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Archive for June 14th, 2020

9 common thinking biases and how to overcome them

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2020 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Daily life

Trump administration won’t say who got $511 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus loans

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There’s a glaringly obvious reason for the refusal to disclose, and indeed the determination to keep secret the recipients of the half-billion in taxpayer money strikes me as a guarantee that the money was siphoned off by the wealthy and well-connected.

Aaron Gregg writes in the Washington Post:

Federal officials responsible for spending $660 billion in taxpayer-backed small-business assistance said Wednesday that they will not disclose amounts or recipients of subsidized loans, backtracking on an earlier commitment to release individual loan data.

The Small Business Administration has previously released detailed loan information dating to 1991 for the federal 7(a) program, a long-standing small-business loan program on which the larger Paycheck Protection Program is based.

The SBA initially intended to publish similar information for the new coronavirus-related loans. An SBA spokesman told The Washington Post in an April 16 email that the agency “intend[s] to post individual loan data in accordance with the information presently on the SBA.gov website after the loan process has been completed,” and it made a similar commitment in response to an April 17 open records request.

But the administration appeared to change course at a hearing Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza declined to discuss specific borrowers.

“As it relates to the names and amounts of specific PPP loans, we believe that that’s proprietary information, and in many cases for sole proprietors and small businesses, it is confidential information,” Mnuchin said in the hearing. “The reason why we’re not disclosing the names and amounts, unlike in the 7(a) program, is because of that issue.”

The Post is among 11 news organizations suing the SBA for access to records on loan recipients, amounts of loans and other basic information the agency has previously released. In response to questions from The Post on Wednesday, a Treasury Department spokesman said that disclosing “loan-level data” would risk the confidential business information of loan recipients.

“The notion that the administration is hiding something is categorically false,” Brian Morgenstern, a Treasury Department spokesman, said in an email. “The secretary’s point is that loan level data with identifying information would risk disclosing proprietary data of millions of small businesses and the salaries of independent contractors. We are fully committed to transparency while protecting sensitive information,” Morgenstern wrote.

The Post’s Freedom of Information Act request does not seek information about salaries.

The apparent decision to withhold loan records is the latest of several actions by the Trump administration that could shield the federal coronavirus response from public scrutiny.

An unrelated provision in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (Cares) Act allows the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome H. Powell, to request confidentiality for information related to trillions of dollars going to businesses under the auspices of the Federal Reserve. And the Trump administration has taken steps to undermine the independence of executive oversight bodies, declaring that the special inspector general overseeing Cares Act funding cannot submit reports to Congress without “presidential supervision.”

Who’s getting these hundreds of billions in government aid? For now, the public may be in the dark.

Throughout the Paycheck Protection Program rollout, the SBA has been repeatedly criticized by members of Congress and government watchdog groups for an alleged lack of transparency.

“The very first line of defense for the public to make sure the money is being awarded to the businesses that are supposed to be getting it is through transparency,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist with the advocacy group Public Citizen. “It’s a problem with PPP, but it also goes far beyond that. . . . The entire pandemic response has been defined by a lack of transparency.”

The Paycheck Protection Program is a cornerstone of the $2 trillion Cares Act economic stimulus package and the federal government’s broader response to the coronavirus pandemic. The program offers small-business owners low-interest loans that can later be forgiven, with the amount of forgiveness contingent on maintaining employment levels. The loans are processed by private banks and regulated by the Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department.

Despite early growing pains, the program scaled up quickly following . . .

Continue reading.

They feel comfortable in hiding that information (and doubtless plundering the Treasury) because they believe that the public is powerless. However, there’s an election coming in November, and the public might be moved to show its power. We’ll see. God knows the GOP has pulled out all the stops to keep people from being able to vote (cf. Georgia).

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2020 at 11:09 am

Can Law Enforcement Officers Refuse to Identify Themselves?

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Rachel Brown and Coleman Sanders write at Lawfare:

On June 3, protestors in Washington, D.C., who rallied in response to the death of George Floyd were met with federal law enforcement officers equipped with riot gear and rifles but who lacked badges or other identifying information. When asked about their affiliation, these officers responded that they worked for the Department of Justice or the federal government, but they did not offer more detail.

The officers’ refusal to identify themselves immediately sparked criticism. Observers raised concerns that this practice could lead protesters to resist lawful orders and create opportunities for armed provocateurs to pose as law enforcement. Some even drew comparisons to the armed and unidentified “little green men” who appeared in the Crimea region of Ukraine shortly before its 2014 occupation by Russia and were widely believed to be Russian soldiers operating anonymously.

Since the first days of protests in Washington, D.C., many of the unmarked officers have been identified as part of special operations response teams for the Bureau of Prisons. But the question remains: What legal authorities require officers to share their identities, and are there any consequences for failing to do so?

After news reports linked the unidentified officers to the Bureau of Prisons, Attorney General William Barr attempted to explain the officers’ behavior by stating that “[i]n the federal system, the agencies don’t wear badges with their names and stuff like that. I could understand why some of these individuals simply wouldn’t want to talk to people about who they are, if that in fact was the case.” Similarly, a statement from the bureau said that “[i]t is common for federal law enforcement agents to identify themselves to citizens simply as federal law enforcement.” However, the director of the bureau said, “I probably should have done a better job of marking them nationally as the agency.”

Nor was this the only instance of law enforcement officers attempting to hide or obscure their identities during the recent nationwide protests. In several cities, including Seattle, New York and Chicago, individuals also reported that a few police officers deployed to the protests covered their badge numbers with tape. Such obfuscation has been widely criticized, even by city officials. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot stated that the officers who refused to identify themselves “forfeited the right to be Chicago police officers,” although she would not have the final say about whether to discipline the officers.

Broadly speaking, law enforcement officers do not have a legal duty to disclose either their identities or their agencies of affiliation, even if asked directly. Certain municipalities require police officers to identify themselves if asked, but there is currently no federal statute requiring officer disclosure of such information. Generally, federal law enforcement conduct is guided by the internal regulations of the particular law enforcement agency for whom the officers work—or, when federal officials are not involved, the regulations of local police departments.

For this reason, the majority of litigation analyzing law enforcement officers’ obligation to disclose their identities focuses on two scenarios that are somewhat inapposite to current events: undercover law enforcement operations and the potential for entrapment; and search and seizure cases implicating an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights. Courts have adopted a broad definition of seizure that includes displays of force and the use of language that implies compliance is required. Thus, the legal analysis underpinning the second scenario provides the clearest guidance on the standards courts would likely look to in litigation surrounding the recent failures of federal law enforcement officers to disclose their identities. Nevertheless, the current circumstances, where individuals are clearly law enforcement but refuse to identify themselves, present a distinct and novel issue.

The central question in analyzing such officers’ behavior would be whether or not it was “reasonable.” The Fourth Amendment precludes the government from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures, but, as the Supreme Court noted in Mapp v. Ohio (1961), there remains no fixed test for reasonableness. Instead, trial courts determine reasonableness using an objective standard on a case-by-case basis. The reasonableness inquiry under the Fourth Amendment focuses on the specific context and the threat that the suspect poses. In the event that an individual believes law enforcement failed to conduct a seizure reasonably, that individual may pursue a civil action against the relevant government officers for a violation of his or her constitutional rights. But such a suit may be brought only after the alleged constitutional violation has occurred, which highlights the challenges posed by the current situation; if the officers did not conduct a search or seizure of a protestor, there would be no basis to challenge their behavior under the Fourth Amendment.

Additionally, even in the event of a constitutional violation, the doctrine of qualified immunity creates a high bar for recovery when a law enforcement officer is sued. Once again, a reasonableness standard is essential. Only if the right in question has been clearly established and a reasonable officer would not believe that the activity the officer engaged in was lawful, will that officer be denied qualified immunity. (For a broader discussion of the arguments for and against qualified immunity, see this Lawfare post.)

The nature of the inquiry into the reasonableness of a law enforcement officer’s failure to identify as such is largely dependent on where the search or seizure in question occurred. While the Supreme Court has recognized a requirement that police officers should generally “knock and announce” themselves prior to searching a house, it has not made this an absolute requirement for a search to be reasonable. Rather, in Wilson v. Arkansas (1995), the Supreme Court stated, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2020 at 7:46 am

“The Bees,” by Audre Lorde

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From this post, an essay of the backstory on bees and the poem and includes a video of Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant reading the poem:

THE BEES
by Audre Lorde

In the street outside a school
what the children learn
possesses them.
Little boys yell as they stone a flock of bees
trying to swarm
between the lunchroom window and an iron grate.
The boys sling furious rocks
smashing the windows.
The bees, buzzing their anger,
are slow to attack.
Then one boy is stung
into quicker destruction
and the school guards come
long wooden sticks held out before them
they advance upon the hive
beating the almost finished rooms of wax apart
mashing the new tunnels in
while fresh honey drips
down their broomsticks
and the little boy feet becoming expert
in destruction
trample the remaining and bewildered bees
into the earth.

Curious and apart
four little girls look on in fascination
learning a secret lesson
and trying to understand their own destruction.
One girl cries out
“Hey, the bees weren’t making any trouble!”
and she steps across the feebly buzzing ruins
to peer up at the empty, grated nook
“We could have studied honey-making!”

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2020 at 7:42 am

Posted in Daily life

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