Saturday, January 28, 2023

The Execution of Tyre Nichols

I doubt you can call me as a juror on this case. I've already made up my mind about what those five officers did to an unarmed Black man in Memphis Tennessee (via Jonathan Franklin and Emma Bowman at NPR):

Police said on Jan. 8 that Nichols was taken into custody after a traffic stop that involved two confrontations with officers. During the initial confrontation, Nichols fled the scene of the traffic stop, police said.

Following the arrest, Nichols then complained of shortness of breath, according to authorities, and was taken to the hospital in critical condition, where he died on Jan. 10.

His family has said the police beat him so severely that he was unrecognizable.

There was video, some of it from the body cams, one from a nearby street camera that the officers had to know was recording them (and they still didn't care):

In the videos, officers are seen dragging Nichols from his car and shouting profanities throughout the confrontation. An officer tries to deploy a Taser at Nichols and then begins to chase him on foot. "I'm just trying to go home," Nichols is heard saying. Later, officers are seen repeatedly kicking, punching and using a baton to strike Nichols as he lies on the ground. At one point he's heard yelling "Mom." Lawyers for the Nichols family says this encounter happened within 100 yards of the family's home.

The video is hard to watch. If you do, you'll notice the cops took turns beating Nichols.

...

Five cops, beating one unarmed man. If you've ever been bullied in school, you'll understand how overwhelming and terrifying that can be, getting ganged up like that.

Oh, he shouldn't have run, the defenders will opine. That just made the cops angry.

Bastards, listen up. Everybody runs when confronted with the possibility of death. Nichols must have sensed something was wrong, something was going on with these "officers of the law" that was going to end up with him bloodied and broken.

It was the cops who were over the line, not Nichols. And Nichols is the one who ended up beaten to death.

There are serious problems with law enforcement in our country. Our police aren't being trained to protect and serve, they're being trained to bully and intimidate. Our police aren't being trained to defuse situations, they're being trained to escalate to violence. Our police are getting hammered with the message that there's a war on the streets, that they're soldiers in an Us vs. Them struggle not only with gangs but with everyday citizens who can turn violent in a heartbeat. 

Everyone - who are poor minorities - are a threat to them now. It makes everyone - those poor minorities - a target.

And it doesn't matter to these police officers if they target unarmed Black men at night or broad daylight, they don't believe they'll get into trouble even as they administer beatdowns in front of street cameras or eyewitnesses. 

Our nation's law enforcement have learned nothing from Rodney King, from the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, from the execution of George Floyd, from the reckless murder of Breonna Taylor, none of that.

Unarmed Blacks are going to keep getting killed by systemic failure in our legal system - one driven by fear and racism and arrogance - on the part of law enforcement that ought to work to keep us all safe, instead of appointing themselves executioners.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Why It Matters

So there's this:

The Georgia prosecutor investigating former President Donald Trump and his allies for possible criminal interference in that state’s 2020 presidential election told a judge Tuesday that decisions on whether and whom to charge in the probe “are imminent.”

Anyone sane since 2015 is pretty much chilling the bubbly for the moment the indictments go public.

With all this... animosity I've clearly been showing towards donald trump, I have to be honest and admit Yes I am biased, and Yes I am a little too eager to see trump perp-walked to a jail cell where he can rot for the rest of his short days.

You might want to ask me "Why." Why all this hate for the man?

It's not that he's rich (whatever millions he has doesn't make him much different from other rich men), or that he lies about being richer (although the gaslighting is part of the reason I despise trump). 

It's not that he's done anything directly towards me to raise my ire. trump's never come to my door to punch me in the face, or spike my car tires, or give a book I've published a one-star review. The closest he's done was ruining the USFL in 1987. However, taking away the Tampa Bay Bandits wasn't personal, it was just heartbreaking for myself and thousands of local sports fans.

It's not that he's a Republican political figure, although my disdain for that party has been decades long watching them sink into a Culture War miasma that's wrecking the national psyche for the last 25 years.

There are reasons to hate trump, and I listed a number of them back in 2016 regarding his unfitness to serve as President, only to watch since then every argument I made proved correct.

I would argue the reason I want to live long enough to see trump in a jail cell is the horrifying reality that this man has a long history of violating laws and cultural norms, to where he has never been held accountable for any of it. This is something which offends anyone who has a sense of justice in their soul.

I've been doing research on a non-fiction project, trying to put together a simple book about the basic ideologies that drive the American political scene. Between the Big Three of Conservative, Liberal, and Moderate, with the early research pulling up a lot of stuff on Liberalism (I'm trying to find Conservatism texts that don't devolve into QAnon nuttery, so give me more time on that).

