Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Democracy Is Surprisingly Easy to Undermine

leave a comment »

I wonder whether effective teaching of critical thinking skills, beginning in the earliest grades (see the CoRT program for an example) would help by making people less easily swayed by spurious arguments.

Anne Applebaum writes in the Atlantic:

Here’s a quiz: Which world leader made the following statements?

We are witnessing the greatest election fraud in the history of the country, in my opinion in the history of any democracy.”

This may be the most important speech I’ve ever made. I want to provide an update on our ongoing efforts to expose … tremendous voter fraud and irregularities.”

“The election will be flipped, dear friends.”

If you guessed Donald Trump, you are only one-third right. The first statement was made by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, soon after his opponents formed a parliamentary coalition to oust him. He has since grudgingly made way for a new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, but he hasn’t conceded that his loss was fair. The third statement came from Keiko Fujimori, a daughter of Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s former autocratic leader. She also just lost an election, but has not yet recognized the result. But yes, Trump did make the second statement. It comes from a speech he delivered on December 2, in which he detailed “tremendous voter fraud and irregularities” at great length. Although Trump stepped down, he has also yet to admit that he lost.

And he never will. Neither Netanyahu nor Fujimori is likely to concede either, and no wonder: In all three cases, the personal stakes are high. Trump is threatened by multiple lawsuits and potential business failure. Netanyahu has already been indicted for corruption and fraud. Fujimori previously spent a year in jail while awaiting trial for allegedly collecting illegal campaign contributions, and she could conceivably be sent back.

The political stakes are high too, because—at least to hear them talk—all of these leaders claim to believe that, in addition to what they might personally suffer, their nation will pay a huge price for their loss as well. Netanyahu, who had to be ushered to his seat on the opposition benches after losing the vote, calls the new government a “dangerous coalition of fraud and surrender,” and has vowed to “overthrow it very quickly.” Fujimori has described her leftist opponent’s victory as a mortal threat to Peru and a guarantee that the country will follow Venezuela into repression and poverty. Trump, of course, has never acknowledged that there is such a thing as legitimate opposition to himself at all. Even before the election took place, he made clear that unless he won, he would not recognize the result.

The consequences for democracy—democracy around the world, not just in America, Israel, or Peru—are higher still. Elections have been stolen before. Dictators have falsified results before. But losing candidates in established democracies do not normally seek to turn their supporters against the voting system itself, to discredit elections, to undermine the very idea of competitive politics. No modern U.S. president has done so. No postwar European democratic leader has tried it either. And there is a reason: At its core, Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign presents an existential challenge not to his opponents, but to democracy itself. If, by definition, your opponent’s victory can be obtained only through fraud, then how can any election be legitimate? If, by definition, your opponent’s victory represents the death of the nation, then why should any election be allowed to take place, ever? A few days ago, I asked Larry Diamond, a scholar of democracy at Stanford, if he could think of a precedent for Trump’s fraudulent, virulent, ongoing campaign against the November election result, and he could not. “I know of no instance of an advanced industrial democracy coming anywhere near this close to abandoning fundamental standards of electoral democracy,” he told me.

Maybe we should be surprised that it hasn’t happened more often. Democracy has alway been corruptible. Aristotle dismissed democracy because it was so likely to slide into tyranny; the Founding Fathers stuffed the Constitution with checks and balances for exactly that reason. Benjamin Franklin, when once asked what America would be, “a republic or a monarchy,” responded: “A republic, if you can keep it.” More recent politicians, including some rather surprising ones, have understood the fragility of democracy too. Richard Nixon, when advisers suggested that he contest the results of the incredibly tight 1960 presidential election, refused: “Our country can’t afford the agony of a constitutional crisis—and I damn well will not be a party to creating one just to become president or anything else.”

Democracy can’t function without a certain level of civic virtue, a modicum of consensus; at the very least, everybody has to agree to play by the rules. When that doesn’t happen, contested elections, violence, even civil war can result. For many decades now, Americans, like Israelis and many Europeans, have been spared those plagues. Unlike Franklin and Nixon, too many of us now take our system for granted. Few of us are mentally prepared for the highest offices of state to be occupied by people who do not play by the rules, are not suffused with civic virtue, and do not mind damaging the delicate democratic consensus if that’s what it takes to win.

For Americans, Israelis, and many others, the primary danger of “Stop the Steal” tactics lies precisely in their novelty: If you haven’t seen or experienced this kind of assault on the fundamental basis of democracy—if you’ve never encountered a politician who is actively seeking to undermine your trust in the electoral system, your belief that votes are counted correctly, your faith that your nation can survive a victory by the other side—then you might not recognize the hazard. The majority of Republican voters appear not to. Other than Representative Liz Cheney, Representative Adam Kinzinger, and a handful of other officials, even elected Republicans seem not to understand exactly how corrosive this form of politics might eventually become.

The secondary danger of these tactics is  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2021 at 2:53 pm

The decay of American democracy is real

leave a comment »

From a column by Fareed Zakahria in the Washington Post:

“America is back,” Joe Biden kept repeating on his first trip abroad as president. It’s a fair description of what he accomplished — a restoration of the United States’ role as the country that can set the global agenda, encourage cooperation and deter malign behavior. So, American diplomacy is back — but is America? That’s a more complicated question.

The United States’ influence has always been built on a combination of power and purpose. Biden went into this trip with two significant achievements under his belt. First, he ramped up vaccinations so far and so fast that the United States is the first major country to enter a post-pandemic world. Second, he passed a massive relief bill that will ensure that the U.S. economy has a roaring recovery.

But prosperity alone is not enough to lead. President Donald Trump presided over a booming economy before the pandemic, yet polls showed that most leading nations neither respected him nor the United States under his leadership. . .

The Biden team has led by focusing on the big issues on which U.S. allies agree: strengthening ties among free countries, combating climate change, deterring Russian aggression in various forms, stepping up to the challenge from China. It was a far cry from the behavior of Trump, who reveled in denigrating NATO and its members.

The meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was not a “superpower summit,” as some in the media described it. Russia is not a superpower. Its economy doesn’t even crack the top 10 and is in decline on many key measures. But the country, spanning 11 time zones, has one of the world’s largest arsenals of nuclear weapons, a robust military and a United Nations veto. Under Putin, it has been eager to play the role of spoiler on the international stage — annexing territory in Europe for the first time since 1945, engaging in cyberattacks on a massive scale, and pursuing and assassinating dissidents even if they live abroad.

Biden handled the meeting with his Russian counterpart with professionalism and skill, prompting Putin to call Biden “a very experienced” statesman and “a balanced, professional man” (in contrast to his recent comments about Trump being a “colorful individual” who made “impulse-based” decisions). Despite Trump’s fawning behavior toward Putin, Putin might recognize that it is better to have a calm and rational U.S. president than a mercurial and unpredictable showman. For its part, Washington’s goal toward Russia should not be ceaseless hostility but rather some kind of stable relationship in which problems can be discussed, negotiated and managed.

The biggest news out of the Biden-Putin meeting involves cyberspace. The problem of cyberattacks, cybercrime and ransomware has grown exponentially. And yet governments have appeared either unable or unwilling to do much about it. When North Korea launched a devastating cyberattack on Sony Pictures in 2014 to punish it for a movie satirizing Kim Jong Un, destroying 70 percent of the company’s computers, the U.S. government did little in response.

Biden has moved policy in this realm significantly forward, for the first time signaling that the United States would be willing to use its considerable cyber capacities to retaliate against a Russian attack.

 . . . In one fundamental way, things look worse now than in prior periods of crisis. After Watergate, many were surprised that the world looked up to the United States for facing and fixing its democratic failures. It was a sign of the country’s capacity to course-correct. But imagine if after that scandal, the Republican Party, instead of condemning Nixon, had embraced him slavishly, insisted that he did absolutely nothing wrong, settled into denial and obstructionism and proposed new laws to endorse Nixon’s most egregious conduct? Imagine if the only people purged by the party had been those who criticized Nixon?

The decay of American democracy is real. . .

Continue reading.

And see the next post.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2021 at 2:43 pm

Catholic bishops back creation of document that some hope will limit Biden’s participation in Communion

leave a comment »

I don’t recall Catholic bishops being so vigorously active and outraged when the issue was merely priests (and bishops) raping children. Apparently, they view pedophilia more kindly than allowing non-Catholic women to make their own medical decisions. (It is obvious to most, I would think, that President Biden has never had an abortion nor does he want to require women to have abortions. His position is only that a woman should decide for herself, in consultation with her doctor, whether to have an abortion or not. Catholic bishops do not condone non-Catholic women having a free choice in the matter. The bishops believe that they themselves are uniquely qualified to decide (not on moral grounds — the bishops’ defense of pedophiles within the church showed that they do not tread on such grounds — but on the grounds of having power: might makes right is the principle at hand).

In fairness, the bishops also strongly oppose protecting LGBTQ people.

This earlier post is highly relevant.

Michelle Boorstein reports in the Washington Post:

Catholic bishops Friday voted to create guidelines on the meaning of communion, a move that could be an early step towards limiting the serving of the eucharist to President Biden and other politicians who support abortion rights.

The vote came after a 3 ½ hour emotional discussion Thursday at the annual spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Multiple bishops clashed over how, or if, they should single out the church’s teaching on abortion.

The vote on whether to create a draft document about the meaning of the Eucharist, the bread-and-wine rite at the heart of Communion, needed a simple majority. The measure passed 168-55 with 6 abstentions.

The presidency of the country’s second Catholic president is revealing deep divisions among U.S. bishops, and one after another appeared Thursday at their annual meeting to say their fraternity is now at a crossroads .

Embedded in the organization’s agenda this week were explosive, profound differences about theology, pastoring, human nature and a political backdrop that set off a rare public show of division among the bishops . One bishop said the men were meeting at a time of “historic opportunity.” Another said he could not recall a moment like this in 30 years. Yet another said the bishops’ discussion was the most robust discussion in a decade.

Each side said the other was jeopardizing the church’s reputation. Normally, the men meet for three days each June in a huge Baltimore ballroom, but this year (like last year) they were spread across the country, addressing one another virtually.

“Our credibility is on the line. … The eyes of the whole country are on us. If we don’t act courageously, clearly and convincingly on this core Catholic value, how can we expect to be taken seriously on another matter?” asked San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. He was among the members who urged the creation of the document, an idea that grew from Biden’s election in November and concern about the image of him receiving Communion at Mass each week.

But San Diego Archbishop Robert McElroy said the threat was the vote — which would link a politician, their policy position and the Eucharist, considered the heart of Catholic worship.

“The Eucharist itself will be a tool in vicious partisan turmoil. It will be impossible to prevent its weaponization, even if everyone wants to do so,” he said. “Once we legitimize public-policy-based exclusion … we’ll invite all political animosity into the heart of the Eucharistic celebration.”

