Political MoJo

Why You Should Be Skeptical About the New Police Narrative on Freddie Gray's Death

| Thu Apr. 30, 2015 12:49 PM EDT

On a relatively quiet night in Baltimore, the Washington Post dropped a bombshell. According to a sealed court document, a witness alleged that Freddie Gray—whose April death has triggered days of protests in the city—may have been deliberately attempting to injure himself while in police custody:

A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray "banging against the walls" of the vehicle and believed that he "was intentionally trying to injure himself," according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.

The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him. His statement is contained in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post was given the document under the condition that the prisoner not be named because the person who provided it feared for the inmate's safety.

It's easy to see how a sealed document like that, drafted by a police investigator, might have leaked to the press in spite of the court order, and in spite of the police department's general aura of secrecy. If Gray's injuries were self-inflicted, the police department is off the hook.

But as WBAL's Jayne Miller noted, the new exculpatory allegation appears to be at odds with the police department's earlier narrative, as well as the timeline of events:

And there's another reason to be skeptical. Information that comes out of jails is notoriously unreliable, for the simple reason that anyone in jail has a real incentive to get out; cooperating with the people who determine when they get out is an obvious way to score points. This report from the Pew Charitable Trust walks through the conflicts in detail. According to the Innocence Project, 15 percent of wrongful convictions that are eventually overturned by DNA testing originally rested on information from a jailhouse informant. Two years ago in California, for instance, a federal court overturned the conviction of an alleged serial killer known as the "Skid Row Stabber" because the conviction rested on information from an inmate dismissed as a "habitual liar."

Or maybe the witness in Baltimore is right—that happens too!—and what we thought we knew about the Freddie Gray case was wrong. But the department isn't doing much to quiet the skeptics. It announced Wednesday that it will not make public the full results of its investigation into Gray's death, "because if there is a decision to charge in any event by the state's attorney's office, the integrity of that investigation has to be protected."

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Obamacare Requires Birth Control Coverage. But Some Insurers Are Ignoring the Law.

| Wed Apr. 29, 2015 5:30 PM EDT

Ladies, if you've gone to the doctor in recent years expecting your contraception or ultrasounds to be free, only to be slammed with a co-pay or other charge from your insurer, it's likely your insurer is violating the Affordable Care Act.

Thanks to Obamacare, insurance companies are now required to provide women with a host of coverage options, from free access to all FDA-approved birth control methods to preventative care to maternity care. But just because it's a legal requirement doesn't mean it's happening. According a new report released Tuesday by the National Women's Law Center, insurance plans are not providing all the benefits women won under Obamacare.

NWLC found many plans that were not actually providing cost-free access to the full range of birth control options required under the ACA. Of the more than 100 insurance providers surveyed, NWLC discovered thirty-three insurers in 13 states are not complying with birth control coverage requirement.

The compliance issues went well beyond birth control. The report, which surveyed plans for sale on state and federally-run insurance marketplaces in 15 states over two years, found violations "related to maternity care, birth control, breast-feeding support and supplies, genetic testing, well-woman visits, prescription drug coverage, care related to gender transition for transgender individuals, chronic pain treatment, and certain pre-existing conditions," according to NWLC. Due to the sheer number of violations the group found, it predicts the problem is "systemic nationwide."

The report calls on state and federal regulators to more closely monitor the plans being sold in the individual marketplaces. The report also proposes that insurance plans be made open to public comment so that advocates can review the plans and point out any violations before regulators certify the plans.

In another report released earlier this month, the Kaiser Family Foundation reviewed 20 carriers' compliance with the ACA's birth-control mandate and also found violations. Of the 20 carriers Kaiser reviewed, only 11 provided cost-free coverage of the emergency birth control pill ella, which has a longer window of effectiveness than the standard progestin-based Plan B, particularly for women with a higher body mass index. Two of the carriers didn't cover ella at all.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Shuts Down Gay-Marriage Challengers

| Wed Apr. 29, 2015 5:02 PM EDT

As the Supreme Court started to hear oral arguments to Obergefell v. Hodges—the historic case that could determine the legality of gay marriage bans—on Tuesday, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered quite the perfect response to her same-sex-marriage opponents.

Back in February, the 82-year-old justice expressed her optimism that the court will eventually rule in favor of gay marriage, citing the evolution in "people's attitudes" on the issue "has been enormous" in recent years. Although the rest of the court appeared deeply divided on Tuesday, judging by the fact that even anti-gay activists are expecting gay marriage will ultimately win, we're hoping to see Ginsburg's prediction become a reality soon.

Below are some of the same-sex-marriage arguments and her responses to each.

Argument: The court does not have legal right to change a "millennia" of tradition.

RBG's response: "Marriage today is not what it was under the common law tradition, under the civil law tradition. Marriage was a relationship of a dominant male to a subordinate female. That ended as a result of this court's decision in 1982, when Louisiana's Head and Master Rule was struck down. Would that be a choice that state should be allowed to have? To cling to marriage the way it once was?"

Argument: The institution of marriage is inherently linked to a couple's ability to procreate.

