Nel's New Day

February 22, 2023

February 21 – Three Major Events

On February 21, a Wisconsin primary selected candidates for its state Supreme Court direction. Four candidates—two conservatives and two progressives—ran for the open position after a retiring conservative Republican judge left the court with a 3-3 split between positions. Conservatives have controlled the court for 14 years in union-busting and voter suppression. Primary candidates were progressives Janet Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell and conservatives Jennifer Dorow and Daniel Kelly.

On April 4, voters will pick between the top two vote-getters. With 94 percent of the vote in, Protasiewicz took 46.7 percent with 435,253 votes and Kelly got 228,152 votes for 24.3 percent. Dorow received 203,959 votes, and Mitchell came in last at 70,457 votes. Claiming the race is nonpartisan, Kelly attacked Protasiewicz for addressing her views on abortion and the state’s gerrymandered district maps, issues that might come before the court. Calling himself a GOP spokesman, Kelly was paid $120,000 by state and national Republicans to advise on election issues such as having fake GOP electors cast ballots for former Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) after Biden won the state by 21,000 votes. DDT endorsed Kelly for his failed reelection in 2020 as justice. 

Both Dorow and Kelly attended Pat Robertson’s Regent University, a law school in a five-way tie for the lowest ranked law school by the U.S. News and World Report. The school’s dean stated the school seeks to create “Christ-centered attorneys” who have a “Christian worldview of law.” A 2007 article described how a constitutional law class at the school began with a discussion about preserving Christian values. Kelly has declared that the Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality “will eventually rob the institution of marriage of any discernible meaning.” Both conservative candidates were endorsed by anti-abortion groups.

With donations from outside groups, conservatives collected $3.4 million and liberals received $3.5 million. More millions may pour in, resulting in tens of millions of dollars, perhaps up to $30 million. Wisconsin is one of the most pivotal states in the nation for voting, the tipping point in the last two presidential elections and determined presidential elections by under one percent in four of the last six elections. Justices are elected for ten-year terms.

Issues for upcoming sessions are an 1849 anti-abortion law allowing exceptions only for the life of the pregnant woman and revisitation of  gerrymandered legislative maps.

In the same primary, DDT’s endorsed candidate for state Senate, state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, lost to state Rep. Dan Knodl in a three-way GOP race. Knodl goes up against Democrati Jodi Habush Sinykin on April 4. Brandtjen had been banned from the GOP caucus by Assembly Republicans because she pushed conspiracy theories about Biden losing Wisconsin and demanded that the legislature declare DDT the winner. The Senate race became open after the GOP incumbent retired. A GOP victory gives the party a two-thirds majority, enough votes to override vetoes by the Democratic governor as well as convict “civil officers” in impeachment trials. The state constitution, however, doesn’t define civil officers. The Supreme Court ruled out legislators from that category, but the governor is an impeachable officer.

February 21 also marked President Joe Biden’s speech in Warsaw in a pledge to support Ukraine despite any peril. He urged the world’s nations to continue with a unified defense of Ukraine to save global democracy and protect against Russia’s crimes against humanity. Ridiculing Putin, Biden called him a failed leader who badly miscalculated the invasion. “President Putin’s craven lust for land and power will fail,” Biden said, “and the Ukrainian people’s love for their country will prevail.” Fox network’s Peter Ducey criticized Biden’s speech because it was about democracy.

The day after the speech, Biden will meet with leaders of the Bucharest Nine, NATO’s eastern nations particularly worried about Russian aggression and with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Hours before, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the U.S. for his invasion of Ukraine and lied about its “neo-Nazi regime.” He also announced he would suspend Russia’s participation in the 2011 New Start pact, the only existing treaty regulating U.S. and Russia nuclear arsenals. Putin limited the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles and warheads deployed by the two countries. Although he claimed he wouldn’t “withdraw” from the treaty, he made a covert threat to use these weapons in Ukraine. Putin said he wouldn’t permit NATO countries to inspect its nuclear arsenal.

Beyond Ukraine, Putin promised to build a new highway to Vladivostok and pictured Russia as open and resilient while avoiding any mention of his military defeats in Ukaine, increasing casualties, and Russia’s economic challenges caused by the war. To Putin, international isolation is how Russia will cleanse itself of harmful alien ideologies. Putin accompanied his lies with a rocket attack at a crowded bus station in Kherson, killing at least six people and injuring scores more.

The third major event of February 21 was the 150 minutes of argument before the Supreme Court for Gonzalez v. Google, a decision that could completely change the internet. At this time, posting of content by internet companies is protected from lawsuits by a federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. No tech platform “shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

The family of an exchange student killed in an Islamic State attack filed a lawsuit accusing Google of liability for ISIS recruiting on YouTube. The high court decision can either allow tech companies these protections for posting content from outside parties or make them responsible for all content. Justice Elena Kagan cut to the chase when she questioned how far the justices should go in cutting back protection:

“We’re a court. We really don’t know about these things. You know, these are not like the nine greatest experts on the internet.”