A document that so elevates the sinfulness of an abortion policy — not a personal viewpoint, as Biden says he personally accepts the church’s teaching on the topic — McElroy argued, would fatally undermine the bishops’ ability to speak on other things, “including the condemnation of poverty, racism and environmental destruction.”

The bishops spoke emotionally about their desire to be unified, and how much they all treasure the Eucharist, which Catholicism teaches brings God to worshipers who have prepared by examining their sins, confessing periodically and fasting. Yet their appearances raised starkly different perspectives. Does a good Catholic priest focus on sin and repentance or first inclusion? Elevate abortion above everything else or not? Is it a priest’s job to assess policy solutions to a sin or stick to teaching theology?

The bishops have talked for several years about reviving interest in the sacrament of the Eucharist. But when Biden was elected last fall, the USCCB created a working group to deal with what its president, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, said was the “problem” of Biden and his policies on abortion and LGBTQ protections. That working group recommended that the conference produce a document on “Eucharistic consistency.” Some bishops immediately expressed concerns about the aims of such a group; others celebrated it.

Biden, while he attends Mass weekly, has not spoken much since taking office about his faith and how it impacts his policy views, including on abortion. The White House . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Someone should explain to the Catholic bishops that the US is a secular nation, not a theocracy, and while religions — many religions, including some inconsistent with the Catholic faith — are protected, they do not rule, and is not a good idea for one religion to impose its rules on those who do not follow that religion.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2021 at 10:37 am

The point of “Black Lives Matter”

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 8:38 pm

Florida Pol Threatens to Put ‘Hit Squad’ on Rival Congressional Candidate

leave a comment »

Guess that politician’s political party. (One guess only, please.)

Benjamin Hart reports in New York:

An obscure Florida Republican congressional candidate was heard on a recording claiming that he could send a “hit squad” after a leading GOP candidate in the race.

Politico reports that William Braddock, a 37-year-old lawyer, made the comments about Anna Paulina Luna, who is running for a vacant seat in Florida’s 13th District. Braddock was speaking with Erin Olszewski, a conservative activist who was so alarmed by the conversation that she turned it over to the police.

“I really don’t want to have to end anybody’s life for the good of the people of the United States of America,” Braddock said, according to Politico.
“That will break my heart. But if it needs to be done, it needs to be done. Luna is a f—ing speed bump in the road. She’s a dead squirrel you run over every day when you leave the neighborhood.”

Later, Braddock said that to make sure Luna didn’t win the race, he would “call up my Russian and Ukrainian hit squad, and within 24 hours, they’re sending me pictures of her disappearing,” adding that he wasn’t joking.

Asked by Politico whether it was him on the recording, Braddock dissembled, and claimed the tape may have been altered.

On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Luna had obtained a stalking injunction against Braddock, who she claims is working with two other political adversaries to kill her. One of them, Amanda Makki, ran against Luna in a primary for the same congressional seat last year.

“I received information yesterday (at midnight) regarding a plan (with a timeline) to murder me made by William Braddock in an effort to prevent me from winning the election for FL-13,” she wrote.

Luna claimed that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 4:05 pm

Leaked Audio of Sen. Joe Manchin Call With Billionaire Donors Provides Rare Glimpse of Dealmaking on Filibuster and January 6 Commission

leave a comment »

A little glimpse of the process of making sausage legislation. Lee Fang and Ryan Grim report in the Intercept:

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, in a private call on Monday with a group of major donors, provided a revealing look at his political approach to some of the thorniest issues confronting lawmakers.

[report at the link includes an audio playback of the call – LG]

The remarks were given on a Zoom teleconference session that was obtained by The Intercept.

The meeting was hosted by the group No Labels, a big money operation co-founded by former Sen. Joe Lieberman that funnels high-net-worth donor money to conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. Among the gathering’s newsworthy revelations: Manchin described an openness to filibuster reform at odds with his most recent position that will buoy some Democrats’ hopes for enacting their agenda.

The call included several billionaire investors and corporate executives, among them Louis Bacon, chief executive of Moore Capital Management; Kenneth D. Tuchman, founder of global outsourcing company TeleTech; and Howard Marks, the head of Oaktree Capital, one of the largest private equity firms in the country. The Zoom participant log included a dial-in from Tudor Investment Corporation, the hedge fund founded by billionaire Paul Tudor Jones. Also present was a roster of heavy-hitting political influencers, including Republican consultant Ron Christie and Lieberman, who serves as a representative of No Labels and now advises corporate interests.

The meeting was led by Nancy Jacobson, the co-founder of No Labels.

The wide-ranging conversation went into depth on the fate of the filibuster, infrastructure negotiations, and the failed effort to create a bipartisan commission to explore the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, and offers a frank glimpse into the thinking of the conservative Democrat who holds the party’s fate in his hands.

Manchin told the assembled donors that he needed help flipping a handful of Republicans from no to yes on the January 6 commission in order to strip the “far left” of their best argument against the filibuster. The filibuster is a critical priority for the donors on the call, as it bottles up progressive legislation that would hit their bottom lines.

When it came to Sen. Roy Blunt, a moderate Missouri Republican who voted no on the commission, Manchin offered a creative solution. “Roy Blunt is a great, just a good friend of mine, a great guy,” Manchin said. “Roy is retiring. If some of you all who might be working with Roy in his next life could tell him, that’d be nice and it’d help our country. That would be very good to get him to change his vote. And we’re going to have another vote on this thing. That’ll give me one more shot at it.”

Regarding Blunt, Manchin appears to be suggesting — without, perhaps, quite explicitly saying so — that the wealthy executives on the call could dangle future financial opportunities in front of the outgoing senator while lobbying him to change his vote. Senate ethics rules forbid future job negotiations if they create a conflict of interest or present even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Manchin, notably, doesn’t suggest that the donors discuss a job, but rather says that people who Blunt may later be working with would be likely to have significant influence, reflective of the way future job prospects can shape the legislative process even when unspoken.

The commission, Manchin tells No Labels, is important in its own right, necessary to determine how security failed and what former President Donald Trump’s role was in the riot, if any. But it’s also critical to maintaining support for the filibuster. The January 6 commission got 56 votes, four short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster — a thorough embarrassment for those like Manchin who claim bipartisanship is still possible in the divided Senate chamber.

Manchin told the donors he hoped to make another run at it to prove that comity is not lost. He noted that Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who missed the vote, would have voted for it had he been there, meaning only three more votes are needed. “What I’m asking for, I need to go back, I need to find three more Republican, good Republican senators that will vote for the commission. So at least we can tamp down where people say, ‘Well, Republicans won’t even do the simple lift, common sense of basically voting to do a commission that was truly bipartisan.’ It just really emboldens the far left saying, ‘I told you, how’s that bipartisan working for you now, Joe?’” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 9:37 am

Big Telecom Blocks Attempt to Bring $15 Broadband To Covid Victims

leave a comment »

Karl Bode reports in Vice:

A Judge has sided with the broadband industry and barred New York State from offering discounted broadband to those struggling during the COVID crisis.

The order by US District Judge Denis Hurley imposes an immediate injunction on New York State, barring it from enforcing the Affordable Broadband Act (ABA), a new state law requiring ISPs provide 25 megabits-per-second broadband for no more than $15-per-month to those struggling financially during the pandemic.

The broadband industry immediately filed suit against the effort, claiming New York was barred from regulating broadband thanks in part to the Trump administration’s 2017 net neutrality repeal. The Trump FCC claimed the repeal would boost job growth and investment in the telecom sector, yet data shows neither actually happened.

Instead, the repeal left the FCC ill-equipped to protect consumers during an economic crisis by eroding much of the agency’s consumer protection authority under the Communications Act. At telecom sector request, the repeal also attempted to ban states from being able to step in and fill the consumer protection void left by an apathetic federal government.

Both broadband experts and previous court rulings have argued that when the Trump FCC gave up its authority over broadband providers, it also gave up its right to tell states what to do. Still, the broadband industry continues to use the repeal as the basis of lawsuits undermining state efforts to hold US telecom giants accountable or pass state net neutrality laws.

Judge Haley sided with industry, proclaiming that providing discounted broadband to poor Americans struggling during Covid would impose “unrecoverable losses” on the hugely profitable and heavily monopolized broadband industry.

“Beginning June 15, 2021, Plaintiffs will suffer unrecoverable losses increasing with time, and the enormity of the matter—six plaintiffs with multiple member organizations attacking a statute affecting one-third of all New York households—portends a lengthy litigation,” the Judge wrote.

Dana Floberg, a telecom expert at consumer group Free Press, stated that the Biden administration could lend a hand by properly staffing the FCC and reversing the Trump administration’s net neutrality repeal.

“The path forward to reining in exorbitant internet prices is clear,” she said. “We need an FCC empowered with the legal authority to investigate and intervene in the market, and we need a long-term benefit to support internet adoption for low-income people.”

Under the law, the party in control of the White House enjoys a 3-2 partisan majority at the FCC. But the Trump administration’s rush appointment of Trump ally Nathan Simington to the agency last December left the agency intentionally gridlocked at 2-2, incapable of obtaining a majority vote on any issues of controversy.

Despite this, the Biden administration has been in no rush to appoint a new commissioner or reverse the net neutrality repeal. More than fifty consumer groups and union organizations wrote the administration this week asking for more urgency in the matter.

“Restoring the FCC’s Title II authority over broadband would give the agency the strong, flexible toolbox it needs to curtail unjust and discriminatory practices, including unreasonable pricing schemes, while avoiding the pitfalls of rate-setting,” Floberg said.

Cable and broadband providers routinely engage in all manner of dodgy pricing practices, from the use of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 June 2021 at 3:47 pm

Republicans are on a mission to destroy democracy in the US, and Mitch McConnell is their leader.

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told radio personality Hugh Hewitt that it is “highly unlikely” that he would permit President Biden to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court if the Republicans win control of the Senate in 2022.

While it seems certain that, if returned to his leadership role in the Senate, McConnell would block any Biden nominee, the fact he said it right now suggests that he is hoping to keep evangelical voters firmly in the Republican camp. In 2016, after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, McConnell refused even to hold hearings for President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. McConnell’s justification for this unprecedented obstruction was that Obama’s March nomination was too close to an election—a rule he ignored four years later when he rushed through Amy Barrett’s appointment to the Court in late October when voting in the upcoming election was already underway—and yet the underlying reason for the 2016 delay was at least in part his recognition that hopes of pushing the Supreme Court to the right, especially on the issue of abortion, were likely to push evangelical voters to the polls.

McConnell’s stance was at least in part directed to the changing nature of the judiciary under President Biden. Last week, the Senate confirmed the first Muslim American federal judge in U.S. history, a truly astonishing first since Muslims have been part of the U.S. since the earliest days of African enslavement in the early 1600s. By a vote of 81 to 16, the Senate confirmed Zahid Quraishi, the son of Pakistani immigrants and veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

More to the point, perhaps, for McConnell, is that the Senate today confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Jackson takes the place of Merrick Garland, who is now the attorney general. This post is generally seen as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. Biden has suggested he would appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court, and Jackson is widely thought to be a top contender.