RBG's response: "Suppose a couple, 70-year-old couple, comes in and they want to get married? You don't have to ask them any questions. You know they are not going to have any children."

Argument: Gay marriage "impinges on the state" and takes benefits away from straight couples.

RBG's response: "How could that be, because all of the incentives, all of the benefits of marriage affords would still be available. So you're not taking away anything from heterosexual couples. They would have the very same incentive to marry, all the benefits that come with marriage that they do now."

Argument: Legal gay marriage has never been a possibility for most of history. Why now?

RBG's response: "[Same-sex couples] wouldn't be asking for this relief if the law of marriage was what it was a millennium ago. I mean, it wasn't possible. Same-sex unions would not have opted into the pattern of marriage, which was a relationship, a dominant and a subordinate relationship. Yes, it was marriage between a man and a woman, but the man decided where the couple would be domiciled; it was her obligation to follow him.

There was a change in the institution of marriage to make it egalitarian when it wasn't egalitarian. And same-sex unions wouldn't—wouldn't fit into what marriage was once."

Nigeria Says It's Rescued Nearly 300 Women and Girls From Boko Haram

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 6:20 PM EDT

Two-hundred girls and 93 women have been rescued from a Boko Haram stronghold in the Sambisa Forest, the Nigerian Armed Forces said Tuesday. They could not immediately confirm if the girls rescued were among those captured in Chibok last year—TIME is reporting that, indeed, they are not—however, writing on Twitter, the NAF said only, "the freed persons are now being screened and profiled. We will bring you details later."

In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 250 girls from the Chibok boarding school in northern Nigeria, sparking global outrage and the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls. Dozens of the girls have escaped since their capture—telling of horrors including rape and forced marriage—while the rest have remained in captivity.

Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group whose name in the local Housa language translates loosely to "Western education is forbidden," has terrorized northern Nigeria with bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings since 2009 and recently pledged allegiance to ISIS. According to an Amnesty International report released this month, Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 2,000 women and girls since the beginning of 2014 and has killed at least 5,500 civilians.

 

Rand Paul Blames the Baltimore Riots on Absentee Fathers

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 2:15 PM EDT

As one of a growing number of GOP 2016 wannabes, Sen. Rand Paul has tried to sell himself as the best Republican candidate to reach out to African-American voters. He's talked about the need for criminal justice reform. During the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, he called for demilitarizing police forces. Yet his response to the riots in Baltimore show that he has a long way to go. During an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Tuesday, the Kentucky senator blamed the turmoil not on the police brutality that resulted in the death of Freddie Gray, but on absentee fathers and a breakdown in families.

"It's depressing, it's sad, it's scary. I came through the train on Baltimore last night, I'm glad the train didn't stop," Paul said, laughing at his own unfunny joke. He then pontificated of the unrest: "The thing is that really there's so many things we can talk about, it's something we talk about not in the immediate aftermath but over time: the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society. And this isn't just a racial thing, it goes across racial boundaries, but we do have problems in our country."

By the way, a week ago, Paul's 22-year-old son William was cited for driving while intoxicated after he was in a car crash.

Listen to the audio of the interview, recorded by Media Matters (hat tip to TPM):

Paul wasn't the only presidential aspirant to comment on the riots. Hillary Clinton sent out a tweet on Monday calling for peace but supporting the protestors who were upset by Gray's death.

Former Baltimore resident and likely presidential candidate Ben Carson pleaded with parents in the city to keep their children away from the disorder. "I urge parents, grandparents and guardians to please take control of your children and do not allow them to be exposed to the dangers of uncontrolled agitators on the streets," Carson said in a statement.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz lamented the school closures across the city. "No man, woman, or child should fear for his or her safety in America—not in their schools, not in their neighborhoods, not in their cities—but today families are scared," the GOP contender said.

But long-shot Democratic candidate Martin O'Malley went further than just a simple statement. O'Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore, canceled a string of paid speeches in Europe to return home.

Some Hopeful Images From Baltimore: Residents Uniting to Clean Up the City

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 12:20 PM EDT

After an evening of violent unrest, Baltimore residents emerged Tuesday morning to clean up after the destruction and prepare for what could be more chaos. On Monday, at least 15 police officers were injured and dozens of businesses were destroyed, as rioters clashed with law enforcement officials throughout most of the evening.

Residents, including children, were seen gathering around a CVS that had been looted and torched the night before. An affordable housing unit for senior citizens was also among the buildings destroyed by fires. Many businesses remain closed until further notice.

A large part of the clean-up effort was initiated by a Facebook group seeking volunteers to help amid Monday's violence. By Tuesday morning, nearly 2,500 people gathered at various meeting points throughout the city.

Monday's rioting followed the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, whose death after suffering a spinal cord injury while in police custody sparked protests. Initially, those protests were mostly peaceful; Gray's family was quick to denounce the ugliness that erupted Monday. "To see that it turned into all this violence and destruction, I am really appalled," Richard Shipley, Gray's stepfather, told NBC.

Many community members have also condemned the destruction. On Monday, one unidentified mother was seen reprimanding her son for participating in the violence.

Another protest is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Tuesday.

