Later On

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Propaganda rarely looks like this

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Caitlin Johnstone has an interesting column in Consortium News, in which the above video appears (along with three other very interesting videos). I think the video understates the role of good journalism —  for example, I have recently read of various legislation passed based on reporting in ProPublica and Judd Legum’s Popular Information. On the other hand, I certainly do not see much reporting on the basic flaws of capitalism — that decisions are made solely on how they affect profits, with clear examples of how that leads to danger to the public and the environment (by long trains, for example, or by not providing paid sick leave for food works — both of which have been reported but not the basic flaw in capitalism that led to those bad outcomes). Nor do journalists talk much about the damage from the ethos of “rugged individualism” and how we fare better with a cooperative community spirit — cf. barn-raising.

Nonetheless, the video is interesting — and this video has more on Chomsky’s ideas of manufacturing consent. When we talk about “manufactured consent,” that does not mean that everyone must conset — just enough people with enough power to determine the country’s direction. One might call it “manufactured effective consent,” with dissenters having no power to affect the decisions. For example, I did not consent to the US invasion of Iraq. In fact, I strongly opposed that invasion. But they did it anyway. James Fallows, who certainly has a greater voice than I, wrote a lengthy article in the Atlantic offer a strongly reasoned argument against the invasion.

But in the meantime, a coterie of newspapers, politicians, and influencers — including the NY Times, which was a big booster of the invasion — were beating the drums to go to war, and go to war we did, and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people and also instituted systematic torture of suspects as US policy. No one has been held accountable for any of that.

Still, the overall thrust of Johstone’s column is worth your consideration. She writes:

People in the English-speaking world hear the word “propaganda” and might tend to think of something that’s done by the governments of foreign nations that are so totalitarian they won’t let people know what’s true or think for themselves.

Others might understand that propaganda is something that happens in their own nation, but think it only happens to other people in other political parties. If they think of themselves as left-leaning they see those to their right as propagandized by right wing media, and if they think of themselves as right-leaning they see those to their left as propagandized by left-wing media.

A few understand that propaganda is administered in their own nation by their own media, and understand that it’s administered across partisan lines, but they think of it in terms of really egregious examples such as weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or babies being taken from incubators in Kuwait.

In reality, all are inaccurate understandings of what propaganda is and how it works in Western society. Propaganda is administered in Western nations, by Western nations, across the political spectrum — and the really blatant and well-known examples of its existence make up only a small sliver of the propaganda in which our civilization is continuously marinating.

The most common articles of propaganda — and by far the most consequential — are not the glaring, memorable instances that live in infamy among the critically minded. They’re the mundane messages, distortions and lies-by-omission that people are fed day in and day out to normalize the status quo and lay the foundation for more propaganda to be administered in the future.

One of the forms this takes is the way the Western political/media class manipulates the Overton window of acceptable political opinion.

Have you ever noticed how when you look at any mainstream newspaper, broadcast or news website, you never see views from those who oppose the existence of the U.S.-centralized empire? Or those who want to close all foreign U.S. military bases? Or those who want to dismantle capitalism? Or those who want a thorough rollback of the creeping authoritarianism our civilization is being subjected to?

You might see some quibbling about different aspects of the empire, some debate over de-escalating against Russia in order to better escalate against China, but you won’t ever see anyone calling for the end of the empire and its abuses altogether.

That’s propaganda. It’s propaganda in multiple ways: it . . .

Continue reading.

One thing that would protect us against propaganda is to teach every citizen, starting at a young age, critical thinking skills. (Edward DeBono developed a good program that begins in first grade and goes through elementary school, and it has proven effective in many schools.) However, I don’t believe that will happen in the US. The US has no national curriculum and the many thousands of school districts have the power to decide many aspects of curriculum (even though states do try to impose some curricular standards. What kills the teaching of critical thinking skills to young children is that, when they learn those skills, they start to practice them, and many parents do not like that. The children begin to question things the parents do not want questioned, and often parental pressure will kill the program.

Written by Leisureguy

3 June 2023 at 6:35 pm

The Congressional-military-industrial complex costs too much for what it delivers

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Kevin Drum writes:

CNN has a remarkable story today about the vast difference in cost between warships built in the US and those built in Japan:

The country’s newest Maya-class destroyers are armed with 96 VLS cells that can fire both anti-ballistic and anti-submarine missiles, while the “quality of its sensors and systems stands at the very top end of the spectrum.”…Those 96 VLS cells put the Mayas on par with the newest of the US Arleigh Burkes, but there’s a crucial difference between them: The Arleigh Burkes cost $2.2 billion; the Mayas cost a billion dollars less.

….And it’s not just the Mayas. Take Japan’s Mogami-class frigates; speedy, stealthy 5,500-ton warships with 16 VLS cells that fire surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles. All done with a crew of 90 and a price tag of about $372 million each. By contrast, the first of the US Navy’s under development Constellation-class frigates are expected to cost three times as much and require twice as many crew.

These Japanese ships, along with others from South Korea, are designed to be very similar to American ships:

All these Japanese and South Korean vessels are designed to incorporate US technology, weapons, spy radars and the Aegis command and control system.

So why the vast difference in cost?

Cost overruns, endemic in US defense contracting, are not common in Japan, Schuster says, because — unlike the US — the country holds manufacturers to their estimates.

A Japanese shipbuilder’s bid is an absolute. If they finish it below expected cost, they make a larger profit. If they encounter delays and mistakes, the builder has to correct it at their own expense,” Schuster said.

That sounds . . . a little too easy. There has to be more to it than “we won’t pay a nickel more than you bid.” Requirements change, specs change, and timetables change. It’s hardly possible in the real world for a bid to stay frozen in the face of that.

And yet, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 June 2023 at 3:08 pm

Why it’s in the public interest to require businesses to provide paid sick leave: Sick Workers Tied to 40% of Food Poisoning Outbreaks, C.D.C. Says

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Amanda Holpuch reports in the NY Times (no paywall):

People who showed up to their restaurant jobs while sick were linked to 40 percent of food poisoning outbreaks with a known cause from 2017 to 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report released on Tuesday.

Paid sick leave and other policies that support sick workers could improve food safety outcomes, according to the report, which was based on a review of 800 food poisoning outbreaks, using data provided by 25 state and local health departments.

Of the 500 outbreaks where investigators identified at least one cause, 205 involved workers showing up sick, the report said. Other common causes included contaminated raw food items, in 88 cases, and cross-contamination of ingredients, in 68 cases.

