Archive for the ‘Law and Justice’ Category

Court rules against SBA minority preferences

May 28, 2021

The Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit of Appeals ruled that a provision of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, designed to grant preferences to minority-owned small-restaurant owners for COVID relief, are unconstitutional

The specific provision struck down was part of the law’s $29 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant program for small, privately owned restaurants struggling to meet payroll and rent due to the COVID crisis.

The law grants priority status in filing for aid to restaurants that have 51 percent ownership or more by women, veterans and specific racial and ethnic groups. 

The court ruled that the COVID relief program violates the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of the laws, because it effectively requires struggling businesses owned by white males or certain other ethnicities and nationalities to go to the back of the line.

The lawsuit was filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a nonprofit conservative law firm, on behalf of Jake’s Bar and Grill in Harriman, Tennessee. 

The bar is co-owned by Antonio Vitolo, who is white, and his wife, who is Hispanic.  If the wife’s ownership had been 51 percent instead of 50 percent, they would have qualified for preference. 

The decision by the three-judge panel was 2 to 1.  Circuit Judge Bernice Bouie Donald, who’s African-American, filed a dissenting opinion.  She said the record shows that minority groups have lagged behind in getting access to SBA loans and the law is a reasonable remedy.

“The majority’s reasoning suggests we live in a world in which centuries of intentional discrimination and oppression of racial minorities have been eradicated,” she wrote. “The majority’s reasoning suggests we live in a world in which the COVID-19 pandemic did not exacerbate the disparities enabled by those centuries of discrimination.”

Circuit Judge Amul Thapar, who is the son of an Asian Indian immigrant, said there are race-neutral remedies for racial disparities.  If minorities had trouble getting access to capital or credit during the pandemic, then give preferences to all who have been denied capital or credit, he wrote.  Or simply give priority to all who have not yet received coronavirus relief funds.

Judge Donald said this would be cumbersome to administer, and would delay getting needed funds to small businesses who need it most.

Judge Thapar also criticized the definition of which minority groups are eligible and which aren’t. 

As Glenn Greenwald noted, every minority group in the chart below is eligible for preferences under SBA rules, even though many are doing better than the average American or average white American.  Among those excluded are refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, who most certainly have a lot of problems.

Hat tip to Glenn Greenwald. Click to enlarge.

I think Judge Thapar’s ruling is right and just, and has a good chance of being upheld by the Supreme Court.  If it is, conservative judges will have done President Biden a political favor by taking this divisive issue off the table for the 2022 elections.

LINKS

Appellate Court Strikes Down Racial and Gender Preferences in Biden’s COVID Relief Law by Glenn Greenwald.

Decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Antonia Vitolo and Jake’s Bar & Grill vs. Isabella Casillas Guzman, administrator of the Small Business Administration.

Truth-teller Craig Murray sentenced to prison

May 14, 2021

Craig Murray

Craig Murray was once a career civil service in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  He lost his job because of truth-telling.  Now he faces prison because of reporting on his blog.

He lost his foreign ministry job because, as ambassador to Uzbekistan, he was overly concerned about torture of dissidents in that country and insufficiently supportive of the “war on terror.”

He has continued to be a champion of human rights.  He was one of the few journalists to report daily on the extradition trial of his friend, Julian Assange.

Now he has been sentenced to eight months in prison for his reporting on the trial of Alex Salmond, the former leader of the Scottish National Party.

Salmond was charged with 13 counts sexual abuse and acquitted on all of them. Murray, who is himself an advocate of Scottish independence, said the charges arose from a factional right within the Scottish National Party.

He was charged with contempt of court on the grounds that his coverage of the trial on his blog, combined with other public and / or private information, could have led to “jigsaw identification” of the women who made the original complaints.

This week he was sentenced to eight months in prison.  He is in poor health, which would be affected by a prison term. 

He is temporarily free while he appeals the case.  All his reporting on the trial has been deleted from his blog by court order.

Journalists for mainstream publications who presumably created other pieces of the puzzle have not been charged.  A public opinion survey indicates that a small percentage of the public think they can identify the complainants, but none of them name Murray as their source.

Murray thinks his real offense was his claim that the charges against Salmond were politically motivated.

I don’t have a strong opinion about Scottish independence one way or the other.  And I haven’t followed the Salmond case closely enough to make a case that the charges against him were politically motivated, although I have my suspicions.

I do think it is clear that Murray is being wronged.  If you think so, too, you might consider clicking on his blog link below and contributing to his defense fund.

LINKS

Appeal for Defense Funds by Craig Murray.

My Medical Records by Craig Murray.

The Troubling Sentencing of Craig Murray by Alexander Mercouris for Consortium News.

Anger at Craig Murray’s eight-month sentence for Alex Salmond trial reports by Greg Russell for The National.

A critique of critical race theory

April 23, 2021

CRITICAL RACE THEORY: an introduction by Richard Delgado and Jean Strafancic (2017) is a college textbook about an idea that is transforming the USA.

Supporters of CRT—Crits for short—claim that the only thing holding back black citizens of the United States is the racism of white people, including unconscious racism and the legacy of past racism.

Their goal is to make us aware of how racism works so we whites will yield our privileged place in society to blacks. 

CRT rejects the old liberal ideal of civil rights, which is to guarantee all individuals equal rights under impartial laws. 

The claim is that this ideal only deals with obvious forms of racism and prevents rooting out racism in its deeper and more subtle forms.

