Saturday, June 24, 2017

What's Left #26

What's Left
for the week of June 23 to 29, 2017

This week:
The rightwing blames the progressive left for the shooting in Alexandria (as predicted)

[Note: There are additional citations above that were not in the broadcast version due to time constraints.]

Another black man dead, another cop free

Summer is here

Saturday, June 17, 2017

25.7 - Outrage of the Week: "gay panic" still a legal defense in 48 states

Outrage of the Week: "gay panic" still a legal defense in 48 states

Now for our other regular feature, this is the Outrage of the Week.

Here's some news: About two weeks ago, the Illinois legislature approved passed a bill, which Governor Bruce Rauner has indicated he will sign, to ban the use of so-called "gay panic" and "trans panic" as defenses against charges of physical violence such as assault or worse.

The idea behind these defenses is that for the defendant it was so shocking, so utterly horrifying, to discover that the person they were dealing with or, in the case of trans panic, maybe even had sex with, discovering that that person is gay or transgender, that that is so shocking, that the accused just lost control of themselves, they were traumatized, they panicked, to a point where they could not be held responsible for their actions.

Now Illinois is banning use of that as a defense.

So why is it here under the Outrage of the Week instead of Good News?

Because Illinois is only the second state - California being the other - to have done so. In 48 states, "gay panic" and "trans panic" are still valid legal defenses.

In 48 states it is legal to use a victim's gender or sexual identity to justify violence against them, even murder.

In 48 states it is legally acceptable to plead, in effect, "not guilty by reason of the victim was gay or transgender."

This doesn't mean such defenses succeed, in fact, they usually fail. But they remain legal despite the fact that the ABA came out against their use four years ago.

And worse, the handful of other places that have recently tried to ban these defenses - Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Washington, DC - have failed to get the legislation passed.

Pennsylvania representative Michael Schlossberg, who introduced his state's legislation, summed it up well: "How in God's name," he said, "could [panic defenses] be real in the 21st century?"

Yes, we have come far on issues of gender and sexual identity, farther than I would have imagined 10 years ago. But that doesn't change the fact that too much of our legal structure still has to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the prejudices of decades gone by. And that is an outrage.

25.6 - Clown Award: Dana Rohrabacher

Clown Award: Dana Rohrabacher

Now for the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

We had two main contenders this week. First up is Missouri state Representative Mike Moon, who if I slip and call Mike Loon, don't be surprised.

On June 12, Governor Eric Greitens called the Missouri legislature into a special session to discuss re-writing restrictions on abortion providers after a federal judge knocked down some of the state's existing laws.

In response, Moon announced the "Missouri Right to Life Act," a bill he filed, that would "require due process of law before the life of any human, born or unborn, is ended prior to natural death," which would of course effectively outlaw abortions in the state.

No, his nomination for the Clown Award did not arise from the "unborn human" crap - unless you call a caterpillar an "unborn butterfly," yes, "unborn human" is crap - but from the fact is that he made this announcement by posting footage of himself beheading and gutting a chicken as he did it, including declaring "we need to get to the heart of the matter here" as he pulled out the chicken's heart and showed it to the camera.

Which is high-quality clownishness and most weeks would take the prize, but unfortunately, this week the competition was too stiff for him. But in fairness to him, he lost out to an old pro at nutbaggery.

So this week, the Big Red Nose goes to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.

On June 7, gunmen and suicide bombers attacked Iran's parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, located just outside the capital of Tehran. At least 17 were killed and dozens wounded, leading to an hours-long siege at the legislature that ended with four of the attackers dead.

ISIS has claimed authorship of the attacks, marking the first time that group of Sunni extremists has taken responsibility for an assault in Shiite-majority Iran.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
What does that have to do with Dana Rohrabacher? This:

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing about Hezbollah the next day, Rohrabacher said the attack in Iran could be a "good thing" and actually proposed that the US government support ISIS in attacking rival groups.

And no, I'm not exaggerating. Quote:
Isn't it a good thing for us to have the United States finally backing up Sunnis who will attack Hezbollah and the Shiite threat to us? Isn't that a good thing?
If that wasn't enough, he even suggested the attack was the result of some secret foreign policy of TheRump, saying maybe it arose from "a Trump strategy of actually supporting one group against another."

To - to use a great old phrase - cap the climax, Rohrabacher. later issued a statement "clarifying" his position, in which, until it was corrected - a clarification of the clarification I expect - it assumed Khomeini is still alive. He died in 1989.

Dana Rohrabacher: What. a. clown.

Quick Footnote: The TheRump administration's statement responding to the Tehran attack included the statement that "states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote." I wish we had thought of that before 9/11.

25.5 - For the Record: a variety of short items

For the Record: a variety of short items

With our occasional feature called For the Record, we cover several topics briefly, not taking a lot of time on any of them, but we did want to make sure they at least got mentioned.

1. So For the Record: On June 12, TheRump had his first full cabinet meeting. It started with His High Orangeness praising himself and all he has supposedly accomplished and then it went around the room with everybody introducing themselves (which is reasonable) and then going on about how gloriosky it's just so double-fudge sundae with marshmallow and a cherry wonderful to be working for Donald J. TheRump, starting with Mike Pence saying it is "the greatest privilege of my life" to be TheRump's coat-holder and proceeding through Chief of Staff Reince Priebus thanking TheRump for "the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda." As all the while, His Orangeness sat there soaking it all up, totally and completely pleased with himself and nodding approvingly.

Chris Cillizza of CNN called it "the weirdest Cabinet meeting ever." New York Times reporter Julie Davis said on twitter "Never have seen a Cabinet meeting photo op quite like that one," an opinion echoed by CNN's Jake Tapper. called it "bizarre."

The presidency of Donald TheRump increasingly looks less like a presidency and more like a personality cult. Which is probably why he gets along with dictators so well.

2. For the Record: In May, in that one month, three 15-year-old unarmed black boys were killed by police in separate incidents in Texas, Connecticut, and California. In at least two of those cases, initial police accounts of the incident proved to be outright lies.

Overall, as of June 14, at least 548 people have been killed by police in 2017.

3. For the Record: Last fall, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services put in place a rule under which nursing homes that receive federal funding - which is most of them - could not include so-called mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts. In other words, residents and their family members were given back the right to sue.

Now, under TheRump, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have a proposed rule that would rescind the previous rule and once again make forced arbitration, a method which almost never works to the benefit of consumers, the industry standard.

4. Next, I recently have referred to how we are instituting militarism as national policy, including TheRump's statement "We have given [the military] total authorization" and the push for a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan.

So For the Record: on June 14 Reuters reported that TheRump had given War Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, opening the door to a new "surge" - a resurgent surge, we could call it -  in US forces there.

5. You undoubtedly know about the gunman who shot up a group of Republican lawmakers who were practicing for an annual charity baseball game, wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise - who at last report is in critical condition - and at least four others before being killed.

You also have undoubtedly heard about how the shooter, one James Hodgkinson, was some real liberal and a Bernie Sanders supporter.

So I want this noted, For the Record: I predict that you will not find one single GOPper, one single wingnut, one single person on the entire right half of the US political spectrum who will describe this guy as what they always describe right-wing shooters as, "a lone wacko" and that instead they will claim he is "emblematic of the violence of the left."

6. For the Record: Two top Michigan health officials have been criminally charged for their roles in the handling of the Flint water crisis.

The state' Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to police and state Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Twelve people died of Legionnaires' disease as a result of the decision made by the unelected Emergency Manager of Flint, appointed by Governor Rick Snidelywhiplash, to switch the city's water supply from Detroit to the Flint River in April 2014.

By the way, the water in Flint still isn't fit to drink.

7. Finally, just a quick pretty much personal note. I grew up in New Jersey and in a lot of ways it still feels like home, so it is with genuine satisfaction that I can say this:

For the Record, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll, Gov. Chris Christie has the lowest approval rating of any New Jersey governor in the 20-year history of the poll.

Eighty-one percent disapprove of the job Christie is doing; only 15 percent approve.

25.4 - Update: What's wrong with Section 702 of FISA

Update: What's wrong with Section 702 of FISA

Last week, I reported on the Not Good News that the reactionaries in Congress want to make Section702 of FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a permanent part of US law. As of now, that section is supposed to expire the end of this year.

I also noted how Section 702 is the part of FISA that "allows the NSA to sink its hooks directly into the infrastructure of ISPs and just suck up all the internet traffic passing through that point," which means including the content, and the threat to privacy that represents.

I wanted to update that a bit with some additional information about the threat Section 702 presents that I didn't cover then, which is the danger presented through the domestic use of the data that is gathered.

The first thing is that under Section 702 the targets of NSA spying are supposed to be limited to non-US persons living outside the US - but those targets do not have to be terrorists or criminals or even be suspected of any crime.

According to Sarah St.Vincent, a researcher at Human Rights Watch,
as long as "a significant purpose" of the surveillance is to obtain "foreign intelligence information," a term FISA defines broadly, any non-U.S. person outside the country's borders is fair game. In 2016, the government had an estimated 106,469 such targets.
What's more, it is essentially unarguable that such surveillance will suck up a lot of data about US citizens. The government calls this seizure of personal information "incidental," but "incidental" does not mean it is accidental or inadvertent; in fact it is neither. All "incidental" means is that it is not the supposedly primary focus, that those people whose information is gleaned are not the targets of the surveillance.

Here's where it gets extra good. The FBI has the authority to "query" that data, the data the NSA has amassed and stored about US citizens, data which the NSA insists it doesn't look at but which it stores all the same. In 2016, David Medine, at the time chair of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the FBI made such queries "routinely," even at the "assessment" stage, that is, before an actual investigation even starts, the point at which the FBI is thinking about if there is even a case to be investigated. Medine described the agency as being "sort of entitled to poke around and see if something is going on."

Amy Jeffress, who served as an impartial adviser to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, said that court described such queries as "routine and encouraged" and she added that "there is no requirement that the matter be a serious one, nor that it have any relation to national security."

Put more directly, through Section 702 the FBI can and does engage in warrentless searches of warrantlessly-gathered information and do it without any requirement of even a suspicion of wrongdoing. And before anyone tries to jump in by saying the NSA acted with a warrant from the FISC, that warrant would refer to the target of the surveillance - which means that all that "incidental" data on Americans, the very data the FBI is querying, was gathered without a warrant.

And if they miss something, there's a backup: The NSA can share with the FBI or other law enforcement agencies any data which it "reasonably believe[s] to contain evidence of a crime."

In fairness, there isn't a lot of evidence that the FBI has been using this option to pursue cases that did not involve "foreign intelligence information," but leaving aside the troubling implication that as soon as the words "foreign intelligence" or "national security" are invoked, Constitutional rights are supposed to go out the window, the equally troubling fact is that if the FBI has been milking the NSA's database for information on domestic crimes, we might never know.

The practice is called "parallel construction" and it involves taking information obtained either through such a warrantless search or by a tip from the NSA and using it to create a separate investigation, using the information you gained to "find out" what you in fact already knew, or even just to create a different investigatory trail, dating the investigation as starting sometime after the tip and not because of it - and in either case just pretending the NSA database had nothing to do with it. In other words, lying to everyone - prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, juries, everyone - about the source of the info.

Here's the bottom line: Even if you want to insist that no one has actually done anything wrong here, that the fears have - thus far - been overblown (which again, there's no way to really know), but even if you are prepared to insist that, are you prepared to make the guarantee about all the future years, all the future FBI directors and agents, all the future NSA directors and spooks, all the future NSCs, all the future administrations, White houses, Justice Departments? Are you prepared to guarantee complete, on-going scrupulous adherence to the highest ethical standards on the part of everyone involved, now and  indefinitely into the future?

Section702 should be stopped. It should be allowed to die. I say again what I said last week: If your reps in Congress won't agree to at minimum actively oppose making Section 702 permanent, they do not deserve to be in Congress; they do not deserve to claim the mantle of representative of a free people.

25.3 - Everything You Need To Know: about how right-wingers view the US role in the world

Everything You Need To Know: about how right-wingers view the US role in the world

Next, it's Everything You Need To Know, where you can learn a lot about something in a very short time.

In this case, it's Everything You Need To Know about what's wrong with the right-wing view of foreign policy and the US role in the world in just one sentence.

In response to the terrorist attack in London, England on June 3, Pat Buchanan, former vice-presidential speechwriter and the nutcase's nutcase until he was overthrown by Alex Jones, declared that, quoting,
Today we are in the 16th year of a war begun on 9/11.
Right. It all started on 9/11. Nothing that happened before that matters. Nothing the US did or didn't do prior to that date is relevant. No policy we pursued, no dictator we supported, no oppression we endorsed through arms sales, no economic exploitation we profited by, no offense we committed, had anything to do with it. It just all came out of nowhere, unprovoked, unpredicted, unjustified, on 9/11. That's what the right wing thinks.

And that is Everything You Need To Know

25.2 - Good News: DC District judge rules against DAPL

Good News: DC District judge rules against DAPL

Here's some I-did-not-expect-this Good News: On June 14, Judge James Boasberg of the Federal Distict Court in Washington, DC, ruled that the federal permits authorizing the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River just above the Standing Rock reservation, permits hastily issued by the Trump administration just days after the inauguration, violated federal law in some critical respects.

The Court found that the Army Corps of Engineers
did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline's effects are likely to be highly controversial.
The court did rule against the Standing Rock Sioux on some other issues, finding that the decision to allow the pipeline was legal in some respects, and unfortunately did not require that the pipeline be shut off pending a resolution of the case, leaving that to additional briefings and a status conference next week.

Be that as it may, even if it's not as sweeping as we would like, this is still an excellent victory in a case and on an issue thought to have been lost. Which most certainly is Good News.

25.1 - Good News: 9th Circuit upholds block of travel ban

Good News: 9th Circuit upholds block of travel ban

Starting off with some Good News, we find that TheRump keeps trying to ban Muslims - and he keeps losing. His first attempt at a travel ban was a total whiff and his second attempt is faring no better.

Just as a reminder so we're clear on what we're talking about, that second order, issued on March 6 and supposedly designed to overcome the legal objections to the first one, was a 90-day ban on nationals from six Muslim-majority countries - Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen - entering the US, a 120-day ban on the entry of all refugees, and a reduction on the cap on admission of refugees from 110,000 to 50,000 for fiscal 2017.

First, on March 15, federal district Judge Derrick Watson in Hawai'i issued a nationwide injunction against the ban. On March 16, District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland issued his own injunction, finding that the proposal was "the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban" and noted that during the 2016 campaign TheRump had called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

On May 25, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Virginia, upheld Judge Chuang's order, finding that the ban "drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination" aimed at Muslims.

And now, on June 11, a panel of the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Watson's order in a ruling that included a reference to TheRump's tweets calling the ban exactly what his lawyers had been insisting it isn't: a travel ban.

Interestingly, the 9th circuit panel ruled on narrow grounds and did not address the question of if it was unconstitutional discrimination against Muslims. Instead, the said His High Orangeness had violated existing immigration law

Under that law, the administration was required to make findings that entry of the people in question would be detrimental to the United States but failed to do so, the court said. Quoting the court:
The order does not offer a sufficient justification to suspend the entry of more than 180 million people on the basis of nationality.
Ruling on narrow grounds isn't surprising; courts often prefer to rule on narrow grounds, if they are there, rather than having to deal with broader questions.

Then again, it's possible it was done for another purpose: The case will likely wind up in the lap of the Supreme Court and Stephen Vladeck, a professor at University of Texas School of Law, said the 9th Circuit provided an easier path for the Supreme Court to uphold the injunctions against the travel ban, because it avoided entirely the controversy over TheRump's campaign statements and the question of if it is religious discrimination.

So thus far TheRump is a whiff in game 1 and 0-4 in game 2. Let's hope he keeps his string going and we have more Good News.

What's Left #25

What's Left
for the week of June 16-22, 2017

This week:

Good News: 9th Circuit upholds block of travel ban

Good News: DC District judge rules against DAPL

Everything You Need To Know: about how right-wingers view the US role in the world

What's wrong with Section 702 of FISA

For the Record: a variety of short items

Clown Award: Dana Rohrabacher

Outrage of the Week: "gay panic" still a legal defense in 48 states

Saturday, June 10, 2017

24.9 - Outrage of the Week: TheRump quits Paris Accord

Outrage of the Week: TheRump quits Paris Accord

Now for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week - and this week, you're probably not surprised, it's TheRump's withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement in a statement chock full of nonsense and lies about the environment, global warming, and the economy and in a decision opposed by the American public by better than 2-1.

Burt rather than dwell on his inanity, I want instead to note two things: One is that much of the world reacted pretty much along the lines of "the heck with you and no, we are not going to 'renegotiate' this" and that domestically, many local governments are prepared to pick up the ball that TheRump fumbled so badly.

There is a growing list of at last count 289 mayors and 10 governors who have denounced the decision to withdraw and more importantly, have vowed to ignore TheRump's decision and to continue to abide by the federal Clean Power Plan and the Paris accord, including looking to meet the goal of reducing emissions to 26%-28% below 2005 levels, in their own cities and states.

Three states - California, New York, and Washington - created the United States Climate Alliance to serve as a way for states to coordinate efforts to deal with climate change. As one small sign of what can be done, those three states together make up about a fifth of the US population and a fifth of the US GDP - but produced just 11 percent of US emissions in 2014.

As of June 8, a total of 12 states and Puerto Rico, representing together a third of the US population and a third of the US GDP, had joined.

And this doesn't even address the many businesses and corporations that have realized how much of a threat global warming is to their bottom lines and so have committed to continue to do at least something to avoid the worst effects.

So the bottom line is that most of the world and at least a good part of the US are saying to TheRump, "screw you, keep peddling your fantasies about coal jobs that are never coming back and we'll get on with saving the world without you."

And that is definitely not an outrage.

24.8 - Clown Award: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

Clown Award: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

Now for the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

One example this week blew away the others so efficiently that only celebrity forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, who said that "there are now benefits to being a sexual assault survivor" and author Laird Wilcox,who insists that "80 percent" of hate crimes that happen on college campuses are "hoaxes or pranks," even made the cut.

So this week, the winner of the Big Red Nose is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Wilbur Ross
Just over a week ago, he appeared on CNBC to discuss TheRump's trip to Saudi Arabia. He talked for a few seconds about some venture capital panel he attended on the trip, but do you know what he was really excited about, excited to the point of gushing?

Quoting him:
I think the other thing that was fascinating to me, there was not a single hint of a protestor anywhere there during the whole time we were there, not one guy with a bad placard.
The host interrupted to suggest that maybe that was true because Saudi Arabia is, y'know, a dictatorship - although she expressed it more politely.

Still Wilbur Ross
Ross allowed as how "in theory" that could be true, but, quoting again,
boy there was certainly no sign of it [that is, protest], there was not a single effort at any incursion. There wasn't anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood.
He wrapped up by recalling how the Saudi security guards gave him two bushels of dates as a going-away present.

That is just so stunning in its utter cluelessness, its astounding disconnect from the real world that it almost makes you pity him - until you remember that Wilbur Ross is also the man who last month described news of the US cruise missile attack on that Syrian airfield as "in lieu of after-dinner entertainment," marking him as not clueless but as cold-bloodedly ruthless and indifferent to the oppression of others.

So instead of giving Wilbur Ross a red nose, we're going to give him the full makeup, befitting his status as not just a clown - but an evil clown.

24.7 - Ya Just Gotta Laugh: TheRump "vindicated" by Comey

Ya Gotta Just Laugh: TheRump "vindicated" by Comey

This is one of our occasional features: Ya Gotta Just Laugh, for those occasions when there really is no other response.

TheRump's private attorney, Marc Kasowitz, said His High Orangeness felt "completely and totally vindicated" by James Comey's opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee because it included references to three occasions where he told TheRump that he wasn't the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation about possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Of course, that same statement also described a dinner where TheRump asked Comey if he wanted to stay on as FBI director and then said "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty" - which any reasonable person would read as "If you want to keep your job, you'll do what I want" - and a meeting a couple of weeks later where he told Comey, referring to then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," which is classic obstruction of justice: As Comey noted, when the president of the US takes you aside privately and says "I hope you can see your way clear" to doing such-and-such, that ain't no "just expressing a hope." Because if it is, then the Mafia boss saying "Nice little business you got here; it'd be a shame if something happened to it" is "just expressing a desire for your safety."

But don't worry, TheRump surely hears that "many people say" that he is totally vindicated.

Ya gotta just laugh.

24.6 - Update on voter ID laws

Update on voter ID laws

Last week, described how on May 15 the Supreme Court had finally slammed the door on North Carolina's attempt to restrict votes of minorities through voter ID laws.

Well guess what: On June 4, North Carolina got smacked down again, as the Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision that 28 of the state's legislative districts were illegal racial gerrymanders intended to dilute the impact of black voters

One example was District 21, where the GOPper-dominated legislature, which drew the lines, took a district that had a plurality of black voters and changed it into one with a majority of black voters. The state feebly claimed it had to do that under the Voting Rights Act so that black voters could elect their candidates of choice. The problem is that in those plurality-black districts, minority voters were already electing candidates of their choice - usually, black Democrats - and so the effect of the change was not to enfranchise minority voters in the one district but to make the surrounding districts whiter, weakening and diluting the power of minority voters in those.

Happily, both the Circuit and the Supreme Court saw through the state's BS and new districts will have to be drawn.

This comes on top of a decision by the Supreme Court in May that two of the state's congressional districts were also illegal racial gerrymanders. Apparently, the North Carolina GOPpers know the only way they can keep winning is by cheating.

On a less happy note, Texas has enacted into law a more relaxed version of state voter-identification requirements than those in a previous measure struck down by US courts as racially discriminatory.

Voters still have to produce some form of ID at the polls but the types have been expanded to include something such as a bank statement or utility bill with their name and address. That is, if those voters also sign an affidavit attesting to having a "reasonable impediment" to obtaining a valid photo ID - assuming they will do so after, we can be sure, told lying on such an affidavit carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and having to wonder if whatever impediment they have is sufficiently "reasonable" to satisfy a law enforced by people who would rather they hadn't voted in the first place.

By the way, the list of valid photo IDs accepted under both the previous law and the revised one includes a driver's license, a US military identification, a US passport, and a concealed handgun permit - but not, interestingly and perhaps revealingly, a student ID card.

24.5 - News on Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange

News on Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange

Something I wanted to bring up just because hey it's my show so why not.

Chelsea Manning
A couple of weeks ago I celebrated the release of Chelsea Manning from prison. At the time, the  only image I had of her was a black-and-white selfie of her wearing a wig - an image I have since learned was never supposed to be circulated: She sent it privately in an email to her therapist and commanding officer and it somehow got out.

Anyway, I wanted to note that we now have this new one. That is Chelsea Manning, in her first photo as a free transgender woman.

Unavoidably intertwined with Manning's case is that of Julian Assange, director of Wikileaks, an organization the Obama administration, demonstrating its claimed commitment to transparency, tried to bankrupt by blocking any source of funding. The Department of Justice tried every way it could think of to find something they could charge Assange with that did not also implicate major publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post, which published portions of the documents that Wikileaks released.

There simply is no rational question but that the highly harsh treatment of Manning, including extended solitary confinement, and the massive and threatening charges filed against her, were an attempt to force Manning to finger Assange as having induced or better yet directed her to copy and send him the documents involved, giving the US a way to get Assange without worrying about little things like freedom of the press.

When they couldn't break her, they were left without a case against Assange.

Julian Assange
But that didn't mean they gave up trying. And now, after seven years of effort, according to reports, they think they have found a way to get Julian Assange and Attorney General Jeff "too racist to be a judge" Sessions said recently that getting Assange is a "priority."

Meanwhile, in one of those moments of deliciously overt hypocrisy, CIA director Mike Pompeo has labeled Wikileaks "a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia" and proclaimed that "we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us" while calling Assange himself "a fraud," "a coward," and "a narcissist."

This is the same Mike Pompeo who last July gloated over the DNC emails released by Wikileaks, calling them "proof that the fix was in from Pres. Obama on down," and who during the fall campaign repeatedly referred to those emails to attack Hillary Clinton.

As a final note on this, Sweden has dropped its fishy-fron-the-start "investigation" of Assange, an investigation that, contrary to the impression you no doubt got from the media, never involved actual charges. Supposedly, he was only wanted for questioning, and the Swedish prosecutors have now said they are giving up because there is no way to question him - even though he has previously offered to be questioned in the Ecuadorian embassy where he has been given asylum or by videoconference; significantly, he even said he would go back to Sweden if the government would guarantee he would not be extradited to the US. Sweden refused all proposed compromises.

The UK still says Assange will be arrested the instant he steps out of that embassy (which is in London) on a charge of missing a court date. Like Sweden, the UK will give no assurance that if he gives himself up he won't be bundled off to the US on whatever charge the DOJ can conjure up in the hopes of destroying Assange and Wikileaks along with him.

24.4 - Not Good News: Congressional reactionaries want to make Section 702 of FISA permanent

Not Good News: Congressional reactionaries want to make Section 702 of FISA permanent

It seems these days that, as I said earlier, no Good News goes unblighted by Not Good News, so speaking of privacy the reactionaries in Congress and the White House want to set in stone a law that essentially allows the NSA to spy on Americans.

The issue is Section 702 of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. That section has a sunset provision, which means that it has to be renewed every few years. It is set to expire on December 31 unless Congress reauthorizes it.

The reactionaries want to make it permanent.

Why is this important? Because Section 702 is the provision that allows the NSA to sink its hooks directly into the infrastructure of ISPs and just suck up all the internet traffic passing through that point: email, Skype chats, videos, Facebook messages, web browsing history, anything and everything whether public or not and remember this includes the content. The purpose, we're told, is to enable the spooks to collect the digital communications of foreigners believed to be living overseas - but never Americans, oh no no no, and never inside the US, oh no no no.

See, the NSA is not supposed to "intentionally target any US citizen, any other US person, or anyone located within the United States." And of course, just like Brutus, all those at the NSA are honorable.

But even engaging in that fantasy, the words "intentionally" and "target" both have been given such wide and let's just call them "flexible" meanings that millions of internet records of millions of Americans are "unintentionally" swept up and catalogued.

But don't worry, the NSA insists it doesn't "collect" any records on Americans - until it turns out that in the NSA's version of English, a record isn't "collected" until an agent actually directly examines it. It can be gathered, indexed, and permanently stored, but it hasn't - yet - been "collected."

And now the gangsters in Congress and the White House want to make this a permanent feature of US law, relieving themselves even of the burden of the occasional charade of pretending to actually consider its wisdom.

I would call this a deal-breaker: If either of your Senators or your Rep votes for this, in fact if they do not actively oppose it, they do not deserve to be in office and I don't give a flying damn about "but look at the good they do on this other thing."

24.3 - Footnote: Supreme Court might reconsider "third party doctrine"

Footnote: Supreme Court might reconsider "third party doctrine"

As a Footnote to that, there is also a hope that SCOTUS will use the opportunity to revisit and from my perspective hopefully reverse the so-called "third party doctrine."

That is a to-me-bizarre legal principle derived from two 1970s Supreme Court cases. This principle holds that information you voluntarily share with someone else - whether that "someone else" is your bank (such as your account information, your record of deposits and withdrawals), the phone company (what numbers you call, when and for how long), or anyone else - isn't protected by the Fourth Amendment because you can't expect that third party to keep that information secret.

There is, of course, the notion of "reasonable expectation of privacy," but this doctrine holds that as soon as you share any information with anyone, you willingly surrender all such expectation. Ultimately, the principle means that in the absence of specific legal protection (such as doctor-patient or lawyer-client confidentiality) or - maybe - a binding legal contract with that other party, the government is entitled to know anything you tell anybody. Suppose you send a private letter to someone. As soon as they open that letter, you have "voluntarily shared" whatever is in it and so the government can see it, too. Your only true legal privacy lies in information and thoughts which you never share with anyone.

I always found it offensive and absurd, more the logic of a police state than a free one, and it's even more absurd and yes dangerous now.

As Sonia Sotomayor said back in 2012 in another Supreme Court decision, the "third party doctrine" is
ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks
and that it's time to stop treating "secrecy as a prerequisite for privacy."

Again, recent cases give some reason to hope that SCOTUS will move from 1977 to 2017. And if that happens, yeah, that would be really Good News.

24.2 - Potential Good News: Supreme Court will review a case of cell phone tracking

Potential Good News: Supreme Court will review a case of cell phone tracking

Next up, we have a case of potential Good News. It's not Good News yet, but if it works out the way some people are thinking it well might, it would indeed be Good News.

On June 5 the Supreme Court announced it will review United States v. Carpenter, a case involving long-term, retrospective tracking of a person's movements using information generated by their cell phone. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which focuses on digital privacy, called this "very exciting news."

The case involves two defendants, Timothy Carpenter and Timothy Sanders, convicted of a string of armed robberies in 2011.

The issue at hand is that the prosecution won the convictions at least in part by convincing the jury that the two were at the scene of each of the robberies by using the cell site location information (or CSLI) data for their cell phones for some months around the time of the crimes: records that the FBI obtained without a warrant. The pair contended that such a warrantless search was a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument, insisting that the information from the CSLI records was merely "information necessary to convey" a call and did not include the content of the call, so access to CSLI records was not a "search" under the Fourth Amendment - ignoring the fact that those same records can reveal where you were, when you were there, and for how long you were there: precisely the info used to convict both Carpenters.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said the court's ruling "shows a complete disregard for the sensitive and revealing nature of cell site location information" as well as equating analog technologies addressed in old cases with "the data-rich technologies of today." In other words, the court didn't know what it was talking about and so just fell back on "Sure, cops, whatever you say."

Which is one reason why groups like the EFF wanted SCOTUS to take up the case, especially in light of the fact that the Court has twice recently heard cases involving digital privacy and both times has ruled against the cops and in favor of privacy. There is a reasonable hope that the Supreme Court, which seems more aware of the technological implications involved than the lower courts do, will do so again.

And that would be Good News.

24.1 - Good News: Supreme Court supports right of third-party repair

Good News: Supreme Court supports right of third-party repair

We start the week with some Good News that requires some explanation.

Lexmark - you've probably heard of them - is a company that makes, among other things, printers and printer cartridges. It makes two kinds of ink cartridges: an expensive, reusable model and a less expensive, single-use one. The only mechanical difference? The cheap cartridge features a chip that disables it once you refill it.

Impression Products is one of several companies that would collect those cartridges, disable the chip, and sell the refilled cartridges for less than Lexmark ones.

In 2013, Lexmark sued Impression for patent infringement. Various courts split on the issues involved, so it got to the Supreme Court.

On May 30, the Supreme Court struck a blow for consumers and independent repair businesses and against corporate domination. By a vote of 7-1, it told Lexmark essentially flat out that its patent rights over a cartridge ended, in legal language were "exhausted," when that cartridge was sold. That is, Lexmark can prevent anyone from making cartridges of the same design, but once it sells one to you, it can't control what you co with it, including having some third party refill it.

Other than the fact that this can reduce the cost of printer ink, which should be a relief to most of us, the real point is that the case is actually about your ownership rights, over your control of something you have purchased.

Writing at, Kyle Wiens said:
Consider this: Countless people hack their Keurig machines to brew "unauthorized" coffee brands. Can Keurig sue them? Could Apple or Samsung stipulate that you can’t resell their products on Craigslist or eBay? Could John Deere claim that a repair tech is infringing upon its patent rights by repairing a broken combine without permission?
The point is, by Lexmark's position, the answer to all those questions is yes. The effect of the decision is to say the answer is no.

That the Court is aware of that effect can be seen in that John Robert, writing for the majority, cited a hypothetical shop that restores and sells used cars as an example of a business that could not run at all if manufacturers could put restrictions on post-sale use of their products like Lexmark tried to put on theirs.

So not only Impression Products but every independent repair business can breathe easier.

This however - all Good News comes with Not Good News, it seems - is not the end. Corporations will likely start doing what John Deere did after losing a copyright law fight: update its EULA (End User License Agreement) to try to accomplish by contact what they can't accomplish by patent law.

And indeed Lexmark also made consumers sign a "post-sale restriction" contract stipulating that only Lexmark could collect, refill, and resell them. But that is a harder row to hoe for the corporations because any suit would have to be against individual customer, one at a time, not the repair business, because the company, Lexmark in this case, has no contract with that business.

On a closely related note, eight states - Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Tennessee, and Wyoming - are considering so-called "right-to-repair" bills this year. Lobbyists have already effectively blocked one - the Nebraska legislature has tabled the proposal there - but I frankly expect that even there it will come up again.

So Goliath is not down - but David still has some stones.

As a final observation on this: Impression Products could gather a used Lexmark cartridge, disable the chip, refill it with ink, and still sell if for less that Lexmark did in the first place. Which is a demonstration of the effect of market control and reason to challenge it.

What's Left #24

What's Left
for the week of June 8 to 14, 2017

This week:
Good News: Supreme Court supports right of third-party repair

Potential Good News: Supreme Court will review a case of cell phone tracking

Footnote: Supreme Court might reconsider "third party doctrine"

Not Good News: Congressional reactionaries want to make Section 702 of FISA permanent

News on Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange

Update on voter ID laws

Ya Gotta Laugh: TheRump "vindicated" by Comey

Clown Award: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

Outrage of the Week: TheRump quits Paris Accord

Sunday, June 04, 2017

23.11 - Everything You Need to Know: What Donald TheRump thinks about power in four sentences

Everything You Need to Know: What Donald TheRump thinks about power in four sentences

Last up, I have enough time for this, so I will get it in.

This is Everything You Need to Know, where you can learn a lot about something in a short time.

In this case, it's Everything You Need to Know about what Donald TheRump thinks about power in just four sentences.

1. He praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte for his "unbelievable job on the drug problem" - that "job" consisting of a bloody war that has killed at least 9,000 people.

2. He has praised both Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping calling each "a good man."

3. In Saudi Arabia, he praised the Saudis.

4. In Europe, at the NATO conference, facing a room of freely elected leaders, he lectured, sniped at, and tried to bully them.

And that is Everything You Need to Know.

23.10 - Only 36% could find North Korea on a map of Asia

Only 36% could find North Korea on a map of Asia

Here's something I found interesting.

Blank map
In an experiment led by Kyle Dropp of Morning Consult, nearly 1800 people were shown a blank map of Asia and asked to point out North Korea, focus of enough of our media attention of late that in surveys people have rated in our biggest threat, bigger than terrorism, bigger than anything.

People guessed over 20 different countries on that map. Only 36% got it right.

What with Americans' known shortcomings on knowledge of geography, that perhaps isn't too surprising. But I did find two things interesting in the results:

One was that respondents who could correctly identify North Korea tended to view diplomatic and nonmilitary strategies more favorably, and military strategies less favorably, than those who could not.

Every dot is a guess
The other was that the clearest difference between those who could and could not find North Korea was that those who could were much more likely to disagree with the proposition that the United States should do nothing about North Korea.

That is, those who could find North Korea were less likely to favor military actions but more likely to say "Well, we have to do something." That latter attitude also seems prototypically American.

As a Footnote to that, there is a law on the books in Washington State that prevents planning for a nuclear attack. It allows for evacuation plans for every disaster scenario - except a nuclear bomb.

There is a move in the state legislature to change that because, yes, North Korea. The claim is "If it has a probability of happening, prepare for it."

A better view
What's driving this sort of concern is statements like the one in that same article that, quoting:
Military experts say North Korea is about three years away from actually being able to hit the west coast with a nuke.
Now, at the top, that seems a bit far-fetched to me: Having an effective ICBM is more than having a big missile and stuffing a nuke in the top of it. You have to have a nuclear weapon compact enough to fit on the missile and still be reliable enough and have enough explosive force to make it worth the effort, a missile powerful enough to cover the distance even with the extra weight of the bomb, and one with a good enough guidance system to actually point it at a target.

But leave that aside. The thing is, personally, I can't help but wonder if "North Korean ICBMs" are going to prove to be like "Iranian nuclear weapons."

Recall that before the deal that was cut with Iran, all the experts, all the intelligence agencies, and Israel in particular, kept telling us that Iran one to three to five years from getting nuclear weapons. Israel had been making that prediction since 1992 - which would make Iranian nukes at least 20 years overdue.

About the time the Iran deal was made, I remarked that the old riddle "What is always coming but never arrives" now has two answers: the classic one of "tomorrow" and the new one of "Iranian nuclear weapons."

It will be interesting over the next few years to see if "North Korean ICBMs" will become a third answer.

23.9 - Outrage of the Week: Even undocumented immigrants who try to become legal are being deported

Outrage of the Week: Even undocumented immigrants who try to become legal are being deported

Now it's time for our other regular feature; this is the Outrage of the Week.

Felix Yulian Motino is a Honduran national who'd entered the US without papers in 2005. He is, in other words, an undocumented immigrant.

In the years since, he has built a life here. He works as a house painter. He pays his taxes. He has a US-born wife, Alexis, of two years. He has two US-born children, ages 9 and 6, for who he pays child support.

Felix Motino, 31, wanted to come out of the shadows. He wanted to begin the process of gaining legal status. So he requested a meeting with with US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Felix Motino, his children, and Alexis
One the day, he and his wife and his attorney went to the meeting. They shows the officials all their documents. The officials looked at the documents. Then they approved the couple's marriage petition.

And then they arrested Felix Motino and sent him for deportation.

What is wrong with these people? Even someone who wants to do it right, who tries to do it right, who tries to make it right, is just another criminal in their eyes.

Well, yes, we do know what's wrong with them, they're directed by an administration chock full of bigoted xenophobes. They don't care who they deport as long as they can eject "foreigners," eject "them," eject "the other."

It's been noted more than once that the Barack Obama administration deported more people than any previous one, which is true. But in fairness and to its credit, in its later years its focus was on those with actual criminal records, who actually had been convicted of a serious crime, or who were regarded as a threat to that wonderfully vague term "national security."

With TheRump, they don't care. They really don't. You're "the other." So you're gone.

They are so eager, so ready, so busy grabbing anybody they come across, you don't have to be convicted of a crime, often you don't even have to be accused of a crime beyond the simple fact of being here, they are so frothing-at-the-mouth avid, that even as they dump more into the ICE-y system, that system and the related courts are already so overwhelmed with the cases they already have that they are falling further and further behind and are losing track of people who actually have been convicted of serious crimes.

And then they have the gall to call this "enhancing public safety."

They are without mercy. They are without compassion. They are without understanding. They are without humanity.

They are an outrage.

23.8 - Clown Award: Rep. Tim Walberg

Clown Award: Rep. Tim Walberg

Now for one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

As always, there were plenty of nominees this week.

For example, we had Ben Carson, secretary of HUD, heading up a department he himself said before his nomination he wasn't qualified to lead, telling an interviewer that "I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind."

Then we had TheRump himself, after a Reuters report that the way his aides get him to read national security briefings is by mentioning his name in as many paragraphs as possible.

The there was one Alex Gardega, who decided to make a supposedly artistic comment on the "Fearless Girl" statue facing the charging bull on Wall Street by placing a statue of a pug appearing to pee on the girl's leg.

But our winner topped them all. So this week the Big Red Nose goes to Rep. Tim Walberg.

Tim Walberg
At a constituent town hall on May 26, Walberg, asked a question about climate change, gave the by-now familiar dodge "the climate is always changing" - actually it's not; climate tends to be relatively stable for long periods - and then added that he's not concerned about climate change because, quoting,
I believe that there is a creator, God, who's much bigger than us. And I'm confident that, if there's a real problem, he can take care of it.
He then topped that off by saying that he won't take a back seat to anyone on a commitment to be "a good steward" of the Earth, proving it by recalling trout fishing in some mountain stream.

So yuppers, no need to worry about climate change. God will fix it. Just like God has stepped in to head off every other major catastrophe, plague, or extinction throughout history.

Do I need to say it? Tim Walberg is a clown.

23.7 - Good News!/Not Good News!: Belief in creationism down; genuine belief in evolution still low

Good News!/Not Good News!: Belief in creationism down; genuine belief in evolution still low

Good News!
A recent Gallup poll reported that belief in creationism, the idea that God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago, is at its lowest point since Gallup began asking the question 35 years ago.

Not Good News!
That "lowest point" still meant that 38 percent of those polled chose creationism to describe their understanding of how we got here and another 38 percent said sure, evolution, change over a long time, but change guided by God - which of course isn't evolution.

Only 19 percent were prepared to go with scientific reality.

Trying to end on a hopeful note, that 19 percent is nearly double the figure from 15 years ago and has been slowly rising over that time.

23.6 - Anti-vaxxers convince Somali immigrants in Minnesota to avoid vaccines; biggest measles outbreak in decades follows

Anti-vaxxers convince Somali immigrants in Minnesota to avoid vaccines; biggest measles outbreak in decades follows

Because that was related to health care, I'm using it as an excuse to raise this:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016 there were 70 cases of measles in the US, ranging across 16 states.

But recently, there have been 41 cases of measles in just Minnesota. Of those 41 cases, 34 are Somali immigrants. Forty of those cases involve children under 10; most of them children who were unvaccinated.

Why are the numbers so high and so heavily concentrated in the Somali community? Contrary to the bigots, it's not because of the Quran or Muslim beliefs: Vaccination rates for Somali-Minnesotan children in 2004 were as high as 92%, a rate 3% higher than the state as a whole. But by 2016, the vaccination rate for those children was just 42%, making the sort of outbreak we now see all but inevitable.

What happened in the interim?

The anti-vaxxers happened. The anti-vaxxers, still spinning their inane, thoroughly-debunked claims that vaccinations cause autism. They went to the Somali immigrant community, a community that is vulnerable and marginalized, and hosted a series of "information workshops" where they spewed their fantasies all over concerned parents - with the predictable result: Vaccination rates among Somali immigrants were cut by more than half (while the rate among the general population stayed the same) and we have the worst measles outbreak in Minnesota in decades, concentrated in exactly that vulnerable community.

The anti-vaxxers should be ashamed of themselves, but sadly, they won't be.

However, there is one thing the anti-vaxxers, consisting overwhelmingly of elite liberals, do make clear: Paranoid fantasies and a refusal to accept scientific fact are not limited to the alt.right.

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