Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Free Speech on Trial

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Today’s issue is about how a subtle form of speech control works in 21st century America, as seen through two ongoing antitrust cases. The first is a merger trial where the government is trying to block the combination of publishing giants Penguin/Random House and Simon & Schuster, and the second is a lawsuit where conservative video service Rumble is suing Google for monopolization.

In both, dominant firms are trying to gain or protect market power, and in doing so, end up with too much power over the public square. It’s not intentional, but monopoly power fosters centralized control of what we can discuss.

Speech and Concentration Creep

In the 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks star as two business rivals who hate each other in ‘real life’ but connect and fall in love anonymously over the internet. Hanks plays Joe Fox, a tycoon who owns a Barnes and Nobles-style corporate book chain, trying to crush the small store owned by Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan. After a noisy but adorably silly protest, the movie ends with Kelly losing her store, but getting Tom Hanks as a soulmate. It’s a delightful film, a Nora Ephron-written classic.

What’s interesting about this movie from an anti-monopolist standpoint, however, is not the romance, but the politics. The movie is almost aggressively apathetic about concentrations of power. We tend to look at corporate concentration as a relatively recent phenomenon. Big tech emerged in force in the 2000s, that’s when offshoring to China happened in force, and the key major ruling ending monopolization cases didn’t occur until 2004. But here’s a movie showing that almost 25 years ago, before all that, consolidation was so well-known as to be a relatively unremarked central plot element of a popular film.

You’ve Got Mail is also a movie about a specific industry, publishing. Indeed, in many ways, the book industry has been a canary in the coal mine for concentration in the American economy. Books were the very first industry dominated by Amazon, but it isn’t just the retail giant. Every part of the book business, from retail stores to distribution to printing to retail to audio and ebooks to publishing houses, has been consolidating for decades. In the movie Tom Hanks is kind and charming; in real life, Barnes and Nobles used its power over shelf space to act as the industry bully, until Jeff Bezos came along and turned market power into performance art. Then, ten years ago, Penguin and Random House merged, allowed by the Obama administration’s antitrust enforcers. The book business is an increasingly cruel and lawless world, not a romantic one. . .

Continue reading. Interesting stuff.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2022 at 11:44 am

US crisis also intensifies: This afternoon, Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) said the FBI has confiscated his phone after presenting him with a search warrant.

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The pace seems to be picking up. Heather Cox Richardson writes:

This afternoon, Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) said the FBI has confiscated his phone after presenting him with a search warrant.

Perry was deeply involved in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. He connected former president Trump with Jeffrey Clark, the environmental lawyer for the Department of Justice (DOJ) who supported Trump’s claims and who would have become acting attorney general if the leadership of the DOJ hadn’t threatened to resign as a group if Trump appointed him. Cassidy Hutchinson, former top aide to Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, told the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol that Meadows burned papers after a meeting with Perry.

The DOJ searched Clark’s home in June. On the same day, it seized the phone of John Eastman, the author of the memo laying out a plan for then–vice president Mike Pence to refuse to count presidential electors for Democratic candidate Joe Biden and thus throw the election to Trump.

Eastman sued to get his phone back and to force the government to destroy any information agents had taken from it; the Department of Justice says the phone was obtained legally and that purging it would be “unprecedented” and “would cause substantial detriment to the investigation, as well as seriously impede any grand jury’s use of the seized material in a future charging decision.” A court hearing on the matter is scheduled for early September.

Trump and his supporters have spent the day complaining bitterly about yesterday’s search of Mar-a-Lago by the FBI, painting it an illegal “witch hunt” and threatening to launch a “revolution” over it. A search warrant requires a judge to sign off on the idea that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and that a search will provide evidence of that crime. While the FBI cannot release the search warrant, Trump has a copy of it and could release it if he wanted to.

Legal analyst Andrew Weissmann, who spent 20 years at the Department of Justice, pointed out on Twitter that the law requires the FBI to give Trump an inventory of what they found. If indeed he wants to claim the search was a witch hunt and he had no government property in his home, he should release the search inventory.

Kyle Cheney at Politico noted that on January 19, 2021, the day before he left office, Trump revoked the authority he had previously given and named seven new loyalists as his representatives to the National Archives with regard to his presidential records. They were Meadows; then–White House counsel Pat Cipollone; then–deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin; lawyer John Eisenberg, who as legal advisor to the National Security Council tried to keep the story about Trump’s call to Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky under wraps; Scott Gast, also of the White House counsel’s office during Trump’s term; lawyer Michael Purpura; and lawyer Steven Engel, who argued that Congress could not subpoena White House advisors.

Meanwhile,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 10:06 pm

Twice Accused of Sexual Assault, He Was Let Go by Army Commanders. He Attacked Again.

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Vianna Davila, Lexi Churchill, and Ren Larson have an excellent (though infuriating) report in ProPublica that begins:

Christian Alvarado began to type as he sat alone in an interrogation room at Fort Bliss, a sprawling Army post in El Paso, Texas. He’d spent most of the previous seven hours hooked up to a polygraph, answering a military investigator’s questions about an allegation that he’d sexually assaulted a fellow soldier.

His story had changed several times during the interview in late July 2020. The investigator told Alvarado he’d already failed two polygraph tests, then left the room so that the young soldier could type up his account in a sworn statement. With his fingers on the keyboard, Alvarado began describing the night in December 2019 that he spent in the barracks with a female soldier he’d met that day.

“She was drunk and so was I,” Alvarado, an Army private first class, typed on the investigator’s computer. “We had sex, but she passed out.”

He wrote that he’d lied about the encounter being consensual in previous interviews with investigators because he wanted to protect his Army career.

When Alvarado was done with his written admission, the military investigator walked back in the room. He asked Alvarado why he continued to have sex with the woman after she passed out. “I was in the moment,” the 20-year-old soldier replied.

The investigator then asked Alvarado about another allegation against him. An Army chaplain’s assistant had accused him of sexually assaulting her in May 2020 after a house party. Sex with her was “wrong due to how intoxicated she was,” Alvarado said, but he would not agree to a sworn statement about the second allegation because it would just be “icing on the cake.”

Alvarado told the investigator that he’d had sex with 42 women in the past four years, about a quarter of whom were intoxicated at the time. His sexual experiences had become boring and they blurred together, he said, to the point that he struggled to remember specific details about his partners.

At the end of the daylong interrogation, Alvarado’s commanders didn’t place him in detention or under any restrictions beyond the orders he had already received to stay at least 100 feet away from the two women who had accused him of assault, according to records. He was free to leave.

A month later, he sexually assaulted another woman.

Had Alvarado’s case been handled by civilians and not the military, his written admission could have been enough evidence to quickly issue an arrest warrant, according to two lawyers who previously worked for the El Paso County district attorney’s office.