In some parts of American life, CRT has become a creed to which you must swear allegiance if you care about your reputation or career.

Being an old-fashioned liberal myself, I am taken aback by how quickly CRT theory has taken hold in academia, journalism, the liberal churches, and government and corporate administration. 

I read this book because I wanted to understand CRT from an authoritative source and engage with its arguments.

According to the textbook, there are two main schools of CRT.

“Idealists” hold that racism arises from “thinking, mental categorization, attitude and discourse.”  The way to fight racism is to change “the system of images, words, attitudes, unconscious feelings, scripts and social teachings by which we convey to one another that certain people are less intelligent, reliable, hardworking, virtuous and American than others.” (p.11)

“Materialists” hold that what matters is that race—for whatever reason—determines who gets “tangible benefits, including the best jobs, the best schools and invitations to parties in people’s homes.” (p.11)  The way to fight racism is to eliminate racial disparities in access to jobs, education, credit and the other good things of life.

By analogy, the same ideas apply to other oppressed groups (Hispanics, native Americans, women, LGBTQ people, the disabled and so on) in regard to their defined oppressors.

Obviously there is truth to all of this.  Obviously racial prejudice—past and present, conscious and unconscious—has a big impact on American life.  Obviously it is a valid topic of research and debate.

As a specialized social science research agenda, CRT could make a good contribution to human knowledge, in dialogue with other research agendas—for example, sociological and anthropological research into group differences, and how they contribute to success or failure.

The shape of society has multiple causes, and if you insist limiting yourself to one, you risk becoming a dangerous fanatic.  This would be true whether your single explanation is economic self-interest, class struggle, religious heritage or something else.  CRT is no exception.

I’m opposed to treating CRT as unquestioned dogma because I’m opposed to treating anything as unquestioned dogma.  But I also have problems with CRT specifically, not so much because the theory is wrong as because of what it leaves out.

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The passing scene: March 22, 2021

March 22, 2021

Here are some articles I think are interesting.  Maybe you will, too.

Steve Donziger Ecuador Case: Q&A With Human Rights Lawyer Under House Arrest by Jack Holmes for Esquire.  This lawyer won a lawsuit against Texaco (since acquired by Chevron), which lasted from 1993 to 2011, on behalf of farmers and indigenous people who lived in the Amazon rain forest, who accused the company of dumping cancer-causing toxic waste where they lived.  THey won a $9.8 billion award.  Chevron refused to pay and counter-sued their lawyer. Awaiting a verdict, he has been under house arrest for more than 580 days for refusing to hand over his computer and phone with confidential lawyer-client information on them.  Incredible!

How the West Lost COVID by David Wallace-West for New York magazine.  “How did so many rich countries get it so wrong?  How did others get it so right?”  This is the best article I’ve read on this particular topic.

Your Face Is Not Your Own by Kashmir Hill for the New York Times. “When a secretive start-up scraped the Internet to build a facial-recognition tool, it tested a legal and ethical limit—and blew the future of privacy in America wide open.”  (Hat tip to O.)

Nina Turner: “Good ideas are not enough.  We need to marry our ideas to power”, an interview for Jacobin magazine.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

New study shows microplastics turn into ‘hubs’ for pathogens, antibiotic-resistant bacteria by Jesse Jenkins of New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The Crow Whisperer by Lauren Markham for Harper’s magazine.  “What happens when we talk to animals?” 

Insurrection hysteria and civil liberties

March 5, 2021

As the Insurrection Narrative Crumbles, Democrats Cling to It More Desperately Than Ever by Glenn Greenwald.  “If the threat of ‘armed insurrectionists’ and ‘domestic terrorists’ is as great as some claim, why do they have to keep lying and peddling crude media fictions about it?”

Department of Pre-Crime: Left-Wing Protester Arrested by FBI for Being on ‘a Path to Radicalization’ by Thomas Neuberger for God’s Spies.  “We’re on the road to the next 9/11, but not in the way you think.”

Why was Guard restricted in blocking mob?

March 5, 2021

Christopher C. Miller, appointed by President Trump as interim Secretary of Defense, restricted the District of Columbia National Guard in controlling pro-Trump demonstrators and in protecting the Capitol.

The memo above shows that the Guard were forbidden to disarm protestors or help police.  General William Walker, the commander of the D.C. National Guard, testified Wednesday that he also was forbidden in a later letter Jan. 5 deploy troops to the Capitol without permission from the Pentagon.

He said he would have sent troops immediately on Jan. 6 to protect the Capitol from pro-Trump rioters if his authority had not been restricted by the Pentagon.

As it was, he said, he had to wait more than three hours before getting the needed authorization.

The benign interpretation of Miller’s actions is that he was motivated by public relations concerns.  He may have feared being criticized for over-reacting as happened after the Black Lives Matter protests last June.

The sinister interpretation is that he was motivated by sympathy for the Stop the Steal protests.  Either way, he has a lot to answer for.

I don’t think we the public as yet know the full story of what happened on Jan. 6.

LINKS

Christopher C. Miller Wikipedia biography.

Pentagon restricted commander of D.C. Guard ahead of Capitol riot by Paul Sonne for The Washington Post.

Trump Defense Secretary Disarmed D.C. National Guard Before Capitol Riot by Mark Sumner for The National Memo.