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Bloods and Crips Members Say They Want "Nobody to Get Hurt" in Baltimore Protests

| Tue Apr. 28, 2015 9:03 AM EDT

Amid mounting unrest in Baltimore, an unexpected alliance—members of the Bloods and Crips—emerged yesterday to call for protection of local residents. At an event in a local church shown in a Baltimore Sun video, a man named Charles, who said he was a member of the Crips, wrapped his arm around a self-described Bloods member named Jamal to call for an end to riots over the death of Freddie Gray.

Hours earlier, Baltimore police had warned that members of "various gangs," including the Bloods, Crips, and Black Guerrilla Family, would "team up" to attack police officers and posed a "credible threat." In January, a member of the Black Guerrilla Family walked into a Baltimore police station with a loaded .22-calibur handgun, marijuana, and cocaine to "test security."

"We not here for nobody to get hurt," Charles told the Sun reporter. "We don't want nobody to get hurt. All that about the police getting hurt by certain gangs, that's false. We not here for that. We here to protect our community, and that's it. We don't want no trouble. We're doing this because we don't want trouble."

"The police department hate to see us right now," Jamal said.

Though unusual, a Bloods-Crips alliance would not be without precedent. On Saturday, members of both groups joined protests throughout Baltimore, marching side by side against police brutality. The Daily Beast reported that in August, several former Bloods and Crips carried signs while protesting in Ferguson, Missouri, that read: "NO MORE CRIPS. NO MORE BLOODS. ONE PEOPLE. NO GANG ZONE."

And more than two decades ago, when four white Los Angeles police officers were acquitted in the 1992 beating of Rodney King, the two factions struck a truce that drew skepticism from officers and community workers, but is thought to have helped limit street violence in LA for years.

 

Here's What the Nepalese Earthquake Devastation Looks Like From a Drone

| Mon Apr. 27, 2015 4:43 PM EDT

Over the weekend, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake and multiple aftershocks wiped out buildings, infrastructure, and historic sites in Nepal, killing more than 4,000 people, injuring thousands more, and leaving tens of thousands homeless. As fatalities continue to rise after the worst earthquake to hit the country in more than 80 years, the Wall Street Journal reports that the disaster could cost the country $5 billion to rebuild over the next five years.

So far, rescue teams have struggled to reach remote villages, and news orgs are having a hard time getting reporters into the country. This amateur aerial drone footage, zooming in and out above the devastation in Kathmandu, shows why:

Here's How Elizabeth Warren Is Holding Clinton's "Feet to the Fire" on Liberal Policies

| Mon Apr. 27, 2015 1:59 PM EDT

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) may have officially ruled out a bid for the White House, but she might as well be a shadow candidate. That's according to a report by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker today, which describes the Massachusetts senator and her advisers working in the background to ensure Warren's populist agenda is embedded into Hillary Clinton's campaign. Judging by Clinton's recent embrace of a number of key Warren issues, the strategy seems to be working pretty well—and Warren's team appears to know it. In the New Yorker today:

One of Warren’s advisers believes that if she entered the race against Clinton she would be shredded by the Clinton political machine. Instead, the best way to pursue her agenda is to use the next year to pressure Clinton.

"I think she’s in a beautiful position right now," the Warren adviser said, "because she can get Hillary to do whatever the hell she wants. Now the question is, will Hillary stick to it if she gets in? But at the moment Elizabeth can get her on record and hold her feet to the fire."

Even as recently as last week, members of Warren's team reportedly passed around a photo of the two sitting next to each other with a thought quote hovering over Clinton that read, "What she said." Additionally from Lizza:

When I asked Warren last week if she believed that Clinton was co-opting her message, she hesitated and replied, "Eh."

Burn. Of course, team Clinton is quick squash any notion she's hijacking Warren's signature policies to score some liberal points. We'll see where she officially stands on the issues soon.

Ted Cruz's Princeton Years Included Jokes About a Woman's Hymen

| Wed Apr. 22, 2015 11:39 AM EDT

During his days as a member of Princeton University's debate team, Ted Cruz earned a reputation as a spirited orator. But when an opponent would try to poke fun at him, Cruz's rhetorical skills couldn't compensate for his complete lack of a sense of humor. According to a story in the Times today, the situation would get even worse when he actually tried to be funny himself:

Mr. Cruz’s own attempts at humor sometimes missed the mark. In one debate, he proposed a method to detect infidelity, in which God should "give women a hymen that grows back every time she has intercourse with a different guy, because that will be a 'visible sign' of the breach of trust," according to a recollection by David Kennedy published in a Harvard debate team reunion booklet in 2001.

Mr. Kennedy’s debate partner mocked Mr. Cruz’s knowledge of the subject matter by contorting herself to see how the anatomy in question could be "visible," according to the booklet.

Other than demonstrating Cruz had an odd understanding of how a woman's body operates, the "joke" clearly did not resonate with anyone. But that didn't mean Cruz lacked a lighter side. His fellow debate team members remember his love for musicals, which he'd frequently blast in car rides to competitions. "He was an extreme fan of the 'Les Misérables' soundtrack," one member recalled to the Times.