Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Situation Report: Killing off the Libertarian Hellscape Timeline

leave a comment »

Dave Troy’s Situation Reports are always worth reading. Here’s the latest.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 5:04 pm

Matt Stoller’s Open Thread: Have You Ever Been Through a Merger?

leave a comment »

Matt Stoller has an interesting open thread, which he introduces with this:

Last week, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan and Department of Justice Antitrust Division chief Jonathan Kanter announced they are going to revise merger policy, and they want public input before doing so. Therefore, today’s open thread for paid subscribers is about mergers. Have you been through a merger? Orchestrated a merger? Dealt with a customer or supplier going through a merger? What was it like? Do you have any broader observations about corporate combinations?

Here are my experiences.

In my first job out of college, the tiny company at which I worked went through a merger. This was during the dot com boom, and we were floating on venture capital trying to find a business model. Our CEO came upon a small but profitable company that made accounting software in a niche area. The founders wanted to get out of the business because they had been running the company for twenty years and sought to retire, and we seemed like a good energetic group who could take over. So we bought it, and instantly became profitable.

You’d think this would be a great situation. But with little industry background, we flailed around for a year, enraging customers and partners. Our product ‘upgrade’ made the software worse, which became clear when we had to deal with significant customer service issues involving bugs, incompatible systems, and just bad accounting. As a 23 year old, I ended up being told to fire seven people that year, including people 20 years older with more wisdom and insight (as well as more responsibilities).

We eventually cleaned up the mess, but the experience stuck with me as I learned more about antitrust and corporate strategy. Since the 1980s, economists have come to believe that mergers are nearly always good, that the combined firms are more efficient. When I learned that the bedrock assumption behind antitrust economics is that mergers are nearly always efficient, I thought it was a joke. But it’s not.

The merger I went through was a best-case scenario. It involved a small firm passing from one generation to the next, without any real problems involving monopolization. And yet there was a massive loss of efficiency if only because the new team had to learn the business. For bigger mergers, and mergers involving private equity-type transactions, mergers are often value-destructive. In 2018, for instance, AT&T fought the government’s antitrust division for the right to buy Time Warner, and won. The combo turned into a giant turf battle among executives, management consultants crawled all over the place, sucking out cash, and finally three years later, AT&T is undoing the transaction on which they wasted tens of billions of dollars. That’s the usual story (plus the $400M golden parachute for the Time Warner CEO, which is unfortunately also quite common).

But some mergers are far worse than just a waste of resources. I encountered one of these when I was a staffer in the Senate. When Office Depot and Staples were trying to merge, the CEO of a 150-person firm that sold to office supply stores came to my office and asked for help stopping the deal. The buyer who dealt with his particular product category at Staples was a 25 year-old kid who didn’t like him, and wanted to source from China. If Staples got control of Office Depot, his business would die. He told me most of the office supply industry agreed with this assessment, but all of them were too afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation. He begged me to keep the visit a secret. Fortunately, a judge blocked the Staples-Office Depot combination.

But this kind of weird uneconomic transaction, where large amounts of power are put in the hands of random unqualified corporate actors, is  . . .

Continue reading. And comment.

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2022 at 2:42 pm

How Predator Priests Avoid Jail

leave a comment »

The previous post contains a detailed example of how a large and strongly hierarchical organization failed its expressed ideals, and this video describes another large and strongly hierarchical organizations failure in ts expressed ideals. It seems to me the source of the problem is not the size — even small organizations, as small as a family, sometimes provide glaring examples — but the strong hierarchy. The families that fail — for example, Amish families that conduct and conceal the rape of their children — are also typically strongly hierarchical. 

Something about a strong hierarchy corrupts those to whom the hierarchy delivers power — perhaps it’s as simply as Lord Acton’s dictum that power corrupts, perhaps because those near the top see themselves as free from rules that apply to the lower ranks, granting themselves privileges by virtue of their position. The lesson is clear: beware strong hierarchies.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 3:07 pm

Abolish Coroners

leave a comment »

Eleanor Cummins writes in the New Republic:

They’re responsible for a massive undercounting of Covid deaths in America. But that’s just the latest reason to get rid of this poorly regulated, overly politicized, and utterly unscientific relic of the colonial era.

Wavis Jordan “doesn’t do Covid deaths.” That’s what the pastor and Republician coroner of Cape Girardeau County, Mississippi, told Missouri Independent last month. He requires families to submit a positive test if they want coronavirus listed on the death certificate. Otherwise, the cause of deaths at home in his county are attributed to a range of other conditions that might be exacerbated by Covid-19, including Alzheimer’s, heart attack, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—but never the virus itself.

Jordan isn’t the only death investigator undercounting Covid-19. In Louisiana’s Lafayette Parish, for example, people are currently being pronounced dead over the phone; without enough Covid tests, the county writes down “what the families tell us,” according to a recent USA Today report. In Rankin County, Mississippi, the local coroner told USA Today that many families initially refuse Covid-19 as a cause of death—until they learn about the federal government’s burial reimbursement program. The cut corners add up: In 2020 and 2021, there were one million excess deaths in the United States, but only 800,000 have been attributed to Covid-19 by the coroners and medical examiners on the ground.

These stories may seem shocking. But they’re no surprise to anyone familiar with the American coroner system, a notoriously underfunded, under-regulated, and often unscientific relic of the colonial era—and the crumbling bedrock of modern public health surveillance. The pandemic has simply shown what many public health experts have been arguing for years: The coroner system has got to go.

Historically, coroners have been political appointees or elected officials associated with the criminal justice system. They investigate any death that doesn’t appear natural—a broad category that includes suicides, homicides, and accidents. They may also pitch in with pandemics, natural disasters, and other mass casualty events that overwhelm frontline services. For those who die in a hospital, the majority of death certificates are signed by physicians. But when people begin to die en masse at home, as happened in the early parts of the pandemic, the responsibility falls on coroners and medical examiners. In 2018, the most recent year for which national data is available, more than 1.3 million deaths were referred for further investigation, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In the last century, the role of coroners and medical examiners has become increasingly important for tracking diseases, researching outcomes of both chronic and infectious diseases and safety issues, and developing effective public health intervention strategies. But unlike medical examiners, who are physicians and, in ideal cases, trained forensic pathologists, the bar for coroners is often much lower. In some states, anyone 18 years or older with no prior felonies may be elected coroner. Once they’re in office, training is patchwork; some jurisdictions require no further education at all.

The coroner system has its roots in medieval England, where coroners protected the interests of the crown, including investigating deaths and collecting taxes. It arrived in the U.S. in the colonial period, where  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 January 2022 at 11:36 am

How Debt-Based License Suspensions Criminalize Poverty

leave a comment »

This is the kind of injustice that is mostly invisible to those who live in economically segregated neighborhoods and make a good salary. From the video description:

Delaware could end one of the cruelest ways the legal system criminalizes poverty. Millions of Americans have suspended driver licenses due to outstanding fines, leading to lost jobs and endless cycles of debt. Delaware may soon join 22 states working to stop this injustice of debt-based license suspensions.

