) Last Tuesday, he wakes up in the middle of the night with the anklyosaurus in his gullet. He probably downs an over-the-counter stomach medicine. The next day, at work, he feels the railroad spike’s being driven in. He has to make calculations in currencies with which I am not familiar and in which I am not fluent. Antibiotics exchanged for food, school fees bartered for an ultrasound. Or maybe he just soldiers through, day after day, until a chronic condition becomes catastrophic and the ankylosaurus breaks through into his life like the critter from Alien leaping from John Hurt’s chest. I really got to like this guy. I wished him well.

From this standpoint, with my Mississippi plastics worker hanging out at the side of my bed, I watched the Republicans fall all over themselves trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act while pretending they weren’t doing that very thing. (An atypical presentation of a common condition.) For a good, long, healthy while, I was completely one of The American People, my privileged view of our democratic follies clouded for a moment by more than just the pharmaceuticals. I was looking through a haze of frustration and pain, and considerable anger, for me and for my phantom pal from the plastics plant. Human health is not a commodity, to be bargained and sold and traded as though it were any other consumer good.

I was lying in a hospital, doped to the gills, chatting in my mind with an imaginary fellow citizen, and I could figure that out. Why in bloody hell can’t they? They’re out to wreck the only piece of effective legislation that made this a little easier for me and for my pal that has emerged in the last half-century. Everything about the proposed replacement is cruelly inadequate, because that’s what it was designed to be. The pre-existing conditions protections are cheesecloth; the high-risk pools are guaranteed to bring us back to the days of generally unaffordable premiums. It’s still a tax bill dressed up as healthcare reform, which is like calling a crop subsidy a law enforcement measure.

And hand things back to the states? To Sam Brownback’s Kansas, or Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, or even my phantom companion’s Mississippi? Somehow, doing this, bringing millions of Americans back to the brink of a cliff they’d almost forgotten over eight years, makes those Americans more free? This is crazy. I turned on the hockey game.

Human health is not a commodity, to be bargained and sold and traded as though it were any other consumer good.

The debate on the essential American political identity—which I contend began in all modern contexts with the belated acknowledgement of the rights granted to African-American citizens in the wake of the Civil War—has not even half-begun. The question of who we are as a nation is as unresolved as it ever has been. The value of the political commons—and the distribution of the benefits thereof—is still in a perilous place. The notion that the American republic is an ongoing experiment in self-government is one to which I still subscribe, but, dammit, these days, we seem to be closer than ever to the moment when that experiment turns to one of complete devolution, as we walk the republic back through all the mistakes of the past from which we’d thought we learned. Hell, the Greeks knew that social inequality was the route through which democracy turns to oligarchy. We were supposed to have learned that in 1787.

Also, in case you haven’t noticed, the president* of the United States is bughouse bananas and he’s getting worse.

So, anyway, all this happened. My family and I would like to thank you magnificent bastids, one and all, for the great outpouring of thoughts, prayers, good wishes, and raisings of the glass that came to us from all across the Intertoobz. There’s something stirring out in the land, I swear to god there is, and I’m glad we’re all here in this thing called life together.

So, anyway, that all happened. The shebeen is open again, praise be. God bless all here!

Respond to this post on the Esquire Politics Facebook page.

A look at the House Republican health care bill

Associated Press May 4, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans on Thursday passed legislation to roll back much of former President Barack Obama’s health care law. The legislation would rework subsidies for private insurance, limit federal spending on Medicaid for low-income people and cut taxes on upper-income individuals used to finance Obama’s overhaul.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Republican bill would result in 24 million fewer people having health insurance by 2026, compared to Obama’s 2010 statute.

Here are key elements of the bill:

__Ends tax penalties Obama’s law imposes on individuals who don’t purchase health insurance and on larger employers who don’t offer coverage to workers.

__Halts extra payments Washington sends states to expand Medicaid to additional poorer Americans, and forbids states that haven’t already expanded Medicaid to do so. Changes Medicaid from an open-ended program that covers beneficiaries’ costs to one that gives states fixed amounts of money annually.

__Erases Obama’s subsidies for people buying individual policies based mostly on consumers’ incomes and premium costs. Replaces them with tax credits that grow with age that must be used to defray premiums. The credits are refundable, which means they can go to people with little or no tax liability. Credits may not be used to buy policies that provide abortion coverage.

__Repeals Obama’s taxes on people with higher incomes and on insurance companies, prescription drugmakers, some medical devices, expensive employer-provided insurance plans and tanning salons. Obama’s law has used the revenue to help pay for expanded coverage.

__Requires insurers to apply 30 percent surcharges to customers who’ve let coverage lapse for more than 63 days in the past year. This would include people with pre-existing medical conditions.

__Lets states get federal waivers allowing insurers to charge older customers higher premiums than younger ones by as much as they’d like. Obama’s law limits the difference to a 3-1 ratio.

__States can get waivers exempting insurers from providing consumers with required coverage of specified health services, including hospital and outpatient care, pregnancy and mental health treatment.

__States can get waivers from Obama’s prohibition against insurers charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing health problems, but only if the person has had a gap in insurance coverage. States could get those waivers if they have mechanisms like high-risk pools that are supposed to help cover people with serious, expensive-to-treat diseases. Critics say these pools are often under-funded and ineffective.

___Provides $8 billion over five years to help states finance their high-risk pools. This late addition, aimed at winning over votes, is on top of $130 billion over a decade in the bill for states to help people afford coverage.

__Retains Obama’s requirement that family policies cover grown children to age 26, and its prohibition against varying premiums because of a customer’s gender.