Kagan and Justice Brett Kavanaugh considered the large number of lawsuits after a ruling in favor of the Gonzalez family. Kavanaugh wanted to turn the situation over to Congress. Justice Amy Coney Barrett suggested turning the case back to the lower courts for more work. Previous courts have allowed Section 230 to protect tech companies from liability for photos, videos, and other posts shared on their services.

Google argues that the law gives it immunity from legal responsibility for videos found by recommendation algorithms. The Gonzelez’s attorney accused that this interpretation of Section 230 promotes harmful content and denies victims an opportunity to seek redress.

Justice Clarence Thomas, a frequent critic of big tech and their protections, said he didn’t understand how YouTube could aid and abet terrorism if the “neutral” algorithms operate the same way for both  information about the Islamic State and making rice pilaf. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. questioned whether recommending a video to someone expressing interest in a subject might be the “21st Century” equivalent of a bookseller showing a customer books about a subject such as sports.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Kagan told the family’s attorney that his argument about algorithmic recommendations was extremely broad. They are used for every search, and his position could mean Section 230 provides no protection. In questioning Google’s lawyer, Lisa Blatt, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson indicated that Section 230 was to encourage tech companies to remove offensive content as well as protect them from liability. Blatt stuck to her position that Section 230 is clear and strong.

Google won in lower courts sometimes with muddy results. Some prominent judges, however, claim these courts read Section 230 too broadly. A problem is the rapid development of technology since Congress passed the 27-year-old law. The new chatbots provide another issue by turning tech companies into publishers instead of just distributors from other companies.

The Supreme Court isn’t finished with technology. On February 22, justices hear arguments in Twitter v. Taamneh, another case brought by the family of a terror-attack victim alleging social media companies are responsible for allowing the Islamic State to use their platforms. Barrett wants to tie the outcome of that case to Gonzalez. The Supreme Court could also consider challenges to a Florida law barring social media companies from suspending politicians and a Texas law blocking companies from removing content based on a user’s political ideology. 

U.S. Naval Academy law professor Jeff Kosseff, an authority on Section 230, said that several justices seemed inclined to limit Section 230 but lacked consensus of a new legal standard. Kavanaugh worried about “a lot of economic dislocation [that] would really crash the digital economy with all sorts of effects on workers and consumers, retirement plans and what have you.”

An analysis in The Hill expressed concern that narrowing Section 320 would disproportionately impact small and mid-size companies. Yelp filed an amicus brief stating “deceptive reviews would flourish and consumers would be harmed” without the protections. Reddit’s brief said narrowing Section 230 protections “risks devastating the internet,” and that smaller and startup platforms depend on it to “foster diverse approaches to content moderation and to challenge the dominant industry leaders.” Another concern is that narrowing the protections would stymie innovation because smaller businesses lack resources to adjust to a narrower protection.

Democrats want a more aggressive job removing hate speech and dangerous disinformation; Section 230 protects them from being accountable. Republicans accuse the companies of an anti-conservative bias; Section 230 protects them from being held accountable.


September 17, 2022

Loss of Democracy on Constitution Day

September 17, 2022 is the little noticed Constitution Day. The U.S. Constitution was signed in Philadelphia 235 years ago, and leaders swore to uphold this framework for democracy. In the beginning, it protected only white men; almost 200 years were required to give women and minorities more equal rights.

Meant to be limits and protection for the government power, the Constitution divides the rule of the government into three parts to block a monarch or a tyrant. Congress writes laws, levies taxes, borrows money, declares war, pays debts, establishes courts, sets up a postal service, and provides for “the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” The president can veto laws, but Congress can override the veto. The judicial branch settles disputes between states and guarantees a jury trial.

A major problem after 235 years is the continued belief of some states’ governments that, although they cannot strip people of the right to vote, they can stop citizens from this right, preferably the low-income and minorities who are feared by conservatives to support their rights. At this time, Republicans use threats and violence to destroy the ability of people to participate in the voting process, both in going to the polls and in working to help people carry out their constitutional right to vote.

These attempts to prohibit voting go beyond the 400+ voter suppression bills introduced in 48 states creating barriers to register, vote by mail, and vote along with redistricting, gerrymandering, and mass purges of voter rolls. Repeated requirements of “citizenship papers” intimidate naturalized citizens, and threats of violence against election workers drive them away from what they see as their civic duty. Inside the polling places, watchers can frighten voters by standing close to them, challenging ballots, or brandishing weapons. Outside, bullies can wear military-style garb when confronting voters, write down voters’ license plate numbers, block the polling entrance, aggressive question voter, and follow them.

After the election, Republicans who lose spread the lie that they actually won but the election was rigged—even if they lose to another Republican.

Recent events are threatening U.S. democracy and its foundations:

A judge appointed by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) continues to declare DDT above the law because he was elected to the presidency in 2016. She also ignores the importance of national security documents by delaying any resolution to the ones found lying around during the summer break at Mar-a-Lago. Having named DDT’s choice as “special master,” Judge Aileen Cannon denied the DOJ request to pursue an investigation into classified documents while the master looks through the 11,000 records taken with a search warrant. His deadline is November 30, but no earlier deadline was set for the classified documents.

