Archive for the ‘Law and Justice’ Category

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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Police reforms that won’t change much

June 18, 2020

In size and scope, the Black Lives Matter protests against police killings are like nothing else in my adult lifetime.

Unjustified police killings are just an extreme example of the routine abuse experienced by poor and black people at the hands of police, which in turn is just of the ways in which poor and black Americans are abused.  Protesting police killings is just a start, but it’s a good place to start.

Public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans of all races are fed up with the way police treat poor and black people.  Yet, at the same time, only a minority want to get rid of policing all together.  The majority, including a majority of black people, just wants police to do their jobs.  But is this even possible?

Click to enlarge.  Source: 8can’twait

Click to enlarge. Source: Campaign Zero.

Very few people in any occupation want activities to be scrutinized by outsiders.  Physicians and lawyers hardly ever report malpractice by other physicians and lawyers.  We newspaper reporters do not react well to ombudsmen scrutinizing our writings.

We feel that nobody understands what we do except each other.  When we see one of our own kind make a big mistake, our reaction is, “There but for the grace of God go I!”  But the police are a special case.

The sociologist Max Weber defined the state as the institution that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.  Two institutions are given the legal power to use deadly force—the military externally, the police internally.

Power corrupts.  The power to order people around, and the authorization to use deadly force, are a temptation that a lot of people cannot resist.  It stands to reason that police work will attract the wrong kind of person.

Statistics indicate that the rate of spousal abuse is four times as high among police officers as among the general public.  Maybe potential abusers are attracted to police work; maybe the strain of police work leads men to become abusers.  But it stands to reason that someone who is abusive at home will be abusive on the street.

Police typically consider themselves a warrior brotherhood.  They think they are misunderstood and abused by the voting public and their elected representatives, and do not feel compelled to obey.  In local politics, they are the nearest equivalent to the military-industrial complex and secret intelligence agencies—the so-called “deep state”—on the national scene.

The issue is not rules they should follow.  The issue is how to get them to follow rules.

This is not just a problem of African-Americans and other minorities.  Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans.  But a non-Hispanic white American is 26 times more likely to be killed by police gunfire than a German is in Germany.  Police killings are numerous in Montana, West Virginia and Wyoming, where victims are almost always white.  The Black Lives Matter protest movement may be saving white lives as well as black lives.

I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations about police.  I don’t have either the personal experience or the research work to do that.  I am sure there are many police officers who quietly do their jobs without abusing anybody.  But the response of police departments to high-profile abuse cases, past and present, shows the strength of resistance to change.

In other words, changing the rules is not enough.

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Is there an alternative to defunding the police?

June 13, 2020

Source: Gallup Poll via Freethink.

Note that the figures in the last line of the HuffPost/YouGov poll are reversed.  The correct figure is that 57 percent oppose defunding the police and 27 percent favor it.  Among black people, the figure is 49 percent opposed, 29 percent in favor; among whites, 60 percent opposed, 29 percent in favor.

HuffPost also found that most people take “defund the police” to mean drastic reductions in police budgets rather than complete abolition.

Law-abiding people who live in poor, majority-black neighborhoods complain about being harassed by police.  At the same time, they complain about getting less police protection than people in affluent, majority-white neighborhoods.  They don’t want the police to stay away.  They just want them to stop behaving like an occupying army.

My question is whether the worst police departments are reformable.  There are those who think they can’t be.

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This time it really is different

June 12, 2020

I didn’t see this coming.

I never expected the George Floyd protests to be so large and to have such an impact.

They haven’t won yet.  The tide could yet recede.  Rogue police departments are strongly entrenched.

But they’re closer to changing policing in the USA than I would have thought possible just a couple of months ago.

They demonstrate that positive change is possible, even when the two major U.S. political parties offer only a choice of evils.

The protests are remarkable for their size and scope, for the fact that they continue day after day and for the fact that the powers that be are afraid of them.

The protests are remarkable for the interracial character in all aspects, good and bad.  The first person arrested for setting fire to a Minneapolis police station was white.

I think that police abuse of power is a great evil, and I applaud those who are doing something about it.

Still, when you consider that the USA is failing to respond adequately to the coronavirus pandemic, to the economic recession and to catastrophic storms, floods and fires caused by climate change, it is surprising that police killings are the issue that sparked protests.  I write this as an observation, not a criticism.

I think the reason is the great change in white Americans’ attitude toward race and racism that has taken place in just the past five or ten years.  The writer Matthew Yglesias calls this The Great Awokening.

This change did not come out of nowhere.  Anti-racism activists in colleges, liberal churches and the major newspapers and broadcasters have been working to change the attitudes of white people toward race, and they have succeeded.

A majority of white Americans recognize that racism is a problem, and a majority of liberal white Democrats are more hard-line on racial issues than average black people are.

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Camden, N.J., police force was disbanded

June 8, 2020

George Floyd protest in Camden, NJ.  (Cherry Hill Courier-Post)

Some Black Lives Matter protestors are demanding that their local police departments be disbanded.  This actually was done in Camden, N.J., in 2013, with good results.

Camden, with a present population of just under 74,000, is just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Despite its small size, it was famous for its high crime rate.