Written by Leisureguy

19 January 2022 at 4:49 pm

The Billionaires Funding the Coup’s Brain Trust

leave a comment »

Andy Kroll reports in Rolling Stone:

The Claremont Institute, once a little-known think tank often confused with the liberal-arts college of the same name, has emerged as a driving force in the conservative movement’s crusade to use bogus fraud claims about the 2020 election to rewrite voting laws and remake the election system in time for the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election. Most infamously, one of the group’s legal scholars crafted memos outlining a plan for how then-Vice President Mike Pence could potentially overturn the last election.

Conservative mega-donors like what they see.

The biggest right-wing megadonors in America made major contributions to Claremont in 2020 and 2021, according to foundation financial records obtained by Rolling Stone. The high-profile donors include several of the most influential families who fund conservative politics and policy: the DeVoses of West Michigan, the Bradleys of Milwaukee, and the Scaifes of Pittsburgh.

The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation donated $240,000 to Claremont in 2020 and approved another $400,000 to be paid out in the future, tax records show. The Bradley Foundation donated $100,000 to Claremont in 2020 and another $100,000 in 2021, according to tax records and a spokeswoman for the group. The Sarah Scaife Foundation, one of several charities tied to the late right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, supplied another $450,000 to Claremont in 2020, according to its latest tax filings.

Claremont’s own tax filings show that its revenue rose from 2019 to 2020 by a half-million dollars to $6.2 million, one of the highest sums since the organization was founded in 1979, according to the most recent available data. A Claremont spokesman said the group wouldn’t comment about its donors beyond publicly available data but estimated that Claremont’s revenue for the 2021 fiscal year had increased to $7.5 million.

The DeVoses, Bradleys, and Scaifes are among the most prominent donor families in conservative politics. For Bradley and Scaife, the giving to Claremont tracks with a long history of funding right-wing causes and advocacy groups, from the American Enterprise Institute think tank and the “bill mill” American Legislative Exchange Council, to anti-immigration zealot David Horowitz’s Freedom Center and the climate-denying Heartland Institute.

Bradley in particular has given heavily to groups that traffic in misleading or baseless claims about “election integrity” or widespread “voter fraud.” Thanks to a $6.5 million infusion from the Bradley Impact Fund, a related nonprofit, the undercover-sting group Project Veritas nearly doubled its revenue in 2020 to $22 million, according to the group’s tax filing. Bradley is also a long-time funder of the Heritage Foundation, which helped architect the wave of voter suppression bills introduced in state legislatures this year, and True the Vote, a conservative group that trains poll watchers and stokes fears of rampant voter fraud in the past.

The Bradley Foundation was founded in 1942 by the Bradley family. Brothers Harry and Lynde Bradley co-founded the Allen-Bradley company, which would later provide much of the funding for the Bradley Foundation. The nonprofit, which has given out more than $1 billion in its history, no longer has any Bradley family members on its board.

But while the Bradley donations are to be expected, the contributions from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation to Claremont are perhaps more surprising. Betsy DeVos, in one of her final acts as Trump’s education secretary, condemned the “angry mob” on January 6 and said “the law must be upheld and the work of the people must go on.”

A spokesman for the DeVoses, Nick Wasmiller, said Betsy DeVos’s letter “speaks for itself.” He added: “Claremont does work in many areas. It would be baseless to assert the Foundation’s support has any connection to the one item you cite.” While the foundation’s 2020 tax filing said its grants to Claremont were unrestricted, Wasmiller said the filing was wrong and the money had been earmarked. However, he declined to say what it was earmarked for.

The donations flowing into Claremont illustrate that although the group’s full-throated support for Trump and fixation on election crimes may be extreme, they’re not fringe views when they have the backing of influential conservative funders. “Were it not for the patronage of billionaire conservatives and their family foundations, the Claremont Institute would likely be relegated to screaming about its anti-government agenda on the street corner,” says Kyle Herrig, president of government watchdog group Accountable.US.

The Claremont spokesman responded to Herrig’s comment by saying . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2022 at 5:59 pm

Hope on the Horizon

leave a comment »

Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

“Despotism, be it financial or political, is vulnerable, unless it is believed to rest upon a moral sanction. The longing for freedom is ineradicable. It will express itself in protest against servitude and inaction unless the striving for freedom be made to seem immoral.” – Louis Brandeis, 1914

Today I’m writing about how the fight against monopolies is moving into a new stage. We’re actually starting to win some things here and there.

In the courts, the regulatory agencies, and Congress/states, the power of dominant firms is, ever so slightly, beginning to erode. It’s a weird time to say that, because politics is otherwise so dysfunctional. Retail sales are down, so is manufacturing output, inflation is at 7%, and a majority of Americans, pretty evenly across both parties, feel that democracy is in danger of collapsing. So that’s not good.

But beneath the surface, the relationship that the public with the most powerful institutions in American society – dominant corporations – is changing.

Here are eight different examples from the last week showing that monopolists are facing real headwinds.

(1) Big Tech Antitrust Trials Move Forward as Facebook Loses Motion to Dismiss
The antitrust trials against big tech are moving forward, and the government is doing well. There are two big trials, one by the Federal Trade Commission, and one by a group of state attorneys general. On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission won an important procedural step against Facebook. Judge Boasberg – who is not particularly friendly to antitrust enforcers – had dismissed the first agency complaint filed in 2020, but Lina Khan filed a new complaint with stronger claims. Facebook asked for another dismissal, and even more aggressively, for Khan to be recused. The judge ruled against Facebook on both counts, so the case will be going to trial. (I was on Marketplace talking about this development, which you can listen to here.)

On the second case against Facebook, with state attorneys general, the judge had ruled against them on obscure procedural grounds. In a different context, the states would have given up in a fight against one of the biggest companies in the world. This time, however, they appealed.

Meanwhile, in the Texas case against Google, a judge unsealed the price-fixing deal between Google and Facebook in which Google paid Facebook to withdraw from the third party online market, further revealing that Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg both personally signed off on the deal. Oh, and there are more details on exactly what Google was doing in its rigging of advertising auction markets, which is known in technical terms as ‘stealing.’

(2) Antitrust Law Hits Individual Executives
Martin Shkreli, the infamous pharma bro put in jail for securities fraud, was found personally liable for directing a scheme to inflate the cost of the life-saving drug Daraprim by excluding competitors from the market. A judge order him to pay $64 million, and also barred him from the pharmaceutical industry for life. More than the obnoxiousness of the villain, the precedent here matters. It’s rare for an individual to be found liable for monopolization, so this decision means that judges are getting more comfortable seeing antitrust violations as immoral behavior, instead of seeing the problem as well-meaning businessmen being a bit too zealous.

Antitrust expert Dina Srinivasan had an interesting comment. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and we could all use some cheering up.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2022 at 11:10 am

Judge Tosses Teen Rape Conviction, Says 148 Days in Jail Is ‘Plenty of Punishment’

leave a comment »

Just to be clear: the judge reversed his own decision because he decided that raping someone was not that big a deal. (The rape was of a minor (16 years old) and done by an adult (18 years old).) Zoe Richards reports in Yahoo! News:

An Illinois judge had a shocking outburst in court Wednesday, kicking a prosecutor out with minimal explanation as outrage grows over the judge’s decision to reverse his own ruling on a teen accused of rape.

