Nel's New Day

May 11, 2018

DDT: Weeks 67-68 – Iran, North Korea Plus Religion, Giuliani

Catching up on the last two weeks of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) roller-coaster events:

Will the United States go to war to support Israel? That question may be front and center now that DDT has withdrawn from the Iran agreement for that nation’s denuclearization. Israel fired on targets in Syria that were believed to be Iranian soon after DDT’s withdrawal. Claims that Iran fired 20 rockets at the Golan Heights the most extensive Israeli bombing on Syria since the countries signed a disengagement agreement after the October war of 1973. Israel has illegally occupied Golan Heights since the Six-Day War in 1967. DDT’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, are scheduled to arrive in Israel soon for the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on May 14. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has assured Israel that the U.S. will stand at its side in a fight.

DDT’s officials are circulating a report from Securities Studies Group, an organization with ties to DDT’s national security adviser John Bolton, that provides strategy for a regime change in Iran is being circulated among DDT’s officials. The plan is to stir unrest and help the Iran public to drive a wedge between the people and the nation’s rulers. The plan sounds identical to Russia’s approach to control the 2018 presidential election.

Israel’s military escalation came after DDT decided to please some of his constituents—including Vladimir Putin and Israel—by withdrawing from the Iranian deal. Russia’s economy desperately needs the rubles from the increase in oil prices if Iranian resources aren’t available. At the same time, Russia is concerned about Israel’s attacks on Iran, but DDT may side with Israel, again separating him from Putin. Perhaps DDT figures that a world war would allow him to declare military law, like in Turkey, so that he can remain dictator forever. Bernard Avishai discusses Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s motivations and the dangers of his country in pushing a war in the Middle East.

DDT announced his withdrawal several days before the deadline at the same time the media jumped on the millions of dollars in “pay to play” paid to his personal lawyer Michael Cohen for access to DDT. Since payments made to DDT’s personal lawyer were first announced, the amount has vastly grown, for example AT&T’s $600,000 to Cohen for access to DDT instead of $200,000. CEO Randall Stephenson called Cohen’s hiring “a big mistake,” and top lobbyist for the company, Bob Quinn, has retired. Quinn was a leader in opposing net neutrality. AT&T also paid Cohen to get approval for its $85 billion merger with Time Warner. Drugmaker Novartis agreed that its $1.2 million contract with Cohen was “a mistake.” Reports as of now show that Cohen was paid $2.95 million through Essential Consultants, the shell company Cohen set up to funnel hush money to Stormy Daniels and perhaps others. The involved companies learned about Essential Consultants because Cohen reached out to them.

In his work to guarantee never-ending war for the U.S., former VP Dick Cheney, who mythologized weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, went on Fox Business directing DDT to believe the falsehood that Iran has these weapons. He also encouraged the continuation of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (aka torture).

DDT is also hoping that people will ignore all the Russia and Cohen scandals because three U.S. prisoners have been released from North Korea. He also hopes that his talks with North Korea will result in his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, even encouraging his rally crows to chant, “No-bel, No-bel. When the prisoners arrived at 3:00 am, he said, “I think you probably broke the all time in history television rating for three o’clock in the morning.” DDT also thanked North Korean president Kim Jong-Un “ who really was excellent to these three incredible people.” They had been imprisoned for at least a year, and one of them had been sentenced to ten years’ hard labor in one of the world’s most brutal prisons. DDT plans to meet with Kim Jong-Un in Singapore on June 12.

While people become excited about the release of prisoners in North Korea, they forget the four U.S. citizens still held in Iran for longer than the newly released NK ones. DDT’s withdrawal spells disaster for these people, one of them 81 years old. Another two U.S. men are still illegally imprisoned in Turkey. 

Although DDT’s new lawyer Rudy Giuliani appeared on Sean Hannity only nine days ago, so much has happened that it could have been last year. Giuliani, DDT’s lawyer for one day, said that DDT had paid Cohen $35,000 a week to clean up hush money to Stormy Daniels about her affair with DDT as well as “things that might come up.” DDT first agreed that he paid off Daniels and then tried to deny that he did, going so far as to say that Giuliani “will get his fact straight.” Giuliani lacks the skill to stay quiet, a serious problem in court. (Transcript for the program.)  Giuliani went on another talk show to say that he knew the payment didn’t look good immediately before the election but changed his story to say that the settlement was made solely “to protect the President’s family.” He also might be waiving attorney-client privilege by saying that he had conferred with DDT before he talked about DDT paying Cohen. About the payoff, Giuliani said:

“I don’t think the president realized he paid him back for that specific thing until we made him aware of the paperwork.”

Despite being released from his law firm and claiming “sole concentration” as DDT’s lawyer, Giuliani appeared in a Florida court today to represent a woman accused of purchasing car insurance ten minutes after her car crash. He isn’t licensed to practice law in Florida but said the woman was her personal assistant.

DDT’s staff tried to prep him in advance of any interview with Robert Mueller, but he could answer only two questions in four hours. The argument might be that an interview could cut into time for his important work in the Oval Office, but evidence indicates that he “works” less than two hours a day. DDT is still falsely accusing that the investigators are Democrats as he continues his rant against the investigation. DDT is back to saying that he wants an interview with Mueller, but most people no longer believe him.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) issued DOJ with a subpoena after he was refused extensive information about a longtime intelligence source for the CIA and FBI with the concern that the source could be jeopardized if Nunes discovers the person’s identity. Common knowledge indicates that Nunes wants the information to take to the White House. DOJ officials offered a classified briefing about his demand, but Nunes threatened a contempt charge against AG Jeff Sessions. He also has not bothered to read earlier classified information that he demanded. Nunes is under investigation for three potential campaign law violations.

Giuliani’s bombshell about DDT’s paying off Stormy Daniels intersected with DDT’s appearance for the day of prayer, causing CNBC to tweet, “Trump leads National Prayer Day event after saying he repaid lawyer for hush money to porn star.” DDT signed the “White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative” that permits religious organizations to use taxpayer money to discriminate on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, allow religious organizations to be “experts” for public policy, remove requirements that religious groups refer anyone objecting to their teachings to other programs, and use his new “faith-based office” to guarantee no blocking of “liberty of conscience” of believers. (Sounds like Sharia law for evangelicals.) The major groups wanting to deny services to LGBTQ people are Mormons and white evangelicals, 20 percent of the population. Among that 20 percent, 47 percent think that it’s wrong to refuse business based on religious convictions.

States such as Kansas and Oklahoma are already passing laws permitting adoption agencies to prevent same-gender couples from adopting children. A lesbian couple in Mississippi was denied an adoption by the state the day before they were scheduled to take their daughter home despite a court ruling that the Mississippi’s ban on same-gender adoptions was struck down by a federal judge in 2016. In another case, the state Supreme Court ruled that a lesbian couple could divorce; a dissenting justice, Jess Dickinson, is now head of the agency denying the couple their legally adopted child. Bryan Fischer, former spokesman for the American Family Association (AFA), announced on his show that only Christians have First Amendment rights and protections.

Anti-LGBTQ preacher Kevin Swanson will hold the Bible Family Conference in Washington, D.C. on August 10-11. He wants to execute all LGBTQ people and all Girls Scout leaders because they support LGBTQ and women’s rights. He also wants Boy Scouts, now called Scouts BSA because it recruits girls as well as boys, to have a “sodomy merit badge” because openly gay scouts can join the organization. The name of Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) has disappeared as keynote speaker.

The six worst states for LGBTQ support are Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia, Louisiana, and North Carolina.

More later!

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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