Its murder rate was five times as great as Philadelphia’s and 18 times as great as New York City’s.

Police in Camden took an average of one hour to respond to 911 calls, which is six times the national average.

The city paid out millions of dollars in damages to citizens whose convictions were overturned because of planted evidence, false reports and other forms of police misconduct,

Then the city dissolved its police force and invited Camden County to form a new force.

According to Jim Epstein, writing in Reason magazine, the new force was more effective because it wasn’t bound by the old union contract.

Civilians were hired to do the desk jobs, and all police officers were sent out to walk beats.  Advanced surveillance technology is pinpoint the location of any gunshot and the nearest police car.  Recruiters sought candidates with inter-personal skills, and training emphasized community-building tactics.

This may not be exactly what the Black Lives Matter protestors had in mind.  I think some of them were thinking more of replacing professional police with beefed-up neighborhood watch patrols or something like that.  But they probably would approve of the results.

Based on Epstein’s report, I think the biggest change is a change in thinking.  Too many police think of themselves as a warrior brotherhood.  They think like a military force whose goal is domination.

The new force, by all accounts, has a “protect and serve” mentality.  This makes all the difference.

Camden is still an extremely poor community.  Its murder and violent crime rates are still relatively high.  There are problems still to be worked out, the Cherry Hill Courier-Post reported; many have to do with the inexperience of many members of the new force.

And there would be problems in trying to duplicate their effort with populations and police departments as large as Minneapolis’s or Chicago’s.

Still, it shows that bad policing is not a given.  It is possible to do something about it.

There was no civil disorder in Camden as a result of Black Lives Matter demonstrations.  The police, in fact, participated.

LINKS

How Cops Are Beating Crime in America’s Poorest City by Jim Epstein for Reason.

Revisiting Camden by Alex Tabarrok for Marginal REVOLUTION.

As chaos engulfed Philadelphia, peace reigned across river in Camden by Phaedra Trehan for the Cherry Hill (NJ) Courier-Post.

Do We Need More Police or Better Police? by Daniel Bier for Freethinker.  Interesting research and analysis.  [Added Later]

Camden Is Not a Blueprint for Disbanding the Police by Rann Miller for Truthout.  [Added 6/17/2020]  Important.

The riots: Some complicated truths

June 2, 2020

The following is from the Moon of Alabama blog.

It’s true that people engaged in peaceful protests.

It’s true that people engaged in lawless looting.

It’s true that provocateurs have committed acts of vandalism and sometimes carry umbrellas.

It’s true that Antifa exists and that they don’t advocate gently placing flowers in the gaping hole of a long gun.  [snip]

It’s true looters come in all shades and sizes.

It’s true some desperate people are taking things they need.

It’s true some opportunistic people are taking things they want.

It’s true opportunistic government thugs suddenly shifted the Covid-19 rationale for using contract tracing to a catch-them-rioters rationale for using contract tracing.

It’s true the policy infrastructure for enacting martial law has been a long-term, bi-partisan project.

It’s true that now is the time to realize what’s at stake, but instead of acting collectively for our mutual benefit, the cognitive challenge of accepting that all these things can be true at the same time will keep us tied to one of these things to the exclusion of all the others.

Source: Moon of Alabama

Here are my additions to the list of complicated truths.

Policing is necessary.  Policing is stressful.  Some police officers risk their lives in order to avoid killing.  Some police killings are justified and unavoidable.  Not all victims of unjustified killings are black.  Not all unjustified killings are done by whites.

American police have become increasingly militarized during the past few decades.  This has been promoted by the federal government under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

If you are a middle-class white person living in a suburb, chances are the police will serve and protect you.  If you are a poor black person living in a big city, chances are the police will harass you on a daily basis.

There is great variation in the number of police killings in big American cities.  Professional standards and training in good practice is correlated with fewer killings.  Lack of personal accountability is correlated with more killings.  Diversity training, as it is now, makes little difference.

During the current riots, it was safer to be a vandal or looter than it was to be a peaceful protester or journalist.

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The mysterious Minneapolis ‘man in black’

May 31, 2020

The man in black

I wondered whether this black-clad man was a police provocateur or a radical leftist provocateur.  There is a third possibility that I overlooked—that he is a right-wing provocateur.  [Added 6/4/2020]

A mysterious black-clad man, clad in black, with a respirator or gas mask, was walking around breaking windows in Minneapolis during the protest and riot there.

Some speculate that he was a police infiltrator, which, based on the history of protest, is a natural thing to think.

But by his garb, I think he is probably a member of the “black bloc,” a group of revolutionaries who been around at least since the 1999 riots protesting the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.

The “black bloc” is noted for their distinctive black gear.  They join in protests and try to escalate the violence, with the idea of forcing neutrals to take sides between revolution and reaction.

While the “black bloc” movement is international, there is an overlapping American movement called “Antifa” for anti-fascist.  They are street fighters, most of them white, who go after neo-Nazis, white nationalists and sometimes Trump supporters.

Like the neo-Nazis and white nationalists, the aim of the black bloc and Antifa is to eliminate the middle ground.  They seek to bring moderates into the violence and force them to choose between revolution and fascism.

