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posted by martyb on Monday May 29 2017, @01:47PM   Printer-friendly
from the Drain-The-Swamp dept.

There is a federal law saying that lobbyists need to be granted a waiver to work in the administration. This is overseen by the Office of Government Ethics. Historically, for both Democrat and Republican administrations, the White House has complied with providing these waivers.

The Trump Administration has not provided these waivers. Walter Shaub, the director of the OGE, has set a deadline of June 1 to provide these documents. The White House Council has provided instructions to employees to not provide this documentation, claiming providing them would be an undue administrative burden. This raises the question of why it would be an undue burden: due to the number of people provided waivers or the extent of the waivers granted.

Editorializing a bit, it is both heartening that the head of the office for Ethics is willing to proverbially "walk the talk" by putting his own position at risk to do the right thing, as well as depressing that such behavior is the laudable exception rather than the accepted norm.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Monday May 29 2017, @05:11AM   Printer-friendly
from the clueless-people-praising-authoritarianism dept.

Common Dreams reports

Speaking to CNBC on Monday [May 22], [Commerce Secretary Wilbur] Ross, who accompanied Trump on the weekend trip to Riyadh, said he found it "fascinating" that he did not see "a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard".

[...] Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in the Center for Middle East Policy, told CNBC afterwards that Saudi Arabia is among the "most repressive" of free speech in the Middle East, adding: "Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy which forbids any political protest or any manifestation of dissent. It is also a police state that beheads opponents."

In Why Were the Saudi Streets So Quiet?, also via Common Dreams, Medea Benjamin adds:

Protest is illegal in the kingdom. It's also against the law to "distort the reputation of the kingdom" or "break allegiance with the ruler". A 2014 anti-terrorism law treats virtually all free expression as acts of terrorism, including "calling for atheist thought"; "contacting groups or individuals opposed to the Kingdom"; and "seeking to disrupt national unity" by calling for protests. People who dare dissent are publicly flogged, tortured in prison, and sometimes publicly beheaded.

U.S. President to Visit Saudi Arabia; Arms Sales Expected

Original Submission

posted by on Sunday May 28 2017, @03:22PM   Printer-friendly
from the why-so-choosy-about-rocks? dept.

The Interior Department is facing a lawsuit from a Christian geologist who claims he was not allowed to collect rocks from Grand Canyon National Park because of his creationist beliefs.

In the suit filed earlier this month, the Australian geologist, Andrew Snelling, says that religious discrimination was behind the National Park Service's (NRS's) decision to deny him a permit to gather samples from four locations in the park.

Snelling had hoped to gather the rocks to support the creationist belief that a global flood about 4,300 years ago was responsible for rock layers and fossil deposits around the world.

NPS's actions "demonstrate animus towards the religious viewpoints of Dr. Snelling," the complaint alleges, "and violate Dr. Snelling's free exercise rights by imposing inappropriate and unnecessary religious tests to his access to the park."

The lawsuit was filed May 9 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. NPS has yet to respond to the allegations.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday May 26 2017, @03:45AM   Printer-friendly
from the sabre-rattling dept.

A US Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, the first such challenge to Beijing in the strategic waterway since US President Donald Trump took office.

The US patrol, the first of its kind since October, marked the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday the USS Dewey traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands - among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbours.

The move angered Beijing, which reiterated its position that China has "indisputable sovereignty" over the Spratly Islands and their surrounding waters.

[...] One US official said it was the first operation near a land feature that was included in a ruling last year against China by an international arbitration court in The Hague. The court invalidated China's claim to sovereignty over large swathes of the South China Sea.

The US has criticised China's construction of man-made islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea and expressed concern they could be used to restrict free movement.

[...] US-based South China Sea analyst Greg Poling, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said [...] the key question was whether the US warship had engaged in a real challenge to the Chinese claims by turning on radar or launching a helicopter or boat - actions not permitted in a territorial sea under international law.

Otherwise, critics say, the operation would have resembled what is known as "innocent passage" and could have reinforced rather than challenged China's claim to a territorial limit around the reef.

War brewing with North Korea, picking fights with China. Good times.

Original Submission

posted by on Thursday May 25 2017, @07:25AM   Printer-friendly
from the careful-plotting dept.

The Washington Post reports Supreme Court rules race improperly dominated N.C. redistricting efforts

The Supreme Court ruled [May 22] that North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature relied on racial gerrymandering when drawing the state's congressional districts, a decision that could make it easier to challenge other state redistricting plans.

The decision continued a trend at the court, where justices have found that racial considerations improperly tainted redistricting decisions by GOP-led legislatures in Virginia, Alabama, and North Carolina. Some cases involved congressional districts, others legislative districts.

