Wednesday, July 28, 2021

UNITED STATES AIR FORCE - Leaker Gets Minimal Prison Time

IMO:  Being retired US Navy (22yrs) and a Vietnam Vet, people who help our enemies by revealing information that may help them are committing Treason, regardless of their misguided reason, and 45 months is no where near the sentence he should get.  As for whistleblower laws, our military national security should override the concerns of prison time for whistleblowers, if they break their oath they pay the consequences, especially when they plead guilty.

"Former Airman Who Leaked Details of Drone Program Sentenced, Will Serve Prison Time" by Oriana Pawlyk, 7/27/2021

A former Air Force intelligence analyst who said he was compelled to speak out against the military’s use of drones after witnessing firsthand their effect on civilian casualties has been sentenced to 45 months in prison for leaking classified information.

U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady convicted Daniel Hale of Nashville, Tennessee, on Tuesday for leaking the top secret information to a reporter.  Hale pleaded guilty to violating the 1917 Espionage Act in April.

Hale, who served in the Air Force between 2009 and 2013 deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, in 2012.  There he supported the National Security Agency and used his skills to track down cell-phone signals hunting enemy combatants in the field, according to the Associated Press.  He was honorably discharged in 2013, the same year he reached out to an unidentified reporter, according to the original indictment.

O’Grady confirmed during the sentencing hearing that the leaks were made to the Intercept.

He then leaked more than a dozen documents while working as a contracted analyst at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in 2014 and 2015.  The documents provided a counterpoint to U.S. claims that the drone program prioritized avoiding civilian casualties.

In an impassioned 11-page letter to O’Grady, Hale spoke of his depression and post traumatic stress disorder he has suffered in the wake of his intelligence work.

"Not a day goes by that I don't question the justification for my actions," Hale wrote.  “What possibly could I have done to cope with the undeniable cruelties that I perpetrated?"

The prosecution argued that Hale’s leak, however, made its way into an internet manual used by Islamic State fighters, jeopardizing military tactics and operations.

“You are not being prosecuted for speaking out about the drone program killing innocent people,” O’Grady, the judge, said Tuesday in Alexandria, Virginia.  “You could have been a whistleblower … without taking any of these documents.”

Lisa Ling, a former Air Force technical sergeant who worked with the drone program, told that unless the U.S. government creates more adequate ways for whistleblowers to come forward, leaks will continue to come from the intelligence and military communities.

“We all believe the public has a right to know what’s done in our name,” said Ling, who was honorably discharged in 2012 and spoke out against drone warfare in the 2016 documentary, "National Bird."

Ling believes the system meant to protect whistleblowers is broken, cheating the individuals who want to do public good.  “And the Espionage Act should be repealed -- it shouldn't be used for whistleblowers,” she said.

The World War I-era act was intended to punish those spying on behalf of any enemy or a foreign actor, but its scope has expanded over the years to include the prosecution of those who leak highly sensitive information that could harm national security.

Hale’s case has been compared to Reality Winner, who until recently was serving a 63-month sentence at a Fort Worth, Texas, federal prison after pleading guilty to leaking classified NSA information on Russia's alleged efforts to undermine the 2016 election -- a topic that has dominated national discourse and brought to light the challenges of safeguarding the voting process.

Prosecutors said at the time it was the longest sentence ever imposed for an unauthorized distribution of government information to a media outlet.  Similar to Hale, Winner was a former Air Force language analyst aiding pilots targeting enemy combatants in the Middle East.  She also was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act in 2018.

“I am so relieved that Daniel Hale did not receive as harsh of a sentence as my daughter,” Billie Winner-Davis, Reality’s mother, said Tuesday.

Winner last month was freed from the detention center and entered a residential reentry process.  She has not been pardoned.

“It breaks me to know he was sentenced to prison though,” Winner-Davis said.  “I don't believe he, nor any whistleblower, belongs in prison.”

More attention should be focused on the U.S. lethal actions abroad, argued Ling.