In 555 of the outbreaks, investigators were able to determine what virus, bacterium, toxin, chemical or parasite was to blame. Most outbreaks were caused by salmonella or norovirus, the report said.

To combat these outbreaks, “comprehensive ill worker policies will likely be necessary,” the report said. It highlighted research that showed that expanded paid sick leave reduced how often food service workers showed up at work sick, and noted that paid sick leave regulations were associated with decreased rates of food-borne illness.

Daniel Schneider, a professor of social policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, said the report was “sobering,” and highlighted that the United States is the only wealthy country with no federal paid sick leave.

“Reports like this show the real urgency of it, not just because it’s in workers’ interests, although it is, but because it is in the public interest,” Professor Schneider said.

Of the 725 managers who were interviewed by state and local health departments, 665 said that their business required food workers to tell a supervisor if they were sick, and 620 said that sick employees were either restricted or blocked from working. Fewer than half of the managers — 316 — said their business provided paid sick leave to workers.

Professor Schneider is a director of . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Congress should pass a law requiring businesses with more than (say) 12 employees to provide paid sick leave, just as a public health measure. That would be Congress doing governing, and such a law is the only way to keep the playing level in that respect. That is, without such a law, some businesses will seek a competitive advantage by not providing paid sick leave because capitalism has a single criterion for making a decision: will it increase profit?

Written by Leisureguy

3 June 2023 at 12:48 pm

Former Gun Company Executive Explains Roots of America’s Gun Violence Epidemic

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In an earlier post, I blogged an NPR interview with Ryan Busse, the subject of a ProPublica article by Corey G. Johnson:

From the movie theater to the shopping mall, inside a church and a synagogue, through the grocery aisle and into the classroom, gun violence has invaded every corner of American life. It is a social epidemic no vaccine can stem, a crisis with no apparent end. Visual evidence of the carnage spills with numbing frequency onto TV shows and floods the internet. Each new shooting brings the lists of loved ones lost, the galleries of their smiling photos and the videos of the police response. And each mass shooting brings another surge of national outrage.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns became the leading killer of children in 2020, overtaking car crashes, drug overdoses and disease for the first time in the nation’s history. Yet as the one-year anniversary of the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, passes, nagging questions loom.

Why haven’t lawmakers acted with forceful correctives? What will it take to regain a sense of safety? When will change happen? And how, exactly, did America end up here?

Ryan Busse, former executive at Kimber America, a major gun manufacturer, recently shared his thoughts on these questions with ProPublica. He was vice president of sales at Kimber America from 1995 to 2020 but broke with the industry and has become a gun safety advocate. He testified about mass shootings and irresponsible marketing last July in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and authored the book “Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry That Radicalized America.”

In June 2021, he became a senior adviser for Giffords, a gun violence prevention group led by Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman gravely injured in 2011 during a mass shooting. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Where are we, as a nation, on guns? And where do you think we need to go?

I think we might be on the precipice of things getting much worse. I think this Bruen decision, the Supreme Court ruling, quite possibly will unleash so many lawsuits against so many counted-upon regulations that citizens may wake up to the equivalent of, like, no stop signs in their town anymore, except for it’ll be on gun regulation. [The Bruen decision has been called one of the court’s most significant rulings on guns in decades. It struck down New York’s concealed carry law as unconstitutional, saying it conflicted with the Second Amendment.]

What do you attribute this trend to?

As I write in my book, there was a time not that long ago, maybe about 15 to 20 years ago, when the industry understood a sort of fragile social contract needed to be maintained on something as immensely powerful as the freedom to own guns. And so the industry didn’t do certain things. It didn’t advertise in egregiously irresponsible ways. It didn’t put, you know, growth, company growth, above all other things. There were just these unspoken codes of conduct the industry knew not to violate. And those seem to have broken down. And now it’s kind of a victory at all costs. And sadly, I think there’s a lot of cost.

What do you say to people who make the argument that guns are protected by the Second Amendment and that yes, a deranged person here or there may do something bad, but is it fair to punish or penalize law-abiding gun owners with unnecessary or extra government intervention?

I am a gun owner. I hunt and shoot with my boys. I want to continue doing that. I believe and I think that I have a right to do those things. On the other hand, I do not believe that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 June 2023 at 11:49 am

Why an industry or corporation might seek government regulation

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Mike Masnick has an interesting post at Techdirt:

For my final post of last year, I wrote about the many reasons to be optimistic about a better future, one of which was that we were seeing the crumbling of some large, bureaucratic (enshittified) companies, and new competitive upstarts pushing the boundaries. One of those areas was in the artificial intelligence space. As I noted in that piece, a few years ago, if you spoke to anyone about AI, the widespread assumption was that there were only four companies who could possibly even have a chance to lead the AI revolution, as (we were told) it required so much data, and so much computing power, that only Google, Meta, Amazon or Microsoft could possibly compete.

But, by the end of last year, we were already seeing that that wasn’t true, and there were a bunch of new entrants, many of whom appeared to be doing a better job than the “big tech” players when it came to AI, and many of them offering their models in open source ways.

A few weeks back, an internal Google memo made this point even clearer by noting that none of the big companies had any real sustainable competitive advantage in AI, and that the open source players were doing much, much better:

Luke Sernau, a senior Google engineer, made that clear when he referenced one of Buffett’s most famous theories—the economic moat—in an internal document released Thursday by the consulting firm SemiAnalysis, titled “We have no moat. And neither does OpenAI.” In the document, which was published within Google in early April, Sernau claimed that the company is losing its artificial intelligence edge, not to the flashy, Microsoft-backed OpenAI—whose ChatGPT has become a huge hit since its release last November—but to open-source platforms like Meta’s LLaMa, a large language model that was leaked to the public in February.

“We’ve done a lot of looking over our shoulders at OpenAI… But the uncomfortable truth is, we aren’t positioned to win this arms race and neither is OpenAI. While we’ve been squabbling, a third faction has been quietly eating our lunch,” he wrote. “I’m talking, of course, about open source. Plainly put, they are lapping us.”

Honestly, this is partly why I’ve been pretty skeptical about the “AI Doomers” who keep telling fanciful stories about how AI is going to kill us all… unless we give more power to a few elite people who seem to think that it’s somehow possible to stop AI tech from advancing. As I noted last month, it is good that some in the AI space are at least conceptually grappling with the impact of what they’re building, but they seem to be doing so in superficial ways, focusing only on the sci-fi dystopian futures they envision, and not things that are legitimately happening today from screwed up algorithms.