Very often, in a protest, the first ones to initiate violence are police infiltrators and informants. Initial reports identified the man in black as a Minneapolis police officer.  But the Minneapolis police say the alleged culprit was on duty elsewhere at the time the video was shot.

USA Today reported that the man in black in the video was not the only one.

MINNEAPOLIS — Drifting out of the shadows in small groups, dressed in black, carrying shields and wearing knee pads, they head toward the front lines of the protest.  Helmets and gas masks protect and obscure their faces, and they carry bottles of milk to counteract tear gas and pepper spray.

Most of them appear to be white.  They carry no signs and don’t want to speak to reporters. Trailed by designated “medics” with red crosses taped to their clothes, these groups head straight for the front lines of the conflict.

Night after night in this ravaged city, these small groups do battle with police and the National Guard, kicking away tear gas canisters and throwing back foam-rubber projects fired at them.  

Around them, fires break out. Windows are smashed. Parked cars destroyed.

USA TODAY reporters have witnessed the groups on multiple nights, in multiple locations.  Sometimes they threaten those journalists who photograph them destroying property.

Source: USA Today

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Legal injustice: Goliath stomps David

February 24, 2020

How the Environmental Lawyer Who Won a Massive Judgment Against Chevron Lost Everything by Sharon Lerner for The Intercept.

He Sued Chevon and Won – Now He’s Under House Arrest by Christine MacDonald for In These Times.

Remind me: What is an impeachable offense?

February 2, 2020

“Lambert Strether,” a writer and editor for the Naked Capitalism web log, had this to say about impeachment.

Working on the assumption that acts, once not impeached, are no longer not in scope for future impeachment, Pelosi, in 2006, did not impeach Bush for taking the country to war in Iraq, for his warrantless surveillance program (multiple felonies; destruction of the Fourth Amendment), or for torture (prohibited by international treaties, hence the law of the land).

The Republicans did not impeach Obama for whacking a US cititzen with a drone strike and no due process.

After 2016, the Democrats focused, laser-like, even before the inaugural, on impeaching Trump over an ever-shifting, never-proven Russia-adjacent “collusion” narrative driven by anonymous leaks from the intelligence community, which we were constantly assured would bring about Trump’s impeachment, or even his imprisonment.

When that Democrat effort ignominiously collapsed with Hero Of The Resistance™ Mueller’s damp squib of Congressional testimony, the new Ukraine narrative miraculously appeared, articles of impeachment were instantly prepared, followed by several weeks of delay in delivering them to the Senate, followed by complaints that the Republicans would not call the witnesses that the Democrats themselves should have called.

(Comic interlude: The uncalled Bolton boosting his pre-sales at Amazon.)

Utterly predictably, given both their credibility and Republican venality, the Democrats than lost the impeachment vote in the Senate, thereby cementing Trump’s “abuse of power” into precedent.

(To be fair, the Democrats may make a few 2020 Senate races more difficult for the Republicans than before.)

So, let’s review: From 2006, due primarily to sins of omission or commission by Democrats, Presidents are not accountable for: (1) fake intelligence leading to war, (2) felonies, (3) war crimes, (4) assassinating US citizens (this is down to the Republicans) and (5) abuse of power.

Oh, and (6) epic levels of personal corruption, since Democrats did not impeach Trump over the emoluments clause, setting another precedent.

Source: naked capitalism

My sentiments exactly.

Three thoughts about the impeachment process

December 27, 2019

It is not treason to question U.S. war policy in Ukraine.

Trump’s Impeachment, Ukraine and War With Russia by Yasha Levine on his Immigrants as a Weapon blog.

It is not criminal to push for investigation of Hunter Biden’s corrupt Ukrainian employer.

A Timeline of Joe Biden’s Interference Against the Prosecutor General of Ukraine on Moon of Alabama.

The U.S. national security establishment is not a trustworthy friend of democracy.

The Color Revolutions Come Home by Matt Taibbi for Untitledgate.

Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Ukraine corruption

November 15, 2019

Presidents Zelensky and Trump

I think there is a case to be made that President Donald Trump abused the power of his office.

He did threaten to withhold military aid unless the Ukrainian government announced an investigation of the Burisma oil and gas company and Hunter Biden’s involvement in it.

The problem with this is that Joe Biden, when he was vice president, did the exact same thing.

He threatened to withhold aid from Ukraine unless it fired the prosecutor who was investigating Burisma.

Biden’s claim is that the prosecutor was lax in investigating corruption.  But the evidence indicates otherwise, that the prosecutor was closing in on Burisma at the time he was forced out.

Hunter Biden knew nothing of Ukraine or the oil and gas business.  His only value to Burisma is that he was the vice-president’s son and therefore provided Burisma with a certain immunity from prosecution.

It hasn’t been proved that Hunter Biden did anything wrong beyond this, but then his role hasn’t been investigated.

This is not a justification of wrong-doing by President Trump.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Ukraine is a vast swamp of corruption, and Hunter Biden is not the only politically-connected American who has sought to make money there.

Donald Trump and Attorney-General William Barr oppose the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which make it a crime for an American to bribe a foreign government official.  They want to make bribery once again simply a cost of doing business.

Barr also opposes the False Claims Act, which gives any American standing to sue a person or company that defrauds the U.S. government.  In other words, both Trump and Barr want protect corruption and fraud.

