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SCOTUS Nomination: Coney Barrett’s Beeswax and Goose Quills

Nebraska’s Senator Ben Sasse did this country a solid for once during the third day of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett.

Sasse asked Coney Barrett, “What are the five freedoms of the First Amendment?”

To which Barrett replied, “Speech, religion, press, assembly… I don’t know — what am I missing?”

Good freaking gravy. If you are a nominee to the Supreme Court, you should not only know the Constitution backwards and forwards, you should understand the history and rationale behind the Constitution and every amendment.

If you are an originalist, you should be able to explain why the amendments were added to the original Constitution.

Coney Barrett is a hack and not worthy of a lifetime appointment to her current federal judgeship let alone the highest court in this country.

She also needs to drop the pretense she’s an originalist in any sense of the word.

Personally, I think she and any other so-called originalist should get back to their roots and walk the talk. Originalists shouldn’t obscure their bigotry against the idea of a living document which reflects the changes to our society. They should demonstrate they actually live their regressivity, give up all the modernity which requires a similarly contemporary understanding of citizens’ rights.

I wish a senator would have asked Coney Barrett if she believes in magic and if she would allow magic to shape her understanding of the Constitution and amendments, to mold the opinions she’ll have as a jurist.

Why magic?

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

To an original U.S. citizen, a founder and framer of the Constitution, many of the feature of our modern world would look like magic.

Imagine what it would look like to them to push a button to illuminate a room without lighting a fire or casting a spark first, without suffering the guttering stench of a weak tallow candle, made from grass-fed, open-range beef fat slowly rendered in cast iron pots over open hearth fire.

Imagine what it would look like to a colonist to walk into a store filled with clothing made of synthetic fibers created from extracted minerals, in brilliant colors and decorated with all manner of hardware, instead of wearing linen shirts made from flax grown on their own farms and carefully wintered, broken down, carded into fibers before being woven on a loom in front of their cold winter evening fires by the woman of the house. What must the shiny plastic buttons and smoothly operating zippers look like in contrast to their hand-crafted buttons on their weskit and coat made from their slaughtered cattle’s horns.

Imagine their pleasure donning smoothly knit socks of uniform fit and finish, instead of wearing stockings they knit themselves from wool collected from their own sheep, let alone what it must feel like to wear cotton-knit smallwear to prevent chafing of their parts.

Imagine what the original framers felt and meant when they sat down in their linen shirts and woolen socks and hand-cobbled boots to write out their drafts of the Bill of Rights and the subsequent early amendments using well-mended quill pens, harvested from hand-fed, free-range geese like the framers would have dined on, their feathers used for stuffing their pillows.

What would it have meant to insist the government shall restrain itself from making any “law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Expressing one’s self in the public square would have required literal shoe leather or an equine to gain access to that space, or the still-rare education to craft a cogent sentence on parchment or paper which were expensive at the time. So expensive that waste was often reused as lining in footwear or clothing as insulation. The use of a printing press may have made speech more uniformly available and less expensive but who had a press and could use one let alone the money to buy access to one? Speech was not without a significant personal investment.

The same for religion – it is, after all, one of the primary motivations for some of this country’s earliest colonists, to be able to practice religion without persecution by the British Crown or others. Religion like other forms of speech required similar personal investment: access to the space, ability to print, share, and read Bibles and hymnals. Refraining from religion likewise could require investment to leave it behind.

Likewise for petitioning the government. It would require the same personal investment that speech and the practice of religion or its abstention would have demanded from the colonists, with the additional risk of punishment for having the temerity to make demands of an organization as powerful as a monarch. Punishment like being chained and put into the stocks, left out in the elements wearing none of the modern protections we have against sun, wind, and precipitation. Or worse, risk being charged with seditious conspiracy to be sentence to hanging followed by drawing and quartering at the gibbet before the masses.

An originalist like Amy Coney Barrett, wearing her pink polyester attire and chemical-laden makeup to appear on video, is lying to themselves and us when they cannot see that the society which accesses her nomination hearing across thousands of miles and in asynchronous time and place is not an originalist people, its understanding adapted to new information acquired over the last couple hundred years.

