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Saturday, August 15, 2020

E-mail to Chicago Mayor Lightfoot: Police Brutality, Hiring Security Firms, Funding Left Behind Neighborhoods

Below is an e-mail that I have sent to Chicago Mayor Lightfoot. I get the feeling it breaks all the advice for writing your elected officials. Frankly, I don't really care. I really needed to get these matters off my chest and let his elected official know how I really feel in as tactful a format as I can muster.

To: letterforthemayor@cityofchicago.org

Subject: Disappointed in Police Brutality During Protest Rallies, Hiring Security Firms, and Delays in Developing and Funding Left Behind Neighborhoods

Dear Mayor Lightfoot,

My name is Jesse Lex and have been a resident of East Lakeview for 13 ½ years. In all the years that I have lived in Chicago, I have never felt so disappointed and frustrated with the city government and afraid for conscientious resident citizens as I was during the weekend protests after the lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

I did not personally participate in any of the rallies, but I kept tabs on them through the Twitter and Facebook feeds of immediate friends and activist accounts of people who participated. I also read articles in various newspapers (most particularly, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times). Based on the social media feeds, the police presented themselves as angry monsters that just wanted to brutalize people who rejected the police and their brutal ways. Through the newspaper articles, you, Mayor, gave the impression of being arrogant, without empathy, and incompetent (“Profane exchange: Lightfoot, chief City Council critic tussle over police tactics during looting”, Chicago Sun Times).

Many times, I said to myself that Mayor Lightfoot, the mayoral candidate who I warmed up to from the beginning of the 2019 mayoral race and who I stood behind to the end of the race even as at least one or two of your opponents criticized you for your rapport with the police and your lack of empathy for victims of the police, I said to myself over the weekend after the George Floyd lynching, Mayor Lightfoot has failed this city. I have said to this myself after having

  • Read your white papers on your campaign website

  • Read critical articles and blog entries about your performances as a/an
    • Federal prosecutor

    • Appointed official of multiple commissions to oversee and report on the shortcomings of the Chicago police department

    • The person who had run meetings with the public on behalf of the City and the police

When I voted for you twice, Mayor Lightfoot, I had notched these shortcomings up to a combination of

  • Inexperience

  • Doing what you needed to do succeed and make it in this unfair world of patronage and politics for a greater good

  • That you had great thoughtful ideas and plans presented in white papers

And that as the leading critic of the Chicago Police Department, you would

  • Reign in the Police Department

  • Get the police to stop engaging in brutal abuses

  • Clean up the Department so that it behaves

After that weekend of police brutality targeted at demonstrators, your performance dashed my expectations and faith in you as Mayor. On the one hand, per the link I provided above in the Sun Times article, you showed a vast amount of incompetency, a lack of ability to control the police (and National Guard sent in by the State), and that, honestly, you have earned the reputation that many Progressives have given you: you’re practically a cop in all but name.

In many ways, you ended up acting like a “Law & Order” Mayor that only started showing some restraint when the “Law & Order” President Trump threatened to send in the active military to put an end to the disorder. You may have put on a good show to the nation outside of Chicago with your standing up to President Trump and maybe even to some in the City of Chicago who care more about their own safety and comfort rather than

  • Justice

  • The wellbeing of everyone in our city and nation

  • An actual prosperity based on trust and understanding rather than

    • Supporting and pushing up a class of people that are doing just fine

    • Who will remain happy as long as they continue to be catered to

    • Then they scratch the back of politicians that coddle them

Instead, you either allowed the police to or had no control over the police from criminalizing people’s 1st Amendment rights and violating their 4th Amendment rights by:

  • Setting a curfew to allow for mass arrests by just being on the streets of their home city (especially egregious when you announced the said curfew only a half hour to forty five minutes before the curfew started the first night)

  • Raising the bridges downtown to trap people into a section of the city to enable mass arrests

  • Shutting down public transportation so that people peacefully in the streets, just trying to travel home, couldn’t get home or had an extremely difficult time getting home, which can be especially difficult for the people who often fit the many non-white profiles that are often the victims of the brutality that provided the impetus to these protests and rallies. . .then exposing them to arrest

  • To allow or order the police to provoke violence by starting to beat and attacking protesters, use batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, flashbang grenades, and numerous other tools of violence on the dot when the clock struck curfew time. From numerous sources on numerous nights of the protests, contemporaneous reports marked the moment that peaceful protests turned violent when the police and/or national guard started attacking protesters

  • Ignoring looters while chasing protesters that challenged the existence of the police and their methods

  • Hiring three security firms (which to me sound more like armed mercenaries) without any identification or insignias to patrol “troublesome” parts of the city because the Chicago Police Department tired themselves out brutalizing and violating the rights of numerous protesters in the name of “Law & Order” (very reminiscent of when the Federal Government put their Bureau of Prisons Crisis Management Teams on the streets of Washington DC and also when President Trump deployed the Department of Homeland Security onto the streets of Portland)

  • Police breaking the windows of a car to drag out friends and family, and as part of the whole altercation, they pinned someone down with their knee – This occurrence also had me wondering how much more of these brutal liability cases the residents of Chicago will have to pay for through our tax dollars

And to think, all this suppression of free speech in the name of “Law & Order” while the government of China was putting together legislation to outlaw free speech and protest in Hong Kong in the name of “Law & Order”. I find the parallels ironic.

A simple fact that has become clear to me and many people in this city, state, and country over the last 4-10 years: The police has done a horrible job policing itself. The public has lost trust in the police. The good cops are trying to save themselves with words in day-to-day conversations rather than address the problems inside the industry (even good cops seem to follow the code of silence or face recrimination, “Joliet Police Sgt. Javier Esqueda, Who Blew Whistle On Death Of Eric Lurry In Police Custody, Stripped Of Police Powers”, The Chicago Sun Times).