Pentagon prevented immediate response to mob, says Guard chief by Rebecca Beitsch for The Hill.

Pentagon hesitated on sending Guard to Capitol riot by Eric Tucker and Marie Clare Jalonick for the Associated Press.

Capitol riot probe zeroes in on Pentagon delay in sending troops by Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio for POLITICO.

Trump really did try to instigate an insurrection

February 11, 2021

The video above, introduced as part of the prosecution’s impeachment case against Donald Trump, underlines that the violence in the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 was more than just a riot.

I had some doubts before as to how big a threat it was.  I don’t have such doubts any more.

The insurrection was intended to intimidate the Senate, and in particular Vice President Mike Pence, into refusing to certify the vote of the Electoral College.  It failed.  Vice President Pence and a majority of the Senate did their constitutional duty.

I don’t think that there ever was any serious possibility that the election results would be overturned.  Pence’s refusal to certify would not have changed anything in the end.

The harm that was done was to convince tens of millions of Americans that they are living under a government to which they owe no allegiance, any more than Americans of 1776 owned allegiance to King George III.

What bothers me is the thought of now things might have played out if the White House had been occupied by an authoritarian leader a little bit more self-disciplined and a little bit more astute than Donald Trump.

Such a leader would not have waited until after the votes were counted to question the voting system.  He and his followers would have sought court injunctions a year ago to block the changes they’re objecting to now.

When the game is over, it’s too late to question the rule book, because there’s no way to know how the game would have come out under different rules.

Such a leader would have a way to convince the FBI, the Pentagon, the CIA and the rest of the Homeland Security complex that he was on their side.  Experience in other countries shows that the police, the military and the intelligence agencies get along perfectly well with authoritarian rulers.

Such a leader would have had a real para-military force at his disposal—something comparable to Mussolini’s Blackshirts or Hitler’s Brownshirts (SA).

Trump gave winks and nods to encourage the Proud Boys and other authoritarian right-wing groups to think he was on their side, but he never (thank goodness) gave them effective leadership.  He never arranged for his supporters to secretly give them funds for recruitment and military training.

What happened on Jan. 6 could be a dress rehearsal for a right-wing coup to come.  A more astute authoritarian right-wing leader might well see all the possibilities that Trump’s attempt revealed and not make the mistakes that Trump made.

LINKS

Emotive video dominates day one of Trump impeachment trial by Niall Stanage for The Hill.

Insurrection TImeline: First the Coup and Then the Coverup by Steven Harper for Moyers on Democracy.  A more detailed timeline.

The martyrdom of Mike Pence by Sidney Blumenthal for The Guardian.  [Hat tip to Steve from Texas]  In the end, Pence did his duty.

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Who were the Capitol Hill rioters?

January 19, 2021

Video of pro-Trump protesters rally on Jan. 6. Source: ProPublica

There is going to be a big push to give the government new powers to prevent something like the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots from ever happening again.

For this reason it is important to get a picture of what happened that is as accurate as possible as soon as possible.

“Lambert Strether” of Naked Capitalism looked into the backgrounds of 125 people who’ve been charged with crimes in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots.

He concluded they represent a cross-section of middle-class white America.

More of them came from the largest states—California, Texas and New York—rather than nearby Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. They were evenly distributed among all age groups.

The most common occupations of those arrested were business owner, police officer and real estate broker.

Strether thinks the events of Jan. 6 can be more accurately described as a riot than as an insurrection or an attempted coup. Most of the rioters appeared to be surprised that they actually penetrated the Capitol and to have no clear goal as to what to do next.

In fact, many of the rioters took videos of the events on social media, and selfies of themselves.  Many of these videos were posted on the Parler social media site. 

Any organized white supremacist group or, for that matter, “antifa” group, would have been careful to mask their faces and destroy surveillance cameras. 

No doubt they were in Washington, and maybe some of them were in the Capitol building, but if this had been a planned coup, it would have been more effective.

Parler has been taken down, but the ProPublica investigative team has collected a lot of them, sifted through them and published them in chronological order.  They provide a picture of the pro-Trump protests and Capitol Hill riot as seen by the protesters and rioters themselves.

It is a disturbing thing that the functioning of Congress and the safety of its members was threatened by a mob. 

But the riot was something that didn’t have to happen.  If there had been the same police presence as during the Black Lives Matter marches last year, the pro-Trump protests would have been as harmless as the anti-Trump protests four years ago.

I do think there is a real possibility that the USA is in for a period of low-intensity conflict, as in northern Ireland from 1968 t0 1998.  I also think there is a danger that over-reaction can make this a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Pausing to reflect on the facts is never time wasted.  I’m not sure I know all the relevant facts.  I’m not sure anybody else does, either.

LINKS

The Class Composition of the Capitol Rioters (First Cut) by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.

Inside the Capitol Riot: What the Parler Videos Revealed by Alec MacGillis for ProPublica.

What Parler Saw During the Attack on the Capitol by the staff of ProPublica.  The collection of videos.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

Why We Published More than 500 Videos Taken by Parler Users of the Capitol Riot by Scott Klein and Jeff Kao for ProPublica.

Members of Several Well-Known Hate Groups Identified at Capitol Hill Riot by A.C. Thompson and Ford Fischer for ProPublica.

Capitol Mob Has Roots in Anti-Lockdown Protests by Mara Hvistendahl for The Intercept.