The key element I'm finding about Classical Liberalism - the Ism at the foundation of our Constitutional government - is how its primary focus is on Justice: Faith in the application and upholding of laws to promote individual equality and essential freedoms. It's not a perfect ideology - early Liberals excluded a lot of women and minorities (it even tried justifying slavery until abolitionism became the vogue) from those essential freedoms - but it did bend over time towards that justice.

For all my self-appreciation as a Moderate, I know full well my moderation leans towards more Liberal beliefs than Conservative ones (I would classify myself as Center-Left than true Centrist). It's arguably why most of my blog readership are happily enjoying my rants against the short-sighted fiscal and tax-cut policies of the Goddamned GOP, and against the Far Right hypocrites waging religious culture war bullshit on the rest of us.

My sense of Justice when it comes to donald trump raged up on the dial to 11. The numerous bankruptcies he's committed without ever getting held accountable for the fraudulent acts that had to happen to make them fail. The constant gaslighting about his business savvy when all he was truly good at was marketing himself. The preening public misbehavior. The open acts of racism he never apologized for: Such as calling for the lynching of black men accused of rape who turned out to be innocent, and his later disdain for Obama by going after his birth certificate. At no time did he ever face true public reprisal, never faced a courtroom judgment that exposed his sins for what they were.

And all of that was before he officially announced to run in 2015.

That very day was an outrage as he went Full Racist against China and Mexico. trump never looked back as he kept campaigning on hate as an agenda to the delight of rabid Far Right voters who loved the pandering. He kept getting worse, and never answered for any of it. The Republican Party leadership never suspended him, called him to account, forced him to behave better for the sake of the public discourse. The mainstream media never held him to account, never boycotted his hate rallies, or refused to give him any coverage (his oxygen fueling the flames) to teach him manners. Hell, the Beltway Media gave trump free advertising 24/7.

By all rights, the day the Access Hollywood interview outtakes got out - the day the entire planet finally understood how vulgar trump truly is - should have been the end of him. Any other political candidate would have been driven from the stage like the sexually abusive Shitgibbon that he is. trump shrugged it off, and his allies and apologists among the mainstream media doubled down on attacking Hillary Clinton as if to exonerate the crimes trump himself admitted doing. 

And when the election came that November, trump may not have won the popular vote over Hillary, but he won enough voters to abuse a broken Electoral College system to claim a Presidency that should never have gone to him.

Every act, every statement by trump became another act of injustice.

Like any person with a desire to see justice done, to see our system of laws hold everyone equal to those laws, trump's ongoing misdeeds from 2017 onward triggered in me this thought: "He can't keep getting away with it."

When the Mueller investigation started into Russian's interference with the 2016 elections, and with possible Russian ties to trump as a favored candidate, I held hope it would pan out. I still argue that Mueller's work did expose Russian interference, but that he failed to pursue trump on clear acts of Obstruction: Partly because he tried leaving it to Congress to punish trump, and partly because Attorney General William Barr distorted Mueller's results in order to absolve trump.

And so trump got away with it.

trump exposed himself to impeachable offenses when he got caught hiding illicit phone calls pressuring Ukraine in 2019 to start fake investigations into Hunter Biden to set up mudslinging attacks on Joe Biden. But because of the partisan nature of modern party dynamics, The Republican Senate refused to admit where trump crossed the line, refused to hold him accountable.

And so trump got away with that.

At some point, an honest defense of our nation's Constitutional system has to acknowledge the damage trump has done, is still inflicting, on the United States' well-being.

Which is why it matters. It matters to me, it matters to millions of fellow Americans, it matters to our future that all the things trump is under criminal investigation for today - the January 6th Insurrection, his tax fraud scams, that unfinished bribery allegation, his theft of classified documents, and the election interference in Georgia and other states - must finally bring him to heel.

It is a moral imperative as much as a legal imperative that at some point - for any of the crimes trump's committed in his pursuit of greed and power - donald trump must be indicted. It's not schadenfreude, it's not envy, it's not partisan hackery, it's not foolishness on my part or anyone else's. 

It is a straight-up moral imperative that trump stand in an American court of law and be held accountable for the laws he's openly violated. It is a moral imperative that every excuse, every deflection, every lie that trump keeps uttering to avoid the facts all come to an end.