At the rallies, the cops strike first, the cops sprays first, the cops shoot first. Arguably, I can understand itchy trigger fingers because there could be danger around any corner. I've heard stories of good cops getting shot because they were caught by surprise (four podcasts that provide some interesting first-person narratives from a variety of cop experiences – I believe one even touches upon the police trainer-trainee relationship, which you mentioned in an article as something new to you: https://pca.st/episode/2d4b53d0-dc18-0134-ebdd-4114446340cb, https://pca.st/episode/f73990b0-e6c6-0134-ec38-4114446340cb, https://pca.st/episode/b6859830-ec30-0134-ec5e-4114446340cb, https://pca.st/episode/bfa269a0-f1b4-0134-ec5e-4114446340cb).

But you know what? Cops signed up fully knowing the danger of the job, while us (at least us white) civilians are told that the cops are there to protect us if we behave. Cops have killed black people that have tried to behave and out of proportion to the crime. And over the weekend after the George Floyd lynching, the Chicago Police (whether under your orders and enabled by your silence to push for restraint) waged battle on protesters trying to express the pain from police striking down the people that they’re supposed to protect.

I don’t expect any of the things that I’ve brought up in this e-mail to come as news to you (though I’m surprised the police trainer-trainee arrangement was news to you), as you’ve worked in the city of Chicago on multiple boards and departments that focused on the police. During your mayoral campaign, you alluded multiple times to some vague plan that you had for the police. You had multiple white papers addressing rehabilitating the Chicago Police Department and on top of that, treating the issue of crime and violence in Chicago as a public health issue. I believe you even alluded to the school to prison pipeline and trying to cut down on that process, which you are obviously failing at.

Ironically, in the face of COVID-19, public health officials have declared racism and police brutality as a public health issue worth risking facing COVID-19 to address (https://www.ecowatch.com/medical-groups-racism-public-health-statement-2646147376.html?rebelltitem=4#rebelltitem4, https://pca.st/episode/64da8cdf-94ee-40a8-8eda-fbf6b7f1c35d). Through your orders or your inaction, you have perpetrated state sanctioned violence in a way that has threatened public health, not in just encouraging bodily and mental harm, which is bad enough. In addition, through

  • The use of pepper spray

  • Containing crowds into constricted areas for mass arrests

  • Forcing additional physical exertion in protesters

  • Through simple assaults on protesters

the Chicago Police Department actively took actions that encouraged the spread of COVID-19 through the escalation of violence and confrontation rather than de-escalation and controlling the crowds in more cooperative ways.

Words alone, especially "they're the bad ones, not us" aren't enough for an institution to win trust. I'm not even willing to say win back because the premise of the institution of the police was racist and the controlling people and institutions are guilty are promulgating that premise (https://pca.st/mo2wptjy).

So individual police officers need to

  • Act better consistently

  • Get the institution to act better consistently

  • Get the institution to police itself better rather than blame civilians that are trusting in the police

  • Reform the police union so it's not about protecting its own first but protecting civilians of all colors, from white to black to Asian to indigenous to hispanic/latino/latinx, then looking after the professions labor interests.

Then, maybe THEN, civilians can start building trust.

It's like with COVID-19. Businesses want liability protection from their employees or customers getting COVID-19 when the businesses should view life and health as more important, not their bank accounts. By the police trying to maintain power and reputation, they are neglecting the ideal of what the police should be about: maintaining justice and protecting those that can’t protect themselves against people who truly want to hurt or profit through injustice, other people, and society. Rather, the police, in its current state, especially in Chicago, are the ones perpetuating injustice and profiting off other people and society through power relations.

This correspondence has been weeks in composition. Since then, there has been numerous news articles of bad behavior by the police or too much kowtowing on your part to have “discussions” and “lessons” rather than actual pushing for justice and life saving, with “discussions” and “lessons” to happen afterward.

Let’s not even get into your continued poking of President Trump then only acquiescing to both sides because President Trump threatens to send in the Department of Homeland Security, like in Portland. You give off this impression of being a tough person, but then you try to ride the middle line until threats by President Trump actually force you to act according to justice because it quiets protesters for a little time, taking away reasons from President Trump to send in his troops. I want President Trump and his Federal law enforcement in this city even less than you do (you apparently only want Federal law enforcement in this city if you can control them and get your goals met through them, not to further the ends of the people of Chicago), but I would rather you understood the demands for justice that protesters in this city have and acted based on that justice, not on the fear of big bad President Trump.

Following are some links to articles about the bad behavior of police and your kowtowing:

The current controversy of the police shooting of the 20-year old in Englewood then the looting in the Magnificent Mile and Gold Coast last weekend also provides another example of bad leadership and an out of control situation. On top of that, throw in that many residents of Chicago also interpret the Monday morning looting as being somehow connected to you breaking up a party on Montrose beach and putting up further fencing because of COVID-19 issues (which I support).

As the Englewood situation news develops and disseminates into the population, I find myself wondering how the Englewood situation was allowed to escalate as much as it did at the moment and how it became connected to the looting when residents and active members of the Englewood community requested police brutality protesters to leave when protesters were looking to demonstrate for black people and the residents of Englewood. Why did the Englewood situation need 200+ police at the scene?

Mayor Lightfoot, I’m simply listing symptoms of

  • Your bad and lackadaisical leadership

  • Your lack of control over the police or your egging the police on to execute a “Law & Order” way of life in Chicago

  • Your failing to follow through on your white papers to develop not so well off neighborhoods to help mitigate the root causes for the crime and violence that occurs in the city (though your focusing on money-making ventures like Lincoln Yards, casinos, marijuana distribution and cultivation in the northern parts of the city – all understandable since you need capital to invest in improving things, but nonetheless, your focus on revenue or at least the publicity regarding revenue over the improvement of different parts of town is disgraceful without addressing the injustices of the city)

  • Your lack of working and cooperating with activist leaders in our city to figure out the causes of injustice, figure out solutions for addressing injustice, and executing those solutions

  • Your plain lack of understanding that justice needs to be enacted and symbols of injustice removed (and possibly located elsewhere for educational purposes) to instead focus on a reckoning and learning from your own imagination

I am someone who lives on the north side of the city. I have a full time job and a comfortable lifestyle that I have been able to maintain during the COVID-19 pandemic. In complete honesty, these types of issues don’t affect me directly except in my heart, my conscience, my soul, and my mind that the Mayor of this city is not showing the respect and empathy to the people in this city that need it the most and who you had made campaign promises through white papers that you would help the most.

