I was inspired by this week’s newsletter stories on ending the War on Drugs and protecting our veterans as we celebrated them. My grandfather was a World War II veteran and a member of the “Greatest Generation.” After serving in the Navy and National Guard, he went on to a successful career with U.S. Customs, starting as an elevator operator and working his way up to serve on borders north and south at the height of the drug war before retiring in 1985 as Regional Commissioner for New York City. He was appointed to a narcotics task force by then Vice President George H.W. Bush — a photo of him and Bush at a Very Important Meeting hung prominently in my grandparents’ home. Bush sent an Honor Guard to my grandfather’s funeral in 2005. I won’t pretend to know how my grandfather would have felt about the 2020 election, but I do know that his politics were complicated. He told me many years after he retired (and years before it was so widely recognized) that the War on Drugs was a mistake — that too many young people were having their lives ruined by criminal records for minor usage and that his thinking had moved all the way to believing in the decriminalization, legalization, and regulation of drugs. I always regarded this thoughtful reflection as a certain kind of proof, seeing that it came from someone denouncing part of his life's work. I respected his reversal, almost as much as he regretted its source. With him, it was about honesty and integrity. My grandfather may not have always agreed with you, but he would hear you out, hash it out, and in the end, raise a glass with you. We could all strive to be this way: strong views, open ears, thoughtful reflection, and a willingness to put egos and differences aside and be human.
But he was also a hopeless romantic, so everything else may be circumstantial.
Video: The State of Policing Reform
It’s been almost six months since George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. Since then, many Americans have shifted their attention to the presidential election and yet another spike in COVID-19 cases. So, where does the police reform effort stand today? We sat down with Walter Katz, AV's Vice President of Criminal Justice, for an overview of the current state of affairs, including the lack of nuance in the debate, the low threshold for use of force, and inconsistency in policies across the country. "The standard for the use of lethal force in the United States, based upon the Supreme Court ruling, is generally so broad that an officer is given an immense amount of discretion to use lethal force," Katz says. He offers areas that are ripe for reform, gives analysis on the role of police unions, and discusses the counterproductive politicization of the protest movement.
Related: About nine of every 10 voters said this year’s protests over police violence were a factor in their voting, with more than three-fourths calling it a major factor, according to a survey by NORC at the University of Chicago.
Finally, a 'Seat at the Table'
By Adrienne Faraci, Communications Manager
This month, Virginia voters ensured that the upcoming redistricting cycle, which starts next year, will produce a much fairer result. By a nearly 2-1 margin, they approved a ballot initiative that amends the state’s constitution to end partisan lawmakers’ exclusive control over redistricting.
Why It Matters: “For Virginia, this is the seat at the table in the redistricting process that we’ve been fighting for generations,” said Brian Cannon of Fair Maps VA, the AV grantee that led the effort. The victory means that soon after the results of the U.S. Census are released next year, a 16-member commission will convene to draw state legislative and congressional maps that will be fair and reflect the will of the voters.
What Else: Virginia isn’t alone in seeking a system that prioritizes people over politicians. In 2018, voters in Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, and Utah approved redistricting reform ballot initiatives. Unfortunately, Missourians this month narrowly approved an amendment that reverses those reforms and puts lawmakers back in the driver’s seat. And a mix of red and blue states — Arkansas, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Oregon — saw campaigns to put redistricting reform on the ballot come up short in 2020 but appear ready to try again in the future. Reform efforts are also underway in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, and Tennessee.
Related: A 23-way D.C. City Council race illustrates why the city should adopt ranked-choice voting, via The Washington Post.
‘Best Bets’ for Opioid Dollars
By Adrienne Faraci, Communications Manager
Hundreds of states, counties, and cities are engaged in litigation against opioid pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors for their rolein fueling the epidemic of opioid addiction and fatal overdoses, and it is expected that future settlement awards could exceed $50 billion. Taking lessons from the outcomes of tobacco litigation, how should policymakers and local leaders allocate the payout to best serve communities affected by the opioid crisis?
What’s Happening: The nation’s leading experts in addiction research, treatment, and policy have released a comprehensive spending guide — based on decades of research — on how to invest these dollars to improve the addiction treatment system, strengthen prevention and harm-reduction programming, and address substance use disorder in the criminal justice system.