“Mr. Jones, get out,” Adams County Judge Robert Adrian fumed as he ordered Josh Jones of the Adams County State’s Attorney’s Office to leave the courtroom. The Muddy River News, whose journalist was in court, reported that Jones was set to appear in an unrelated case but had apparently “liked” a Facebook post supporting domestic violence survivors in the wake of Adrian’s extraordinary ruling in the rape case .

“I’m not on social media, but my wife is,” Adrian said. “She saw the thumbs up you gave to people attacking me.”

He added: “I can’t be fair with you today. Get out.”

Adrian declined The Daily Beast’s request for comment about the outburst on Wednesday, citing a Supreme Court rule that urges judges to abstain from public comment about pending or impending proceedings.

The move comes as critics slam Adrian for tossing out a sexual assault conviction for 18-year-old Drew Clinton, who allegedly stuffed a pillow in a girl’s face as he raped her at a graduation party in May last year.

Clinton’s accuser, 16-year-old Cameron Vaughan, broke her silence Tuesday days after Adams’ reversal on Jan. 3.

“I woke up at my friend’s place with a pillow over my face so I couldn’t be heard and Drew Clinton inside of me,” Vaughan said, according to WGEM. “I asked him to stop multiple times and he wouldn’t.”

After finally pushing him off, Vaughan said, Clinton jumped up to play video games “as if nothing had happened.”

During a bench trial in October, Clinton was found guilty of one count of criminal sexual assault. But last week, Adrian changed his mind and sensationally declared the teen “not guilty” during a sentencing hearing.

According to a copy of last week’s hearing transcript, the judge insisted that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 January 2022 at 4:28 pm

Police power and its misuse to incarcerate the innocent

leave a comment »

Lara Bazelon reports in New York:

At 7:45 p.m. on December 27, 1986, Faheem Ali was shot dead in the streets of Baltimore. No physical evidence tied anyone to the killing, and no eyewitnesses immediately came forward. But Baltimore homicide detectives Thomas Pellegrini, Richard Fahlteich, and Oscar “The Bunk” Requer were not going to give up easily.

Requer was later immortalized as a central character in David Simon’s iconic HBO series The Wire. As Simon wrote in the afterword for his acclaimed 1991 nonfiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, Requer “lives on in Wendell Pierce’s portrayal of the legendary Bunk Moreland on The Wire, right down to the ubiquitous cigar.” Pellegrini, meanwhile, was the jumping-off point for Detective Tim Bayliss, a character in the long-running television show Homicide: Life on the Street, which was inspired by Simon’s bookRequer and Pellegrini are among a constellation of Baltimore Police Department officers who have, through Simon’s work, defined what it means to be a homicide detective in the popular imagination — and whose biggest cases are starting to fall apart or have been overturned.

Determined to find out who killed Faheem Ali, Pellegrini, Fahlteich, and Requer homed in on 12-year-old Otis Robinson, who was outside when the shooting happened. They allegedly brought Robinson and his mother to the police station and separated them, questioning the seventh-grader alone. Robinson told the detectives that when he left his house to go to the corner store, he saw a few men across the street in conversation, though he didn’t notice much in the dark. As he continued walking toward the store, he heard a gunshot and fled.

Even though Robinson insisted he could not identify a shooter, the detectives showed him an array of photos, including one of Gary Washington, a 25-year-old Black man, according to a lawsuit Washington filed against the city and the detectives in 2019. Robinson knew Washington, but he made clear that he did not see who shot Ali. The detectives wrote down this statement.

Then, according to the lawsuit, the questioning took a turn. “Cooperate,” the detectives allegedly told the 12-year-old, “or you’ll never see your mother again.” Unless Robinson identified the shooter, the officers allegedly continued, he could be charged with homicide.  Robinson “crumbled under the pressure” of threats from the detectives, according to the lawsuit, and signed a second statement falsely identifying Washington as the shooter. His first statement was never turned over to prosecutors or defense attorneys for Washington. (Attorneys for the defendants have denied liability in court pleadings but declined to comment, stating that they were “constrained to speak only through the judicial process.”)

Five months later, Pellegrini testified at a pretrial hearing. The lawsuit says he “committed perjury” by telling the court that Robinson was not threatened or coerced when he implicated Washington. The next day, Washington was tried on first-degree murder and weapons charges. On the witness stand, Robinson testified that Washington was the shooter. Washington’s attorneys called multiple witnesses who testified that the killer was a man named Lawrence Thomas, but the jury believed Robinson. As a judge later wrote, “For all intents and purposes, Otis Robinson was the state’s entire case.” Washington was convicted of Ali’s murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Robinson recanted his testimony in 1996 to an investigator for Washington. He did the same in court in 1999 and again in 2017, explaining he had been strong-armed by detectives. In 2018, a judge overturned Washington’s conviction. In 2019, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges against him. Lauren Lipscomb, the deputy state’s attorney who oversees both the Conviction Integrity Unit and Police Integrity Unit, stated, “We respect the finding of the judge who found Robinson’s recantation credible. Evidence insufficiency is not the same as factual innocence and evidence insufficiency is the reason we dismissed.”

Washington, now 57, walked free. He spent more than three decades in prison. Whether the detectives who put him there will face any repercussions remains to be seen.

Since 1989, 25 men convicted of murder in Baltimore have been exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Official misconduct was present in 22 of the cases. “The history of BPD officers and detectives withholding exculpatory evidence from the accused, coercing and threatening witnesses, fabricating evidence, and intentionally failing to conduct meaningful investigations is decades long,” wrote the attorneys for Clarence Shipley, a Baltimore man who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit before he was exonerated in 2018. “BPD’s misconduct in [Shipley’s] case,” they said, is “yet another chapter in the long story of BPD’s pattern and practice of wrongdoing during homicide investigations.”

Baltimore homicide detectives have coerced witnesses (including children), fabricated evidence, ignored alternative suspects, and buried all of that information deep in their files, attorneys for Washington and other exonerees say. “So much of this is a war mentality that is infused with a strong racist edge,” said Michele Nethercott, who retired in July as the director of the University of Baltimore Innocence Project. “It is a war out here and we just do whatever we have to do and if that means threatening kids and threatening witnesses, we will do it. They use the same tactics on the witnesses as they do on the suspects.”

More than a dozen such cases can be traced directly to misconduct by the Baltimore Police Department in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the detectives accused of being bad actors — Pellegrini, Requer, Fahlteich, Donald Kincaid, Gary Dunnigan, Terrence McLarney, Jay Landsman, and several others — were chronicled in Simon’s book Homicide. Some of them, like Pellegrini, Landsman, and Requer, inspired beloved television characters on Homicide: Life on the Street or, later, The Wire.

On The Wire,  . . .

Continue reading. What the police did was disgusting, and the fact that they will not be punished is even more disgusting.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2022 at 4:57 pm

Why more stringent regulation is needed for ‘forever chemicals’

leave a comment »

The Harvard Gazette has a three-question interview:

 The Biden administration recently announced a plan to set enforceable drinking water limits on certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—long-lasting, man-made chemicals that are used in a wide range of consumer products and that are known to pose health risks to millions of Americans. Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, discusses the importance of regulating PFAS.

Q: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it plans to establish a national drinking water standard for certain PFAS chemicals by March 2023. What do you think of the plan?