“It's always ‘a bad thing’ when somebody has a document that the public should have a right to know [about],” Ling said.

“If you look at a lot of the whistleblowers who come in who have come out, a lot of them have been involved or touched the drone program to include Edward Snowden,” she added.  “Why is that?  And why are we not interrogating the drone program?  Why are we interrogating the whistleblowers?”

Monday, July 26, 2021

OPINION - Brooks and Capehart 7/23/2021

"Brooks and Capehart on Jan. 6 committee, infrastructure, budget, vaccine hesitancyPBS NewsHour 7/23/2021

SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the Jan.  6 insurrection investigation, the infrastructure and budget negotiations in Congress, and vaccination efforts in America.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  From aspirations around infrastructure to political cracks in the investigation into the insurrection, there is a lot to unpack with the analysis of Brooks and Capehart.

That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

Hello to both of you on this Friday.

Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post:  Thanks, Judy.

Judy Woodruff:  It's always so good to see you.

Let's start with the fireworks this week, David.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi surprised, I think, a lot of people by saying, no, I'm not going to accept two of the five Republicans appointed to this January 6 select committee.  And then, in turn, you had Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, saying, well, if you are going to do that, I'm going to pull the whole group.

What did you make of all this?  Does it move the process forward?  What do you think?


David Brooks, New York Times:  No, it's round 947 of stupidity in Congress, I guess.

We had this commission.  The idea is, you each — in normal life, in a normal country, the two parties would get together, leaders would get together, and say, let's put — do this commission, important to understand.  We have a basic kind of person we want on this commission, the kind of people who is trusted by both sides, and then we will put some honorable people, trustworthy people on this commission.  And we will get to the answer.

But, of course, none of that obtains in this situation.  Pelosi and McCarthy never get together.  There are very few people trusted on both sides.  And then McCarthy takes the extraordinary step of appointing Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, two people who are explicitly opposed to the commission, and would clearly undermine it.

He could have picked any one of dozens of other people who would have been quiet and seemed sort of normal.  But this is like throwing it right in your face.  And Pelosi then takes another extraordinary step of not letting the Republicans pick their own people.

And so it's just one escalation of dysfunction after another.  And we're not going to get, at least out of Congress, a bipartisan investigation.

Judy Woodruff:  What did you make, Jonathan, of the arguments that each one of them was making here?  And where does that leave this whole thing?

Jonathan Capehart:  Well, I just want to push back on something David just said, that Speaker Pelosi wouldn't let Leader McCarthy pick his own people.

He picked five people, or he picked — he picked Republican members.  Two of them, as you rightly said, were basically stink bombs in the process.  But he was given the opportunity to choose people.  He decided to throw a huge wrench in the process.

I think I have said it on this air.  And I'm going to say it again.  For Nancy Pelosi, for Speaker Pelosi, her faith in the Constitution is only second to her Catholic faith.  She takes her role as a constitutional officer in the United States government extremely seriously.

So, for her, getting to the bottom of why Americans storm the U.S. Capitol to overturn a free and fair election, at the behest of the then sitting President of the United States, is something that is important to her.  It is vital for the history of the country.

And so for Kevin McCarthy to do what he did, and then to blame her, blame her for — she's the reason why the Capitol Police weren't prepared, to me, listening to — listening to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had shades of — had flashbacks to Benghazi.

January 6 is the new Benghazi.  Speaker Pelosi is the new Hillary Clinton.  The Capitol — she didn't have the Capitol Police prepared enough is the Hillary Clinton gave a stand-down order.  It is theatrics on the part of Kevin McCarthy.  It is constitutional duty that Speaker Pelosi is trying to engage in.

Judy Woodruff:  David, Kevin McCarthy more to blame here than the speaker?

David Brooks:  I think, on balance, yes, more to blame.

I think Republicans should still get to pick, but, clearly, they would have screwed up the whole works.  Why did Jordan and Banks get picked?