Aside from its implications for the Supreme Court, McConnell’s stand makes a mockery of Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) insistence on bipartisan support for legislation that protects voting rights. Manchin is demanding that bills protecting voting win bipartisan support because he says he fears that increasing partisanship will injure our democracy. McConnell’s flaunting of his manipulation of Senate rules to cement Republican control of our courts leaves Manchin twisting in the wind.

States, too, are passing voter suppression legislation along strictly partisan lines. The Brennan Center for Justice keeps tabs on voting legislation. It writes that “Republicans introduced and drove virtually all of the bills that impose new voting restrictions, and the harshest new laws were passed with almost exclusively Republican votes and signed into law by Republican governors.”

The Republican domination of the government over the past four years is on the table today as Democratic lawmakers try to get to the bottom of who authorized the FBI under former president Trump to spy on reporters, Democratic lawmakers and their families and staff members, and on White House Counsel Don McGahn and his wife. CNN chief congressional reporter Manu Raju tweeted that Adam Schiff (D-NY) who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, says after speaking with Garland that he still doesn’t know who started the investigation. “We discussed the need to really do a full scale review of what went on in the last four years, and make sure that steps are taken to re-establish the independence of the department,” he said.

While Attorney General Merrick Garland has referred the issue to the inspector general of the Justice Department, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler (D-NY), tonight announced the committee would open a formal investigation into the department’s secret seizure of data. “It is…possible that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 10:48 pm

GOP Senator Says Democracy and Majority Rule Are Not What Our Country Stands For

leave a comment »

In New York Jonathan Chait writes about Rand Paul and his radical beliefs:

One of the edifying side effects of the Trump era has been that, by making democracy the explicit subject of political debate, it has revealed the stark fact many influential conservatives do not believe in it. Mike Lee blurted out last fall that he opposes “rank democracy.” His fellow Republican senator, Rand Paul, tells the New York Times today, “The idea of democracy and majority rule really is what goes against our history and what the country stands for. The Jim Crow laws came out of democracy. That’s what you get when a majority ignores the rights of others.”

Paul is a bit of a crank, but here he is gesturing at a recognizable set of ideas that have long been articulated by conservative intellectuals. Importantly, these ideas are not identified solely with the most extreme or Trumpy conservatives. Indeed, they have frequently been articulated by conservatives who express deep personal animosity toward Donald Trump and his cultists.

The belief system Paul is endorsing contains a few related claims. First, the Founders explicitly and properly rejected majoritarianism. (Their favorite shorthand is “We’re a republic, not a democracy.”) Second, to the extent the current system has shortcomings, they reveal the ignorance of the majority and hence underscore the necessity of limiting democracy. Third, slavery and Jim Crow are the best historical examples of democracy run amok.

National Review has consistently advocated this worldview since its founding years, when it used these ideas to oppose civil-rights laws, and has persisted in using these ideas to argue for restrictions on the franchise. “Was ‘democracy’ good when it empowered slave owners and Jim Crow racists?,” asked NR’s David Harsanyi. Majority rule “sounds like a wonderful thing … if you haven’t met the average American voter,” argued NR’s Kevin Williamson, rebutting the horrifying ideal of majority rule with the knock-down argument: “If we’d had a fair and open national plebiscite about slavery on December 6, 1865, slavery would have won in a landslide.”

It is important to understand that these conservatives have taken Trump’s election, and escalating threats to democracy, not as a challenge to their worldview but as confirmation of it. If Trump is threatening democracy, this merely proves that the people who elected him are ignorant and therefore unfit to rule. The attempted coup of January 6, another NR column sermonized, ought to “remind us of the wisdom that the Founders held dear centuries ago: We are a republic, not a direct democracy, and we’d best act like it.”

The factual predicate for these beliefs is deeply confused. The Founders did reject “democracy,” but they understood the term to mean direct democracy, contrasting it with representative government, in which the people vote for elected officials who are accountable to them.

It is also true that they created a system that was not democratic. In part this was because they did not consider Americans like Black people, women, and non-landowners as deserving of the franchise. On top of this, they were forced to grudgingly accept compromises of the one-man, one-vote principle in order to round up enough votes for the Constitution; thus the “Three-Fifths Compromise” (granting extra weight in Congress to slaveholders) and the existence of the Senate.

Since the 18th century, the system has evolved in a substantially more democratic direction: The franchise has been extended to non-landowners, women, and Black people and senators are now elected by voters rather than state legislatures, among other pro-democratic reforms. To justify democratic backsliding by citing the Founders is to use an argument that proves far too much: Restoring our original founding principles would support disenfranchising the overwhelming majority of the electorate, after all.

Even more absurd is the notion that “Jim Crow laws came out of democracy.” Southern states attempted to establish democratic systems after the Civil War, but these governments were destroyed by violent insurrection. Jim Crow laws were not the product of democracy; they were the product of its violent overthrow.

The most insidious aspect of the Lee-Paul right-wing belief system is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 6:17 pm

The Historian and the Murderer

leave a comment »

Dominique K. Reill, an associate professor in modern European history at the University of Miami, and the author most recently of The Fiume Crisis: Life in the Wake of the Habsburg Empire, writes in Zócalo:

On May 14, 2018, I was led into a nondescript courtroom in Kew Gardens, Queens to testify at a murder trial. I am a historian who loves details, and the resources involved in getting me into that humdrum room to be questioned with a jury to my left, a judge to my right, and a murderer sitting in front of me astounded. An entire system of asking, telling, tracking, and filing for the grand finale of live community listening and judging: no wonder so many historians love to study court cases.

From years of obsessively watching Law & Order, I had assumed my questioning would focus on the titillations mass media devours—which was how my name was associated with the crime in the first place. My involvement with the case did not begin January 31, 2015 when the 42-year-old Croatian historian William Klinger was shot twice in an Astoria park in broad daylight and left to die. After he was declared dead in a New York City emergency room, no one had informed me because I was irrelevant to his life. Three weeks later, however, I got emails and calls because the murderer claimed I was part of why Klinger had died.

Police determined that Klinger had been in the park alone with a friend, 49-year-old Alexander Bonich. They also discovered that Klinger had wired $85,000 to Bonich in order to purchase an apartment in Astoria. Anyone who knows anything about New York real estate can smell a rat in this story. An apartment in Astoria costs about $700,000, if you’re very lucky. In New York City, real estate fraud is a believable motive for killing. Bonich was arrested posthaste.

To counter the murder charge, Bonich insisted he shot Klinger out of self-defense. As Bonich told police and then a New York Times journalist, on the day of his death Klinger behaved strangely. He seemed unhinged, filled with emotional rage triggered by the fact that he had deserted his family in Europe “to meet a woman named Dominique.” With Klinger coming at him, Bonich insisted he had shot Klinger to forestall Klinger doing the same to him.

There are very few people connected with Croatian academia who share my first name. Within minutes of the New York Times article giving Bonich’s side of the story going live, a friend wrote me an email to alert me. Within an hour, my inbox was filled with queries from journalists and police. The idea that Klinger’s grieving wife and children would have to suffer the killer’s lies cut me to the quick and I responded by contacting anyone I could to set the record straight.

The New York Times immediately erased my name from the article they had published online. I gave journalists, police, and lawyers full access to all my communications with Klinger. At some point, the murderer had also asserted that Klinger and I had had a rendezvous in New York in the days prior to the shooting. To disprove this, it took just a few minutes to supply travel itineraries and credit card statements showing how I was nowhere near New York City at the time.

At Bonich’s trial three years later, I assumed I was being called to the stand to disprove assertions about Klinger’s relationship to me. Imagine my surprise, then, when two minutes into my deposition the prosecutor asked me, “What are the archives?”

In my professional life as a history professor at an elite research university, “what are the archives?” is a question that gets posed regularly, often by professors encouraging students to think about how history “gets made.” When the prosecutor asked me this question, it was in response to my explanation of how I had first met Klinger. I had said “I met him in the archives in Rijeka [Croatia],” assuming this was straightforward. When asked to elaborate, I still assumed that the question was not about the things I usually talk about when discussing archives, but about the nature of my relationship to the deceased.

Was it possible that the prosecutor feared the jury imagined we had met at some nightclub called “The Archives”? Maybe those Queens residents were picturing us drinking cocktails at a bar pretentiously decorated with old-school card catalogs, green banker’s lamps, and anachronistic maps? So, instead of answering what archives were in a professional sense, I focused on how unsexy—how all work, 8 a.m.-to-2 p.m. no fun—they are.

Here is where it became clear that all my assumptions about why I was in that courtroom were wrong. As I was explaining how archivists regularly introduce scholars to each other in the reading room, the defense attorney called out: “Judge, I’m going to object to the witness being nonresponsive.” Though the judge overruled the objection, the effect of the defense attorney’s intervention was significant.

From then on, my job in the almost 80 questions that followed was not to disabuse the court of ideas of adulterous encounters but instead to explain what this strange profession of “historian” was, and what role it played in bringing Klinger into that Astoria park on the day he died.

I told the jury how Klinger had attended some of the most prestigious institutions in Europe, how he had published widely in several languages, and how he was generally considered the expert in his field, even though he could not find permanent, full-time employment anywhere. A long-time motto repeated ad nauseam in academia is “Publish or perish.” In essence, I was there to explain how this historian perished in our profession even though he had published, and how his professional disappointment set him up for associating with someone who would kill him for real.

When reading over the court transcripts, it is hard to remember that we were all sitting together in that room because a man had died. The questions were not about Klinger or his murderer. Instead, they focused on the intricacies of how difficult it is for a historian to make a living.

I explained how historians can’t get academic jobs through individual merits in the U.S. or Europe. You need networks. I talked about “markets,” the expectations of what CVs (the academic term for resumes) should look like, and how getting noticed by universities is dependent not just on productivity but also on references from people of great esteem. With every explanation I gave, another question came up. What is a postdoc? What is an editor? What is a letter of recommendation? How does anyone get paid?

The questions kept coming because the answers I was giving made no sense to how people imagined someone survived as a professional historian. Weren’t historians like artists or writers? Wasn’t their worth and position dependent on the quality of what they produced? Or maybe they were like journalists, paid per column or through working on producing publications? Or maybe historians were like teachers, their employment opportunities dependent on the degrees they had obtained?

I’m sure it was confusing when I told the lawyers, judge, and jury about how the writing and publishing process works. I said: “People don’t make money working for journals; you do it as a volunteer for the state of the field. There are no paying jobs.” Both the defense attorney and the prosecutor had been under the impression that Klinger’s arrival in the United States would solve his miserable professional status in Europe. My testimony underscored that it was far from the truth—but that Klinger didn’t know it, and that’s what made him vulnerable.

Though he had published much and the solidity of his research was undeniable, Klinger had not proven himself as a man who worked within structures. He had never taught in an American classroom. He had no portfolio of teaching evaluations. He had not participated in a research facility where interdisciplinary collaboration was emphasized. He had almost no links within the wider profession, meaning there were few who could vouch for him to those outside his relatively obscure specialty. This also meant he could not help future students procure positions.

