Show Notes for June 20, 2017

  • Six US prisoners are being rewarded for saving a prison officer who had suffered a suspected heart attack.
  • Polk County Sheriff Johnny Moats said the Georgia prisoners, who all have committed minor crimes, would each have their sentences shortened by 25%.
  • The work crew had been cutting grass at a public cemetery when the corrections officer who was guarding them collapsed in the heat.
  • The six men used the guard's phone to call police and began performing CPR.
  • "When that happened, in my opinion, it wasn't about who is in jail and who wasn't," inmate Greg Williams told 11alive.com.
  • "It was about a man going down and we had to help him," he continued.
  • The work crew ran to the lone officer after he fell to the ground and removed his bullet-proof vest to perform CPR.
  • Rather than take his pistol and run off, they used his mobile phone to call for an ambulance.
  • "None of my guys ran," the officer told WKYC. "None of them did anything they shouldn't have done."
  • The family of the officer, who does not wish to be identified, bought a lunch of pizza and cupcakes for his incarcerated rescuers the next day.
  • Sheriff Moats said that "anytime we have a trustee or inmate crew that goes beyond normal duties, we cut them some extra time off".
  • The inmates' reaction also "really speaks a lot about my officers too, how they treat these inmates", he added. "They treat them like people. Like family."
  • Their actions come in stark contrast to two other Georgia convicts who were arraigned on Wednesday on charges of murdering two prison guards while being transported between prisons.
  • Prosecutors say they intend to seek the death penalty for Donnie Rowe and Ricky Dubose, who were captured in Tennessee after a three-day manhunt.

-Republican leaders in Washington have come under withering assault for the way they are putting together their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act ― specifically, for writing the legislation almost entirely behind closed doors, with zero Democratic input, and with plans to hold a vote mere days and maybe mere hours after finalizing the language.

 

  • Some Republican senators say they, too, are frustrated by the process. But so far none has seen fit to demand slower, more open deliberations. They say they are inclined to cut their leadership some slack, because ― supposedly ― Democrats acted the exact same way when they first wrote the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010.
  • Here, for example, was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaking to reporters earlier this week: “We used to complain like hell when the Democrats ran the Affordable Care Act ― now we’re doing the same thing.”
  • And here was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): “We were very polarized because the Democrats did, frankly, exactly the same thing. So we had a very polarized bill that the public debated for years and years. I don’t think the parties are any different. I would give criticism equally to the parties.”
  • This is nonsense, as historians and the reporters who covered the 2009 and 2010 debate keep pointing out.
  • Yes, Democrats cut plenty of backroom deals and pulled plenty of legislative tricks to get their bill through Congress. That’s how complicated legislation always comes together. And, yes, Democrats ultimately passed the Affordable Care Act on a party-line vote.
  • But what Republicans are doing now is fundamentally different and truly unprecedented for legislation of this consequence.
  • Democrats spent more than a year debating their proposal out in the open. Five separate committees, three in the House and two in the Senate, held literally hundreds of hours of hearings and produced testimony from experts representing multiple philosophical views and officials from pretty much every group or industry involved with health care. Republicans had opportunities to question those witnesses and to propose amendments, some of which actually ended up in the legislation.
  • Apart from declaring war after Pearl Harbor, Senate has *never* rammed through such major legislation w/o hearings https://t.co/MeV4actHln
  • — James Fallows (@JamesFallows) June 19, 2017
  • Lately Republicans have made a big deal about Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowing not to cooperate with Republicans unless they drop their insistence on repealing the Affordable Care Act, rather than finding bipartisan reforms that would fix its problems. But back in 2009, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had the very same job Schumer does now, he made his own vow of noncooperation ― later telling The Atlantic’s Joshua Green he wanted no GOP “fingerprints” on Democratic legislation.
  • Even so, Democratic leaders tried desperately to win over a handful of moderate Republicans who seemed most likely to support health care reform. Then-Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and former President Barack Obama personally invested hours in one-on-one meetings with individual Republican senators, especially then-Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) ― who ultimately voted for the Finance Committee’s bill, even though she voted against the final Democratic legislation on the floor.
  • Before the final Senate vote, in December 2009, Republicans warned they hadn’t seen final details before voting on the bill. But by that point nearly a year had passed and the big questions were all settled. Later, as the debate dragged into early 2010, Obama personally engaged Republicans ― at length ― on two separate occasions, one at a Republican Party retreat in Baltimore and then at a daylong bipartisan session at the Blair House.
  • Writing legislation is almost never elegant and there was plenty of negotiation that went on behind closed doors. The result was some famously ugly agreements, such as the “Cornhusker kickback” that would have boosted federal Medicaid payments to Nebraska to secure the vote of then-Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). The pharmaceutical industry cut a deal shielding it, at least temporarily, from direct federal regulation of drug prices.
  • As eager as Obama and Baucus were to court Republicans, plenty of other Democrats were begging them to stop. And of course the final legislation violated some key promises its supporters made ― chief among them, a vow to let people who liked their existing health care plans keep them.
  • But by and large the architects of the law were clear about what they were trying to do and how they proposed to do it ― in part because they’d been promoting and defending these ideas, in detail, ever since Obama had started his presidential campaign years before. And once in power they used the traditional committee process ― if not so much to write the legislative language then at least to give the media, interest groups and ultimately the public an opportunity to understand what was up for discussion and eventually form an opinion on that.
  • “I can’t think of another piece of legislation of this scope and magnitude that affects so many people that has been drawn up behind such a dense veil of secrecy,” Ross Baker, a Rutgers University professor and expert on Congress, told the Los Angeles Times. The Senate’s former historian, Don Ritchie, says the last time one party tried to write such sweeping legislation entirely on its own, mostly in private, was World War I.
  • It’s not hard to figure out why Senate GOP leaders are proceeding in the way they are. Although those leaders haven’t indicated how they intend to resolve some key issues, the ultimate impact of the bill is already clear, as HuffPost’s Jeff Young has written. That proposal would take away insurance from millions, remove consumer protections that people value, and push insurance in the direction of greater exposure to out-of-pocket costs.
  • None of this is popular. None of this is what Republicans promised to do. Debating their bill openly would force them to admit that, and so they are trying to avoid public scrutiny for as long as possible.

