23 September, 2020

Supreme Court Precedent Killed Breonna Taylor

https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/p/supreme-court-precedent-killed-breonna

 Breonna Taylor died in a hail of bullets while Louisville police served a no-knock warrant on her home. There were no drugs in her house. She was not even the target of the police investigation. No one has been arrested, and the fact that no officers are (yet) standing trial has been the source of ongoing public outrage. “Say her name” is the battle cry for those who seek justice for an innocent young woman, gunned down in her own house by the very police who swear to “protect and serve.” 

For the past several days I’ve been doing a deep dive into the facts and law of the case, and I’ve come to a singular and depressing conclusion: Supreme Court precedents killed Breonna Taylor. These court precedents have killed before. And while there is an outside chance that an individual officer may be held legally responsible for her death, the prime movers here are the forces the court has set into motion, and unless there are substantial legal reforms, those precedents will kill again.

Before we dive into the cases, let’s first look at the facts of this incident. In early afternoon on March 12, the Louisville Metro Police Department obtained a no-knock search warrant for Taylor’s home. The purpose of the warrant was to search for and seize drugs, drug paraphernalia, and any other objects (weapons, financial records) related to drug trafficking. 

But if you read the warrant carefully, you note something rather interesting. The vast majority of the evidence—involving drug trafficking by two individuals, Adrian Walker and Jamarcus Glover—doesn’t apply to Taylor or her apartment at all. 

22 September, 2020

The Virtue Signalers Won’t Change the World

 https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/why-third-wave-anti-racism-dead-end/578764/

Social concern and activism must not cease, but proceed minus the religious aspect they have taken on. One can be fervently dedicated to improving the lot of black Americans without a purse-lipped, prosecutorial culture dedicated more to virtue signaling than to changing other people’s lives.

Progressives can battle a War on Drugs that creates a black market that tempts too many poor black men into lives of crime. They can fight for free access to long-acting, reversible contraceptives for poor women and phonics-based reading instruction for kids from bookless homes. They can stand against Republican attempts to discourage the black vote via a sham concern for all-but-nonexistent voter fraud. The struggle must, and will, continue.

But the black person essentially barred from the polls gains nothing from someone sagely attesting to their white privilege on Twitter and decrying that “no one wants to talk about race in this country” when America is nothing less than obsessed with race week in and week out. One may consider President Trump a repulsive, bigoted excrescence without morally equating anyone who didn’t prioritize his racism enough to deny him their vote in 2016 with those who cheered a lynching 100 years before.

All of the above hinges on feigning claims of injury, on magnifying indignation in a trip-wire fashion, and on fostering a Manichaean, us-versus-the-pigs perspective on humanity out of Lord of the Flies. Racial uplift in modern America does require dealing with matters more abstract than what a Douglass or a King faced. This is a challenge. Progressives shirk that challenge, however, in fashioning a new kind of activism based on performance and display. They should not do less; they should do better.

End the Poisonous Process of Picking Supreme Court Justices

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/22/opinion/ginsburg-supreme-court-confirmation.html

 Supreme Court justices often try to retire during the presidency of someone sympathetic to their jurisprudence. Of course, that doesn’t always work: Justice Scalia died after almost 30 years on the high court trying to wait out President Barack Obama, and Justice Ginsburg died after nearly 27 years trying to outlast President Trump.

Over all, though, strategic retirements give the justices too much power in picking their own successors, which can lead to a self-perpetuating oligarchy. The current system also creates the impression that the justices are more political actors than judges, which damages the rule of law. It may even change the way the justices view themselves.

No other major democracy in the world gives the justices on its highest court life tenure, and nor do 49 of the 50 states. The longest terms are more like the 12-year terms served by German Constitutional Court justices. Countries and states that do not have term limits have mandatory retirement ages; many jurisdictions have both.

The unpredictable American system of life tenure has led to four presidents picking six or more justices and four presidents selecting none, as happened with Jimmy Carter. This gives some presidents too much influence on the Supreme Court and others too little.

Young minister loses license over political endorsement

 https://www.baptiststandard.com/news/texas/young-minister-loses-license-over-political-endorsement/

Once Bumgardner learned Sprey decided to allow his ministry license to expire, he chose to make the issue a matter of public record.

“I love the members of the church and its pastor dearly. I am forever in their debt. I am deeply grieved that this issue could not be resolved,” he said.

“Unfortunately, my license is inextricably linked to my qualifications and credentials as a Christian minister. It affects my standing in the ministerial community. It also affects my ability to be hired by a local church.”


FOREIGN ACTORS AND CYBERCRIMINALS LIKELY TO SPREAD DISINFORMATION REGARDING 2020 ELECTION RESULTS

https://www.ic3.gov/media/2020/200922.aspx

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) are issuing this announcement to raise awareness of the potential threat posed by attempts to spread disinformation regarding the results of the 2020 elections. Foreign actors and cybercriminals could create new websites, change existing websites, and create or share corresponding social media content to spread false information in an attempt to discredit the electoral process and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions.

State and local officials typically require several days to weeks to certify elections’ final results in order to ensure every legally cast vote is accurately counted. The increased use of mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 protocols could leave officials with incomplete results on election night. Foreign actors and cybercriminals could exploit the time required to certify and announce elections’ results by disseminating disinformation that includes reports of voter suppression, cyberattacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud, and other problems intended to convince the public of the elections’ illegitimacy.

The FBI and CISA urge the American public to critically evaluate the sources of the information they consume and to seek out reliable and verified information from trusted sources, such as state and local election officials. The public should also be aware that if foreign actors or cyber criminals were able to successfully change an election-related website, the underlying data and internal systems would remain uncompromised.

21 September, 2020

The Cheating Scandal That Ripped the Poker World Apart

https://www.wired.com/story/stones-poker-cheating-scandal/

Mike Postle was on an epic winning streak at a California casino. Veronica Brill thought he had to be playing dirty. Let the chips fall where they may.

 

20 September, 2020

Three links on nationalism

 https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2019/03/against-the-dead-consensus

Faced with voters’ resounding “No!” to these centrifugal forces, consensus conservatives have grown only more rigid in their certainties. They have elevated prudential judgments and policies into sacred dogmas. These dogmas—free trade on every front, free movement through every boundary, small government as an end in itself, technological advancement as a cure-all—foreclose debate about the nature and purpose of our common life.

Consensus conservatism long ago ceased to inquire into the first things. But we will not.

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/open-letter-against-new-nationalism

Again we watch as demagogues demonize vulnerable minorities as infesting vermin or invading forces who weaken the nation and must be removed. Again we watch as fellow Christians weigh whether to fuse their faith with nationalist and ethno-nationalist politics in order to strengthen their cultural footing. Again ethnic majorities confuse their political bloc with Christianity itself. In this chaotic time Christian leaders of all stripes must help the church discern the boundaries of legitimate political alliances. This is especially true in the face of a rising racism in America, where non-whites are the targets of abominable acts of violence like the mass shooting in El Paso.

To be clear, nationalism is not the same as patriotism. Nationalism forges political belonging out of religious, ethnic, and racial identities, loyalties intended to precede and supersede law. Patriotism, by contrast, is love of the laws and loyalty to them over leader or party. Such nationalism is not only politically dangerous but reflects profound theological errors that threaten the integrity of Christian faith. It damages the love of neighbor and betrays Christ.

https://americanmind.org/essays/the-global-community-is-a-fantasy/

We are having this debate because the terms of solidarity in America are in flux as they have not been in fifty years. Centrifugal forces of globalization, the digital technological revolution, de-Christianization, and the collapse of the working-class family have scattered old ways and old ideas. The most fundamental political questions of attachment and belonging need to be asked and answered anew. Not least among these questions is that concerning the attachments and consequent moral obligations of political community.

Unfortunately those associated with ANN offer no positive answer to these questions. They say little on the central matter of citizenship, and what they do say is discouraging and dismissive. While the history of nations and nationalism is certainly checkered with violence, so, too, has the nation been the foundation of modern political liberty and class solidarity. Its promise animated rebellions against tyrants and the establishment of democracy. It fueled the demise of Eastern empires and Western colonialism alike. The nation is the ground of equality that makes self-government meaningful and the welfare state possible.

13 September, 2020

Frank Meeink was a top neo-Nazi who inspired Edward Norton’s character in “American History X.” He now speaks out against it—and says members of his old neo-Nazi crew became cops.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/he-was-the-neo-nazi-who-inspired-american-history-x-his-nazi-pals-are-now-cops

Meeink, 45, recalls attending a big summit in the early ‘90s with David Duke and other white nationalist leaders.

“They were telling us to cover up our swastikas, grow our hair out, and become cops,” he says. “I know of at least three of the people at that meeting who became cops.”

The main reason Duke and the other white nationalist speakers were urging their hate-filled charges to join law enforcement did not have so much to do with “alerting skinhead crews of pending investigative action against them,” as the 2006 FBI assessment concluded, but to disenfranchise people of color—particularly Black people.

“The Fourth Amendment is violated all the time by the cops, and in these meetings they would say, ‘Yeah—and when we become cops we’ll get them felonies so they can’t vote.’ That constantly went around,” Meeink remembers, sighing deeply. “We need to get all these white nationalists out of the police force. There are so many racist cops. And I know a lot of cops.”  

12 September, 2020

It Happened One Night . . . at MGM

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2003/04/mgm200304

When Patricia Douglas was raped by an MGM salesman at a 1937 studio party, the 20-year-old dancer filed charges, taking on Hollywood's most powerful institution. Today, as Douglas breaks a 65-year silence, the author exposes the perjury, bribes, and smear tactics used to destroy her.

 [...]

Back in the grand-jury room, Lester Roth called Clement Soth, the parking attendant who had discovered Douglas. Soth had originally said that he had seen David Ross flee the scene, but now he recanted that crucial detail. “The man was much thinner,” Soth said under oath. “Mr. Ross’s face is fat.” When I contacted Soth’s daughters, they confirmed that, in exchange for their father’s perjury, MGM offered him “any job he wanted.” Soth joined the studio “family” as a driver and remained there for the rest of his life.

How One Man Conned the Beltway

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/09/opinion/sunday/garrison-courtney-spies-contracts.html

The spy was recruiting for his secret task force. Scattered about the Beltway in grim brick and glass monoliths was a small army of gung-ho companies hoping to turn their patriotic ardor, technological inventiveness and commercial know-how into moneymaking national security contracts.

Starting in 2014 and continuing for over a year, the spy approached dozens of these companies with his recruitment pitch: the chance to join a covert government program, the knowledge of whose existence, he warned, could cost some lives, but it was also a group, he promised, that could save some lives, too. And in return for assisting the C.I.A. by providing him and his security operative — “The Twins,” people cleared for the op would call the pair — with salaries and commercial cover, the grateful agency would ensure that a trove of government contracts would come their way.

The spy called this top-secret enterprise Alpha214. It was approved, he claimed, by the president and by the director of national intelligence. Its clandestine activities were routinely discussed in surveillance-proof Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities, SCIFs for short, with an all-star cast of intelligence officials.

A two-star general who commanded the 25th Air Force in worldwide intelligence and reconnaissance was briefed on the enterprise. It distributed to task force participants letters that appeared to be from the attorney general promising immunity and, on two occasions, $12 million payments. Its commercial backbone ultimately grew to include about a dozen tech companies.

There was, however, one big problem with the program: It was a gigantic construct of inventive multimillion-dollar crookery. 

Free to be Muslim and an American

https://www.ajc.com/news/opinion/free-muslim-and-american/r243jCUp87NVaT5mJPBNEI/

For me, this moment isn’t just a celebration, but an opportunity to continue to heal the false conflict between America and Islam that Osama bin Laden has tried to create. Born to an American Catholic mother and a Lebanese Muslim father, I have struggled to understand what it means to be an American Muslim. That day in 2001 changed not only the world and the U.S., but also challenged an entire population to define itself. Bin Laden not only created the plot that hijacked those four planes, but he also hijacked the message of an entire religion. No one has been as troubled these past 10 years as those moderate Muslims who have had to repeatedly hear this man try to speak for us. An Egyptian man once said it perfectly in a State Department focus group: “In the Middle East, if you don’t define yourselves, they [extremists] will.”

Each year on my birthday, now officially Patriot day, I have taken his words to heart, knowing that as an American, and as a Muslim, I must work constantly to define myself and my values. I’ve talked American politics and the Iraq war with a Tunisian cabdriver, and lead Bible-Quran comparative studies in Georgia. I am certainly not alone, and Tuesday, 40 women, all under the age of 40, all born in the United States, all Muslim, stood up to define themselves in a new book, “I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim.” Our book showcases the diversity within Islam, a generation of women working to connect worlds and spread compassion.

How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled

https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/897692090/how-big-oil-misled-the-public-into-believing-plastic-would-be-recycled

Laura Leebrick, a manager at Rogue Disposal & Recycling in southern Oregon, is standing on the end of its landfill watching an avalanche of plastic trash pour out of a semitrailer: containers, bags, packaging, strawberry containers, yogurt cups.

None of this plastic will be turned into new plastic things. All of it is buried.

"To me that felt like it was a betrayal of the public trust," she said. "I had been lying to people ... unwittingly."

Rogue, like most recycling companies, had been sending plastic trash to China, but when China shut its doors two years ago, Leebrick scoured the U.S. for buyers. She could find only someone who wanted white milk jugs. She sends the soda bottles to the state.

But when Leebrick tried to tell people the truth about burying all the other plastic, she says people didn't want to hear it.

How to Save Restaurants

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/10/opinion/restaurants-indoor-dining.html

When the pandemic hit America’s restaurants, it was as if an anvil dropped — on a bubble.

To run a restaurant, any kind of restaurant, is a constant struggle to keep that bubble aloft. Every day is a negotiation: of labor costs, food costs, rent, insurance, health inspections, and the art and craft of creating an experience special enough to keep people coming through the doors. When the pandemic lockdown forced hundreds of thousands of establishments to close, there was no backup plan. No one was prepared for the extent of the fallout.

The restaurant and fast food industry, the second-largest private employer in the United States, collapsed overnight. At least 5.5 million jobs evaporated by the end of April, and the number of people employed in food services is still 2.5 million fewer than in February. Technomic, a consulting firm for the food-service industry, estimates that 20 percent to 25 percent of independently owned restaurants will never reopen. And those restaurants uphold an ecosystem that extends to farms, fishmongers, florists, ceramists, wineries and more. The damage has been so severe that the James Beard Foundation announced in August that it would cancel its restaurant awards this year because of the pandemic and a need to re-examine structural bias.

11 September, 2020

Local power in the age of digital policing

https://triangulator.org/blog/local-power-digital-policing/

 The progressive possibility of digital enforcement isn’t to expand the coverage and efficiency of policing but rather to narrow the scope of what is enforced, and ensure the design of those enforcement systems prevents abuse. Instead of “policing difference” in the name of safety we should only deploy technology that enforces, and measures progress towards a more inclusive form of urbanism that is truly safer for all.

As Reich, Weismantel, and a generation of planners, engineers, and advocates have shown us, we know how to build safer streets and cities, and none of it requires policing or new forms of surveillance. At the same time we must recognize, as Reich documented in his work on justice for public benefits recipients, that policing is about more than uniforms and guns. Reform must begin with the laws themselves, and a recognition of the many ways we "police" streets. It also requires confronting the economically regressive roots of traffic enforcement based on fees and fines, and the resulting criminalization of poverty—immoral in and of itself, but also a tool deployed as a proxy for illegal forms of explicit racial discrimination. Many cities rely on these fines a critical source of revenue, and there's evidence of increased fiscal dependence on fines as cities face dramatic revenue shortfalls due to COVID.

07 September, 2020

After a military funeral following suicide

Here’s what the media must do to fend off an election-night disaster

 https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/media/heres-what-tv-news-must-do-to-fend-off-an-election-night-disaster/2020/09/04/c94cee50-ed1c-11ea-b4bc-3a2098fc73d4_story.html

This time, with the stakes of the election so high, news organizations need to get it right. They need to do two things, primarily, and do them extraordinarily well.

First, in every way possible, they must prepare the public for uncertainty, and start doing this now. Granted, the audience doesn’t really show up in force until election night itself, but news reports, pundit panels and special programming can help plow the ground for public understanding of the unpredictability — or even chaos — to come.

Second, on election night and in the days (weeks? months?) to follow, news organizations will need to do the near-impossible: reject their ingrained instincts to find a clear narrative — including the answer to the question “who won?” — and stay with the uncertainty, if that’s indeed what’s happening.

06 September, 2020

America’s coronavirus response failed because we didn’t understand the complexity of the problem.

 https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/03/what-really-doomed-americas-coronavirus-response/608596/

In many complex systems, efficiency, redundancy, and resiliency pull in different directions: More efficient systems, which are cheaper, eliminate redundancies, which provide resilience but cost more. For example, commercial airplanes always have two or more engines and have a co-pilot, even though one pilot and one engine is sufficient to fly the plane safely. The redundancy adds to expenses, but increases safety and resiliency in case something happens to one pilot or engine. In fact, commercial aviation is so safe because redundancy is mandated by regulation and built into every level, but our commercial-flying experience is so miserable because airlines have made it as efficient as possible to save money. (If one plane doesn’t arrive on time, there is no backup waiting to fly instead, for example.)


Hong Kong mourns the end of its way of life as China cracks down on dissent

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/09/hong-kong-mourns-way-life-china-cracks-down-dissent/

 But what does it mean for a city to die? How do you mourn the loss of a place in which you are still living?

As the people of Hong Kong grapple with the loss of their home as they know it, I asked nine fellow locals where they feel most connected to the city and took their portraits there. I saw neighborhoods through the eyes of those who love them dearly; it was like being invited into people's hearts for a tour. Hong Kong is changing, but parts of it are immutable, safeguarded in the collective memory of those of us who call it home.

03 September, 2020

Francis Fukuyama: Restore honor in public service

 https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2020/08/30/francis-fukuyama-our-next-president-must-restore-the-idea-that-there-is-honor-in-public-service

The first and most important change lies less in the realm of policy than in the realm of culture. The United States has never trusted its public servants, but, since the 1980s, the denigration of bureaucrats, the Washington milieu and government in general has intensified. While this denigration is loudest on the right, the left has participated as well, raising deep suspicions about the motives of the military, the police, the CIA and other disfavored agencies. There is a general feeling that the government is incompetent and cannot be trusted to manage anything.

What is lost in this culture is the older view that public service is an honorable calling and that citizens do not simply have rights, but also responsibilities — a view perhaps most eloquently expressed by President John F. Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” We will never entirely recover from the cynicism that has crept into our consciousness in the decades since World War II. But just as President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were able to shift cultural attitudes away from public service, so too could future leaders move the needle back.

01 September, 2020

Dear Decaturish – From A CSD teacher regarding the impact of COVID-19 on critical thinking

https://decaturish.com/2020/09/dear-decaturish-from-a-csd-teacher-regarding-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-critical-thinking/

I spent my career building projects that brought my students together. Teaching this way, still and in isolation, is soul-sucking. As much as I try to get my students to interact virtually, I’m still there; the ever-present adult. So, they miss the camaraderie they would typically build with side conversations. Strangely, that’s what I keep coming back to in my mind. It’s what I miss the most, and it’s what I think they need the most.

It’s through those strange and wonderful side conversations that kids explore their world and build their flawed but functional understanding of how life works. It’s those side conversations that develop the world view that they then spend the rest of their formative years refining. They need the chance to ask each other questions they are afraid to ask adults, and they need the opportunity to work their way through questions they are unequipped to answer. Because, it’s in that playful struggle, through those leaps of the imagination, that children learn to think critically.

And adults just can’t play their game, not anymore, our minds are too chained by what we’ve decided is reality. But, that’s our reality, not theirs. They live in a better world, where anything is possible. The much-derided “child’s play” is more important than most people know, and it’s a game best played without supervision.