Klinger did history like a starving artist might: he worked alone, he published in the easiest and quickest (rather than the most prestigious) journals, and he struggled to broaden his profile. His lack of networks was partly a result of the fact that no one in Italy or Croatia would give him a permanent position. But it was also partly because he was so passionate about the researching and writing that he didn’t prioritize the other stuff.

I had explained to Klinger “at the archives” and in emails what I had said in court: procuring permanent employment in the United States is a slow, networked, highly professionalized process that proves unsuccessful for most. I had told him explicitly that there is no way to just publish, come, and get a job. But Klinger ignored me and decided instead to believe a man who told him what he wanted to hear.

Apparently, Bonich promised Klinger all: not just an apartment but also a job at Hunter College in New York City based on his qualifications, with no application, interview, or letters of recommendation required. That is as inconceivable as the $85,000 price tag for an Astoria apartment. Nonetheless, Klinger wanted to believe. The murderer also told the court Klinger had deserted his family in part because I had arranged a position for him as a journal editor in Maryland, one which would pay enough for him to build a new life for himself.

This, too, was not just a lie; it was impossible.

It didn’t matter that Klinger and I barely knew each other. It didn’t matter that the journal the killer named did not exist. It also didn’t matter that history journals do not pay book review editors. The killer told those lies because he thought they were believable, because that’s how he thought the historical profession worked. Just like Klinger, Bonich did not realize that there are almost no historians in the world who can survive on their writing, their editorships, or their qualifications. Historians in the United States are paid for how they work within institutions. And getting into the institutions is a herculean feat only the most obstinate should try to undertake.

We’ll never know how  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 1:46 pm

“I took a vote that cost me my seat. I know what Joe Manchin is facing.”

leave a comment »

Impressive column in the Washington Post by Tom Perriello, a former congressman from Virginia’s 5th Congressional District and a former U.S. Special Envoy for the African Great Lakes Region, now serving as the U.S. executive director of the Open Society Foundations. He writes:

“Just promise you will never forget that Judgment Day is more important than Election Day.” That was the advice — directive, really — my father offered when I asked about running for Congress. He was born and raised in Dunbar, W.Va., with the deep faith in the community, the Catholic Church and the New Deal that defined many Italian immigrant families recruited by the coal mines or Union Carbide. My dad died a few months after seeing me sworn in as a member of the 111th Congress in 2009, just three weeks after he retired as a pediatrician. He had cared for so many children of every race, faith and class that more than 1,000 people showed up for his funeral.

When I cast one of the deciding votes to pass the Affordable Care Act that year— a vote many warned might cost me my seat — I wore one of my father’s old wool suits. He had opposed Hillary Clinton’s 1993 health-care plan but watched regretfully as the insurance companies spread like a cancer across his profession, choking out the space between doctor and patient. I felt him nodding with approval from on high.

My dad liked Governor Joe Manchin and would have really loved Sen. Manchin for his decency and determination to fight for forgotten towns and workers. This year, the Democratic senator from West Virginia has shown marked political courage by embracing at least the aspirations of President Biden’s agenda to “build back better,” sending a signal to colleagues on both sides of the aisle that this is a time to unite around solutions rather than hide in the shadow of base politics.

[Yes, the Senate is rigged for small states. But not for Republicans]

As his colleagues fail to answer this call, Manchin is rapidly approaching a test of his convictions on what he must do to protect America’s historic experiment with democracy. West Virginia became a state when its citizens had the honor to break away from Virginia to defend our more perfect union. Now, their senior senator may need to break traditions to defend voting rights and the integrity of our elections. Manchin recently indicated his inability to support the For the People Act unless Republican senators show the courage to put democracy over party. He stated no substantive disagreements with the reforms, which would limit partisan gerrymandering, dark money, foreign election interference, and corporate corruption, while adopting existing voting rights and expanded election protections.

Defending voting rights and election integrity should not and cannot be a partisan issue. As the Pew Research Center found, large majorities of Americans support making it easier to vote and reducing the power of special interests through the kinds of policies enshrined in the For the People Act. It’s just the Republicans in Congress who refuse to support it.

One party is attacking democracy, and that same party is blocking attempts to protect it. Citing that as an excuse to disarm unilaterally is like telling a farmer whose cattle are being stolen that he needs the thief’s permission to put up cameras or hire guards. The bipartisanship Manchin celebrates from the 1980s, at its best, represented genuine compromise. Frankly, in this era, anything the diverse body of 50 Democratic senators can agree on probably would have been seen as “bipartisan” back then. My father’s family swung from JFK Republicans to Reagan Democrats, but they’d be at a loss to understand the Republican caucus of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

When I came to Congress, I represented a deep red district and dreamed of bipartisanship, and I was proud to retain support from independent and Republican voters and outperform the party brand by double digits. But the one place I found no bipartisanship was on the Hill. A few months after I was sworn in, I knew reelection the following year was a long shot. We Democrats failed to convince Americans that we were focused on the economy, and the quiet recovery was not being felt by fall of 2010.

Biden’s bold approach today reflects an understanding that, had we been able to move bolder and earlier — for instance, passing health-care reform in the summer of 2009 with a Medicare buy-in and cheaper prescription drugs — we would have won over more moderates than by taking the perceived “moderate” path that enabled corporate-captured senators to waste time and water down reforms.

A decade later, I carry three lessons from my 2009 health care vote.

First, no regrets. Why ask the voters for political power if not to use it when it matters most? I still get letters from people thanking me: Parents whose kids are growing up with the security Obamacare provides, or entrepreneurs able to start businesses because they no longer felt tied to their old job for the health insurance. I have also been reminded time and again that there is a job much better than being in Congress, and that’s being a former member of Congress. I have devoted the past decade to issues of justice at home and abroad dear to my heart, with a bigger staff and free from the constant fear that an innocuous remark will be taken out of context to become a viral attack ad.

Second, tough votes are better taken early in the election cycle than late. The months we took debating health care did not make the bill stronger or more popular. It just left more time for it to be demonized and less time for the positive effects to be felt. The reforms in these two new voting rights bills are widely popular — for instance, making Election Day a national holiday and automatically registering eligible voters. They’ll be even more so when voters see how easy and safe it is for them to vote, how much harder it is for politicians to gerrymander districts, and why corporations will have a harder time corrupting our politics.

Manchin has taken a strong stance in favor of protecting voting rights and election integrity. He has said he supports another important voting rights bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but the voting and election protections in the For the People Act are urgently vital complements to that legislation for addressing 21st century threats to our democracy. Many other reforms Manchin has touted are in the 800 pages of the For the People Act and must find their way into law.

Third, Americans . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 June 2021 at 7:27 am

Seemingly normal: Profile of one insurrectionist — a geophysicist who seriously wounded a defenseless Capitol police officer

leave a comment »

Melanie Warner reports in Politico:

The text message showed up on John Bergman’s phone in late January. Sent to him by a former work colleague, it came with the question “Have you seen this??” and linked to an article and video from a news channel. Bergman pressed play.

It was a scene from the Capitol riots on January 6. Amid a throng of rioters outside the building’s western terrace tunnel was a figure wearing a tan Carhartt jacket, teal backpack, steel-toed boots and black tactical helmet. The article identified the man as Bergman’s longtime friend, Jeffrey Sabol. In the video, Sabol vaulted over a railing and appeared to drag a defenseless cop down a set of stairs.

Bergman could barely fathom what he was seeing. He had worked with Sabol for a decade and had known him for 18 years. “I’ve always revered Jeff as one of the most intelligent, capable, thoughtful, helping people,” Bergman says. “We had just spoken a few weeks earlier, and next thing I know he’s in Washington, D.C., doing this crazy thing.”

Sabol, 51, is a geophysicist from Kittredge, Colorado, a small town in the mountains outside Denver. In the weeks after the insurrection, he became one of the approximately 465 people charged so far for their participation in the January 6 insurrection. Sabol faces eight counts, several of them felonies, including the assault of police officers. He and four other defendants named in the same indictment are accused of participating in some of the day’s worst violence, which took place around 4:30 p.m. and resulted in several officers being stripped of their protective gear, dragged, stomped on, and attacked with crutches and a flagpole. [Politico article here includes a video of Sabol in action during the insurrection. – LG]

According to the indictment, Sabol wrested a baton from a second D.C. police officer who had been knocked down by another rioter outside the Capitol’s western terrace entrance, which would be the site of Joe Biden’s inauguration two weeks later. The officer later needed staples to close a wound on his head. Before being dragged into the mob by Sabol and others, prosecutors say, these officers had tried to reach a woman who died amid the throng (the D.C. medical examiner declared her death an amphetamine overdose). Images published in the government’s criminal complaint against Sabol show the woman lying on the ground at the top of the stairs wearing jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt, while Sabol and other men clash with police above her.

Sabol, who is divorced and has three teenagers back home in Colorado, also seems to appear in a YouTube video shot about two hours earlier and unearthed by a Twitter user who is part of a group of self-styled “sedition hunters.” In it, Sabol, known to the sedition hunters as #OrangeNTeal because of his highly identifiable jacket and backpack, runs headfirst into a row of officers trying to hold the line and prevent rioters from breaching the west steps of the Capitol.

Denied bail, Sabol is now locked in a cell at the Washington, D.C., Correctional Treatment Facility awaiting trial, deemed by a judge to be the “epitome of a flight risk” because of what he did after the riots. Unlike defendants who posted about their Capitol exploits on social media, Sabol immediately seemed to have grasped the gravity of his post-January 6 predicament. Back home in Colorado, he destroyed several electronic devices in his microwave and instructed friends to delete anything he had sent them, according to Sabol’s own statements to investigators. Several days later, he arrived at Logan Airport in Boston with a ticket to Zurich, Switzerland. Worried he had been recognized, he never got on the plane. Instead, he rented a car and drove to New York state, eventually ending up in a suburb of New York City. At some point along the way, he tossed his phone off a bridge and grew so distraught that he attempted to take his own life by slashing his wrists and thighs, his criminal complaint states.

“I’ve really been struggling with this, that my bro tried to kill himself,” Bergman says, his voice cracking with emotion. “It scared the shit out of me.”

Sabol’s actions on January 6 and the days afterward have left many in his life confused and grappling for answers. How did a highly educated, middle-aged man with so much to lose participate in what FBI director Christopher Wray called “domestic terrorism,” and then try to kill himself? How did someone with strong views about government overreach, but also plenty of friends and neighbors outside his political bubble, end up on the steps of the Capitol, in attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results?

