214: Free Speech Under Attack, Michelle Carter and Suicide Incitement, GOP Health Care Law

Chris Spangle, Gregory Lenz, Cat Anagnos, and Barstool Heartland’s Jeff Vibbert discuss the Michelle Carter case where she encouraged a friend to commit suicide and the GOP health care proposal.

6.22.2017 WAL Show Prep

Massachusetts Michelle Carter Encouraging Suicide Conviction Key Questions:

-Should behavior such as Michelle Carter’s encouragement of an individual to consider suicide, be punishable as a criminal act?

-Should Carter’s behavior be protected by freedom of speech?

-Is an individual responsible for words, spoken or written, in encouragement of another individual’s expression or threat to self-inflict harm?

-What if instead of encouragement, the individual expressed ambivalence toward the threat? Are they guilty of criminal negligence for failing to care enough to prevent the suicide?

-Where is the line drawn? Who should be responsible for drawing such a line?

-Even if you support such a line, is the enforcement of it worth the cost of administration?

-Is the enormous potential for incorrect assessments of provocation and encouragement justifying charges worth the human costs from a poorly made jury decision?  


  • Michelle Carter’s Involuntary Manslaughter Conviction


  • Massachusetts resident Michelle Carter was recently found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and now faces up to twenty years in prison.
  • Several years ago while still a teenager, Carter struck up a virtual relationship with Conrad Roy III which consisted primarily of text messaging back and forth.
  • Roy had been suffering from depression and in the beginning of their relationship, Carter urged him to seek treatment.
  • However, as their relationship progressed, Carter began to encourage Roy as he expressed his desire to end his own life. When Roy called Carter as he sat in his car in an enclosed garage with the exhaust running, Carter did little to lend support to her desperate friend.
  • Instead, when he called her and told her he was scared, she instructed him to get back in the car and finish what he had started.
  • After Carter found out he had followed her advice and was found dead, she texted another friend distressed fearing that she was responsible for his death. It was this last phone call and the text that followed that ultimately led to Carter’s conviction.
  1. Netflix Series: 13 Reasons
  • Earlier this year, the Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why, caused a huge controversy among viewers who either loved the show or despised it. Its dark premise highlights a small town struggling to recover from the suicide of 17-year old Hannah Baker.
  • However, what the parents of these troubled teens do not know is that Hannah left behind thirteen cassette tapes, each one identifying a different student as one of the reasons why she ultimately decided to take her life.
  • The acts committed against Hannah range from vicious rumors to the more heinous and serious accusation of rape. But as the viewers see throughout the show, each student is enduring their own set of trials that is unbeknownst to Hannah or anyone else for that matter.
  • Yet, without this understanding, the young Hannah assumes she is alone in her experience which ultimately contributes to the very permanent decision to take her own life. However, Hannah’s primary motive in leaving the tapes behind is to attempt to make her peers understand that their words and their actions matter.
  1. Jordan Peterson and Canada’s Inclusion of Gender Identity and Gender Expression into their Human Rights Code
  • Canada’s Senate passed Bill C-16, which puts “gender identity” and “gender expression” into both the country’s Human Rights Code, as well as the hate crime category of its Criminal Code by a vote of 67-11, according to LifeSiteNews. The bill now only needs royal assent from the Governor general.
  • “[There’s an argument] that transgender identity is too subjective a concept to be enshrined in law because it is defined as an individual’s deeply felt internal experience of gender,” said Grant Mitchell, a conservative senator, in November 2016. “Yet we, of course, accept outright that no one can discriminate on the basis of religion, and that too is clearly a very deeply subjective and personal feeling.”
  • Jordan Peterson, a professor at the University of Toronto, and one of the bill’s fiercest critics, spoke to the Senate before the vote, insisting that it infringed upon citizens’ freedom of speech and institutes what he views as dubious gender ideology into law.
  • “[Ideologues are] using unsuspecting and sometimes complicit members of the so-called transgender community to push their ideological vanguard forward,” said the professor to the Senate in May. “The very idea that calling someone a term that they didn’t choose causes them such irreparable harm that legal remedies should be sought [is] an indication of just how deeply the culture of victimization has sunk into our society.”
  • Peterson has previously pledged not to use irregular gender pronouns and students have protested him for his opposition to political correctness.
  1. The Importance of Free Speech Despite a Coarsening, Even Dangerous, Dialogue
  • Free speech was born in an attempt to stop killing. It has its roots in freedom of conscience. Before the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the common practice was that the rulers’ religion determined their subjects’ faith too.
  • Religious dissent was not only heresy but a kind of treason. After Westphalia, exhaustion with religion-motivated bloodshed created space for toleration.
  • As the historian C. V. Wedgwood put it, the West had begun to understand “the essential futility of putting the beliefs of the mind to the judgment of the sword.”
  • This didn’t mean that Protestants instantly stopped hating Catholics or vice versa. Nor did it mean that the more ecumenical hatred of Jews vanished.
  • What it did mean is that it was no longer acceptable to kill people simply for what they believed or said
  • “The blame for violent acts lies with the people who commit them, and with those who explicitly and seriously call for violence,” Dan McLaughlin, my National Review colleague, wrote in the Los Angeles Times last week. “People who just use overheated political rhetoric, or who happen to share the gunman’s opinions, should be nowhere on the list.”
  • Abraham Lincoln told Harriet Beecher Stowe, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” Should we mock Lincoln for saying something ridiculous?
  • Irving Kristol once put it, “If you believe that no one was ever corrupted by a book, you have also to believe that no one was ever improved by a book. You have to believe, in other words, that art is morally trivial and that education is morally irrelevant.”
  • If words don’t matter, then democracy is a joke, because democracy depends entirely on making arguments — not for killing, but for voting. Only a fool would argue that words can move people to vote but not to kill.
  • But words still mattered. Art still moved people. And the law is not the full and final measure of morality. Hence the paradox: In a free society, people have a moral responsibility for what they say, while at the same time a free society requires legal responsibility only for what they actually do.
  • Shaun King, a New York Daily News columnist, also managed to miss the point when he objected that “If 20 Republican congressmen were shot and killed, it would not improve the chances of us having a better health care system. It’s nonsensical.”
  • This is a common theme. People often condemn “senseless violence,” as if there were some forms of violence that make sense. The first point of our nation – above any other – is to live together in peace. Civil peace is a higher priority even than freedom, because without peace, there can be no freedom.
  1. Supreme Court Decision on an Asian band: “The Slants”
  • Earlier this week the Supreme Court ruled 8–0 against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), which had refused to register a trademark for a band called “The Slants.”
  • The PTO claimed that the band’s name violated provisions of the Lanham Act, which prohibits registering trademarks that “disparage . . . or bring into contempt or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.”
  • Justice Alito made short work of the notion that the government has an interest in preventing speech that expresses offensive ideas:

    “As we have explained, that idea strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”


  • But not even a ruling joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor can persuade determined, far-left censors, and just as sure as night follows day, Laura Beth Nielsen, a research professor for the American Bar Foundation, took to the pages of the Los Angeles Times to make the case for viewpoint discrimination:


“Why, for example, did the Supreme Court on Monday rule that the trademark office cannot reject “disparaging” applications—like a request from an Oregon band to trademark “the Slants” as in Asian “slant eyes.”

The typical answer is that judges must balance benefits and harms. If judges are asked to compare the harm of restricting speech – a cherished core constitutional value – to the harm of hurt feelings, judges will rightly choose to protect free expression.

But perhaps it’s nonsense to characterize the nature of the harm as nothing more than an emotional scratch; that’s a reflection of the deep inequalities in our society, and one that demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of how hate speech affects its targets.

In fact, empirical data suggest that frequent verbal harassment can lead to various negative consequences. Racist hate speech has been linked to cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and requires complex coping strategies.

Exposure to racial slurs also diminishes academic performance. Women subjected to sexualized speech may develop a phenomenon of “self-objectification,” which is associated with eating disorders.

The KKK can parade down Main Street. People can’t falsely yell fire in a theater but can yell the N-word at a person of color. College women are told that a crowd of frat boys chanting “no means yes and yes means anal” is something they must tolerate in the name of (someone else’s) freedom.

Consider also the protections afforded to soldiers’ families in the case of Westboro Baptist anti-gay demonstrations.

When the Supreme Court in 2011 upheld that church’s right to stage offensive protetsts at veterans’ funerals, Congress passed the Honoring America’s Veterans’ Act, which prohibits any protests 300 to 500 feet around such funerals. (The statute made no mention of protecting LGBTQ funeral attendees from hate speech, just soldiers’ families).

These negative physical and mental health outcomes — which embody the historical roots of race and gender oppression — mean that hate speech is not “just speech.”

Hate speech is doing something. It results in tangible harms that are serious in and of themselves and that collectively amount to the harm of subordination. The harm of perpetuating discrimination. The harm of creating inequality.”