It would be very interesting to know how many Americans are on the boards of Ukrainian companies, or political consultants or public relations consultants to Ukrainian oligarchs or politicians.  I’m sure their numbers would include both Democrats and Republicans.

I think Democrats in the House of Representatives would help themselves politically by investigating corruption and mismanagement in the Trump administration across the board, rather than limiting themselves to this one ambiguous issue.

True, they might uncover things that are embarrassing to their own donors.

I feel sorry for the long-suffering people of Ukraine.  Neither the U.S. government, the European Union, the Russian Federation or their own plutocrats and autocrats care anything for their welfare.

LINKS

Corruption in Ukraine Wikipedia article.

Hunter Biden’s Ukraine gas firm pressed Obama administration to end corruption allegations by John Solomon on his blog.

A Timeline of Joe Biden’s Intervention Against the Prosecutor General of Ukraine by the Moon of Alabama blog.

Is Trump the Most Corrupt President in American History? an interview of Bill Black, an expert on financial fraud, on the Real News Network.  Black’s answer: Yes.

This Is What a Legitimate Anti-Corruption Effort in Ukraine Would Look Like by Samantha Winograd for POLITICO.

Reporter shackled, caged, denied a phone call

October 30, 2019

This is disturbing.

Max Blumenthal, the editor of the news site The Gray Zone, was arrested on the morning of October 25 on a fabricated charge related to the siege of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC that took place between April and May.

A team of DC police officers appeared at Blumenthal’s door at just after 9 AM, demanding entry and threatening to break his door down.  A number of officers had taken positions on the side of his home as though they were prepared for a SWAT-style raid.

Max Blumenthal

Blumenthal was hauled into a police van and ultimately taken to DC central jail, where he was held for two days in various cells and cages.  He was shackled by his hands and ankles for over five hours in one such cage along with other inmates.  His request for a phone call was denied by DC police and corrections officers, effectively denying him access to the outside world.

Blumenthal was informed that he was accused of simple assault by a Venezuelan opposition member. He declared the charge completely baseless.

“This charge is a 100 percent false, fabricated, bogus, untrue, and malicious lie,” Blumenthal declared. “It is clearly part of a campaign of political persecution designed to silence me and the The Gray Zone for our factual journalism exposing the deceptions, corruption and violence of the far-right Venezuelan opposition.”

The arrest warrant was five months old.  According to an individual familiar with the case, the warrant for Blumenthal’s arrest was initially rejected.  Strangely, this false charge was revived months later without the defendant’s knowledge.

“If the government had at least told me I had a warrant I could have voluntarily surrendered and appeared at my own arraignment. I have nothing to fear because I’m completely innocent of this bogus charge,” Blumenthal stated. “Instead, the federal government essentially enlisted the DC police to SWAT me, ensuring that I would be subjected to an early morning raid and then languish in prison for days without even the ability to call an attorney.”

Source: The Gray Zone

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The deeper problem concerning Julian Assange

October 25, 2019

Julian Assange, who faces extradition from the UK to the USA on charges based on his publication of American government secrets, is being denied the right to a fair hearing.  He is being abused and tormented.

But the deeper problem is that even if his legal rights were respected, he might well be convicted under existing U.S. law.

And this would establish the precedent that the U.S. government can commit crimes, classify those crimes as secret and imprison anyone who makes these crimes known.

This would break the uneasy truce between the government and the U.S. press, in which whistleblowers reveal secrets at their peril, but the press is allowed to publish them with impunity.

Such a distinction does not make logical or legal sense.  In the law of libel, for example, the writer and the publisher are both liable for damages.  But in practice, it has allowed some abuses of power to come to light that otherwise would have been hidden.

The U.S. government has already claimed the legal right to wage undeclared wars, to commit assassinations, to engage in warrantless arrests and warrantless surveillance and to torture people to get information—all in the name of national security.

The most important remaining restriction on abuse of these powers is the force of public opinion.  But the public can’t have an opinion on what it isn’t allowed to know.

Among the Presidential candidates, the prosecution of Assange is opposed by Democrats Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard,, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Marianne Williamson and Republican Joe Walsh.

Sanders said that, if elected President, he would not prosecute whistleblowers.  I believe Sanders, but I remember President Obama also promised that, and Obama prosecuted more whistleblowers than any previous President.

Even if Sanders or one of the other candidates is elected, and even if they follow through on their promises, this would be just a matter of policy that could be reversed  by the next administration.

What’s needed is a law that allows people charged with revealing classified information to rebut the charge by showing they acted in the public interest by revealing crimes, wrongdoing or mismanagement and that the national interest was not harmed.

The same purpose could be achieved by judicial decision—that the use of the Espionage Act to protect the guilty or the incompetent is unconstitutional.

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U.S. treats Assange as Soviets treated dissidents

October 23, 2019

Americans and Britons have historically prided ourselves on the rule of law—the no-one is above being subject to the law and no-one is below being protected by the law.

Col. Rudolph Abel, the Soviet master spy who was apprehended in 1957, was defended in his trial by a top lawyer, James Donovan.  The accused Nazi war criminals tried at Nuremberg were given the opportunity to defend themselves and some actually got off.  All of them were treated humanely while awaiting trial.