The DOJ asked an appeals court, comprised of six DDT-apppointed judges out of 11, to permit criminal investigators to examine the seized classified materials while the master works on the other records. Its filing wants those “causing the most serious and immediate harm to the government and the public.” It argues that classified documents are by definition the property of the government, not a former president or a private club and not subject to personal attorney-client privilege. DDT has not cited no legal authority to executive privilege keeping the executive branch, to which the DOJ belongs, from reviewing its own records. Cannon was skeptical that these highly classified documents could cause any harm to national security and indicated a lack of “unquestioning trust in the determinations of the Department of Justice.”

DDT has until Tuesday to respond to the DOJ’s filing. He may have a decent lawyer this time. Using private donations to his PAC Save America, DDT paid Chris Klise $3 million up front. DDT also used mob-like innuendo for violence when he told far-right conservative Hugh Hewett in an interview that people would not “stand for it” if he were indicted.  

DDT constantly lies about the documents he stole and stored at Mar-a-Lago, the reason that a search warrant was needed after a DDT lawyer signed an official document lying about all documents being submitted to the DOJ by June 2022. This lie followed DDT’s lie to the National Archives that none of the documents was sensitive or classified. Instead, Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told the archives that DDT had only 12 boxes of “news clippings.” Since Meadows’ claim, officials have recovered 42 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago, including top-secret U.S. operations and information about a foreign government’s nuclear-defense readiness. Some of the documents had been torn up.

Far right states use parental rights as an excuse to strip bookshelves of books that don’t support heterosexual white supremacism and eliminate all non-white supremacism from the curriculum, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has removed the rights of parents who support their trans children. With the help of his AG Ken Paxton, who is scheduled to be deposed for his fraud indictment soon after the November election, Abbott has orchestrated a regulation that identifies any medical care for trans youth as child abuse. Texas has no legal restrictions against trans care.  

Because of Abbott’s and Paxton’s regulation, a 13-year-old trans boy was taken from his class at school and interrogated for an hour about intimate personal details without any parents present. Before he received puberty blockers, he had suffered from depression, suicidal thoughts, and difficulty attending classes. The questioning caused him to have a “meltdown,” according to his mother, and he has started missing school and has anxiety attacks because he no longer sees school as a safe place. State child services is investigating the mother for physical child abuse, calling the boy’s testosterone treatment “illegal.” The boy’s treatment is under the guidance of a pediatrician, endocrinologist, and two therapists. Medical experts widely agree that gender-affirming care is medically necessary, and puberty delay can be reversed.

A state court already ruled against Abbott in the case of one family, but he continued to persecute other families for months. An injunction from a state judge last Friday shielded a group of families because such investigations could cause “probable, imminent and irreparable injury” to the families, including “gross invasions of privacy in the home and school, and the resulting trauma felt” by the family, as well as an increased risk of depression and suicide. The state made an immediate appeal to overrule the judge, and the mother of an 18-year-old trans boy is afraid she’ll lose her job with a child abuse charge.

Montana officials plan to defy a judge’s order to permit trans person’s gender changes on birth certificates, and Virginia now requires transgender students to use school programs and facilities according to sex assigned at birth.  

Abbott sent two more busloads of migrants to the home of VP Kamala Harris, and Florida Gov Ron DeSantis is trying to cover his use of Florida money to fly Venezuelan and Colombian migrants out of San Antonio (TX) to Martha’s Vineyard. He claims that all the migrants planned to go to Florida. He also said they knew their destination, but they thought they would be going to cities, close to public transportation, instead of to an island of 20,000 people. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre compared DeSantis’ actions to those of other traffickers:

“These are the kinds of tactics we see from smugglers in places like Mexico and Guatemala. And for what, a photo op? Because these governors care about creating political theater.”

The GOP has bragged that Hispanics are leaving the Democratic party, but DeSantis may have reversed that trend. The Cuban community, identifying with Venezuelans fleeing communism, compared the move to that of deceased Cuban dictator who relocated Cubans in the early 1960s.

On Constitution Day, U.S. knowledge of basic facts about government declined for the first time in six years:

  • Only 47 percent could name all three branches of government, down from 56 percent last year and the first decline since 2016.
  • One-fourth (25 percent) could not name one single branch of the government.
  • 26 percent could not name any First Amendment freedoms. 
  • Only 24 percent could name freedom of religion, down from 56 percent last year.
  • Only 20 percent could name freedom of the press, down from 50 percent last year.
  • 63 percent cited freedom of speech, down from 74 percent last year; right to assembly 16 percent, down from 30 percent; and right to petition 6 percent, down from 20 percent.
  • 9 percent, tripled from 3 percent last year, put the right to bear arms in the First Amendment instead of the Second Amendment, but 82 percent know the Supreme Court upheld the right to own guns.
  • 78 percent know that the Bill of Rights protects people from illegal searches and seizures.
  • Only 55 percent know that a 5-4 ruling in the Supreme Court makes the decision law, down from 61 percent last year.
  • 76 percent the federal government cannot establish an official religion, and 88 percent know atheists have the same rights as other citizens.

Now if only the Supreme Court would learn these rights.


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