Why It Matters: “We’re trying to provide states and localities with information that will be useful to them about what will work and what will not work to prevent and combat opioid use disorder,” said Dr. Richard Frank of Harvard University, who led a cohort of experts in developing the guide. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what works, so we will try to separate what is clearly evidence-supported and what is more unclear.”
Our nation’s celebration this week of Veterans Day was a poignant reminder that those who have served our country far too often become victims of deep injustices and systemic barriers to opportunity:
Veterans die at disproportionately higher rates of suicide by firearms: Seventeen veterans die every day by suicide, with 69 percent of those dying from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Countless veterans have fallen prey to predatory higher education institutions: For-profit schools often peddle the ease and convenience of their programs to veterans while charging exorbitant tuition rates and returning meaningless degrees.
Veterans tend to face significant health challenges after retiring from active duty: Fifty-three percent of 10,000 veterans surveyed say they experienced chronic physical conditions, underscoring their need for affordable lifelong medical care.
Arnold Ventures grantees are working to right the wrongs afflicting veterans and their families and protect them from gun violence, predatory institutions, and burdensome health care costs.
Voters who made Oregon the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. Nearly 40 years since the start of the War on Drugs, voters across the country have made the choice to legalize and decriminalize the use of drugs, moving the U.S. away from damaging drug law enforcement toward more life-saving public health and addiction treatment services. At its core, Oregon's Measure 110, driven by Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), will help dismantle the current system of punishment for drug use and build a compassionate, supportive, non-coercive system of care to address substance use disorders. Arnold Ventures sits down with Lindsay LaSalle, Director of Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, to discuss what this historic win means for Oregon and what it could mean for the nation.
The devastating toll of COVID-19 in Texas prisons and jails, via the Texas Tribune and based on a new report from the LBJ School at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Marshall Project writing about how diverting people with mental illness from jail to hospitals can be as traumatizing as arrest. “Along with creating separate 911 response teams, activists have called for reinvesting police funds in community organizations to support people with mental illness long before they’re in crisis, being shot at, or pinned to the pavement by police.”
How a pension system that was overfunded in 2002 by over $1 billion has incurred $15.6 billion in unfunded liabilities in a new analysis of the Arizona State Retirement System by the Reason Foundation.
The New York Times reporting that a doctor tapped to conduct coronavirus testing for Connecticut towns ran unnecessary and expensive tests that resulted in surprise billing: One patient’s fees were $1,944.
And this lovely remembrance of Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek: “For 36 years, the 'Jeopardy!' host was a figure of consensus in an era that increasingly lacked it, and he died at the end of an election week when those divisions were in full force.”
What We're Listening To
This Fresh Air episode illustrating the odyssey that can be our nation’s health care system. As NPR reports, Katherine Standefer was in her 20s when she passed out in a parking lot from what was later diagnosed as a genetic heart condition. One problem: She didn't have health insurance. Worried about being pegged with a pre-existing condition (in a time before the Affordable Care Act), "my first thought was, I need to pretend this didn't happen, go find a way to get insurance and then go see a doctor about this — which was just an insane sequence of events after you potentially go into cardiac arrest in a parking lot." In her quest for life-saving care, she moved to a new state and was even advised by a nurse to use the E.R. to bypass the insurance system. “Even the practitioners within it understood that people were not getting the care that they needed, that people's lives were at risk, and there were all of these secret trap doors for moving through the health care system.”
Some Final Inspiration
You may have already heard of Nandi Bushell, the 10-year-old drumming prodigy made social-media famous by her technically perfect and joyous covers of songs like Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” Then she challenged former Nirvana and current Foo Fighters drummer Dave Grohl to a drum-off. And so began an epic back-and-forth battle and a blooming virtual friendship that have brought joy to thousands during this pandemic.
A French bulldog was elected mayor of Rabbit Hash, Ky. It was also a tight race.
New Funding Opportunity: As part of efforts to to better understand how to improve the systems that deliver care to a population of more than 12 million people who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, we are seeking to fund researchers who are guided by the following principles: policy relevance, rigor and independence, and alignment with our strategy. Learn more here.
Stephanie Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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