“I would have felt comfortable charging at that point,” said Penny Hamilton, who led the Rape and Child Abuse Unit at the district attorney’s office and later served as an El Paso County magistrate judge. “When you have the offender admitting the sexual act took place and you have the offender admitting that the alleged victim couldn’t have consented because she was passed out, then you have the elements” of a criminal charge.

In Texas’ civilian system, a person charged with sexual assault goes before a magistrate judge, who’d set a bail amount that experts said could easily be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Civilian magistrates and judges use bail to ensure suspects show up at trial. Suspects are released only if they can pay the bond.

The military justice system has no bail. Many decisions about who should be detained for serious crimes before trial are made not by judges but by commanders, who are not required to be trained lawyers.

Recent congressional reforms changed the system, which has long drawn criticism for the extensive discretion commanders wield. While the revisions stripped some of their authority, commanders continue to control various aspects of the judicial process, including deciding whether service members accused of crimes should be detained while awaiting trial, a process called pretrial confinement.

A ProPublica and Texas Tribune investigation into how commanders in the Army, the nation’s largest military branch, use pretrial confinement revealed a system that treats soldiers unevenly and draws little outside scrutiny. Over the coming months, ProPublica and the Tribune will explore how military justice operates, often in vastly different ways than the civilian system.

The news organizations obtained data from the Army on nearly 8,400 courts-martial over the past decade under the Freedom of Information Act. The resulting analysis, the first-of-its-kind, showed that soldiers accused of sexual assault are less than half as likely to be placed in pretrial confinement than those accused of offenses like drug use and distribution, disobeying an officer or burglary.

The analysis showed that, on average, soldiers had to face at least eight counts of sexual offenses before they were placed in pretrial confinement as often as soldiers charged with drug or burglary crimes.

That disparity has grown in the past five years. The rate of pretrial confinement more than doubled in cases involving drug offenses, larceny and disobeying a superior commissioned officer, but it remained roughly the same for sexual assault cases like Alvarado’s, the analysis found.

For instance, the Army opted against pretrial confinement for a staff sergeant who was accused of raping the wife of a soldier in his command at Fort Bliss, while at another post a 19-year-old Texas woman was placed in detention for more than three months for using drugs and mouthing off to commanders.

“Justice that’s arbitrary is not justice,” Col. Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor for the Air Force, said. “It shouldn’t come down to the whims of a particular commander.”

Army officials defended the system. They said  . . ..

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 4:02 pm

The Psychology of Killing

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Perhaps it’s an artefact of the algorithms of the streaming services I watch, but TV series involving murder seem to be amazingly easy to fine — not perhaps so common as grass, but maybe as common as roses. In fact, just last night I watched a movie based on a George V. Higgins novel, Cogan’s Trade (which was a sequel to his first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, both eminently worth reading). The 2012 movie, Killing Them Softly, starred Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and James Gandolfini, and it was a good watch. (It’s on Primevideo.com up here; apparently not available right now in the US.)

So what causes killing to be so common? FiveBooks.com has an interesting interview with Gwen Adshead, a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist who works in prisons and secure psychiatric hospital providing therapy to violence perpetrators who have mental health problems. In the course of the interview Dr. Adshead recommends five books, as the site name suggests. The interview begins:

Let’s start by looking at the topic you’ve chosen: the psychology of killing. How did you become interested in this area?

I’m a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist. A forensic psychiatrist is someone who specialises in the assessment and treatment of people who have offended while they were in some kind of abnormal mental state. There are two questions there: first, the legal question—does this abnormal state affect their legal responsibility?—and secondly, if the offender is mentally ill, do they need to be treated in secure hospital rather than go to prison?. That treatment will be designed to look not only at their mental health, but also their risk to the public.

Mental health problems are rarely a risk factor for crime generally, so a forensic psychiatrist won’t be dealing with people who are committing minor crimes, like shoplifting . We tend only to get involved in crimes of violence, and usually where that violence has been fatal. So most of my working life has involved assessing people who have committed serious acts of violence, or who are threatening to do so. For a long time I ran a therapy group for people who had killed a family member while they were mentally ill. I’ve also been involved in assessing mothers who have been abusive, or are considered at risk of abusing their children.

So this has been my bread and butter for about thirty years—an interest in the mental states that give rise to killing.

The obvious question, to me, is: if one commits murder, does that not indicate that, almost by definition, that the assailant is undergoing an abnormal mental state?

That question has always been of great significance, and one that humans have asked themselves for thousands of years. What is fascinating about humans is the many ways in which we do kill each other. We are one of the few animals that kill each other in different ways. Chimpanzees, for example, do have very serious fights, competitions over power, which can be fatal. And chimpanzee tribes can wage war on other chimpanzee tribes, killing in the process. But killing in the way that we kill appears to be pretty unique. Killing over territory is one thing, but we also kill over money, over politics and in the context of relationship disturbance; and that last context is quite unusual.

For as long as we have had recorded data about humans, we’ve written about the impact of murder. I don’t think there’s legislation in any culture in any age which hasn’t set aside some kind of law or ruling about how and when you can kill somebody, and what should happen to people who kill.

Take the Old Testament. There are rules in there about killing that are very specific. The Ten Commandments separate killing from murder, for example. Traditionally, in many cultures, if you killed somebody, you had to make restitution to their family. That didn’t always mean being killed yourself. Different countries and ethnic groups have had different rules, but all human societies have developed rules about killing, in what circumstances it might be legitimate to kill, and what punishments and sanctions there should be for the different kinds of killing.

The first thing to say about homicide is that it is not all the same. I think that’s one of the things I didn’t understand when I started out. Like anybody else, I thought that all killers must be really odd or mad. That if you killed once, you must be permanently in a homicidal state of mind. But once I began to spend time with people who had killed, I learned that killing is often highly contextual and arises from a specific set factors that are present at that time; which may never occur again. Someone who’s killed their wife in a jealous rage is not likely to be a threat to the general public; although they might be dangerous to future wives, of course.

So does that mean that everyone has the capacity for murder? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 3:10 pm

The continuing struggle to make America what it claims to be

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Heather Cox Richardson looks at the history of America’s conflicted aspirations:

On this day in 1880, the Republican candidate for president, James A. Garfield, spoke to thousands of supporters from the balcony of the Republican headquarters in New York City. Ten years before, in 1870, Americans had added the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, making sure that Black men could vote by guaranteeing that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

As soon as the amendment was ratified, though, white southerners who were dead set against their Black neighbors participating in their government began to say that they had no problem with Black men voting on racial grounds. Their objection to Black voting, they claimed, was that poor, uneducated Black men just out of enslavement were voting for lawmakers who promised them public services, like roads and schools, that could be paid for only with taxes levied on people with the means to pay, which in the post–Civil War South usually meant white men.