In some ways, Sabol’s radicalization mirrors that of other insurrectionists, a group that collectively has put a new face on American extremism. While many of those arrested for political terrorism in recent decades have been young, underemployed and socially isolated, the majority of the 465 (and counting) defendants in the Capitol attack are much like Sabol—older individuals, mostly white men, with well-established careers. A report by the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats found that 67 percent of Capitol defendants are at least 35 years old, and 30 percent worked in white-collar jobs. Sabol was a geophysicist for an environmental services company. Other defendants include an investment manager at BB&T Bank (who died by suicide after his arrest), a State Department employee, an Olympic gold medalist swimmer, a real estate agent, many small-business owners, a doctor and an attorney. There are several dozen current or former military members, and at least 10 current or former law-enforcement officers. For all the public attention to right-wing groups and militias, just 12 percent of the defendants belonged to organized operations like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers or boogaloo boys. The majority of the defendants, including Sabol, also came not from the heart of Trump country but from counties Biden won.

Based on multiple interviews with people who knew him, as well as extensive public records, Sabol’s story offers a vivid example of how “normal” this new form of radicalization might look from the outside—and how hard it can be to detect. Sabol, according to his ex-wife, was involved in volatile episodes at home, and court records show that he was charged with misdemeanor child abuse in 2016, for injuring his teenage son. Yet in letters sent to the court on his behalf, 30 friends, neighbors and family members, including Army officers and a Denver police sergeant, describe the man they know in glowing terms. The kind of guy who gives his jacket to an underdressed hiker and goes down a 14,000-foot mountain in a T-shirt. A guy who steps in to prevent altercations. A guy with a peace-sign tattoo on his back.

“We discussed all kinds of topics—parenting, religion, politics, relationships, work, hobbies, and life experiences. Never once did I detect any indication of him being a fanatic of any sort,” wrote a retired schoolteacher who volunteered with Sabol at a youth horse-riding organization nearly every Saturday for the past two years. “I can’t conceive of him being a danger to the community in any way.”

Nearly six months after the insurrection, hundreds of defendants are awaiting trial or plea deals as their cases move through the justice system. Sabol is among the approximately 50 who have been denied bail and are being held in jail in Washington, D.C., in their cells for nearly 20 hours a day due to Covid concerns. The Biden administration has taken a number of steps to begin to combat violent domestic extremism across different federal departments, even as Congress recently failed to agree to create a commission to study the events of January 6.

But the larger problem—of how so many Americans came to see violence or forced entry into a government building as their best options, and whether it could happen again—isn’t at all resolved. Millions of Americans continue to hold some of the same beliefs that propelled Sabol to the Capitol. Experts say the new wave of right-wing extremism on display at the Capitol is both unprecedented in its size and scope—and far more challenging to track and root out. Understanding Jeffrey Sabol’s transformation reveals how radicalization can happen under the radar, while offering lessons for those who want to combat it going forward: about how personal challenges can collide with political messages, and how a person’s job, education level, community and even their social media profile aren’t reliable predictors of extremist behavior. Thousands of people descended on the Capitol terrace, with thousands of individual routes taken to get there.

Where will they go next? “What’s concerning is that many did not see January 6 as the end of something,” says Susan Corke, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They saw it as the beginning.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it indicates that there’s trouble ahead.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2021 at 12:11 pm

Unaccountable: The push to remake policing takes decades, only to begin again

leave a comment »

To balance the good news, a problem that’s more intractable than dengue. Robert Klemko and John Sullivan report in the Washington Post:

In 1988, as Joe Collum drove the New Jersey Turnpike to his new job at a local TV news station, he noticed a recurring scene on the side of the highway: White state troopers rifling through the belongings of Black and Latino motorists.

Collum, an investigative reporter, scoured arrest records in dozens of municipalities. Along the turnpike, he found, Black and Latino drivers accounted for the vast majority — 80 percent — of all state police arrests on the turnpike. “Without Just Cause,” his investigative report on WWOR-TV Secaucus, introduced the world to the term “racial profiling.”

“There was this big initiative to stop drugs coming in and out of New York City, and they were transparent about that,” Collum said, “but the troopers individually and collectively, to some degree, decided that the best way to catch people with drugs was to target dark-skinned people.”

Collum’s reporting exposed how troopers’ biases and assumptions about people of color had infected policing along New Jersey’s main artery. State police denied they were targeting minorities. But a group of attorneys, motivated by Collum’s reports, sued troopers, and a state court affirmed for the first time the existence of racial profiling by law enforcement. The Justice Department ordered an end to the practice.

But nearly 30 years later, the most recent audit revealed that Black drivers were still being subjected more often to searches, arrests and uses of force after traffic stops by state police.

The attempted reforms after Collum’s revelation of racial profiling have led to yet another chapter in the long line of attempts to cleanse policing in the United States of its persistent afflictions — an ongoing exercise in reform that never ends.

For decades, police misconduct and the use of controversial tactics have fueled cycles of outrage that have been followed by commissions, studies and orders or promises to reform. In 1929, the federal Wickersham Commission produced 14 volumes of reports documenting widespread police corruption, including the use of the “third degree” to extract confessions. Eighty-six years later, after the killing of a Black man, Michael Brown, by a White officer in Ferguson, Mo., the Obama administration convened the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which produced 116 pages of recommended changes in U.S. law enforcement.

Last year, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police renewed the calls for change.

Since then, more than 2,000 policing-related bills have been introduced nationwide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In April, Maryland became the first state to repeal its powerful Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a set of legislative protections that included scrubbing any record of complaints against an officer after a period of time. And in Congress, the Democrat-led House in March passed a bill named for Floyd that bars chokeholds and no-knock warrants; it is stalled in the Senate.

The Washington Post examined three historic firsts in policing reforms: the effort to stop racial profiling by troopers in New Jersey, the deployment of early-warning technology to identify troubled deputies in Los Angeles and the use of federal intervention to force change on police in Pittsburgh.

The legacies of these firsts reveal the difficulty of remaking law enforcement. At each agency, the attempts have been stifled by entrenched cultures, systemic dysfunction, shifts in leadership and swings in public mood. Outrage at officers’ conduct eventually gives way to demands for aggressive enforcement when crime flares, and the cycle continues.

“Eventually, too many people get murdered, too many people get raped, and people start saying, ‘Come on. Beef up the police,’ ” said former Los Angeles County sheriff’s assistant chief Neal Tyler, who helped develop the first computerized early-warning system. “And we do that, and then slowly, eventually, we lose our resolve and the pendulum swings back the other direction, and there’s a police scandal of epic proportions.

“Like clockwork.”

A department under federal control

In 1995 in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, an officer pulled over Jonny Gammage, a Black businessman who was at the wheel of a luxury sports car. He had been stopped for erratic driving. Police wrestled Gammage to the ground, putting pressure on his chest and neck until he died of asphyxia. His last words: “I’m only 31.”

Gammage’s death, along with fatal shootings by the Pittsburgh police and other allegations of officer misconduct, pushed the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the department. The ACLU had been investigating the police for three years, gathering evidence of alleged civil rights violations, including by jump-out squads, free-roaming patrol units that stopped people on the street.

After filing suit, the ACLU asked the Justice Department to take on the case.

“A short time later, they had three attorneys in Pittsburgh hungrily downloading everything we’d learned,” said Witold “Vic” Walczak, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legal director, who handled the case.

The Justice Department investigated and for the first time invoked a civil power tucked into the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, filing its own lawsuit against Pittsburgh to address a “pattern or practice” of civil rights abuses by the city’s police. In 1997, the city became the first to enter into a federal consent decree, agreeing to changes that would be monitored by the government.

In 83 paragraphs, Justice laid out a plan for the department of 900 officers, including mandates to implement diversity training, better document traffic stops, reduce the use of strip searches and track complaints filed against officers.

But when the federal monitors moved on nearly a decade later, the pressure for reform had dissipated.

Sheldon Williams, who joined the department as an officer in 1997, experienced it firsthand.

Before Williams became a Pittsburgh officer, his encounters with police had included running from them as a child in Wilkinsburg, a mostly Black borough in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. In high school, he said, his family moved to a White part of town, where Williams said most residents did not fear officers. “It’s hard to make people see the unpredictability Black Americans face when dealing with the police,” he said.

Williams, who signed up as the department pushed to diversify, took a job in a new public integrity unit, a team created to look for internal corruption. He said he thought he would be applauded for working to restore public confidence. Instead, he was shunned.

Commanders embraced the reforms, he said, but the rank and file often did not. “As I came in, I started seeing the shifts and the changes right away,” he said. “But I also heard the kicks and scrapes and the complaints about it.”

Under the consent decree, officers were taught how to navigate their own biases and understand why Black people might fear them. The decree also gave police nonlethal tools, including pepper spray, he said. “We used to get issued blackjacks to control suspects,” said Williams, referring to the leather-wrapped piece of metal with a wrist strap.

Officers had to document more precisely why they stopped and questioned people and provide more justification for the use of force.

And the department agreed to track officers accused of misconduct.

“There was a sense from members of the community that the department was doing things that increased the professionalism of the officers,” said Williams, who retired in 2011 and has since become a pastor and member of the Citizen Police Review Board.

In 2002, federal monitors pronounced the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police rehabilitated, ending the consent decree except for a provision to monitor the internal affairs department as it investigated a backlog of misconduct cases. That ended in 2005.

The decree worked initially, said David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh who wrote a book about the intervention, “A City Divided.”

“It changed some of the most dysfunctional parts of the way the department was operating,” Harris said. But once the federal pressure ended, reforms slipped, he said. “When the public pressure is off, departments tend to backslide.”

In 2006, there was a newly elected mayor, and Police Chief Bob McNeilly lost his job. Old problems reemerged. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

And there’s a link in the sidebar:

Accountable
An examination of policing in America amid the push for reform.

Civilian oversight is undermined by politicians and police, who contend citizens are ill-equipped to judge officers.

I would point out to politicians and police that the Secretary of Defense is, by strong tradition, a civilian.

Written by Leisureguy

10 June 2021 at 7:49 pm

Biden DOJ: Trump attacking a woman he allegedly raped was part of his job as president

leave a comment »

Judd Legum writes in Popular Information:

The Department of Justice has decided to continue defending Donald Trump in a case filed by E. Jean Carroll, who claims Trump raped her in the mid-90s. The case does not concern the alleged rape itself but Trump’s repeated attacks on Carroll after she went public with her accusations in June 2019. Carroll sued Trump for defamation in November 2019.

Former Attorney General Bill Barr intervened in the case in September 2020, arguing that Trump “was acting within the scope of his office as the President of the United States at the time of the alleged conduct.” Barr argued that, as a result, the United States, not Trump, should be the defendant. This would essentially end the case, since the federal government is immune from this kind of lawsuit.

What did Trump say about Carroll? A few hours after Carroll published her allegation, Trump released a statement in which he claimed he never met Carroll, accused her of lying to sell books, and suggested she was conspiring with the Democratic Party. Here is an excerpt:

Regarding the ‘story’ by E. Jean Carroll, claiming she once encountered me at Bergdorf Goodman 23 years ago. I’ve never met this person in my life. She is trying to sell a new book – that should indicate her motivation. It should be sold in the fiction section. Shame on those who make up false stories of assault to try to get publicity for themselves, or sell a book, or carry out a political agenda…

If anyone has information that the Democratic Party is working with Ms. Carroll or New York Magazine, please notify us as soon as possible. The world should know what’s really going on. It is a disgrace and people should pay dearly for such false accusations.