___

Sources: U.S. Congress, The Associated Press, Kaiser Family Foundation

GOP Health Care Bill Would Cut About $765 Billion In Taxes Over 10 Years

NPR Politics

GOP Health Care Bill Would Cut About $765 Billion In Taxes Over 10 Years

Scott Horsley   May 4, 2017  

The Affordable Care Act took money from the rich to help pay for health insurance for the poor. The repeal bill passed by House Republicans would do the opposite. The health care bill passed by the House on Thursday is a win for the wealthy, in terms of taxes.

While the Affordable Care Act raised taxes on the rich to subsidize health insurance for the poor, the repeal-and-replace bill passed by House Republicans would redistribute hundreds of billions of dollars in the opposite direction. It would deliver a sizable tax cut to the rich, while reducing government subsidies for Medicaid recipients and those buying coverage on the individual market.

Tax hikes reversed

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is funded in part through higher taxes on the rich, including a 3.8 percent tax on investment income and a 0.9 percent payroll tax. Both of these taxes apply only to people earning more than $200,000 (or couples making more than $250,000). The GOP replacement bill would eliminate these taxes, although the latest version leaves the payroll tax in place through 2023.

The House bill would also repeal the tax penalty for those who fail to buy insurance as well as various taxes on insurance companies, drug companies and medical device makers. The GOP bill also delays the so-called “Cadillac tax” on high-end insurance policies from 2020 to 2025.

All told, the bill would cut taxes by about $765 billion over the next decade.

The lion’s share of the tax savings would go to the wealthy and very wealthy. According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 20 percent of earners would receive 64 percent of the savings and the top 1 percent of earners (those making more than $772,000 in 2022) would receive 40 percent of the savings.

Help for the poor reduced

Over time, the GOP bill would limit the federal contribution to Medicaid, while shifting control of the program to states. Depending on what happens to costs, states may be forced to provide skimpier coverage, reduce their Medicaid rolls, or both. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that an earlier version of the bill would leave about 14 million fewer people covered by Medicaid by 2026. (The House voted on the current bill without an updated CBO report.)

CBO also anticipated fewer people would buy insurance through the individual market. With no tax penalty for going without coverage, some people would voluntarily stop buying insurance. Others would find coverage prohibitively expensive, as a result of changing rules governing insurance pricing and subsidies.

The GOP bill would allow insurance companies to charge older customers up to five times more than younger customers — up from a maximum 3-to-1 ratio under the current health law. The maximum subsidy for older customers in the GOP plan, however, is only twice what is offered to the young.

The bill also allows insurance companies to offer more bare-bones policies. As a result, young, healthy people could find more affordable coverage options. But older, sicker people would likely have to pay more.

In addition, because the subsidies offered in the Republican plan don’t vary with local insurance prices the way subsidies do in Obamacare, residents of high-cost, rural areas would also suffer. That could include a large number of Trump voters.

A Vote To “Harm Millions of Americans:” Study Released Today Predicts Disaster With TrumpCare.

DailyKos

A Vote To “Harm Millions of Americans:” Study Released Today Predicts Disaster With TrumpCare.

By Dartagnan    May 04, 2017

Republicans working hard to screw millions of Americans out of their health care

David Leonhardt of the New York Times draws our attention to a Harvard study being released today that reveals just how harmful a “health care” package the Republican House and Donald Trump are about to foist on the American public. It is one that will raise premiums and prompt millions to opt instead to go uninsured, further driving prices up for everyone.

The study is based on an analysis of Massachusetts’ subsidized exchange health insurance system system. Put simply, it shows that when even relatively modest premium cost increases are imposed on lower income individuals, they tend to choose to go uninsured, preferring to stick to “emergency room” treatment.

The Massachusetts method allocates subsidies to lower-income people by separating them into categories of income—a family making  $ 44,701 per year, for example, can end up paying several hundred dollars more per year then someone making $44,699.  It’s not a perfect or even wholly equitable system, but it has the virtue of being well-studied. The clear-cut thresholds of income-based premium costs that result from the Massachusetts system provide an opportunity to analyze people’s behavior in a more straightforward way, with fewer variables and more reliable results.

What the Harvard study clearly shows is even a slight price increase in premiums will make lower-income folks disinclined to sign up. And if that sounds obvious, it should. All this new study does is back it up with hard data:

Why? Partly because people know that they have an alternative. They can instead rely on last-minute emergency-room care, in which hospitals typically treat them even if they lack insurance. Such care is problematic: It tends to be expensive, raising costs for other patients, and it’s often not as good as preventive care. But many poorer families choose E.R. care over taking money from their stretched budgets for health insurance.

The Republican plan being voted on today will increase costs to low income individuals not just a little, but significantly. Most affected will be lower-income, older Americans because of the way the system is designed—tax credits based primarily on age, not geographic area or ability to pay. That is a major distinction between the Republican plan and The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), and its impact will be staggering, because for low-income, aged individuals only the very sick (and desperate) will be willing to pay those premiums. According to the three authors of the Harvard study—one of whom, Amy Finkelstein of MIT, is regularly touted by such conservative outlets as the Wall Street Journal– the rest will largely opt out of the entire system:

“When premiums go up, it’s the healthier enrollees who drop out,” said Amy Finkelstein of M.I.T., another author of the study.

The implications of the Harvard study on what the Republicans are voting on today are even more ominous than the already damning analysis of the Congressional Budget Office, which predicted that the Republican plan will kick 24 million people off of their health insurance:

[T]he magnitude of the new results suggests the C.B.O. estimates of insurance losses were conservative. Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard, the paper’s third author, said that the Republican proposal would effectively end enrollment in the insurance markets for families that make less than $75,000 a year.

So this is what the Republicans are voting to do to the American public today. Their prime—indeed their only– motivation for this is to cut the same taxes on multimillionaires that permitted Obamacare’s success in providing millions of Americans with good health care coverage . As Leonhardt notes:

The Republican health bill is simply a bad bill. It’s been blasted by conservative and liberal health experts, as well as groups representing patients, doctors, nurses and hospitals. Above all, the bill cuts health benefits for the poor, the middle class, the elderly and the sick, and it funnels the savings to tax cuts for the rich.