Lessons from the 6 January insurrection by Albena Azmanova and Marshall Auerbach for Counterpunch.

The storming of the Capitol

January 18, 2021

Nearly half of all registered Republicans and roughly one-fifth of registered U.S. voters think the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 was justified.

Max Blumenthal, who was one of the few reporters to mingle with the protestors, found that they were disproportionately former military, former police or current police.

This is bad news.  Coups and revolutions succeed when police and troops turn against the government.

I do not predict or fear a coup or revolution anytime soon.  What I do fear is a low-intensity insurgency that will provide an excuse for a crackdown like that following the 9/11 attacks, except that hard-core MAGA Republicans rather than Muslims will be the targets.

The equal or possibly greater danger is the alliance of progressives and WOKE Democrats with the FBI, CIA and the rest of the national security establishment and with Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social media companies to set limits on freedom of expression.  Only the naive will think that the crackdown will be limited to the extreme right.

I confess that I underestimated the threat posed by Donald Trump.  I always thought he was too lazy and disorganized to become any kind of dictator.  I thought the danger of Trump was that he would be a kind of John the Baptist who would pave the way for a real dictator to come—someone with Trump’s demagogic talents, but without his self-destructiveness.

What I failed to see were his ability to stir up rage, both among his supporters and his enemies, and the strength of the Trump cult, which may well live on after Trump the man passes from the political scene.

All of this could have been averted if there had been sufficient security at the Capitol on Jan. 6.  The Capitol police were too few in number to block the invasion, and some of them were sympathetic to the invaders. 

I generally believe in Heinlein’s Rule, which is to never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.  But if somebody did make a decision to allow the invasion to happen, what was their purpose?  Did they sympathize with MAGA Republicans?  Or did they want to create an excuse for a crackdown?

LINKS

The Storming of the Capitol by Peter Moskos for Cop in the Hood.  [Added 1/25/2021]

Breach of Capitol Was a Military Operation, an interview of Max Blumenthal, founder of the Grayzone, for Black Agenda Report.

After the Capitol Riots, the Last Thing We Need Is Another War on Terror by Spencer Ackerman for The Daily Beast.

Some thoughts on democracy and insurrection

January 7, 2021

Protesters in Senate chamber. Source: ABC News

The basis of democratic government is a peaceful transition of power to the victor in an election.

If you think the result was wrong, you get a chance to try again the next election. If you think the voting process is corrupt or otherwise flawed, you have to fix it before the vote is held. 

Once you participate in an election, you commit to accept the result.  Otherwise the only appeal is to force.

The mob who stormed the Capitol yesterday did not accept the rules of democracy.

They may have done relatively little harm to life and property, compared to rioters in protests earlier this year and also compared to post-election rioters in other countries.

They only delayed the certification of the Electoral College vote for a few hours.  It wasn’t as if Congress was driven out and had to meet in a hotel somewhere.

And it is not clear to me at this point whether they really thought they could prevent the Electoral College vote from being certified, or whether they saw their action as a purely symbolic protest.  But whatever they thought they were doing, they were wrong.

The mob assembled in Washington in response to President Trump’s appeal to “stop the steal.”  It’s not clear to me that he intended what happened.  His record shows he does not think about the consequences of his actions.  He is like a vicious child playing with matches in a dynamite factory.

The Capitol Police were restrained and passive in dealing with the insurrectionists, compared with the way police often deal with peaceful environmental, anti-war or Black Lives Matter protestors.  I think that, under the circumstances, this probably was the right call.  A bloodbath would have been worse than anything that actually happened.

Still, many right-wing protestors in the United States think of themselves as supporters of the police, and many police appreciate this support.  Historically, revolution occurs when the police and military go over to the insurgents.  I think the events in Washington show there is potential for a more skillful demagogue than Trump to bring about a coup.

I don’t think that Republicans, self-described conservatives or even Trump supporters as a group are necessarily anti-democratic.  I don’t think that Democrats, self-described progressives or Trump haters are necessarily pro-democratic. 

I think yesterday’s insurrection was mild compared to the violence that would have been unleashed if Trump had won again by a narrow margin as he did in 2016.  Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I’m glad my thought wasn’t put to the test.

The various federal judges did not see evidence of voter fraud on a scale large enough to have changed the results of the Presidential election.  Indeed, based on the reporting of Greg Palast, I think Republican voter suppression is a bigger factor than anything Democrats have done.

But there are millions of devoted Trump supporters who think the election was stolen and the government illegitimate.  They constitute a threat to democratic government. 

The mainstream news media and the social media companies will respond to them by stronger measures to silence those who “sow discord.”  This, too, is a threat—possibly a greater one.

LINKS

It’s official.  Congress has formally recognized Joe Biden’s victory by Andrew Prokop for Vox.

MAGA Cosplayers Seize Capitol While Cops Flounder by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Capitol riots: Who broke into the building? by the BBC Reality Check Team and BBC Monitoring.  [Added Later]

Trump’s Wiemar America by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Religious Meaning of MAGA Riot by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Trump Has Proven the Country Is Ripe for a Right-Wing Coup by Ian Welsh.

MSM Media Already Using Capitol Hill Riot to Call for More Internet Censorship by Caitlin Johnstone.

Violence in the Capitol, Dangers in the Aftermath by Glenn Greenwald on Substack. [Added Later]

British judge denies extradition of Assange

January 4, 2021

British Judge Vanessa Baraitser has denied the U.S. government’s request to extradite Julian Assange, on the grounds that his life and health would be at risk.