Complaining that Black voters were socialists—they actually used that term in 1871—white southerners began to keep Black voters from the polls. In 1878, Democrats captured both the House and the Senate, and former Confederates took control of key congressional committees. From there, in the summer of 1879, they threatened to shut down the federal government altogether unless the president, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, agreed to end the federal protection of Black Americans in the South.

The congressional leader who eventually forced them to back down was James A. Garfield (R-OH). Impressed by his successful effort to save the country, in 1880, party leaders nominated him for president.

Garfield was a brilliant and well-educated man and had served in the Civil War himself. On August 6 in New York City, he singled out the veterans in the crowd to explain how he saw the nation’s future.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “ideas outlive men; ideas outlive all earthly things. You who fought in the war for the Union fought for immortal ideas, and by their might you crowned the war with victory. But victory was worth nothing except for the truths that were under it, in it, and above it. We meet tonight as comrades to stand guard around the sacred truths for which we fought.”

“[W]e will remember our allies who fought with us,” he told them. “Soon after the great struggle began, we looked beyond the army of white rebels, and saw 4,000,000 of [B]lack people condemned to toil as slaves for our enemies; and we found that the hearts of these 4,000,000 were God-inspired with the spirit of liberty, and that they were all our friends.” As the audience cheered, he continued: “We have seen white men betray the flag and fight to kill the Union; but in all that long, dreary war we never saw a traitor in a black skin.” To great applause, he vowed, “[W]e will stand by these [B]lack allies. We will stand by them until the sun of liberty, fixed in the firmament of our Constitution, shall shine with equal ray upon every man, [B]lack or white, throughout the Union.” As the audience cheered, he continued: “Fellow-citizens, fellow-soldiers, in this there is the beneficence of eternal justice, and by it we will stand forever.”

Garfield won the presidency that year, but just barely. The South went solidly Democratic, and in the years to come, white northerners looked the other way as white southerners kept Black men from voting, first with terrorism and then with state election laws using grandfather clauses that cut out Black men without mentioning race by permitting a man to vote if his grandfather had voted, literacy tests in which white registrars got to decide who passed, poll taxes that were enforced arbitrarily, and so on. States also cut up districts unevenly to favor the Democrats, who ran an all-white, segregationist party. In 1880, the South became solidly Democratic, and with white men keeping Black people from the polls, it would remain so until 1964.

But then, exactly 85 years after Garfield’s speech, on August 6, 1965,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2022 at 2:39 pm

Seven years of sex abuse: How Mormon officials let it happen

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Michael Rezendes reports for the Associated Press:

BISBEE, Ariz. (AP) — MJ was a tiny, black-haired girl, just 5 years old, when her father admitted to his bishop that he was sexually abusing her.

The father, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and an admitted pornography addict, was in counseling with his bishop when he revealed the abuse. The bishop, who was also a family physician, followed church policy and called what church officials have dubbed the “help line” for guidance.

But the call offered little help for MJ. Lawyers for the church, widely known as the Mormon church, who staff the help line around the clock told Bishop John Herrod not to call police or child welfare officials. Instead he kept the abuse secret.

“They said, ‘You absolutely can do nothing,’” Herrod said in a recorded interview with law enforcement.

Herrod continued to counsel MJ’s father, Paul Douglas Adams, for another year, and brought in Adams’ wife, Leizza Adams, in hopes she would do something to protect the children. She didn’t. Herrod later told a second bishop, who also kept the matter secret after consulting with church officials who maintain that the bishops were excused from reporting the abuse to police under the state’s so-called clergy-penitent privilege.

Adams continued raping MJ for as many as seven more years, into her adolescence, and also abused her infant sister, who was born during that time. He frequently recorded the abuse on video and posted the video on the internet.

Adams was finally arrested by Homeland Security agents in 2017 with no help from the church, after law enforcement officials in New Zealand discovered one of the videos. He died by suicide in custody before he could stand trial.

The Associated Press has obtained nearly 12,000 pages of sealed records from an unrelated child sex abuse lawsuit against the Mormon church in West Virginia. The documents offer the most detailed and comprehensive look yet at the so-called help line Herrod called. Families of survivors who filed the lawsuit said they show it’s part of a system that can easily be misused by church leaders to divert abuse accusations away from law enforcement and instead to church attorneys who may bury the problem, leaving victims in harm’s way.

The help line has been criticized by abuse victims and their attorneys for being inadequate to quickly stop abuse and protect victims. Yet the Utah-based faith has stuck by the system despite the criticism and increasing scrutiny from attorneys and prosecutors, including those in the Adams case.

“’I just think that the Mormon church really sucks. Seriously sucks,” said MJ, who is now 16, during an interview with the AP. “They are just the worst type of people, from what I’ve experienced and what other people have also experienced.”

MJ and her adoptive mother asked the AP to use only her initials in part because videos of her abuse posted by her father are still circulating on the internet. The AP does not publish the names of sexual abuse survivors without their consent.

William Maledon, an Arizona attorney representing the bishops and the church in a lawsuit filed by three of the Adams’ six children, told the AP last month that the bishops were not required to report the abuse.

“These bishops did nothing wrong [!!! – LG]. They didn’t violate the law, and therefore they can’t be held liable,” he said. Maledon referred to the suit as “a money grab.” [An extremely narrow view of right and wrong. The Mormon church lacks any moral compass. – LG]

In his AP interview, Maledon also insisted . . .

Continue reading. Lots more. Despicable organization.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2022 at 1:20 pm

Doctors don’t want to take jobs in antiabortion states

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Christopher Rowland has an interesting article in the Washington Post (gift link, no paywall). From the article:

. . . One large medical recruiting firm said it recently had 20 obstetrician-gynecologists turn down positions in red states because of abortion laws. The reluctance extends beyond those interested in providing abortion care, as laws meant to protect a fetus could open doctors up to new liabilities or limit their ability to practice. . .

One large health-care staffingfirm, AMN Healthcare, said clients in states with abortion bans are having greater trouble filling vacancies because some prospective OB/GYN candidates won’t even consider opportunities in states with new or pending abortion bans.

Tom Florence, president of Merritt Hawkins, an AMN Healthcare company, cited 20 instances since the Supreme Court ruling where prospects specifically refused to relocate to states where reproductive rights are being targeted by lawmakers.

“To talk to approximately 20 candidates that state they would decline to practice in those restrictive states, that is certainly a trend we are seeing,” Florence said. “It is certainly going to impact things moving forward.”

Three candidates turned down one of the firm’s recruiters, who was working to fill a single job in maternal fetal medicine in Texas, he said: “All three expressed fear they could be fined or lose their license for doing their jobs.”

In another example, a physician contacted by phone by an AMN Healthcare recruiter trying to fill a post in an antiabortion state “simply said, ‘Roe versus Wade,’ and hung up,” Florence said.

Florence said the shift has especially serious implications for small, rural hospitals, which can afford just a small number of maternal specialists or, in some cases, only one.

