Archive for the ‘Law and Justice’ Category

Another look at critical race theory

September 21, 2021

CRITICAL RACE THEORY: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement, edited by Kimberle Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller and Kendall Thomas, introduction by Cornell West (1995)

Up until a couple of years ago, hardly any of US Americans outside academia has heard of something called “critical race theory.”   Now public opinion polls show about two-thirds of us have heard of it, and more than one-third think they have a good idea of what it is.  Republicans think it will be a winning issue for them in the 2022 elections and beyond.

Critics blame critical race theory for everything they dislike about affirmative action, cancel culture and Black Lives Matter protests.  Defenders say it mere consists of facing well-established and obvious facts about racism and racial prejudice in the past and present USA.

For the past month, I’ve been reading up on what critical race theorists have to say for themselves.  My latest reading is the 1995 Critical Race Theory anthology, which consists of writings of the founders of the movement.  I admit I read only some of the 27 essays and skimmed the rest.  I have links below to 15 that I have read.

I don’t claim this makes me an expert on a topic to which some have devoted years of study–only that I know more than those who haven’t read anything at all about it.

Critical race theory arose from the disappointment in the results of the civil rights revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.  

After a heroic struggle, in which churches were bombed, protesters were jailed and beaten and some were murdered, African-Americans, with the support of white allies, achieved full civil rights and protection of the law.  And then they found that most of them were as poor and just as unequal as they were before.

Some responded by trying to broaden the struggle to achieve equality for all Americans, and not just black people.  This was the idea of the Poor People’s Campaign planned by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. just before his death.  It was the idea behind Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition campaigns in 1984 and 1988 and the current Poor People’s Campaign led by the Rev. William J. Barber II

Others decided that African-Americans needed to double down on black interests and black identity, and not worry about white opinion.  Instead of thinking of themselves as citizens who were denied their individual rights, they should think of themselves as part of an oppressed nation, like people under colonial rule.

During this time, there was a movement among legal scholars called critical legal theory.  Critical legal theorists said it was a mistake to look at the law as a quest, however flawed, for justice.  The whole purpose of the law, they said, was to codify and maintain injustice.

The moral was that if you are lawyer, prosecutor or judge who believes in social justice, you need not think about whether the law is being correctly applied.  You should only think how to interpret the law in ways to help the oppressed.

The critical race theorists picked up this idea and applied it to race.  It is not an accident that most of the original critical race theorists were law school professors and published their findings in law journals.  

Their idea was that whole social structure, including the law, is set up to serve the interests of white people and repress black people.   The purpose of critical race studies is to show how this works.

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Derrick Bell’s parables of despair

September 18, 2021

THE DERRICK BELL READER edited by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanic (2005)

I’ve been reading up on critical race theory to prepare for a presentation I’m going to do Sept. 21 at a Zoom meeting at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y.

At the time I agreed to do the presentation, I’d read a college textbook called Critical Race Theory: an Introduction.

I thought I understood the topic reasonably well, although I was turned off by the authors’ rejection of ideas that I hold hear—liberalism, universalism, the possibility of solidarity across racial lines.

Since then I’ve been reading more about the topic, and especially works of the late  Derrick A. Bell Jr., who is considered the father of this school of thought.

Although I haven’t changed my mind about CRT,  I have come to respect Bell and take his ideas and the ideas of his followers more seriously than before. 

Bell had a distinguished career as a civil rights lawyer for the U.S. government and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and a second distinguished career as a law school professor, scholar and writer.

Bell was the first African-American to be a tenured professor at Harvard Law School.  He resigned in 1992 in protest against Harvard’s failure to hire a black woman as a tenured law school professor. 

The video above shows young Barack Obama, then a Harvard law school student, speaking at a protest in support of Prof. Bell.  The video then segues into a review of Bell’s life.

Bell thought that racism is baked into the white American mind.  The only times that African-Americans advance is when these advances benefit elite white people, and such advances are small and temporary.  He said black people should protest racial inequality, not because there is a realistic hope that it will be overcome, but for the sake of self-respect and honor.

Some of the most interesting parts of The Derrick Bell Reader are a series of fantastic stories, or parables, illustrating his ideas and feelings.  They are not proof of anything, but they are windows into his mind.  They are thought experiments.  You are invited to think about them and decide whether you agree.