A: I’m thrilled about it. Any support we can conjure for the EPA to get going is good, because we’re so far behind in limiting the use of these dangerous chemicals. PFAS are used in many products, such as waterproof clothing, nonstick cookware, firefighting foams, cosmetics, food packaging, cleaning supplies, and electronics. We know that the blood of nearly all Americans contains some PFAS, which we call “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the body. And we’ve shown with two decades of intensive research that PFAS are linked to serious health issues such as kidney and testicular cancer, weakened immune system, endocrine disruption, fertility problems, and decreased birth weight.

The European Union (EU) is way ahead of the U.S. on regulating PFAS. In September 2020, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) set a new safety threshold for the four most common PFAS. The EPA’s limit is for only two PFAS—PFOS and PFOA—and it’s more than 30 times higher than the European limit, and it pertains only to drinking water. So that illustrates how far behind the U.S. is.

In setting their limit, the EFSA took into account toxicity to the immune system posed by PFAS, which is expressed by lowered antibody responses to childhood vaccines—an effect that we first reported in JAMA in 2012. The EFSA’s exposure limit is meant to ensure that women of reproductive age do not accumulate too much of a PFAS burden. The strategy makes sense, in my opinion, because PFAS compounds tend to pass through the placenta during pregnancy, so that a mother will share her accumulated burden of these compounds with the next generation. In addition, our 2015 study found that when the mother is breastfeeding—something that is strongly recommended by the CDC and WHO—these compounds are excreted through human milk. The infant may reach a blood concentration of PFAS that is 10-fold higher than the mother’s. And this happens at the most vulnerable stage of life, when various organs and biochemical functions are being fine-tuned. If something goes wrong at this stage, it will likely stay with us for the rest of our lives and affect our disease risks later on.

For example, in a study we published recently, we found that, even in nine-year-old children, their accumulated PFAS exposures were associated with elevated cholesterol, an outcome that was thought only to affect adults. And people who have high cholesterol as children or young adults are also likely to have high cholesterol later in life.

Q: The EU regulated four PFAS, but not others. Why?

A: The EU decided to look at those four because they are so-called “legacy” PFAS, about which there is substantial documentation. They didn’t address the field of substitutes—new potential compounds that might enter the environment in the future. But we have to face this problem at some point. These compounds are so useful that, if industry realizes there’s a certain compound they can’t use, they will immediately look for alternatives. That’s my concern, and many of my colleagues have the same concern: that if the physical and chemical properties of the substitutes are the same, they may have the same toxicological problems as the legacy chemicals.

One positive development in the U.S. is that, in late December, the EPA granted a petition from six North Carolina public health and environmental justice organizations to compel companies to conduct toxicity testing of additional PFAS. It’s a step in the right direction.

Q: Given that substitutes may be dangerous, what do you think governments should do in terms of regulating PFAS?

A: I’m willing to accept that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2022 at 12:56 pm

A determined effort to destroy the United States

leave a comment »

If this isn’t domestic terrorism and sedition, I don’t know what is. Heather Cox Richardson:

January 11, 2022 (Tuesday)

The United States came perilously close to losing its democracy in 2020, when an incumbent president refused to accept the results of an election he lost and worked with supporters to declare himself the winner and remain in power.

We are learning more about how that process happened.

Yesterday, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol revealed that it has been looking at attempts to overturn the election not just at the national level but also at the state level. It has gathered thousands of records and interviewed a number of witnesses to see what Trump and his loyalists did to overturn the 2020 election in the four crucial states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

In those states, officials generally tried to ignore the pressure from Trump and his loyalists to overturn the election. In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, was uncomfortable enough with a call from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham on the subject that he recorded a call in which Trump urged him to “find” the votes Trump needed to win the state.

In Pennsylvania, right-wing Republican Representative Scott Perry tried to throw out Pennsylvania’s votes for Biden and to replace Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen (who took over when Attorney General William Barr resigned on December 23) with Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department lawyer who promised to challenge the election results.

But it turns out there was more. We knew that Trump supporters in Wisconsin had submitted fake election certificates to the National Archivist, but yesterday, public records requests by Politico revealed that Trump loyalists in Michigan and Arizona also submitted false certificates to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) declaring Trump the winner of Michigan’s and Arizona’s electoral votes. In Arizona, they actually affixed the state seal to their papers. NARA rejected the false certificates and alerted the secretaries of state. (Shout-out here to the NARA archivists and librarians, who are scrupulous in their roles as the keepers of our national history.)

Today, the committee issued more subpoenas, this time for documents and testimony from Andy Surabian, Arthur Schwartz, and Ross Worthington. Surabian and Schwartz were strategists communicating with Donald Trump, Jr., and Kimberly Guilfoyle about the rally on the Ellipse on January 6 before the crowd broke into the Capitol. Worthington helped to write the speech Trump gave at the rally.

The committee today also debunked a story circulating on right-wing media that government agencies rather than Trump loyalists were behind the January 6 insurrection. Arizona resident Ray Epps was captured on video in Washington on January 5 and 6, and Trump allies, including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) have argued that he was a government agent trying to entrap Trump supporters. The committee says that it interviewed Epps and that he had told the members “he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on January 5th or 6th or at any other time, and that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency.”

“Sorry crazies, it ain’t true,” committee member Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) tweeted.

As the attack on our country has become clearer, the determination to restore our democracy has gained momentum.

Today, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took to the road to champion voting rights. They went to the district of the late Representative John Lewis, the Georgia congressman for whom one of the voting rights bills before the Senate is named.

Lewis was beaten by mobs and arrested 24 times in his quest to regain the vote for Black Americans. On March 7, 1965, as  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2022 at 9:53 pm

The Police Will Never Change In America. My experience in police academy.

leave a comment »

Using a temporary username, a person posted the following on Reddit:

Throwaway for obvious reasons. If you feel If i’m just bitter due to my dismissal please call me out on it as I need a wake up call.

Over the fall semester I was a police recruit at a Community Colleges Police Academy in a midwestern liberal city. I have always wanted to be a police officer, and I felt like I could help kickstart a change of new wave cops. I am passionate about community oriented policing, making connections with the youth in policing, and changing lives on a individual level. I knew police academy would be mentally and physically challenging, but boy oh boy does policing need to change.

Instructors taught us to view citizens as enemy combatants, and told us we needed a warrior mindset and that we were going into battle everyday. It felt like i was joining a cult. Instructors told us supporting our fellow police officers were more important than serving citizens. Instructors told us that we were joining a big bad gang of police officers and that protecting the thin blue line was sacred. Instructors told us George Floyd wasn’t a problem and was just one bad officer. I tried to push back on some of these ideas and posed to an instructor that 4 other officers watched Chauvin pin Floyd to the ground and did nothing, and perhaps they did nothing because they were trained in academy to never speak against a senior officer. I was told to “shut my fucking face, and that i had no idea what i was talking about.”

Sadly, Instructors on several occasions, and most shockingly in the first week asked every person who supported Black Lives Matter to raise their hands. I and about a third of the class did. They told us that we should seriously consider not being police officers if we supported anti-cop organizations. They told us BLM was a terrible organization and to get out if we supported them. Instructors repeatedly made anti-LGBT comments and transphobic comments.

