Nel's New Day

October 19, 2018

DDT: Week 91 – Violence against Reporters Acceptable

After passing a tax cut for big business and the wealthiest, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided that the ballooning deficit is “disturbing.” The GOP solution is to reduce “entitlement programs”—the ones that taxpayers funded and the Republican legislators siphoned off to pay for the military and huge tax cuts for the wealthiest. Voters might want to consider this plan when they vote.

DDT has threatened to protect the Mexican border with military and overturn his shiny new trade agreement with the country if they don’t stop a caravan of Honduran immigrants crossing Mexico. He also plans to cut off foreign aid to Honduras, saving the United States a grand $127 million, equivalent to about a year of DDT’s weekend getaways. The differences of opinion in the White House led to a fight between Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton when Bolton dared to criticize DHS director Kirstjen Nielsen’s inability to keep immigrants from crossing the border.

Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and WaPo reporter, wrote about the importance of freedom of the press, the Saudis murdered him, and DDT is protecting Saudi Crown Prince MBS. After denying his death for weeks, Saudi Arabia claimed that he got in a “fist-fight”—presumably with the 15-person death squad sent with a bone saw into the Saudi embassy—and sadly died. DDT called the assumption “credible.” Photos show that members of the murder squad have close ties to Mohammed, including four of them who served as his guards during his visit to the U.S. last March–this 59-year-old man against 15 strong men possessing a bone saw. Here is the piece of trash that Saudi Arabia released. DDT lamented, “This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately.” Everytime he is asked about Khashoggi’s death, DDT says that he doesn’t want to lose $100 billion of arms sales. Now one of the murder squad of 15 has mysteriously died in a car crash.

DDT has restricted access to any information about the murder of Khashoggi by refusing to share any of this information with the Senate. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) described the situation “disappointing.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was derisive about the Saudi story, but most Republicans are covering for DDT by smearing Khashoggi’s reputation using conspiracy theories spread by the radical right-wing press that falsely accuse him of being sympathetic to Islamic terrorism. The GOP support for Saudi Arabia has even erased their memory that 15 of the 19 hijackers attacking the U.S. on 9/11 were Saudis. Saudi Arabia went so far as to claim that 9/11 was an Israeli plot.

Only after Saudi Arabia delivered $100 million to DDT as support for stabilization in northeastern Syria, did DDT agree that Khashoggi was probably dead. The State Department denied any relationship between the money and Mike Pompeo’s discussions with the Saudis about Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia has followed a pattern for paying off countries to support its foreign policies, and it may pay off Turkey for a joint investigation into the murder. Saudi Arabia is looking more and more like ISIS

In his rally this past week, DDT entertained his audience by praising Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) for his physical assault on a Guardian reporter. For the first time, DDT openly cheered a violent act against a journalist in the United States when he expressed his approval of Gianforte because he “body-slammed a reporter.” Gianforte pled guilty to the charge of assault and was sentenced to four days in jail which was changed to 40 hours of community service and a mandated anger-management course. The Guardian US editor, John Mulholland, said:

“The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian. To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the first amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it.

“In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them.”

A bizarre continuing story this week focused on the Interior Department where the IG, in the midst of four separate investigations into its secretary, Ryan Zinke, seemed to be fired. HUD Director Ben Carson emailed information about her replacement with Suzanne Israel Tufts, one of his own employees who is a DDT political appointee with no experience in government work. After a report was released showing that Zinke violated his department’s policy on travel, White House officials said they knew nothing about these personnel transactions. Interior Department spokeswoman said that Carson’s email “had 100 percent false information” and the long-term IG is staying.

Zinke permitted his wife to travel in government vehicles while she was assisting in a campaign for a political candidate, tried to make her a “volunteer” to justify his actions, told the department’s top lawyer to lie to the public about the situation, and ordered his security detail to drive an associate to the airport. His decision to take an unarmed security detail on his overseas vacation cost taxpayers $25,000. Other investigations include Zinke’s involvement in a Montana land deal and two Connecticut tribes’ application to open a new casino. Interior Department officials also objected to the new political appointee as the Interior’s IG.

The story didn’t end there, though.  HUD said that the information was just a “mistake” and that Tufts had a job interview for IG elsewhere in the government. She didn’t show up for the appointment and then resigned her HUD position. Although she hadn’t come to her HUD job for the past two months, she had been regularly paid. All of this drama and revelation in less than a week.