Wow! I did not see this coming.  The U.S. government will appeal, of course.  I hope Assange is released on bail as soon as possible.  His release is not a certainty.

LINKS

Wikileaks founder extradition to US blocked by UK Judge by BBC News.

Julian Assange cannot be extradited to US, British judge rules by Ben Quinn for The Guardian.

The Assange Extradition Ruling Is a Relief, But It Isn’t Justice by Caitlin Johnstone.

Terrible Assange Extradition Ruling for Press Freedom by Ian Welsh.  [Added 1/5/2021]

Assange Wins – The Cost: The Crushing of Press Freedom by Jonathan Cook for Counterpunch. [Added 1/6/2021]

A reminder: What we owe to Wikileaks

January 3, 2021

On Monday, a British court will decide whether or not Julian Assange will be extradited to the US, to face charges of espionage and cybercrimes.

Assange has been in jail since his arrest by the London Metropolitan Police on April 11, 2019 and as of today, has spent nearly a decade in confinement in one form or the other.

On Monday, Judge Vanessa Baraitser will decide whether Assange is to be extradited to the US to stand trial. Julian Assange faces 18 charges under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. If extradited and convicted in the United States, he could face a jail term of up to 175 years.

If extradited, Assange would almost certainly be tried in northern Virginia, where 85 percent of the population is employed by the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Department and the State Department.  Espionage cases are tried behind closed doors and on the basis of secret evidence.  Conviction is virtually certain.

Assange would almost certainly wind up in the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado.   He would be in permanent solitary confinement in a concrete box cell with a window four inches wide, with six bed checks a day and one hour of exercise in an outdoor cage.

Probably Judge Baraitser’s decision will be appealed, which means that Assange could remain where he is, in Belmarsh Prison.  Known as “Britain’s Guantanamo Bay,” Belmarsh is normally reserved for the most violent and dangerous offenders and is no better than the Colorado supermax prison.

Assange had been confined to his cell for 23 hours a day.  Since an outbreak of the coronavirus in his wing of the prison, he has been kept in his cell 24 hours a day.  He is in poor health, and has been denied requested medical care.

His supporters say his life is in danger.  Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, has said Assange’s treatment amounts to torture and asked for an end to his “arbitrary detention.”

The charges against Assange have to do with his work with whistleblower Chelsea Manning in exposing US war crimes and other atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But, as Suzie Dawson reminds us in the video above (from 2018), Assange has done much, much more for the world than this.

The basic issue is clear.  Does the U.S. government, or any other government, have the legal authority to commit crimes and punish people for revealing those crimes?  If it does have such authority, then what is our supposed democracy worth?

LINKS

Verdict in Julian Assange’s extradition case to be delivered on Monday by the People’s Dispatch.

The Kafkaesque Imprisonment of Julian Assange Exposes U.S. Myths About Freedom and Tyranny by Glenn Greenwald on Substack.

Crown Prosecutors Submit Final Argument for Assange Extradition by Kevin Gosztola for ShadowProof.

Assange Legal Team Submits Closing Argument Against Extradition to the United States by Kevin Gosztola for The Dissenter.

For Years, journalists cheered Assange’s abuse – now they’ve paved his way to a U.S. gulag by Jonathan Cook on his blog.

When “conservatives” and “liberals” unite

December 29, 2020

Community activists battling plans for a hideous Chicago shrine to Barack Obama have been dealt a series of blows in recent months.  Perhaps most notable was a rebuff from none other than Amy Coney Barrett, whose decision in favor of Obama bore all the hallmarks of ruling class solidarity.

How Amy Coney Barrett and Barack Obama Transcended Petty Partisanship to Crush Community Activists in Chicago by Liza Featherstone for Jacobin. 

∞∞∞

UpdateI was over-hasty in posting this link.  On sober second thought, it is unfair to attribute a bad motive to Judge Barrett.

In principle, the elected municipal government and its officials have better standing to determine what is in the public interest than do self-appointed community activists or un-elected judges. 

The former have to answer to the public at the polls; the latter do not.  Judge Barrett was acting according to the well-established legal philosophy of judicial restraint.

In practice, the Obama project seems like a horrible idea, and nobody who is responsible for it will ever face any kind of accountability. 

As the saying goes, hard cases make bad law.

Imprisonment for debt, and other injustices

December 4, 2020

When Medical Debt Collectors Decide Who Gets Arrested by Lizzie Presser for ProPublica.  “Welcome to Coffeyville, Kansas, where the judge has no law degree, debt collectors get a cut of the bail and Americans are watching their lives—and liberty—disappear in the pursuit of medical debt collection.”

Student Loan Horror Stories: Borrowed $79,000. Paid $190,000.  Now Owes? $236,000 by Matt Taibbi for TK News.  “At 59, Chris pleaded for a renegotiation.  ‘My life expectancy is 15 more years.  At this rate, you’re not going to get very much … ‘  Their response was, ‘So?'”

Public Defender Tales: Innocent, But Fined by Matt Taibbi for TK News.  “The state of Iowa collects millions of dollars from people whose charges were dismissed.  There’s also a Catch-22: financially, you’re better off guilty.”

Lawmakers Unify to Give Corporate Donors a License to Kill You by David Sirota and Julia Rock for The Daily Poster.