Admittedly I was the most progressive and put a target on my back for challenging instructor viewpoints. This got me disciplined, yelled at, and made me not want to be a cop. We had very little training on de-escalation and community policing. We had no diversity or ethics training.

Despite all this I made it to the final day. I thought if I could just get through this I could get hired and make a difference in the community as a cop and not be subject to academy paramilitary crap. The police academy dismissed me on the final day because I failed a PT test that I had passed multiple times easily in the academy leading up to this day. I asked why I failed and they said my push up form was bad and they were being more strict now it was the final. I responded saying if you counted my pushups in the entrance and midterm tests than they should count now. I was dismissed on the final day of police academy and have to take a whole academy over again. I have no plan to retake the whole academy and I feel like quality police officers are dismissed because they don’t fit the instructors’ cookie-cutter image of a warrior police officer and the instructors can get rid of them with saying their form doesn’t count on a subjective sit up or push up tests. I was beyond tears and bitterly disappointed. Maybe policing is just that fucked in America.

The warrior-mindset (vs. the guardian-mindset) training is indeed prevalent, and specifically viewing every citizen as a potential hostile threat — see, for example, this article. And it is common for those who have power in a particular organizational culture will use that power to resist changes to the culture (which, they fear, will mean a reduction in their own power).

The comments to the post are worth reading — and see also this Harvard Law Review article on the problem of the warrior mindset and this article that advocates in favor of a warrior mindset.

BTW, I believe a warrior mindset is totally appropriate in soldiers in a shooting war, and totally inappropriate in an organization that is supposed to be a guardian of the public’s safety and Constitutional rights — and even the accused have rights, something many police disapprove of (because the public is the Enemy).

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2022 at 5:59 pm

Average citizens have no measurable impact on public policy

leave a comment »

Here’s an article by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, who also wrote the book Democracy in America?: What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It. An abstract of the article (which itself is worth reading — and see also the previous post):

Each of four theoretical traditions in the study of American politics – which can be characterized as theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, and two types of interest group pluralism, Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism – offers different predictions about which sets of actors have how much influence over public policy: average citizens; economic elites; and organized interest groups, mass-based or business-oriented.

A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.



American Democracy?

Each of our four theoretical traditions (Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, Majoritarian Interest Group Pluralism, and Biased Pluralism) emphasizes different sets of actors as critical in determining U.S. policy outcomes, and each tradition has engendered a large empirical literature that seems to show a particular set of actors to be highly influential. Yet nearly all the empirical evidence has been essentially bivariate. Until very recently it has not been possible to test these theories against each other in a systematic, quantitative fashion.

By directly pitting the predictions of ideal-type theories against each other within a single statistical model (using a unique data set that includes imperfect but useful measures of the key independent variables for nearly two thousand policy issues), we have been able to produce some striking findings. One is the nearly total failure of “median voter” and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.

Interest groups do have substantial independent impacts on policy, and a few groups (particularly labor unions) represent average citizens’ views reasonably well. But the interest group system as a whole does not. Over-all, net interest group alignments are not significantly related to the preferences of average citizens. The net alignments of the most influential, business oriented groups are negatively related to the average citizen’s wishes. So existing interest groups do not serve effectively as transmission belts for the wishes of the populace as a whole.

Furthermore, the preferences of economic elites (as measured by our proxy, the preferences of “affluent” citizens) have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do. To be sure, this does not mean that ordinary citizens always lose out; they fairly often get the policies they favor, but only because those policies happen also to be preferred by the economically elite citizens who wield the actual influence.

What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

A possible objection to populistic democracy is that average citizens are inattentive to politics and ignorant about public policy; why should we worry if their poorly informed preferences do not influence policy making? Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does. Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.

But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect. Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status. Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one’s own interests or a determination to work for the common good.

Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

As a comment by Don McCanne, MD points out:

Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page present historical data that show that average Americans, even when represented by majoritarian interest groups, have negligible influence in shaping public policy. In sharp contrast, the economic elites and their business-oriented interest groups wield tremendous influence in public policy.

Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez have shown that the flow of income to the top has resulted in a concentration of wealth that is not only self-sustaining but likely to perpetuate the transfer of more wealth to the wealthiest, at a cost to everyone else.

This combination – a concentration of wealth at the top with the domination of policymaking by the economic elite, does not bode well for new policies that would be established for the common good.

In health care reform, the common good would have been served by improving coverage through the removal of financial barriers to care and by expanding coverage to everyone. Instead, the interests of the economic elite were served by increasing the market for private insurance products that, for the majority, increased financial barriers to care and reduced choice of providers, while leaving tens of millions of the most vulnerable without any coverage. More wealth moves to the passive investors at the top, while the deterioration in coverage requires average Americans to spend more out-of-pocket through higher deductibles.

We desperately need a well-designed single payer system if we want everyone to have the health care that they should have. At this point it appears that the economic elites are not going to allow single payer, and we will have no say.

Even though our Constitution laid the plans for a democracy, by fiat we now have a plutarchy (plutocratic oligarchy). Although Gilens and Page have shown that our Majoritarian Electoral Democracy has “only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” perhaps the people can still change that. Although recent history demonstrates citizen inertia, that does not necessarily lock in the future. Think of Social Security, Medicare, and the Civil Rights Act.

A decade ago, in a book review for the NEJM on . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2022 at 12:04 pm

Can a President do nothing illegal while in office?

leave a comment »

Trump and his loyalists/minions certainly seem to think that Trump cannot be held legally accountable for anything he did while in office. Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta held a hearing in Washington, D.C., to determine whether three lawsuits against former president Trump and a number of his loyalists should be permitted to go forward.

The lawsuits have been filed by Democratic members of the House and Capitol Police officers injured on January 6 against Trump, lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL), and others. The plaintiffs are trying to hold Trump and his team liable in a civil suit for inciting the January 6 insurrection.

But the questions in these three cases mirror those being discussed by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, and touch on whether the former president committed a crime by inciting insurrection or by standing back while the rioters stopped the official proceedings of Congress (which itself is a crime).

Most significantly, Judge Mehta grappled with the meaning of Trump’s refusal to call off the rioters for 187 crucial minutes during the insurrection as they stormed the Capitol. This is a key factor on which the January 6th committee is focused, and Mehta dug into it.

While Trump’s lawyer tried to argue that the president could not be in trouble for failing to do something—that is, for failing to call off the rioters—the judge wondered if Trump’s long silence indicated that he agreed with the insurrectionists inside the Capitol. “If my words had been misconstrued…and they led to violence, wouldn’t somebody, the reasonable person, just come out and say, wait a second, stop?” he asked.

The judge also tried to get at the answer to whether the actions of Trump and his loyalists at the rally were protected as official speech, or were part of campaign activities, which are not protected. Brooks told the judge that everything he did—including wearing body armor to tell the crowd to fight—was part of his official duties. The Department of Justice said this summer that it considered the rally a campaign event and would not defend Brooks for his part in it.

Trump’s lawyer, Jesse Binnall, argued that Trump is absolutely immune from any legal consequences for anything he said while president. “So the president, in your view, is both immune to inciting the riot and failing to stop it?” Mehta asked.

When Binnall suggested the judge was holding Trump to a different standard than he would hold a Democrat, Mehta called the charge “simply inappropriate.”