For all material direct reasons, you probably protect my interests. Deep down in my soul, though, I feel that you are failing me and this city. You need to do better to fulfill your white paper campaign promises and to realize justice in Chicago. You need to stop ignoring the cries of people in this city for

  • Justice

  • Improvement

  • Reduction of violence

  • Meeting with people

  • Empathizing with people

  • Respecting people

  • Working with people

to make this city a more just and glorious Chicago that all residents can be happy about living in, not just being proud about a nagging feeling that this city has a lot more potential to be better than it is now.

Please do more. Honestly, I have no desire to support you at this point in time. I know that you’re a smart person, however. Unfortunately it seems like you feel like you’re the smartest person in the room and that other people don’t have good ideas. Mayor Lightfoot, please

  • Work with other people

  • Listen to other people

  • Respect other people

but please don’t have those people be the Fraternal Organization of Police or the fear of President Trump. Rather, have the voices of people who want true justice and truly want what’s best for the city of Chicago and the people in it be who you listen to. I want to have that Mayor Lightfoot as the incumbent candidate in 2022 to vote for, not the one who we have now and who I have painted in this correspondence.

Sincerely,
Jesse Lex

Monday, August 10, 2020

My Ballot Slate for the November 2020 Election at this Point in Time

I have finished my review of candidates on my November 3, 2020 ballot in East Lakeview, Chicago, IL. I got the sample ballot at Ballotpedia. Below I will present the slate of candidates who, at this point, I plan to vote for. I won't get into judges much, except to point out which ones are endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, which means an automatic non-vote for me.

So that people will know if this slate will apply to you, my numbers from my Verification of Registration are as follows:

Precinct 28

Ward 44

US Congressional District 05

State Senator District 06

State Representative District 12

Judicial District 08

Count Board 10

Board of Review 02

My political views that support this slate are as follows: Progressive with some tendencies toward socialism. I probably have a slight conservative bend when it comes to procedure, which falls along the lines that I support things like filibuster and cloture. I support such procedures because my view is "if my side makes things easy to pass what I want, then it becomes that much easier for the other, more regressive side to unpass it or pass their own legislation that could be worse when they get back into power."

On the other hand, I also appreciate that many of our governments have fallen behind the times and that we're in a moment of vast generational change, but that's why more young people need to get into the ballot box to vote, so we can get our governments to represent us and the push through reform that will properly demonstrate justice.

I'm big on looking at society structurally, interrogating that structure, and reforming it for the betterment of people, overall, in a just manner since a lot of people have been screwed over by this country, states, and municipalities over the last few centuries. At the same time, I am against basing such changes on pie in the sky theories that aren't tested.

In addition, I feel VERY burned by the current mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, who presented very detailed white papers on how she planned to improve the city. Instead of putting through the plans in her white papers, she has instead focused on numerous ways to shore up the budget and to increase her national profile rather than actually working to reform the structure of Chicago, which many progressive aldermen have been pushing her to do.

And since the end of May/beginning of June, Lightfoot has been showing horrible faith when it comes to police brutality, her treatment of BIPOC, her failure to look at reform being proposed by protesters and progressive movements in the city, and her general failure to address these problems before they became problems (like encouraging commerce and industry in badly attended to neighbhorhoods in this city).

I'll admit, I had been warned by many volunteer campaigners for Amara Enyia during the last mayoral campaign along with numerous articles about Lightfoot's lack of empathy in past as an appointed official tasked with investigating the police and suggesting reforms. Lightfoot still might be the overall best candidate from that mayoral race, but that just goes to show the bad pick of candidates we had in the race.

In large part, though, Lightfoot has burned me on the stoic leader/politician who will look at the larger picture and be willing to get tough when she needs to be. Lightfoot has too much of a long view, too lacking in empathy, and too much of 'more of the same thing' of neoliberal Democrats that we have in our country. This burning has definitely colored my view of what will earn my vote when I have a good range of candidates to choose from. I want empathy, I want passion, I want action even though I still want someone who maintains that structural view of things.

So after reviewing a candidates ideological presentation, I'll basically put their name and the position that they're running for into a search engine (for this slate's research, either Google or Bing) then clicked on 3 to 5 pages worth of links. Based on this search, after looking at ideology, I look for the following:

  1. Do they have their own campaign page?

  2. How much information about their thoughts, themselves, and history have they put out there?

  3. How much press have they received (how many webpages can I find)?

  4. If I can find it, how much money have they fundraised compared to other candidates?

  5. What is the media saying about this candidate (obviously, I will take the bias of the media into account when reading it)

  6. What endorsements has the candidate received?

  7. Who has the candidate associated with?

  8. What has the candidate accomplished?

  9. What civic organizations has the candidate participated in?

That's all that I can think of at this point for the questions that I put forward. After their ideology, my questions and analysis mainly focus on:

  • How much effort is the candidate putting into their race (which also leads to the question of whether they're a dummie candidate to suck votes away from other candidates. . .that's at least a thing in Chicago)? Is the candidate taking the race seriously?

  • Has the candidate associated with "good" people and "good" organizations?

  • Does the candidate have experience? What does that experience say about them?