At the White House the next day, a reporter asked . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

9 June 2021 at 11:34 am

Exit the Fatherland: Germany’s work to rebuild its common culture

leave a comment »

In the decades following WWII, Germany deliberately and slowly reformed its cultural outlook and common values, working at every level to create a society that doesn’t encourage blindly following a leader. The US seems in need of a similar effort to build a culture of common values and understanding, and looking at how Germany did it might help (though the US seems loathe to learn from other countries’ experience). – See update below.

Helmut Walser Smith, the Martha Rivers Ingram Chair of History and professor of history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and author of The Butcher’s Tale: Murder and Antisemitism in a German Town (2002), The Continuities of German History: Nation, Religion, and Race across the Long 19th Century (2008), and Germany: A Nation in Its Time (2020), writes in Aeon:

After 12 years of fascism, six years of war, and the concentrated genocidal killing of the Holocaust, nationalism should have been thoroughly discredited. Yet it was not. For decades, nationalist frames of mind continued to hold. They prevailed on both sides of the so-called Iron Curtain and predominated in the Global North as well as in the developing world of the Global South. Even in the Federal Republic of Germany, the turn away from ‘the cage called Fatherland’ – as Keetenheuve, the main character in Wolfgang Koeppen’s novel The Hothouse (1953), called his depressingly nationalistic West Germany – didn’t commence immediately.

When the turn did begin, however, Keetenheuve’s country would set out on a remarkable journey – not one racing down the highway to cosmopolitanism, but rather a slow one that required a series of small steps leading to the gradual creation of a more pacific, diverse and historically honest nation – a better Germany.

After the collapse of the Third Reich, Germans widely blamed other countries for the Second World War. ‘Every German knows that we are not guilty of starting the war,’ asserted the Nazi journalist Hildegarde Roselius in 1946. With ‘every German’, this acquaintance of the American photographer Margaret Bourke-White certainly exaggerated. But in 1952, 68 per cent of Germans polled gave an answer other than ‘Germany’ to the question of who started the Second World War, and it was not until the 1960s that this opinion fell into the minority.

In the mid-1950s, nearly half of all Germans polled said ‘yes’ to the proposition that ‘were it not for the war, Hitler would have been one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century.’ Until the late 1950s, nearly 90 per cent gave an answer other than ‘yes’ when asked if their country should recognise the Oder-Neisse line, the new border with Poland. Perhaps most revealing of all was their stance on Jews. On 12 June 1946, Hannah Arendt hazarded the opinion to Dolf Sternberger, one of occupied Germany’s most prominent publicists, that ‘Germany has never been more antisemitic than it is now.’ As late as 1959, 90 per cent of Germans polled thought of Jews as belonging to a different race – while only 10 per cent thought of the English in these terms.

The sum of these attitudes suggests that Keetenheuve’s cage called Fatherland remained shut for more than two decades after the fall of the Third Reich.

Like most of Europe and indeed the world, Germany lacked a powerful alternative discourse to nationalism. Until the 1970s, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights possessed little traction in postwar Europe. Regional affiliations, such as those to Europe (or Pan-Africanism or Pan-Arabism), were more viable but as yet confined to a small number of elites. Strident defences of capitalism also did little to deplete the store of nationalist tropes. And on the western side of the Iron Curtain, anti-Communism supported rather than undermined Nazi-inspired nationalism.

The postwar world was, moreover, awash in new nation-states, especially as it shaded into the postcolonial era. In 1945, there were only 51 independent countries represented at the UN: 30 years later, there were 144. Whether in Jawaharlal Nehru’s India or Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana, nationalism and promises of self-determination fired anti-colonial independence movements in Asia and Africa. In Europe, nationalism also continued to shape claims to group rights and territorial boundaries. In Germany, divided and not fully sovereign until 1990, it informed discussion over eventual unification, the right of the ethnic German expellees to return to their east European homelands, and the validity of Germany’s eastern borders. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1970, a quarter-century after the war, that the Federal Republic of Germany finally recognised as legitimate the German border (established at the Potsdam Conference in 1945) with Poland. And still nearly half the citizens of West Germany opposed the recognition.

The pervasiveness of exclusionary nationalism in the postwar period also reflected a new underlying reality. The Second World War had created a Europe made up of nearly homogeneous nation-states. A series of western European countries, now thought of as diverse, were at that time just the opposite. The population of West Germany who were born in a foreign country stood at a mere 1.1 per cent, and the minuscule percentage proved paradigmatic for the tessellated continent as a whole. The Netherlands had a still smaller foreign-born population, and foreigners made up less than 5 per cent of the population in Belgium, France and Great Britain. In the interwar years, eastern European countries such as Poland and Hungary had significant ethnic minorities and large Jewish populations. In the postwar period, both were all but gone, and Poles and Hungarians were largely on their own.

Nor, in the trough of deglobalisation, did Europeans often get beyond their own borders, and Germans were no exception. In 1950, most Germans had never been abroad, except as soldiers. Some 70 per cent of the adult women had never left Germany at all. Travel, a luxury enjoyed by the few, didn’t begin to pick up until the mid-1950s, while international travel became a truly mass phenomenon only in the 1970s, when most people had cars of their own. In the first decades of tourism, Germans mainly visited German-speaking destinations, such as the castles on the Rhine or the northern slopes of the Alps. In these decades, few Germans, save for the highly educated, knew foreign languages, and most other Europeans, unless migrant workers, were no different.

The cage called Fatherland was thus reinforced. The persistence in a world of nationalism of the habits of thought of a once-Nazified nation-in-arms constituted one set of reinforcements. The relative homogeneity of postwar nations and the lack of peacetime experiences abroad constituted another. There was also a third reinforcement keeping the cage shut. This was that Germans had something to hide.

In the postwar period, Germany was full of war criminals. The European courts condemned roughly 100,000 German (and Austrian) perpetrators. The sum total of convictions by the Second World War allies, including the United States, the Soviet Union and Poland, pushes that number higher still, as does the more than 6,000 offenders that West German courts would send to prison, and the nearly 13,000 that the much harsher judicial regimen of East Germany convicted.

Nevertheless, there was still a great deal left to cover up. Lower down the Nazi chain of command, a dismaying number of perpetrators of various shades of complicity got off without penalty or consequence. Two jarring examples might suffice. Only 10 per cent of Germans who had ever worked in Auschwitz were even tried, and only 41 of some 50,000 members of the murderous German Police Battalions, responsible for killing a half a million people, ever saw the inside of a prison.

Trials and sentences reveal only part of the story of complicity. Many Germans not directly involved in crimes had come into inexpensive property and wares. Detailed reports from the north German city of Hamburg suggest that, in that one city alone, some 100,000 people bought confiscated goods at auctions of Jewish wares. Throughout the Federal Republic, houses, synagogues and businesses once belonging to Jewish neighbours were now in German hands. Mutatis mutandis, what was true for the number of people involved in the murder and theft activities of the Third Reich also held true about what people knew. ‘Davon haben wir nichts gewusst’ (‘We knew nothing about that [the murder of the Jews]’), West German citizens never tired of repeating in the first decades after the war. Historians now debate whether a third or even half of the adult population in fact knew of the mass killings, even if most scholars concede that few Germans had detailed knowledge about Auschwitz.

The Germans shared a European fate here as well, even if they had the most to hide. In his trailblazing article ‘The Past Is Another Country: Myth and Memory in Postwar Europe’ (1992), the late Tony Judt pointed out the stakes that almost all of occupied Europe had in covering up collaboration with Nazi overlords. This wasn’t merely a matter of forgetting, as is sometimes assumed. Rather, it involved continuing and conscious concealment. After all, many people (especially in eastern Europe, where the preponderance of Jews had lived) had enriched themselves – waking up in ‘Jewish furs’, as the saying went, and occupying Jewish houses in what was surely one of the greatest forced real-estate transfers of modern history.

For all these reasons, the cage called Fatherland wasn’t easy to leave and, rather than imagine a secret key opening its door, it makes more sense to follow the hard work involved in loosening up its three essential dimensions: a warring nation, a homogeneous nation, and a cover-up nation. It wasn’t until West Germans could take leave of these mental templates that they could even begin to exit the cage. Fortunately, in the postwar era, Germany was blessed with prolonged prosperity, increased immigration, and the passing of time. When brought together with small, often courageous steps of individuals and institutions, these factors allowed West Germans eventually to embraced peace, diversity and the cause of historical truth: in short, to exit the cage.

he vision of ‘a living, not a deathly concept of Fatherland’, as Dolf Sternberger put it in 1947, had already been laid in the early years of occupation. Sternberger, who cut off the ‘A’ from his first name, argued for a different kind of nation, one that commanded openness and engagement but didn’t end in the glorification of killing and dying in war or in the marginalisation and persecution of others. The nation as a source of life, as a caretaker of its citizens, and not as a vehicle for power, expansion, war and death: this was Sternberger’s initial vision.

It was a conception of Germany that West Germans slowly embraced, symbolically replacing the warfare state with the welfare state, swapping barracks and panzers for department stores and high-performance cars. Enabled by . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. I suspect that this essay is essentially an extract from his latest book.

Update

There’s still work to be done: see the report “German commando unit disbanded over suspected far-right links within ranks,” by Loveday Morris and Luisa Beck, published today (10 June 2021) in the Washington Post. It begins:

German authorities disbanded a Frankfurt police commando unit Thursday over suspected far-right links to a group of active officers, the latest in a string of extremist-related scandals to blight the country’s police and military.

Peter Beuth, interior minister for the Hesse state where Frankfurt is located, said “unacceptable misconduct” prompted the decision to close the unit. He also said superiors had turned a “blind eye.”

Hesse’s prosecutor on Wednesday said the office was investigating 20 officers from the force with the majority suspected of sending messages in far-right chat groups, including Nazi symbols and “inciting content.” Three supervising officers were accused of failing to stop or report the exchanges. All but one of the 20 was on active duty.

The chat groups were uncovered after examining the phone of an officer suspected of possessing and distributing child pornography.

One officer has been officially suspended, and the others have been “banned from conducting official business,” the public prosecutor said.

The move comes in the wake of revelations over far-right links that have embroiled Germany’s security forces, from other far-right chat groups sharing neo-Nazi content to a group of extremist doomsday preppers who hoarded ammunition ahead of “Day X.”

A court in Hesse is trying Franco Albrecht, a former soldier accused of posing as a Syrian refugee in an attempt to carry out a “false flag” attack. Hesse’s police chief was forced to resign last year after police computers were used to search for personal details of prominent figures before they were sent threatening letters and emails.

A year ago, Germany also partially disbanded its military’s elite commando force because of the extremist links of its officers.