 

-The National Rifle Association loves to beat its chest after shootings in America.

 

  • A day after the mass shooting last year at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Chris Cox, executive director at the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, took aim at “radical Islam.”
  • “It’s time for us to admit that radical Islam is a hate crime waiting to happen,” he wrote in an op-ed published by USA Today. “The only way to defeat them is to destroy them — not destroy the right of law-abiding Americans to defend ourselves.”
  • Weeks later, the NRA spoke up a day after a gunman ambushed and killed police officers in Dallas:
  • But don’t expect the same kind of treatment from the NRA if you’re a black man in America ― even if you’re a registered gun owner like Philando Castile, who was exercising his Second Amendment right like an NRA poster child when a police officer shot him to death during a traffic stop in Minnesota last year.
  • Castile’s story is emblematic of the NRA’s hypocrisy. The same day it issued its statement on the Dallas shooting, it also released a short statement about Castile ― without mentioning him by name or even directly acknowledging his death, and while noting that “it is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing.”
  • That’s not how the NRA treats most investigations. It has a page on its website dedicated to deifying gun owners who stand their ground. NRA reps comment on shootings all the time, with far less restraint.
  • But despite proudly supporting the right to bear arms “regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation,” the organization’s public-facing demeanor changes dramatically with black victims. Gersh Kuntzman of the New York Daily News wrote that the NRA is even partially responsible for their deaths, because police now approach members of the public with the expectation that they’re armed.
  • Today, the investigation of Castile’s death is over. Yanez was acquitted on all charges. On Tuesday, dashcam video of the incident was released, providing gruesome proof that Castile informed Yanez that he was carrying a gun before the officer gunned him down. Gun owners across the country are outraged over the Castile case. The facts are known, and yet the NRA remains silent.
  • The NRA failed to defend Castile.
  • “The group has developed too much of a reputation as an organization populated by old white guys,” said a writer on the right-leaning site Hot Air. “But we don’t want the NRA to be just for old white guys. It needs to represent everyone who supports and defends the Second Amendment and stays on the right side of the law.”
  • The Washington Post reached out to the NRA over the weekend, and got nothing in return. On Monday, “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah lashed out at the organization, saying that the NRA only cares if the parties involved aren’t black. HuffPost gave the NRA multiple opportunities this week to comment on the Castile case, to no avail.
  • The NRA doesn’t have a legal obligation to comment. But its own members were miffedlast year at the group’s failure to defend Castile and gun owners everywhere.
  • Other firearm groups with far less lobbying power and influence, meanwhile, were quick to jump to Castile’s defense. The Washington Post pointed out that the Second Amendment Foundation called for an independent probe into the “fatal shooting of a legally armed citizen” the day after Castile’s death.