  • Has this candidate attracted enough attention for people to take them seriously? If I voted for them, even if I really like their ideology and plans, would my vote be a wasted vote? Even if they're not being taken seriously, could a vote for them be a worthwhile protest vote? Would it give them a sign that someone supports them and encourages them to run for something in the future? Would such a protest vote express something to people who pay attention to results that someone wants to support a certain way of approaching things, an ideology, a viewpoint?

Based on the above criteria, my slate is as follows:

  • US President: Joe Biden - less voting for Biden than against Trump. Trump was dangerous enough for one term. I believe that having him in the office for a second term could honestly destroy the United States. Biden, on the other hand, I believe would be a satisfactory transitory President to build up resentment in the youth and get them to push harder for actual change in the country. But while Biden (or possibly his VP) is in office, we should not become complacent. We need to push harder, learn more, connect more to other people, donate to candidates and PACs, pressure Biden and Congress, and do everything that's possible to push the politicians in more Progressive and Democratic Socialist directions while also valuing humanity and the climate

  • Ballot Measure on Graduated Income Tax in Illinois: Unqualified YES. The rich can afford it. All things being equal, most of the people in the state will either not have any increase in taxes or might even have their taxes go down. This state has a lot of bills that need to be paid (and I'm especially driven to get those bills paid so that Hedge Funds and Billionaires don't win on their gamble that Illinois would fail with Credit Default Swaps, at the cold hearted cost of many human everyday people). Captol Fax pulled together an interesting swath of quotes and data that I feel supports my viewpoint, too: Chamber releases conclusions from “fair tax” study. Please take the time to read thorugh this article/essay/blog entry

  • Cook County State's Attorney: Kim Foxx - The only criticism that feels like it holds any thing close to sticking is Jussie Smollet stuff, but that's just a plain weird case. Otherwise, I feel like Foxx is a prosecutor that falls in line with a lot of Progressive prosecutors/Attorney Generals out there looking to actually have justice with actual empathy, not pound down on Law & Order. She was elected during controversy in hopes of bring justice and trying to provide some counterforce to the abuses of the police & Mayor Emmanuel during the Laquan MacDonald case. I can't say that she's done a stellar job nor do I agree with her 100% of the time, but Foxx definitely seems more qualified than the other candidates I've seen running against her for realizing a justice that I can live with. Even a speech she made today regarding a police encounter in the Englewood neighborhood yesterday and weirdness that happened this morning on Michigan Ave and The Gold Coast encapsulated a lot, if not all, of how I'm feeling about the situation (I feel like these events are more connected than she wants them to seem), and frankly, I feel expresses the reality of the current situation in Chicago better than any other elected or appointed official in the city or Cook County

  • US House of Representatives for District 5: Mike Quigley - Honestly, I don't really like Quigley's centrist views and overly-procedural approach to legislation, but he's the best candidate. The Republican is Republican. The Green candidate either doesn't try too hard and/or doesn't show much, if any support, on the Internet.

  • US Senate: Dick Durbin - For the most part, from what I've heard about Durbin, I like his legislation. Like Quigley, either the other candidates have horrible ideology, they haven't shown the effort to be taken seriously, or haven't garnered the support from the public to see my vote going their way as anything worthwhile.

  • Illinois State Senate District 6: Sara Feigenholtz unopposed and Illinois House of Representatives District 12: Margaret Croke unopposed. No one else to vote on, but I don't have a hesitation voting for either of these candidates. I didn't spend much time on Feigenholtz, but she was appointed to the Senate a couple months ago from the House seat that Croke will very likely win. I may not necessarily agree with many people who live in my neighborhood and area, but Feigenholtz seems to have served the House District well. I didn't vote for Croke in the primary, but I can get behind her ideology and seems pretty good at coalition building. I think they can both do a bit to help improve things and fight against ideologies that I find deplorable.

  • Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court: Iris Martinez - Martinez was near the end of my choices during the Primary, the only other candidates worse than her seeming to be more embedded in the Illinois Democratic party machine than her. Nonetheless, for this election, Martinez shows more effort than her Republican opponent. Martinez's party affiliation vs a Republican helps a lot, but the fact that Martinez has a campaign webpage and the Republican candidate doesn't shows that at least Martinez wants to put the effort into winning the position.

  • Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago (Choose up to 3): Cameron Davis (Democrat), Eira Corral Sepulveda (Democrat), Troy Hernandez (Green). The three other candidates generally seemed to campaign on their party platform with a couple extra arguments that are identifiable to them. Most of their personal arguments had something compelling to them, but my rationale for the three candidates on my slate are:

    • Davis shows a lot of qualifications, experience, and passion for water science and the Great Lakes.

    • Hernandez shows some useful qualifications even if they're more adjacent to the MWRA. Hernandez displays a lot of desire to attack corruption and clean things. He also has displayed a lot of tenacity and willingness to push, push, and push even harder to get good reform through. Team player might not make for a good description for Hernandez, but being the squeaky wheel when it comes to the political, not technical, part of this position could do a lot improve the MWRA. Also, the Green platform of pushing for more green technology/planting rather than gray technology could do a lot to improve the environment and effectiveness of the sewage water/flood mitigation system around here. I also appreciate Hernandez wanting to stand up for marginalized communities.

    • Sepulveda is more a political/coalition and public relations qualifications pick. At least one of the other candidates took this tact, too, but Sepulveda has a proven track record of working systems, making coalitions, and executing good outreach in her career. I wish she had more of the Green party firebrandness to her, but when those squeaky wheels need to get oiled and assistance from other organizations/departments are in needed, looks like Sepulveda will be able to bring people together. In addition, her youth, energy, and push for more marginalized communities could provide some further diversity to the department.