Well, (A) it could have been so Nancy Pelosi would throw them off, and McCarthy could have a fit.  He must have foreseen that.

Jonathan Capehart:  Right.

David Brooks:  She's not going to — and, second [B], it's further regulatory about where the party is, that it's more a [Jim] Jordan party than it is a Cheney party, Liz Cheney.

And so the party is still over there.  And McCarthy is not an ideological person, but he probably knows where the center of his caucus is.

And just this afternoon, I read a piece in The New York Times by Michael Wolff, who's written three books on Donald Trump, just had dinner with him, saying he was certain Trump was going to run for President again.  And if he's going to run for President again, then I guess that's the center of the party, and that's what McCarthy has to genuflect to.

Judy Woodruff:  And, given that, Jonathan, that's — I mean he's — I mean, this is a minority leader of the party who is responding to the — in his view, the titular head of the Republican Party.

Jonathan Capehart:  Right, and also taking his cues where he thinks the base of the party is.

And then there's another golden rule to keep in mind.  I told you the golden rule about Speaker Pelosi.  Here's the golden rule about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.  Everything he says, everything he does is geared to one goal, becoming Speaker of the House.

That's why you see him doing what he's doing.

Judy Woodruff:  Infrastructure, our favorite subject.


Judy Woodruff:  I know you're dying to talk about it.

Negotiators are still negotiating, David, but it looks like — the smoke signals look like something's going to happen.  Are you getting the sense that this is going to be a good thing?  What is your — how are you reading all this?

David Brooks:  We should have Thomas the Tank Engine to talk about infrastructure.  It would be more PBS-like.


Judy Woodruff:  Wait a minute.


David Brooks:  In a good way.

You know, I think what's interesting to me is that there — for those who remember last week's episode, there are two bills.  There's a bipartisan bill that's smaller and infrastructure-y.  And then there's a partisan reconciliation bill that's more progressive.

One would have thought the partisan-only bill would have had smoother sailing, because it's all — just all Democrats.  But, to me, it looks like the bipartisan bill is progressing, progressing, progressing.  And we will know, of course, they're negotiating and there are stops and starts.  But that bill seems to be really moving forward.

And I begin to wonder.  Say they pass or at least get a deal on the bipartisan bill.  Do a bunch of moderate senators on the Democratic side say, I got what I need, I really don't need this other bill?

And so I wonder if the bill I thought was more secure is actually more in trouble, which would be the partisan reconciliation.

Judy Woodruff:  You mean in trouble among Democrats?

David Brooks:  Among Democrats.

Judy Woodruff:  Among Democrats.

How are you reading this, Jonathan?

Jonathan Capehart:  Well, you mentioned smoke signals.  To me, that says that something might be on fire.

And so, just before we came out here, a story hit about how there's another wrinkle.  Last week, it was Republicans were against the pay-for by the IRS enforcement.  You had the interview yesterday with Senator Capito.

Judy Woodruff:  Right.

Jonathan Capehart:  And you asked her a question about that.

Then, earlier this week, it was — I guess, even this morning, battle over transit funding, the proportion of transit funding.  Then, just before we came on, there's a story about there's consternation with — among Democrats because Republicans are pulling out something related to the prevailing wage.

It seems like this bipartisan bill that you have so much hope for, there's still so many moving pieces and so many embers that are burning that I don't know if the bipartisan bill is really going to — is going to make it.  We will see on Monday.  So they say.

Judy Woodruff:  Yes, we will learn more earlier — early next week, we think.

Vaccine politics.

David, we are now seeing more Republicans, a few more Republicans come out and say openly, hey, people, please get vaccinated, Steve Scalise, who's the number two Republican in the House of Representatives, a number of Republican governors, including Kay Ivey of Alabama.

And I'm reading what she said in part this week:  "It's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks.  The unvaccinated let us down."

I mean, that's not all Republicans, but it's — how significant is it?

David Brooks:  I loved what she said.  I think that is true.