The Republican health care bill is a recipe for disastrous, out-of control premium hikes for millions.  Unfortunately for all of us, the GOP Party leadership has secured just enough “yes” votes to make its passage probable today, while sparing so-called “moderate” members of their caucus the political consequences and allowing them to vote “no.”

But those “moderate” Republicans own this as much as their colleagues, because this act of violence against Americans in taking away a system (“Obamacare”) already proven to work has been the longstanding, explicit policy of their Party leaders, whom they eagerly voted into that position.  And the pain it causes will affect all Americans, including ones who live in so-called “moderate” Republican Districts:

The bill could cause more people to lose insurance than previously predicted and do more damage to insurance markets. The $8 billion sweetener that Republicans added to the bill on Wednesday would do nothing to change this reality. President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan are continuing to push a policy that would harm millions of Americans.

Americans must remember that in 2018, when it will be time to pay back the GOP for what it did today.

House Republicans are hell-bent on ripping away our health insurance. Call your member of Congress at 202-224-3121, and demand they vote NO on a renewed Trumpcare that is worse than the one before. Remind them they work for you.

If you have trouble getting through or their “mailbox is full,” you can work through AARP (which vehemently opposes this Bill) to connect you to a live person to answer: AARP’s #: 844-259-9352.

After announcing her retirement, one GOP congresswomen is torching the GOP health care plan.

DailyKos

After announcing her retirement, one GOP congresswomen is torching the GOP health care plan.

By Jen Hayden    May 04, 2017

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) recently made a surprise announcement that she will be retiring, not seeking re-election in 2018. Perhaps that has freed her up to speak the truth about the impending disaster of a massive tax cut for the wealthy, stealthily disguised as a health care plan , because today she issued a statement saying she intends to vote against the Trumpcare AHCA bill. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen plainly says this bill “fails to prove for the needs of my constituents” and has the “potential to severely harm the health and lives of people in South Florida.” Read her statement and see why she isn’t just a no, she’s a HELL NO:

“Despite amendments and changes, the AHCA still fails to provide for the needs of my constituents. I will not support a bill that has the potential to severely harm the health and lives of people in South Florida and therefore I remain steadfast in my commitment to vote NO on the AHCA. The recent addition of further funds to high risk pools continues to be inadequate and fails to cover those who need it most. If enacted, the older and poorer South Floridians will be worse off and will find it more difficult to obtain quality healthcare. My constituents should not have to take a step backward in their ability to obtain treatment for any illness and thus, I will vote NO.”

Too bad her colleagues are caving right and left, ignoring the will and the needs of their constituents. The midterm elections take place on November 6, 2018. We have 551 days to get these bums out of Congress and restore our health care protections.

How the Affordable Care Act Drove Down Personal Bankruptcy

Consumer Reports

How the Affordable Care Act Drove Down Personal Bankruptcy

Allen St. John, April 24, 2017

As legislators and the executive branch renew their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act this week, they might want to keep in mind a little-known financial consequence of the ACA: Since its adoption, far fewer Americans have taken the extreme step of filing for personal bankruptcy.

Filings have dropped about 50 percent, from 1,536,799 in 2010 to 770,846 in 2016 (see chart below). Those years also represent the time frame when the ACA took effect. Although courts never ask people to declare why they’re filing, many bankruptcy and legal experts agree that medical bills had been a leading cause of personal bankruptcy before public healthcare coverage expanded under the ACA. Unlike other causes of debt, medical bills are often unexpected, involuntary, and large.

“If you’re uninsured or underinsured, you can run up a huge debt in a short period of time,” says Lois Lupica, a bankruptcy expert and Maine Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Maine School of Law.

So did the rise of the ACA—which helped some 20 million more Americans get health insurance—cause the decline in bankruptcies?

The many experts we interviewed also pointed to two other contributing factors: an improving economy and changes to bankruptcy laws in 2005 that made it more difficult and costly to file. However, they almost all agreed that expanded health coverage played a major role in the marked, recent decline.

Some of the most important financial protections of the ACA apply to all consumers, whether they get their coverage through ACA exchanges or the private insurance marketplace. These provisions include mandated coverage for preexisting conditions and, on most covered benefits, an end to annual and lifetime coverage caps. Aspects of the law, including provisions for young people to be covered by a family policy until age 26, went into effect in 2010 and 2011, before the full rollout of the ACA in 2014.

“It’s absolutely remarkable,” says Jim Molleur, a Maine-based bankruptcy attorney with 20 years of experience. “We’re not getting people with big medical bills, chronically sick people who would hit those lifetime caps or be denied because of pre-existing conditions. They seemed to disappear almost overnight once ACA kicked in.”

The first attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, in March, failed to gain enough Congressional support and never came to a vote.

Then in April, details of a new replacement plan were released. Although President Donald Trump has said that this new version, like the first bill that was pulled from consideration, will cover pre-existing conditions, the revised law gives states broad latitude to allow insurance companies to increase rates for consumers with an existing illness.

Since the start of the year, more than 2,000 consumers have answered an online questionnaire from Consumer Reports’ advocacy and mobilization team, sharing their experiences with the ACA. Katie Weber of Seattle was one of them.

In 2011, she had just landed her first job out of college, as a teacher with AmeriCorps, she explains in a phone interview. That’s when the unusual numbness in her hand began, which she—and her doctor—at first mistook for a pinched nerve. Then came debilitating headaches and nausea and, ultimately, a diagnosis of medulloblastoma, a fast-growing cancerous brain tumor.

The treatment for her tumor was straightforward: surgery, radiation, then chemotherapy. Figuring out how to pay for it was much less clear. She worried that the insurance she had through AmeriCorps wouldn’t cover enough of her bills.