  • Judges I can't support because they have the endorsement of the Fraternal Organization of Police: Laura Ayala-Gonzalez (Ford Vacancy) & Lorraine Murphy (Roti Vacancy)


  • Judges I expect to not support for other reasons unless further information arises:
    • Tiesha Smith (Bellows Vacancy) - Didn't participate in any questionnaires

    • Maura McMahon Zeller (C Sheehan Vacancy) - Possible party of witholding of evidence when defending police, evidence discovery issues

    Information regarding judges during primaries at Vote for Judges.org, Injustice Watch, and FOP Primary Election Endorsements from Fraternal Order of Policy Chicago Lodge 7 website

So that's my slate and criteria for the slate. I feel happy about completing my research at this point. Unfortunately, there's a whole lot of judge approve or disapprove votes on the ballot that I can't find any information on at this point. I plan to get back to researching them in the middle of October. I might do some cursory research on the ballot then to make sure my opinions don't change about my slate. If they do, I'll provide some edits.

Please, though, if you disagree with my selections and reasons for them, please comment or communicate with me in any other fashion available to us. I'd like to make my final vote with as much knowledge as possible, especially if I have a very incorrect view of a candidate. Thank you.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Does a Limited Term Affect How Military vs Police Tightens Ranks in Defending "Bad Apples"?

Here's a compelling good explanation why military has less of a "code of silence" & less tolerance of brutality (at least when it comes to their own people): most military people only serve a limited amount of time then return to the civilian life. In addition: many who serve in in the military these days are marginalized diverse people who have the military as their best opportunity to better their life. 

And in the meantime: cops often try to make law enforcement their career, they're trying to build up their pensions, which ends up creating an identity and class of their own with interests of their own.

Grossman, who came up with killology, the warrior culture ideology, and provides classes to make it easier for cops to kill, even indirectly these aspects in his book On Killing (but more that soldiers need to have some leave to rest, so they don't accumulate trauma and PTSD from being in the killing fields so long) before he pretty much goes into a dog whistle tirade that the cops need to be able to kill because gangs are monsters tearing down civilization. 

So maybe part of the solution is that someone can only be a cop for many years (like 5-10?), then they have to retire and enter civilian life. Maybe instead of a pension, they get access to money for an education? There's probably a lot of creative ideas that can executed, but the impermanence of the position then a requirement to go back into everyday civilian life seems like an important aspect tp fighting the tendency of cops to pull up into themselves to defend each other and feel immune from prosecution & judgment. 

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Feedback to a Specious and Speculative New York Times article, "Two Friends in Texas Were Tested for Coronavirus. One Bill Was $199. The Other? $6,408."


Feedback that I e-mailed to the New York Times about a bad example of journalism, especially in these contentious polarized times of COVID-19:

Dear New York Times and Ms. Sarah Kliff,

I am writing in response to the article, "Two Friends in Texas Were Tested for Coronavirus. One Bill Was $199. The Other? $6,408." by Sarah Kliff that was posted online on June 29, 2020.

As a professional health insurance agent for 13 years (albeit, in Illinois) and a high-information citizen listening and reading quite a bit of news (relevant podcasts: the BBC's Coronavirus Global Update, NPR's Coronavirus Daily/Consider This, and Coronavirus Today hosted by Dr Brian McDonough), I found this article in the New York Times very disappointing. It was highly speculative, did not show judicious vetting or fact checking, and failed to provide good context. I find this especially disappointing, considering Ms. Kliff's prestigious bio that has contributed to positive change in health policy.

I find the article highly speculative because of it's bias. Ms. Kliff immediately jumped to the conclusion that something fishy, nefarious, and mysterious was at foot. Ms. Kliff even wrote an abundance of paragraphs of various explanations that she must have interviewed hospital employees, insurance company employees, and other experts. Kilff must have also used expertise that she built up over the years to fill in blank spaces with speculations of things that hospitals and other health professional have done in the past, all of which I don't doubt have occurred and continue to occur.

After reading a couple articles in two publications local to the Leblanc family, though, "Texas woman was charged $6,408 for a coronavirus test at an emergency room" by Read Sector and "Austin woman trying to sort out $6,400 in charges for one COVID-19 test" by Erin Cargile at KXAN original on June 19, 2020 and updated on June 24, 2020, I easily saw that this issue was an innocent CPT billing code issue that occurred either at the hospital or at United Healthcare. The KXAN article even highlights that the hospital notified Ms Leblanc that they realized there was an issue, and they were working with United Healthcare on it.

I could easily stop here since it seems like at least one news source published an update explaining the whole matter five days before the New York Times published its story about Ms Leblanc's drama. Ms. Kliff and/or the New York Times could have a done a quick and easy Web search to see that this matter was a non-story. At the very best, the situation could have been used to explain to readers that these kind of mistakes happen, to stay vigilant with healthcare charges, and what to do when these things happen.

As an insurance agent with experience in this area, however, and as someone who has had a friendship negatively affected over the discussion of your article, I can't help asking: How come Ms. Kliff didn't properly vet this matter before writing the article and the New York Times posting it? Proper vetting would have revealed that this was a common error that occurs in the health insurance and healthcare industry that does not warrant a whole article speculating some vast conspiracy of oddball charges. Honestly, as someone who has to deal with so many of and fix so many of these issues, I hate how often these mistakes happen. Nonetheless, Ms. Kliff painted a specious picture of what had occurred based on a lot of speculation about this particular situation.

Did Ms. Kliff get the copies of hospital invoices and United Healthcare Explanations of Benefits (EOBs) from Ms. Leblanc? How closely did Ms. Kliff look at the invoice and EOBs and compare the two? Did Ms. Kliff make any contact with a health insurance agent that deals with these issues every day? I bet you after hearing the narrative of the procedure that Ms Leblanc got at the drive through testing site and looking at the invoice and EOBs, I could have figured out there was some kind of miscommunication that occurred between United Healthcare and the hospital. Any health insurance agent worth their insurance license and couple years of experience would have been able to do so within a couple hours, max. After looking at these documents and vetting these documents with an insurance agent, did Ms. Kliff go back to Ms. Leblanc to suggest that they wait for the hospital and United Healthcare to negotiate the final settlement of everything?