If we face a shutdown again, herd economy, poor people laid off, that's not the disease.  That's human error.  And that's us.

And so getting more aggressive, the way she is, and the way some others strikes me as absolutely right.  Will it be effective?  I'm not so sure.  I think, once Donald Trump and other Republicans made it a manhood issue, or a freedom issue, or whatever kind of issue they made it, it's hard to walk back that culture war signal.

And it comes at a time when the party has trouble talking about collective good and the common good, and how we're all in this together.  We're certainly all in the air we breathe together.

And so I'm not — I think that has been dug deep into American history, but especially the Republican Party right now.  And I'm not sure Mitch McConnell saying a few things is going to reverse that trend.

Judy Woodruff:  How do you — how much difference do you think this could make?

Jonathan Capehart:  This being more…

Judy Woodruff:  A few more Republicans in the media, as well as conservatives in…

Jonathan Capehart:  I have to — David just spoke for me in what he said.

I think, if we had had a President of the United States who took this seriously when this first came on the scene, if we had a Republican Party that took this seriously enough to warn everyone, their constituents saying, wash your hands, then put on a mask, then go get the vaccine, we wouldn't be where we are right now.

And I agree with David.  I think that this has become such a cultural point that, even if Donald Trump were to come out tomorrow and say, you know what, not only did I get COVID, I survived it, and I also took the vaccine, and you should too, so you can vote for me again in 2024, he could say all of that, and, to David's point, I think the point has been driven so far deep, that he won't convince anyone, no one to get the vaccine who doesn't want to get it right now.

Judy Woodruff:  How do you — David, I mean, what kind of a divide is this among Republicans?

I mean, is it based on science?  Is it — how do you read what's going on here?

David Brooks:  Yes.

The people I know personally who are not getting the vaccine, for them, it was like, they rushed this thing.  Who knows what's going to happen to all these people who get the shots in 10 years or 20 years?  So, why should I take the risk?

And that's not completely crazy, but it's not — it's based on some sense of general distrust for the establishment, including the medical establishment.  And that establishment — that distrust is the core of this thing.

If we lived in high society, where we all felt the institutions of our society could be trusted, we'd all get the shots.  But the pervasive distrust, which really started in the '60s and 70s with Vietnam and Watergate, and has been ramping up pretty steadily over the last five decades, that's the core villain here.

And how do you get people to trust each other and societies like this, the fundamental problem in America right now?  And it's a very big one.

Judy Woodruff:  And there's still a stubborn — or a core out there, Jonathan, of people who are saying, I'm not going to take this.

There was a new survey out this afternoon, I think, from the Associated Press, people saying, I am not going to get it, no matter what.

Jonathan Capehart:  Which is — it breaks my heart, because you read stories of the — I think it was a doctor in Alabama who wrote about — talked about how, before she intubate someone, they plead with her, can I have the vaccine, and she's, I'm sorry, it's too late, and then going to the family members and saying, honor your loved one, get the vaccine.

And they tell her, I thought it was all politics.  I thought it was a hoax.

That just broke my heart, because that says, to David's point, trust in anything and anyone that isn't themselves, it's completely broken down, completely.

Judy Woodruff:  And, I mean, I remember seeing an interview this week with a man in the — in his hospital bed after serious COVID saying, even if he had it all to do over again, he wouldn't get vaccinated, that he so distrusts — it's just what you said.

David Brooks:  Religion is a powerful thing.


David Brooks:  And I would just say, we have got to make it so to get into any fun thing to do in America, you have to show your card.

And that, to me, I think is the only way to do it.

Judy Woodruff:  David Brooks, Jonathan Capehart, both of you, stay safe.  The Delta variant is out there.

Jonathan Capehart:  You too, Judy.


Jonathan Capehart:  Thanks, Judy.

Judy Woodruff:  Thank you.