The dissident publisher Julian Assange, who is accused of publishing secret information about U.S. war crimes, is being treated worse than any accused Nazi.  He has been kept in solitary confinement, denied needed medical care and restricted in the ability to conduct his own defense.

He appeared in Westminster Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday in a proceeding to schedule the hearing on whether he should be extradited from Britain to the United States on charges of spying.

Spectators saw that his physical and mental health is broken.  Of course it will be highly convenient to the U.S. national security establishment if he is unable to speak in his own defense and better still if he dies in prison.

He was barely able to understand what was going on.  He was like some Soviet dissident of the 1970s and 1980s who’d been subjected to psychiatric, or rather anti-psychiatric, drugs.

Here is what his friend Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, saw:

I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both.  [snip]

[H]aving attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that … … Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness. [snip]

Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable.

Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later.

The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.  [snip]

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There is a corruption case against Hunter Biden

September 27, 2019

Joe and Hunter Biden

Ukrainian prosecutors have good reason to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.  And they reportedly have been investigating him since well before President Trump made his controversial telephone call to President Zelensky of Ukraine.

It’s not just that Hunter Biden served on the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company, even though he has no special knowledge of the Ukraine or the energy industry, at a time when his father was President Obama’s “point man” for Ukraine policy.

Ukrainian prosecutors told journalist John Solomon that Burma Holdings apparently made unexplained transfers of money to a U.S. company partly owned by Hunter Biden, in possible violation of Ukrainian law.

Hunter Biden hasn’t been charged, let alone convicted, of a crime.  But there are objective reasons, not just partisan political reasons, to look further at his record.

Back in January, 2018, Joe Biden boasted to the Council of Foreign Relations about how he pressured Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire Special Prosecutor Viktor Shokin by threatening to withhold $1 billion in needed loan guarantees.

Solomon took the trouble to get Shokin’s side of the story and wrote an article about it for The Hill, an on-line news service.

He was told that Ukrainian prosecutors re-opened the investigation following Biden’s speech.  That’s significant, because he wrote his article in April, and President Trump’s controversial phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymer Zelensky about the case was on July 21.

Solomon reported:

The prosecutor … [Biden] got fired was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings that employed Biden’s younger son, Hunter, as a board member.

U.S. banking records show Hunter Biden’s American-based firm, Rosemont Seneca Partners LLC, received regular transfers into one of its accounts — usually more than $166,000 a month — from Burisma from spring 2014 through fall 2015, during a period when Vice President Biden was the main U.S. official dealing with Ukraine and its tense relations with Russia.

The general prosecutor’s official file for the Burisma probe — shared with me by senior Ukrainian officials — shows prosecutors identified Hunter Biden, business partner Devon Archer and their firm, Rosemont Seneca, as potential recipients of money.

Shokin told me in written answers to questions that, before he was fired as general prosecutor, he had made “specific plans” for the investigation that “included interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.”

After Shokin was fired, the investigation was wound up without any charges filed against Burisma Holdings or Hunter Biden.

Yury Lutsenko, the current special prosecutor, said that, after Biden’s speech, he re-opened the case.  He told Solomon he found out things he’d be happy to share with Attorney General William Bar.  He didn’t say what these things were.   That, of course is not evidence of anything.  But there is other evidence against Hunter Biden.

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Trump, Biden and Ukraine

September 25, 2019

I wrote a week ago that impeachment of President Donald Trump is a mirage, and now Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called for an impeachment investigation of the President.  Such are the perils of commenting on breaking news.

The circumstantial  information already available to the public indicates that President Trump has abused the powers of his office.

President Trump

He acknowledged holding back $250 million in military aid that Congress had appropriated for Ukraine.

He acknowledged talking to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine about reopening an investigation of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that paid Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, $50,000 a month to serve on its board of directors.  The younger Biden resigned from the board earlier this year.

The House Judiciary Committee wants the transcript of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky, but even if nothing was said that connects the aid package to the investigation, the implication is clear.

The House has a duty to investigate.  I don’t think it is a good idea to call it an impeachment investigation just yet because calling it that means the investigation will be considered a failure if it does not result in impeachment recommendations.

Impeachment by the House may or may not be justified.  Conviction by the Senate would be next to impossible because it would require unanimity among the 47 Democratic Senators plus support by at least 20 Republicans.

Joe and Hunter Biden

What Republicans will point out is that Vice President Joe Biden threatened to hold up $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine unless the government fired Viktor Shotkin, the prosecutor that was investigating Burisma.

Biden claims that Shotkin was corrupt, and his threat had nothing to do with his son.

I know of no evidence that either Joe Biden or his ne’er-do-well son, Hunter, broke the law.  But it’s obvious that Hunter would not have gotten his position if his father had not been Vice President.

It was a conflict of interest for Biden to be President Obama’s point man for Ukraine after his son took the job.

Biden may suffer more political damage than Trump.  The Trump Organization’s worldwide operations involve more extensive potential conflicts of interest.  But Biden has a reputation to lose and Trump doesn’t.

The greatest reputational damage of all in the whole affair is to the reputation of the United States of America as a whole.  It shows that American political leaders do not respect the sovereignty of allies.  It shows they use American power to advance their personal family and political interests.