Our lives are filled with what the framers of the Constitution would have thought magic.

Originalists are not up to the task of deciding issues of contemporary law using criteria shaped by goose quills and beeswax seals.

In Coney Barrett’s case, she exercises a bias in her personal life for a single kind of magic – the belief in an invisible creator deity with three avatars. We can see it in her profile, in her experience as a professor at Notre Dame University. But we’re not able to quiz her about that particular believe in magic because her faith in it is protected by the very first amendment to the Constitution, about which she is so ignorant.

She’s so far appeared not only ignorant of the original Constitution and First Amendment, but unwilling to commit to seeing contemporary American life relies on far more kinds of magic than the framers ever imagined.

She’s not even willing to acknowledge scientific consensus on climate change, though the rigorous research behind it is no different than biomedical research into cancer and COVID-19. The framers had little to no understanding at all about epidemiology and disease; our society has changed its awareness with research and review, extending our human lives by 30-40 years. To the founding fathers this would have seemed incredible but it’s our expected modern reality.

When she clings to originalism as an excuse for her decisions past and future, Coney Barrett tells us she’s not up to  America’s present and future demands. Save for her narrow one-god-three-avatar belief, she’s a bigot against whatever perceptions, knowledge, and wisdom shape a sufficiently advanced society indistinguishable from a place of magic.

Americans deserve and need better than Coney Barrett as a federal judge or a Supreme Court justice.

SCOTUS Nomination: Amy Coney Barrett’s 2nd Day Before Senate Judiciary Committee

That’s a pretty dull head, isn’t it, for what’s at stake, for the price Americans have paid for the GOP’s SCOTUS nominee?

Chris Hayes said it best:

The GOP Senate chose roll over and kiss Trump’s cyanotic slack ass instead of fighting the White House to protect Americans so that it would get the SCOTUS candidate it wanted should a seat open. Now through the GOP’s illegitimate processes they’re going to try to steal another SCOTUS seat for Amy Coney Barrett, who is far more openly bigoted than the other conservative justices.

When Sam Alito was nominated he was quizzed firmly about his association with Concerned Alumni of Princeton, during which he disavowed the conservative group’s racist and sexist perspective. He managed to skate by without the extent of his biases being fully revealed during his nomination hearings.

Coney Barrett, however, not only has a much more open history of bigotry, but she’s tried to hide it. She didn’t disclose that as a professor at Notre Dame University she gave both a lecture and a seminar in 2013 on Roe v. Wade to anti-abortion student groups.

It hasn’t helped matters that Notre Dame has eliminated any video or other digital documentation of her lecture and seminar. It doesn’t appear Coney Barrett has made any effort to recover this material, either, to bolster her own case.

She also failed to disclose her support for a 2006 newspaper ad which called for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. Her name appeared as a co-signer on a two-page anti-abortion ad, which should have been included in the disclosure forms submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee with her nomination to SCOTUS.

She may also have been hiding the fact she failed to make this same disclosure in 2017 when she was nominated as a federal judge.

Coney Barrett has also been a paid speaker five times for an organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Alliance Defending Freedom seeks the recriminalization of consensual sex between same-sex partners; ADF also wants to deny transgender persons the same civil rights cis-gender persons possess.

Amy Coney Barrett is a bigot, and openly so.

Her experience as a federal employee doesn’t give us a different impression; her effort to obscure her past is ineffectual as well as deceitful.

I won’t even get into her sketchiness about privacy rights here. That she refused in 2017 to take a firm position acknowledging them suggests she has no problem with the government getting into your bedroom and anything else you consider sacrosanct.

Nor will I go very far into her absurdist believe in originalism.

Is she okay with slavery? The denial of the right to vote to women and Blacks? Does she even believe she has the right to be employed by the federal government because she’s a woman and a mother?

Her personal relationship with religious organization People of Praise and its gendered roles suggests she doesn’t subscribe to equal rights for women after all. Senators may not be able to ask her about her religious beliefs even if she openly embraces prayer as part of her professional life, but her actions and commitments answer the questions they can’t ask.