“They can deliver hundreds of babies each year and see several thousand patients,” he said. “The potential absence of one OB/GYN that might be in their community, if not for the Supreme Court decision, is highly significant. The burden will be borne by the patients.”

Tellingly, Florence added, none of the recruiters had encountered a single physician seeking to practice in a state because it had banned abortion.

There’s quite a bit more, so read the whole thing (gift link, no paywall).  Conservatives have sown the wind; now they reap the whirlwind.

Written by Leisureguy

6 August 2022 at 11:17 am

Border Patrol Agents Are Trashing Sikh Asylum-Seekers’ Turbans

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John Washington reports in The Intercept:

Gurjodh Singh was leaning against a rusted vehicle barrier — planted like a giant jack in the sand — at the end of the line of migrants. It is late July, and about 400 people seeking asylum are waiting alongside a gap in the border fence as dawn breaks over the sky in southern Arizona.

Singh is 22, fleeing India for America, without any family, to seek political asylum. Slipping off the vehicle barrier, he joined a huddle of five other Indian men, all Sikhs from the state of Punjab. A Border Patrol agent told Singh he had to move to the back of the line because he didn’t have papers. The rest of the men recovered their IDs after being robbed on a grueling monthslong trek across the jungles of Panama, but Singh still has no ID.

As the minutes tick by, the sky brightens, and the temperature notches steadily upward, reaching above 110 degrees that day. The men are waiting for the agents to begin their processing and load them onto buses heading to a nearby Border Patrol station.

Word has begun circulating among those seeking asylum in the Yuma area: Border Patrol is forcing everyone to throw away all personal belongings, except for cellphones, wallets, and travel documents. Agents are demanding Sikh men remove their turbans and are dumping the sacred religious garb in the trash.

Bhupinder, an 18-year-old Sikh man wearing a purple turban, said, simply, “I can’t take it off.” An important expression of Sikh men’s faith is not cutting their hair, and covering their head with a turban.

The forced removal and confiscation of turbans violates Border Patrol policies that are meant to respect religious freedom. It also violates policies that require agents to track and return personal belongings.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona sent a letter to Border Patrol documenting dozens of cases of agents confiscating and discarding turbans, explaining the significance of the item, and how the actions “blatantly violate federal law,” Border Patrol policy, and protections of religious freedom.

A month earlier, a third Sikh man seeking asylum said Border Patrol ordered him to turn over his belongings — including two sacred symbols of his faith.

“They told me to take off my turban. I know a little English, and I said, ‘It’s my religion.’ But they insisted,” the man said, speaking through an interpreter in a July phone interview.

The man pleaded with the officers, who forced him to remove his turban and tossed it in a trash pile. He asked if he could at least keep his turban for when he was released from custody. They told him no. “I felt so bad,” he said.

The Border Patrol’s Yuma sector did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In addition to keeping uncut hair, maintained in a head covering, Sikhs, according to their faith, carry a comb; wear a bracelet; wear custom cotton underwear; and carry a small, curved sword or knife.

Border Patrol agents also cut a ribbon that was holding up the third asylum-seeker’s traditional Sikh underwear. Since there is no elastic on them, he was unable to continue wearing them.

“They said it was to prevent suicide,” he said, “but you can use pajamas to commit suicide if you want to. You can use socks. This underwear is important to us.”

Violating Policy [and human rights – LG]

Despite complaints that Border Patrol agents are violating their own policies that say they must “safeguard” personal property not deemed to be contraband or dangerous and “should remain cognizant of an individual’s religious beliefs,” Yuma’s Border Patrol has confiscated at least 64 turbans this year, according to the ACLU of Arizona and the Phoenix Welcome Center. In just the last two months, the organizations have documented at least 50 such confiscations.

The turban confiscations have ramped up in recent months, said Maria Jose Pinzon, a program manager for Phoenix Welcome Center, which is run by the International Rescue Committee that offers a few nights of rest and humanitarian assistance to asylum-seekers.

Because the Welcome Center is only able to record self-reported cases, and many asylum-seekers are scared to register a complaint, Pinzon is confident the number is much higher.

In June, according to Pinzon, a Department of Homeland Security ombudsman visited the Phoenix Welcome Center, promising to address the issue with Border Patrol. Yet the confiscations continued, with at least 11 documented cases as of July 20. Homeland Security’s Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman did not respond to requests for comment.

There are currently no regulations that require Border Patrol to document and publicly report the number of people its agents removed turbans from in violation of their own policy. . .

Continue reading.

The only way to fix this, I fear, is to complete replace current US Border Patrol Personnel.

The following post provides some insight into what happens to Border Patrol agents to make them that way.

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2022 at 12:51 pm

Lies as warfare

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

I have spent the day rereading the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the news of the day has heightened its relevance.

During the Trump administration, after an extensive investigation, the Republican-dominated Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that “the Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multifaceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election…by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.”

But that effort was not just about the election. It was “part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society…a vastly more complex and strategic assault on the United States than was initially understood…the latest installment in an increasingly brazen interference by the Kremlin on the citizens and democratic institutions of the United States.” It was “a sustained campaign of information warfare against the United States aimed at influencing how this nation’s citizens think about themselves, their government, and their fellow Americans.”

That effort is not limited to foreign nationals. This week, Alex Jones, a purveyor of conspiracy theories and false information on his InfoWars network—the tagline is “There’s a War on For Your Mind!”—is part of a civil trial to determine damages in his defamation of the parents of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre in which 26 people, 20 of them small children, were murdered.

Jones claimed that the massacre wasn’t real, and his listeners harassed the grieving families. A number of families sued him. In the case currently in the news, Jones refused for years to comply with orders to hand over documents and evidence, so finally, in September, District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County, Texas, issued a default judgment holding him responsible for all damages. Since the judge has repeatedly had to reprimand Jones for lying under oath during this trial, it seems that Jones intended simply to continue spinning a false story of his finances, his business practices, and his actions.

The construction of a world based on lies is a key component of authoritarians’ takeover of democratic societies. George Orwell’s 1984 explored a world in which those in power use language to replace reality, shaping the past and people’s daily experiences to cement their control. They are constantly reconstructing the past to justify their actions in the present. In Orwell’s dystopian fantasy, Winston Smith’s job is to rewrite history for the Ministry of Truth to reflect the changing interests of a mysterious cult leader, Big Brother, who wants power for its own sake and enforces loyalty through The Party’s propaganda and destruction of those who do not conform.

Political philosopher Hannah Arendt went further, saying that the lies of an authoritarian were designed not to persuade people, but to organize them into a mass movement. Followers would “believe everything and nothing,” Arendt wrote, “think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.” “The ideal subject” for such a dictator, Arendt wrote, was not those who were committed to an ideology, but rather “people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false…no longer exist.”

