April 28, 2017

Journalist arrested second time

Intercept - Award-winning journalist Barrett Brown was re-arrested and taken into custody Thursday, the day before he was scheduled to be interviewed for a PBS documentary.

Brown quickly became a symbol of the attack on press freedom after he was arrested in 2012 for reporting he did on the hacked emails of intelligence-contracting firms. Brown wrote about hacked emails that showed the firm Stratfor spying on activists on behalf of corporations. Brown also helped uncover a proposal by intelligence contractors to hack and smear WikiLeaks defenders and progressive activists.

Faced with the possibility of 100 years in prison, Brown pleaded guilty in 2014 to two charges related to obstruction of justice and threatening an FBI agent, and was sentenced to five years and 3 months. In 2016, Brown won a National Magazine Award for his scathing and often hilarious columns in The Intercept, which focused on his life in prison. He was released in November.

Jay Leiderman, Brown’s lawyer, told The Intercept Brown was arrested Thursday during a check-in. According to his mother, Brown had not missed a check-in or failed a drug test since he was released to a halfway house in November. Neither his mother nor lawyer has been informed where he is being held.

According to his mother, who spoke with Brown by phone after his arrest, Brown believes the reason for his re-arrest was a failure to obtain “permission” to give interviews to media organizations. Several weeks ago, Brown was told by his check-in officer that he needed to fill out permission forms before giving interviews.

Since his release, Brown has given numerous interviews, on camera and by phone. But according to his mother, Brown said that the Bureau of Prisons never informed him about a paperwork requirement. When he followed up with his check-in officer, he was given a different form: a liability form for media entering prisons.

Justice Roberts to Trump lawyer, "Oh, Come on"

Daily Kos - It, uh, doesn’t sound like the Trump-Sessions Justice Department is going to prevail in its argument to the U.S. Supreme Court that citizenship can be revoked over any misstatement or failure to disclose at all, however minor, that a person included (or didn’t include) on their citizenship application. Yes, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were all vocally skeptical. But there was also this, from Chief Justice John Roberts:
“Some time ago, outside the statute of limitations, I drove 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone,” the chief justice said, adding that he had not been caught.

The form that people seeking American citizenship must complete, he added, asks whether the applicant had ever committed a criminal offense, however minor, even if there was no arrest.

“If I answer that question no, 20 years after I was naturalized as a citizen, you can knock on my door and say, ‘Guess what, you’re not an American citizen after all’?” Chief Justice Roberts asked.

Robert A. Parker, a Justice Department lawyer, said the offense had to be disclosed. Chief Justice Roberts seemed shocked. “Oh, come on,” he said.
It sounds an awful lot like the Trump regime is looking for the right to revoke any naturalized person’s citizenship at any time, while creating an enormous new hoop for people seeking citizenship to jump through. Can you remember every single thing you’ve ever done?

Slate - What's particularly interesting about the Trump administration supporting such an argument is that Melania Trump appears to have committed just such an omission on her own naturalization paperwork. In 2016, a lawyer representing Melania—a native of Slovenia who was naturalized in 2006—attested that he had reviewed her immigration documents and found no evidence that she had ever violated U.S. law. Later that year, however, the Associated Press uncovered records showing that she had in fact done paid modeling work for several weeks while she was staying in the U.S. in 1996 on a visitor visa, which would have been a violation of that visa's terms. If, as her lawyer's statement would appear to imply, Melania did not subsequently disclose this violation on other immigration documents, the Trump administration's current position would thus suggest she—the First Lady of the United States—is subject to deportation.

Only the wealthiest would benefit from Trump's tax plan

NY Times - "The only Americans who are very clear winners under the new system are the wealthiest," said Edward D. Kleinbard, a law professor at the University of Southern California and former chief of staff of Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation, which estimates the revenue effects of tax proposals. Continue reading the main story

Repealing the estate tax, for example, would affect just 5,300 or so fortunes a year. For 2017, couples can shield up to $11 million of their estates from any taxation, leaving only the largest inheritances subject to taxation. Repealing the estate tax alone would cost an estimated $174.2 billion over a decade, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center said.

Reducing the rate on capital gains, non-corporate business taxes and those in the highest bracket, as well as repealing the alternative minimum tax, would also ease the burden on wealthier Americans. So would the repeal of the Affordable Care Act's 3.8 percent surtax on the investment income of high earners, put in place to subsidize health coverage for low-income Americans.

"These are all afflictions of the affluent," Mr. Kleinbard said.

There is no way to know how the mathematics of the proposal would work, since the White House offered no cost estimates, no detail about which incomes would be taxed at what levels and no information about tax deductions or other breaks that might be eliminated to make up for the lost revenue

Trump turns executive orders into show business

Politico - 99 days into his presidency, Trump’s high-profile orders have not actually undone Obama’s health reforms, financial regulations, or carbon restrictions. They’ve merely allowed him to announce his intentions to undo those policies in official documents. Trump’s first 30 executive orders will create a lot of federal reviews and reports, along with some new task forces and commissions, but not a lot of substantive change. So far, they’ve been more about messaging than governing, proclaiming his priorities without really advancing his priorities.

The White House is making Trump’s flurry of executive orders the centerpiece of his 100-day legacy, in part because he hasn’t yet signed any major new laws or made much specific progress on his Make America Great ... But a close look at the language of his orders shows that most of them are basically press releases with presidential signatures, plus instructions to his Cabinet secretaries to look into the issues at hand.

Some facts about a government shutdown

Things to do before Trump goes away: Instant runoff voting

Federal court upholds San Francisco instant runoff voting

We've long advocated instant runoff voting and now Britain is voting on adopting it (over there it's called alternative voting or AV). This is one of the best graphics on the topic we've seen. (FPTP is "first past the post" or the way most American elections are run)
Instant runoff voting is a method of electing a single winner. It provides an alternative to plurality and runoff elections. In a plurality election, the highest vote getter wins even if s/he receives less than 50% of the vote, and may even be considered the worst choice by the majority of voters. In a runoff election, two candidates advance to a runoff if no candidate receives more than 50% in the first round.
Voters rank candidates in order of choice: 1, 2, 3 and so on. It takes a majority to win. If a majority of voters rank a candidate first, that candidate is elected. If not, the last place candidate is defeated, just as in a runoff election, and all ballots are counted again, but this time each ballot cast for the defeated candidate counts for the next ranked candidate listed on the ballot. The process of eliminating the last place candidate and recounting the ballots continues until one candidate receives a majority of the vote.
Political status
Ireland uses IRV to elect its president, Australia to elect its House of Representatives, and London to elect its mayor. In the U.S., San Francisco, CA, Burlington, VT, and Cary NC are communities that use IRV to elect their major city offices such as mayor. Many major universities use IRV for their student government elections and the American Political Science Association to elect its president. Hundreds of jurisdictions, organizations and corporations use IRV to elect leaders.

As a state senator, Barack Obama introduced legislation that would have instituted IRV at the state and congressional level in Illinois. John McCain, Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich & Howard Dean support IRV.

A historian’s notes on now (written sometime in the future)

From our overstocked archives
Sam Smith, 2012

One good way to step away from the daily news and try to figure out what’s really going on is to imagine oneself as an historian returning to this time some decades hence. What might you see as having happened in the thirty years since Reagan’s inauguration?  Here are some possibilities:

America’s imperial era was over but its leaders didn’t want to recognize it and the media didn’t want to talk about it. The only wars that America could claim to have won since World War II had been penny ante invasions of tiny Latin American countries such as Grenada, Dominican Republic and Panama. Other wars had cost America the lives of over 100,000 of its soldiers and over $2 trillion, but such facts had little impact on policy, media reporting, or action.

By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the level of federal, state and local unconstitutional assaults on civil liberties was unprecedented,  except during the Civil War and the two subsequent world wars.

The Constitution was no longer a controlling document but rather one from which the adhocracy in charge of America picked or ignored at will. The elite, for example, greatly preferred the commerce clause to the Bill of Rights.

America had lost its moral clout around the world.  A 2007 survey in two dozen countries found only three in which a majority viewed America’s influence as positive.

In the decade since 9/11 America  did not take one significant step to ease tensions with the Middle East or the Muslim world. Instead it relied on failed invasions,  futile sanctions and fatuous rhetoric.

The Democratic Party became more conservative than at any time since before the New Deal – relying on a few social issues like abortion and gay marriage to suggest otherwise. The last liberal Democratic presidential candidate was Walter Mondale in 1984. Presidents Clinton and Obama were the most reactionary Democratic presidents of modern times. Liberalism became a social demographic rather than a political cause.

Unlike the New Deal, Fair Deal and Great Society, the three decades after 1980 were (with a few exceptions such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family & Medical Leave Act) virtually devoid of significant legislation that helped significant numbers of Americans deal with their economic or social problems. There were, however, a number of measures passed that greatly limited the civil liberties of Americans such as the Patriot  and Defense of Marriage Acts.

The closest parallel to the corruption at the top of American society during this period was that of the Prohibition Era. The biggest differences between the two eras was that during Prohibition the police and FBI were far more likely to arrest the corrupt.

The war on drugs moved into its fourth futile decade serving largely as a means of imprisoning younger poor American males, especially blacks, for whom there weren’t any jobs. It was, in a sense, a preemptive strike against a possible class based rebellion.

While it is now clear that the biggest development of the era was ecological, the media of the time gave little attention to the looming problems. One study found only about 2% of media stories at the time dealt  with the environment.

There were some improvements such as:

- Serious crime dropped to its lowest level since the 1960s.
- Cancer death rates declined
- Traffic deaths fell to their lowest level since 1949.
- Capital punishment was at a 35 year low
- Risk of dying had dropped 60% over the previous 75 years
- Suicides, infant mortality, and fatal heat disease were at their lowest since the 1950s
- Indicators for women, gays, blacks and latinos, other than economic, were all significantly improved

On the other hand:
- For first time record, a majority of Americans had lower hopes for their children.

- In the 1980s, about two thirds of corporations included health care benefits with their pensions. By 2012, only about a quarter did.

- The Congressional Budget Office said the income gap in the United States had become the widest in 75 years.

- In 1983, 50 corporations controlled most of the news media in America. By 2002, six corporations did.

- The real income of poorest Americas  dropped to its lowest level since the 1970s.

-  A record number of Americans 55 and older were still working

- Credit card debt was eight times worse than it had been in the 1980s.

- Long time unemployment was the worst since the 1940s

- A record number of homeowners were behind on their mortgages.

- There were a record number of home foreclosures.

- The real wealth of the top 1% was up over 100% while that of the poorest 40% was down nearly two thirds.

- The initial decade of the 21st century saw the first decline in family net wealth since the 1950s.

- There are were a record number in poverty

- Child homelessness was at record levels. 

While wars and the Great Depression had brought major disruptions to American life, never before had the system simply disintegrated on its own to this degree for this long. While the elite, including its media, refused to recognize what was happening, there was growing awareness by ordinary Americans of the depth of the collapse and an increasing sense that perhaps it was time to try something different.

Jazz break