For all their bluster before the media, key figures in the events of January 6 appear to be increasingly uncomfortable. Last night, Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) joined other Trump administration figures when he announced that he would not appear before the January 6th committee. It has asked him to testify voluntarily, since he has acknowledged that he spoke to Trump on January 6, and since the committee has at least one text from him appearing to embrace the theory that the election results could be overturned.

Jordan claimed that the committee has no legitimate legislative purpose, although a judge has said otherwise.

Observers today noted that Jordan is denying that he recognizes the authority of Congress, and pointed out that in 2015, then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did, in fact, recognize that authority when she testified for 11 hours before ​​a Republican-led House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Today, establishment Republicans showed some resistance to Trump’s attempt to remake the Republican Party as his own when they . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2022 at 3:17 am

Ivy League Cartel Sued for Price-Fixing

leave a comment »

Matt Stiller writes in Big:

Last April, Sam Haselby and I wrote a piece titled “Break up the Ivy League Cartel,’ offering a history of the elitism of top universities in America. For hundreds of years, these top schools have policed the moral, cultural, and economic boundaries of what forms the American elite, and in the post World War II era, the global elite. They are in many ways a cartel of institutions that share strategy on endowment funds, academic trends, cultural capital and student management.

But it’s not just this informal elite-production model that makes such universities a cartel; they are also an *actual cartel.* Today, a group of class action law firms sued 16 universities for price-fixing against low-income students in the admissions process, which is the key gatekeeping mechanism designed to enhance prestige. The defendants are the wealthiest and most powerful academic institutions in America: Brown, CalTech, the University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Emory, Georgetown, MIT, Northwestern, Notre Dame, the University of Pennsylvania, Rice, Vanderbilt, and Yale.

The specific charge is that these universities colluded to price-fix the terms of financial aid. Working together to provide scholarships isn’t necessarily illegal. A lot of universities give out scholarships based on income, under the premise that higher education should be an equalizing force in American society. Some schools even say they make admissions ‘need-blind,’ which means that they don’t take into account ability to pay when determining which students to accept. Instead, the admissions department accepts students based on merit, and then gives accepted students scholarships to make sure they can afford the schooling.

But what specifically makes someone ‘needy’ in a ‘need-blind’ system? The answer to that is an accounting question, so universities work together through an organization called the 568 President’s Group to set the terms for what makes someone needy. Now, if this also sounds like open price-fixing, that’s because it is. But done properly, it’s not necessarily illegal. The reason is universities have been caught before for price-fixing, and part of the settlement of that suit was that they were given an antitrust exemption so they could work together to price scholarships, within certain bounds.

In 1991, the Justice Department investigated 23 prestigious Northeastern universities – including Harvard, Yale, and MIT – for holding an annual meeting in which they “discussed the financial aid applications of 10,000 students who had been accepted to more than one institution in the group,” ultimately colluding to offer the same financial package to these students. The Attorney General called them a “collegiate cartel.” After the settlement, top universities agreed to stop the meetings, but it’s hard to watch the Ivy Leagues without concluding that they are watching each other and mimicking each other carefully.

This settlement was codified when Congress passed the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994. Universities were allowed to work together to establish standards for who is needy, and how much they would need. However, to qualify for the antitrust exemption, universities had to admit “all students” on a need-blind basis. If they aren’t need-blind for everyone, they can’t work with other universities to price admissions.

Do these universities have a need-blind policy for all students? Most of them say that they do. But as it turns out, admissions officers have a nasty habit of letting in the children of the wealthy and powerful, in return for donations and prestige. “At Dartmouth,” so goes the complaint, “development officers meet with admissions staff to review a list created by the development office. Each year, up to 50 applicants may be considered through this special process, most of whom are admitted, accounting for 4-5% of Dartmouth’s student body.” Selling admissions to the powerful is policy at many of these schools.

Sometimes the individual cases are jaw-dropping. For example, the CEO of Sony, Michal Lynton, was trying to get his daughter into college, and the private equity baron Leon Black, who had been on the board of Dartmouth, tried to recruit her to that school, because of the assumption that a large donation would accompany her to campus.

Alas, Black failed. Lynton went to Brown, as did her father’s $1 million donation.

 

It’s not always about money. At Georgetown, the dean of admissions said, “On the fundraising side, we also have a small number of ‘development potential’ candidates. If Bill Gates wants his kid to come to Georgetown, we’d be more than happy to have him come and talk to us.” But don’t worry, he added, “not all those special cases end up being people who give a lot of money. We have children of Supreme Court justices, senators, and so on apply. We may give extra consideration to them because of the opportunities that may bring.”

So these schools do not accept all students on a need-blind basis. And that creates a problem, because high-end universities restrict their incoming classes, which generates scarcity and prestige. Class size doesn’t increase with increasing population size, it is fixed, with the goal of these universities turning themselves into, as Scott Galloway notes, luxury brands. For instance, in 1940, the acceptance rate at Harvard was eighty-five percent. In 1970, it was twenty percent. For the class of 2025, it was 3.4 percent.

This zero sum situation means that if there are a preset number of slots that go to the wealthy, to alumni, or to the powerful, then that number of slots is not going to people who don’t have the money to attend. If you do favors for the wealthy in the admissions process, then you aren’t a need-blind admission system, and you don’t quality for the antitrust exemption. But the complaint also shows that, far from merely letting in the children of the wealthy while otherwise in all other areas being need-blind, many of these institutions actually discriminate against students who need scholarships. Vanderbilt, Penn, and Columbia don’t seem to be need-blind, with Penn and Vanderbilt officials conceding that who they accept off the waiting list depends in part on who needs financial aid. So they really don’t qualify for any antitrust exemption.

Is there really harm? Yes. The complaint shows that when universities move away from the consensus methodology for calculating the cost of college, the price they charge goes down. So there are financial costs at issue, and the 170,000 alumni who were overcharged when they went to these schools with underpowered financial aid packages deserve compensation.

It’s a very clever suit, legally speaking. No one can reasonably dispute whether universities have colluded, or whether they maintain policies favoring potential donors. There’s no need to establish a secret conspiracy, as it’s out in the open. The only real question is whether what universities have done is illegal. It’s a simple question of law, with few disputes on the facts. It’s no surprise that the suit was brought by some of the savvier plaintiff firms (Roche Freedman, Berger Montague, FeganScott, and Gilbert Litigators & Counselors).

It’s also a profoundly embarrassing suit. Every university gets a little profile in the complaint, showing how basically the students are nearly all rich kids, and the endowments of these schools are ridiculousHere, for instance, is the profile of the University of Pennsylvania. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2022 at 7:14 pm

The Jan. 6 Insurrectionists Begging for Pardons Sound an Awful Lot Like Confederate Soldiers

leave a comment »

In Mother Jones Anthony Conwright points out an interesting similarity:

Receiving a presidential pardon for subverting the government is not a novelty in the United States, though the Trump era made it almost a stamp of approval for criminal behavior. In an interview with Rolling Stone, an organizer of the “Stop the Steal” movement claimed that, before the Capitol breach, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Az.) promised a “full pardon” for their “hard work” and said Trump was also on board.