I Was a Useful Idiot for Capitalism by Kurt Andersen for The Atlantic.  “How I got co-opted into helping the rich prevail at the expense of everyone else.”

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Julian Assange and journalistic hypocrisy

November 25, 2020

Something else I never would have believed

November 16, 2020

Sex Abuse Claims Against Boy Scouts Now Surpass 82,000 by Mike Baker for The New York Times.  The deluge of sex-abuse filings, coming ahead of a bankruptcy deadline, far surpasses the number of claims in Catholic Church cases.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

The Assange case and freedom of the press

October 8, 2020

The Unprecedented and Illegal Campaign to Eliminate Julian Assange by Charles Glass for The Intercept.

Daniel Ellsberg on the Assange Extradition and Growing Fascism for theAnalysis.news.

Reporters Claim Facebook Is Censoring Information on Assange Case by Alan McLeod for Mint Press News.

The Assange case is an exceptional attack on press freedom––so why is the media largely ignoring it? by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

Julian Assange: the fate of enemies of the state

October 4, 2020

Julian Assange in the dock. [BBC News]

Julian Assange is accused of violating the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917 by revealing U.S. war crimes,  I didn’t understand how the U.S. government treats people convicted of political crimes until I started following the Assange extradition hearing. 

It is like the old Soviet Union.  Crimes against the state were treated much more savagely than ordinary crimes.  Here is what Chris Hedges had to say about where Assange is likely to wind up.

The U.S. created in the so-called “war on terror” parallel legal and penal codes to railroad dissidents and rebels into prison. These rebels are held in prolonged solitary confinement, creating deep psychological distress. They are prosecuted under special administrative measures, known as SAMs, to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media and people outside the jail.

They are denied access to the news and other reading material. They are barred from participating in educational and religious activities in the prison. They are subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring and 23-hour lockdown. They must shower and go to the bathroom on camera.

They are permitted to write one letter a week to a single member of their family, but cannot use more than three pieces of paper. They often have no access to fresh air and must take the one hour of recreation in a cage that looks like a giant hamster wheel.

The U.S. has set up a segregated facility, the Communication Management Unit, at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. Nearly all the inmates transferred to Terre Haute are Muslims.

A second facility has been set up at Marion, Ill., where the inmates again are mostly Muslim but also include a sprinkling of animal rights and environmental activists. Their sentences are arbitrarily lengthened by “terrorism enhancements” under the Patriot Act. 

Amnesty International has called the Marion prison facility “inhumane.”  All calls and mail – although communication customarily is off-limits to prison officials – are monitored in these two Communication Management Units. Communication among prisoners is required to be only in English.

The highest-level “terrorists” are housed at the Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, known as Supermax, in Florence, Colorado, where prisoners have almost no human interaction, physical exercise or mental stimulation. It is Guantánamo-like conditions in colder weather.

Source: Chris Hedges: The Cost of Resistance

Here is how John Pilger describes Assange’s current treatment (slightly abbreviated).

In the Assange trial, the defendant was caged behind thick glass, and had to crawl on his knees to a slit in the glass, overseen by his guard, to make contact with his lawyers.  His message, whispered barely audibly through face masks, was then passed by post-it the length of the court to where his barristers were arguing the case against his extradition to an American hellhole.

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Julian Assange is fighting for us all

September 3, 2020

Julian Assange is being abused and prosecuted and prosecuted for the crime of making the U.S. government’s crimes known.

If a government can commit crimes in secret and imprison or execute those who reveal its crimes, there is no limit to tyranny.

People like Assange stand between the public and absolute power.  That is why they are considered so dangerous.

LINKS

For Years, Journalists cheered Assange’s abuse | Now They’ve Paved His Way to a US Gulag by Jonathan Cook.  An important article.

The War on Journalism: The Case of Julian Assange.  An important video.

Joe Biden and the George Floyd riots

September 1, 2020

Strong and wrong beats weak and right.  [Attributed to Bill Clinton]

A month or two ago, I thought that the Presidential election would be a referendum on President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and that Trump would probably lose.

Now it is shaping up as a referendum on the George Floyd protests, which will work against the Democrats.

The American public may support peaceful protests for just causes.  Looting and revolutionary violence are a different matter.

Reports of major violence are in cities with Democratic mayors and states with Democratic governors—Washington, D.C.; New York City; Chicago; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Minneapolis; Seattle; and Portland, Oregon.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I know of no breakdown in civil order in cities with Republican mayors in states with Republican governors.  And I don’t think this is because white people are more racist in states like Minnesota than we are in states like Texas.

It is ironic and unfair that Joe Biden should get the blame for this.  He has been pro-police and in favor of harsh penalties for crime throughout his political career, as has Kamala Harris.

On the other hand, the Trump administration and right-wing street fighters, some working with the official police, have been adding fuel to the fire.

Some news accounts tell of police attacking peaceful protesters, which I am sure happens.  Other news accounts tell of vandals and looters destroying small businesses, which I am sure also happens.

There is almost no overlap between the two types of reports.  I don’t know what weight to give to each.

Joe Biden upholds the right to peacefully protest, while condemning vandalism, looting and mob violence.

I completely agree with him on that.  But I don’t think either side will accept an even-handed approach that equates themselves with the opposition.  Unfortunately.

LINKS

The Trap the Democrats Walked Right Into by Andrew Sullivan for The Weekly Dish.