Gods help us. Let Justice Be Done.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

This Is Just Getting Embarrassing

With all the Far Right outrage over Joe Biden getting caught with classified documents from his days as Vice President at his home, finding out this afternoon that former Vice President Pence has this same problem makes this slightly enjoyable as schadenfreude (via Dustin Jones at NPR):

A "small number of documents bearing classified markings that were inadvertently boxed and transported to the personal home of the former Vice President at the end of the last Administration" were collected by FBI officials from his Indiana home, according to letters from Pence's representatives to the National Archives and Records Administration.

In a letter dated Jan. 18 to Kate Dillon McClure, the acting director of NARA's White House Liaison Division, Greg Jacob, a spokesman for Pence, wrote the documents were discovered Jan. 16 when Pence, "out of an abundance of caution" following the classified documents recovered at the home of President Biden, "engaged outside counsel, with experience in handling classified documents, to review records stored in his personal home."

Jacob said that the counsel identified a small number of documents that could potentially contain sensitive or classified information interspersed throughout the records, but added the counsel was unable to provide an exact description of the folders or briefing materials...

Can I get an "Oops?" Did anyone say "Oops" for me?!?!

There's a gag now on social media of everybody running around checking their own garages for Classified Documents, with emphasis on the likes of Obama, Dubya, Clinton, and Gore pulling in the extra hours to ensure they're not caught. Nobody wants to harass Dick Cheney (shotgun clacking in the background) and Jimmy Carter is too honest (anybody joking about Carter building Habitats for Humanity out of documents ought to be ashamed of themselves). Nobody's asking Dan Quayle because we're pretty sure he never read anything during his Veephood.

For all the genuine scandal involving donald trump - HIS problem is he knowingly took boxes of classified materials and refused to give them up - and all the faux scandal involving Biden and now Pence who are working with National Archives and the Justice Department to properly return such materials, I want to go back to what I mentioned earlier about this: We are witnessing a serious problem with the lack of proper handling of classified documents across decades of different administrations.

I saw an article yesterday from Water Girl over on Balloon Juice, and I want to refer to the points she makes about the overwhelming amount of paperwork streaming through any Presidential office:

As a mid-level person with top secret classification, his (Andrew McCabe who podcasted with Water Girl) office was a SCIF.  He worked with dozens of top secret documents every day, he says he was “buried” in top secret SCI documents.  Receiving dozens of Top Secret SCI documents every day, he would have to read them all, and he could carry those documents out of his office to another agent’s office.

The other folks he worked with also had the same classification level, so those documents could be discussed with other agents that had a need to know.  At the end of the day, those documents never left the SCIF...

McCabe: "At this level – as a principal in an organization like the FBI, as Vice President, as POTUS – you need access to Top Secret, SCI information all the time, 24 hours a day. Staffers are constantly carrying these documents around.

  • At work.
  • At home.
  • When you travel in the US.
  • When you travel overseas.

McCabe: “There are people on your staff whose sole responsibility is to take those documents, transport them, carry it, store it, protect it, and give it to you when you need it.”

McCabe: “As a principal, it is literally following you around everywhere you go.”

McCabe: “Special security folks are responsible for taking care of all those documents.”

As President or Vice President, for instance, the documents follow you to the residence, to the office, as you get ready for the next briefing or a phone call with a world leader...

In short: You can't escape the paperwork.

What's the most likely answer to the reason why Biden - and now Pence, and likely other former White House occupants except for trump, who's an asshole about it - are finding a handful of classified documents on themselves years after their tenures as Veeps or Prezes is that with literally hundreds of such documents going in and out of your hands - and the hands of your handlers - something will get misfiled, stuck in the wrong drawer, and overlooked because nothing about that folder or paperwork said "Holy Shit I Don't Belong Here."

There is a scandal here (not for trump, who is earning his fate): We have too many documents stamped as classified. There's stuff not even related to foreign policy or domestic security matters that still gets stamped by a bureaucrat somewhere as "sensitive" and so the whole system has to treat it as such, even if that information gets outdated (or outed) years down the line.

Our intelligence agencies need to get together and re-evaluate their entire classification system, to ease up on the types of materials that our Presidents (and Vice Presidents, and Cabinet Secretaries, and Senators and Representatives) have to review every day of the job.

Pretty soon we're going to find out that Socks the Cat got caught with TSI paperwork stuck under his litter box. /headdesk

(P.S. Yes I know poor Socks is dead, but I won't put it past this Republican-controlled House to go digging through his poop for the cheap political points against the Clintons... again.)