[...] [The justices] were unanimous in rejecting one of the districts and split 5 to 3 on the other.

AlterNet reports

Republican legislators used surgical precision to pack black voters into just two districts, the tentacular 1st and the snake-like 12th. The lower court found that these districts targeted voters on the basis of race in violation of the constitution, a move that effectively prevented black voters from electing their preferred candidates in neighboring seats. map

[...] This now-invalidated congressional map was one of, if not the very most, aggressive partisan gerrymanders in modern history. North Carolina is a relatively evenly divided swing state--Donald Trump won it by just 3 points last year--yet these lines offered Republicans 10 safe districts while creating three lopsidedly Democratic seats. Amazingly, all 10 Republican districts hit a perfect sweet spot with GOP support between 55 and 60 percent, a level that is high enough to be secure yet spreads around Republican voters just carefully enough to ensure the maximum number of GOP seats possible.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Tuesday May 23 2017, @12:22PM   Printer-friendly
from the closing-the-barn-door dept.

If anyone knows how important Twitter is to Donald Trump, it's the president.

“Without the tweets, I wouldn't be here,” he told the Financial Times last month.

To which Twitter's co-founder says: Sorry about that, world.

Evan Williams, who still sits on the company's board of directors, recently told The New York Times that he wants to repair the damage he thinks Twitter and the broader Internet have wrought on society in the form of trolls, cyberbullies, live-streamed violence, fake news and — yes — Trump.

“I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” Williams told the Times. “I was wrong about that.”

“If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry,” he said.

Is Twitter responsible?

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Saturday May 20 2017, @07:36PM   Printer-friendly
from the shouting-questions-in-a-crowded-hallway dept.

John M. Donnelly, a senior writer at CQ Roll Call, said he was trying to talk with FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly one-on-one after a news conference when two plainclothes guards pinned him against a wall with the backs of their bodies.

Washington Post

“Not only did they get in between me and O’Rielly but they put their shoulders together and simultaneously backed me up into the wall and pinned me to the wall for about 10 seconds just as I started to say, “Commissioner O’Rielly, I have a question,” Donnelly said Friday.

Donnelly said he was stopped long enough to allow O’Rielly to walk away.

Los Angeles Times

Donnelly, who also happens to be chair of the National Press Club Press Freedom team, said he was then forced out of the building after being asked why he had not posed his question during the news conference.

O'Rielly apologized to Donnelly on Twitter, saying he didn't recognize Donnelly in the hallway. "I saw security put themselves between you, me and my staff. I didn't see anyone put a hand on you. I'm sorry this occurred."


According to the publication for which the reporter works (archived copy),

Senators, including Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, are warning the Federal Communications Commission about its treatment of reporters after a CQ Roll Call reporter was manhandled Thursday.

“The Federal Communications Commission needs to take a hard look at why this happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. As The Washington Post pointed out, it’s standard operating procedure for reporters to ask questions of public officials after meetings and news conferences,” the Iowa Republican said. “It happens all day, every day. There’s no good reason to put hands on a reporter who’s doing his or her job.”

Additional coverage:

Related stories:
Reporter Arrested for "Yelling Questions" at HHS Secretary Tom Price
FCC to Make Proposals Public, Rescinds Net Neutrality Claims
ISPs “Reminded” to Not Use Government Money for Alcohol and Vacations
Buyer's Remorse on Net Neutrality
FTC V. AT&T to be Reheard
Bot Floods the FCC's Website with Anti-Net Neutrality Comments
John Oliver Leads Net Neutrality Defenders to Crash FCC Website. Again.
Crowdfunded Billboards Shame Four Members of Congress Who Sold Out Your Online Privacy
Trump Signs Bill Allowing ISPs to Share or Sell Customers' Browsing History
"Dig Once" Bill Could Bring Fiber Internet to Much of the US
US Congress is Trying to Roll Back Internet Privacy Protections [UPDATED]
Rally Marks Anniversary of Net Neutrality Rule as New FCC Chair Puts It in Crosshairs
FCC Lets "Billion-Dollar" ISPs Hide Fees and Data Caps, Democrat Says
With Net Neutrality Pretty Much Dead in the US, Your Privacy is Next
Ajit Pai to Become New Head of the FCC
FCC's Tom Wheeler Accuses AT&T and Verizon of Violating Possibly Short-Lived Net Neutrality Rules
After Setback, FCC Chairman Keeps Pushing Set-Top Box and Privacy Rules
Facebook in Talks With U.S. Government About Bringing "Free Basics" to America
Verizon to Disconnect Unlimited Data Users Who Use "Extraordinary" Amounts of Data
U.S. Appeals Court Upholds Net Neutrality Rules in Full
Netflix Slows Data Transmission for Certain Customers
Facebook Moves in to Make the Web a Facebook Monopoly
The Dragonslayer: An Interview with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
How a DIY Network Plans to Subvert Time Warner Cable's NYC Internet Monopoly
Six Senators Show Stupidity
FCC Had "Productive" Net Neutrality Talks With Comcast and T-Mobile