One Author’s Argument ‘In Defense of Looting’, an interview of Vicky Osterweil for National Public Radio.

When Violence Is Justified to Defend Civil Society by Tony Woodlief for The American Conservative.

You Know In Your Heart the Day of Real Resistance Is Coming by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

How White Radicals Hijacked Portland’s Protests by Michael Tracey for Unherd.

White Vigilantes Have Always Had a Friend in Police by Christopher Matthias for HuffPost.

Joe Biden Whispers the Riot Act, Sort Of by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

The violent George Floyd protests will backfire

August 27, 2020

Civilization is not so stable that it could not be easily broken up; and a condition of lawless violence is not one out of which any good thing is likely to emerge.  For this reason revolutionary violence in a democracy is infinitely dangerous.
  [==Bertrand Russell, in 1922]

A protest movement accompanied by vandalism, looting and mob violence will not persuade the public to de-fund the police or impose restrictions on them.

I believe the violence accompanying the George Floyd protests is worse than being generally reported.  The destruction caused in the name of George Floyd will not be balanced by any public good.

Instead it will make the re-election of Donald Trump and the Republicans more likely.

News reports say the protests are “mostly nonviolent.”  I am willing to believe that most of the protest demonstrations are non-violent and most people taking part in demonstrations are non-violent.  But this doesn’t matter.

If you have a crowd of 200 protesters, and 10 of them throw brickbats at the police and two of them throw gasoline bombs, it is not a non-violent protest—especially if the rest of the group refuses to disassociate themselves from the brick and bomb throwers.

This is why the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. exercised such tight control over the demonstrations he led.  He did not want anything to happen that interfered with his objective.  Malcolm X differed from Dr. King in many ways, but he, too, insisted on discipline among his followers.

I am an elderly tax-paying, law-abiding, middle-class homeowner.  I am not a revolutionary.  I do not condone vandalism, looting or mob violence.

But I know enough of history to know that violent and terrorist movements have sometimes brought about social change.  This requires a structured organization that is capable of taking power or of negotiating a set of demands and keeping its side of the bargain.  The BLM movement does not have such a structure.

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Second thoughts about race and police killings

July 23, 2020

Click to enlarge

Polls as of July 3 estimate that between 15 million and 26 million Americans had participated in the George Floyd protests, making it the largest protest movement in American history.

Ending abuse of power by American police would be a great accomplish.  But if the protestors define the problem as racial prejudice and nothing else, and if they limit their demands to defunding or cutting budgets of police departments, they may wind up accomplishing very little.

“Race reductionism” means reducing everything to a question of race.  In the USA, almost every social problem has a racial angle.  But very few things are about race exclusively.  Almost every social problem also has a money angel.

No reasonable person would shut their eyes to racial prejudice.  But racial prejudice alone does not explain why white Americans are more likely to be killed by police than Europeans of any race.  Or why American states with the smallest black populations have some of the highest rates of police killings.

The first chart shows the annual rate of police killings per million people for young and older black and white Americans.  It demonstrates that progress is possible.

The second chart shows the rate of police killings in different American cities.  It demonstrates that race cannot be the whole story, unless you assume that people in Albuquerque are more than 13 times as racist as people in New York City, or people in Memphis, Tennessee are nearly three times as racist as people in Nashville, Tennessee.

Police killings correlate more closely with poverty than with race.  Black Americans represent 24 percent of the victims of police killings, and 23 percent of the poor.  White Americans comprise 46 percent of the victims of police killings, and 41 percent of the poor.

Click to enlarge.

There are those who would like to drastically cut budgets for police departments and use the money to improve public education, housing and social services.  Not a bad idea.  The problem is that there isn’t enough spare money in police department budgets to make much of an improvement.

There are those who say it doesn’t make sense that someone with a gun and Mace is the one you call on to defuse domestic violence or deal with a mentally ill person who is acting out. Good point.  The problem is that having an array of highly-trained specialists on hand will not come cheap.

The best outcome would be for Black Lives Matter to broaden its demands to include (1) adequate funding of municipal social services, (2) enactment of Bayard Rustin’s Freedom Budget to create full employment and living wages and (3) reasonable restrictions on gun ownership.  Hopefully, this would result in less crime, fewer police killings and a better world for both white and black people.

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Democracy, the military and the para-military

July 21, 2020

The U.S. Army has been used many times in American history to intervene in strikes, disperse protestors and even enforce court orders to desegregate schools.

So it’s interesting that the top military brass was leery of supporting President Trump’s plan to intervene in the Black Lives Matter protests.

I can understand why they might not have wanted to be identified with one of American history’s most divisive figures.  But there is another possible reason why they hesitated.

Roughly 21 percent of American soldiers are African-American, compared to just under 14 percent of the total population.

If I were an Army general, I would not want to test whether black American troops, and their white and Hispanic barrack-mates, would be willing to put down a movement whose goal is to end police abuse of black people.

But, as it turned out, Donald Trump didn’t need the career military.  The federal government has 132,000 personnel with military-grade weapons.

Since they lack rigorous military discipline, codes of conduct or a tradition of staying out of partisan politics, they serve his purposes better than the career military would.

In Portland, Oregon, unidentified men are grabbing people off the streets, throwing them into unmarked cars and taking them off to unknown locations.

They are not protecting government property or private property.  They are not restoring order.  They are putting down a rebellion.