And that takes us to last week’s testimony before Congress by OpenAI’s Sam Altman. Sam is very smart and very thoughtful, though it’s not clear to me he fully recognizes the policy implications of what he’s talking about, and that came across in his testimony.

But, of course, the most notable takeaway from the hearing was that the “industry” representatives appeared to call for Congress to regulate them. Senators pretended this was surprising, even though it’s actually pretty common:

Senator Dick Durbin, of Illinois, called the hearing “historic,” because he could not recall having executives come before lawmakers and “plead” with them to regulate their products—but this was not, in fact, the first time that a tech C.E.O. had sat in a congressional hearing room and called for more regulation. Most notably, in 2018, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal—when Facebook gave the Trump-aligned political-consultancy firm access to the personal information of nearly ninety million users, without their knowledge—the C.E.O. of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, told some of the same senators that he was open to more government oversight, a position he reiterated the next year, writing in the Washington Post, “I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators.”

And, of course, various cryptocurrency companies have also called for regulations as well. Indeed, it’s actually kind of typical: when companies get big enough and fear newer upstart competition, they’re frequently quite receptive to regulations. They may make some superficial moves to look like they’re worried about them, but that’s generally for show, and to make lawmakers feel more powerful than they really are. But established companies often want those regulations in order to lock themselves in as the dominant players, and to saddle the smaller companies with impossible to meet compliance costs.

When looked at this way, and in combination with the Google memo about the lack of “moats,” it’s not hard to read last week’s testimony as Altman’s call for Congress to create a moat that protects his company from open source upstarts. Of course, he would never admit that publicly, and instead he can frame it as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2023 at 11:32 am

The Fight for Affordable Insulin Reveals the Moral Bankruptcy of For-Profit Health Care

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For-profit health care does not really care about moral bankruptcy because they have no investment in morality. For-profit corporations, whether in health care, food processing, or car manufacturing, are guided solely by profit — in particular, by increasing profit. Morality is not even in the equation except insofar as it directly affects profits.

For a capitalist healthcare company, raising prices if possible is practically mandatory — example: Martin Shkreli and Daraprim, a life-saving drug used to treat Aids, malaria, and cancer. (After his company acquired Daraprim, it raised the price from $13.50 a tablet to $750 a tablet, prompting a national outcry — but that action was capitalism in action. — see also next post.)

Benjamin Scott Savard writes in Jacobin:

The morning of Wednesday, May 10, a dozen or so diabetics gathered in the shade on the steps of the US Senate Hart Building. At 1:00 p.m., the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (the HELP Committee) was scheduled to hear testimony about the price of prescription drugs, with a focus on insulin. The CEOs of all three major insulin manufacturers — Eli Lilly, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk — as well as executives from the three largest pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) were inside, preparing to testify about the cost of insulin and other drugs.

Thanks to a decade-long fight to protest price gouging and raise awareness, insulin has become a centerpiece in the fight for universal health care. “The fact that all those people were in the room, that there’s a united bipartisan effort to question the big three insulin manufacturers — those things are really encouraging,” said Max Goldberg, a diabetic who traveled from New York City to attend the proceedings.

HELP chair Bernie Sanders announced the hearing on April 21, after a string of policy victories in the fight for affordable insulin. Over the past three years, twenty-two states as well as Washington, DC have passed laws capping the co-pays that insurers can charge patients for insulin prescriptions. California recently contracted with a biotech firm to produce generic insulins for the state to sell at cost. With the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act this year, seniors on Medicare have their insulin co-pays capped to $35 a month per prescription, drugmakers will be penalized for overcharging prescriptions filled through Medicaid, and diabetics on certain high-deductible plans now pay less for insulin before their deductibles are met. Most notably, the hearing took place a month after all three major insulin producers announced expansions to their coupon programs and price reductions on some of their insulins.

Yet far too many diabetics still lack access to affordable insulin. State and federal laws regulating insulin costs have provided protection only for the insured, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of uninsured diabetics. Manufacturer discount coupons are notoriously unreliable and often require smartphone or printer access. Millions of patients rely on newer insulins that will still cost hundreds of dollars per month. As of May 2023, only one brand of insulin — Eli Lilly’s Lispro — has actually seen its price reduced. And according to ongoing research by the nonprofit T1International, no respondent to its survey was able to access the low-price insulin before the hearing took place.

Forcing pharma and insurance executives to testify before the Senate is part of a wider legislative push to expand access to insulin. The Senate is currently debating . . .

Continue reading.

See the next post for an example of enlightened capitalism (vs. hypercapitalism, aka predatory capitalism).

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2023 at 10:37 am

We Need an Economic Bill of Rights

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Mark Paul writes in Jacobin:

Although the United States is richer and more productive than it ever has been, over forty million Americans live in poverty — roughly the same number as in 1933, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to office during the height of the Great Depression, and 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson announced his “war on poverty.”

Despite these troubling numbers, many economists assert the American Dream is alive and well, and that inequality is simply the price we as a nation must pay for economic growth. For years, both Republicans and Democrats accepted this fiction, though lately some Democrats have begun to return to fighting for more democratic control over the economy to broaden prosperity to the working class. Yet the party has no plan to address economic insecurity and poverty and better provide Americans with genuine freedom in their pursuit of happiness.

An economic bill of rights — one that expands on the freedoms enumerated in the Constitution by guaranteeing Americans basic economic security — should be the first step. It’s one that an increasing number of Americans support.

This spring, polling by Data for Progress found that 69 percent of likely voters are in favor of legislation guaranteeing economic security, while just 24 percent are opposed. Young voters, who are less likely to achieve the upward mobility America promises, are even more likely to support the idea, with four out of five voters under forty-five in favor of passing universal economic security. Among voters edging closer to economic peril, those making under $50,000, nearly three out of four want economic rights enshrined in law. This support transcends party affiliation: majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all favor the passage of an economic bill of rights.

Economic rights are not a new idea. On January 11, 1944, as the Allies were turning the tide against fascism, President Roosevelt sat before an array of microphones to deliver his eleventh State of the Union address, which included his demand that Congress immediately take up an economic bill of rights to provide all Americans the right to a job at a living wage; the right to medical care; the right to a home; the right to an education; the right to economic protection from old age, sickness, and accident; and more. Roosevelt had sold Americans on the war as a fight for four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. It was time to focus on the last of these: to guarantee “cradle-to-grave economic security.”