So far as political strategy goes, I think that so long as public attention is focused on personalities, Trump benefits, and that Democrats can win only if they focus on policy and governance.  Trump may win if the 2020 election hinges on impeachment, and impeachment fails.

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The mirage of Trump impeachment

September 18, 2019

For the good of the country, the leaders of the Democratic Party should forget about trying to reverse the outcome of the 2016 election and think about how they can win the 2020 election.

Jerrold Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said last week the committee will begin an inquiry or investigation into whether there is just cause to impeach President Donald Trump without specifying just what the impeachable offense is.

Impeachment is a serious matter and rare, as it should be.  The tried and true method of removing an unsatisfactory President is to not re-elect him.  Overturning the results of an election should only be done for a compelling and obvious reason.

If you claim an action by President Trump is impeachable, the first question to ask yourself is whether it would be impeachable if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton had done it.

Of the previous 44 Presidents, only two—Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton—were ever impeached, and neither one was convicted.  A third, Richard Nixon, resigned under threat of impeachment, and it is highly likely he would have been convicted.  Unlike with President Nixon and the Watergate investigation, there is no underlying, undeniable crime to investigate.

Originally, the idea was to determine whether Trump had tried to obstruct Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.  But if that doesn’t pan out, the committee will consider whether there are other grounds for impeachment.

An open-ended investigation of an individual for the purpose of finding a reason to accuse him of a crime is not impartial justice under law.  It is like the Whitewater investigation of President Bill Clinton.  The purpose was to work toward a result—impeachment—no matter what the basis was.

An impeachment is like an indictment.  The House of Representatives, acting like a petit jury, can impeach a President or other federal official, including judges, senators and congressional representatives, by simple majority vote.

The case then goes to the Senate which, acting like a petit jury, can convict, but only by a two thirds vote of those present.  If convicted of the charges, the President is removed from office, and then can be tried in the courts for any crimes he may have committed.

Grounds for impeachment, as set forth in the Constitution, are “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Being a bad President is not grounds for impeachment.  The Constitutional convention considered “maladministration” as grounds for impeachment, and rejected it in favor of “high crimes.”

What is a “high crime?”  Constitutional lawyers interpret this to mean abuse of the powers of one’s office, including ways that are technically legal.  For example, if an Attorney-General used his or her discretion to only prosecute members of the opposing political party and never to prosecute members of his or her own party, that might be grounds for impeachment.

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How to undo legislative gerrymandering?

July 9, 2019

Click to enlarge.

It’s not an accident that Democrats won a majority of votes for state assemblies in Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, but Republicans won a majority of the legislative seats.

It’s because legislative districts were intentionally drawn by Republican state legislatures to give Republicans an advantage.  You can comply with the Supreme Court’s “one man, one vote” ruling and create legislative districts with equal population, and still draw the lines so as to give one party an advantage.

Click to enlarge

Both parties have done this through American history.  The word “gerrymander” comes from Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, whose party, the Democratic-Republicans (forerunner of today’s Democrats), drew up a strangely-shaped state senate district in 1812 to dilute the voters of the rival Federalists.

But Republicans during the last round of redistricting after the 2010 census used big data and computer analysis to lock in their control of legislatures in key states.  Democrats would have to do much more than win a majority of the votes to take back control.

They complained to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court turned them down, in a 5-4 decision.  Chief Justice John Roberts said the court can’t take up the burden of drawing legislative district boundaries for the states.

But Justice Elena Kagan pointed out that there is an accepted procedure for doing just this.  It consists of having a computer process draw up many different maps of legislative districts of equal population that are geographically compact and respectful of existing boundaries, and then allowing the state legislature to choose one of them.

If the state and federal courts do not do something about gerrymandering, who will?  State legislatures elected in gerrymandered district are unlikely to change the system that put them in power.  Congress? State legislatures draw congressional district boundaries, too.

But the fact is that the Supreme Court is not going to change its decision until and unless a new justice is appointed and maybe not even then.

What remains for Democrats is to try to get a large enough vote to offset a rigged system.  Or propose amendments to state constitutions to set up a fair process for drawing legislative districts.

LINK

Chief Justice Roberts OKs Minority Rule by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.  Hat tip to him for the chart.

When is it okay to beat up journalists?

July 8, 2019

Civilization is not so stable that it cannot be broken up; and a condition of lawless violence is not one out of which any good thing is likely to emerge.  For this reason, if for no other, revolutionary violence in a democracy is infinitely dangerous.

==Bertrand Russell in 1920

Andy Ngo is a photojournalist in Portland, Oregon, who tries to document the claim that the “anti-fa” left engages in unprovoked violence.

The “anti-fa” movement had responded to his charges by breaking his equipment and beating him up, the last time seriously enough to send him a hospital emergency room.

The background is political demonstrations organized by two far-right groups, the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, known for engaging in street fighting and trying to provoke retaliation by leftists.  The response by liberals and progressives in the Portland area was to organize much larger counter-demonstrations in reply, which is an effective response.

Andy Ngo after beating

The “anti-fa” movement goes further.  They say it is necessary to meet street violence with violence.  They also say that any fascist – they get to decide who is a fascist – is a legitimate target.

A certain number of self-identified liberals and progressives have written excuses and justifications for “anti-fa” and Ngo’s beating, which is what moves me to write about it.  Otherwise I might have thought of all this as an isolated incident.

Here are some of the arguments:

  • Andy Ngo was looking for trouble and wanted to portray himself as a victim of violence.  If that is so, why give him what he wanted?
  • The reports of Ngo’s beating diverts attention from the real issue, which is that right-wing violence is a worse threat than left-wing violence.  Why can’t you be against both?
  • The “anti-fa” movement hasn’t actually murdered anyone yet.  Good thing Andy Ngo didn’t die of his injuries, then.  The “anti-fa” movement might have been justly criticized.
  • Nobody knows for sure who beat up Andy Ngo.  Supposedly it could have been anyone.  Would that argument be made if some left-wing photojournalist was beaten up after filming right-wing street fighters?

In an earlier era, there were street fighters who called themselves the “black bloc” who’d join peaceful demonstrations and then start breaking windows, overturning cars and so. Like the “anti-fa’ fighters, they wore black clothing and black hooded masks.

They called this as “diversity of tactics.”  The idea is that you do your thing (peaceful protest) and they’ll do their thing (vandalism and street fighting).  The problem with that is that if there is a political demonstration in which the vast majority are peaceful and law-abiding and a few break window or throw bricks at police, it is the window-breakers and brick-throwers that will be remembered, not the majority.

This is very different from the miners’ strikes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where gun-carrying union members fought virtual wars with corporate mercenaries, National Guard troops and sometimes federal troops.  The right to self-defense is a fundamental right.

The “anti-fa” fighters could provide a valuable service if they acted as a security service for peaceful leftists, as they did during the Unite the Right protests in  Charlottesville., Va., in 2017.

That’s different from denying that there are certain rights, such as freedom of speech, that apply equally to all—the basic principles of liberalism.

If the self-identified left fights the self-identified right with physical force and violence, it will lose.  In the United States today, it is the self-identified right that is better armed, is more willing and able to use lethal force and has more sympathizers in the police and military.

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How to de-partisanize the Supreme Court

July 3, 2019

Nowadays appointments to the Supreme Court are a continuation of partisan politics by other means.

The major political issues of our time are fought out in lawsuits as much as they are in legislative debates or elections.   Maybe this was always true, but it seems to me that stacking the court is being done with much more awareness nowadays than in recent memory.

Self-described liberals do it.  Self-described conservatives do it.  Partisan judicial appointments have several bad effects.

It often happens that several Supreme Court justices reach retirement age during one Presidential term.  It means that President has a greater power than others to stamp his political ideas on the judicial system.

It gives a President an incentive to appoint relatively younger and less experienced judges to the Supreme Court because they will serve longer.  It gives aging and infirm justices an incentive to keep themselves on the bench until a President of their own political faction is appointed.

I propose the following Constitutional amendment to achieve a better political balance on the court.

Each President would have the power to make one, but no more than one, Supreme Court appointment during each two-year term of Congress, with the consent of the Senate.

The new Justice would be sworn in at the end of that term of Congress.

If there were no vacancies on the court, the sitting Justice who’d served the longest would retire.  

If there were more than one vacancy, the additional vacancies would be filled during the next term or terms of Congress.

What this would mean that each President and each Congress would have equal power to make a Supreme Court appointment once every two years.

This would not mean an end of partisanship, but it would mean a better balance.  It would mean that change in the makeup of the Supreme Court would take place over a long period of time and not all at once.

A Mitch McConnell might be able to stymie Supreme Court appointments during one term, but would not get power to make extra appointments during the next term.

The normal term of office of a Supreme Court justice would be 18 years.  That’s a reasonable length of time, but most Justices would be able to retire while in good mental and physical condition.

The fact that vacancies on the court would not always be filled promptly would be inconvenient. but the court has sat with fewer than nine Justices inn the past.

I don’t think there is any chance of such a proposal being adopted at the present time.  But if and when the two parties decide to call a truce, this would be a way to implement it.

From white supremacy to white nationalism

June 17, 2019

This interview with Kathleen Belew was aired July 24, 2018.

***************************************************************

I learned two important things from reading BRING THE WAR HOME: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America by Kathleen Belew (2018).

One is how the Ku Klux Klan and other white racist organizations changed in the late 1970s and early 1980s from vigilantes upholding a racist order to revolutionaries and secessionists trying to overthrow an anti-racist order.

The other is that so much of what I thought of as isolated incidents, ranging from the murder of talk show host Alan Berg in 1984 to Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, were in fact planned by a revolutionary movement.

Belew began her account with the story of a Klansman named Louis Beam who served in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner.  He regarded U.S. defeat in Vietnam as a betrayal engineered by Jews and Communists.  He and his like-minded friends regarded themselves as soldiers.  They regarded the war against Communism as the same thing as the war against racial integration and racial equality.

They obtained and stockpiled military ordnance, organized private militias and military training camps and enlisted as mercenaries in support of anti-Communist fighters in Africa and Central America.   The South African and Rhodesian governments made use of them, and so did the Central Intelligence Agency.