It has been a source of frustration to those eager to return our public debates to ones rooted in reality that lies that have built a certain right-wing personality cannot be punctured because of the constant sowing of confusion around them. Part of why the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol has been so effective is that it has carefully built a story out of verifiable facts. Because House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) withdrew the pro-Trump Republicans from the committee, we have not had to deal with the muddying of the water by people like Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), who specializes in bullying and hectoring to get sound bites that later turn up in on right-wing channels in a narrative that mischaracterizes what actually happened.

But today something happened that makes puncturing the bubble of disinformation personal. In the damages trial, the lawyer . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2022 at 9:56 pm

When the dog catches the car: Republicans successes bring backlash

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to their state constitution that would have stripped it of protections for abortion rights. With 86% of the vote in, 62% of voters supported abortion protections; 37% wanted them gone. That spread is astonishing. Kansas voters had backed Trump in 2020; Republicans had arranged for the referendum to fall on the day of a primary, which traditionally attracts higher percentages of hard-line Republicans; and they had written the question so that a “yes” vote would remove abortion protections and a “no” would leave them in place. Then, today, a political action committee sent out texts that lied about which vote was which.

Still, voters turned out to protect abortion rights in such unexpectedly high numbers it suggests a sea change.

It appears the dog has caught the car, as so many of us noted when the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision on June 24. Since 1972, even before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Republican politicians have attracted the votes of evangelicals and traditionalists who didn’t like the idea of women’s rights by promising to end abortion. But abortion rights have always had strong support. So politicians said they were “pro-life” without ever really intending to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Dobbs decision explicitly did just that and has opened the door to draconian laws that outlaw abortion with no exceptions, promptly showing us the horror of a pregnant 10-year-old and hospitals refusing abortion care during miscarriages. Today, in the privacy of the voting booth, voters did exactly as Republican politicians feared they would if Roe were overturned.

But this moment increasingly feels like it’s about more than abortion rights, crucial though they are. The loss of our constitutional rights at the hands of a radical extremist minority has pushed the majority to demonstrate that we care about the rights and freedoms that were articulated—however imperfectly they were carried out—in the Declaration of Independence.

We care about a lot of things that have been thin on the ground for a while.

We care about justice:

Today, the Senate passed the PACT Act in exactly the same form it had last week, when Republicans claimed they could no longer support the bill they had previously passed because Democrats had snuck a “slush fund” into a bill providing medical care for veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the bill was unchanged, and Republicans’ refusal to repass the bill from the House seemed an act of spite after Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced an agreement on a bill to lower the cost of certain prescription drugs, invest in measures to combat climate change, raise taxes on corporations and the very wealthy, and reduce the deficit. Since their vote to kill the measure, the outcry around the country, led by veterans and veterans’ advocate Jon Stewart, has been extraordinary. The vote on the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 tonight was 86 to 11 as Republicans scrambled to fix their mistake.

In an ongoing attempt to repair a past injustice, executive director of the Family Reunification Task Force Michelle Brané says it has reunified 400 children with their parents after their separation by the Trump administration at the southern border. Because the former administration did not keep records of the children or where they were sent, reunifying the families has been difficult, and as many as 1000 children out of the original 5000 who fell under this policy remain separated from their parents. [This is fucking shocking. – LG]

And we care about equality before the law:

Today, Katherine Faulders, John Santucci, and Alexander Mallin of ABC News reported that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2022 at 7:58 am

‘They’re Just Going to Let Me Die?’ One Woman’s Abortion Odyssey

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Men should not be passing laws on abortion. This long read from the NY Times (gift link, no paywall) tells a harrowing story:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Madison Underwood was lying on the ultrasound table, nearly 19 weeks pregnant, when the doctor came in to say her abortion had been canceled.

Nurses followed and started wiping away lukewarm sonogram gel from her exposed belly as the doctor leaned over her shoulder to speak to her fiancé, Adam Queen.

She recalled that she went quiet, her body went still. What did they mean, they couldn’t do the abortion? Just two weeks earlier, she and her fiance had learned her fetus had a condition that would not allow it to survive outside the womb. If she tried to carry to term, she could become critically ill, or even die, her doctor had said. Now, she was being told she couldn’t have an abortion she didn’t even want, but needed.

“They’re just going to let me die?” she remembers wondering.

In the blur around her, she heard the doctor and nurses talking about a clinic in Georgia that could do the procedure now that the legal risks of performing it in Tennessee were too high.

She heard her fiancé curse, and with frustration in his voice, tell the doctor this was stupid. She heard the doctor agree.

Just three days earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the constitutional right to abortion. A Tennessee law passed in 2020 that banned abortions at around six weeks of pregnancy had been blocked by a court order but could go into effect.

Ms. Underwood never thought any of this would affect her. She was 22 and excited to start a family with Mr. Queen, who was 24.

She and Mr. Queen had gone back and forth for days before deciding to terminate the pregnancy. She was dreading the abortion. She had cried in the car pulling up to the clinic. She had heard about the Supreme Court undoing Roe v. Wade but thought that since she had scheduled her abortion before the decision, and before any state ban took effect, the procedure would be allowed.

Tennessee allows abortion if a woman’s life is in danger, but doctors feared making those decisions too soon and facing prosecution. Across the country, the legal landscape was shifting so quickly, some abortion clinics turned patients away before the laws officially took effect or while legal battles played out in state courts.

Century-old bans hanging around on the books were activated, but then just as quickly were under dispute. In states where abortion was still legal, wait times at clinics spiked as women from states with bans searched for alternatives.

It was into this chaos that Ms. Underwood was sent home, still pregnant, and reeling. What would happen now? The doctor said . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2022 at 11:24 am

Trump Just Told Us His Master Plan

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I hope voters in the US are paying attention. David Frum reports in the Atlantic:

Yesterday, an ex-president who had tried to overturn a democratic election by violence returned to Washington, D.C., to call for law and order. Again and again, the speech reversed reality. The ex-president who had spread an actual big lie against the legitimacy of the 2020 election tried to appropriate the phrase big lie to use against his opponents. The ex-president who had fired an acting FBI director days before that official’s pension was due to be vested lamented that police officers might lose their pension for doing their job.

Yet scrape aside the audacity, the self-pity, and the self-aggrandizement, and there was indeed an idea in Donald Trump’s speech at a conference hosted by the America First Policy Institute: a sinister idea, but one to take seriously.

Trump sketched out a vision that a new Republican Congress could enact sweeping new emergency powers for the next Republican president. The president would be empowered to disregard state jurisdiction over criminal law. The president would be allowed to push aside a “weak, foolish, and stupid governor,” and to fire “radical and racist prosecutors”—racist here meaning “anti-white.” The president could federalize state National Guards for law-enforcement duties, stop and frisk suspects for illegal weapons, and impose death sentences on drug dealers after expedited trials.

Much of this may be hot air. All of it would require huge legal changes, and some of it would require the 6–3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn established precedents. You should listen to Trump’s speech less as an agenda of things to be done, and more as an indication of the direction of Trump’s thought.