Although Roosevelt’s proposal was sui generis, he was drawing on an all-American history that reached back to its founding. Thomas Paine, the firebrand whose pamphlets spurred a fledgling nation to revolution, had called in Common Sense for the abolition of inheritance rights and the embrace of economic equality as essential in the fight for democracy. Alexander Hamilton argued that a strong centralized state, one that would shape markets and direct the economy to meet human needs, was the nation’s best “guarantor of liberty.” And Abraham Lincoln, through both the Homestead Act and Special Field Order No. 15, had sought to redistribute land to ensure universal economic security for white and black Americans alike (though without consideration for Native Americans, who were forcibly dispossessed through violent measures to provide parcels for white homesteaders).

Roosevelt’s death in April 1945 would forestall the push for economic rights but not extinguish it. Just two decades later, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2023 at 7:39 pm

The Murder of a CIA Officer Was Used to Silence the Agency’s Greatest Critic

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James Risen and Thomas Risen report in The Intercept:

ON THE NIGHT of December 23, 1975, Ron Estes, the CIA’s deputy station chief in Athens, was lounging on the couch in his girlfriend’s apartment when the man who worked as a driver for his boss, Richard Welch, burst through the front door.

“A shooting, and Mr. Welch is down,” the driver yelled.

Estes grabbed his coat and ran outside, ignoring his girlfriend’s pleas to stay.

At Welch’s house in the Greek capital, Estes saw the station chief lying on his back on the sidewalk, his wife, Kika, kneeling beside him. Blood covered Welch’s face, and Estes could see immediately that he was dead. “I didn’t need to feel for a pulse,” he said in an interview. A police car arrived, and Estes asked the officer to call an ambulance. When no ambulance arrived, they hauled the body into Welch’s car and Estes and Welch’s driver followed the police officer, siren blaring and lights flashing, through the streets of Athens to the nearest hospital. A medical team was waiting; they quickly placed Welch on a gurney and took him to an examining room. There, a doctor placed a stethoscope on Welch’s chest and confirmed to Estes that he was dead.

Welch was 46 years old. A career CIA officer, he had been the CIA’s Athens station chief for six months.

At the hospital, Welch’s driver finally caught his breath and told Estes what had happened. He had driven Welch and his wife home from a Christmas party at the U.S. ambassador’s residence, then stopped in front of the walled compound that enclosed Welch’s house to open the front gates. As Welch and his wife got out, three armed men in a black car pulled up behind them, burst out of the car, and confronted Welch.

“Put your hands up!” one of the men told Welch in Greek.

“What?” Welch asked in English.

One of the gunmen leveled his .45 caliber handgun and fired three times. An autopsy later showed that the first shot hit Welch in the chest, rupturing his aorta and killing him instantly. The three men got back in their car and sped away. That’s when Welch’s driver rushed to get Estes.

The hospital lobby soon filled with journalists, who had most likely heard about the shooting by monitoring the city’s police radio. Estes realized that many of them already seemed to know that Welch had been the CIA’s station chief. Steven Roberts, a New York Times reporter in Athens who covered Welch’s murder, wrote the next day that he had been talking with Welch at the ambassador’s Christmas party an hour before the shooting.

A spokesperson from the U.S. Embassy arrived, and Estes slipped away from the crowd of reporters. The police found the gunmen’s car, which had been stolen, abandoned several blocks from Welch’s home.

Back at the CIA station, Estes sent cables to CIA headquarters and talked on a secure phone with a top agency official. “When I finished briefing him, he said, ‘I could only hear about half of what you said.’” Estes recalled. “‘Send me a cable repeating what you said immediately. We’ve got to go to the president.’”

WELCH’S ASSASSINATION WAS huge news and struck a painful political nerve in Washington, coming at the end of a year of stunning disclosures about the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community by the Senate’s Church Committee, which, throughout 1975, had been conducting the first major congressional investigation of the CIA. The Church Committee uncovered so many secrets and generated so many headlines that pundits were already calling 1975 “the Year of Intelligence.”

Before the Church Committee was created in January 1975, there had been no real congressional oversight of the CIA. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees did not yet exist, and the Church Committee’s unprecedented investigation marked the first effort by Congress to unearth decades of abusive and illegal acts secretly committed by the CIA — and to curb its power.

Sen. Frank Church, the liberal Democrat from Idaho who chaired the committee, had come to believe that the future of American democracy was threatened by the rise of a permanent and largely unaccountable national security state, and he sensed that at the heart of that secret government was a lawless intelligence community. Church was convinced it had to be reined in to save the nation.

To a great degree, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2023 at 6:33 pm

American Psychological Association Report Says That Media & Politicians Are Simply Wrong About Kids & Social Media; Media Then Lies About Report

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The world has a superabundance of bad faith actors. Mike Masnick provides an example in his article in Techdirt:

What if the media and the politicians threw a moral panic about kids and social media… and the actual experts didn’t come along? The American Psychological Association has put out a thoughtful, nuanced study, about kids and social media, that suggests that the hyperventilating we’ve heard about is misplaced, and that there are some simple common sense approaches that parents can and should take to make sure their kids are having a healthy experience with social media.

But it seems that the media is so bought into the moral panic narrative, that they’re completely misrepresenting the study, claiming it supports the moral panic.

The core findings, similar to what we’ve been saying all along, and which is supported by multiple other studies, is that social media is not inherently bad for kids. For the vast majority, it’s neutral or positive. There is a small percentage who seem to have issues with it, and we should focus our attention on dealing with those cases, rather than pushing for things like outright bans. From the findings of the APA report:

Using social media is not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people. Adolescents’ lives online both reflect and impact their offline lives. In most cases, the effects of social media are dependent on adolescents’ own personal and psychological characteristics and social circumstances—intersecting with the specific content, features, or functions that are afforded within many social media platforms. In other words, the effects of social media likely depend on what teens can do and see online, teens’ preexisting strengths or vulnerabilities, and the contexts in which they grow up.

Adolescents’ experiences online are affected by both 1) how they shape their own social media experiences (e.g., they choose whom to like and follow); and 2) both visible and unknown features built into social media platforms.