Senate Health Care Bill

  • Pre-existing conditions: The plan would keep the Affordable Care Act requirement that insurers accept everyone and charge the same rates, with few exceptions. But it would allow states to waive other insurance requirements, including rules for what benefits insurers must cover, that could weaken protections.
  • Insurance tax credits: Obamacare’s premium subsidies, or tax credits, which are available to people between the poverty level and four times that threshold, would be continued for two years. Eligibility would then be scaled back slightly to 350 percent of the federal poverty level and extended to more low-income people who don’t qualify for Medicaid. Similar to Obamacare, the subsidies would be pegged to income. But the benchmark plan for determining subsidies would be less generous than Obamacare’s.
  • The bill would also extend for two years Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies, which help insurers pay medical bills for low-income customers. President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off those payments, which health plans said could destabilize the individual insurance marketplaces.
  • Individual and employer mandates: The health law’s mandate that most people buy insurance or pay a penalty would be eliminated. So would the requirement for mid-sized and large companies to provide coverage to workers.
  • Older customers could be charged more: Insurers would be allowed to charge older customers five times more than younger ones for the same health plan. Under Obamacare, that ratio is three-to-one.
  • Medicaid expansion: Boosted federal payments to states that expanded their programs to low-income adults would continue for three years. Starting in 2021, enhanced federal payments would then be rolled back over three years to traditional Medicaid funding rates. Thirty-one states and Washington, D.C., have expanded their Medicaid programs under Obamacare.
  • Traditional Medicaid: The program covering low-income kids, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities would no longer be an open-ended entitlement. Starting in 2020, states could choose between receiving a block grant from the federal government or a set payment based on the number and type of enrollees. The payments would slightly increase each year, but starting in 2025, the growth rate would be lower than what the House bill prescribes. Certain populations would be carved out from the payment caps. Like the House plan, this would permit states to impose work requirements on able-bodied adults as a condition for receiving benefits.
  • Taxes: The bill would eventually repeal most of Obamacare’s taxes, including the surtax on high earners investment income and a Medicare Hospital Insurance surtax on the rich. It would also end some industry taxes, such as those on medical devices and health insurers.
  • Abortion: Subsidies could no longer be used to purchase health plans that cover abortion. Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood would be cut off for one year.
  • The bill would strike Affordable Care Act taxes on high earners, particularly a levy on investment income that fell on married couples with more than $250,000 of adjusted gross income and single filers with more than $200,000 of adjusted gross income. It also nixes a Medicare Hospital Insurance tax on incomes above $250,000.
  • The plan focuses on lowering premiums by allowing states to cut some of Obamacare’s major insurance rules that help protect sicker patients but also drive up the cost of coverage. For instance, states could cut mandated coverage of emergency care and substance abuse treatment. Younger and healthier people with fewer health care needs would be able to buy skimpier health insurance.
  • Republican governors who sought less federal oversight and more state control over their insurance markets will get tremendous leeway under waivers in the Senate bill. The Senate plan would roll back requirements about what insurers must cover and expedite state applications seeking more flexibility. For instance, governors would no longer need permission from their legislatures to obtain waivers.
  • Medical device makers, health insurers, and tanning establishments, among others, would see the eventual elimination of ACA taxes on their products or services — although some of those taxes may be kept temporarily to pay for parts of the plan.
  • The Senate plan, like the House bill, would allow insurers to charge their older customers up to five times as much as younger customers for the same health plan. That’s an expansion of the so-called age band in Obamacare, which allows insurers to charge older customers no more than three times as much as younger ones.
  • In two years, the Senate plan would also eliminate a key subsidy program that helps cover out-of-pocket medical bills for low-income consumers.
  • The bill rolls back the federal government’s generous funding for Medicaid expansion, which has been a major source of substance abuse treatment amid the opioid epidemic.
  • The Senate draft earmarks $2 billion for opioid treatment in 2018 — compared to the House’s provision of $15 billion over 10 years for mental health, substance abuse and maternity care. The Senate bill does loosen some restrictions on Medicaid funding of long-term treatment for people with substance abuse and mental health issues.
  • Planned Parenthood and its clients: The women’s health organization, a frequent GOP target for defunding, would be cut out of the Medicaid program for one year.
  • However, this provision could be problematic for moderate Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Republicans can’t afford to lose more than two votes.
  • The draft kills the ACA’s $1 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund in 2018, one year earlier than the House-approved health bill. The fund makes up roughly 12 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s budget and has been used to address public health threats, including the Zika virus outbreak, as well as for preventive health services and immunization programs.

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