“I would have done it either way with or without the pardon,” the organizer, who was granted anonymity by Rolling Stone, added. Gosar joined 197 other House Republicans who voted not to impeach Donald Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” absolving Trump of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which forbids any person who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the United States from “hold[ing] any office…under the United States,” itself a pardon of sorts.

Of course, now that Trump is out of office, the January 6 rioters aren’t going to get pardoned anytime soon. But the insurrectionists and their leaders have an awful lot in common with another group of white people who tried to destroy the country: Confederate soldiers. And the era of Reconstruction offers lessons for what happens when the government allows traitors posing as patriotic legislators to remain in its midst.

On December 8, 1863, while the war was still raging, Abraham Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which, in a bid to popularize emancipation, gave a full pardon to all Confederates who took an oath of allegiance to the United States, excepting the highest-ranking officials. Once 10 percent of those who voted in the 1860 election took the oath of allegiance, a state could be readmitted to the union. Private property of Southerners would be restored, so long as emancipation was accepted. The goals of Lincoln’s proclamation were to “suppress the insurrection” and provide a pathway for Confederate states to join the union; in other words, to allow the South to turn over a new leaf and help the country move forward.

Radical Republicans feared Lincoln’s 10 percent plan was too lenient. They were proved right when, after Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson—who not a year earlier gave a speech saying, “I am for a white man’s government, and in favor of free white qualified voters controlling this country, without regard to negroes”—began undermining Reconstruction. He started by pardoning high-ranking Confederates. Among them was Harry T. Hayes, a former Confederate general who led the rebels at Gettysburg. Following Hayes’ pardon, he became sheriff of New Orleans and in 1866 deputized fellow Confederates to disrupt a Louisiana constitutional convention. When a delegation of 130 Black citizens marched to the convention to extend voting rights to free Black people, remove Black Codes, and disenfranchise ex-Confederates, Hayes and his deputies fired upon the group, killing at least 40 free Black people in what is known as the New Orleans massacre.

In a speech, Johnson blamed the massacre on the “Radical Congress” pushing for a “new government” that intended “to enfranchise one portion of the population, called the colored population, who had just been emancipated, and at the same time disenfranchise white men.”

Trump, who opposed redesignating military bases named after Confederate generals, echoed Johnson days after the insurrection, blaming “antifa people.” He repeated the refrains he’d been pounding on for months, falsely accusing predominantly Black counties of election fraud. “All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats.” Trump’s “radical-left Democrats” are Johnson’s “Radical Congress,” a coalition of progressives who attempted to thwart their president’s anti-Black agenda. Like Johnson, Trump views Black suffrage as antithetical to his political existence. “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Trump’s lies about the insurrection were a remastering of the South’s “lost cause,” a Confederate myth that the Civil War was not a battle for slavery but for “states’ rights” against Northern aggressors, and that white enslavers were benevolent owners of Black human beings. The lost cause presented Confederates with an attractive concession: The South lost the war not because their position was morally repugnant but because the North had superior resources.

Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, touted the “lost cause” in his autobiographyThe Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. “I confidently refer for the establishment of the fact that whatever of bloodshed, of devastation, or shock to republican government has resulted from the war, is to be charged to the Northern States.” Davis was pardoned on December 25, 1868, when Johnson extended amnesty to each person who’d participated in the rebellion—which jettisoned Davis’ trial for treason and contravened Republicans’ attempts to punish Confederate soldiers—ultimately expunging every Confederate of crimes against the United States. (Although Davis was pardoned by Johnson, he was not allowed to vote or hold office. Davis was posthumously awarded “full rights of citizenship” in 1978 by Jimmy Carter.)

Trump reappraised the violence, treachery, and death his supporters caused on January 6 as honorable protest of “innocent people” whose rights were plundered. In Trump’s contemporary fiction, he did not lose the election—his presidency was overthrown by Democratic marauders, and he lacked the political resources to surmount their coup. In the year since,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2022 at 4:25 pm

Former gun industry insider explains why he left to fight for the other side

leave a comment »

Back in November NPR had an interesting interview in which Dave Davies interviews Ryan Busse. You can listen to the interview at the link; the text report begins:

Author Ryan Busse jokes that he was born with “a shotgun in one hand and a rifle in the other.” It’s a shorthand he uses to explain the significant role that guns played in his childhood in western Kansas.

“I grew up hunting and shooting with my father. Guns were things we used on the ranch and farm,” he says. “The few times that we got to spend together doing something fun and enjoyable, oftentimes it was with a gun. … [Guns] are things that became very culturally important to us.”

After college, Busse went to work for the firearms manufacturer Kimber America, where he was so good at marketing the weapons that he became a rising star of the industry. But over the years, he became disillusioned when he saw the NRA refuse to consider gun controls after mass shootings.

“After Columbine, [the NRA] stumbled upon this idea that fear and conspiracy and hatred of the other could be used to drive and win political races,” he says. “And, accidentally, those are exactly the same things that in high doses drove unhealthy portions of firearm sales.”

Busse notes that when he first started out, weapons manufacturers refused to market high-powered automatic weapons to the public. But, he says, the gun makers and the NRA have since embraced military-style weapons and tactical gear, branding them as symbols of masculinity and patriotism. This is when, he says, “the frightening vigilante activity that we have seen with Kyle Rittenhouse or the various other incidents across the country really got its start.” (Rittenhouse was tried and acquitted of all charges related to the shooting deaths of two men and the wounding of another during protests in Kenosha, Wis., in 2020.)

Busse eventually left the gun industry. In 2020, he accepted a position as an adviser to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, and in 2021 he was hired as a senior advisor to the gun violence prevention group Giffords. He says he still owns and uses guns, and he believes in Americans’ right to do the same.

But, he says, “I also know that every right that we enjoy has to be balanced with the appropriate amount of responsibility. And I believe that over time … that has gotten badly out of whack.”

Busse has written a new book called Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America.

Interview highlights

On what changed the way he viewed the gun industry

When Sandy Hook happened, our boys were almost exactly that same age. It was just horrific to think about it, and so I became more disillusioned and more troubled, and it just became this sort of perilous existence. It was much tougher. And I couldn’t hold my tongue. That knife edge was tougher to walk on. ..

I did my best to try to change the things I can change. Something I didn’t see coming, perhaps, was the degree to which the industry grew and changed into this behemoth. I didn’t see the unbelievably huge ballooning of guns and the gun industry’s importance in politics. When I started, really, it was very much like a small cottage industry. Everybody knew everybody. The companies were pretty small, but much like many other facets of America, it grew into something so large that I was deluding myself to think that I could have a measurable impact on something that had grown that large and powerful.

On how the NRA identity and strategy changed

My grandfather, who was a proud FDR Democrat, his favorite hat was the big black NRA gold-lettered hat. … the NRA to him meant safety and camaraderie and responsibility. Then my father was an NRA member and up until the point where he disavowed his membership, we received the NRA magazines in our home. … They were about interesting guns or shooting competitions or trapper leagues or things of that sort. Never about the impending doom of our republic or some conspiracy theory. … It’s often reported that the NRA is sort of a tool of firearms manufacturers. I found it to be exactly the opposite: The NRA ran the show. They set the course for the industry and everybody followed, and nobody questioned.

