In which I’m okay with this

My wife and I have watched the six-episode McMillions documentary over the last week or so. If you’re not familiar with it, you may remember the McDonald’s Monopoly game that they used to run; turns out that the game was basically rigged from the start, with one single guy taking most of the high-end winning pieces and selling them to a network of people that really wasn’t as spread out or sneaky as it should have been. Something like $24 million in prizes was diverted until an informant clued the FBI in, and then a lengthy investigation ensued, resulting in a whole bunch of people getting indicted, most of whom pled guilty.

The documentary itself is … okay. It’s probably twice as long as it needs to be– certainly an episode or two could have been cut out without really harming anything– and damn near every single person that they talk to over the course of the documentary is some variety or another of douchebag, loser, or both. There’s one guy who they try to make out as a sympathetic victim of the whole thing, which doesn’t really work because he’s just as much of a dick, if not more, than everybody else involved– and, frankly, as far as I’m concerned he might actually be the worst human being to actually take part in the documentary. But more on him later.(*) This will be diverting if you’re home on quarantine and you need something to watch, but it’s not gonna change your life or anything.

And, well, I don’t think this was the intent of the filmmakers, but by the end of the documentary I was pretty well convinced that nothing in the documentary was actually a crime and that no one should have been prosecuted for this.

There is a point, late in the documentary, where one of the defense lawyers points out that his client is being prosecuted for federal mail fraud because he broke a hamburger company’s rules for a promotional game that they made huge amounts of money off of. There is another point where an actual journalist points out that like three or four of the big winners lived in the same zip code and that no one ever noticed.

You know why no one ever noticed? Because they weren’t looking, because no one gave a shit, because no one even conceived of this as a crime until someone tipped off the FBI, who only paid any attention to the case because, as one of the lead douchebags investigators points out, they had been working on “health care fraud” and were bored.

Seriously, this man’s dress shirt is three sizes too big for him for the entire goddamn documentary and it was driving me insane by the end. But I suspect health care fraud probably involves actual victims? And this “crime” does not. Literally no one was hurt by this except for the people who didn’t realize that if you give the dude from the mob half of your winnings and the taxes on your winnings are 40% then you’re not going to actually get a whole lot of money out of it, and I don’t feel bad for them.

McDonald’s was gonna give that money away anyway, and remember they’re *profiting* enormously off of this game. No victims.

You could make a case that someone out there in the world was supposed to be the real winner of the money, or the car, or whatever, but it’s equally likely that those winning game pieces get accidentally thrown away, and at any rate we have no idea who that person is. No victims.

There’s a big deal made about how the marketing company and the “secure” printer went out of business and some people lost their jobs, but as it turns out the only thing they did wrong was hiring the guy who took the pieces, and at any rate they only lost their jobs because the FBI did the investigation. No investigation, no job loss.

You could make an argument that, yes, dude stole the game pieces– but that’s basically stealing office supplies, which isn’t a federal crime, and no law enforcement agency anywhere would ever take it seriously. If I can get you to give me a million dollars for a post-it note that I wrote “ONE MILLION DOLLARS” on, that doesn’t mean that I can get anyone else to give me a million dollars for that post-it note, and no one would argue that you have stolen a million dollars by stealing the post-it. Should McDonald’s have sued the guy? Sure, why not? But it’s not a crime.

They basically openly admit that the only reason they used mail fraud as the main crime they charged these folks with (apparently at some point you have to mail the winning game pieces in for verification) was because they really couldn’t get them on anything else. Because, again, this is breaking the rules of a hamburger company’s marketing scheme, not an actual crime. Crimes have victims. Some danger, either to individuals or society. This has neither. Literally no one anywhere was harmed by any of this, at all, except for whatever cases the FBI was ignoring so they could pursue the “more fun” french fry case.

The biggest bullshit? The longest prison sentence anyone served from this was the main dude, who did 37 months, which shows you how seriously the judge took the case. Three people mentioned having to pay restitution (I assume there were more; a whole bunch of folks pled guilty) and of those, two actually mentioned the amount.

One guy, who has to repay something like three and a half million dollars, is paying about $170 a month. And the ringleader of this entire thing, who diverted $25 million in winning game pieces, is paying $370 a month, or about 2/3 of the amount that I’m paying on my fucking student loans every month, and this is the point where I’m actively fucking angry now, if you were wondering. Because it’s abundantly fucking clear that this money is never getting paid back, so they don’t even care enough to actually pretend that’s going to happen. And McDonald’s didn’t care about the “crime” enough to do even the slightest amount of due diligence on the winners– like the journalist pointed out, several of them lived in the same zip code, and a bunch of them turned out to be related, and no one noticed or cared until the “informant” tipped off the FBI, and– this is great– it turns out that the reason the informant called the FBI was spite.

Because this wasn’t a crime. It was breaking the rules of a hamburger company’s marketing scheme.

I really do enjoy the idea that getting an education fucked up my finances worse than “stealing” twenty-five million dollars, well over three hundred times as much as I borrowed, would have. Tell me again why I’m paying this shit back?


(*) OH RIGHT I FORGOT: they go to some length to make one of the people who took the game pieces look sympathetic, right? And this guy does end up eventually getting acquitted on appeal. But the reason they let him go? Is because instead of being told “Hey, these fell off a truck” or whatever ridiculous justification they used for the other end-user people, this guy is told that the game piece was found by a guy who is going through a divorce, and he wants to secretly sell it so he can hide the assets from his wife, so that she doesn’t get any of the money. And, as he says, he’s been through a divorce himself, so he “gets it,” and he coughs up fifty grand or a hundred grand or however much money they asked him for so that he can prevent a woman who he doesn’t know and as it turns out isn’t real from getting half of the prize.