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Blood on the Streets of Monterey Park

I woke up this morning to news about an Asian holiday - the Lunar New Year - getting disrupted by a gunman in Monterey Park, California overnight. Another goddamned mass shooting. At least 10 people dead (multiple wounded, so the numbers could get worse). Via NPR: 

A shooting in the city of Monterey Park, just outside of Los Angeles, has left 10 people dead and at least 10 others wounded. The attack came at the end of a day of celebration in the predominantly Asian American community in observance of the Lunar New Year. Authorities said the shooter remains at large.

Here's what we know:

The attack was at least the 33rd mass shooting in the U.S. this year — and the second in California in less than a week.

About 60,000 people — 65% of whom are of Asian descent — call Monterey Park home, according to Census estimates.

President Biden has been briefed on the shooting.

Authorities are investigating another scene in the nearby city of Alhambra.

Take a moment to look at that first stat: This is the 33rd mass shooting in the United States this year. WE ARE ONLY 22 DAYS INTO THE WESTERN CALENDAR. We are up to almost TWO MASS SHOOTINGS A DAY. We have become so jaded and worn down from gun-related deaths that we're utterly numb as a nation to this shit.

The attack focused on a large Asian community, signaling that this was racially motivated by Far Right factions hating on foreigners as part of their overall anti-immigrant mindset.

And given the high body count in just one setting, I'm willing to bet the weapon used was a military-grade assault rifle like the AR-15 (the chosen rifle for mass shooters across the USA). It is not a firearm meant for hunting wildlife, it is not a firearm meant for personal home defense. It is a firearm meant for war zones. Which is what the American landscape has turned into thanks to the Angry Guys With Guns community.

And again, nothing will get done.

There will be more mass shootings, because we're up to one per day, getting closer to doubling up, because this is how the goddamned National Rifle Body Count Association makes their money. 

And in the future, nothing will get done.

There will be more mass shootings, because we're up to one per day, getting closer to doubling up, because this is how the goddamned National Rifle Body Count Association makes their money. 

And another mass shooting, and another and another, and nothing will get done.

There will be more mass shootings, because we're up to one per day, getting closer to doubling up, because this is how the goddamned National Rifle Body Count Association makes their money.

And another... AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

...

When are we going to have political leadership in the United States willing to step up and abolish the goddamned Second Amendment? We don't need militias anymore, and we've proven the PAST 40 YEARS THAT WE ARE NOT REGULATING FIREARMS IN ANY WAY. The Second Amendment has devolved from being "Empowerment for states to form and well-regulate their own militias" to "A goddamned license to kill anybody the Angry Guys want to kill."

There is blood on every American street, rising up on a tide of unrelenting hate and violence, and it is going to drown us all until we tell the goddamned gun nuts NO MORE.


Thursday, January 19, 2023

DeSantis as Bully and Panderer to Hate

Update: Many thanks to Driftglass for adding this article to Crooks & Liars' Mike's Blog Round-Up. Please do me a favor and help me figure out which blog pieces I should submit to the FWA Royal Palm Literary Awards, thank ye.


There was a time I felt there was no way any human being could be worse as Florida Governor than Rick "Medicare Fraud" Scott, who bought and bullied his way into office back in 2010 and immediately mismanaged the state through ignorance and greed.

And then Ron DeSantis showed up.

This week alone revealed how bullying, callous, sadistic, and craven DeSantis can be.

First, DeSantis openly called to permanently block any pandemic prevention efforts that the federal government may mandate in the future (via Steve Contorno, Kit Maher and Chris Boyette at CNN):

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis called on state lawmakers to make permanent existing penalties for companies that require all employees get the Covid-19 vaccination, his latest move to curtail pandemic mitigation efforts.

The proposal would extend indefinitely measures DeSantis signed in 2021 that made Florida the first state in the country to threaten businesses with fines if they required workers to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Those measures pitted DeSantis and Florida against the federal government over President Joe Biden’s efforts to get the country’s workforce inoculated – a standoff that helped boost the Republican governor’s popularity among conservatives.

Now, as DeSantis considers running for president, he is re-instigating that battle.

This time, DeSantis has encouraged skepticism of Covid-19 vaccines altogether, staking out a position far to the right of his top potential rival for the GOP nomination, former President Donald Trump, who continues to count the development of the vaccines as one of his administration’s chief accomplishments...

In addition to proposing permanent prohibitions on strict mask and vaccine mandates, DeSantis also wants to prevent doctors from losing their medical license if they stake out positions that contradict medical consensus. During Tuesday’s event in Panama City Beach, DeSantis welcomed to the stage a local dermatologist who has spread unsubstantiated Covid-19 conspiracies on Twitter...

In other words, DeSantis wants to allow uncertified, decertified, and unqualified "medical experts" to shill anti-vaccination conspiracy bullshit to scare the uninformed away from Covid vaccines that honestly work. This is how DeSantis hopes to win over the QAnon audience away from trump. In the process, he's willing to spread bad information that can get people killed.

Then, DeSantis issued an order to cancel high school programs offering AP African-American classes, claiming they offered no "educational value," all part of DeSantis' attacks on anything teaching our teens about racism as "Woke". From Abene Clayton at the Guardian:

Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor, has rejected a new advanced placement course in African American studies from being taught on high school campuses. He argues that the course violates state law and “lacks educational value”.

This move is the latest in a series of actions to keep conversations and lessons about race, sexuality and gender identity off the state’s school campuses.

DeSantis officially banned the course in a letter from the state education department to the College Board, the organization that administers college readiness exams like the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). They also oversee advanced placement (AP) courses, which allow students to earn college credits in subjects like English and chemistry.

In the summer of 2022, the College Board announced a pilot program to “offer high school students an evidence-based introduction to African American studies” would be launching in 60 high schools across the country during the 2022-23 school year and will be set to expand to other campuses the following year.

“Like all new AP courses, AP African American Studies is undergoing a rigorous, multiyear pilot phase, collecting feedback from teachers, students, scholars and policymakers,” the College Board said in a statement.

DeSantis, a one-time Donald Trump ally, plays an active role in stoking social and political anxieties, primarily among white Americans, that stem from conversations about race and gender that occur on K-12 public school campuses. In April 2022, he signed the Stop Woke Act, which severely limits “race-based” discussions at schools...

If DeSantis wants to shut down any AP program - which has educational value by encouraging student research, debates on topics, and college-level study that all earns high schoolers college credit for passing the tests - he better be ready to shut down AP American History. When I took that in high school, AP American covered the factual history of slavery, racism, the causes of the Civil War, the rise of Jim Crow segregation, and the Civil Rights movement. 

This is Republican DeSantis: Refusing to let history be real about the damage racism has done to America, and relying on hitting us all over the head with comforting White Affluence lies.

And this afternoon, it's reported that DeSantis is demanding the public universities give him information on which college students are transitioning genders (AP News via the NBCNews website):

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is asking state universities for the number and ages of their students who sought or received gender dysphoria treatment, including sex reassignment surgery and hormone prescriptions, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Why he’s conducting the survey wasn’t completely clear. DeSantis has been criticized by LGBTQ advocates for policies seen as discriminatory, including banning instruction on sexual and gender identity in early grades and making it easier for parents to remove books related to the topic in public schools.

The survey is similar to one the governor is forcing state universities to complete regarding spending on diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory programs.

The current memo asks universities to “provide the number of encounters for sex-reassignment treatment or where such treatment was sought” as well as data for students referred to other facilities. It says to protect students’ identities when completing the information.

The survey requires a breakdown by age, regardless of whether the student is age 18 or older, of people prescribed hormones or hormone antagonists or who underwent a medical procedures like mastectomies, breast augmentation or removal and reconstruction of genitals...

One would think that there are federal laws in place - such as HIPAA - that protects individuals' privacy rights regarding their health care treatment.

But this is DeSantis as bully, running roughshod over the rules and regulations in order to score political points with a rabid religious Republican voting base eager to expose, embarrass, and even arrest trans and gay people for simply existing.

If these universities want to curry favor - and not lose any state funds - they will find ways to disclose the information DeSantis wants, and then those poor adults - college students are 18 and thus adults - are going to suffer harassment, discrimination, or worse. Considering most of the college boards and presidents are political appointees, they are beholden to DeSantis and the Far Right already.

This is all happening because the Republicans are obsessed with Culture War bullshit. All because DeSantis wants to out-pander trump in the 2024 Republican Race to prove who can be more sadistic.

Cruelty is not only the point with DeSantis, it's his goddamn campaign strategy.

Monday, January 16, 2023

The Difference Between Two Scandals

Over the last couple weeks, a new scandal arose that echoed the trumpian scandals of last August, where reports emerged of how classified documents - from his tenure as Vice President under Obama - were found in President Biden's possession. As Becky Sullivan and Elena Moore note over at NPR:

President Biden is facing a Department of Justice investigation after his lawyers found classified documents at his Delaware residence and an office in Washington, D.C.

They were found in multiple instances, with a White House lawyer announcing on Saturday that five more pages had been found at Biden's home.

On Thursday, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed former Justice Department official Robert Hur to lead the DOJ probe.

"This appointment underscores for the public the department's commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters, and to making decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law," Garland said Thursday.

The announcement came just a few days after news broke that classified documents had been found at Biden's private office less than a week before the midterm elections in November — a discovery that led the DOJ to launch an initial inquiry.

This is all coming on the heels of the large-scale investigation into donald trump's mishandling - in some regards, the outright theft - of classified and other White House documents he took with him when he left office in January 2021. Indeed, trump's political and media allies quickly jumped on this story, attacking Biden for hypocrisy at the least and criminal misdeeds at the worst:

Critics of Biden, including many Republicans, have seized on the revelations to raise new complaints about the Biden administration's handling of the Trump classified document saga, including the FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago.

"Another faux pas by the Biden administration by treating law differently based upon your political beliefs. Treats President Trump one way but treats President Biden a whole different way," said Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a press conference Thursday...

Republicans have already vowed to use their new House majority to probe Biden's handling of the classified documents and how federal agencies responded.

On Friday, Republican House Judiciary members sent a letter to the attorney general announcing their inquiry into the handling of the documents and the appointment of Hur. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., demanded "all documents and communications" between the DOJ, FBI and White House related to the "mishandling of the classified documents" and the appointment of the special counsel.

So as this scandal turns political, are the Republicans right to claim unfair treatment?

No. There are clear differences between what's happening with Biden and what's happening with trump. Above all, trump's own misconduct in his mishandling of documents:

In Trump's case, the National Archives was the first to identify the missing documents and request their return.

Trump initially resisted returning them, and his lawyers at times misled federal investigators. After months of back-and-forth between the government and Trump aides, 15 boxes of documents were returned in January 2022. According to the FBI, the boxes included 184 classified documents, including 25 marked "Top Secret," as well as others denoted with labels indicating they contained national security information, such as "FISA." But more documents still remained at Mar-a-Lago, and ultimately the FBI raided the resort in August to retrieve the rest.

By contrast, Biden's team appears to have found a smaller number of documents, and returned them to the federal government promptly.

There's no evidence yet if Biden's people were guilty of any intentional removal of classified documents, but they are clearly abiding by the laws to ensure those documents are returned and no others left out there. trump and his people are kicking and screaming and refusing to respect the laws at all.

The scale of trump's scandal is far greater than anything yet pinned to Biden, and yet trump and the Republicans - looking for any excuse to punch Biden and hurt his 2024 re-election chances - would have us believe trump is a victim and Biden the crook. That's nowhere near the truth, and nowhere near the severity of damage trump committed, according to Donald Ayer, Mark S. Zaid, and Dennis Aftergut over at The Atlantic (paywall):

Even if, at some point, evidence of potential criminal conduct develops in the Biden case, in no proper prosecutorial universe should that affect or deter Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation of Trump. In the unlikely event that both men did commit crimes, that would be no reason not to prosecute Trump—or Biden, for that matter, once he is out of office. No person is above the law.

But these two cases are not equivalent. For starters, let’s consider the two stories through the lens of the statutes cited in the Mar-a-Lago search warrant approved by a federal court.

Individuals violate the Espionage Act when, among other things, they willfully retain national-defense documents and fail to return them to a proper government official upon request. In November, Biden’s personal lawyer discovered the classified documents and returned them to the government without a request. So that statute does not apply. Biden has denied knowing that he had the documents.

The contrast with Trump is stark. The National Archives and Records Administration first asked him to return missing documents in May 2021. The following January, Archives officials retrieved 15 boxes of government records, and on June 3, 2022, his lawyer signed a sworn statement that all documents responsive to a grand jury subpoena were being returned after a “diligent” search...

In August, a federal court was provided evidence that the lawyer’s statement was likely false, and the court issued the search warrant that allowed the FBI to seize upwards of 11,000 documents from Mar-a-Lago. They included more than 70 documents marked “Secret” or “Top Secret,” some apparently containing information whose disclosure could conceivably endanger the lives of American intelligence sources overseas.

The apparent obstruction of justice—with evidence pointing to Trump’s direct involvement—makes up the serious misconduct here, more serious than a former president simply having removed documents from their proper place. Trump’s lawyers repeatedly asserted in court that the Mar-a-Lago documents were “personal,” effectively admitting that Trump took them and kept them.

The centrality of concealment to the case is made even clearer by the second statute cited in the Mar-a-Lago affidavit. It subjects to prosecution anyone who “knowingly … conceals [or] covers up … any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede [or] obstruct … the investigation or proper administration of any [federal] matter.”

In short: trump took documents knowingly, and then lied about having those documents, got other people to lie for him, and refused to give up what he had for more than a year, and it all ended up requiring a warrant to search and retrieve those documents that could well be harmful to our nation's security. 

Both Biden and trump can end up in trouble violating the Presidential Records Act, but trump is on the hook for Espionage and Obstruction charges on top of that. The fact that Biden and his people are willingly returning the documents to National Archives without a fight lessens the possibility of getting charged on the Presidential Records Act, as the special counsel may well determine the matter settled. In trump's case, the open contempt he's displayed towards the Records Act would establish a good reason to charge him for violating it (the special counsel investigating trump may have to include those charges to justify the espionage and obstruction charges).

There's other cases that establish how intent to conceal and remove documents is a serious matter threatening trump's situation (back to the Atlantic article):

In 2005, Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, pleaded guilty to unlawfully removing government documents. In 2003, years after his government service, he had gone to the National Archives to review files, and as he left, a staffer spotted what appeared to be paper protruding from Berger’s pant leg. Stuffing documents into his trousers to hide them, along with his later attempt to throw the records into a construction site, was powerful evidence of willful and unlawful intent.

In 2015, David Petraeus, a former general and CIA director under President Barack Obama, pleaded guilty to having given his mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell, classified material that he had improperly retained. Petraeus had falsely attested to having no classified material in his possession. Like documents taken and concealed in clothing, false statements are compelling evidence of a guilty mind and a cover-up.

One of us (Mark S. Zaid) has represented many clients who have accidentally taken classified documents home or unintentionally left them in unsecured environments. Those cases involved no deliberate flouting of law but rather negligent or reckless conduct. These situations are routinely resolved through administrative proceedings, such as suspension or revocation of security clearances or other sanctions short of prosecution.

Those first two stories are similar to trump's misconduct, whereas the third relates much to how Biden is handling things. You can spot the difference there: Intent and getting caught in lies will get you charged; Working with investigators and admitting mistakes will keep you out of courthouses.

It would be nice if the mainstream media would recognize that what's happening to Biden does not excuse what trump did, nor should Biden face the same legal punishments awaiting trump. This is not a Both Sides scandal: trump's misconduct is clearly more dangerous to the national well-being.

I would even argue there's a third scandal at play here, one far greater than anything Biden or trump are directly at fault. We are witnessing repeated failures of national security when it comes to current and previous Presidential administrations concerning the mishandling of classified documents. This is something going back even before 2005, there's been breaches of security - some of them intentional like Dick Cheney's office exposing CIA operatives for partisan retribution - that are happening at the expense of domestic and foreign policies. 

Granted, part of the scandal is how far too many agencies have the power to classify anything as secret, which expands the likelihood of both accidental and intentional taking of documents that people shouldn't be taking. Still, this is all serious harm to both policies and people. If any other special counsels need hiring, AG Garland better have someone investigating how to stop such damaging leaks from happening (again and again). 

I do want both special counsels investigating Biden and trump to do their jobs, do them effectively, and assign fault to those who mishandled our government's classified information. I do hope that Jack Smith, the special counsel investigating trump, reaches the proper conclusion of prosecuting trump for his willful misconduct throughout the whole affair.

And I do hope people recognize that not all scandals are equal. They all depend on the intent - sincere versus scheming - of the persons violating the laws.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

You Know What? Mint That Coin, Just Do It Already

...In fact there are three freely convertible currencies in the Galaxy, but none of them count.
The Altairian Dollar has recently collapsed,
the Flainian Pobble Bead is only exchangeable for other Flainian Pobble Beads,
and the Triganic Pu has its own very special problems.
Its exchange rate of
"eight Ningis to one Pu" is simple enough, but since a Ningi is a triangular rubber coin six thousand eight hundred miles along each side, no one has ever collected enough to own one Pu.
Ningis are not negotiable currency, because the Galactibanks refuse to deal in fiddling small change.
From this basic premise it is very simple to prove that the Galactibanks are also the product of a deranged imagination.

-- Douglas Adams, from the Restaurant at the End of the Universe (to be read in Stephen Fry's voice) 


With the wingnut Republicans regaining control of the House - and again back on their obsession with destroying the federal government and the global economy in one fell swoop, even with all the warnings about what the damage will be - the talk about government shutdowns has returned.

The Democratic response to the Far Right threats of massive spending cuts has been mixed, bouncing between allaying fears to bringing up alternative spending methods to outfox the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus hijackers hoping to crash the whole bus over the cliff. One thing the liberal and left-leaning blogging punditry keeps throwing out there is the "MINT THE COIN" idea.

The Coin refers to a law on the books allowing the U.S. Mint to issue a platinum-based coin with any denomination (face value) assigned to it as needed. For example any one-ounce gold coin has a $50 face value, the half-ounce gold coin is $25, etc. When they passed the law in the 1990s, the intent was to give the US Mint a means to raise money selling to avid coin collectors who buy these things up not for the metal's worth but for the collectible value. 

At the time, the idea was that a collectible platinum coin could go for like $500 or $100 or something above the gold coin (capped at Ye Olde Fiddy). Thing was, when the Republicans became more radical and more desperate to gut the federal government's fiscal capabilities since then, someone got the idea that the U.S. Mint using the backing of the "Full Faith and Credit" clause in the Constitution could issue a platinum coin with a face value more than what the federal debt would be, and using that to pay off said debt so the radicals would lose the "debt ceiling" hostage they've been threatening to kill since the Obama years. Various government officials and economists have looked at the scheme, and announced "it could work."

With the debt ceiling crisis back for 2023, the Mint the Coin talk is back as well. As Mike the Mad Biologist blogged recently

This bit of arcana matters because Speaker McCarthy in his desperate attempt to stop getting punched in the nuts on national television over and over again to win the House Speaker position has promised to use the debt ceiling–the process where Congress sets a cap on the amount of debt that can be issued–as economic terrorism to force all sorts of horrible policy, including sweeping Social Security cuts. Admittedly, this is a long-standing Republican strategy, but it’s become increasingly likely they will do this...

This is really stupid and ridiculous, but so is any Congress that contains QAnon conspiracists, outright fraudsters, and pedophile pimps. Meanwhile, Biden won with the majority of the vote. It’s time for him to exert his popular mandate and protect the full faith and credit of these United States...

Minting the Coin may be a ridiculous option, but it has the value of being 100 percent legal compared to some of the other options ahead of us to avoid the GOP shutdown. Dylan Matthews noted at Vox:

The Obama administration found the idea too unserious there to use, but the legal case for minting the coin is as solid as platinum. Just ask debt ceiling hardliner Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who was sufficiently concerned about the option to introduce legislation to close the platinum coin loophole. The plain text of the 1997 law clearly allows the treasury secretary to do this, and Jay Powell, the Fed chair who in a past career was an expert on the debt ceiling and its dangers, is arguably legally required to accept the coin as a deposit.

You can also imagine more serious variations on the concept. Progressive economist Mike Konczal once proposed issuing a $20 billion coin every day to keep the government running until Congress agrees to abolish the debt ceiling for good. And a $20 billion coin is, what, 1 percent as silly as a $2 trillion one?

The other options Matthews explores - Invoke the 14th Amendment's clause that the validity of the Public Debt shall not be questioned, argue that the debt ceiling is unconstitutionally interfering with the mandates Congress already gave to the Executive branch, or issue "quasi-debt securities" like government war bonds to temporarily avoid the debt crisis - all have the problem of getting challenged in the courts. Any of that would risk the possibility this current Supreme Court - controlled by Far Right jurists - using the situation to rewrite the Constitution, and giving the wingnut Republicans the chance to collapse the federal government.

The Platinum Coin can't be challenged, not in a way that could risk nuking our nation's ability to literally print money. Silly idea, yes. Legal idea, still yes.

The whole "Mint the Coin" thing is so silly I love it. It's absurdism brought to a political stage already overwhelmed by Far Right hypocrisy and faux Fox-Not-News outrage. Republicans want to destroy our nation's economy with another government shutdown? Here's a single coin to resolve the whole matter, nyah.

Hell, I want the Mint to print that coin now, just for the thrill of it. Think, A TRILLION DOLLAR COIN, small enough to fit in a pocket. It'll be like Scrooge McDuck's Number One Dime, a tempting target of cat burglars everywhere. The comic book and action movie industries would have a field day coming up with stories about the Coin Heist to End All Coin Heists. And then all you gotta do is go to a country that won't press charges and slap that coin down on a bank counter and demand the bank cash it in for you. BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA (dude, could that happen?)

You could put the Platinum Coin behind glass and take it on a tour to every Economics college across the nation. It'll be the Mona Lisa, the King Tut Coffin, the unreleased copy of the Batgirl movie of coins. Have students working towards their MBAs lining up $5000 a ticket just to press their noses against the glass and dream of touching that coin.

Get that coin pressed today, US Mint, and President Biden could use it as the coin flip to this year's Super Bowl!!! YES!!!!!

So many possibilities with a Platinum Trillion-Dollar Coin.

Do it, Treasury Secretary Yellen. PRINT THE COIN. BECOME A GOD. BWHAHAHAHAHA.