Germany’s Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has pushed back against assertions of structural racism or far-right sympathies in the country’s police forces. But he has agreed to commission a study into the issue last year as pressure grew amid a slew of such cases.

A similar study by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said there were 370 suspected cases of right-wing extremism in the country’s police and security forces.

I will point out that far-right extremists have been discovered in US law enforcement (police departments and state police) and in the US military. Indeed, some of those active in the insurrection of January 6 were active in military service and some were active police officers. The problem is not unique to Germany.

Written by Leisureguy

9 June 2021 at 11:09 am

Be Afraid, America; Be Very Afraid

leave a comment »

Michael A. Cohen (the columnist, not the lawyer) writes:

Yesterday, I had an op-ed in USA Today looking at how Republican-controlled state legislatures seek to criminalize political protest in red-state America. I wrote about this issue earlier this year, but that was before any news laws had been enacted. Over the past several months, cooler heads have not prevailed, and Republican state legislatures have passed a series of bills that threaten the First Amendment-guaranteed to right to peacefully assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Here’s just a few examples that I cited in the piece:

In Oklahoma …the Republican-controlled state legislature and GOP governor granted civil and criminal immunity to drivers who “unintentionally” injure or kill protesters while driving away from a riot. In effect, Oklahoma Republicans are making it easier for drivers to run over and potentially kill political protesters.

Not to be outdone, Florida Republicans enacted a similar law as part of a larger “anti-riot” bill. Floridians who block traffic, even temporarily, could now be looking at up to 15 years in jail if convicted. The law also now classifies a public gathering of three people or more as a “riot” and anyone who chooses to participate in such a protest can now be charged with a felony – even if their behavior is not violent.

In Arkansas, a riot can involve as few as two people engaged in “tumultuous” conduct that creates a “substantial risk” of “public alarm.” Those convicted of rioting will also be required to pay restitution – and would face a mandatory 30 days in prison.

In Tennessee, simply joining a protest in which there is “isolated pushing” and no one is hurt would now be considered a crime.

The Volunteer State is a trailblazer in anti-protest laws. After Black Lives Matter demonstrators gathered for weeks on the grounds of the state Capitol last year, the Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill that made it a felony to camp out on state property. The bill also made it a crime to make it “unreasonably inconvenient” to use a street or sidewalk – and those found guilty could face up to one year in jail. The governor signed it last August.

Other states have passed laws making it illegal to demonstrate near “critical infrastructure” such as gas and oil pipelines. In Florida, it’s now a third-degree felony, punishable up to five years in prison, to deface a monument. In Arkansas, such behavior is considered an “act of terrorism.”

It’s an open question about whether these laws are constitutional or even that prosecutors would be willing to bring cases to court, but that isn’t really the point. As I note in the piece, “The goal of these bills is to make protesters question their decision to demonstrate in the first place. How many Americans would want to risk substantial jail time merely for peacefully participating in a demonstration that the police now have broad discretion to define as a riot?”

The impetus for this legislation is not January 6, but instead, the Black Lives Matter protests from last summer. Republicans appear to be okay with insurrectionists storming the Capitol and putting lawmakers in harm’s way. But deface a monument or block a roadway, and that means war.

Indeed, after several weeks of BLM protesters gathering at Tennessee’s State Capitol building, the GOP-controlled state legislature enacted legislation making it a crime to camp out on state property. Laws that prevent protesters from blocking traffic or broadly define what constitutes a riot seem almost surgically enacted to target BLM activists – and to dissuade them from trying to make their voices heard.

The GOP’s Creeping Authoritarianism

A few months ago, relying on the work of two Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, I wrote about the GOP’s authoritarian trajectory. This chart comes from their book “How Democracies Die,” and it’s what they call the “four key warning signs of authoritarian behavior.”

What is stunning is that , arguably, the answer to every single one of these questions is yes.

Over the last six months, a majority of congressional Republicans have refused to accept the credible results of the 2020 election. The former Republican president endorsed a violent insurrection, and now congressional Republicans are blocking a full investigation of it. Donald Trump has regularly portrayed Democrats as a threat to America’s way of life and accused them of being pawns of the Chinese government. Now Republican-controlled state legislatures are enacting laws restricting the ability of ordinary citizens to protest, criticize their government, and exercise their right to vote.

Now I am the guy who has praised those Republicans who not only refused to go along with Donald Trump’s effort to steal the 2020 election but actively thwarted it. There were many of them, and their adherence to the rule of law is laudable. But, incredible as it may seem, the Republican Party (as currently constructed) is arguably more radical and less wedded to democratic norms than it was when Trump was president. During his four years in office, the vast majority of congressional Republicans were happy to look the other way at Trump’s crimes. Most didn’t want to get their hands dirty. That’s less the case now. Republicans who have challenged Trump or who upheld the rule of law during the 2020 election face tough primary challenges from Trump acolytes. Marginal conspiracy theorists, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, are becoming rising GOP political stars, and, as was the case with Trump, establishment Republicans seem loathe to criticize her for fear of alienating their supporters. In GOP-controlled state legislatures, there has been a feeding frenzy of new voters restrictions, all based on Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.

Last Fall, I was convinced that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 June 2021 at 6:53 pm

Apple’s tightly controlled App Store is teeming with scams

leave a comment »

Reed Albergotti and Chris Alcantaran report in the Washington Post:

Apple chief executive Tim Cook has long argued it needs to control app distribution on iPhones, otherwise the App Store would turn into “a flea market.”

But among the 1.8 million apps on the App Store, scams are hiding in plain sight. Customers for several VPN apps, which allegedly protect users’ data, complained in Apple App Store reviews that the apps told users their devices have been infected by a virus to dupe them into downloading and paying for software they don’t need. A QR code reader app that remains on the store tricks customers into paying $4.99 a week for a service that is now included in the camera app of the iPhone. Some apps fraudulently present themselves as being from major brands such as Amazon and Samsung.

Of the highest 1,000 grossing apps on the App Store, nearly two percent are scams, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. And those apps have bilked consumers out of an estimated $48 million during the time they’ve been on the App Store, according to market research firm Appfigures. The scale of the problem has never before been reported. What’s more, Apple profits from these apps because it takes a cut of up to a 30 percent of all revenue generated through the App Store. Even more common, according to The Post’s analysis, are “fleeceware” apps that use inauthentic customer reviews to move up in the App Store rankings and give apps a sense of legitimacy to convince customers to pay higher prices for a service usually offered elsewhere with higher legitimate customer reviews.

Two-thirds of the 18 apps The Post flagged to Apple were removed from the App Store.

The most valuable company in U.S. history, Apple is facing unprecedented scrutiny for how it wields its power and is fighting to hold onto it, including in a blockbuster trial that concluded last month. Regulators and competitors have zeroed in on the App Store in particular: Unlike app stores on other mobile operating systems, Apple’s store faces no competition and is the only way for iPhone owners to download software to their phones without bypassing Apple’s restrictions. Through it, Apple keeps a tight grip on software distribution and payments on its mobile operating system, called iOS.

Apple has long maintained that its exclusive control of the App Store is essential to protecting customers, and it only lets the best apps on its system. But Apple’s monopoly over how consumers access apps on iPhones can actually create an environment that gives customers a false sense of safety, according to experts. Because Apple doesn’t face any major competition and so many consumers are locked into using the App Store on iPhones, there’s little incentive for Apple to spend money on improving it, experts say.

[He believed Apple’s App Store was safe. Then a fake app stole his life savings in bitcoin]

“If consumers were to have access to alternative app stores or other methods of distributing software, Apple would be a lot more likely to take this problem more seriously,” said Stan Miles, an economics professor at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, Canada. . .

Continue reading. There’s much, much more. Apple’s responses are evasive and defensive and Apple employees seem to have been forbidden to comment (except for those employees paid to lie).

Later in the article:

Apple says it is constantly improving its methods for sniffing out scams and usually catches them within a month of hitting the App Store. In a recent news release, Apple said it employed new tools to verify the authenticity of user reviews and last year kicked 470,000 app developer accounts off the App Store. Developers, however, can create new accounts and continue to distribute new apps.

Apple unwittingly may be aiding the most sophisticated scammers by eliminating so many of the less competent ones during its app review process, said Miles, who co-authored a paper called “The Economics of Scams.” [Typical of meme evolution when a selection process eliminates some memes: the surviving memes adapt to evade being selected out — cf. in lifeform evolution how widespread use of antibiotics leads to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. – LG]

“If people do believe or are not worried about being scammed, then there’s going to be a lot of victimization,” he said. Miles also said Apple could warn consumers that some apps “are probably fraud and so buyer beware and you do your homework before you buy the app and don’t trust our store.”

And later:

The prevalence of scams on Apple’s App Store played a key role at trial. Apple’s lawyers were so focused on the company’s role in making the App Store safe that Epic’s attorneys accused them of trying to scare the court into a ruling in favor of Apple.In other internal emails unearthed during trial that date as far back as 2013, Apple’s PhilSchiller, who runs the App Store, expressed dismay when fraudulent apps made it pastApp Store review.

[Apple is lobbying against a bill aimed at stopping forced labor in China]

After a rip-off version of theTemple Run video game became the top-rated app, according to Schiller’s email exchange, he sent an irate message to two other Apple executives responsible for the store. “Remember our talking about finding bad apps with low ratings? Remember our talk about becoming the ‘Nordstroms’ of stores in quality of service? How does an obvious rip off of the super popular Temple Run, with no screenshots, garbage marketing text, and almost all 1-star ratings become the #1 free app on the store?” Schiller asked his team. “Is no one reviewing these apps? Is no one minding the store?” Apple declined to make Schiller available to comment.At trial, Schiller defended the safety of the app store on the stand. The app review process is “the best way we could come up with … to make it safe and fair.”

Eric Friedman, head of Apple’s Fraud Engineering Algorithms and Risk unit, or FEAR, said that Apple’s screening process is “more like the pretty lady who greets you with a lei at the Hawaiian airport than the drug sniffing dog,” according to a 2016 internal email uncovered during the Epic Games trial. Apple employs a 500-person App Review team, which sifts through submissions from developers. “App Review is bringing a plastic butter knife to a gun fight,” Friedman wrote in another email. Apple declined to make Friedman available to comment. In deposition testimony, Friedman pointed to investments Apple has made to stop fraud. “A lot has changed in the last five years,” he said.

Though the App Store ratings section is filled with customer complaints referring to apps as scams, there is no way for Apple customers to report this to Apple, other than reaching out to a regular Apple customer service representative. Apple used to have a button, just under the ratings and reviews section in the App Store, that said “report a problem,” which allowed users to report inappropriate apps. Based on discussions among Apple customers on Apple’s own website, the feature was removed some time around 2016. Sainzsaid customers can still report apps through other channels.

And there’s much more. It’s a long article and it shows just what a bad job Apple is doing. Part of that may be because Apple gets a heft cut of money spent in the App Store and so doesn’t really care to police it effectively: they make money in either case.