In other words, the sole “sympathetic” character in the entire documentary is a misogynist piece of shit, and fuck him a lot. As far as I’m concerned he deserves jail more than anyone else in the documentary, because he’s the only person who thought he was hurting someone, and he was just fine with it.


10:35 AM, Sunday, April 19: 735,366 infections and 39,095 Americans dead. It’s early in the day; we’ll be comfortably over 40K dead by the end of the day.

Two very quick things

THING THE FIRST: Does anyone who is not currently using the Digit app want a referral for it so they can start? We each get five bucks if you do. Digit is one of those apps that links to your bank account and occasionally stealthily takes a few bucks out and puts it into a savings account. I’m experimenting with it right now. Drop me a line in comments; use the email address you want me to send the referral to when you sign in. You don’t have to put your email address in the comment.

THING THE SECOND: Well, I sort of screwed the pooch on this one. Thing Two was originally me asking why the hell Cyntoia Brown has to wait to get out of jail until August 7th. I had done some searches earlier today when the news popped and couldn’t find a damn thing, and the weird part was no one was asking. Well, as it turns out, August 7 is apparently exactly fifteen years since she went into jail, and the same governor who is letting her out early because her sentence was bullshit apparently believes that fifteen years is more appropriate than fourteen years and four months for some reason. I mean, at least she’s getting out, but … come the fuck on.

GUEST POST: On “Getting Criminals Off the Streets,” by Keith Ammann

My friend Keith posted this on Facebook the other day, and he gave me permission to use it as a guest post when I asked.  


It’s impossible to separate racism from the long train of abuses and usurpations that police departments in this country have perpetrated, but even if racism could be made to go away overnight, that by itself would not be enough to solve the problem with policing. There’s another dimension that needs urgently to be addressed.

If you ask a police officer to tell you what his job is — or, for that matter, ask the average person what the job of a police officer is — he will most likely say something like, “To get criminals off the streets.”

This is a serious problem.

“Criminals” is a category of beings. Suppose a police officer has a certain idea in his head of what a “criminal” looks like. That idea may be influenced by either conscious or unconscious bias. The officer has to make dozens of snap judgments a day, under stressful conditions, of whether the person he’s dealing with is a “criminal” or not. And if he decides that person is a “criminal,” he understands that it’s his job to “get the criminal off the streets,” by whatever means necessary.

A “criminal” is a bad person. A “criminal” is dangerous. A “criminal” doesn’t deserve respect. A “criminal” has no rights. A “criminal” abuses the public, so abusing a “criminal” is righteous vengeance. It’s justice.

There are many things wrong with this mentality, but one salient flaw in it is that deciding who is and is not guilty of crime is the exclusive domain of the judicial system — the courts. Jurors are supposed to decide guilt, not the police. Sentences are supposed to be handed down by judges, not by an officer’s service weapon.

Moreover, “criminals” DO have rights. These rights are spelled out explicitly in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and, indirectly, in the Fourth. “Due process of law” means that criminal defendants have the right to be judged guilty or innocent not on impulse or emotion but by standards of evidence, honestly obtained and fairly presented in court. And once they’ve served out their sentences, they’re not supposed to be considered “criminals” anymore.

But this is hard to remember and harder to honor, because we’re so accustomed to thinking of “criminals” as the enemy, the destroyers of peace and order. And if it’s difficult for us regular folks, it’s even more difficult for police, who fight an unending battle against “criminals” every day of their lives.

This is why the thinking — and, crucially, training — of police needs to undergo a fundamental shift.

We, and they, need to stop thinking of the job of police departments and police officers as “getting criminals off the streets.”

We, and they, need to start thinking of it as restoring citizens who are committing crimes to the status of citizens who are not committing crimes.

There are two elements to this change in framing.

One is the recognition that all the people whom a police officer interacts with are citizens with rights that he must respect. (Of course, not all of them are U.S. citizens — and it’s not only U.S. citizens who have rights. But this is a matter to confront another day. For now, let’s settle for defining “citizen” loosely, as a human being with social and political rights and responsibilities.)

The second is the emphasis on criminal activity rather than criminal identity. There are not “criminals” and “civilians.” There are citizens who are committing crimes and citizens who are not committing crimes. Citizens who are not committing crimes must be treated with respect, dignity and full recognition of their legal rights. Citizens who are committing crimes ALSO must be treated with respect, dignity and full recognition of their legal rights even as they must also be made to cease their criminal activity and to submit to the process of law for what they’ve done.

A person who is not committing a crime should not — must not — be treated like a “criminal.” An African-American man driving a nice car, a teenager hanging out on a streetcorner, a protester in the street: none of these people is committing a crime. There is nothing that they need to be made to submit to. Their compliance is not an end in itself. They are free people, citizens with rights. Unless and until they commit an actual crime, there is no reason and no justification for the police to make them do anything.

As for people who have committed or are in the process of committing crimes, the domain of the police is to investigate and apprehend, to stop the crime in progress and to hand the perpetrator over to the court system for judgment. That’s it. Because the perpetrator is still a citizen, just one who at the moment is not abiding by the law and needs to be restored to the status of one who is. It is not the domain of the police to administer punishment.

Refocusing the mission of the police from what people “are” to what they are doing or have done will make it more difficult to justify police brutality and detention without charge. It will dismantle the logic underlying racial profiling. It will lay a foundation on which police and communities can build mutual respect and trust. It will bolster people’s freedom to exercise their rights of conscience. It will make evident the moral necessity of restoring people’s right to vote and right to free choice of employment after they’ve paid their debts to society.

It’s something we need to do right now.