Nel's New Day

February 4, 2023

Balloon Blown Up, Courts Go Right-Wing

More balloons: President Joe Biden ordered a Chinese balloon, which crossed the U.S. after entering Alaska a week ago, shot down off the coast of South Carolina. The size was estimated at the equivalent of three school buses, and it had traveled about 12 miles in the sky. Biden waited until it was no longer above land, thus not endangering civilians. His administration also had time to analyze the balloon and learn about what it was doing with its “sophisticated communications gear” and how it was performing. Details of shooting. (Photo by Randall Hill, Reuters)

An F-22 Raptor took it down with a single missile at 2:39 pm on February 4. The pilot’s call sign, Frank 01, was named after Frank Luke Jr., “the Arizona Balloon Buster” destroying German observation balloons and enemy planes. Downed in water about 47 feet deep, the balloon’s recovery may be simple. A Navy salvage ship will start in two days to bring it up with divers and unstaffed underwater vessels.

The administration had blocked the balloon’s ability to collect information undermining U.S. national security. Yet Republicans had a number of criticisms, one of them allowing the balloon to proceed across the country. None of them had commented on the four Chinese surveillance balloons in U.S. airspace during the last few years, three of them while Deposed Donald Trump (DDT) was still in the White House. Other than the balloons during DDT’s administration, which an official called “no big deal,” other hostile aircraft was seen during his four years; i.e., swarms of drones over Colorado and Nebraska in 2019 and January 2020.

House Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-KY) fueled conspiracy theories for the Fox network audience when he suggested that the balloon contained “bioweapons” and asked if it took off “from Wuhan.” He called Biden “compromised” and said he will target and investigate him. If his theories turned out to be true, which is extremely unlikely, shooting it down would spread Comer’s bioweapons. Comer missed the Pentagon briefing to appear on television.

For at least two years, the Pentagon has been working on high-altitude inflatables flying between 60,000 and 90,000 feet to add to its surveillance network and track hypersonic weapons developed by China and Russia. The Defense Department is also developing drones equipped with “stratospheric payloads” along with balloons to track moving ground targets, provide communications, and intercept electronic signals.

More Supreme Court problems: Chief Justice John Roberts insisted on an in-house investigation into the leaking of a rough draft overturning Roe v. Wade because he could do a better job. Yet he discovered nothing from the probe. CNN, however, has found out about the “security” used within the high court.

  • Some justices often use personal email accounts for sensitive transmissions instead of secure servers established to guard this information. (Lock them up, anyone?)
  • The court’s employees use printers that don’t produce logs and are able to print sensitive documents off-site without tracking.
  • “Burn bags” for sensitive materials to be destroyed are left open and unattended in hallways. Others are filled to capacity and left near desks.
  • The code for access into non-public areas weren’t changed very often.
  • Covid relaxed the rule that sensitive information could not leave the facilities without appropriate authorization. Even before the pandemic, no mechanisms existed to check what was taken from the court.

The North Carolina Supreme Court voted 5-2 along party lines for a hearing to reconsider its decision striking down the congressional districts as unconstitutional party gerrymandering. State districts and a separate voter ID case may also be reconsidered. These cases were all decided before the partisan majority on the court flipped to Republican. The case Moore v. Harper, already argued before the Supreme Court with no decision yet, could become moot, depending on the outcome of the hearing. Moore’s focus is whether North Carolina’s original ruling violated the power of the state’s general assembly to determine maps for congressional districts. The case filed by Republicans asks that the current North Carolina court ruling be overturned.

With the state hearing set for March 14, the court could hand down a decision before the U.S. Supreme Court does. Republicans asked the GOP judges to overturn the decision that the partisan gerrymander was so egregious that it violated the state constitution. SCOTUS heard Republicans argue in favor of the independent state legislature doctrine that only a state legislature can set rules for a federal election, rules that cannot be changed by state courts. Deciding in favor of the Republicans could completely change the way that election rules are determined in all the states.

Immigration is one of GOP favorites in attacking Biden, but illegal migrant crossings decreased by 40 percent between December 2022 and January 2023. Biden has a new policy offering two-year permits each month for 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela according to an agreement with Mexico. Texas AG Ken Paxton is leading A Group of 20 in a lawsuit to overturn Biden’s policy.

Men who want to kill their partners and families and commit mass shootings can sigh with relief now that a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court, the most conservative appeals court with six of 17 judges appointed by DDT, has struck down the law preventing people with domestic violence restraining orders from owning guns. Two of the three judges on the panel for U.S. v. Rahimi were DDT appointments; the third came from Ronald Reagan.

Once again, history is the reason; judges maintain the Founding Fathers didn’t have any objections to domestic abusers carrying guns. (Muskets?) A question is how far “originalists” will go. Men beating their wives was legal in the U.S. until 1871 when Arkansas passed the first law against the abuse.  

The case was against a man prevented by a civil protective order banning him from harassing, stalking, or threatening his ex-girlfriend and their child was overturned after the Supreme Court decision last year in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. The opinion set new standards for the Second Amendment by demanding justification of gun safety laws by showing they are “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” A statement from DOJ AG Merrick B. Garland:

“Nearly 30 years ago, Congress determined that a person who is subject to a court order that restrains him or her from threatening an intimate partner or child cannot lawfully possess a firearm. Whether analyzed through the lens of Supreme Court precedent, or of the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, that statute is constitutional. Accordingly, the Department will seek further review of the Fifth Circuit’s contrary decision.”

Thursday’s ruling overturned the federal law and is not likely to impact similar state laws, including one in California. Still, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, called the judges who issued the ruling “zealots” who are “hellbent on a deranged vision of guns for all, leaving government powerless to protect its people.”

States searching for gun safety laws are reviewing the language. California’s Gov. Gavin Newson endorsed a bill banning people from carrying concealed guns in almost all public places except for churches and businesses posting signs saying guns are acceptable. Churches are popular places for mass shootings.

Bruen said “ordinary, law-abiding citizens [can] carry handguns publicly for their self-defense.” The Fifth Circuit classifies this man as “ordinary, law-abiding”: during six weeks he fired an AR-15 into the home of his Percocet buyer, shot at a driver after an accident and drove off, returned to fire a different gun and again flee, shot at a police car, and fired several rounds in the air after his friend’s credit card was declined at a fast-food restaurant. Three conservative judges ruled he has the right to own a gun because he is “part of the political community entitled to the Second Amendment’s guarantees.” The man was also accused of dragging his girlfriend into his car, shooting at witnesses who saw him assault her, and threatening the girlfriend with shooting her if she told anyone what happened.

DDT’s judge who wrote the opinion said that several colonies and states had laws to disarm classes of people considered dangerous but “the purpose of these ‘dangerousness’ laws was the preservation of political and social order, not the protection of an identified person from the specific threat posed by another.”

The source of pins glorifying the AR-15 worn by some House members instead of flags is Andrew Clyde (R-GA), who said the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, was like a “normal tourist visit.” He owns a gun shop.

What did Republicans say about Biden’s amazing jobs report? Nothing. But they greatly admired DDT in 2018 when his numbers weren’t nearly as good. And Republicans have said nothing about the cost of gas going down over one-third between June and December 2022. 

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