Presumably we in the United States are not at the point where we can expect people in unmarked cars to dump bullet-riddled bodies into the street and speed away, as in the Dirty Wars in Argentina and  other Latin American countries.  I wish I could say I was confident that we would never get to this point in the USA.

Portland is just the beginning.  The Department of Homeland Security reportedly plans to send its para-militaries into Chicago and other U.S. cities.

The likely result will be to broaden and intensify the conflict.  Revolutionaries and fascists have a common objective—to widen conflicts so that everyone will have to choose one side or the other.

LINKS

Who Are These Guys? by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Trump’s police state attack in Portland, Oregon by Patrick Martin for the World Socialist Web Site.

President Trump sending federal police agents into major American cities by Kevin Reed for the World Socialist Web Site.

Border Patrol’s Dream of Becoming a National Police Force Is Becoming a Reality by Jenn Budd for Southern Border Communities Coalition.  [Added 7/22/2020]

TRUMP’S SECRET POLICE: A HISTORY LESSON by Peter Daou [Added 7/22/2020]  Trump is building on precedents set by Bush and Obama.

Is disrespecting George Floyd a firing offense?

July 3, 2020

An assistant district attorney in Monroe County, New York, where I live, resigned after activists reported he disrespected George Floyd on personal social media.

Daniel Strollo posted, “7 funerals, a golden casket, and broadcast for a man who was a violent felon and career criminal?  Soldiers die and the family gets a flag.”   The post has since been deleted.

Expressing a critical opinion of George Floyd should not be a firing offense.  That would be true even if Floyd wasn’t, in fact, a violent felon.

His family and loved ones say he was reformed. Maybe he was.  Maybe he wasn’t. One disadvantage of being dead is that Floyd is unable to give his side of the story.

All this is beside the point. The point is that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin apparently squeezed the life out of a handcuffed, helpless man in broad daylight, and might have suffered no consequences if the killing hadn’t been recorded on video and if there hadn’t been protest.

It doesn’t really matter whether George Floyd was a nice person or not.  What matters is that he was a human being, and no human being deserves to die the way he did.  Hopefully the Black Lives Matter protests will result in fewer wrongful deaths at the hands of police.

Everyone deserves equal justice under the law.  There cannot be one law for supposedly good people and another law for supposedly bad people.

No-one should be above obedience to the law, and no-one should be below protection of the law.  All lives should matter, including George Floyd’s.

LINKS

Background Check: Investigating George Floyd’s Criminal Record by Jessica Lee for Snopes.com.

Does This Flyer Accurately Represent Derek Chauvin’s Police Actions? by Jessica Lee for Snopes.com.

Unbundle the police, and license the police

June 19, 2020

What does the slogan, “defund the police,” actually mean?  It can mean anything from changing budget priorities to shutting down police departments.  There also is a middle ground, which I call “unbundle the police.”

In the USA, local and state governments have been defunding public education, road maintenance and many other functions of government, while largely leaving police budgets untouched, just as the national government has been defunding scientific research, the social safety net and the like while leaving the military budget untouched.

The moderate advocates of “defund the police” simply advocate a shift in priorities: Cut the police budget and shift funds to education, social work, infrastructure and other public needs.

But there are those who think that American police departments have become so dysfunctional and abusive that they simply should be shut down.  These are mainly activists who’ve been struggling for police reform for years, and been thwarted at every turn by the police brotherhood.

The “unbundle the police” approach is an alternative to abolishing the police.  Rather it means a downsizing of the duties of the police.

The police, along with the military, are the only public servants authorized to use deadly force in the performance of their duties.  But how many of the duties the police now perform require that power?

Maybe the best way to defund the police would be to stop paying police to do things that can be done by someone without a gun, a Taser and club.

Economist Alex Tabarrok, for example, asks why the police are in charge of road safety.

It’s an unacknowledged peculiarity that police are in charge of road safety. Why should the arm of the state that investigates murder, rape and robbery also give out traffic tickets?  Traffic stops are the most common reason for contact with the police.

I (allegedly) rolled through a stop sign in the neighborhood and was stopped.  It was uncomfortable–hands on the wheel, don’t make any sudden moves, be polite etc. and I am a white guy.  

Traffic stops can be much more uncomfortable for minorities, which makes the police uncomfortable.  Many of the police homicides, such as the killing of Philando Castile happened at ordinary traffic stops.  But why do we need armed men (mostly) to issue a traffic citation?

Don’t use a hammer if you don’t need to pound a nail. Road safety does not require a hammer.  The responsibility for handing out speeding tickets and citations should be handled by a unarmed agency.

Put the safety patrol in bright yellow cars and have them carry a bit of extra gasoline and jumper cables to help stranded motorists as part of their job—make road safety nice.  Highways England hires traffic officers for some of these tasks (although they are not yet authorized to issue speeding tickets).

Similarly, the police have no expertise in dealing with the mentally ill or with the homeless—jobs like that should be farmed out to other agencies.

Notice that we have lots of other safety issues that are not handled by the police.  Restaurant inspectors, for example, do over a million restaurant inspectors annually but they don’t investigate murder or drug charges and they are not armed.  Perhaps not coincidentally, restaurant inspectors are not often accused of inspector brutality, “Your honor, I swear I thought he was reaching for a knife….”.  [snip]

Defunding the police, whatever that means, is a political non-starter. But we can unbundle the police.

Source: Marginal REVOLUTION

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