Not all findings apply equally to all youth. Scientific findings offer one piece of information that can be used along with knowledge of specific youths’ strengths, weaknesses, and context to make decisions that are tailored for each teen, family, and community.

Of course, If you’ve been paying attention lately, we’ve been talking a lot about the ongoing moral panic regarding kids and social media. We’re hearing over and over again that social media is dangerous for all kids. Full stop. We’ve pointed out repeatedly that the data and research on the issues do not support literally any of the claims that politicians (and the media) are making about the impact of social media on kids.

But neither the media nor politicians seem to much care about the facts here. Claiming that social media is bad for kids and “something must be done” appeases voters who have been sold this line of bullshit. And, of course, if you scratch the surface a little, it’s not difficult to find the legacy entertainment industry pulling strings behind the scenes. After all, they’ve always hated the internet, and they own the major TV news providers as well, so it’s somehow easy for them to present nonsense as fact and have everyone buy it.

For example, around the same time this report came out . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2023 at 1:26 pm

Clarence Thomas, Harlan Crow, and Leonard Leo’s Defenders Cannot Be Serious

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Dahlia Lithwick writes in Slate:

Last week, several new revelations surfaced about Justice Clarence Thomas and the gifts, benefits, and consulting fees he has garnered from right-wing judicial activist Harlan Crow, and the architect of right-wing judicial activism, Leonard Leo. In addition to ProPublica’s reporting that Crow paid private school tuition for Thomas’ grandnephew, the Washington Post reported last week that Leonard Leo had consulting fees directed to Ginni Thomas in 2012 from a group to which he had ties. He directed pollster Kellyanne Conway to “give” Ginni Thomas “another $25K,” urging that the attendant paperwork have “No mention of Ginni, of course.” Those who continue to insist that Crow and Leo have no business before the courts tend to forget, as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse continues to emphasize, that their business is the courts. The same front group that paid Ginni Thomas in 2012 filed an amicus brief later that year in Shelby County v. Holder. Thomas was the deciding vote to radically constrict voting rights in that opinion.

On this week’s Amicus podcast, Dahlia Lithwick tried to get a better sense of what the “business of the court” truly encompasses. She spoke with Lisa Graves, creator of True North Research. Graves has spearheaded several major breakthrough investigations into those who are distorting American democracy and public policy. Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Dahlia Lithwick: Why is it that we don’t like multimillionaire friends of Supreme Court justices funding their lifestyles, their trips, their travel, and seemingly, uh, their wards’ tuition?

Lisa Graves: It’s because we in America believe that we should have a fair and independent judiciary. And I think that the code of conduct for United States judges that applies to every other judge in the federal system other than the U.S. Supreme Court really makes it clear:

An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should maintain and enforce high standards of conduct and should personally observe those standards, so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved …

A judge should not allow family, social, political, financial, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment. A judge should neither lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.

This really goes to the standard that applies to all judges in America, apparently except for, in any enforceable way, to the Supreme Court. This creates an appearance of bias, an appearance of impropriety, and I think reasonable people from both parties—all parties, no parties—on hearing about Clarence Thomas’ relationship with Crow, the trips, the tuition, and more, are rightfully shocked that any Supreme Court justice, let alone a judge on any court, would engage in such behavior.

The twin claims that Justice Thomas has used to defend himself are that he’s super, super, really good, tight besties with the Crows, so that makes it OK. And also, that somebody told him early in his career that he doesn’t need to disclose the stuff. Do either of those two claims solve the problem you just raised? I just want to point out that Justice Abe Fortas resigned from the court for taking, what, $15,000 to give some lectures at a college? . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2023 at 12:09 pm

Billionaire Harlan Crow Also Bankrolled GOP Lawmakers Blocking SCOTUS Ethics Reform

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I detect a pattern with a goal. Kenny Stancil reports at Common Dreams:

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday sent a letter asking Harlan Crow—the billionaire GOP megadonor who has secretly showered U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts since the mid-1990s—to provide a full accounting of his financial ties to Thomas and any other judges on the high court.

It comes as “no surprise” that none of the panel’s nine Republicans signed the letter, Accountable.US declared Tuesday, because they have collectively accepted nearly half a million dollars in campaign cash from Crow since the turn of the century, as a new analysis from the watchdog group shows.

Last month, one day after ProPublica published its bombshell report on Crow’s under-the-table funding of near-annual luxury vacations for Thomas—the first of what would become many revelations about the two men’s financial relationship—Accountable.US calculated that the current Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee received $453,300 from Crow between 2001 and 2022. The group revised that figure up to $457,000 on Tuesday in light of a $3,700 donation Crow made to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) earlier this year.

The following is a list of Crow’s total contributions to the nine GOP lawmakers on the panel as well as their affiliated PACs and joint fundraising committees, in descending order:

• Sen. John Cornyn (Texas): $294,800
• Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa): $46,600
• Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.): $23,900
• Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas): $23,500
• Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.): $20,600
• Sen. Mike Lee (Utah): $19,500
• Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.): $13,400
• Sen. John Kennedy (La.): $8,300
• Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.): $6,400

“There should be bipartisan outrage about the undisclosed gifts and travel billionaire megadonor Harlan Crow has given Justice Thomas,” Accountable.US president Kyle Herrig said last month. “Senate Judiciary Republicans should join their Democratic colleagues to act. However, their silence so far may be because they have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Crow as well.”

“The highest court in the land should have the highest ethical standards,” he added. “When it doesn’t, Congress should exert its oversight authority.”

Not only have Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee with apparent conflicts of interest refused to join their Democratic colleagues in trying to establish enforceable ethics rules for the Supreme Court, but they have attempted to  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2023 at 10:29 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP, Government, Law, Politics

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The Corruption of Lindsey Graham: A case study in the rise of authoritarianism.

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In Bulwark William Saletan has a very interesting series of articles (link is to the first article in the series) on how the US Republican party gradually converted itself into an authoritarian party. Lindsey Graham is used as the model. From that first article at the link:

I’m not interested in what’s distinctive about Graham. I’m interested in what isn’t. How does his story illuminate what happened to the whole Republican party? How did the poison work?

We need to answer these questions because the authoritarian threat is bigger than one man. Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency destroyed the myth that the United States was immune to despotism. Our institutions and the people who run them are vulnerable. We have to confront these vulnerabilities and learn how to deal with them before our democracy is threatened again.

So why focus on Graham?

First, because he was a central player in the Republican party’s capitulation to Trump. And second, because he talked constantly. He produced an enormous trove of interviews, speeches, press briefings, and social media posts. Through these records, we can see how he changed, week to week and month to month. We can watch the poison work.

It’s a slow death. The surrender to despotism doesn’t happen all at once. It advances in stages: a step, a rationalization. Another step, another rationalization. The deeper you go, the more you need to justify. You say what you need to say. You believe what you need to believe.

So let’s go back to the beginning. Let’s see who Lindsey Graham was before he drank the poison. . .

Written by Leisureguy

9 May 2023 at 1:56 pm

Harlan Crow Sure Isn’t Paying for *Your* Kid’s School

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Dahlia Lithwick writes in Slate:

In 1969, Justice Abe Fortas resigned his seat at the Supreme Court for accepting $15,000 in exchange for a series of paid lectures at American University. Part of the Fortas scandal also involved news of him accepting a stipend for doing legal work for a very rich friend (money he had actually returned when the benefactor was indicted and before the outcry).

None of Fortas’ colleagues defended him for this. No one blamed the press or even the Nixon administration (which very much orchestrated the ouster). It was widely understood that Fortas had done something that undermined the public legitimacy and independence of the court and that he had to go.

Over the past few weeks we have learned that Justice Clarence Thomas took multiple luxury vacations, valued in millions of dollars , over many years, paid for by Harlan Crow, a billionaire GOP donor who has business before the court. We know Crow had also contributed the $500,000 seed money that became Ginni Thomas’ Liberty Central, which paid her salary. We also know that Harlan Crow purchased the home in which Justice Thomas’ mother currently resides, rent free. And late last week, we learned that Crow paid years’ worth of private school tuition for Thomas’ grandnephew, Mark Martin, of whom Thomas had legal custody and whom Thomas was, as he put it, “raising as a son.” Justice Thomas knew such gifts needed to be disclosed because he did so with another tuition payment gifted to Martin in 2002. But he did not report the tuition Crow paid.

Last Thursday, we also learned that in January in 2012, Leonard Leo arranged to have Ginni Thomas paid $25,000 for consulting work through Kellyanne Conway’s polling company. The funds came from the Judicial Education Project, a dark money group that listed its address as a UPS Store in Georgetown. Leo’s instruction to Conway asked her to funnel the cash to Ginni, and took care to note that the paperwork should have “No mention of Ginni, of course.” A few short months later, the Judicial Education Project filed an amicus brief in Shelby County v. Holder, arguing for the dismantlement of the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County was a 5-4 decision, with Justice Thomas in the majority.

The insult-comic response to all these revelations has been some sighing version of “I sure wish I had friends like Harlan Crow,” and “I sure wish had friends like Leonard Leo.” The problem is: Most of the justices, and certainly most politicians and judges and people of generalized fanciness already do have friends like Harlan Crow. American governance is so inextricably bound up with capitalism and cronyism that the shocker would in fact be if justices didn’t have a few friends who were the sort of wealthy political operatives who could buy them a pony or two on demand.

Which means the difference is not . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2023 at 9:30 pm

Senate probe that cleared Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault had “serious omissions”

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Tatyana Tandanpolie writes in Salon:

There were “serious omissions” in the 2018 Senate investigation of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, which reportedly found no evidence supporting claims of sexual assault against him, The Guardian reports.

The outlet obtained a 28-page report that Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time of the investigation, released alleging that Kavanaugh accuser Deborah Ramirez, a fellow Yale graduate, was likely “mistaken” when she claimed Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a dorm party decades earlier. To back the suggestion, the report referenced another Yale student who was allegedly known for committing similar acts.

Colorado-based attorney John C. Smith Jr., a friend and former colleague of Mike Davis, then Grassley’s chief counsel for nominations, was the source of this unverified claim, The Guardian reported, citing a non-redacted copy of his September 2018 email to Davis. Smith is also a member of the Federalist Society, which backed Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

The attorney wrote that he was in a class behind Kavanaugh and Ramirez’s class of 1987 and believed that she had likely incorrectly identified Kavanaugh. Smith instead suggested his classmate, Jack Maxey, who was a member of Kavanaugh’s fraternity, allegedly known for exposing himself at parties, was the perpetrator. He attached an image of Maxey exposing himself in the fraternity’s 1988 yearbook photo to the email as support for his theory.

The Senate committee included the claim of Ramirez’s potential misidentification in its report despite Maxey — who was only described in it — not attending the university at the time of the alleged incident.

Maxey told The Guardian that he was still a senior in high school during that time and denied any allegation that he had ever exposed himself to Ramirez.

“I was not at Yale. I was a senior in high school at the time. I was not in New Haven,” he said. “These people can say what they want, and there are no consequences, ever,” he added.

He also said that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2023 at 5:45 pm

Look at all the great stuff we lost because of inflation scare-talk

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From Pluralistic:

Call me a conspiratorialist if you must. But when CEOs get on earnings calls and brag about how covid, war, and scare-stories about inflation let them hike their prices and rake in never-before-seen profit margins, I think it’s reasonable to blame inflation on greed, not on workers getting a couple of relief checks during the lockdown.

Amazingly, this is a controversial position! For more than a year, Very Serious People have dismissed the greedflation hypothesis – that CEOs aren’t lying when they boast about using pretexts to hike prices – is a conspiracy theory used to dupe people who Just Don’t Understand Economics.

Jeff Bezos – whose profits soared during the lockdowns, even as his workers sickened and died in droves – went on a Twitter tear last March to tell us that free gubmint money (for workers, that is) was causing inflation:

And Bezos’s columnists and editorial board at the Washington Post told the same story, calling greedflation “foolishness” and a “bizarre theory” and demanding that the Fed hike interest rates, drive Americans out of work, and “curtail their spending power” to fight inflation:

This message was repeated by the Very Serious People’s Chorus, from us US Chamber of Commerce:

to Republican Senators:

to famous nepobabies, who dismissed greedflation as the product of conspiratorialists and “trolls”:

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Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2023 at 12:13 pm

Staying Clear-Eyed About Republican Radicalism on the Debt Ceiling

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Norm Ornstein writes in The Bulwark:

We are nearing a crash into the debt ceiling, the most tangible threat to the full faith and credit of the United States in our lifetimes. But unless you’re paying close attention, you might not know why default is a genuine threat, nor why this crisis is really happening.

The problem is that much of the press coverage reflects neither the direness of the situation nor the reality of whose actions are actually threatening default. Most of the stories published in the mainstream media in the last few days have been about House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ability to get his plan through the House. The stories before that were largely about why President Joe Biden has not met with McCarthy to negotiate, or when he will hold the meeting. But to treat this as a normal political negotiation, or as one where both sides are equally at fault, is to distort reality.

Take, for example, how the story was covered last Thursday by Politico’s Playbook, a daily newsletter read widely every morning by the political and journalistic establishments. Playbook’s reporting on House Republicans’ passage of their debt ceiling plan was basically a paean to McCarthy’s adroitness in eking out a one-vote victory and speculation about the future of his speakership. There was nothing on what was in the bill—nothing about how radical and cynical it is. (More on that in a moment.)

Or take this New York Times report from Thursday covering the options now faced by Biden, focusing largely on tactics, as if this were a normal and typical negotiation—one where Biden is not cooperating because he won’t meet with McCarthy to do the horsetrading necessary to reach a deal.

To be sure, both Politico and the Times have covered this issue in depth elsewhere. And there are other mainstream outlets that have offered blunt, accurate reporting and analysis.

But the tendency to slide into familiar journalistic ruts—to focus on the mechanics of dealmaking rather than on what makes the situation historically abnormal and dangerous—must be constantly resisted.

ow radical is the proposal that House Republicans passed? You can read the bill for yourself here, but Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell summarized it well: Under the plan, “most overall nondefense discretionary spending would be slashed by nearly one-third on average in 2024, after adjusting for inflation. The cuts would then expand to roughly 59 percent, on average, by 2033, according to estimates from both the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for American Progress.”

How cynical is the Republican proposal? It was not passed with any expectation that it would become law, since everyone knows that the Democratic-led Senate and the Democratic president would not allow that to happen. It is a complete nonstarter. Which means that the GOP is using the possibility of devastating cuts to programs on which millions of Americans rely—eviscerating crucial public services and safety net protections—as a kind of symbolic gesture for the purposes of negotiation.

How historically extreme is the Republican proposal? Of course, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Republicans don’t like government, so it seems they are going to destroy it.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2023 at 12:03 pm

All Rise: How Judges Rule America

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Matt Stoller has an excellent post in BIG:

Today, I’m writing about judges. Most political discourse about the judiciary is partisan, and focuses on the Supreme Court, and the various important policy choices on social questions that body organizes. Of late, Clarence Thomas has been in the crosshairs over gift disclosures. And an obscure conservative activist named Leonard Leo, who picked most of the judges during the Trump administration, is also in the news for receiving a $1.6 billion donation to engage in political advocacy.

But when it comes to judges, a partisan lens obscures more than it illuminates. The truth is, in terms of corporate power, judges from both parties are subverting anti-monopoly policy. To show how, I’m going to focus on a newly appointed Biden judge, Ana C. Reyes, who is right now hearing a case in D.C. that involves a multi-billion dollar merger of two residential hardware tech firms, Assa Abloy and Spectrum Brands. It isn’t a high-profile case, but it is precisely when people aren’t watching that you see how the system works.

“It is the people, and not the judges, who are entitled to say what their Constitution means, for the Constitution is theirs, it belongs to them and not to their servants in office—any other theory is incompatible with the foundation principles of our government.” – Teddy Roosevelt, 1912

Policy vs Judges

The Biden administration, and increasingly both parties, have moved to skepticism towards consolidated corporate power. In 2016, the Republicans and Democrats included commentary about anti-monopoly in their party platforms for the first time in decades. Both Trump and Biden brought ground-breaking antitrust suits against Google, and experts on both sides have come to recognize that there is a serious monopoly crisis in America, with a lack of competition across the board in sectors as diverse as search engines, agribusiness, and airlines. This concentration crisis fosters inequality, damages innovation and productivityharms incomes, and transforms entire industries into ‘kill zones’ where no one will invest.

A recognition of the problem is shaping policy. In the summer of 2021, the Biden administration issued an executive order making competition a centerpiece of the White House’s economic agenda, with minimal pushback from the GOP. Biden is following a broader social trend of seeing markets as politically constructed.

Last year, Congress moved for the first strengthening of antitrust law in decades, allowing state AGs an easier time to bring cases. It also passed the CHIPS Act, recognizing that semiconductors matter to the U.S., and that the ‘free market’ isn’t a thing. Similar deliberate policy choices are happening in electric vehicles, solar panels, and fossil fuels.

The national security world is a key forum for this debate; military leaders have recognized the devastation that monopolies have wrought on the defense base. Indeed, Jake Sullivan, the head of the National Security Council, offered a death knell to the old philosophy when criticizing America’s old global economic strategy vis-a-vis China. “There was one assumption at the heart of all of this policy,” he said, “that markets always allocate capital productively and efficiently—no matter what our competitors did, no matter how big our shared challenges grew, and no matter how many guardrails we took down… The shocks of a global financial crisis and a global pandemic laid bare the limits of these prevailing assumptions.” Here too there are consequences; the Department of Defense and Federal Trade Commission worked together to block the merger of Lockheed Martin and Aerojet.

And yet, this epiphany, that markets are politically structured and don’t have a will of their own, hasn’t made it to one very important place: the judiciary. The same week Sullivan gave his speech, a panel of three D.C. Circuit Court judges struck down a monopolization case against Facebook on the grounds that markets self-correct. “Many innovations may seem anti-competitive at first but turn out to be the opposite,” wrote the panel, “and the market often corrects even those that are anti-competitive.” The D.C. Circuit Court panel was bipartisan, and included Republican appointees Karen L. Henderson and Raymond Randolph, as well as Obama appointed judge Robert Wilkins.

These words undermine Congressional statute, and may devastate the ability to use antitrust law against digital platforms, at least in the D.C. Circuit. The specific procedural question was on the right of state attorneys general to bring an antitrust case over a violation that happened years earlier, as Federal enforcers can. Three judges made a policy decision to disallow that, even as Congress had just passed a law a few months earlier to make it easier for states to participate in antitrust enforcement.

