Film review: The Report (2019)

I saw this film yesterday that is based on real events and found it to be very gripping. It stars Adam Driver as Daniel Jones, a member of Senator Diane Feinstein’s staff, who was assigned by her to investigate reports of torture by the CIA. Despite the fact that the CIA refused to cooperate with him, over five years he and a small team painstakingly built up a dossier of all the illegal and immoral actions and war crimes that were committed under the justification of ‘keeping us safe’. They produced a comprehensive torture report that the CIA and the White House of Bush and Obama tried to avoid releasing.
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Scott Warren acquitted in second trial

It took the jury just a few hours to acquit the human rights activist who was charged with breaking the law because he provided food, water, clothing, and shelter, to weary immigrants crossing the desert regions on the US-Mexican border. The first trial had ended in a hung jury and the Customs and Border Protection agency decided to try him again and this time urged the judge to not allow Warren to bring up the cruel policies of Donald Trump as a defense.
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CBP wants retrial of Scott Warren to omit mention of Trump policies

Readers may remember the case of Scott Warren who was arrested and charged for providing food, water, clothing, and shelter to weary undocumented migrants who had undertaken the dangerous trek over arid and barren land on the southern US border. The trial resulted in a hung jury that refused to convict him. Of course, the Customs and Border Protection agency has decided to waste time and money by retrying him.
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John Oliver on the evil of SLAPP lawsuits

It is a terrific show with a rousing finale. You should really check it out.

As I have said many times before when Jon Stewart was host of The Daily Show, while you may be able to win a public spat against ordinary people, it is a big mistake to get into one with a professional comedian who has his own show with a stable of writers and a network that has deep pockets and backs them up. You will always end up looking ridiculous.

But as Oliver says, SLAPP lawsuits can have a chilling effect on pretty much everyone else which is why we need all fifty states, not just the current thirty, to pass anti-SLAPP legislation.

Trump family grifters have to pay fine and take courses

In a resolution of a case brought by New York’s attorney general Letitia James, a judge has ordered Donald Trump to pay $2 million to charities not of his choosing as a fine for the fact that he used his supposedly charitable foundation to pay for his campaign.

Judge Saliann Scarpulla said Mr Trump had “breached his fiduciary duty” by allowing funds raised for US veterans to be used for the Iowa primary election in 2016.

The money was raised in a televised fundraiser during a Republican primary debate that Mr Trump skipped.

“I direct Mr Trump to pay the $2,000,000, which would have gone to the Foundation if it were still in existence,” the judge wrote, saying it must be paid by Mr Trump himself and should go to eight charities he has no relationship to.

Mr Trump said the case had been resolved and that he was “happy to donate” $2m to the Army Emergency Relief, Children’s Aid Society, City Meals-on-Wheels, Give an Hour, Martha’s Table, United Negro College Fund, United Way of Capital Area and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Ms James said Mr Trump had admitted to “personally misusing funds at the Trump Foundation”.

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8chan and the issue of speech on the internet

The website known as 8chan has served as a cesspool of bigoted and racist hate mongering for a long time in which posters seemed to be competing to see who could come up with the most offensive stuff, all while arguing that they were doing it ironically, ‘for the lulz’ as the kids say these days. They operated with impunity under the shield of free speech and things were going well for them (in terms of reaching their target audience) until three mass shooters in Christchurch (targeting Muslims), Poway, California (targeting Jews), and at a Texas Walmart (targeting Hispanics) posted their hateful manifestos on the website.

This proved to be too much for those companies that had been at least indirectly supporting the site and the internet security firm Cloudflare withdrew its support, thus enabling hackers to invade the site, overwhelm it, and shut it down. The creator of 8chan, an American who lives in the Philippines and seems to covet notoriety, vows to bring the site back in some form with a new name 8kun and different security firm backing it.

The NPR radio program On the Media had a fascinating 17-minute segment tying together 8chan, the people behind it, as well as Q and the QAnon conspiracy theories that spread its message via that site, and the problem of balancing free speech and deplatforming on the internet.

It raises some crucial questions: should tech companies stymie sites like 8chan? Can 8chan stay dead? And what happens to the dark content that flourished on the site — content like the QAnon conspiracy, whose purveyor vowed to only release definitive content on 8chan, lest his narrative gets drowned out by that of impersonators?

Appeals Court rules that Trump’s tax returns should be turned over to prosecutors

For whatever reason, Donald Trump has sought to hide his tax returns from public scrutiny. The grand jury convened by the district attorney for New York County had issued a subpoena to Trump’s accountants to hand over eight years of tax returns returns as part of its investigations. Trump’s lawyers had argued that he had presidential immunity that prevented the release of those documents even though they were for a period that was before he became president.

A US District Court had earlier ruled against him and just today the US Second Court of Appeals also ruled unanimously against Trump. The Appeals Court ruling drew heavily from the Supreme Court case involving Richard Nixon’s claims of presidential immunity and said that Trump’s immunity claims were invalid for many reasons, chief among which were that the documents were being sought from his accountants and not the president himself and only as part of an investigation, so the constitutional issue of whether a sitting president could be indicted did not arise.
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So, he’s the perfect nominee, then?

Lawrence VanDyke has been nominated for a position on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The American Bar Association has sent in their customary evaluation and it finds him ‘Not Qualified’. Their letter explains why saying, among other things, the following:

Mr. VanDyke’s accomplishments are offset by the assessments of interviewees that Mr. VanDyke is arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules. There was a theme that the nominee lacks humility, has an “entitlement” temperament, does not have an open mind, and does not always have a commitment to being candid and truthful.

Some interviewees raised concerns about whether Mr. VanDyke would be fair to persons who are gay, lesbian, or otherwise part of the LGBTQ community. Mr. VanDyke would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community.

Of course, the Republican majority in the senate will confirm him. In their eyes, this will read like a glowing recommendation.

When questioned during the hearings about whether he would be fair to the LGBT community, he cried.

Oral arguments today in an important LGBT case

[UPDATE: Amy Howe summarizes the oral arguments heard today.]

The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on three cases brought by people who claim that the discrimination that they suffered in employment was due to them being either gay or transgender and that this is a violation of Title VII, the federal law that protects people from employment discrimination. The catch is that this statute does not explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity in its protected classes, listing only race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Thus people have to appeal to state laws and these vary across the country. It should come as no surprise that it is the traditionally Republican states who have not legislated any protections. If you happen to live in one of those states, you are out of luck.
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The tortured history of the US-Kurd relationship

The decision by Donald Trump to essentially wash his hands of the region that spans the Syria-Turkey border and is claimed by them as part of their proposed homeland has created a firestorm of protest from the political-military establishment and even from Republicans who up until now have been willing to support Trump in everything he has done, however outrageous. After a phone call with the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (who views the Kurds as terrorists), Trump reportedly decided to remove the 50-100 US special forces in the region. There have been strenuous White House denials that that he gave the Turks the green light to enter the region and go after the Kurds.
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