###

The Chronicle of the Space Traders

In this story, extraterrestrials land on the East Coast on Jan. 1 and offer the USA a bargain.  They will provide the means to solve the USA’s international trade, pollution and energy problems.  In return, they ask one thing: the nation’s African-American population.  The country is given 16 days to decide.

There are some objections.  Black Americans are a cheap labor force, but also a market for U.S. business.  More importantly, they serve as a target for the resentments of poor and working-class whites, which might otherwise be targeted a white elites.

But the benefits of the trade to white America outweigh the benefits.  A Constitutional amendment is rushed through, and, on Martin Luther King Day, the USA’s black population leave the country the same way their ancestors arrived, naked and in chains.

Bell said that when he tells this story to his law classes, almost all his students, both black and white, agree that US Americans would make the trade.

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White privilege and affirmative action

September 16, 2021

The late Derrick Bell, pioneer of critical race theory, used to say that white people who oppose affirmative action in college admissions were hypocritical or naive.

Affirmative action for black people, he said, has much less impact on the chances of the average student than all the preferences given to the white elite.

Special consideration is given to children of donors, children of alumnae, graduates of expensive private schools and athletes skilled in sports such as rowing or polo that only rich people participated in.

Bell died in 2011, but facts, including a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, support what he said.

Some 43 percent of white Harvard students admitted between 2009 and 2014 got bonus points for being ALDCs – athletes, legacies (children of alumni), dean’s list (from families of big donors of potential donors) or children of faculty or staff.  Fewer than 16 percent of black, Hispanic or Asian students benefited from such preferences.

The study also indicated that three-quarters of the white students who got bonus points would have been rejected if they hadn’t got the points.   Most of them come from upper-crust families.  Such families are also able to give their children the benefit of private schools or well-funded public schools in rich school districts.

All this matters because Ivy League universities such as Harvard are gatekeepers for the top jobs in banking, law, government and academia, and only about 4 or 5 percent of applicants are admitted.

So why, asked Derrick Bell, is all the emphasis on the extra help African-Americans get from affirmative action policies?

One answer is that affirmative action for rich white families is seldom talked about, but affirmative action for racial minorities is talked about constantly, both by those who favor it and those who oppose it. 

When proponents of affirmative action bring up white elite privilege, they do not challenge white elite privilege; they use it as a talking point to defend their own programs.

Affirmative action for minorities is an example of what Bell called racial fortuity, although I am not sure he would have agreed.  

Racial fortuity happens when black people’s interests and white (usually elite white) people’s interests happen to coincide.  

Affirmative action serves the function of lightning rod for resentment of non-elite white students who can’t get into colleges such as Harvard.

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Do white Americans really benefit from racism?

September 6, 2021

THE DERRICK BELL READER edited by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (2005)

The late Derrick Bell, pioneer of critical race theory, was of two minds about whites and racism in the USA.

He frequently wrote about how white racial prejudice hurts whites as well as blacks, and how whites have actually benefited from advances in civil rights, but that, despite these facts, racism is so embedded in the psychology of white people that we will never be able to see this.

At other times, and at least once in the same article, he wrote that the reason racism will never disappear is that white people benefit from racism. 

Which is it?  In his terms, if the first is true, there is a possibility, however dim, of waking up white people to our self-interest so that we join forces with black people for justice. 

If the second is true, there is little hope for African-Americans.  Demographic trends show black people remaining in the minority in the USA, and history shows white people can stay in the majority by expanding the definition of white.

The answer depends on how you look at it.  If there had never been plantation slavery, never been lynch law, never been a black underclass, all of us Americans, white and black, would be better off.

On the other hand, if all Americans had been white, but we still had plantation slavery, lynch law and an economic underclass, then white people would have taken the places historically filled by blacks.

Prior to our Civil War, many writers reported on how a slave economy hurt white people.  They contrasted conditions on opposite sides of the Ohio River.  On the Ohio side, they could see well-built farmhouses and barns, fields full of grain, thriving small towns and businesses, all the product of enterprising white people. 

On the Kentucky side, just opposite, visitors saw whites living in poverty and decay, ramshackle buildings, poorly-fed children.  This was the result of the inability of white workers to compete with slave labor, and the belief that physical labor was degrading and only black people should do it.