 

-Throughout his entire National Football League (NFL) career, former New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs star Ryan O’Callaghan used football to hide the part of his life he wanted no-one to know about.

 

  • O’Callaghan, who hasn’t played in the NFL since 2011, publicly revealed his biggest secret in a long-form article with Outsports.com on Tuesday ― he is gay.
  • In an emotional interview with Cyd Zeigler, the 33-year-old offensive lineman discussed his struggles with who he was, his use of football as a shield to divert attention away from his sexuality, battles with substance abuse and his plan to take his own life as soon as his career ended.
  • In the article, the 2006 fifth-round Patriots draft pick explains how he was conscious that his performances in the NFL couldn’t hide his sexuality from the world forever and how he came to terms with what he planned to do after his career ended.
  • “I used football as kind of a cover for my life and football was the most masculine thing that I could do. So I decided to dedicate myself to football and I thought that it’d be a great cover, so I did whatever I had to do to make it work,” O’Callaghan told Zeigler.
  • “It was always on my mind because my biggest fear was getting caught. I just didn’t think anyone would ever accept me.”
  • A shoulder injury that saw him dropped from the Patriots in 2009, transferred to the Chiefs and then eventually dropped to the reserves in 2011 spelled the end of O’Callaghan’s NFL career before he entered a dangerous period of pain killer addiction, reckless spending and distancing himself from his loved ones.
  • “I had always planned when my career was over ― that’s it, I’m over ― and I kind of had a meltdown. I started abusing drugs and it got really out of hand,” O’Callaghan said.
  • “How close did you come to killing yourself?” Zeigler then asked. “I wrote a letter. I was close. If it wasn’t for some good friends, a couple of good dogs, yeah I’d be gone,” the lineman replied as he started to get emotional.
  • With the help of a Chiefs and NFL therapist following the end of the 2011 season, O’Callaghan began to confront his biggest fear of coming out to the people closest to him and being met with their reactions, only to be met with more support than he ever thought possible.
  • And his message for anyone else who still may be struggling with their sexuality?
  • “Coming out is not the end of the world, it’ll be OK. I’m having a great time, I love life now, I absolutely love life now.”

 

-Senate Republicans are reportedly close to voting on a bill that would repeal Obamacare and potentially strip insurance from millions of Americans. Under normal circumstances, this sort of momentous legislation would have been dominating the news cycle for weeks. Instead, it’s been virtually absent from broadcast news and become a C-level subplot on cable, thanks to McConnell’s tactically ingenious decision to skip the normal committee process and craft his party’s bill behind closed doors, before rushing it to a floor vote, likely next week. Without a public process, journalists just haven’t had much to cover—and voters haven’t been able to grok what’s at stake.

 

  • Of course, the mere fact that Republicans have decided to produce a health care bill largely in secret is itself a scandal. But unfortunately, it’s also a political process story involving arcane-sounding concepts like reconciliation and conference committees. And if there’s one thing most Americans and CNN producers are evidently indifferent to, it’s political process.
  • That, more than anything, is the secret to McConnell’s success as a congressional leader. Over the years he has masterfully twisted the rules of Senate procedure to the GOP’s advantage by breaking Washington norms that voters fundamentally don’t think or care much about, in part because they make for dry copy and soporific television. Our national aversion to process stories helped the Kentuckian gum up President Obama’s political agenda and deny him a Supreme Court appointment. And now it may allow him to pass a health care bill by stealth.
  • Before he ascended to the Senate’s upper rungs, Mitch McConnell’s political biography as a rigidly partisan fundraising obsessive did not mark him as a man who’d change history. But as minority leader, he proved himself a brilliant political strategist and tactician by waging an all-out war of resistance against President Obama, largely by using a record number of Senate filibusters in order to slow down business on Capitol Hill and jam up the administration’s nominees. As Norm Ornstein wrotefor National Journal, “The rule had not changed, but the norms were blown up. Filibusters were used not simply to block legislation or occasional nominations, but routinely, even on matters and nominations that were entirely uncontroversial and ultimately passed unanimously or near-unanimously.”
  • Weaponizing the filibuster and denying the president bipartisan cover turned out to be extremely savvy, because relatively few Americans care much about the nuances of congressional procedure, and the public is generally apt to blame the president’s party for its frustrations (as Obama’s approval ratings at the time showed). During the heat of the health care debate in 2010, for instance, Pew found that only 26 percent of Americans knew it took 60 votes to end debate in the Senate. And insofar as people were frustrated by Congress, they may not have understood which party to be angry at; in the run-up to the 2014 midterms, for instance, Rasmussen found that more than one-third of likely voters were in the dark about which party controlled the House and Senate. (Among all Americans, just 38 percent knew who was in power on the Hill, according to the Annenberg Public Policy center.)