Original Submission

posted by n1 on Saturday May 20 2017, @06:37AM   Printer-friendly
from the free-beer dept.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Oscar López Rivera has been freed and has returned to Chicago:

Lopez was considered a top leader of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, an ultranationalist Puerto Rican group that claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings at government buildings, department stores, banks and restaurants in New York, Chicago, Washington and Puerto Rico during the 1970s and early '80s.

[...] former President Barack Obama commuted his sentence in January. Since then he has been on house arrest in Puerto Rico.

The National Review reports that he is to lead the Puerto Rican Day parade in June in New York City, and that

He’ll be granted the title of “National Freedom Hero,” a designation never before bestowed on anyone.

additional coverage:

related stories:
Chelsea Manning Released from Prison, Remains on Active Duty Pending Appeal
Puerto Rico Files for Biggest Ever U.S. Local Government Bankruptcy
Chelsea Manning Reportedly on Obama's Short List for Commutation; Assange Offers Himself in Trade
Puerto Rico: 1 Substation Fire; All 3.5 Million People Lose Power

Original Submission

posted by takyon on Friday May 19 2017, @05:49PM   Printer-friendly
from the embassy-bed-no-more dept.

Swedish prosecutor has decided to discontinue the investigation against Julian Assange, who has been accused of sex crimes in Sweden. If this means that Julian is free to leave the embassy to go to Ecuador or not remains to be seen.

takyon: It does not mean that Assange is free to leave the embassy at this time, although his lawyer is asking for an arrest warrant to be dropped:

The London Metropolitan Police, however, made it clear in a statement that there is an outstanding arrest warrant for Assange. "Westminster Magistrates' Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court on the 29 June 2012. The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the Embassy," it read.

The maximum penalty for breaching bail is up to a year in prison or a fine.

The police also recognized that Assange is now "wanted for a much less serious offense" and said they would "provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offense."

It remains unclear whether there is a standing U.S. extradition order for Assange. The policy of Britain's Home Office is to neither confirm nor deny extradition orders until such time as a person has been arrested in relation to an order. Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he was stepping up efforts to arrest Assange as part of a broader fight against those who leak secrets into the public domain.

Also at BBC and The Guardian.

Original Submission

posted by on Thursday May 18 2017, @01:36PM   Printer-friendly
from the illegal-fake-bodily-functions dept.

Among its orders issued on Monday, the Supreme Court did something usually unremarkable: it summarily refused to hear an appeal without comment. Most appeal requests are denied by SCOTUS, but docket 16-984 was unusual in several respects. For one, it involved a 13-year-old boy arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail for making fake burping noises in gym class. But recently it also became a notable dissent by recently appointed Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch from when he had served on a Federal Circuit Court.

The facts of the case were straightforward. As summarized in the introduction to the petition for appeal:

Thirteen-year-old F.M. burped in gym class, laughed, and, after the teacher removed him from the classroom, he leaned back into the classroom while sitting in the hall. Because these acts divided the teacher's attention, Officer Arthur Acosta ("Officer Acosta") handcuffed F.M., transported him to the local juvenile detention center, and charged him with Interference with the Educational Process, N.M.S.A. 1978, § 30-20-13(D) ("Section 30-20-13(D)"). Officer Acosta handcuffed and transported F.M. even though F.M. was compliant at the time he arrested him and there was no state interest in transporting him.

Ultimately, the case ended up in the hands of a federal Tenth Circuit Court, which found in a 2-1 ruling that the policeman's qualified immunity was sufficient to summarily dismiss any action against him. Gorsuch, however, found this absurd and began his dissent:

If a seventh grader starts trading fake burps for laughs in gym class, what's a teacher to do? Order extra laps? Detention? A trip to the principal's office? Maybe. But then again, maybe that's too old school. Maybe today you call a police officer. And maybe today the officer decides that, instead of just escorting the now compliant thirteen year old to the principal's office, an arrest would be a better idea. So out come the handcuffs and off goes the child to juvenile detention. My colleagues suggest the law permits exactly this option and they offer ninety-four pages explaining why they think that's so. Respectfully, I remain unpersuaded.

In his concise 4-page dissent, Gorsuch skewered the majority's convoluted reasoning, which seemed to spend much of its 94 pages constructing a careful path circumventing a New Mexico appellate court ruling that "interference with the educational process" required a "substantial, more physical invasion" of a school's operations. On this basis, Gorsuch concluded that the statute in question (which used identical language to the statute in the previous court case regarding colleges) obviously did not intend to criminalize minor "noises or diversions." He noted several other court cases from other states dealing with similar issues that concluded the same thing.

On this basis, he wrote that a "reasonable officer" in New Mexico should have known better.

But why did the Circuit Court come down so harshly and construct such convoluted reasoning just to let a police officer off the hook? The answer may be in the quiet sea-change in SCOTUS jurisprudence that seeks to limit almost all challenges to the "qualified immunity" given to police officers. Despite the fact that it doesn't appear in any federal statute, "qualified immunity" became de facto law after the 1982 Supreme Court ruling in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, which interpreted 42 U.S. Code § 1983 "Civil action for deprivation of rights" extremely narrowly. Over the years, this qualified immunity has expanded to the point that almost any police action -- no matter how unconstitutional or egregious -- is immune to civil action.

One recent illustrative case is SCOTUS's 2014 ruling in Plumhoff v. Rickard. After a routine traffic stop for a broken headlight, a car sped off resulting in a high-speed chase. After the car was cornered by a police patrol car, the police fired 15 shots into the car at close range, killing the driver and passenger and causing the vehicle to crash into a nearby house. SCOTUS reversed the appellate court's decision unanimously, determining that qualified immunity was still in effect. It should be noted that the doctrine of "qualified immunity" does not merely find officers non-liable for their actions; it necessitates a summary dismissal of any claims against them, preventing any actual consideration of fact in a lawsuit.

But what does this have to do with the "burping teen"? As argued in a recent Minnesota Law Review article, the Supreme Court has not only expanded its "qualified immunity" exceptions, but it has attempted to stamp out any possible dissent among lower courts. Rather than the standard jurisprudence concept of relying on citation of precedent, SCOTUS has instead chosen to quietly expand this doctrine (which it itself created in 1983), "describing it in increasingly generous terms and inexplicably adding qualifiers to precedent that then take on a life of their own." During the past 15 years, the Court has ruled in favor of the "qualified immunity" in 16 of 18 cases it chose to take. And in 6 of these cases it chose summary reversals of Circuit Court decisions, with no allowance for oral argument or briefing. (As the law review article notes, that represents about 1 of every 7 summary decisions in recent years.)

This tendency to not only reverse Circuit Court decisions (often unanimously), but often without even allowing argument, shows an unusual trend in SCOTUS jurisprudence. Even more remarkable is that through a series of rulings, SCOTUS has effectively short-circuited the process of appeals by insisting that (1) "qualified immunity" can only be denied in cases where officers violate "clearly established law," but (2) effectively limiting the determination of "clearly established law" to SCOTUS itself. Hence, if your case is not basically identical to the circumstances of a previous successful challenge to "qualified immunity" litigated by SCOTUS, lower courts are now implicitly instructed to grant immunity no matter what.

Indeed, earlier this year Bloomberg reported a story with the headline "Supreme Court Has Had Enough with Police Suits," after the most recent summary reversal -- just because the facts were "unique":

The justices made it clear that they wanted to send a message. [...] And the opinion referred to several occasions "in the last five years" in which the Supreme Court has reversed lower courts on the qualified immunity issue. There's little doubt of the message to the lower courts: The Supreme Court wants fewer lawsuits against police to go forward.

In an era where police misconduct seems to be getting more attention all the time, why are we not hearing more reporting about this quiet revolution in Supreme Court jurisprudence that has effectively made it impossible to make police accountable for their actions?

Returning to our "burping boy" case, perhaps we can read Gorsuch's dissent in a new light. Were the Circuit Court judges simply trying to find a way to grant immunity just to avoid another smackdown by SCOTUS? In his conclusion, Gorsuch comes close to accusing his colleagues of manufacturing an argument that they don't actually believe is just: "Indeed, a judge who likes every result he reaches is very likely a bad judge, reaching for results he prefers rather than those the law compels. So it is I admire my colleagues today, for no doubt they reach a result they dislike but believe the law demands..." He then goes on to say that he doesn't believe the law is "quite as much of a[n] ass as they do."

Because of his prior involvement with the case, Gorsuch was forced to recuse himself from consideration of the SCOTUS appeal. But if his dissent was sincere, maybe his voice will remain one dissenting voice among the otherwise unanimous Supreme Court justices who now allow for almost no possibility of personal culpability for police negligence, incompetence, or abuse.

Original Submission

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