On top of that, New York Times is a national paper that people all the around the world read. I'm a reader in Chicago, IL. I am sure that you're aware that every state has its own history with COVID-19, has its own Executive Orders, Stay at Home Orders, and even lawsuits between different branches of state governments, let alone the tension between state governments and our federal government. I am also sure that you're aware about the controversy about that World Health Organization representative who said that the spread of the COVID-19 from asymptomatic people is "very rare" then had to walk back that claim the day after. Also we have to remember the tensions that neighbors feel about each other simply about whether to wear a mask or not, whether to go to bars, whether to go eat at restaurants, and so on and so on.

COVID-19 is such a contentious issue in the nation and the world, it further complicates the subject matter of this article. In some areas of the country, only certain categories of people are allowed to get tested for COVID-19 based on a referral from a doctor, their symptoms, whether they've had contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, whether they're a first responder or not, and so on and so forth.

In the link provided in the article for the Austin Emergency Center advertisement, it (at least now) says "ATTN: We are not a purely COVID-19 testing service and do not test or screen for asymptomatic patients" on the first page. I don't know if that website had said that when Ms. Leblanc went for the test. Yesterday, according to KUT 90.5, "COVID-19 Latest: Austin Public Health Asks People With Insurance Not To Use Free Testing Sites". Frankly, it's scary that Austin, TX has apparently had to walk back their measures into such regulated measures, but as someone from Chicago, IL, these two factors felt common sense to me, not as measures that had to be put into place again.

The media should be about providing factual, responsible reporting that provides thorough context to provide understanding to readers. Instead, Ms. Kliff wrote and the New York Times published an article based on sparsely vetted speculation with a biased axe to grind that provided very little context for readers from outside the Austin, TX area. As a national paper originating from another corner of the United States with readership from all around the world, you have a responsibility for providing the rules, practices, and norms be followed in that particular area, which likely are very different from where many of your readers live and looking at your paper.

Ms. Kliff had a misinterpretation of this situation, which created a misinterpretation for at least one reader. As for me, I could see that many details had been omitted. Honestly, as someone with experience in this area, I was ready to throw blame all over the place while, after further research, I learned that Texas and Austin had their own conception of how to deal with these things vastly different from my own beliefs ("Of course the hospital has nonsensical billing practices, all of them do. . .but why did Ms. Leblanc go to get tested on a whim and why did she go to the Emergency Room or some kind of drive through for first reponders. . .why didn't she just stay at home, wear a mask, and all sorts of practices to keep other people safe? It's the empathic thing to do!").

All the while, the friend I debated with went off about how horrible the system is, screaming holy hell about how two people who got the same treatment received such vastly different charges, and how horribly unjust the whole system is when everyone should be able to easily get tested without worry about getting crazy bills (all the while I was under the impression that the CARES Act was supposed to make all the testing free for people with insurance policies. . .though again, after further research, I learn that the generous coverage from insurance companies for COVID-19 testing was optional regulation by states and/or optional broadening of coverage from individual insurance companies). Why wasn't even the CARES Act brought up in this article? Shouldn't that huge charge for a COVID-19 test have been a big indicator with the CARES Act in place (though apparently the medical necessity aspect can be a big issue)? Did Ms. Kliff even inquire with anyone about the CARES Act in relation to this case?

I find this article irresponsible reporting by Ms. Kliff and the New York Times, especially in this time of contentious politics and reporting and disinformation. All this mess over an innocent and more routine mistake of a CPT code billing error. Next time Ms. Kliff writes an article in this vein or the New York Times publishes this kind of article, I hope a lot more vetting and fact checking occurs rather than just working to make the article coherent with a biased axe to grind.

Thank you,
Jesse Lex

Thursday, June 18, 2020

I Want to Prevent Civil War, but I Might be Helping Save Humankind - My Charity Made Reality

So after a monotonous, dreary day and week at work (wearing a mask is for the best, but it still has a psychological deleterious effect), I opened the mail to find a refreshing and heartening letter. It came from the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps (RAM). I donate $5 a month to RAM through an automatic charge on my credit card.

I heard about this nonprofit on the It Could Happen Here podcast, which looks at today's United States in a few episodes and evaluates conditions and factors it hat contribute to a possible oncoming Civil War. Robert Evans, the podcaster, frankly presents a frightening and believable picture of where this country could go and how it could get there (and, honestly, after the murder of George Floyd and the civil uprising that has occurred since then, Evans's argument grows stronger, sadly).

I highly suggest that everyone listen to this podcast. It definitely falls within the realm of speculation, but speculation heavily centered in realms of reality that I don't see every day but can acknowledge its existence. If the podcast doesn't inspire you to do more to improve the country and world to make things better while also feeling terrified about the world as it is now, I don't know what will.

In one of the later episodes, Evans pointed out that the rural parts of this country do have some valid complaints to push them toward some kind of uprising. One of those objections revolves around the shitty healthcare system out in rural parts of the country. As much as I support the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it's hard not to acknowledge that the ACA has contributed to the decline of healthcare infrastucture in rural areas.

The problem originates in the fact that rural areas don't have enough demand on a macro level to justify having hospitals and advanced medical facilities out there, while urban areas have plenty of demand. Again, I support the ACA, but it didn't help rural areas because of the increased network adequacy requirements, increased requirements for bureaucracy (professionalization) in medical practices, and the increased industry consolidation that the ACA encouraged. All these factors have led to the closing of hospitals, facilities, and rural medical providers and family practices just not having a palatable way to continue being profitable. I think many of these features needed execution, but at the same time, the ACA could have done more to facilitate the progression of the industry in rural areas.

The Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps fills in the margins that the for-profit medical industry has left behind. As a non-profit, RAM doesn't need to fall victim to these factors that push out medical professionals and facilities. Capitalistic culture is "supposed to" efficiently find a way to deliver such important medical services to people that need it, but doesn't since not enough people live in rural areas to provide profits to for-profit medical professionals and facilities.

Hopefully some day we will have a Universal Healthcare system that can fill in these margins since Universal Healthcare shouldn't have to meet the demands of profit margins. Universal Healthcare will have other avenues to pay the bills (like taxing billionaires and other high income/net worth people who have a lot more money than they need).

Evans pointed out that supporting RAM was one good way to fight back the forces of Civil War. I don't like Civil War. I would rather not see Civil War, even though we can see forces brewing toward Civil War (and some of it for valid reasons). One of my big aims in life is to contribute to campaigns against violence and war. Contributing funds to an organization that fights back against at least one factor that pushes toward Civil War while healing and saves lives feels like a noble way to fight back against violence and war.

Which feels all good and well, yay me, but at the same time, kind of abstract. Today, though, this letter I received made my contributions feel more concrete and real. Not only just a way to fight back Civil War, but rather also

  • A contribution to public health
  • Possibly fighting for the survival of humankind
  • Working to aid mental health by reducing the need for quarantines
  • And just working to make the world a better place.
Along with wearing a mask, keeping my distance from people, and staying at home when not engaging in essential activities, I've been sending money to an organization that is fighting COVID-19!

At the end of this entry, I'm posting a picture of the letter informing me of this initiative that I've helped fund. To avoid technical difficulties or any other ways that make the letter difficult to read, I'm going to transcribe some of the important parts:
Thank you for supporting Remote Area Medical(R)! Based on CDC recommendations restricting mass gathering, all RAM(R) clinics have been canceled or postponed through the end of June. We understand the families RAM(R) serves will need our services even more than before COVID-19 impacted our clinic schedule. Our staff is busy redesigning the way our clinics are set up and operated so we may re-start clinic operations while following CDC guidelines so we can keep pateints, volunteers, and staff safe.

RAM(R) volunteers and staff served individuals in need in May by continuing to help administer COVID-19 tests. Our volunteers completed more than 900 hours of work at the Joliet, IL testing site and helped to administer morethan 5,300 tests to those in need. [. . .]
Damn! That's only 41 miles away. Honestly, I had always been thinking of rural areas a lot further away than Joliet being the beneficiaries of my donations. I hadn't thought my dollars would contribute to helping aid somewhere so close to home.

I've gone out to Joliet for work training! I make calls out there to talk with co-workers! So, yeah, this initiative has become that much more real to me.

My day has definitely brightened.

If you're looking to send your money somewhere that makes a difference, and might help prevent a Civil War in the United States, can I please ask you to consider Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps as somewhere worthwhile to send your funds? For all you know, your contributions might be one more way that you can help defeat COVID-19. You might some day open a piece of mail to find out that you helped make your geographical area just a little bit better (which then might all aggregate to save the world).

What say you?

Monday, June 08, 2020

The First Issue isn't Crime Numbers or Costs; It's that Black Lives Matter

I love that one of the first "factual" retorts to "defund the police" is "how will we deal with crime?" or "but crime will go up because there will be no one to enforce the law".

This is inherently racist and classist. It assumes that the only way to prevent crime is to deter crime (especially when a lot of calls cops go out to can be situations better dealt with by differently qualified person or strategy, and that a lot of "crimes" are made to increase State revenues and/or outlaw poverty - especially for things like contempt of court for not making it to debtor's court because the person can't get time off from work because they're trying to pay off they debt or don't understand court notices or don't receive notices and/or can't afford an attorney since it's a civil case, not a criminal case - the contempt order makes it criminal, though - and also to get prisoner slave labor for private prisons, which continues the Black Codes and slave economy from yesteryear).

So, just based on what I put in the paranthesis, the first issue shouldn't be how to deal with supposed crime, define what crime is, and to ask how the retorter pictures these criminals. What do these criminals look like? What are the lives of these criminals like? How did they grow up? Why did they become criminals and you didn't? The first issue is seeing all "criminals" as human, no matter is they're truly evil or not, then ask how their path of criminality could have been prevented? What role did society play? 

The biggest issue is people dehumanize, essentialize, and isolate these people from reality in their conceptions of them and society?

The first battles aren't procedure and methods. Nor is it numbers. The first step is to see the humanity in these people that are the "other", and to see that that this is common humanity, and everyone could have led a life such as this provided the right circumstances (though I do leave some room for individual agency, just not pinning everything on that, because it can be easy for survival to be seen as more important than agency). 

Black Lives Matter because many with power, money, isolation, sheltered, and/or complacent because they don't want to be touched by the pain of humanity believe or are able to accept that Black Lives don't Matter. They don't want to listen. They are comfortable and don't want to lose that comfort. 

So no,  the first issue shouldn't be numbers, dollars or crime rates. The first issue should be establishing humanity, that Black Lives/Humanity Matters, and that the people trying to argue numbers first don't believe in the humanity of others, nor do they understand how the structures and systems of our can influence and contribute to the human outcome, no matter the physical characteristics or cultural background of that person (and that only human intervention can change the system).

Black Lives Matter. Black Families Matter.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Black Lives Matter is the Strongest Argument for Socialism Yet

So cops are making the conservative/Trumpian grievance argument: Think how hard they have it? Sure, there's instances of the police putting their lives on the line, some valid, but imagine how much of it occurs because of systemic/cultural racism, other injustices, & cops' bitterness and trying to get what's theirs.

I have my issues with the current Far Left in the United States, but if there's any argument for socialism, this is it. Seriously, if everyone received good, sincere care from day one, this shit would be reduced by so much. Instead, we have a paramilitary force created to keep black people down to try covering up how much society doesn't care about cultivating Black Lives and Black Families.