The Trump Republican Party faces a strategic problem and a constitutional opportunity. The problem is that under Trump, the Republican Party is a minority force in American life. The opportunity is that an ever more unbalanced federal structure can enable a minority party based in many small states to control the majority population that lives in fewer big states. Abortion rights are one area where Republicans can use this opportunity, but that is not an area that especially interests Donald Trump.

Instead, and as always, the opportunity that most fascinates Trump is the opportunity to use the law as a weapon: a weapon to shield his own wrongdoing, a weapon to wield against his political opponents.

Trump’s first term was  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2022 at 4:27 pm

Inside an international network of teenage neo-Nazi extremists

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Nick Robins Early, Alexander Nabert, and Christina Brause report in Insider:

Last year, a 20-year-old named Christian Michael Mackey arrived at the Phillips 66 gas station in Grand Prairie, Texas, hoping to sell his AM-15 rifle to make some quick cash. He’d said he wanted to buy a more powerful gun, something that could stop what he called a “hoard of you know what.”

Mackey told an online group chat he’d started looking at Nazi websites at around 15-years-old, when he began spending hours on white nationalist message boards and talking to other extremists on Instagram and encrypted messaging apps like Telegram. Five years later, he was active in a network of violent neo-Nazi groups that organized and communicated through online group chats. He described himself as a “radical Jew slayer.”

When Mackey met his buyer in the gas-station parking lot in January 2021, he didn’t know he had walked into a sting. The woman purchasing his rifle was a paid FBI source with numerous felonies, and Mackey was arrested as soon as the gun changed hands. At his detention hearing a month later, an FBI agent said authorities had found a pipe bomb in Mackey’s parents’ house, where he lived.

Mackey’s stepfather told local news soon after the arrest that his stepson had been radicalized online, and footage showed him ripping up a copy of “Mein Kampf” in Mackey’s bedroom. FBI records and court documents indicated that Mackey had posted more than 2,400 messages in one neo-Nazi Instagram group chat alone, and had told another user “I’m just trying to live long enough to die attacking.”

Stories like this have increasingly played out across the US and around the world in recent years — young people, overwhelmingly white and male, who have become involved in a global network of neo-Nazi extremist groups that plot mass violence online.

Canadian authorities earlier this year arrested a 19-year-old on terrorism charges after they say he tried to join a neo-Nazi group similar to the ones Mackey was involved in. In April, a 15-year-old in Denmark was charged with recruiting for a neo-Nazi organization banned in the country. A 16-year-old became the UK’s youngest terrorism offender after joining that same group, where he researched terror manuals and discussed how to make explosives. Others made it further along in their plots, like a 21-year-old who planted a bomb outside the Western Union office in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius.

As far-right extremism has grown over the past decade, so too has the notoriety of various groups and their leaders. Far-right gangs such as the Proud Boys as well as suit-and-tie-wearing white nationalists like Richard Spencer regularly make headlines. But there are also lesser-known groups with more directly violent aims that follow an ideology called accelerationism — the belief that carrying out bombings, mass shootings, and other attacks is necessary to hasten the collapse of society and allow a white ethnostate to rise in its place.

Countries including the United Kingdom and Canada have designated accelerationist groups such as Atomwaffen Division, Feuerkrieg Division and The Base as terrorist organizations. Atomwaffen, which is now largely defunct, was linked to at least five murders in the US alone. The Base’s leader was sentenced in May to four years in prison after plotting to kill minorities and instigate a race war.

Experts trace the origins of groups like these to a neo-Nazi website called Iron March that went offline in 2017, and which notoriously helped extremists from many countries forge international connections and spread accelerationist propaganda.

The ideology has been linked to the 2019 Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, where a white nationalist killed 51 people at two mosques while livestreaming the attack online, and a shooting earlier this year at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY where 10 people were killed.

As part of a joint investigation that Insider undertook with Welt Am Sonntag and Politico, reporters gained access to two dozen internal chat groups linked to a broader network of neo-Nazi accelerationists. Comprising 98,000 messages from about 900 users, the data includes photos, videos, text, and voice messages.

Various participants in the groups have been charged with a range of crimes related to plots to bomb or burn down synagogues and gay bars, attack anti-fascist activists, and illegally traffic firearms. In chat logs that reporters reviewed, members showed off homemade explosives, encouraged one another to kill minorities, and discussed how to get access to weapons.

The scores of messages and propaganda in these chats provide a glimpse into one of the most dangerous corners of modern far-right extremism. It is increasingly international, intent on radicalizing young people, and committed to using violence to further its fascist ideology.

Rather than a centralized group, it is a loosely connected network that rises and falls as its members are killed or arrested — but never seems to entirely go away. And unlike extremist groups that want to integrate their beliefs into political parties or run for local office, the aim of accelerationist groups like these is primarily to create violent chaos. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2022 at 4:57 pm

A major publishing lawsuit would cement surveillance into the future of libraries

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One problem with corporations is that, though legally treated as persons, they lack some essential attributes of personhood, such as empathy, a moral compass, and any sense of the public good (since their sole focus is private gain). As corporations accumulate wealth, they also become more powerful, and they use that power exclusively to benefit themselves (aka increase shareholder value without regard of the impact on employees, customers, and community). This results in monetization and degradation of the commons and of daily life.

Lia Holland and Jordyn Paul-Slater write in Fast Company:

Amid the inflection point of library digitization, publishing corporations want to reduce and redefine the role that libraries play in our society. Their suit seeks to halt loans of legally purchased and scanned books, cementing a future of extortionate and opaque licensing agreements and Netflix-like platforms to replace library cards with credit cards. If successful, they will erode the public’s last great venue to access information free from corporate or government surveillance. This dire threat to the privacy and safety of readers has gone largely unnoticed.

Big Tech monopolies like Amazon and its Kindle e-reader shamelessly collect and store data on readers. They do this in order to exploit readers’ interests and habits for advertising and to gain an advantage in the market—but that same data can be shared with law enforcement or bounty hunters to prosecute people exploring topics such as abortion or gender affirming healthcare. Libraries, on the other hand, have a centuries-old practice of vigorously defending the privacy of their readers. Even the Oklahoma library system that recently threatened librarians if they so much as “use the word abortion” is still doubling down on providing better anonymity for patrons. The function of a library is antithetical to the prerogatives of surveillance capitalism.

Today, libraries generally are blocked from purchasing and owning digital books—and readers are in a similar boat. Instead, publishers offer only high-cost licenses for which libraries rely on emergency funds and may only be able to afford the most popular works. These costs put libraries at a disadvantage in serving traditionally marginalized communities, including particularly young, disabled, rural, and low income readers who may rely on e-books. Already, public schools bound by state law to protect the data of their students are having to pay $27 per digital copy of Anne Frank’s Diary of A Young Girl each year. Publishers are sending a clear message that privacy will be a premium feature if they have their way.