On how the NRA and the industry reacted to the 1999 Columbine school massacre . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2022 at 6:57 am

What lies behind the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and the murderers’ conviction

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson wrote last night:

oday, Judge Timothy Walmsley sentenced the three men convicted of murdering 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020, as he jogged through a primarily white neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia. Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan chased Arbery in their trucks, cornering him on a suburban street. Travis McMichael shot and killed the unarmed Arbery, while Bryan filmed the encounter from inside his truck.

While the men were convicted of several different crimes, all three were convicted of felony murder or of committing felonies that led to Arbery’s death. Under Georgia law, they each faced life in prison, but the judge could determine whether they could be paroled. Judge Walmsley denied the possibility of parole for the McMichael father and son, but allowed it for Bryan. Under Georgia law, that means he will be eligible for parole after 30 years.

The state of Georgia came perilously close to ignoring the crimes that now have the McMichaels and Bryan serving life sentences.

Gregory McMichael was connected to the first two district attorneys in charge of the case, both of whom ultimately recused themselves, but not until they told law enforcement that Georgia’s citizens arrest law, dating from an 1863 law designed to permit white men to hunt down Black people escaping enslavement, enabled the men to chase Arbery and that they had shot him in self-defense. In late April, the state’s attorney general appointed a third district attorney to the investigation. “We don’t know anything about the case,” the new district attorney told reporters. “We don’t have any preconceived idea about it.”

On April 26, pressure from Arbery’s family and the community had kicked up enough dust that the New York Times reported on the case, noting that there had been no arrests. Eager to clear his name, and apparently thinking that anyone who saw the video of the shooting would believe, as the local district attorneys had, that it justified the shooting, on May 6 Gregory McMichael arranged for his lawyer to take the video to a local radio station, which uploaded it for public viewing.

The station took the video down two hours later, but not before a public outcry brought outside oversight. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case, and two days later, on May 7, GBI officers arrested the McMichaels. On May 11, the case was transferred to Atlanta, about 270 miles away from Brunswick. On May 21, 2020, officers arrested Bryan.

On Wednesday, November 24, a jury found the three men guilty of a range of crimes on the same day that the first district attorney turned herself in to officials after a grand jury indicted her for violating her oath of office and obstructing police, saying she used her position to discourage law enforcement officers from arresting the McMichaels.

The Arbery case echoes long historical themes. Arbery was a Black man, executed by white men who saw an unarmed jogger as a potential criminal and believed they had a right to arrest him. But it is also a story of local government and outsiders, and which are best suited to protect democracy.

From the nation’s early years, lawmakers who wanted to protect their own interests have insisted that true American democracy is local, where voters can make their wishes clearly known. They said that the federal government must not intervene in the choices state voters made about the way their government operated despite the fact that the federal government represents the will of the vast majority of Americans. Federal intervention in state laws, they said, was tyranny.

But those lawmakers shaped the state laws to their own interests by limiting the vote. They actually developed and deployed their argument primarily to protect the institution of human enslavement (although it was used later to promote big business). If state voters—almost all white men who owned at least some property—wanted to enslave their Black neighbors, the reasoning went, the federal government had no say in the matter despite representing the vast majority of the American people.

After the Civil War, the federal government stepped in to enable Black men to protect their equality before the law by guaranteeing their right to vote in the states. But it soon abandoned the effort and let the South revert to a one-party system in which who you knew and what you looked like mattered far more than the law.

After World War II, returning veterans, civil rights lawyers, and grassroots organizers set out to register Black and Brown people to vote in their home states and got beaten and murdered for their efforts. So in 1965, Congress stepped in, passing the Voting Rights Act.

It took only about 20 years for states once again to begin cutting back on voting rights. Then, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, and states promptly began to make it harder to vote. Since the 2020 election,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2022 at 12:45 pm

The Unreality of Money

leave a comment »

David Troy writes in Medium:

The Tenuous Relationship Between Money and Reality

What’s Happening Now

Continue reading. There’s more. The game is afoot.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2022 at 3:44 pm

The failure to protect

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson writes about January 6:

Just before sunrise on a November day in 1861, Massachusetts abolitionist Julia Ward Howe woke up in the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. She got out of bed, found a pen, and began to write about the struggle in which the country was engaged: could any nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” survive, or would such a nation inevitably descend into hierarchies and minority rule?

Howe had faith in America. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” she wrote in the gray dawn. “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on.”

She thought of the young soldiers she had seen the day before, huddled around fires in the raw winter weather, ringing the city to protect it from the soldiers of the Confederacy who were fighting to create a nation that rejected the idea that all men were created equal: “I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps; They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps; I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps, His day is marching on.”

Howe’s Battle Hymn of the Republic became inspiration for the soldiers protecting the United States government. And in a four-year war that took hundreds of thousands of lives, they prevailed. Despite the threats to Washington, D.C., and the terrible toll the war took, they made sure the Confederate flag never flew in the U.S. Capitol.

That changed a year ago today.

On January 6, 2021, insurrectionists determined to overturn an election and undermine our democracy carried that flag into the seat of our government. Worse, they did so with the encouragement of former president Trump and members of his party.

This morning, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol tweeted out a brief timeline of what happened:

At 8:17 in the morning, Trump lied that states wanted to correct their electoral votes and pressured Vice President Mike Pence to send the electoral votes back to the states. If Pence would cooperate, he tweeted, “WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

Starting at 12:00 noon, Trump spoke for an hour to supporters at the Ellipse, telling them, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country any more.” He urged them to march to the Capitol.

Between 12:52 and 1:49, pipe bombs were found near the Capitol grounds at Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee headquarters. (We learned today that Vice President–elect Kamala Harris, then a senator from California, was in the DNC at the time.)

At 1:00, Congress met in joint session to count the certified electoral ballots, confirming Biden as president. Pence began to count the ballots. He refused to reject the ballots Trump wanted thrown out, writing in a letter before the joint session, “My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”

From 1:00 to 1:13, the mob began to charge the Capitol.

Between 1:30 and 1:59, Trump supporters continued to move from the Ellipse to the Capitol, overwhelming the Capitol Police, who were ordered to pull back and request support.

Between 2:12 and 2:30, the mob broke into the Capitol building, one man carrying the Confederate battle flag. Both the House and the Senate adjourned, and members began to evacuate their chambers.

From 2:24 to 3:13, with the rioters inside the Capitol, Trump tweeted that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done…. USA demands the truth!” and then “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement…. Stay peaceful!” (One of Trump’s aides today revealed that the former president did not want to tweet the words “stay peaceful” and was “very reluctant to put out anything when it was unfolding.”)

At 4:17, shortly after Biden had publicly called on Trump to end the siege, Trump issued a video insisting that the election was fraudulent but nonetheless telling the mob to “go home. We love you, you’re very special.”

At 5:20, the first of the National Guard troops arrived at the Capitol. Law enforcement began to push the insurrectionists out of the building and secure it.

At 8:06, the building was secured. Pence reopened the Senate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reopened the House.

When the counting of the ballots resumed, 147 Republicans maintained their objections to at least one certified state ballot.

Early on the morning of January 7, Congress confirmed that Joe Biden had been elected president with 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. It was not a particularly close election: Biden’s victory in the popular vote was more than 7 million.

For almost a year, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2022 at 2:34 am

%d bloggers like this: