Trump’s Three Week Trilogy, Ending Election Day, November 7: Week One, First Post

Make America One Again!

E Pluribus Unum

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Ray Myers

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Phoney Diplomacy, the “African Queen,” First Lady Shows Happy Side in Ghana

CAPE COAST, Ghana — With the unrelenting Ghanaian sun serving as her spotlight, Melania Trump has stepped out of her husband’s shadow, apparently showing the world what some 5,200 miles of breathing room away from her home city can do.

On Wednesday morning, on the second day of a four-nation African tour, the first lady looked more comfortable striding into a meeting with local leaders on the coast of Ghana than she has perhaps ever looked in Washington.

Given the bedlam of late in the American capital, that may be understandable. But as she makes her first big solo trip abroad, Mrs. Trump seems ready to show another side of herself: the happy one.

Mrs. Trump has offered simple acts of grace on behalf of an administration with a fraught diplomatic history with Africa. She has spent much of her time just expressing appreciation to her hosts.

“Thank you very much for having me,” she told the Ghanaian first lady, Rebecca Akufo-Addo, when the two met.

“Thank you for having me,” she said to a small cluster of Ghanaians before entering a palace hall.

“Thank you for your warm welcome,” she signed in the guest book of a stone fort through which thousands of enslaved people once passe

From the moment she touched down here on Tuesday, Mrs. Trump has done her best to soften the image of an administration known for its sharp elbows, and of a president who outraged many Africans with his disparaging remarks.

How well it will work remains to be seen.

Marie-Franz Fordjoe, a journalist, said it might take more than a visit from Mrs. Trump to heal the bruised feelings. The visit, she said, is “insignificant, as we are very much aware of President Trump’s isolationist foreign policy and his overt aversion to people of color.”

There, as the waves of the Gulf of Guinea crashed against the shore, the first lady wandered the passageways, poking her head into hatches that offered a view into the depths of ancient dungeons where slaves were kept in hellish conditions until they were sent abroad. (When Mr. Obama visited, he said the castle “reminds us of the capacity of human beings to commit great evil.”)

Mrs. Trump spent a few minutes in a dungeon that once housed male slaves before they were dragged across the threshold of the “door of no return” and to waiting ships. She paused at the archway — and then stepped through.

Mrs. Trump generally avoids journalists, but at the castle on Wednesdaykk, she fielded their questions. Her tone was sober.

“I will never forget the incredible experience and the stories that I heard,” she said. “The dungeons that I saw — it’s really something that people should see and experience what happened so many years ago. It’s really a tragedy.”

Mrs. Trump’s visit has so far lacked much fanfare.

In Cape Coast, a group of men at the palace strung up a large welcome sign in the courtyard in which it appeared that her first name had initially been misspelled. In Accra, the Ghanaian capital, the usual buzz associated with a visiting high-profile personality seemed to be missing.

Nana Amba Eyiaba, queen mother of Cape Coast, said Ghanaians had anticipated Mrs. Trump’s visit with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.

Katie Rogers, NYTimes, Oct. 6, 1018

Ray Myers

Republicans, Citing Bias, Give Google the Third Degree

WASHINGTON — Google executives, after months of mostly avoiding the harsh spotlight put on their internet peers, are being grilled in Washington this week by lawmakers questioning if the Silicon Valley giant is living up to its promise to be a neutral arbiter of online information.

On Friday, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, will meet with Representative Kevin McCarthy, of California, the Republican House majority leader and a vocal critic of Google, and more than two dozen Republicans to discuss complaints the company is trying to silence conservative voices.

“Google has a lot of questions to answer about reports of bias in its search results, violations of user privacy, anticompetitive behavior, and business dealings with repressive regimes like China,” Mr. McCarthy said in a statement.

The Friday meeting will cap a week of tech-related sessions in Washington in which Google — in the cross hairs of Silicon Valley’s conservative critics since late summer — has played a starring role.

At a gathering of the heads of the Justice Department and a dozen state attorneys general on Tuesday, Google was mentioned more than any other company when it came to concerns about antitrust enforcement and privacy practices, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

At a Senate hearing discussing online privacy on Wednesday, Google’s chief privacy officer, Keith Enright, received the toughest and broadest array of questions from lawmakers who wanted to know about the company’s consideration of introducing search services in China. Google says it is not close to starting such a service.

In a letter to the Senate committee holding the hearing, a former employee, Jack Poulson, said Google’s building a search engine that would be acceptable to the government of China was a “catastrophic failure of the internal privacy review process.” He said this was part of a “broad pattern of unaccountable decision making.”

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, also questioned Mr. Enright about claims of bias against conservatives in search results. “I can tell you that millions of Texans believe Google is actively censoring the speech of conservatives,” Mr. Cruz said.

On Thursday, Harmeet Dhillon, a lawyer and Republican Party official, is set to testify in the House about anti-conservative bias in tech. Ms. Dhillon represents several former employees in a lawsuit filed last year against Google that claims the company discriminated against them based on their political beliefs.

Google’s week in Washington comes three weeks after executives from Twitter and Facebook testified in a Senate hearing dedicated to Russian disinformation on social media. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, also spoke at a House hearing about claims of anti-conservative bias at Twitter.

Google executives did not attend the Senate hearing, though they were invited. The company offered to send Kent Walker, a senior vice president for global affairs who is also the company’s top lawyer. But urged on by Facebook officials, according to two people familiar with the matter, senators insisted on a more powerful executive. Google refused.

It was the “worst business decision of 2018,” said Scott Galloway, a founder of the business research firm Gartner L2 and a professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business. “It feels like the tide has turned substantially,” Mr. Galloway said. “They’ve sort of poked the bear.”

A Google spokeswoman said officials from the company had testified before Congress 22 times since 2008. “We’re happy to continue explaining our products and practices,” Becca Rutkoff, the Google spokeswoman, said in a statement.

For longtime Google critics and even some of its Silicon Valley peers, it is surprising that Google has avoided the spotlight for so long.

It has 90 percent of the global search market — a share so high that it has for years had to sidestep concerns that it is a dominant monopoly that needs to be regulated. Competitors have long claimed that Google is using its search dominance to advantage its own services and should be controlled by antitrust laws.

The Google-owned YouTube video service is also dominant, and has for several years faced questions about videos that show terrorist violence and disinformation, similar to issues that Facebook and Twitter have had to address in congressional hearings.

And Google has faced several claims of bias. A video of a staff meeting held shortly after Donald J. Trump was elected president, leaked two weeks ago, showed several senior Google executives, including Mr. Pichai, expressing their alarm.

Emails leaked last week showed lower-level Google employees discussing whether they could alter search results to counter President Trump’s travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries. Google is adamant that no one in a position to make such a change seriously considered it.

Employees are bracing for more embarrassing leaks. The company has long encouraged workers to speak their minds on internal message boards. That includes politics.

The conservative pressure on Google started to escalate in late summer. On Aug. 28, Mr. Trump, in a series of tweets, attacked Google for what he claimed was an effort to suppress conservative media that was favorable to his administration.

The next day, the president posted a video that seemed to show that Google did not promote his State of the Union address on its home page as it had in the past for President Obama. He used the hashtag #StopTheBias. The video was incorrect. Google said that it didn’t promote Mr. Obama’s inaugural address, a joint statement to Congress but not technically a State of the Union address, in 2009 either.

Shortly after, other Republicans were calling for regulations and greater scrutiny. Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, called for antitrust regulators to reopen an investigation into Google.

Some Google officials wonder if competitors are organizing a campaign to prompt regulatory scrutiny.

At the Senate hearing Google did not attend, lawmakers mentioned a report that had come out a day before from the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit watchdog group that often publishes research critical of Google. The group posed as Russian trolls to buy what it called politically divisive ads on Google’s systems, which failed to stop them.

Google called the report “a stunt” by its rivals and blamed the software maker Oracle for its release. Ken Glueck, a senior vice president at Oracle, said it had made a one-time financial contribution in 2016 to the Campaign for Accountability but denied that the company had any involvement in the report.

Google has many business opponents in Washington, including telecommunication giants like AT&T and Comcast. Oracle and News Corp. have put significant resources into funding third-party coalitions and public relations firms to place ads and to lobby lawmakers on Google’s dominance in search and on allegations it uses its power to unfairly harm publishers and other tech rivals.

But few companies have been as tenacious as Yelp, a midsize internet outfit with far fewer resources. It has waged a seven-year battle to get regulatory agencies around the world to investigate Google. Until recently, its calls have been largely ignored in the United States. The company claims Google prioritized its own reviews over others, making it much harder for competing reviews sites like Yelp to be discovered.

Early in September, a White House official received an email with an attachment from Luther Lowe, the senior vice president for policy for Yelp.

“Check out the attachment,” Mr. Lowe wrote in an email. “Tell me what you think.”

The attachment was a document called, “Executive Draft Order to Protect American Competition and Small Businesses From Bias in Online Platforms.” It was a draft presidential order instructing antitrust officials to recommend ways to protect competition and clamp down on content bias on internet search and social media sites.

Mr. Lowe said in an email that he did not know the origins of the document and that it had been forwarded to him.

Daisuke Wakabayashi and Cecelia Kang, NYTIMES 9/17/18

Ray Myers

Medicaid Work Requirements Kick Thousands Off of It – Make America Great Again?

The Trump administration argues that imposing work requirements for Medicaid is an incentive that can help lift people out of poverty. But a test program in Arkansas shows how hard it is merely to inform people about new incentives, let alone get them to act.

In the first month that it was possible for people to lose coverage for failing to comply, more than 4,300 people were kicked out of the program for the rest of the year. Thousands more are on track to lose health benefits in the coming months. You lose coverage if you fail to report three times, and the program, in effect for three months, is slowly phasing in more people.

Arkansas is the first state to test a work requirement, a policy that the administration has encouraged, and that several other states are hoping to copy. The demonstration project is testing whether a work requirement can help encourage more low-income people to work, volunteer or go to school and improve their financial prospects.

The early results suggest that the incentives may not work the way officials had hoped. Arkansas officials, trying to minimize coverage losses, effectively exempted two-thirds of the eligible people from having to report work hours.

Of the remaining third — about 20,000 people — 16,000 didn’t report qualifying activities to the state. Only 1,200 people, about 2 percent of those eligible for the requirement, told the state they had done enough of the required activities in August, according to state figures.

Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which approved the project, offered an enthusiastic assessment of the results so far. “I’m excited by the partnerships that Arkansas has fostered to connect Medicaid beneficiaries to work and educational opportunities,” she wrote on Twitter. (Her office declined to offer any further statements on the Arkansas experience.)

Advocates for the poor, and the state officials in charge of the program, said the low compliance numbers suggested that many eligible people probably didn’t know the program existed. State officials said they worked hard to get the word out — mailing letters, sending emails, placing phone calls, briefing medical providers, putting posts on social media sites and distributing fliers where Medicaid patients might find them.

“I was literally taking fliers to the urgent care clinic when I was taking my kids to get tested for strep,” said Amy Webb, the chief communications and community engagement officer for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. “If there’s something we are not doing to reach people, if someone will tell us how to do that, we will do it.”

But it seems that not everyone opened or read their mail. Ray Hanley, the president of the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, which ran a call center for the state, told my colleague Robert Pear that many people never answered their phones. The state said the open rate on emails was between 20 and 30 percent.

It’s harder to measure how many people opened paper mail, but the state noted in its recent report that it knows that thousands of people in the program either move away from their recorded address or fail to answer other mail from the state. Housing instability and moves are more common among low-income Americans.

Jessica Greene, a professor of health policy at Baruch College in New York, visited three Arkansas counties last month and interviewed 18 Medicaid beneficiaries. Twelve of them were unaware of the work requirement, according to an article she published on the website of the journal Health Affairs.

That may not be entirely surprising. “I ignore mailings and calls from my health insurer — I get them all the time,” said Eliot Fishman, a senior director of health policy at Families USA, a consumer advocacy group.

Mr. Fishman oversaw Medicaid demonstration projects in the Obama administration. He said he learned that it was challenging to use health insurance as a vehicle to shape behavior, because most people don’t read the fine print of their health benefits.

Under Mr. Fishman’s watch, Indiana tested a program to get beneficiaries to take more responsibility for their health. Medicaid patients who made small monthly payments in special accounts, got a checkup or did other activities could earn more generous benefits. Ms. Verma, then a consultant, helped the state devise that program. In an evaluation, it turned out that only a minority of eligible people understood that the accounts existed.

Joan Alker, the executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, who opposes work requirements for Medicaid, said the state could have done more to get the word out — if it had been willing to spend more.

The Obama administration spent millions on advertising and in-person help when it rolled out Obamacare’s coverage expansion in 2014. Even then, it took several years before the uninsured rate among poor Americans stopped dropping. “You cannot have an incentive strategy that is allegedly designed to change people’s behavior if people are not aware of it,” she said.

The challenge goes beyond getting the message out. The state requires those eligible for the work requirement to report their work hours every month, and only online. Arkansas has one of the lowest rates of internet penetration in the country; estimates from the Urban Institute suggest that more than a quarter of eligible families are not online.

Advocates for the poor describe the state’s website as confusing to navigate, especially for people with limited computer skills and overall literacy. (Click on the site yourself and see if you can figure out how to report work hours.) The state has tried workarounds — like offering computer terminals in county offices, and training volunteers to help people log their hours.

But evidence from a range of social programs — including Medicaid — has repeatedly demonstrated that administrative hurdles can cause eligible people to lose benefits.

As the program is expanded to more people, awareness and compliance may spread over time. But the early results could mean the end of the program before we know for sure. A lawsuit challenging the work requirement will be reviewed soon by a federal judge who already knocked down a similar work rule in Kentucky. In that case, the judge, James Boasberg, said Kentucky had been insufficiently concerned about the people who might lose coverage because of the requirement. In Kentucky, those losses were theoretical. In Arkansas, they’re already real.

Margot Sanger-Katz is a domestic correspondent and writes about health care for The Upshot. She was previously a reporter at National Journal and The Concord Monitor and an editor at Legal Affairs and the Yale Alumni Magazine. @sangerkatzFacebook

Ray Myers

U.S. RV Sales and Trump’s China Trade Tariffs

ELKHART, Ind. — The tables were filled at the Chubby Trout restaurant and the local craft beer flowed. The Flippin’ Cow was packed too, with diners overlooking Simonton Lake. Small manufacturing companies were advertising for workers, offering health insurance and retirement accounts.

But Elkhart, with about 55,000 residents and a 2.3 percent unemployment rate, is also a bit nervous. This city near the Michigan border has long been used as a political prop — first by President Barack Obama, then by President Trump — to express concern for the downtrodden and to make a claim on newfound property.

Now, Elkhart may be sending a message that no politician wants to hear.

The city calls itself the “RV Capital of the World” — more than 80 percent of the vehicles sold in the United States are made in Elkhart and the surrounding area, according to the RV Industry Association — and Mr. Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum are increasing costs, diminishing demand and causing concern that a 10-year boom cycle could be waning.

Ray Myers

(Excerpted from The NY Times)

Senator “Whitehouse” Slams Supreme Court Nominee

WHITEHOUSE REVEALS KAVANAUGH’S PRO-CORPORATE, RIGHT-WING RECORD IN SCOTUS HEARING OPENER

Judge Kavanaugh advances right-wing and corporate interests 91 percent of the time Kavanaugh sided with conservative “friends of the court” 91 percent of the time

Washington, DC – At today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) pinpointed Kavanaugh’s troubling bias in favor of right-wing and corporate interests throughout his career in Republican politics and on the federal bench, and compared Kavanaugh’s partiality to the same bias that has taken root in Chief Justice John Roberts’s Supreme Court.

Senator Whitehouse’s as-prepared remarks are below.

Whitehouse also released analysis, incorporated into his opening remarks, of recent Supreme Court jurisprudence and Kavanaugh’s judicial record.  Summaries and links to the full analysis are provided below.

READ:  The Roberts Five: Advancing Right-Wing and Corporate Interests 92% of the Time

A review of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence during the Roberts Era reveals that in the most controversial and salient civil cases – those decided by bare 5-4 or 5-3 majorities – when the right wing of the Court has voted en bloc to form the majority, they do so to advance far-right and corporate interests a striking 92 percent of the time.  In those cases, the “Roberts Five” – Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Justice Antonin Scalia (replaced last year by Justice Neil Gorsuch) – have reliably voted in lockstep to help Republicans win elections, to protect corporations from liability, to abridge civil rights, and to advance the far right social agenda.

READ: Brett Kavanaugh in Partisan 2-1 cases: Advancing Right-Wing and Corporate Interests 91% of the Time

A review of Brett Kavanaugh’s jurisprudence on the D.C. Circuit reveals that in the most controversial and salient civil cases – those decided by bare 2-1 majorities – when Kavanaugh is in the majority with another Republican-appointed judge, he votes to advance far-right and corporate interests a striking 91 percent of the time

READ: The Roberts Five: Siding with Conservative Amici Curiae 92% of the Time

An examination of the Roberts Court’s 5-4 decisions reveals that, when the Roberts Five (Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, Justice Kennedy, Justice Scalia/Gorsuch, and Justice Thomas) forms the Court’s majority, they agree with conservative amici curiae (“friends of the court”) 92 percent of the time.  Further, in these cases, the Roberts Five has endorsed the positions advanced by the high-profile conservative groups the Chamber of Commerce, the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, and the Washington Legal Foundation 100 percent of the time.  In its 5-4 decisions, the Roberts Five have opened up the doors for dark money to flood the political system, rolled back important voting rights and environmental protections, and made it easier for employers to discriminate against their employees.  

READ: Brett Kavanaugh: Siding with Conservative Amici Curiae 91% of the Time

An examination of District of Columbia Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s written opinions reveals that he sided with conservative amici curiae (“friends of the court”) 91 percent of the time.  In these cases, Kavanaugh wrote opinions limiting collective bargaining rights, letting polluters pollute, blurring the line between the separation of church and state, protecting corporations from liability, and expanding the scope of the Second Amendment.

READ: Select Cases Showing Brett Kavanaugh Delivering for Right-Wing and Corporate Interests

Before beginning his remarks, Whitehouse joined colleagues in calling out the Trump administration’s dubious assertion of privilege over 100,000 pages of documents related to Kavanaugh, and the eleventh-hour dump of an additional 42,000 pages of documents from Kavanaugh’s work in the Bush administration – documents Democrats had no hope of reviewing fully before Kavanaugh’s hearing began.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s Complete Statemeny

Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing Opening Statement

September 4, 2018 – AS-PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

When is a pattern evidence of bias?

In court, pattern is evidence of bias all the time; evidence on which juries and trial judges rely, to show discriminatory intent, to show a common scheme, to show bias. 

When does a pattern prove bias?

That’s no idle question.   It’s relevant to the pattern of the Roberts Court when its Republican majority goes off on its partisan excursions through the civil law; when all five Republican appointees — the Roberts Five, I’ll call them — go raiding off together, and no Democratic appointee joins them.

Does this happen often?  Yes, indeed. 

The Roberts Five has gone on 80 of these partisan excursions since Roberts became chief. 

There is a feature to these eighty cases.  They almost all implicate interests important to the big funders and influencers of the Republican Party.  When the Republican Justices go off on these partisan excursions, there’s a big Republican corporate or partisan interest involved 92 percent of the time.

A tiny handful of these cases don’t implicate an interest of the big Republican influencers — so flukishly few we can set them aside.  That leaves 73 cases that all implicate a major Republican Party interest.  Seventy-three is a lot of cases at the Supreme Court.

Is there a pattern to those 73 cases?   Oh, yes there is.

Every time a big Republican corporate or partisan interest is involved, the big Republican interest wins.  Every. Time. 

Let me repeat:  In seventy-three partisan decisions where there’s a big Republican interest at stake, the big Republican interest wins.  Every.  Damned.  Time. 

Hence the mad scramble of big Republican interest groups to protect a “Roberts Five” that will reliably give them wins — really big wins, sometimes.

When the Roberts Five saddles up, these so-called conservatives are anything but judicially conservative. 

They readily overturn precedent, toss out statutes passed by wide bipartisan margins, and decide on broad constitutional issues they need not reach.  Modesty, originalism, stare decisis, all these supposedly conservative judicial principles, all have the hoof prints of the Roberts Five all across their backs, wherever those principles got in the way of wins for the Big Republican interests. 

The litany of Roberts Five decisions explains why big Republican interests want Kavanaugh on the Court so badly that Republicans trampled so much Senate precedent to shove him through; so let’s review the litany. 

What do big Republican interests want?  Well, first, they want to win elections.

What has the Roberts Five delivered?

Help Republicans gerrymander elections:  Vieth v. Jubelirer, 5-4, license to gerrymander.

Help Republicans keep minority voters away from the polls:  Shelby County, 5-4 and Bartlett v. Strickland, 5-4.  And Abbott v. Perez, 5-4, despite the trial judge finding the Texas legislature actually intended to suppress minority voters.

And the big one:  help corporate front-group money flood elections — if you’re a big special interest you love unlimited power to buy elections and threaten and bully Congress. McCutcheon, 5-4 counting the concurrence; Bullock, 5-4; and the infamous, grotesque 5-4 Citizens United decision (which belongs beside Lochner on the Court’s roll of shame).

What else do the big influencers want? 

To get out of courtrooms.  Big influencers hate courtrooms, because their lobbying and electioneering and threatening doesn’t work.  In a courtroom, big influencers used to getting their way have to suffer the indignity of equal treatment. 

So the Roberts Five protects corporations from group “class action” lawsuits:  Walmart v. Dukes, 5-4; Comcast, 5-4; and this past term, Epic Systems, 5-4.

The Roberts Five helps corporations steer customers and workers away from courtrooms and into mandatory arbitration:  Concepcion, Italian Colors, and Rent-a-Center, all Roberts Five.  Epic Systems does double duty here: now workers can’t even arbitrate their claims as a group.

Hindering access to the courthouse for plaintiffs generally: Iqbal, 5-4.

Protecting corporations from being taken to court by employees harmed through pay discrimination, Ledbetter, 5-4; age discrimination, Gross, 5-4; harassment, Vance 5-4; and retaliation, Nassar, 5-4.  Even insulating corporations from liability for international human rights violations: Jesner, 5-4.

Corporations aren’t in the Constitution; juries are.  Indeed, courtroom juries are the one element of American government designed to protect people against encroachments by private wealth and power.   So of course the Roberts Five rule for wealthy, powerful corporations over jury rights every time — with nary a mention of the Seventh Amendment.

What’s another one?   Oh, yes.  A classic: helping big business bust unions.  Harris v. Quinn, 5-4; and Janus v. AFSCME this year, 5-4, overturning a 40-year precedent.

Lots of big Republican influencers are polluters. They like to pollute for free.

So of course the Roberts Five delivers decisions that let corporate polluters pollute.  To pick a few:  Rapanos, weakening wetland protections, 5-4; National Association of Home Builders, weakening protections for endangered species, 5-4; Michigan v. EPA, helping air polluters, 5-4;  and, in the face of emerging climate havoc, there’s the procedurally aberrant 5-4 partisan decision to stop the EPA Clean Power Plan.

Then come Roberts Five bonus decisions advancing a far-right social agenda:  Gonzalez v. Carhart, upholding restrictive abortion laws; Hobby Lobby, granting corporations religious rights over the health care rights of employees; NIFLA,  letting states deny women truthful information about their reproductive choices—all 5-4, all the Republicans.

Add Heller and McDonald, which reanimated for the gun industry a theory a former Chief Justice once called a “fraud”; both decisions 5-4.

This year, Trump v. Hawaii, 5-4, rubber stamping President Trump’s discriminatory Muslim travel ban.

And in case Wall Street was feeling left out, helping insulate investment bankers from fraud claims: Janus Capital Group, Inc., 5-4.  

No wonder the American people feel the game is rigged.

Here’s how the rigged game works: big business and partisan groups fund the Federalist Society, which picked Gorsuch and now Kavanaugh.  As White House Counsel admitted, they “insourced” the Federalist Society for this selection. Exactly how the nominees were picked, and who was in the room where it happened, and who had a vote or a veto, and what was said or promised, is all a deep dark secret. 

Then big business and partisan groups fund the Judicial Crisis Network, which runs dark-money political campaigns to influence Senators in confirmation votes, as they’ve done for Gorsuch and now Kavanaugh.  Who pays millions of dollars for that, and what their expectations are, is a deep dark secret.  

These groups also fund Republican election campaigns with dark money. The identity of the big donors?  A deep dark secret.

Once the nominee is on, the same business front groups, with ties to the Koch Brothers and other funders of the Republican political machine, file “friend of the court,” or amicus briefs, to signal their wishes to the Roberts Five.  Who is really behind those “friends” is another deep dark secret.

It has gotten so weird that Republican justices now even send hints back to big business interests about how they’d like to help them next, and then big business lawyers rush out to lose cases, just to get them up before the friendly Court, pronto.  That’s what happened in Friedrichs and Janus.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the biggest corporate lobby of them all.  It’s the mouthpiece for Big Coal, Big Oil, Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, Big Guns, you name it—and this year, with Justice Gorsuch riding with the Roberts Five, the Chamber won nine of the 10 cases it weighed in on.

The Roberts Five since 2006 has given the Chamber more than three-quarters of their total votes. This year in civil cases they voted for the Chamber’s position nearly 90 percent of the time. 

People are noticing.  Veteran court-watchers like Jeffrey Toobin, Linda Greenhouse and Norm Orenstein describe the court as a delivery service for Republican interests: 

Toobin has written that on the Supreme Court, “Roberts has served the interests . . . of the contemporary Republican Party.” 

Greenhouse has said, “the Republican-appointed majority is committed to harnessing the Supreme Court to an ideological agenda.”

Orenstein described, “the new reality of today’s Supreme Court: It is polarized along partisan lines in a way that parallels other political institutions and the rest of society, in a fashion we have never seen.”

And the American public knows it, too.  The American public thinks the Supreme Court treats corporations more favorably than individuals, compared to vice versa, by a 7-to-1 margin. 

Now, let’s look at where Judge Kavanaugh fits in.  A Republican political operative his whole career, who’s never tried a case.  He made his political bones helping the salacious prosecution of President Clinton, and leaking prosecution information to the press.

As an operative in the second Bush White House, he cultivated relationships with political insiders like nomination guru Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society architect of Kavanaugh’s court nominations. On the D.C. Circuit, Kavanaugh gave more than 50 speeches to the Federalist Society.  That’s some auditioning.