This lawsuit is a digital book burning to end libraries’ most viable avenue to loan and preserve diverse, surveillance-free digital books: scanning the books themselves. If libraries do not own or control the systems for accessing digital books, or can only afford digital books with a “let our corporation surveil your patrons” discount, people who rely on digital books from libraries are much more likely to be surveilled than those privileged enough to travel to check out a paper book.

But it is not only readers whose opportunities are on the chopping block. If publishers are able to charge more money for a smaller list of books, authors will be in a more dire position for publishing opportunities, making an already exclusive and white industry even less hospitable for diverse and emerging authors. To be published at all, even more authors will be forced to turn to Amazon’s extractive self-publishing e-book and audiobook monopoly. To access those books, readers already have to pay both in dollars and in data.

Surveillance endangers traditionally marginalized people the most, and publishing urgently needs to confront this blind spot. The authors listed in the suit appear to be about 90% white, 60% male, and 17% deceased. While it would be ludicrous to blame deceased authors for not speaking out, the others have been resoundingly complicit: allowing publishing companies, associations, and other institutions to outrageously claim that the existence of libraries in the digital age harms their intellectual property and smear librarians as “mouthpieces” for Big Tech.

Authors listed in the suit include James S. A. Corey, best known for The ExpanseA Game of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin, Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame, and Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love. Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly as well as multiple titles by Lemony Snicket are also listed. Sarah Crossan’s YA novel Resist, and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven are also among titles the Internet Archive is being sued for owning and loaning. Ironically, Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath is also among publishing giants’ arsenal.

This lawsuit illustrates a new level of unabashed greed from publishing corporations and their shareholders, swathed in a record-profits-fueled PR campaign using inadequately compensated authors as human shields. Not only will

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Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2022 at 9:58 am

Here’s a test to see whether Supreme Court justices are above the law

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Jennifer Rubin, a Republican (but also rational) columnist for the Washington Post, has an interesting column (gift link, no paywall) today:

The 65 Project, a bipartisan group dedicated to disbarring lawyers who filed frivolous cases related to the 2020 election, or who otherwise participated in the coup attempt, has been very busy in recent months. It filed a series of complaints against advisers of defeated former president Donald Trump, including Jenna Ellis, Boris Epshteyn, Cleta Mitchell, John Eastman and Joseph diGenova, as well as two lawyers who signed on to be fake electors and two lawyers who participated in the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

Now, the group is making its most ambitious move yet: It is filing a specific demand with the Supreme Court to kick Eastman, the chief architect of the coup plot, out of the elite Supreme Court Bar (lawyers eligible to argue in the highest court). And it has requested that Justice Clarence Thomas recuse himself from the disciplinary proceeding because of the role that Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, played in the 2020 scheme.

The complaint, made available to me before it was filed, states that Eastman “bolstered and amplified” claims not backed by evidence or the law. It also alleges that Eastman “actively participated in an effort to undermine our elections – a scheme that led to the gravest attack on American democracy since the Civil War.”

The complaint describes five “spokes” in the coup plot, all of which included Eastman. They include litigating the 65 bogus lawsuits; arranging slates of phony electors in seven states; pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to reject electoral votes; pressuring state lawmakers to overturn votes or rescind electors; and summoning “Trump’s supporters to Washington, D.C. and, having spent months lying to them about fraud and a stolen election, sending them to the Capitol, agitated and armed, to stop the electoral vote count.”

After a detailed review of facts revealed in the Jan. 6 hearings and in reporting, the group argues that Eastman’s conduct warrants expulsion from the Supreme Court Bar as well as the loss of his California legal license. The complaint amounts to a handy guide not only to Eastman’s professional violations, but also to facts that might be the basis for criminal charges in state and federal court.

Michael Teter, the 65 Project’s managing director, tells me, “If Mr. Eastman is allowed to continue to remain a member of the highest court in the United States despite the undisputed facts regarding his actions, the American public’s quickly eroding confidence in the Supreme Court will deteriorate even faster.”

But that’s not even the most intriguing part. Citing the obligation for federal judges to . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Update: One of the comments on the article:

CitizenCO July 28, 2022 11:41am

“… an important first step toward the Court’s regaining some of its legitimacy.”

I think the legitimacy ship has sailed. By several hundred steps.

McConnell denied Garland a lawful hearing, pushed through Barrett while the last 3 SCOTUS nominees brazenly lied to the Senate in saying they considered Roe settled precedent then ruled with the opinion that the Roe precedent was illegitimate. Add Roberts shepherding through the Citizens United ruling, the single most destructive ruling by the court to American Constitutional good order since Dredd Scott. Add the many shadow docket and one-off rulings without “setting precedent” and the Supreme Court legitimacy is well down the sewer.

Thomas, the long serving weakest jurisprudence wit on the court, whose record of probing questions could not even fill a napkin, recusing himself will not serve to add one iota of legitimacy to an already tainted court. The present court would be more legitimate in the public’s eyes if they just admitted they represented the interests of the largest corporations, whatever the Federalist society tells them to believe and that, like the Alito ruling, will twist the Constitution to suit their sponsors positions, however damaging to the citizens of the United States.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2022 at 10:01 am

GOP hurts veterans out of spite

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Heather Cox Richardson has a good post, from which I’ll quote just a paragraph (though the entire post is well worth reading:

Tonight, Senate Republicans unexpectedly killed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which would have provided medical benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins during their military service. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 84 to 14 in June and had been sent back to that body for a procedural cleanup after the House passed it with the expectation that it would repass easily. Tonight’s vote is being widely interpreted as revenge for the resurrection of the reconciliation package.

As Richardson notes:

Attacking our veterans out of spite might not be a winning move

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2022 at 10:36 pm

More canaries keeling over in the coal mine of American democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson’s column tonight is another warning that Americans must wake up to the danger they face.

On Friday, Axios began to publish a deeply researched and important series by Jonathan Swan, explaining that if former president Trump retakes power, he and allies like his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), and head of Trump’s social media network Devin Nunes are determined to purge our nonpartisan civil service and replace it with loyalists. In a normal administration, a new president gets to replace around 4000 political appointees, but most government employees are in positions designed to be nonpartisan. Trump’s team wants to gut this system and put in place people loyal to him and his agenda.

When he campaigned for the presidency, Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of officeholders who, he suggested, were just sucking tax dollars. Once in office, though, Trump grew increasingly angry at the civil servants who continued to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia, insisting that figures like former FBI director Robert Mueller and former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, were Democrats who wanted to hound him from office. (They were, in fact, Republicans.)