The heritage of slavery to this day affects white people as well as black people.  The poorest white people in the USA are the ones living in the areas where slave labor was most predominant.

Derrick Bell argued that just as slavery and racism held back the South in comparison to the rest of the USA, so the heritage of slavery and racism holds back the USA in relation to the rest of the Western world.  The USA is the Mississippi of the OECD nations.

In his essay, “Wanted: a White Leader Able to Free Whites of Racism” (2000), reprinted in The Derrick Bell Reader, Bell remarked on how the USA lags behind less affluent countries in terms of health care, housing, child care and care of the aged, and on how the USA refuses to abolish the death penalty or improve prison conditions.

The reason, he wrote, is that white people, consciously or unconsciously, are convinced that efforts to promote the common good will help black people at our expense.  So we cut off our noses to spite our faces.

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Derrick Bell and the problem with desegregation

August 26, 2021

SILENT COVENANTS: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform by Derrick Bell (2004)

When I was a wet-behind-the-ears college liberal, I thought the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation meant the slow-but-sure end of racism in the USA.

I thought then that simply getting black-and-white children together in the same room day after day would make them recognize their common humanity and bring an end to racial prejudice.

In hindsight, I see how naive that was.  But I wasn’t alone.  The late Derrick Bell, who later became one of the founders of critical race studies, thought the same thing at the time.

His book, Silent Covenants, is about why he changed his mind.  I read it as part of a personal project to understand critical race theory from the viewpoint of its proponents.

As a lawyer for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he pursued many lawsuits based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that racially segregated schools are unconstitutional.  

But later, after he joined the Harvard Law School faculty, he came to believe he was pursuing a false goal.

He said the desegregation decision was based on a false choice between, on the one hand, sending black children to schools that were separate and inferior and, on the other, on the other, sending them to schools where they were unwanted and in the minority.

Desegregation, when it was implemented, was typically carried out by closing black schools, some of which provided excellent educations and were greatly beloved by students and graduates. 

Desegregation resulted in job losses by black teachers and principals, many of them outstanding educators.

Some 50 years later, Bell wrote, American public schools are still segregated, in practice if not by law, and the educational achievement gap between blacks and whites is as great as it ever was. 

The great mistake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision decision, he wrote, was to pretend that the Constitution is color-blind.

Racism is baked into the structure of American society and the consciousness of white Americans, he wrote; this will never change.

Any apparent progress made by black Americans is the result of a temporary convergence of their needs and the agenda of some group of white people. 

Slavery was abolished in Northern states because white workers there did not want to complete with slave labor.  Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation as a last-ditch effort to preserve the Union.  The 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were intended to foster Republican political dominance of the South.

When limited civil rights for black people ceased to serve the interests of powerful white people, those rights were wiped off the backboard, Bell wrote.

Judges in the 19th and early 20th centuries held that racism was a fact, which was not created by law and could not be abolished by law, but which the law had to accommodate.

Why, then, did the Supreme Court in 1954 suddenly decide that the Constitution was colorblind?

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Derrick Bell and one little black girl

August 26, 2021

Derrick Bell Jr., a civil rights lawyer and one of the seminal thinkers in critical race theory, wrote a book, Silent Covenants, about the  U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to desegregate schools and why it failed to achieve its purpose.

In 1961, he was a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, filing lawsuits calling for desegregation

He was called upon for help by two sisters, Winson and Dovie Hudson, pillars of the community in the all-black town of Harmony, Mississippi. 

Their town’s school, built by the residents themselves in the 1920s with help from Northern philanthropists, had been closed in retaliation for their civil rights activism.

He told them that he would not file a lawsuit to reopen a segregated school, but he would represent them if they were willing to sue to desegregate the county school district.

They agreed.  Several families signed onto the suit.

A bitter struggle followed.  Night-riders fired guns into private homes.  Many of those who signed on to the lawsuit lost their jobs or credit.

But they won.  A federal judge ordered desegregation of Harmony’s schools, starting with the first grade in the fall of 1964.

Just one couple, A.J. Lewis and his wife, Minnie, sent their little daughter, Debra, to the all-white school.  She was accompanied by federal marshals armed with shotguns, who escorted her through a large, hostile crowd.

The next day Mr. Lewis was fired from his job and whites tried to burn down his house.

But the American Friends Service Committee provided some financial aid.  Debra eventually graduated from the local high school, left the area and “held several interesting positions.”  When she died of pneumonia in 2001, the Harmony community erected a memorial in her honor.

Was it worth it?  All this struggle and suffering for just one person?

Years later, Bell met with the Hudson sisters, and said he wondered if he shouldn’t have helped them reopen their school instead of what he did.

“Well, Derrick, I also wondered if that was the best way to go about it,” Winson replied.  “It’s done now.  We made it and we are still moving.”

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The legend of black lawman Bass Reeves

July 27, 2021

Bronze statue of Bass Reeves in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Here’s something interesting I came across the other day.

WHO IS BASS REEVES? July 1838 – January 12, 1910

By Dave Amis

Born a slave in 1830s Texas, Bass was owned by Colonel Reeves, who taught him to shoot, ride, and hunt, but would not let him learn to read.  Bass grew to be a strong, physically impressive, and determined man who ran away at the age of 20 to be free.

Pursued by slave hunters, he narrowly escaped into the Indian Territory where Creek Indian Warriors accepted him into their tribe.  Bass learned to speak Creek, Cherokee and Seminole.  It is believed that Bass fought in the Indian Territory during the Civil War with the Union Indian brigades. ​

The Indian Territory, at this time, was a cesspool of violence.  In 1875 President Ulysses S. Grant named Congressman Isaac Parker, Federal Judge at Fort Smith, with the mandate to “save Oklahoma.”  The “Hanging Judge,” as he was soon to be known, brought in 200 deputy marshals to calm the growing chaos throughout the West.

The Indian Territory, later to include the Oklahoma Territory, in 1890, was the most dangerous area for federal peace officers in the Old West.  More than 120 lost their lives before Oklahoma became a state in 1907. ​

Bass Reeves

One of the first of the deputies hired by Judge Parker’s court was former slave from Texas, Bass Reeves.

Bass was known as an expert with pistol and rifle, stood about 6 feet 2 inches, weighed 180 pounds, and was said to have superhuman strength.

Being a former slave, Bass was illiterate.  He would memorize his warrants and writs.  In the thirty–two years of serving the people of the Oklahoma Territory, it is said he never arrested the wrong person due to the fact he couldn’t read.

Bass had a reputation throughout the territory for his ability to catch outlaws that other deputies couldn’t. 

He was known to work in disguise in order to get information and affect the arrest of fugitives he wanted to capture.

Bass is said to have arrested more than 3,000 people and killed 14 outlaws, all without sustaining a single gun wound.

Bass escaped numerous assassination attempts on his life.  He was the most feared deputy U.S. marshal to work the Indian Territory.

At the age of 67, Bass Reeves retired from federal service at Oklahoma statehood in 1907.  As an African-American, Bass was unable to continue in his position as deputy marshal under the new state laws.

He was hired as a city policeman in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he served for about two years until his death in 1910, at age 71, from Bright’s disease.

LINK

Was the Lone Ranger Black?  The Resurrection of Bass Reeves by Christian Wallace for the Texas Monthly.  This is the most reliable, most comprehensive and most readable article on Bass Reeves that I found on the Internet.  Many details of Reeves’ life are disputed, but there is no doubt that he was a remarkable individual who should be remembered.

Student debt may be dischargeable in bankrupcy

July 22, 2021

‘The Trillion-Dollar Lie by Matt Taibbi for TK News.  “Universities built palaces and financiers made fortunes in part through a lie: that student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.  But a series of court cases is helping unravel the scam.”

For years, it was believed that .. [the Bankruptcy Act of 2005] absolutely closed the door on bankruptcy for whole classes of borrowers, and one in particular: students.  Nearly fifteen years after the bill’s passage, journalists were still using language like, “The bill made it completely impossible to discharge student loan debt.”

Even I did this, writing multiple features about student loans stressing their absolute non-dischargeability, which is one of the reasons to write this now — I got this one wrong.

In 2017, I interviewed a 68 year-old named Veronica Martish who filed for personal bankruptcy — as I put it, “not to get free of student loans, of course, since bankruptcy protection isn’t available for students” — and described her being chased by collectors to her deathbed. “By the time I die, I will probably pay over $200,000 toward an $8,000 loan,” she said. “They chase you until you’re old, like me. They never stop. Ever.”