 

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  • Suffice to say, it’s a bit easier to grind a chamber of Congress to a halt or frustrate a president when a sizable portion of the voting public has no idea what you’re doing—or how. You just have to be willing to do it.
  • Take the Republican Party’s obstruction of Merrick Garland, another terribly boring but important episode in which McConnell, finally majority leader, shattered congressional norms in service of his political ends. Never before had the Senate refused to even grant a hearing to a president’s high court pick. But while most Americans thought the judge at least deserved an up-or-down vote—Senate Republicans could have easily rejected him—his unfortunate fate eventually just faded from the news, since there just wasn’t much to talk about. There are only so many ways for reporters to write about how someone is not going to sit on the Supreme Court and that Republicans are shredding the old, brittle rule book that underpins our political institutions. And without public hearings, there was rarely much of a news hook to hang the story back up on. By standing firm until the initial outrage dissipated and everyday citizens either didn’t care or didn’t know that the Republicans planned to rob the president of a Supreme Court seat, McConnell won, his methods as devious as they were boring.
  • With his health care push, McConnell is once again getting a free pass after smashing Senate precedent. He has chosen to abandon the typical committee process in order to hash out a bill in private with a select group of Republican senators before rushing it to the floor. We won’t likely see a draft until Thursday, with a vote expected next Tuesday. Republican senators are dodging questions about the bill by claiming they still haven’t seen any text. Again, this is an anti-democratic scandal in its own right. The Senate is writing legislation that could strip health care from millions and trying to pass it with little if any meaningful debate.
  • And it’s barely been covered. According to Media Matters, the three major broadcast networks ran just four segments combined on health care during their nightly news shows between June 1 and June 14. Liberal-leaning MSNBC is the only news network, meanwhile, that has devoted meaningful coverage to the bill’s secrecy—because, again, most people don’t like process stories, and there’s so much more going on. If anything, the hourly insanities of the Trump era have made McConnell’s boring tactics even more powerful.
  • The story has also been conspicuously absent from newspaper front pages. On Tuesday, the New York Times and Washington Post websites were dominated by stories about the battle against ISIS, the Georgia special House election, and women’s wrestling in the ’80s (news hook: There’s a new Netflix show). Unsurprisingly, 76 percent of Americans told CBSin a recent poll that they hadn’t heard enough about the Senate bill to know what it would do. This is of course in stark contrast with the House bill, which ended up widely loathed after experts and activists of all political stripes savaged its early leaked drafts and the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would leave 24 million without insurance.
  • The lack of reporting has taken the energy out of liberal protesters who dogged House Republicans at their town halls during the late winter and spring. As one Indivisible chapter leader told Vox’s Jeff Stein, “It’s really hard to motivate people to show up and be angry when they don’t know what they’re objecting to.” With protesters at bay, TV networks have less footage to feed stories. For McConnell, it’s a rewarding cycle of silence—far preferable to the lengthy, public process of crafting Obamacare, which left the bill vulnerable to outrageous, exaggerated criticisms that evolved and metastasized over time. (Remember, Sarah Palin gave us the phrase death panels more than a month after conservative writer Betsy McCaughey originally freaked out about the bill’s section on end-of-life counseling.)
  • McConnell’s abuse of democratic norms is especially galling this time around, because it’s not even clear he cares about whether health care passes. He is, reportedly, “agnostic” about the policy and simply wants to get a vote over and done with so that the Senate can move on to cutting taxes.
  • But whether or not the GOP’s bill ultimately passes, McConnell has already pulled off a frightening coup of by showing how easily you can get away with legislating by dark. Even worse, you might be rewarded for it by a media that doesn’t like to harp on the same old story about congressional minutiae day after day when it could be focusing on something with intrigue and a dramatic narrative arc, like James Comey and Trump’s Russia scandal.
  • U.S. democracy functions thanks to dull rules created by dull men in dull institutions. McConnell has shown that nobody bothers to tune in when a dull man smashes them.

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