Trump’s first impeachment trial inflamed his fury at those he considered disloyal. The day after Republican senators acquitted him on February 6, 2020, he fired two key impeachment witnesses: U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the top expert on Ukraine at the National Security Council. Ironically, Vindman had testified in the impeachment hearings that he had reassured his father, who had lived in the Soviet Union and was worried about Vindman’s testifying against the president, not to worry because in America, “right matters.” Trump fired Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny, at the same time, although he had nothing to do with the impeachment.

A Trump advisor told CNN the firings were intended to demonstrate that disloyalty to the president would not be tolerated.

Within days, Trump had put fierce loyalist John McEntee in charge of the White House office of personnel, urging him to ferret out anyone insufficiently loyal and to make sure the White House hired only true believers. McEntee had been Trump’s personal aide until he failed a security clearance background check and it turned out he was under investigation for financial crimes; then–White House chief of staff John Kelly fired him, and Trump promptly transferred McEntee to his reelection campaign. On February 13, 2020, though, Trump suddenly put McEntee, who had no experience in personnel or significant government work, in charge of the hiring of the 4000 political appointees and gave him extraordinary power.

Trump also wanted to purge the 50,000 nonpartisan civil servants who are hired for their skills, rather than politics. But since 1883, those jobs have been protected from exactly the sort of political purge Trump and McEntee wanted to execute.

A policy researcher who came to Trump’s Domestic Policy Council from the Heritage Foundation, James Sherk, found that employees who work in “a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making or policy-advocating” job can be exempted from civil service protections.

On October 21, 2020, Trump signed an executive order creating a new category of public servant who could be hired by agency heads without having to go through the merit-based system in place since 1883, and could be fired at will. This new “Schedule F” would once again allow presidents to appoint cronies to office, while firing those insufficiently loyal. One Trump loyalist at the Office of Management and Budget identified 88% of his agency as moveable to Schedule F.

Biden rescinded Trump’s executive order on January 22, 2021, just two days after taking office.

According to Swan, Trump has not forgotten the plan. Since the January 6 insurrection, he has called those former colleagues who did not support his coup “ungrateful” and “treasonous.” In a new administration, he would insist on people who had “courage,” and would reinstate the Schedule F plan in order to purge the career civil service of all employees he believes insufficiently loyal to him.

The idea of reducing our professional civil service to those who offer loyalty to a single leader is yet another fundamental attack on democracy.

Democracy depends on . . .

Continue reading. And perhaps think about your Plan B.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2022 at 10:42 pm

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, distinguished pol of the week.

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Jennifer Rubin recognizes Pelosi’s stand on individual rights (gift link, no paywall):

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took charge of the national response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in a way no one in the White House, Senate or even pro-choice groups has been able to do. She understood that not only the court’s right-wing majority but also the Republican Party who put them on the bench were wildly out of step with the public.

So in a Dear Colleagues letter just days after the opinion was announced, she vowed to bring to the House floor measures that would protect “women’s most intimate and personal data stored in reproductive health apps”; affirm the “Constitutional right to travel freely and voluntarily throughout the United States”; and once more pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to make Roe v. Wade federal law.

But she did not stop there. She seized on Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in Dobbs, which called for an even broader assault on privacy rights — including access to contraception, in-vitro fertilization and same-sex marriage.

She has made good on her promises. Earlier this month, the House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act and measures to protect the right to travel and information privacy, which Republicans opposed in almost unanimously. In doing so, Republicans effectively put their stamp of approval on tech companies and governments rummaging through women’s phones to figure out whether and when they became pregnant. Republicans also own any state efforts to ban interstate travel for abortion patients.

Pelosi then put a bill protecting same-sex marriage on the floor. This time, the legislation lured 47 Republicans to vote yes, but vast majority of Republicans voted against a now popular feature of American life.

Finally, on Thursday, Pelosi put on the floor . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2022 at 7:24 am

Republicans in Congress oppose what most Americans want

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Thursday’s public hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol brought to its logical conclusion the story of Trump’s attempt to overturn our democracy. After four years of destroying democratic norms and gathering power into his own hands, the former president tried to overturn the will of the voters. Trump was attacking the fundamental concept on which this nation rests: that we have a right to consent to the government under which we live.

Far from rejecting the idea of minority rule after seeing where it led, Republican Party lawmakers have doubled down.

They have embraced the idea that state legislatures should dominate our political system, and so in 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws to restrict access to voting. On June 24, in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, the Supreme Court said that the federal government did not have the power, under the Fourteenth Amendment, to protect the constitutional right to abortion, bringing the other rights that amendment protects into question. When Democrats set out to protect some of those rights through federal legislation, Republicans in Congress overwhelmingly voted to oppose such laws.

In the House, Republicans voted against federal protection of an individual’s right to choose whether to continue or end a pregnancy and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide abortion services: 209 Republicans voted no; 2 didn’t vote. That’s 99% of House Republicans.

They voted against the right to use contraception: 195 out of 209 Republicans voted no; 2 didn’t vote. That’s 96% of House Republicans.

They voted against marriage equality: 157 out of 204 Republicans voted no; 7 didn’t vote. That’s 77% of House Republicans.

They voted against a bill guaranteeing a woman’s right to travel across state lines to obtain abortion services: 205 out of 208 Republicans voted no; 3 didn’t vote. That’s 97% of House Republicans.

Sixty-two percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal. Seventy percent support gay marriage. More than 90% of Americans believe birth control should be legal. I can’t find polling on whether Americans support the idea of women being able to cross state lines without restrictions, but one would hope that concept is also popular. And yet, Republican lawmakers are comfortable standing firmly against the firm will of the people. The laws protecting these rights passed through the House thanks to overwhelming Democratic support but will have trouble getting past a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

When he took office, Democratic president Joe Biden recognized that his role in this moment was to prove that democracy is still a viable form of government.

Rising autocrats have declared democracy obsolete. They argue that popular government is too slow to respond to the rapid pace of the modern world, or that liberal democracy’s focus on individual rights undermines the traditional values that hold societies together, values like religion and ethnic or racial similarities. Hungarian president Viktor Orbán, whom the radical right supports so enthusiastically that he is speaking on August 4 in Texas at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), has called for replacing liberal democracy with “illiberal democracy” or “Christian democracy,” which will explicitly not treat everyone equally and will rest power in a single political party.

Biden has defended democracy across the globe, accomplishing more in foreign diplomacy than any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Less than a year after the former president threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken pulled together the NATO countries, as well as allies around the world, to stand against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The new strength of NATO prompted Sweden and Finland to join the organization, and earlier this month, NATO ambassadors signed protocols for their admission. This is the most significant expansion of NATO in 30 years.

That strength helped to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2022 at 9:29 pm

Marriage in the US has been declining since 1949

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Interesting post by Kevin Drum. In the US, married couples as a percentage of all households hit its high-water mark (79%) in 1949, and it’s been declining (overall) ever since, though it did increase slightly after the Obergefell decision in 2015 made it legal for same-sex couples to marry. Good chart at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law

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