We rather have a society that seeks to destroy them structurally then through the police and prison systems (where then many are pushed into slave labor because the 13th and 14th Amendments do not protect against slavery of someone who has been convicted. We still have the vestiges of Black Codes, if we don't 100% still have them).

Police brutality, the horrible police union that has established an agreement that makes its members near immune to prosecution of police brutality, the code of silence, the culture of war and killology, viewing BIPOC in certain neighborhoods as criminals (if you familiarize yourself with the Laquan McDonald case, you'll hear about how the murderer, Jason Van Dyke, was talking himself up for the kill in the squad car on the way to the encounter), etc. The prevalence of these problems are the symptom of a system that puts profits and power over lives and family, especially Black Lives and Black Families.

The system needs fixing & maybe a total replacement, and it starts with the police.

It starts with Black Lives Mattering. It starts with Black Families Mattering. Fix the police by defunding it then reallocating those funds to building up Black Lives and Black Families.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

If Things Settle, We Must Remain Vigilant & Work to be Better

Well social media seems relatively quiet tonight for Chicago tonight. I did hear murmurings that one protest would occur on the North Side, though nothing reliable. I wonder if this is a lull or if society is getting ready for the hard work: actually changing, meaning us white people, and making this weekend count by not backsliding?

A lot of this will be personal and amongst family and friends, challenging them, getting them to listen, and getting them to actually connect on a deeper level to truly our understand black & other IPOC people.

I wanted to say something that would show some bond, but on a group level, I don't believe we're there yet. That's going to be a lot of hard work. 

And vigilance must increase to fight White Supremacy paramilitary gangs, structural Supremacy, inclinations of Supremacy in ourselves, & police misconduct.

I doubt the Federal government will show much progress until hopefully January 2020 when hopefully there's a huge realignment of POTUS & Congress. Even then, it will prove difficult. During the time of Obama, the forces of White Supremacy. They will likely continue to grow. Only our vigilance can stamp it down. Even now, I fear it will jump soon, again. 

But even if nothing substantoal can be done Federally other than to try slow & weaken the growth of Trump & White Supremacy (is it fair to call them deplorables now?), we can do work in our hearts, our homes, our towns, our cities, our counties, and our states. 

Let's not lose our resolve. Let's do better. Let's be better. 

Monday, June 01, 2020

White People, We Have Apologizing, Listening, & Working to Do for Actual Restorative Reform

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/30/michael-brown-ferguson-america-george-floyd

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/eric-garner-george-floyd-protests-reveal-how-little-has-changed-n1220501

These are a couple good articles that make a generally fact-based point: progress has occurred, but white people have still failed. 

The Guardian article makes a good point: white people need to do the work to make the necessary improvements. It is hard, soul searching, history searching, society searching work, but white are the ones obligated to the work. 

One of the biggest steps: listen. Black people and other POC and Indigenous People are not obligated to tell us or teach us. Honestly, there's enough out there in literature, news stories, essays, recordings, already on social media for us white people to but just consume, but reflect upon and teach us how to be better individually as a social group. 

Reforming the police and The State is a big thing, but us white civilians must do hard work, too. We vote, we participate, we are the people, the government should be for all of us. I almost want to quote Obama's 2004 DNC Convention speech, but at this time, us white people are dividing this country in a way that shames the image Obama brought up there. And yes, Obama didn't meet that image, either, but that's also because politics, White Supremacy politics, got in the way. 

Anyway, last week, I got into a weird Twitter conservation where I said to someone: "If you ain't listening, you ain't apologizing." White America, we have a lot of apologizing to do, and the first step to that apologizing is to do a lot of listening and also to do a lot of work to make the world better for Black people and also POC and Indigenous people.

And if you you've listened and worked enough, you haven't. We will never listen enough. We will never work enough. But it's but the right thing to do and something that will feel good in your heart. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

If We Want, the Value of True Individualism Could Overpower the Current Crass Individualism

Classical liberalism, traditional conservatism, and right-wing libertarianism don't understand individualism. Rather, these ideologies delve into despairing methodological individualism, a belief of not being able to predict the behavior of individuals, especially in large numbers.

Individualism is about appreciating and trying to understand other perspectives, how each individual is a node in a Web of relationships and existence. Each node is influenced by the Web. Each node contributes and builds the Web to the degree they have connection with the Web. The amount, strength, and type (positive/negative) of connections affects the experience that a node has and, in turn, the reaction the node has to the Web.

When connections minimize to none to near none, all the influences lead to loneliness and depression and/or anger. When someone is abandoned, excluded, or attacked, the Web falls toward fraying and destruction, which we all feel. When the Web is strong and supported through all our actions, the Web & the people/nodes who make it feel the connection, the belonging, and the positivity.

And it takes effort. We have to work at it. We need to work to appreciate and understand ourselves, the other nodes/people, and how we make up this Web. It takes effort to communicate our perspective and position. It also takes work to find other perspectives and positions. Reconciling contradictory perspectives can get difficult, especially when our identity has become embedded in a particular way of looking at things. Nonetheless, the effort and work to connect can do so much to push onto being better versions of ourselves while also helping us tap into the Web of relationships and existence. We can feel safe. We can let down our guard. We don't have to act defensively, even as we disagree, debate, and argue over perspectives, facts, and truth.

Arguably, such connections matter the most, as they can lead to connection, fighting loneliness, and even caring so much about the connection that the connection becomes the truth. The connection especially becomes truth as the nodes/people believe in the need to protect the integrity of nodes/people to protect the connections. Without the integrity of others, true connection can't exist; without true connection, other nodes/people can't discover and live their truth. Without true connection, you and I can't discover and live yours and my truth. We may have different truths, but without the acceptance the other truth, we can't accept our own truth.

In other words, without putting in the work and effort to understand, appreciate, and support others, we will surely fall, die, and never have truth.

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