In other words, the power of judges is massive, and judges openly and often thwart the will of Congress. And this power is not necessarily based on partisan or traditional ideological affiliations. Take another case. Last week, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

3 May 2023 at 10:24 am

The debt ceiling is unconstitutional

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Heather Cox Richardson makes a good case that the debt ceiling is contrary to the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

Written by Leisureguy

3 May 2023 at 9:01 am

Congress Has Known About John Roberts’s Wife’s Shady Financial Dealings for Months

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I think this report explains why John Roberts is so strongly opposed to an ethics code of conduct for the Supreme Court: it would have a strong adverse impact on his family’s finances. Prem Thakker writes in The New Republic:

Jane Roberts, the wife of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, has allegedly been paid more than $10 million by an array of high-class law firms; at least one of these firms argued a case before her husband in the Supreme Court, after paying her hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the cherry on top is that Congress has known about these allegations for months.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has come under immense pressure to do something, anything, in the face of numerous revelations of how crooked America’s Supreme Court is. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have both been exposed to have participated in shady dealings; frustration mounted as Roberts has refused to cooperate with the Senate Judiciary Committee in responding to the troubling allegations.

And now, it’s becoming more and more clear why: it’s a small club, and Roberts has no problem being part of it.

Business Insider reports that two years after Roberts ascended to lead the court in 2005, his wife Jane pivoted from an illustrious career as a lawyer to become a legal recruiter, matching lawyers up to elite corporations and firms. Between 2007 and 2014, Jane Roberts cashed in $10.3 million in commissions in her newfound career. And the complaint pressing forward the revelations was filed in December; reporting on Jane Roberts’s ethically-questionable career vis-a-vis her husband’s position had been published even back in January.

The allegations come from Jane Roberts’s old colleague, Kendal B. Price, who worked at the same recruiting firm she did. In Price’s complaint, he explains that a partner at the firm told him Jane Roberts was “the highest earning recruiter in the entire company ‘by a wide margin.’” While she surely may be highly-qualified, the eye-popping numbers cause even more concern to the question of how Supreme Court justices and their families enrich themselves—particularly at the expense of judicial responsibility, given that some of the firms Jane Roberts profited from would then appear in front of the court led by her husband.

“She restructured her career to benefit from his [John Roberts’] position,” Price wrote in an affidavit. “I believe that at least some of her remarkable success as a recruiter has come because of her spouse’s position.”

The details of exactly how much Jane Roberts has made follows the stream of revelations related to other conservative justices on the court. Justice Thomas has received secret and lavish gifts for decades from Nazi memorabilia–collecting billionaire and GOP donor Harlan Crow, including luxurious island-hopping excursions on superyachts and even a secret deal in which Crow bought Thomas family property and proceeded to upgrade it while Thomas’s mother still lived in it.

Last week, it was revealed that Justice Neil Gorsuch successfully sold a 40-acre property that he had been trying to sell for two years to an undisclosed buyer; the buyer of the nearly $2 million Colorado ranch was the CEO of a law firm that has since had 22 cases with business before the court.

Amid all this, Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin has continued to remain under fire. He has spent weeks now . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2023 at 9:45 am

King Roberts

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Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern write in Slate:

Last Thursday, Sen. Dick Durbin invited Chief Justice John Roberts to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about, well, to put it directly—the Supreme Court’s diaphanous ethics regime. On Tuesday evening, in his letter to Durbin in which he declined the invitation, Roberts finally named the problem: “Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by the Chief Justice of the United States is exceedingly rare, as one might expect in light of separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence,” he wrote. In other words, the justices can enforce checks and balances on the other branches, but the other branches can enforce no checks or balances upon the justices. Which is precisely the problem the Senate Judiciary Committee is attempting to solve.

In an accompanying “Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices,” presumably released for the public, the chief justice laid out the web of laws and practices and guidelines used voluntarily by each justice to determine their individual ethics obligations. Perhaps he was attempting to clarify things, but instead the document illuminates the problem. These obligations and commitments are advisory, unenforceable, and subjective. In response to the widespread concern that no person should be a judge in their own cause, the court has confirmed that it shall continue to be the sole judge of that. (Meanwhile, it will enforce this principle against other courts—which is great, but also … come on!)

Put aside for a moment Politico’s new report that Justice Neil Gorsuch failed to disclose that he’d sold his valuable Colorado property to a prominent lawyer with multiple cases before the court only nine days after he was confirmed, or Bloomberg’s new revelations that Harlan Crow, Justice Clarence Thomas’ GOP-megadonor billionaire friend, also had business before the court, yet his lavish gifts to Thomas were not disclosed because the justice said Crow had no business before the court. Note also that Gorsuch’s failure to disclose has been defended on the grounds that the justice was not friends with the purchaser of his land, whereas Thomas’ failure to disclose Crow’s gifts has been defended on the grounds that the justice was close friends with him. Which “friend” rule wins? Who can possibly know.

The justices themselves are wholly responsible for this high-octane ethics quagmire, which now drags into its fourth week. Any sane institution that relies wholly on public approval, when faced with multiple irrefutable reports of distortions and deception, would respond with a plan to do better. It speaks volumes that the Imperial Court’s response is a promise to simply continue to do the same. Why? Because it thinks the other branches won’t do anything about it. As Ian Millhiser noted in Vox this week, the Constitution makes it extraordinarily difficult to remove a justice, or diminish the court’s power. The reason it is set up this way, believe it or not, is because the framers thought the judiciary would rise above the partisan fray. In practice, however, the Supreme Court has proven remarkably easy for one political party to capture. Its members are selected through a flagrantly political process. It is formed by political imperatives. And yet the court pretends—and demands we all pretend—that it’s magically purified of politics as soon as its justices are seated.

In reality, it’s just a monarchy tricked out as the least dangerous branch, with black robes instead of bejeweled crowns. Indeed, the implicit argument that justices are somehow entitled to live like kings is part of the current ethics problem. For their part, the justices insist that it must ever be thus, not realizing that the only question that matters is whether that willful blindness can be imposed upon the country by fiat. Chief Justice Roberts appears to believe it can.

Perhaps the most depressing part of Roberts’ refusal to appear before the Senate is his claim that such appearances should be “exceedingly rare.” (The chief justice himself testified before Congress on ethics reform before.) It seems the rule is that it’s only ever the court that will determine when it has an ethics problem. Correcting that is precisely why Sen. Durbin invited him to testify. The fact that the chief justice thinks it’s up to him to let us know when it thinks it’s having a legitimacy crisis? That’s why it’s having a legitimacy crisis.

In truth, Roberts probably realizes that the court’s current policy of complete self-policing is indefensible. That’s why he didn’t try to defend it in his letter. In place of a justification, he churned out a brief . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2023 at 10:48 am

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