In fact, the bankruptcy situation was murky.  Beginning in the 2010s, judges all over the U.S. began handing down decisions …. that revealed lenders had essentially tricked the public into not asking basic questions, like: What is a “student loan”?  Is it anything a lender calls a student loan?  Is a school anything a lender calls a school?  Is a student anyone who takes a class?  Can lenders loan as much as they want, or can they only lend as much as school actually costs?  And so on.

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The news blackout on Julian Assange

July 8, 2021

Julian Assange is in prison, and may spend the rest of his life there, for the crime of telling the truth about U.S. government atrocities and blunders. 

What’s at stake in the Assange case is whether the U.S. government has unlimited power of secrecy, which pretty much the same thing as unlimited power.

If a government can commit crimes in secret, and make it a crime to reveal its crimes, then there is no limit to its power.  How can the citizens judge or vote on what they are forbidden to know about?

The video above gives background on legal issues in his case.  The articles linked below tell of recent developments, which have been ignored by most of the press.

LINKS

Julian Assange and the Collapse of the Rule of Law by Chris Hedges for Scheerpost.

The Assange Case Isn’t About National Security, It’s About Narrative Control by Caitlin Johnstone [Added 7/9/2021]

Assange’s Persecution Highlights U.S. and U.K. Hypocrisy by the Courage Foundation.

Key witness in Assange case admits to lies in indictment by Bjartmar Oddur Peyr Alexandrsson and Gunnar Hrafin Jónsson for Studin, an Icelandic magazine.  These reporters broke an important news story that hasn’t been picked up by the mainstream press.

The Weird, Creepy Media Blackout on Recent Assange Revelations by Caitlin Johnstone.

FBI Fabrication Against Assange Falls Apart by Craig Murray.

Desperate to Get Assange, U.S. Promises Prison Time in Australia, not in U.S. Supermax  by Joe Lauria for Consortium News.

UK High Court grants US government right to appeal on Assange extradition by Laura Tiernan for the World Socialist Web Site.

Matt Stoller on toleration of corporate crime

June 16, 2021

Matt Stoller is a journalist whose specialty is business monopoly.  He is the author of Goliath: the 100-year war between monopoly power and democracy. 

In a recent interview, he talked about how much better off we Americans would be if our government simply enforced the law against rich and powerful individuals and corporations.

So I’m reading this book, Empire of Pain [by Patrick Radden Keefe], which is on the opioid crisis … … … And it’s a really fun read. It’s not just a good story, it’s actually fun.  I mean, it’s this depressing topic, but it’s actually not a depressive book, which is very hard to do.

I think it’s a really amazing story about modern America and how our economic order works.  Because it’s basically the story of heroin dealers.  The Sackler family, they made Oxycontin knowing that it was addictive, that it was very similar to heroin.  And they induced a prescription drug and then [there was a] heroin crisis.

And they knowingly did it, but they didn’t do it alone.  They did it by taking advantage of a corrupt political system.  They hired corrupt actors and they also corrupted others.

They corrupted the FDA.  They hired Mary Jo White, who you and I know well as Obama’s SEC chair, but she was working for the Sacklers in the mid- 2000s as was Rudy Giuliani, Eric Holder.

There were some Virginia federal prosecutors who had the Sacklers dead to rights probably with felony charges, mail fraud, wire fraud, so on and so forth.  And they were going to bring those charges against the executives at the firm and then they were going to flip to the Sackler family themselves.

How you flip the mob, you start with the mid-level guys and then you go the way up. They were going to do that.

And Mary Jo White actually went over their heads, went to the political people and got them off the case basically. … … …

And just kind of at every stage, Mary Jo White has been helping really the bad guys here. … … …

This happened in lots of different ways. McKinsey was helping them. I mean, we know this. They funded lots of think tanks in DC.  We know why we have a heroin epidemic and it’s not because people just like drugs.

It’s because we allowed the Sackler family to turn our doctors into pill pushers.  And we did it by allowing them to corrupt our politics.  And these are people who should be in jail.

And people like Mary Jo White should be in jail. And the McKinsey consultants who helped set up this heroin epidemic should be in jail, but they’re not. 

And it’s because we have a broad crisis with the rule of law as applied to the powerful.

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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