On the DC Circuit, Kavanaugh showed his readiness to join the Roberts Five with big political wins for Republican and corporate interests: unleashing special interest money into elections; protecting corporations from liability; helping polluters pollute; striking down commonsense gun regulations; keeping injured plaintiffs out of court; and perhaps most important for the current occupant of the Oval Office, expounding a nearly limitless vision of presidential immunity from the law. 

His alignment with right-wing groups who came before him as “friends of the court”?  91 percent.  

When big business trade associations weighed in?  76 percent.  This is what corporate capture of the courts looks like.

There are big expectations for you.  The shadowy dark-money front group, the Judicial Crisis Network, is spending tens of millions in dark money to push for your confirmation.  They clearly have big expectations about how you’ll rule on dark money.

The NRA has poured millions into your confirmation, promising their members that you’ll “break the tie.”  They clearly have big expectations on how you’ll vote on guns.

White House Counsel Don McGahn said, “There is a coherent plan here where actually the judicial selection and the deregulatory effort are really the flip side of the same coin.”  Big polluters clearly have big expectations for you on their deregulatory effort.

Finally, you come before us nominated by a President named in open court as directing criminal activity, and a subject of ongoing criminal investigation.  You displayed expansive views on executive immunity from the law. If you are in that seat because the White House has big expectations that you will protect the President from the due process of law, that should give every Senator pause. 

Tomorrow, we will hear a lot of “confirmation etiquette.”  It’s a sham. 

Kavanaugh knows the game.  In the Bush White House, he coached judicial nominees to just tell Senators that they will adhere to statutory text, that they have no ideological agenda.  Fairy tales.

At his hearing, Justice Roberts infamously said he’d just call “balls and strikes,” but the pattern – the 73-case pattern – of the Roberts Five qualifies him to have NASCAR-style corporate badges on his robes.  

Alito said in his hearing what a “strong principle” stare decisis was, an important limitation on the Court.  Then he told the Federalist Society stare decisis “means to leave things decided when it suits our purposes.”

Gorsuch delivered the key fifth vote in the precedent-busting, but also union-busting, Janus decision.  He too had pledged in his hearing to “follow the law of judicial precedent,” assured us he was not a “philosopher king,” and promised to give equal concern to “every person, poor or rich, mighty or meek.”

How did that turn out?  Great for the rich and mighty: Gorsuch is the single most corporate-friendly justice on a Court already full of them, ruling for big business interests in over 70 percent of cases, and in every single case where his vote was determinative. 

The president early on assured evangelicals his Supreme Court picks would attack Roe v. Wade.  Despite “confirmation etiquette” assurances about precedent, your own words make clear you don’t really believe Roe v. Wade is settled law.

We have seen this movie before.  We know how it ends. 

The sad fact is that there is no consequence for telling the Committee fairy tales about stare decisis, and then riding off with the Roberts Five, trampling across whatever precedent gets in the way of letting those Big Republican interests keep winning 5-4 partisan decisions. 

Every.  Damned.  Time. 

###

 Ray Myers

I Tweet, and So Does Everyone Else!

Way back during the early years of the Obama administration, government agencies were beginning to use social media as a means of “getting our message out.” I volunteered to be a part of this “outreach” then, as a staff member at the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education. It was all new to me, and as one of the more “senior” staff, I was eager to learn some new tricks. Now I am older and so is Twitter, and it is certainly not the novelty that it once was.

I think that it still serves as a convenient “short-hand” stream of consciousness for many, but it may have become overloaded with everyone’s desire to be heard in the name of open and free expression (“TechtoExpress”). Maggie Haberman of the NY Times put it this way this past week: “To be clear, Twitter is a useful and important platform. It’s a good aggregator for breaking news. I still check my feed to see breaking news developments, and I will continue to. And it is democratic – everyone gets to have a voice, whether they work for a local paper, a small TV station or one of the biggest newspapers in the world, or are not in the media business at all. The downside is that everyone is treated equally expert on various topics.”

“Make America Great Again.” Just get a Twitter account, and tweet away. You may even be elected president?

Ray Myers

Political Messaging on Facebook

Trump is now the single biggest political advertiser on Facebook. So what’s your favorite addiction? Politics or social media? I think it is now safe to say after the last election, that if you like to get your “fake news” online, you were among those who were the most helpful in getting Trump elected. He may not have gotten the most individual Americans’ votes, but he certainly knew where the most counted and where to place his political ads, Facebook.

He still continues today and will probably continue to take the most advantage of Facebook’s hypnotic hold on those who believe that everything that they read or see online must be true! This is now the age of believing in your own opinions, regardless of what the facts may be. “If it’s online, it must be true.” As discussed on this blog on Monday, political consultants have said that Democrats who are running for election are spending a smaller percentage of their ad budgets on digital ads than their rivals, sometimes as little as 10 percent versus 40 percent for Republicans. That has spurred volunteer efforts in Silicon Valley, which is widely regarded as liberal, to help bring Democratic campaigns into the digital age.

The new digital political age? And if you can’t get enough followers, make them up.

Ray Myers

Twitter to Purge Fake Followers – Back to the USSR

Timing is everything as the old saying goes. Trump may have been the recipient of some good timing in terms of his world travels next week when he visits with his good buddy Vladimir Putin.

“For Twitter, the reform comes at a critical moment. Though it is a smaller company with far fewer users than Facebook or Google, Twitter has been sharply criticized for allowing abuse and hate speech to flourish on its platform. And along with other social networks, Twitter was a critical tool for Russian influence during the 2016 election, when tens of thousands of accounts were used to spread propaganda and disinformation. Those troubles dampened Twitter’s prospects for acquisition by a bigger firm, and the company, which went public in 2013, did not turn a profit until the final quarter of last year.”

I wonder how many followers Trump will lose? Maybe his Russian followers will still find a way to “influence” him, and increase his number of (fake?) followers. He will be visiting with them next week?

Ray Myers

Supreme Court Pick and Tech Freedom

Is Net Neutrality really unlawful? Our new Justice seems to think so. Trump announced on Twitter last week that he would name a nominee to serve on the highest federal court in the United States at 6 p.m. PT Monday night. The choice comes about two weeks after Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he would retire by July 31. (Check out out the full coverage at our sister site CBSNews.com.)Trump’s choice, if confirmed by the Senate, will have a say on landmark cases for years to come. Supreme Court justices make rulings that affect everything from education to marriage equality to free speech. Tech has increasingly appeared on the court’s docket. In 2018, the justices ruled on cases that affected online shopping and phone location data history privacy.  In its next session, which starts in October, the Supreme Court is expected to hear cases on tech issues again, including an antitrust argument over Apple’s App Store.Kavanaugh, 53, has served as a US Court of Appeals judge for the DC Circuit for 12 years, providing opinions on key tech issues like net neutrality andThe potential Supreme Court justice sided against net neutrality in a 2017 dissent, arguing that it was “one of the most consequential regulations ever issued by any executive or independent agency in the history of the United States.”Kavanaugh wrote that net neutrality was unlawful because it prevented internet service providers from controlling what type of content they provide to people, violating a company’s First Amendment rights. He compared it to cable providers being able to control what customers could watch.Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, called Kavanaugh out for his stance on net neutrality in a tweet on July 3.”Kavanaugh frequently sides with powerful interests rather than defending the rights of all Americans like when he argued that the FCC’s #NetNeutrality rule benefiting millions of consumers was unconstitutional,” the senator tweeted.  The circuit court judge has also argued in support of the NSA’s massive surveillance program.In 2015, the US Court of Appeals declined to hear a case on the NSA’s phone metadata collection, first unveiled by whistleblower Edward Snowden.In his opinion, Kavanaugh argued that the NSA’s surveillance program was consistent with the Fourth Amendment, even without a warrant. He said that data requests from the government were reasonable for national security.”In my view, that critical national security need outweighs the impact on privacy occasioned by this program,” Kavanaugh wrote.He cited the “third-party doctrine” established in 1979, which allows law enforcement to obtain data on a person without a warrant if they obtained it from a third party (CNET 7/10/18).Ray Myers

Twitter is Trump’s Song Bird

Twitter used to be an apolitical forum where you could type and hashtag away just about anything that seemed important or “interesting” to you. But times have changed as we all know, and the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has turned it into his most powerful propaganda tool. But can’t Twitter do something about that? A Washington Post reporter recently (Manjoo, 7/5/18) asked that same question to Vijaya Gadde, head of the legal policy and trust office at Twitter. “She declined to answer directly, pointing instead to a January statement in which the company stated that blocking a world leader’s tweets ‘would hide important information people should be able to see and delete.’ But what if that important information conflicts with Twitter’s mission to promote a healthy public conversation? Sooner or later, Twitter’s executives and employees are going to have to make a decision about which is more important, Mr. Trump’s tweets or the company’s desire to promote a healthy public conversation. It’s hard to see how both are tenable.” Ray Myers

Cartoonist Plans to Trump White House Tweets

I am a fan of political cartoons that taunt and tease political leaders. Particularly in the case of over-bearing, pompous, and presumptuous elected officials who believe they are beyond reproach. I think you may have known one or two, but if you don’t, please take a look at the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Rob Rogers, a political cartoonist with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 25 years, recently lost his job for not being politically correct in the eyes of the newspaper’s owners. Here is how he described his ouster by the owners: “I was trained in a tradition in which editorial cartoonists are the live wires of a publication – as one former colleague put it, the ‘constant irritants.’ Our job is to provoke readers in a way words can’t. Cartoonists are not illustrators for a publisher’s politics.”

Rogers promises that: “The paper may have taken an eraser to my cartoons. But I plan to be at the drawing table every day of this presidency.”

Ray Myers

Death by Twitter – a Cautionary Tale

The most popular show on ABC (American Broadcasting Company), Rosanne, was canceled last week because the star of the show, Roseanne Barr — known for saying and writing stuff that would get most of us fired — did exactly what she was known for doing and got fired. ABC now looks like it is run by idiots because, really, who didn’t see this coming?

The network now has to explain to its licensees, which deliver shows to you and me, why they no longer will be able to get the ad revenue that otherwise would have been coming to them. I guess Rosanne will still get paid, but I really don’t know, and truthfully, don’t care. Twitter has become our most popular and most abused form of social media. Oh yes, the current White House resident is very fond of using it as well.

Maybe he too will get fired some day?

Ray Myers

Loving to Tweet, but Not Engaging with the World

I know this is not my typical tweet about using technology to express and engage with others, so please indulge me for this “special” moment. Trump’s behavior at the recent G-7 meetings was despicable and dangerous in its expression of “I” will not play if “I” can’t have it my way! He does not have that right as OUR elected official. His way or the highway? Don’t believe all the lies and self-aggrandizement he spews forth on his Twitter site, or any place else.

I think The NY Times had it right in Tuesday’s editorial: “But no. Instead, as photographs from the Quebec resort showed, Mr. Trump faced the other leaders with arms defiantly crossed and faced locked in a pout. It was a confirmation that so long as Mr. Trump was on the White House, and maybe beyond that, something fundamental in the community of Western democracies will be missing. America, the leader of the free world and architect of so much of the modern world order, had decided to go its own way.”

How did we get here? Maybe Russia knows?

Ray Myers

No More Net Neutrality while Trump Bargains with Devils

While we were all enthralled with Trump’s globe-trotting antics, i.e., a G-7 meeting where he made a pitch for allowing Russia to rejoin, refusing to sign concluding document, and an historic “hand-shake” with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un: net neutrality died in the United States. As a public service, here are some of the changes that will make you wish for a return to those carefree Internet-browsing days.

* Internet service providers can now discriminate against any lawful content by blocking websites or apps.

* Service providers can now slow the transmission of data because of the nature of the content.

* Service providers can now create “internet fast lanes” for companies and consumers who pay premiums, and maintain a slow lane for those who don’t.

Now we can all sleep a little more soundly? We have both Russia and North Korea on our side, and our Internet service just got slower, may be censored, and become more expensive. More like a nightmare!

Ray Myers

Tweeting for Freedom with Russia Watching

Bill Browder, a London-based investor who has styled himself as a nemesis to Vladimir Putin of Russia, documented the latest episode in his thirteen year game of cat and mouse with the Russian government, live-tweeting his brief arrest by the Spanish police on Wednesday.

Mr. Browder who was once the largest foreign investor in the Russian stock market ran afoul of Mr. Putin in 2005 and was kicked out of Russia. He was convicted of tax fraud in absentia and sentenced to nine years in prison. He documented Russia’s efforts to arrest him in a 2015 book, “Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice.”

Unfortunately, our current White House resident who likes to tweet, but has not read a book since who knows when, will probably not benefit from knowing his story. Too busy tweeting lies that promote his agenda. So sad!

Ray Myers

Not a Twitter Matter, Mr. Trump

Someone please tell the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington , D.C., that he is not an Emperor.  He can not decree or demand that things be done to his liking simply because he wants them.  Or, in his case, simply “tweet” out his demands.  It’s time to tell him “he has no clothes” when he refuses to recognize that any power he has comes from the citizens of this democratic republic.  No number of petulant tweets can supersede that!

On Sunday, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter: “I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for political purposes – any of any such demands or request were made by people within the Obama administration.

FYI, former President Barack Obama wrote a piece in the Harvard Law Review last year in which he stated: “The president does not and should not decide who or what to investigate or prosecute or when an investigation or prosecution should happen.”  Good advice, I think.

Ray Myers

P.S. Happy Memorial Day. Enjoy the holiday. Back on Wednesday, May 30.

Thumbs Up! Texting May be Hazardous to Your Health.

And I am not talking about Trump’s salutary greeting of his adoring throngs. I am offering some unsolicited, nonprofessional medical advice to all our consummate “texters” out there who use their thumbs to send messages all day. Take a break! Now here is some advice from an experienced acupuncturist, Michelle Kuroda.

“We’re not meant to just use our thumbs all the time, she says. We’re meant to use our fingers. That’s what our grip is for.” Now please don’t worry about Mr. Trump. He really does not do all of the actual texting on a little digital device (no pun intended). He is definitely the “idea man,” but one lucky presidential staff member sends it out there for all to enjoy or not. No fact-checking needed.

Maybe we should start talking on our smartphones more? 👍👍👍👍👍👍👍

Ray Myers

Inside Washington Tech Policy Stories – a Reporter’s View

I (Cecilia Kang) feel like everyone is hunched over their phones in Washington even more than other places. This is a news-obsessed town that is texting and e-mailing at all hours. There seems to be a bit of a generational divide on the use of communications apps. Younger staffers on Capitol Hill often use encrypted apps and direct messages on Twitter. But even some of my older sources (my peers, really) can sometimes text me at all hours. It feels totally appropriate to call, text or Signal late at night or on weekends. Many an interview is done with children heard in the background at a park.

The whole attitude toward the tech industry has changed in Washington, with every growing calls for privacy regulation and antitrust enforcement of giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The biggest stories coming up will be the lawsuits to restore net neutrality, which should begin late this summer. The Trump administration and the F.C.C. have focused on the race for the 5G networks and have acted to thwart competition from China, citing national security concerns. And privacy is the big wild card. Even if stricter privacy rules aren’t introduced in the United States, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation set to take effect next month will most likely spill over in some way into American policy.

Faster is better?

Ray Myers

Goodbye Cambridge Analytica, Your Work is Done (for now?)

The London based firm blamed “unfairly negative media coverage” and said it has been “vilified” for actions it says both legal and widely accepted as part of online advertising. As most Americans know by now, its actions included the spreading of false news in support of the election of Mr. Trump, and to the denigration of Hilary Clinton’s campaign.

Cambridge Analytica said it has filed papers to begin insolvency proceedings in the U.K. And will seek bankruptcy protection in a federal court in New York. “The siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the company’s customers and suppliers.”

“So sad” as Mr. Trump would say.

Ray Myers