“My dad said to me, ‘Your health is the most important thing. If you have to declare bankruptcy at age 23, it’s no big deal,’” Weber says.

Because of the ACA, she says, it never came to that. After her year with AmeriCorps, the new healthcare law enabled her to get coverage under her parents’ insurance plan.

The ACA provisions required that the family’s insurance company cover her even though she had already been diagnosed with cancer. That would not have been the case before the ACA, which mandates the coverage of pre-existing conditions for all consumers.

Later, when she aged out of her parents’ insurance, Weber was able to enroll in Apple Health, Washington state’s version of Medicaid, a program that was expanded once the ACA was passed. That coverage, she says, has been crucial to her financial and medical well-being, especially once the cancer returned last fall.

Weber says she now spends more time discussing treatment options and less time worrying how she’ll pay for MRIs and drugs. These are covered in full under her Apple Health policy.

“Cancer is really expensive,” she says. “My insurance saved my life.”

Numbers Plummet

If you want further testimony about how much personal bankruptcies have dropped over the past decade, talk to Susan Grossberg, a Springfield, Mass., attorney.

For more than 20 years she has helped consumers push the financial reset button when debt triggered by divorce, unemployment, or a costly illness or medical episode became too much to handle. “Medical debt can get really big really quickly,” Grossberg says. “When you’re in the emergency room they’re not checking your credit score while they’re caring for you.”

With the advent of the ACA—and before that, expanded state healthcare in Massachusetts—she says fewer clients with large medical debts walked through her door.

Grossberg adds that her bankruptcy business has slowed so much that she has been forced to take on other kinds of legal work—landlord-tenant and housing discrimination cases—to cover her own bills.

The American Bankruptcy Institute suggested that veteran Chicago bankruptcy attorney and trustee David Leibowitz could also help parse the reasons for the decade long decline.

First, he says, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 made it more difficult for consumers to file for bankruptcy. The law required credit counseling and income verification and forced many consumers to seek protection under Chapter 13, which restructures, but does not eliminate, most debt. The piles of paperwork also meant most filers needed a lawyer, which made bankruptcy more costly and therefore not an option for many poor consumers.

Then there was the economy. After a slow and steady recovery following the housing crisis of 2008, Leibowitz explains that American consumers generally had fewer problems with their mortgages, better employment prospects, and greater access to credit, which made them less likely to file.

The final factor, according to Leibowitz, has been the ACA, which afforded health coverage to many more consumers and expanded protections for all.

Of course, not everyone sees such a direct connection between the decline in bankruptcies and the emergence of the ACA.

Thomas P. Miller, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and co-author of “Why ObamaCare is Wrong for America” (HarperCollins, 2011), cautioned against “reaching broad conclusions” because the subject is so complex.

“Certainly there are fewer people declaring bankruptcy, and certainly fewer are declaring bankruptcy because of healthcare spending,” he says. But his earlier research suggested that some studies exaggerated the degree to which high healthcare bills cause bankruptcies. “They tended to reflect other problems with credit card balances well beyond healthcare,” he says. “It stems from multiple causes.”

Figuring Out Why

Over the past decade, determining the cause-and-effect relationship between medical debt and bankruptcy has become a political football, particularly during the years the Obama administration was trying to pass the ACA through Congress.

The truth is that it’s not that easy to determine how many bankruptcies are caused by medical debt. Examining the paperwork doesn’t always offer insight because debtors often juggle their indebtedness, for example, using a credit card to pay an outstanding medical bill while leaving other debts unpaid.

But a 2014 study from Daniel Austin, a bankruptcy attorney and, at the time, a professor at the Northeastern University School of Law, offers some of the most in-depth research to date.

Austin and his team selected a nationwide group of 100 bankruptcy filers meant to represent a cross-section of the U.S. population, studied their paperwork, then followed up with a survey asking filers, basically, “Why?”

His team’s research found that medical debt is the single largest factor in personal bankruptcy. First, Austin analyzed the paperwork of individual case files, which suggested that medical bills were a factor in 18 percent of filings. But when he directly asked the same filers, in a survey, the number was even higher, with 25 percent citing medical bills as a factor in their decision to file bankruptcy.

In addition to the nationwide group, Austin isolated a group of 100 bankruptcy filers from Massachusetts. Why Massachusetts? Because its citizens, starting in 2006, had been covered by a comprehensive state healthcare program similar to the ACA known as Romneycare, after the state’s former governor, Mitt Romney.

The differences between the two groups were striking. Even though the Massachusetts filers owed substantially more in unsecured debt (that is, debt not backed by a home, a car, or another asset) than their counterparts in other states, they reported less than half as much medical debt, which is also unsecured.

“The average medical debt in Massachusetts in 2013 was relatively low at just $3,041 (6 percent of total unsecured debt) compared to $8,594 (20 percent of total unsecured debt) nationwide,” Austin writes in his 2014 study, portions of which were published in the Maine Law Review.

“Only about 9 percent of Massachusetts debtors felt their bankruptcy filing was a result of medical bills,” Austin explains. “This compares to 25 percent for debtors from [other] jurisdictions.” Austin’s research found that comprehensive medical coverage in Massachusetts had all but eliminated medical bills as a cause for bankruptcy.

“Not only in absolute numbers—they had much smaller medical debt—but psychologically, medical debt did not loom nearly as large for people in Massachusetts as it did for other people in other states.” And in 2010, four years after Romneycare began, the state had a bankruptcy rate that was about 30 percent lower than that of other states.

In Search of Certainty, Consistency

At its most basic level, health insurance allows consumers to pay for the medical care they need. Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines how well the system is working by surveying Americans and asking a simple but powerful question: Did you have problems paying medical bills in the last 12 months?

The percentage of those reporting problems has dropped from 21.3 percent of households when they first asked the question in 2011 to 16.2 percent in 2016. That’s almost 13 million fewer Americans no longer facing collection notices from a doctor or hospital.

“It’s been happening across the board, by race, by age, by insurance status, by gender,” says Robin Cohen, the study’s lead author.

But insurance is also about peace of mind. And judging from the consumers who have shared their stories with Consumer Reports, that certainty is in short supply as the fate of the ACA is decided. People are wondering what comes next: Repeal? Replace? Improve? Retain and neglect? No one really knows the answer. Americans are concerned about how the future of healthcare will affect them and their families.

In CR’s Consumer Voices survey in January 2017, 55 percent of consumers said they lacked confidence that they or their loved ones would be able to afford insurance to secure that care.

Don Shope of Ocean View, Del., said the availability of ACA coverage gave him the confidence to leave a corporate job and start his own consulting business. But now, with the ACA’s future in limbo, he and his wife are watching the action in Washington and worrying that they might have to return to jobs with benefits.

“I’m not a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican,” Shope said in a phone interview. “Our biggest concern is that with repeal and replace we’re going to be left high and dry.”

He also believes in expanded health coverage for all. “If any American is sick, we should be willing to take care of them,” Shope says. “It’s the right thing to do. Economics and profit shouldn’t be part of the healthcare equation.”

Hanging On Every Dip and Turn

And then there’s Kristin Couch, who has channeled the uncertainty into her own brand of activism.

“I was kind of anxious,” Couch says about the day in March when Congress was set to vote on a less robust bill that would replace the ACA.

The 31-year-old public relations executive, of Gainesville, Ga., has started to follow health-care politics in the intense, almost obsessive way some people follow sports. The morning after Election Day, she called the offices of her local congressional representatives, urging them to preserve the protections the ACA offers.

Couch began caring about healthcare as a high school senior when she was diagnosed with lupus and since then has become something of a reluctant expert on how to manage not only her treatment but also the insurance that pays for it.

With friends and neighbors she talks about the law in simple but personal terms. “I tell people, ‘I have a pre-existing condition, and this has helped me,’” she says of the ACA. Couch follows the healthcare debate in Washington so closely because she knows firsthand what happens when you don’t have adequate coverage.

Couch remembers the time, before the ACA, when a new immuno-suppressive drug that wasn’t covered by her policy became available. “It was expensive,” she explained in an interview, “but it worked, and I knew I needed it. Every month I’d just put it on a credit card. When your medication is thousands of dollars a month, that’s the start of being in debt.” She considered bankruptcy but ultimately worked her way out from under the pile of medical bills.

As a result of the ACA, her coverage shifted again when her employer no longer offered a traditional plan and she had to switch to one with a high $3,000 deductible. Initially she was stunned by her out-of-pocket costs, but she quickly realized that her total costs would be capped once she’d met that threshold.

“It seemed scary and it seemed different,” she explains. “But it actually saved me money.” And now, she says, “I don’t have to worry about how much a new drug costs.”

So on the March day the House of Representatives was supposed to vote on repealing the ACA, she worried that the insurance she’d come to depend on was about to be yanked away. Only after emerging from a client meeting did she learn the vote had been canceled. “I started crying I was so happy,” Couch recalls. “It’s like a weight has lifted.”

But Couch’s relief was short-lived. Now she’s back to paying close attention to the rhetoric and vote-counting deals in Washington, awaiting another possible vote on the newly revised plan. “I’m still optimistic,” she said this week. “I think enough people will stand up and fight for the coverage.”

Consumer Reports, Inc.

Un “Till’….The Trayvon Martin Case

July 17, 2013   John Hanno

                                                        Un ‘Till’

Following the decision in the George Zimmerman trial, John Lewis, Congressman from Georgia since 1987, said: “I am deeply disappointed by the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. It seems to justify the stalking and killing of innocent black boys and deny them any avenue of self-defense. … I hope this verdict will serve to open some kind of meaningful dialogue on the issues of race and justice in America.”

Of course Congressman Lewis is correct, but under Florida’s dangerous stand your ground laws, its not just unarmed young black males that are in jeopardy of being blown to kingdom come; its everyone who might end up in the gun sites of these wacko vigilantes. All teenagers, white, black or Latino, 90% of who wear hoodies, should not venture out at night. And, based on the outcome of the Zimmerman trial, anyone is now free to arm themselves, approach and pick a fight with someone or provoke someone they have a beef with or don’t approve of; and as soon as that prey offers some resistance, you’re able to put a bullet through their heart. I see similar stories like this on WE-TV, in reruns of “Gunsmoke” and “The Rifleman”. Who said the Wild West is dead?

As we know, Congressman Lewis was one of the leaders in the civil rights movement and helped lead the March 7, 1965 Bloody Sunday march for voting rights, from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery. He was one of the marchers who were confronted and then clubbed, whipped and tear-gassed by more than 150 State Troopers, Sheriff’s police and posse men (vigilantes) on the Edmund Pettis Bridge and then had his skull fractured. I think Mr. Lewis can recognize a vigilante when he sees one.

Mr. Lewis also stated he believes the shooting of Trayvon Martin resembled the Emmett Till case of August 1955, where a 14 year old South Side Chicago boy visiting his cousins for the summer, was dragged from his great uncles home at gun point in the middle of the night for talking to a white women 3 days earlier in Money, Mississippi. Emmett was found 4 days later in the Tallahatchie River, beaten, shot in the head and lashed to a large metal fan with barbed wire. He was so unrecognizable, the only way he was identified was by his fathers initials L.T. on the signet ring given to Emmett by his mother before he left Chicago. Till’s alleged killers, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, were arrested and charged with his murder. Despite the overwhelming evidence and even though Till’s great uncle Moses courageously put his life in jeopardy by testifying and identifying the two as Till’s kidnappers and killers. both were acquitted of all charges by an all white, all male jury.

The deliberations lasted only 67 minutes. A few months later, the defendants then sold the story of how they kidnapped and murdered Till to Look Magazine for $4,000.  Emmett’s body was shipped back to Chicago. His mother, Mamie Till, decided to display his body at Roberts Temple Church of God in an open casket. Although she said it was very painful seeing her dead son’s body on display, she said: “let the world see what has happened, because there is no way I could describe this. And I needed somebody to help me tell what it was like.”  I remember seeing pictures of thousands of mourners parading by his casket and the graphic pictures of Till in his casket in Jet magazine. It didn’t look like a human body. He’s buried in a nearby South Chicago suburb. He was only about 6 years older than me so we grew up on the South Side of Chicago at the same time. We were both born in July, 2 days apart.

Emmett Till’s death and his mothers efforts to publicize his tragedy, for all the world to see, served as an impetus for the Civil Rights movement. Three months after his death, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and go to the back of the bus. Her actions sparked the yearlong Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. Mamie Till believed her son’s death, and stories, pictures and films of other beatings and lynchings in the south, including those of nonviolent protestors being attacked by police and State troopers with dogs and fire hoses, helped America come to grips with racial inequality and injustice. She said that before her sons murder: “people really didn’t know that things this horrible could take place. And the fact that it happened to a child, that makes all the difference in the world.”

The case that the Zimmerman prosecution team presented leaves a lot of room for criticism. Legal media experts across the country have picked apart their ineffective case. I too, was shouting at my TV during much of the trial, imploring the prosecutors to either ask this question or why in the world would they have asked that question or why not follow up with that question. The biggest mistakes allowed the inclusion of Zimmerman’s many self-serving statements and video’s, without somehow assuring he would have to testify under oath and be subject to cross examination in order to counter the prosecution’s presumed fact based theory of events.

I believe the prosecutors gave the jury too much credit for being able to analyze the evidence and fill in the blanks. Instead of laying out a clear scenario they wholeheartedly believed flowed from the known facts and from Zimmerman’s proven lies and false statements, they somehow believed the jury would base their decision simply on the fact that Zimmerman lied about what really occurred and then refused to testify and face rebuttal.

I would be willing to bet these jurors were not analytical people. They are probably intuitive people of faith and not reason, and consequently swayed more by their biases than by facts and reasoned argument. Defense attorney Don West unfortunately had it right with his knock, knock joke about picking a jury reliably void of knowledge about the case. Unfortunately those usually chosen as jurors are often void of any knowledge or analytical talent concerning anything. The prosecution proffered a timeline without filling in the blanks. The prosecution then helped Zimmerman prove his own case by fully accepting Zimmerman and his defense’s claims that assumed, and consequently established for the jury that Trayvon was clearly the aggressor. I screamed at my TV, all my teachers taught me that: when you assume something, “you make an ass out of u and me.” They allowed the defense to put Trayvon on trial. And he was reliably found guilty.

We don’t know exactly what happened in the dark that night because (1) Trayvon is dead, (2) Zimmerman refused to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, (3) it was too dark for neighbors to see what really transpired, or video what happened (4) no one had the courage to venture out to help someone crying out for help. (5) The police department failed to initially charge or take serious the allegations against Zimmerman.

If young black Trayvon had been the one pulling the trigger, he would have been in a maximum security prison before they served him his first baloney sandwich, and (6) lets face it, Sanford P.D. did not have “The Closer’s” Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson to interrogate Mr. Zimmerman. If they had, she would have wrapped up the case within the hour; and  Zimmerman would have confessed to killing Trayvon, been placed in cuffs and headed to prison for 30 to life.

But I would be willing to bet my check on a few plausible certainties. Trayvon was simply on his way back home to his 12 year old step brother with skittles and a bottle of ice tea, to play video games and to watch the NBA All-star game on TV. He was unarmed. He was not on drugs or acting suspicious as Zimmerman claimed. We saw him on video inside the Convenience Store and he looked like any other merely confused teenager trying to make a decision about what he wanted to buy and how much he had to spend. The store clerk, as he testified to at trial, was obviously not suspicious or threatened.

I’m pretty sure Trayvon was not sticking his hands in his waistband as Zimmerman claimed. He was talking to a friend on his phone with one hand and holding his bag of goodies with the other. Trayvon really believed he was being followed by some crazy ass cracker. And was probably scared shitless. Zimmerman was clearly profiling Trayvon as a suspicious f—ing asshole, a punk that was probably on drugs and some thug about to get away with something.

Zimmerman refused to stay in his vehicle, as he was told to do, until the police arrived a few minutes later. And I firmly believe Zimmerman, who his MMA type trainer testified at trial as soft and a wuss, was not afraid to take off after a suspicious hooded young black man because he probably drew his gun from the holster as soon as he left his vehicle. And finally, Trayvon was intercepted from going home by a vigilante aiming a gun at him.

This is where its gets complicated. Did uncoordinated Zimmerman trip and fall while he was running after Trayvon; did Zimmerman slip and fall in the damp grass or onto the hard sidewalk and hurt himself; did Zimmerman trip or slip and fall, and did the gun then accidentally fire a bullet through Trayvon’s heart; did Zimmerman just get excited and stick a gun into Trayvon’s chest and accidentally or on purpose shoot Trayvon through the heart?

After possibly accidentally shooting Trayvon, did Zimmerman then injure himself on purpose and concoct an unbelievable story so that it would appear that he had to defend himself against an unarmed skinny boy armed with a cell phone and a bag of skittles? We don’t know if there even was a struggle or fight and if there was, who started it. Was Trayvon desperately trying to defend himself against someone (not a police officer) aiming a gun at him? The prosecution proposed none of these possibilities to the jury.

Because I spent my entire life building and repairing things, I necessarily had to be analytical and logical and could not assume anything. So after shaving with a razor for more than 60 years, I realize that all blood vessels in the head and face are numerous and very close to the surface. I know that any little mishap while shaving makes you bleed like a stuck pig, extracts about a half pint of blood from ones facial capillaries and causes you to stick a half roll of toilet paper on the cuts.

I once blew my nose during a cold while I was in the Army, ruptured a blood vessel, lost about a quart of blood, which I spit into a butt can and had to have an Army specialist cauterize the vessel while I passed out. The supposed injuries to Zimmerman were at best, extremely minimal. He could have scratched his own head with a fingernail, a car key or with one of his flashlights; and it would have extracted more blood than was displayed in the photos of his injuries.

If Trayvon had violently slammed Zimmerman’s head onto the sidewalk as Zimmerman’s attorney did to the dummy during trial over and over, Zimmerman would have been knocked out and then rushed to the hospital with a severe concussion and a severe brain injury that would have swelled his brain and forced a neurosurgeon to cut open his scull so that his brain could swell without causing irreparable brain damage.

But most important, if Zimmerman had just waited as directed for 2 or 3 minutes, the police would have shown up, walked up to Trayvon, as uniformed police officers, (something I’m sure Trayvon or any other young black man has experienced multiple times), and simply asked Trayvon what he was doing. Trayvon would have shown the cops his bag of goodies and his receipt from the store. The officers would have patted Trayvon on top of his hoodied head and either sent him or driven him home to his waiting brother. As they dropped him off, they would have told him to be careful because there are some dangerous armed people driving through his neighborhood.

And if heaven forbid, in the extremely unlikely case a cop would have shot an unarmed boy, that officer would have his badge and firearm taken away immediately and would have been subjected to not only an automatic internal investigation, but probably a state or federal use of force investigation. I just can’t believe there is any conceivable way, Trayvon would not be alive today, if only the police had confronted him instead of Zimmerman.

Interesting and informative was Sean Hannity’s interview of Zimmerman. Hannity asked him why he thought Trayvon was on drugs. Zimmerman said because it was raining, Trayvon was walking between houses, cutting through houses and walking very leisurely. That sounded like nonsense, as did much of Zimmerman’s answers during the whole interview. When I was a teen walking through my South Side Chicago neighborhood, we often flipped fences and cut through backyards and alleys. It simply appeared Zimmerman was attempting to keep from tripping himself up on previous lies.

But I think most interesting part of the interview, besides the fact that he claimed he didn’t know anything about or ever heard about Stand Your Ground Laws (Obviously pure bullcrap), was when Hannity asked Zimmerman if he regretted anything that night, regretted getting out of the car to follow Trayvon that night. Zimmerman said no sir. Hannity then said do you regret that you had a gun that night. Zimmerman said no sir. Hannity then asked Zimmerman if he felt that he would not be there tonight if he didn’t have the gun. Zimmerman said no sir. Hannity asked him if he would do anything differently in retrospect, time having passed a bit. Zimmerman said he felt it was all Gods plan and for him to second guess it or judge it…umm and then shakes his head no. Hannity then asks, is there anything you would do differently in retrospect, now that a little bit of time has passed. Zimmerman again said no sir. I think even Hannity was clearly incredulous, but Zimmerman failed to relent.

If I was the prosecutor in the case, I would have played that part of the Hannity interview and then while looking directly at Trayvon’s parents and then at the 6 women jurors, I would say, I believe Trayvon’s parents and family surely believe in God but I know they also don’t believe it was “Gods Will” that some reckless individual should shoot and kill their unarmed boy.

The prosecutors in this case could have presented all these arguments in a more coherent way. If they did, I believe Zimmerman may have had to testify in order to not be convicted of 2nd degree murder and at worse, may have been convicted of manslaughter. Yet if the prosecutors had put on a much more competent case and done everything right, would it have made a difference to this 6 person non representative jury; maybe not?

I’ve seen enough jury trials to believe the idea of a jury of ones peers may have outlived its benefits. Most civilized countries, if not all, don’t rely on that system. I think its time we have jurors trained and paid as professionals. They can still be chosen as representative to a particular case. But Trayvon was in actuality tried, convicted and found guilty, yet he did not have a jury of his peers. How about a 12 person jury, six of which were people of color and who may have been profiled at one time or another. It would also be interesting to hear what Judge Debra Nelson felt about the jury’s decision. We will probably never know. What I do know for sure is that:

If I had felt it necessary to inject myself into community policing, like Zimmerman did and which I definitely wouldn’t, and;

If I had felt it necessary to stick my nose into someone else’s (Trayvon’s) business, like Zimmerman did and which I would never do, and;

If I had owned a gun designed primarily for killing fellow human beings, like Zimmerman did and which I have refused to do for more than 6 decades while living on the South Side of Chicago and South Suburbs, and;

If I had routinely carried a concealed weapon, like Zimmerman does (he told Hannity that he carries his gun everywhere except work) and which I don’t and which I believe is antithetical to a civilized society and unbelievably reckless, and;

If I had routinely targeted young black males in my community, like Zimmerman did time and time again when calling police (he always reported only black males) and which I have never done in more than 60 years, and;

If I routinely profiled young black men by referring to them as “those F—ing assholes”        and “punks that always get away”, like Zimmerman did and which I think is obscene, and proves Zimmerman harbored ill will and malice of forethought, and;

If I decided to get out of my vehicle and follow Trayvon, even thought the police dispatcher told him not to and to stay in his vehicle, like Zimmerman did and which I would never even consider doing, and;

If I decided to un-holster my loaded gun and chase after a young boy who did nothing to me or anyone else, as Zimmerman probably did, and which I would never, ever even consider doing, and;

If for some inconceivable reason, I engaged in such outrageous conduct, like Zimmerman did in this case, I guess I wouldn’t have the guts to testify before a jury of my peers either.