Written by Leisureguy

6 June 2021 at 12:49 pm

Southern Baptist leaders mishandled sex abuse claims

leave a comment »

The Southern Baptist organization provides a good example of how a memeplex’s immune system springing into action. Thinking of such cultural entities as multi-meme “organisms” often allows accurate predictions of behavior. Sarah Pullman Bailey reports in the Washington Post:

New allegations about the mishandling of sex abuse claims at the highest levels of the Southern Baptist Convention were made public in a recent letter between two high-profile leaders that was obtained Friday by The Washington Post.

While such allegations have been made by several women in the past, the letter includes new details from internal conversations, alleging that some institutional leaders bullied a sexual abuse victim, who was called a “whore,” and described in detail how many leaders resisted sexual abuse reforms.

Later this month, more than 14,000 Southern Baptists are expected to meet in Nashville for the convention’s annual meeting, which is intended to inspire unity among Baptists. But the June 15-16 meeting will take place in the midst of intense debates over issues such as sex abuse, racism and the role of women, as well as significant Southern Baptist support for former president Donald Trump, topics that have caused fissures in recent years and caused many high-profile departures from the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

In a dramatic turn of events this week, two letters written by Russell Moore, who recently left his position as head of the SBC’s policy arm, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, have been made public. The new allegations are contained in a May 31 letter Moore sent to the current president of the SBC, J.D. Greear, that appeared on Friday on the site the Baptist Blogger, which has published other internal documents and recordings from Southern Baptist leaders in the past.

“You and I both heard, in closed door meetings, sexual abuse survivors spoken of in terms of ‘Potiphar’s wife’ and other spurious biblical analogies,” Moore wrote to Greear. “The conversations in these closed door meetings were far worse than anything Southern Baptists knew — or the outside world could report.”

In the ancient biblical story, Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph and falsely accuses him of having assaulted her.

On his last day as a Southern Baptist professional, Moore, who has served as one of the highest-profile leaders in the convention, decided to reveal specific names of key individual leaders involved in what he described as intimidation tactics.

Moore’s letter took direct aim at several members of the SBC’s Executive Committee, the group based in Nashville that runs the business of the convention and handles its finances. He described the “spiritual and psychological abuse of sexual abuse survivors by the Executive Committee itself,” as well as “a pattern of attempted intimidation of those who speak on such matters.”

Moore and Greear did not respond to requests for comment on the letter.

Russell Moore’s departure from the Southern Baptist Convention’s leadership prompts questions over its future

Three employees who work in SBC institutions, who said they needed to remain anonymous to keep their current jobs, corroborated several of the factual details of the letter. Details in the letter were also confirmed by a former employee, an abuse survivor and a prominent abuse advocate.

Moore drew national attention in 2016 when he openly criticized Trump and his evangelical supporters, and Trump responded on Twitter that Moore was “a nasty guy with no heart!”

Moore describes enormous rifts behind the scenes over the issue of how to handle sex abuse within SBC institutions. He wrote in his letter that during the last few years, he tried to smile and pretend everything was all right through his experiences.

“What [people involved] want is for us to remain silent and to live in psychological terror, to protect them by covering up what they do in darkness, while asking our constituencies to come in and to stay in the SBC,” Moore wrote.

In the letter, he refers to a “disastrous move” by some leaders to “exonerate” churches with credible allegations of negligence and mistreatment of sexual abuse survivors. “You and I were critical of such moves, believing that they jeopardized not only the gospel witness of the SBC, but also the lives of vulnerable children and others in Southern Baptist churches.”

Moore also spoke of a sexual abuse survivor whose words, he alleges, were altered by the Executive Committee staff to make it seem as though her abuse was a consensual affair. The Washington Post generally does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent, but the woman, Jennifer Lyell, a former vice president at the SBC’s Lifeway Christian Resources and once the highest-paid female executive at the SBC, said in a text message that she agreed to be identified.

Instead of reporting that she had been abused, Baptist Press, which is overseen by the Executive Committee, reported in March 2019 that Lyell had admitted being involved in a “morally inappropriate relationship” with her former professor.

Lyell, who says she has lost her job, her reputation and her health, confirmed Moore’s account of “bullying and intimidation” by the Executive Committee.

In his letter, Moore wrote that he heard someone refer to Lyell as a “whore” in a corridor at the SBC. The Executive Committee paid her a financial settlement but refused to apologize, he said.

A spokesman for the Executive Committee did not return requests for comment.

Moore’s account of Lyell’s experience was confirmed by Rachael Denhollander, a former USA gymnast who outed team doctor Larry Nassar’s serial sexual assault and has since been a prominent advocate for church abuse survivors and has helped bring attention to Lyell’s case.

“It shows the level of corruption and vile behavior that comes from the leaders in the SBC, the ones who really have the power,” said Denhollander, whose husband is a PhD student at the flagship SBC seminary Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

On Friday evening, The Post reached out to the individuals named in the letter, most of whom declined to comment or did not respond by Saturday late morning. Rolland Slade, chairman of the Executive Committee, wrote in a text message his support for Moore. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

6 June 2021 at 7:42 am

The Republican Party is a clear and present danger to American democracy

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, Katie Benner of the New York Times broke the story that former president Trump tried to use the Department of Justice to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Five emails provided to Congress show Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, asking the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, in December, to investigate rumors of voter fraud. One of the fantastical stories Meadows wanted investigated was the story that “people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.”

The Department of Justice is not the president’s to command. It is supposed to enforce the laws of the United States and administer justice. The office of the president has its own lawyer—the White House counsel—and the president can also have their own personal representation. That Trump tried to use our own Department of Justice to overturn the will of the American voters is eye-popping.

But that was not the only news of the day. We also learned that the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, told Trump advisor Steven Bannon on a public show that had he not been able to block a great deal of mail-in voting in 2020, Biden would have won Texas.

We also learned that Oregon Representative Mike Nearman, who was already in trouble for opening the doors of the Oregon Capitol to anti–coronavirus restriction rioters on December 21, held a meeting beforehand, on December 16, to plot the event. An attendee filmed the talk, which set up “Operation Hall Pass.” That operation ultimately opened the Oregon capitol building to far-right rioters, who endangered the entire legislature. The video, which shows Nearman winking and nodding at setting up the invasion, has raised questions about whether other Republicans worked with insurrectionists in other settings.

It is an odd day for these stories to come to light. 

Seventy-seven years ago today, on June 5, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was preparing to send Allied troops, who fought for democracy, across the English Channel to France. There, he hoped, they would push the German troops, who fought for an authoritarian fascist state, back across Europe, securing a victory for democracy over authoritarianism. 

More than 5,000 ships waited to transport more than 150,000 soldiers to France before daybreak the following morning. The fighting to take Normandy would not be easy. The beaches the men would assault were tangled in barbed wire, booby trapped, and defended by German soldiers in concrete bunkers.

On the afternoon of June 5, as the Allied soldiers, their faces darkened with soot and cocoa, milled around waiting to board the ships, Eisenhower went to see the men he was almost certainly sending to their deaths. He joked with the troops, as apparently upbeat as his orders to them had been when he told them Operation Overlord had launched. “The tide has turned!” his letter read. “The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!”

But after cheering his men on, he went back to his headquarters and wrote another letter. Designed to blame himself alone if Operation Overlord failed, it read:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

The letter was, of course, never delivered. Operation Overlord was a success, launching the final assault in which western democracy, defended by ordinary men and women, would destroy European fascism.

U.S. Army photograph, 1944, Library of Congress

Written by Leisureguy

5 June 2021 at 8:07 pm

Game over for the US? — U.S. Waged Secret Legal Battle to Obtain Emails of 4 Times Reporters

leave a comment »

Some governments fight strenuously against the truth and those who report it. The US is joining them. Charlie Savage and Katie Benner report in the NY Times:

In the last weeks of the Trump administration and continuing under President Biden [important point — the corruption runs deep. – LG] the Justice Department fought a secret legal battle to obtain the email logs of four New York Times reporters in a hunt for their sources, a top lawyer for the newspaper said Friday night.

While the Trump administration never informed The Times about the effort, the Biden administration continued waging the fight this year, telling a handful of top Times executives about it but imposing a gag order to shield it from public view [certainly don’t want the public to know what its government is doing – LG], said the lawyer, David McCraw, who called the move unprecedented.

The gag order prevented the executives from disclosing the government’s efforts to seize the records even to the executive editor, Dean Baquet, and other newsroom leaders.

Mr. McCraw said Friday that a federal court had lifted the order, which had been in effect since March 3, freeing him to reveal what had happened. The battle was over an ultimately unsuccessful effort by the Justice Department to seize email logs from Google, which operates The Times’s email system, and which had resisted the effort to obtain the information.

The disclosure came two days after the Biden Justice Department notified the four reporters that the Trump administration, hunting for their sources, had in 2020 secretly seized months of their phone records from early 2017. That notification followed similar disclosures in recent weeks about seizing communications records of reporters at The Washington Post and CNN.

Mr. Baquet condemned both the Trump and Biden administrations for their actions, portraying the effort as an assault on the First Amendment.

“Clearly, Google did the right thing, but it should never have come to this,” Mr. Baquet said. “The Justice Department relentlessly pursued the identity of sources for coverage that was clearly in the public interest in the final 15 days of the Trump administration. And the Biden administration continued to pursue it. As I said before, it profoundly undermines press freedom.”

There was no precedent, Mr. McCraw said, for the government to impose a gag order on New York Times personnel as part of a leak investigation. He also said the government had never before seized The Times’s phone records without advance notification of the effort.

A Google spokeswoman said that while it does not comment on specific cases, the company was “firmly committed to protecting our customers’ data and we have a long history of pushing to notify our customers about any legal requests.”

Anthony Coley, a Justice Department spokesman, noted that “on multiple occasions in recent months,” the Biden-era department had moved to delay enforcement of the order and it then “voluntarily moved to withdraw the order before any records were produced.”

He added: “The department strongly values a free and independent press, and is committed to upholding the First Amendment.”

Last month, Mr. Biden said he would not permit the Justice Department during his administration to seize communications logs that could reveal reporters’ sources, calling the practice “simply, simply wrong.” (Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department had gone after such data in several leak investigations.)

The letter this week disclosing the seizure of phone records involving the Times reporters — Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael S. Schmidt — had hinted at the existence of the separate fight over data that would show whom they had been in contact with over email.

The letters said the government had also acquired a court order to seize logs of their emails, but “no records were obtained,” providing no further details. But with the lifting of the gag order, Mr. McCraw said he had been freed to explain what had happened.

Prosecutors in the office of the United States attorney in Washington had obtained a sealed court order from a magistrate judge on Jan. 5 requiring Google to secretly turn over the information. But Google resisted, apparently demanding that The Times be told, as its contract with the company requires.

The Justice Department continued to press the request after the Biden administration took over, but  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it stinks.

The reason such governments fight against the truth is the obvious one: the truth exposes them for what they are.

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 8:47 pm

%d bloggers like this: