Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Trojan Horse Reform

We know it as "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." The full quote (though disputed), however, is "Do not trust the horse, Trojans. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts."

To this may be added. Do not trust "reform," voters. Whatever it is, I fear the Republicans even when they bring gifts."

The Democratic platform, approved yesterday in Philadelphia, contains an extensive section on criminal justice, as does that of the GOP. Whatever the wisdom of specific recommendations, the intentions are progressive and well-meaning.  Thus, the Democratic plan includes support for "community based law enforcement programs" and a requirement for the Department of Justice to "investigate questionable or suspicious police-involved shootings." It supports "banning the box" and "restoring voting rights."  The Party promises "we will abolish the death penalty" and its commitment to equal justice is summarized in its call to "ending mass incarceration" and "the discriminatory treatment of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders."

And at perhaps its wisest, the framers promise to "close private prisons" and to "assist states in providing a system of public defense that is adequately resourced and which meets American Bar Association standards."

For all the talk last year about Democrats like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Republicans such as Utah Senator and (the dangerous) Grover Norquist finding common ground in criminal justice reform, you'd never know it by glancing at the GOP plank on criminal justice.
What is at first glance a progressive suggestion, a nod to the cause of ending mass incarceration, gives insight into the GOP insistence that the corporate state must be served. Consider

we urge caution in the creation of new “crimes” and a bipartisan presidential commission to purge the Code and the body of regulations of old “crimes.” We call for mens rea elements in the definition of any new crimes to protect Americans who, in violating a law, act unknowingly or without criminal intent. We urge Congress to codify the Common Law’s Rule of Lenity, which requires courts to interpret unclear statutes in favor of a defendant.

The Legal Information Institute explains "Mens Rea refers to criminal intent. Moreover, it is the state of mind indicating culpability which is required by statute as an element of a crime."   Last year, in "The Pressing Need for Mens Rea Reform," the Heritage Foundation's John Malcolm argued many regulatory crimes

are “wrongs” only because Congress or regulatory authorities have said they are, not because they are in any way inherently blameworthy....

Such regulatory infractions are enforced and penalized through the same traditional process that is used to investigate, prosecute, and penalize rapists and murderers, even though many of the people who commit such infractions are unaware that they are exposing themselves to potential criminal liability by engaging in such activities.

The Heritage Foundation, a favorite of Rush Limbaugh and many other doctrinaire conservatives, is not concerned with the average citizen charged with a criminal offense. And it so happens that the GOP platform plank on mens rea dovetails neatly with the Party's congressional moves toward criminal justice "reform."

In January, The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis described Senate consideration of the issue of "to what degree prosecutors must prove a defendant’s criminal intent in order to win convictions for certain federal crimes."  Raising the bar on what constitutes criminal intent may make it harder to prosecute some alleged cases of terrorism and child pornography but the primary danger, it appears, is in protecting

corporate criminals. The major proponents of mens rea reform include companies, most prominently Koch Industries, and activist groups who believe that the federal government holds too much power to criminally charge companies and their executives without having to prove criminal intent.

DeBonis added

Judiciary Chairman Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), meanwhile, argued the concerns raised by proponents of mens rea reform “just don’t hold up” and that they are “holding unrelated bills hostage.” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) went further and suggested that the proposed changes amounted to a “Trojan horse” inserted into the criminal justice reform debate by political groups who have no broader interest in the issue.

The fate of mens rea legislation in Congress is uncertain. However, as support from the Heritage Foundation and the Koch Brother indicates, any effort to make it more difficult to prove intent  is a Trojan Horse designed to coddle the masters of the corporate universe.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Friends In Low Places

Donald Trump has some well-placed friends. One is the Russian government and the other is, as he would put it, radical Islamic terrorists. As President Obama stated on Face the Nation

If we start engaging in the kinds of proposals that we've heard from Mr. Trump or some of his surrogates like Mr. [Newt] Gingrich, where we start suggesting that we would apply religious tests to who could come in here, that we are screening Muslim Americans differently than we would others, then we are betraying that very thing that makes America exceptional.

The President maintained that Trump's rhetoric is "ultimately helping do ISIL's work. In January CNN had reported

An al Qaeda affiliate has apparently released a new recruitment video, telling Muslims in America that the country has a long history of racism and discrimination and will turn on its Muslim community.

The video purportedly by Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab uses historic civil rights era footage of firebrand Malcolm X and audio of 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump to label the United States a racist society.

It happened again fewer than three months later when ISIL released a recruitement video which

celebrates the attacks in Belgium and features Donald Trump. As images of flames dance over the Republican presidential front-runner's face and footage rolls of emergency workers in Brussels, audio from a recent Trump interview with Fox News plays. "Brussels was one of the great cities. One of the most beautiful cities of the world 20 years ago," Trump says. "It was amazing actually. And safe. And now it's a horror show. It's an absolute horror show."

The nine-minute video, allegedly released by the Al-Battar Media Foundation, a pro-ISIS media group, flashes phrases such as "Brothers, rise up!" and "Let's go, let's go, let's go for jihad" as Trump and pundits are heard describing the Brussels attacks. The video also includes shots of fighters brandishing AK-47s and other weapons and extols the virtues of those who are willing to attack the terrorist group's enemies. A narrator intones, "The Crusade jets—including the Belgian—are still bombing the Muslims in Iraq and Levant day and night, killing children, women, old, and destroying mosques and schools."

The user who uploaded the video to YouTube was banned within minutes of posting, according to Politico, because of the site's policy of taking down pro-ISIS recruitment videos.

When Trump was asked about the earlier video, he responded, reasonably, "Look, there's a problem. I bring it up... They use other people. What am I going to do? I have to say what I have to say."

A man has to do what a man has to do. For Donald Trump, it's encouraging Vladimir Putin and those radical Islamist terrorists he blames on Hillary Clinton and whose attacks he skillfully uses to gin up terror in the public.   In the unlikely event Trump's recent surge in popularity is maintained and he ends up in the White House, he'll have at least two powerful allies to thank.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

How Is This Still A Thing?

Politico reports

A top staffer at the Democratic National Committee has apologized after suggesting that the organization use Bernie Sanders’ religious beliefs against him in the Democratic primary.

One email among the thousands of internal DNC messages released this week by Wikileaks showed DNC CFO Brad Marshall questioning Sanders’ Jewish faith, and suggested that painting the candidate as an atheist “could make several points difference” in several late primary contests.

After the classy subject heading "no shit," Marshall wrote/typed

It might may (sic) no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.

The chief executive officer replied "amen" and Charlie Pierce comments


Who thinks like this?

OK, most political consultants think like this because many of them are reptiles. But the really smart reptiles do not write stuff like this down. They whisper it among themselves and then, glory be to the god of coincidence, the embarrassing question gets asked a few months down the line when it will damage the target the most.

Obviously, the most serious question the e-mail poses is what the Democratic National Committee was doing lobbying for one of the candidates running for its party's presidential nomination.  Close behind would be the understanding of the role of a Chief Financial Officer in setting campaign strategy.

Yet, another question arises: in what universe is "peeps" still a thing?  Now rarely used, when in vogue, it was employed primarily by people under 25 and older people pretending they were otherwise.  And it was not popular among Southern Baptists in Kentucky and West Virginia.  Brad Marshall should be fired if for no other reason than using "peeps" in an e-mail in 2016.

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