But I just can’t believe a jury would not find a person guilty of manslaughter after refusing to explain or justify the reasons he found it necessary to shoot and kill an unarmed boy. How can juror B37 “reasonably” believe “Zimmerman’s heart was in the right place.”

And how can Juror B29 “reasonably” vote to acquit Zimmerman. She initially voted to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder. After the trial, she told Robin Roberts, during an interview on “Good Morning America” that she believed Zimmerman “got away with murder.” She said “George Zimmerman got away with murder, but you can’t get away from God. And at the end of the day, he’s going to have a lot of questions and answers he has to deal with,” “[But] the law couldn’t prove it.” “You can’t put the man in jail even though in our hearts we felt he was guilty,” “But we had to grab our hearts and put it aside and look at the evidence.” “I was the juror that was going to give them the hung jury. I fought to the end.” She also stated she thought the case was a “publicity stunt” and should not have been brought to trial. “The truth is that there was nothing that we could do about it.” “I feel the verdict was already told.”

She blamed the lack of evidence and Florida’s laws to somehow justify acquitting Zimmerman. She now second guesses her decision to acquit; but of course its too late. She said she owes Trayvon’s parents an apology and believes “like I let them down.” I think she let Trayvon Martin and our jury system down.

I guess it’s too much to ask one 6 person jury to put a dent in America’s race relations problems but I was hoping for just a little common sense. I guess I was waiting for Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) or “Elementary’s” Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu (Sherlock Holmes and Watson) to step in and figure out ‘who done it.’

Conservative media and Bloggers view Zimmerman as a hero. He is not a hero. He’s a “wantabe” cop who was repeatedly determined unfit for police work. He profiled a young person innocently walking through his neighborhood. He refused to stay in his vehicle when told to by the police dispatcher. He refused to wait for just a couple of minutes more for the dispatched trained police officers to arrive. He shot Trayvon, as he told Hannity, 15 or 30 seconds before the police arrived.

He is at best a reckless buffoon who was probably chasing after Trayvon with his finger on the trigger of a loaded high powered weapon that didn’t have a safety (“never run while carrying a scissors”). He either stumbled or otherwise accidentally, or on purpose, shot Trayvon through his heart. He then concocted a story only a mother could believe. I believe Zimmerman then told us a lot about his intensions and state of mind by not trying to save Trayvon’s life by initiating any efforts to help him or perform CPR.

George Zimmerman got away with murder because of (1) a tardy and mediocre investigation of his conduct and the facts of the case by the Sanford P.D.; (2) because of ineffective prosecution; (3) because of Florida’s nonsensical and dangerous Stand Your Ground Laws, and the consequential confusing jury instructions; and (4) because of a 6 person jury that was not representative of both the defendant and the victim, and a jury that was probably not capable of using their common sense to render a just decision.

Un “Till” young black men, especially those wearing hoodies, are not automatically viewed by half of American’s as troublemakers and thugs;

Un “Till” America stops incarcerating young black men at ever increasing rates;

Un “Till” more young black men refuse to join gangs when looking for some semblance of family;

Un “Till” America is able to offer young men of all colors, including and especially Veterans, living wage jobs, instead of a life of fending for themselves on the streets;

Un “Till” more young black men end up graduating from college, than from being released from prison;

Un “Till” we reach a point where the innocent young black victim of a hate crime can’t be proven guilty of his own murder;

Un “Till” all those, including jurors, who say they are not prejudiced, but harbor many subtle and toxic biases, can see themselves for what they are;

Un “Till” Police departments throughout America, view all young men the same regardless of how they walk or talk or what they wear or the hue of their skin;

Un “Till” Legislatures everywhere, including the United States Congress, find some balls, and stand up to the NRA, ALEC and these extreme wacko 2nd Amendment zealots;

Un “Till” America “Stand’s It’s Ground”, and refuses to turn its back on responsible gun laws;

Un “Till” this all happens, we will continue to see, especially on the streets of our South Chicago neighborhoods, innocent children placed in caskets and carried to the cemeteries.

If there are any positives in this case and reason for hope, its that:

A recent Poll said that 62% of American’s believe George Zimmerman unnecessarily killed Trayvon Martin.

At least 450,000 people, and probably much more now, and including myself, signed a petition asking the Department of Justice to go forward with their suspended civil rights investigation of Zimmerman’s conduct.

Peaceful demonstrators across the country were not just African Americans but from every group. Black, white, Latino and Asian; men, women and children, old and young. I would say the demonstrators I saw were an overwhelming white majority.

And, a large majority of Florida’s prosecutors are now asking the legislators to change and correct the flaws in Florida’s current Stand Your Ground Laws.

And, most experts believe a Civil Trial against George Zimmerman probably will be undertaken; a trial where Zimmerman will be forced to testify. At least he may not be able to profit from Trayvon’s murder.

Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture, said he would like Trayvon’s hoodie for its permanent collection. “It became the symbolic way to talk about the Trayvon Martin case.” “It’s rare that you get one artifact that really becomes the symbol.”

Maybe the pictures of Trayvon Martin lying on a slab in the morgue will, like the pictures of Emmett Till lying in his coffin did in 1955 for civil rights, spark change; and in this case, some sensible modification of these egregious and dangerous Stand Your Ground Laws, in at least some of those 24 states. Our own Illinois concealed weapons ban was recently struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Illinois was the last of the States to have a reasonable ban on concealed weapons. Our legislature is still wrestling with a revision of those laws that would conform with the Constitutions 2nd Amendment. Gentlemen and women, please pay attention.

And as Congressman Lewis implored: “I hope this verdict will serve to open some kind of meaningful dialogue on the issues of race and justice in America.”    John Hanno