More drama came from the First Lady’s self-pity party when she called herself “the most bullied person” in the world during an interview. In 2009 Minnesota GOP Senate candidate Karin Housley compared then-First Lady Michelle Obama to the chimpanzee from 1951’s movie Bedtime for Bonzo. And Michelle Obama did not parade in a cheap “I really don’t care” jacket like Melania Trump did. The GOP has a decade-long record of describing the Obama family as simians. (BTW, Trump also said that her jacket was a putdown on the press.)

Senate Democrats have again learned that they cannot trust their GOP counterparts. They agreed to quick confirmation of 15 more DDT judicial nominees so that they could recess for campaigning. Republicans stayed in Washington to hold hearings on more nominees and claimed that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had agreed to these hearings. She didn’t. The handful of Republicans attending Wednesday’s hearing moved them forward.

Last Sunday, DDT’s 60 Minutes interview addressed the people he does and does not trust. Here’s a summary:

Asked about climate change, DDT again dragged out his Uncle John and their conversations to prove that he knew best. John Trump, who died in 1985, worked in electronics and X-ray machines. DDT said that he didn’t talk about his uncle about climate change, but he has “a natural instinct for science.”

Farmers—DDT’s base—have a better instinct about climate change, and they are concerned. They may not need to worry about tariffs stopping them from shipping soybeans; almost a foot of rain has turned their crops into a bog. Their fertilizer is running off into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico to create a dead zone the size of New Jersey that destroys the shrimping industry. Soil is annually disappearing at two to three tons an acre but regenerates at only a half-ton each year. Less soil means less protein in a kernel or pod, and corn becomes higher in starch. Corn yield can also drop by one half within 50 years. Des Moines Water Works faces $100 million in improvement costs because of toxic agricultural chemicals. Minnesota crops are either washed out or weedy. Kansas now requires 100 acres of prairie grass for a calf instead of 40 acres. The huge Ogallala Aquifer, vital to cattle feedlots, is down 150 feet at Dodge City in a little over a half century and may be gone in 20 years. Corn can’t be grown in western Kansas because of the heat.

More people in North Carolina are accepting the fact of climate change after two overwhelming hurricanes in rapid succession. While DDT hosted an insane rant from Kanye West in the Oval Office, needy people are without food, water, and electricity. FEMA director Brock Long told them to be patient, and Florida’s governor Rick Scott, running for U.S. Senate, said that “everyone just needs to help each other.”

Once again, the Republicans have failed, and midterm elections are 18 days away.

June 30, 2015

Last Week at SCOTUS: More Forward Than Backward

Two landmark cases came down from the Supreme Court last week—keeping health care for low-income people and granting marriage equality. Other lesser noticed cases, however, have influences on people across the United States. In seven other decisions last week, SCOTUS took at least five steps forward with two steps back, a better result than most progressive people expect from the current court.

The two steps backward were pollution and the death penalty:

pollution from power plantsPower plants can continue releasing unlimited mercury, arsenic, and other pollutants, in a step toward invalidating the first U.S. regulations to limit toxic heavy metal pollution from coal and oil-fired plants. The 5-4 conservative ruling, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, accused the EPA of not  considering costs to the power industry before creating its regulation. The EPA actually estimated costs, but Scalia didn’t believe the agency’s calculations. Fortunately, the case was remanded to the D.C. Circuit for further consideration. If the lower court eliminates the regulations, pro-coal states have no arguments against EPA’s proposed regulations on carbon emissions, perhaps leaving the EPA free to regulate carbon dioxide. The EPA estimated that the new regulations would prevent 11,000 premature deaths each year as well as increasing the IQ for children who survived.

Executions are still permitted to use cruel and unusual punishment because the conservative court didn’t stop the use of a drug that fails to sufficiently sedate the subject. Glossip v. Gross goes farther, however, because it makes the death penalty impervious to many constitutional challenges. In oral arguments for the court, the opinion’s author, Justice Samuel Alito, sneered at death penalty opponents and accused the drug companies refusal to sell products to kill people, a “guerrilla war against the death penalty.”

A key declaration in the opinion is that the United States is required to have methods to execute inmates despite the fact that there is “some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution.” Another part of the opinion is that lawyers must help decide the method of execution for their clients: a lawyer challenging one method of execution must name another, alternative method to be used instead.

Alito’s opinion brought fiery dissents, two of them read from the bench. Supported by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer protested the argument that the death penalty is constitution, writing, “I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution.” Scalia went back to the bench to call Breyer’s opinion “gobbledygook.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was far more scorching when she wrote:

“Petitioners contend that Oklahoma’s current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment—the chemical equivalent of being burned alive. But under the Court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake: because petitioners failed to prove the availability of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, the State could execute them using whatever means it designated.”