They saw no difference between killing Communists in Vietnam or Nicaragua and killing Communists in the USA.  Klansmen and Nazis joined forces in the shooting of Communist anti-Klan demonstrators in Greensboro, N.C., in 1979, resulting in the deaths of five white men and one black woman.

But at some point, they came to regard the U.S. government as hopelessly compromised.  The annual Aryan Nations World Conference at Hayden Lake, Idaho, announced a new organization called the Order, which would coordinate the Klan, Nazis and other white racist organizations, such as the Mountain Church, the White Patriot Party and the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord (CSA).

Their new goal was to establish a separate white enclave and eventually to break up the United States and forcibly move whites, blacks and maybe other racial groups into separate areas, while deporting Jews to Israel.  Beam commented that carrying out this program might make the Third Reich seem mild in comparison.

Their idea was that African-Americans, being members of an inferior race, could not have more their civil rights on their own.  They thought that black people must have been aided by the Jews, whom they regarded as super-smart but evil.

Members of the Order swore to carry out “a sacred duty to do whatever is necessary to deliver our people from the Jew and bring total victory to the Aryan race.”

The Order’s plans included (1) paramilitary training, (2) robbery and counterfeiting to raise money, (3) purchase of military-grade weapons, (4) distribution of money and weapons to white power groups, (5) assassinations of enemies and informers and (6) a cell-type organization so that rank-and-file members only knew the names of members of their own group.

Beam’s vision was a “leaderless resistance,” in which there was no top-down chain of command, but a network of cells linked by Liberty Net, a computer network.  This was prior to the Internet, a time when computer networks were a novelty.

They got a lot of their ideas from U.S. Army training manuals on insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare, and their system of organization resembled the Communist fighters in Vietnam and the radical Muslim jihadists of a later era.

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Will Julian Assange die before he is tried?

May 30, 2019

Julian Assange’s lawyer said that Assange is too sick to carry on a normal conversation, that his health has deteriorated since his arrest, and that he has been transferred to the health ward of Belmarsh prison.

His health had reportedly been failing even before his arrest, as a result of being cooped up in a windowless room for seven years and not being able to get medical care he needed.

There is now no good reason why he shouldn’t receive all the care he needs, and it is possible that he is receiving such care. I hope my suspicions are groundless, and maybe they are.

But the events of the past 15 or 20 years have left me unable to say, “Such and such is impossible because the British (or U.S.) government would never do such a thing.”

It would be much more convenient from the U.S. and British governments if he were to die before being put on trial.  And treating Assange as some sort of super-villain terrorist who requires extra isolation from human contact is one way to accomplish that.

LINKS

Statement of Kristin Hrafnsson, Wikileaks editor-in-chief.

Assange Is Reportedly Gravely Ill And Hardly Anybody’s Talking About It by Caitlin Johnstone.

The UN Torture Report on Assange Is an Indictment of Our Entire Society by Caitlin Johnstone [Added 5/31/2019]

New jeopardy for Assange and press freedom

May 24, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice has indicated Julian Assange on new charges—violation of the Espionage Act of 1917—which carry a maximum penalty of 175 years in prison.

What he is accused of is publishing confidential information disclosing American war crimes in Iraq in 2010.

The previous indictment accused him only of aiding and abetting unauthorized access to computer files, which would have meant a maximum penalty of five years.

Violations of some sections of the Espionage Act carry a maximum penalty of death, but these involve giving military secrets to an enemy in time of war, which Assange is not accused of.

He would most likely wind up in the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, and conceivably could spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement.

If he can be sent to prison for that, it means that the U.S. government has the power to commit crimes, up to and including murder, classify the evidence of those crimes as secret and send anybody who discloses those crimes to prison.

If he is sent to prison for that, it means that such freedom of the press as exists in the United States exists at the whim of whoever is in charge of the government.

So far as I know, the only prominent politician who has come to the defense of Julian Assange is Tulsi Gabbard.

In other news, Chelsea Manning is back in prison for refusing to testify against Assange.

And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has rejected a resolution demanding that the President ask permission from Congress before attacking Iran.

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The case Assange’s lawyers will try to make

April 22, 2019

John Helmer, an independent reporter who mostly writes about Russia, said that Julian Assange’s British lawyers will defend him by putting American justice on trial.

British courts have refused Russian requests to extradite Russians on corruption charges, on the grounds that the Russians would not get a fair trial.  They almost certainly would not extradite a Russian on charges of revealing state secrets.

Assange’s lawyers will argue that Assange cannot get a fair trial in the United States any more than an anti-government Russian could get a fair trial in Russia.

The U.S. government has charged Assange with conspiring with then-Pvt. Bradley Manning to gain unauthorized access to a government computer, a charge that carries a maximum five-year sentence.

Ecuador released Assange on the understanding that he would not be tried in a country with the death penalty.  The United States of course has the death penalty, just not on that particular charge.

Assange’s lawyers will argue that there is no guarantee that, once Assange is in U.S. custody, additional charges will not be added, including violation of the Espionage Act, which carries a possible penalty of death.

The computer tampering that Assange is accused of helping occurred in March, 2010.

Assange’s lawyers will argue that, if he was in London at that time, he should be tried on this charge in a British court, not an American one.

Overall, their strategy will be to try to put the United States government on trial rather than Assange.

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