AMERICAN BASEBALL - Latino Immigrants Brought it Here

"Latino immigrants brought baseball to America.  This new exhibition aims to recognize thatPBS NewsHour 7/23/2021


SUMMARY:  As ballparks fill up around the country due to an easing of pandemic restrictions, Jeffrey Brown looks at a new exhibit on the long history of Latinos playing baseball and how they changed the sport fundamentally in the U.S.  It’s part of our arts and culture series, CANVAS.

CITY OF MILWAUKEE - The NBA Champions 2021

"A look at ‘Greek Freak’ Giannis Antetokounmpo’s journey from hardships to heroPBS NewsHour 7/21/2021


SUMMARY:  The city of Milwaukee is celebrating its first national basketball championship in 50 years.  It's a delirious moment for a city and a smaller-market team that once won with the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar RobertsonFans are cheering the team and its new superstar leader Giannis Antetokounmpo — the seventh player in NBA history to score 50 or more points in a final.  Stephanie Sy reports.

OPIOID EPIDEMIC - Community Impact

"How the opioids settlement will impact communities affected by addictionPBS NewsHour 7/21/2021


SUMMARY:  After more than two years of negotiations, a number of states agreed to a $26 billion settlement with three large drug distributors and Johnson & Johnson for their roles in the opioids epidemic.  Half a million deaths over two decades are attributed to opioids and fatal overdoses.  William Brangham discusses the settlement with Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, who worked on this agreement.

CLEAN ENERGY - Is the World Ready?

"The world is striving to fully adopt clean energy.  Will we succeed in time?PBS NewsHour 7/21/2021


SUMMARY:  The consequences of extreme weather are evident and unmistakable.  Scientists say human-caused climate change is making these events more frequent and severe.  Miles O'Brien looks at a pivotal upcoming moment in addressing the climate crisis with Alok Sharma, president of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference.  It's part of our collaboration with "Covering Climate Now."

AMERICA - Our First Dictator Want-to-Be

"How U.S. officials worked to prevent coups, Waco-like sieges in Trump’s final yearPBS NewsHour 7/20/2021


SUMMARY:  President Donald Trump's last year in office was book-ended by impeachment trials and, marked by a deadly pandemic, economic collapse, racial unrest, and a violent insurrection.  "I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year" authors Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker join Judy Woodruff with new details about the chaos and alarm that rippled across the government during that time.

BELARUS - Europe's Last Dictator

"Belarusian opposition leader on Lukashenko’s dictatorship, underground protests, U.S. aidPBS NewsHour 7/20/2021


SUMMARY:  It's been nearly a year since the man known as Europe's last dictator, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, was declared victor in an election widely-denounced as a fraud.  The woman leading his opposition, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, is in Washington [DC] this week meeting with top U.S. officials.  Amna Nawaz reports on her visit and speaks with her about her political plans and hopes for the future.

THE WEST - Wildfires and Dry Wells

"West U.S. wildfires are so extreme that they’re creating lightning, fire whirlsPBS NewsHour 7/20/2021


SUMMARY:  More than 80 large fires are burning in 13 states across the U.S. currently, impacting nearly 1.3 million acres.  One of the worst remains in Southern Oregon — the Bootleg Fire.  It has been burning for two weeks and has already scorched an area a third of the size of Rhode IslandCarrie Bilbao with the National Interagency Fire Center joins William Brangham with the latest on the fires.



"Californians scramble for fresh water as taps, wells run dryPBS NewsHour 7/20/2021


SUMMARY:  The severe drought across the Western U.S. is already causing long term problems, exacerbated by the warming atmosphere driven by climate change.  As William Brangham reports from California’s San Joaquin Valley, the demand for water has threatened the drinking supply for hundreds of thousands of rural residents — including the farmers who grow a significant part of the country’s food supply.

INFRASTRUCTURE BILL - In Jeopardy Due to GOP Politics

IMHO:  The GOP will try to win the Mid-Term Elections by voting down ANY bill that would make Biden and Democrats look good, even if their action harms the American people.  They are ONLY interested in more power.  Infrastructure spending is worth EVERY penny spent!

"The bipartisan infrastructure deal may be in jeopardy.  Democrats have a ‘Plan B’PBS NewsHour 7/20/2021


SUMMARY:  This week on Capitol Hill could be make or break for the bipartisan infrastructure framework that President Joe Biden celebrated one month ago.  The fate of the $600 billion investment in roads, bridges, clean water and more is still uncertain, as is the much larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill also on the agenda.  Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff with the latest developments in Congress.



"Sanders: GOP ‘nervous’ about ‘overdue’ progressive policies in budget, infrastructure billPBS NewsHour 7/20/2021


SUMMARY:  Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and the person tasked with overseeing the multi-trillion-dollar budget proposal introduced by Democrats last week.  He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the infrastructure deal, the $3.5 trillion budget proposal, the politics surrounding it, who it aims to benefit most and its path to being passed by Congress.



"GOP Sen. Capito on funding infrastructure, raising debt ceiling and increasing taxesPBS NewsHour 7/22/2021


SUMMARY:  A bipartisan group of senators is still negotiating the details of an infrastructure bill after a procedural vote to debate it failed yesterday.  The biggest issue remains how to fund the $1.2 trillion framework, including the $600 billion in new spending.  Judy Woodruff speaks with Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who led a separate bipartisan effort on infrastructure in June.

GUANTANAMO - First Detainee Released

"As Biden releases first Guantanamo detainee, could the camp’s closure be far behind?PBS NewsHour 7/19/2021


SUMMARY:  The Biden administration released its first detainee from the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba on Monday.  Abdul Latif Nasser was never charged with a crime, yet remained detained for 19 years.  Nearly 800 prisoners have passed through Guantanamo since early 2002.  Now, 39 remain.  Thomas Durkin, Nasser's lawyer, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss his release and the camp's future.

CYBER THREATS - Chinese Cyberattacks and Government Use of Spyware

IMO:  I am all FOR using spyware to protect America and our allies.

"As U.S., allies condemn Chinese cyberattacks, report exposes governments’ use of spywarePBS NewsHour 7/19/2021


SUMMARY:  The Biden administration and a large group of allies called out China for state-sponsored, international hacking Monday.  A consortium of media outlets also published an investigation revealing how governments hacked into their opponents' phones with sophisticated, Israeli-made software.  Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what the revelations mean and how it affects the digital landscape.

2020 OLYMPICS - Week 7/19 Roundup

For me it is confusing to have the '2020' Olympics in 2021, it's the delay of course.

"The American athletes to watch during the Tokyo OlympicsPBS NewsHour 7/19/2021


SUMMARY:  The opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games are just four days away.  But the specter of COVID hangs over the games as more than 50 people involved, including athletes, contractors and staff, test positive.  Olympics officials say they still hope to put on compelling games despite it all.  With that in mind, Judy Woodruff previews some of the Americans to watch with Christine Brennan of USA Today.

Christine Brennan, USA Today:  Well, we really — the dream team is women's basketball.  And going back, the U.S. women's Olympic basketball team has not lost, Judy, since 1992, Barcelona 1992.



"Quiet Olympics opening ceremony sees loud public protest over virus concernsPBS NewsHour 7/23/2021


SUMMARY:  Usually a star-studded show, the Tokyo Olympics opened with a quieter ceremony.  National teams paraded to a nearly empty stadium.  It was noisier outside, as protests against holding the games in the middle of a pandemic continued.  Only 23% of Japan's population is fully vaccinated.  William Brangham speaks to Associated Press reporter Philip Crowther about the situation on the ground in Tokyo.



"Delayed by a year, Tokyo Olympics kick-off amid COVID-19 fears, protestsPBS NewsHour 7/24/2021


SUMMARY:  A year after they were postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Olympics kicked off in Tokyo, Japan-- but not without controversies.  The opening ceremony was held without spectators and most competitions are being held without an in-person audience.  Meanwhile, as COVID-19 cases rise, public outcry against the Games has grown.  New York Times Tokyo Bureau Chief Motoko Rich joins.

COVID-19 - Week of 7/29 Roundup

"Dr. Fauci on delta variant, risks to children, breakthrough COVID and booster shotsPBS NewsHour 7/19/2021


SUMMARY:  COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are rising again in the United States.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] has labeled it a "pandemic of the unvaccinated," warning of the delta variant.  President Joe Biden also warned Monday to beware of misinformation.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases [NIH], joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.



"U.S. officials re-emphasize importance of COVID vaccines, investigating virus’ originsPBS NewsHour 7/22/2021


SUMMARY:  The White House is issuing urgent calls to action Thursday in the face of COVID-19's latest assault, especially given the dangerous delta variant of the virus.  The Biden administration's appeals for Americans to get vaccinated come amid talks of re-imposing restrictions.  Amna Nawaz reports.



"U.S. surgeon general on the ‘most powerful tools’ to combat the delta variantPBS NewsHour 7/22/2021


SUMMARY:  Amna Nawaz and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy dive deeper into the Biden administration's efforts to combat the delta variant of the novel coronavirus and surrounding misinformation, public masking requirements and vaccination efforts amid the rise of COVID-19 cases.



"Rising number of children struggle with COVID’s effects, especially in Black and Latino communitiesPBS NewsHour 7/23/2021


SUMMARY:  Since the pandemic began, children have largely been spared from severe illness and hospitalization.  But nearly a year and a half later, the number of adolescent COVID cases is rising.  While rare, for many it includes debilitating symptoms that can drag on for months.  Black and Latino children have been especially impacted.  Special correspondent Sarah Varney reports.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

U.S. SUPREME COURT - Abandons Voting Rights

"The Supreme Court Abandons Voting Rights" by The Editorial Board, The New York Times 7/1/2021

The 1965 Voting Rights Act was one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history.  By outlawing racial discrimination in voting and imposing federal oversight in states with histories of discriminating, it finally enforced the 15th Amendment and marked the first time the nation could call itself a truly representative democracy.  Until the last decade, the law occupied a sacred spot in the American legal system.  In 2006, Congress reauthorized the law nearly unanimously.

Since then, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has been dismantling it, piece by piece.

The latest blow came Thursday, when all six conservative justices voted to uphold two Arizona voting laws despite lower federal courts finding clear evidence that the laws make voting harder for voters of color — whether Black, Latino or Native American.  One law requires election officials to throw out ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct; the other bars most people and groups from collecting voters’ absentee ballots and dropping them off at polling places.

Under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars any law that discriminates on the basis of race, whether intentionally or not, the Arizona laws should have been invalidated.  But the conservative justices dismissed the challenge because, they said, only a small number of people were affected.  “The mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in an opinion joined by the other conservatives.

That is a dismissive wave of the hand at precisely the sort of evidence that Congress told voting-rights plaintiffs to present in court.  As Justice Elena Kagan pointed out in a dissent longer than the ruling itself, small numbers can make a big difference.  In 2020, for example, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Arizona by a little over 10,000 votes — fewer than the state threw out based on the out-of-precinct policy in two of the past three presidential elections.

Since the court is talking about “mere facts,” the conservative justices might have noted the mere fact that voting fraud, which lawmakers in a number of states claim they are trying to prevent with laws like the ones in Arizona, is essentially nonexistent.  As one federal judge put it several years ago, such laws are akin to using “a sledgehammer to hit either a real or imaginary fly on a glass coffee table.”

That doesn’t appear to bother the conservative justices, who have given a free pass to state legislatures to discriminate, even as they demand more and more from voters trying to show that they are hurt by that discrimination.

This subverts the whole purpose of the Voting Rights Act, which was enacted because of the persistence of discriminatory state voting laws and policies, a point Justice Kagan made throughout her dissent.  “What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten — in order to weaken — a statute that stands as a monument to America’s greatness, and protects against its basest impulses,” she wrote.

Those impulses have been on flagrant display over the past several years, as Republican-controlled legislatures across the country have raced one another to pass laws that make voting harder — whether through stringent voter-identification requirements, limits on early and absentee voting, hurdles to registration, indiscriminate purges of voter rolls and laws like Arizona’s.  Many of these laws disproportionately hurt voters of color.  Already this year, 28 laws restricting voting have passed in 17 states, according to a running tally by the Brennan Center for Justice.

The conservatives on the court choose to be oblivious to the function of these laws, perhaps because they and their colleagues created the conditions for them to thrive in the first place.  In 2013, the court gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act, Section 5, which had required states and localities with a history of discriminatory voting practices — including Arizona — to obtain approval from the federal government before changing or adopting any voting law.

Section 5 was by far the most effective way to prevent voting discrimination, but according to Chief Justice John Roberts — who has been working to hobble the Voting Rights Act since he was a junior lawyer in the Reagan administration — the list of offenders was out of date.  “Things have changed dramatically,” he wrote in his 2013 majority opinion, pointing to the increase in Black voter registration and turnout in the years since the Voting Rights Act was adopted.  It didn’t seem to occur to him that this increase was precisely because of the law, and not in spite of it.  As if to drive home the point, Republican-led states that had been under federal oversight began imposing strict new voting laws within hours of the ruling.

After 2013, Section 2 was the only meaningful tool left in the Voting Rights Act — indeed, Chief Justice Roberts pointed out this fact as supposed consolation when the court-eliminated Section 5.  But its medicine was never as strong.  Lawsuits alleging violations under Section 2 can only be brought after a new voting law has passed, and may have been discriminating against voters for years.  The suits are expensive and time-consuming, which deters most potential plaintiffs.  Even when plaintiffs show incontestable proof of discrimination, as they did in Thursday’s case, the odds are stacked against them.

This is bad news for upcoming legal challenges to Republican-enacted voter restrictions in other states.  Just how bad will depend in part on the outcome of a lawsuit the Justice Department filed last week against a sweeping new voting law in Georgia.  The suit contends that the Georgia Republicans who passed it, upset at Democratic victories in the state’s presidential and Senate contests, intentionally targeted Black voters, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic.  Proving intentional discrimination is a high bar, but Georgia’s lawmakers worked hard to make the job easier, passing all kinds of restrictions that disproportionately hurt Black voters.

Congress has been debating a bill that would restore the heart of the Voting Rights Act by reimposing federal oversight of voting laws in states that have repeatedly discriminated in the last 25 years.  Thanks to blanket opposition by Republicans and the existence of the filibuster, which allows a minority of senators to block a bill with majority support, the bill is a dead letter — unless Democrats decide to end the filibuster.

Even that step would not turn back the anti-democratic tide, which grew into a wave during the Trump administration.  In Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere, Republican lawmakers driven by demonstrable lies about fraud in the 2020 election are changing the rules around how votes are counted and certified.  They are stripping power from officials, like the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who did their jobs in 2020 and refused to succumb to pressure from Mr. Trump and his allies to “find” extra votes and overturn the results to help him win.

The strategy is so dangerous because it is so dull.  It’s easy to be outraged by, say, making it a crime to give voters water while they wait in oppressively long lines to cast a ballot, as the new Georgia law does.  It’s harder to get worked up about the arcane machinery of election administration.  But these laws are of a piece with the voting restrictions being passed by the same lawmakers.  Together, they are designed to keep Democratic-leaning voters away from the polls, and to the extent that fails, to deny victory to Democratic candidates, even when they win more votes.

The current conservative majority on the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roberts, shows no interest in thwarting this attack on democracy and protecting Americans’ fundamental constitutional right to vote.  The ball is in Congress’s court, and time is fast running out.