By refusing to hear a case preventing mandatory documentation for citizenship in federal elections, the Supreme Court blocked this requirement. Kansas and Arizona wanted a change in registration requirements to include proof of citizenship for these elections, but the 10th Circuit Court ruled that states cannot require this documentation.

 

Another step forward came from the Supreme Court decision to leave women’s clinics in Texas open until the court has heard the appeal about the state law to prevent abortions outside hospitals and “mini-hospitals,” ambulatory surgical centers. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the progressive justices in the 5-4 vote. Texas restrictions had already closed about half the state’s 41 clinics within the past four years, and the newest law shut down all but nine, concentrated in four urban, higher-income areas of the state.

Progressive voters in Arizona may also be rejoicing after a 5-4 Supreme Court vote ruled that a voter-approved independent redistricting commission in Arizona is constitutional. Complaints of legislative partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts led to the law that a legislative-chosen independent commission of two Republicans and two Democrats with a chair who is not a member of either party make this decision. Although the ballot measure for a constitutional amendment to approve the commission went into effect 15 years ago, Arizona Republicans had no problem with the redistricting process until Democrats started winning more seats in 2012.

The U.S. Constitution states that the “times, places, and manner” of federal elections “shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” The minority argued that a ballot measure is not part of “the legislature” because it is determined by the people of the state although the court had earlier decided that “legislature” can refer to the process exercised by people through direct democracy. The losing lawyer, Paul Clement, failed to persuade the majority with his argument that those election laws didn’t take power away from the legislature but the creation of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission did.

In arguing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan asked if all the voter ID laws created by ballot measures would then also be unconstitutional. Kennedy argued that a constitutional amendment had given power to the people by allowing them to select U.S. senators.

In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “What chumps!” in reference to the Congressional members who passed the 17th Amendment in 2012 that was then ratified by 41 states. The ruling was only for Arizona, but it may have far-reaching effects outside that state. Twelve other states also have commissions to assist in the redistrict process. The ruling also empowers voters in other states to reduce partisan control of the U.S. House. Studies show nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions leads to “districts both more competitive and more likely to survive legal challenge.” According to Ginsburg, 21 states have created initiative or direct lawmaking power, and 18 states can adopt amendments to the state constitution.

Arizona redistricting will return to the Supreme Court in the coming year when justices will hear another case accusing the independent commission of using race and partisanship for the congressional boundaries.

The Supreme Court struck a blow against the prison industrial complex in Johnson v. United States with the ruling that part of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) is unconstitutionally vague. Passed in 1984, the law requires judges to sentence people to 15 years life if they have three prior convictions for “serious drug offense” or “violent felonies.” The law, however, had no concrete definition for a “violent felony.” A clause in the ACCA sends felons to prison for any crime that “presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” It could be drunk driving, fleeing police, failing to report to a parole officer, or even attempted burglary. Johnson’s prison sentence was extended because of a prior conviction of possession of a sawed off shotgun. Writing the opinion for the 8-1 decision, Scalia wrote that the clause in the law lacking a definition violates due process. Alito likes the law, and the ACCA was very popular with lawmakers because many states are required to fill up beds in private prisons.

prisoners

This room in the California Institution for Men four years shows how overcrowded that prisons have become. Photo by Ann Johansson for The New York Times.

A huge victory for civil rights came from the 5-4 decision in Texas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities. Kennedy again joined the four progressive judges to rule that a lawsuit under fair housing law doesn’t need to prove that a developer or the government knowingly discriminated—only that the policy had a disparate impact which can frequently be shown with statistics.

The case came from Texas’ distribution of tax credits for low-income housing almost exclusively in racially segregated low-income areas, denying minorities few opportunities to move to integrated or wealthier areas. The opinion in this case also requires that decision-makers consider race to comply with the Fair Housing Act and design remedial orders to eliminate racial disparities through race-neutral means.

The typical 5-4 vote had one almost-silent justice writing the dissent. Clarence Thomas used an unfortunate example for his belief that “disparate-impact doctrine defies not only the statutory text, but reality itself.”

“Racial imbalances do not always disfavor minorities.… And in our own country, for roughly a quarter-century now, over 70 percent of National Basketball Association players have been black.”

Taxpayer funds for religious schools may be on the docket next year after Colorado’s supreme court ruled that conservative families in affluent neighborhoods can not use public funds to send their children to religious charter schools.  A big player in this area is the Koch Brothers, whose Americans for Prosperity PAC works to expand voucher programs and buy school board elections throughout the country. In just one Colorado county, AFP spent $350,000 to dismantle teachers’ unions and public schools. GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush is also a big player in the school privatization program. Conservatives desperately need students in private religious schools to indoctrinate them.

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