Coney Barrett is a far-right conservative who doesn’t believe all Americans have equal rights under the law, evidence of which her experience and life choices provide.

She also doesn’t believe the American public is entitled to openness and transparency because she’s withheld information not once but twice.

It’s not reasonable to expect the public to trust Coney Barrett to recuse herself from any case before SCOTUS related to Trump, especially the election and his finances because of her obvious political leanings and her lack of trustworthiness.

~ ~ ~

The Democratic congressional caucus should have done a better job of fighting this nomination before it even reached a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Adam Jentleson wrote them a roadmap published in The New York Times and it’s as if they never saw it.

I don’t know why the Democratic caucus didn’t pursue the impeachment, conviction, and removal of AG Bill Barr immediately as it would have precedent over the nomination hearings.

In July, Barr testified before the House Judiciary Committee that he didn’t know about threats to Michigan’s governor; he didn’t know much about the armed protests in state capitols on April 30. He either lied about this or he failed to do his job, as the arrests of 13 domestic terrorists — two of whom participated in the April 30 armed protest in Lansing, Michigan — demonstrated there were credible threats meriting federal charges. Apart from slowing down the Senate, there’s ample reason to do this right now before another threat becomes more than chatter and field training.

Whatever wrench is available, Democrats need to throw it in the works to slow down or halt Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. She isn’t worthy of the empty seat on the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh Confirmation Standards of Nonsense

Okay, in case you have not already guessed, Marcy is away, mostly, for a couple of days. Even a prolific presence like her is entitled to that. So, you get me for today. Sorry!

Now, because I have been a little involved in trying to figure what is the “real standard of proof” for people in the shoes of, say, Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, I have been a tad predisposed this morning. But let us for now go back to Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh, Collins, Flake, Grassley and the “standard of proof”.

An executive branch nomination is NOT a criminal trial. Any talk about “presumed innocent” and “beyond a reasonable doubt” is asinine and duplicitous. There is no set standard for a nomination consideration, much less one for the Supreme Court. Senators, especially those on the screening Senate Judiciary Committee, get to make their own individual assessments. In a perverse kind of way, it is like impeachment’s “high crimes and misdemeanors”, it is easy for people to argue, but the net result is that it is whatever strikes Congress as being applicable.

Frankly, I think the argument over what Susan Collins’ standard was is kind of silly and diversionary. Collins stated on the record:

“This is not a criminal trial, and I do not believe that claims such as these need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Nevertheless, fairness would dictate that the claims at least should meet a threshold of more likely than not as our standard.”

This is bullshit. As David Graham, again, pointed out:

Citing the lack of corroboration of Ford’s account as well as lacunas in Ford’s own recollection, Collins said she did not believe the “more likely than not” standard had been met.

Although she did not use the phrase, the standard that Collins offers appears to be the same as “the preponderance of the evidence,” which is the burden of proof required in civil trials—as opposed to the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard in criminal cases. This is also the standard that many colleges now use in evaluating sexual-violence claims under Title IX. Obama-era guidance required schools to use a preponderance-of-evidence standard, though the Trump Education Department has granted schools greater leeway, instructing that “findings of fact and conclusions should be reached by applying either a preponderance of the evidence standard or a clear and convincing evidence standard.”

So, what is the relevant standard? As propounded earlier, there is no set one in these circumstances. It certainly is not “beyond a reasonable doubt” as is in criminal trials. Anybody using that language, including most of the geriatric white geezers in the SJC, is lying.

“Clear and convincing evidence”? Nope, there is no precedent for that either. Preponderance of the evidence/more likely than not? Again, there is scant authority to establish that as a relevant standard. Bottom line is Susan Collins manufactured her own “standard” and then cynically applied it, all without any legitimate basis. And, maybe, that is the kind of intellectual malleability these SJC determinations engender, but, if so, people like Collins, and the journalists that cover her charade, should acknowledge it.

So, what is the real “standard”? Again, there is none I can find. But if the course and scope of “background investigations” conducted by the FBI at the behalf of an Article II Executive Branch request is any indication, it is far different than being duplicitously portrayed by both the White House and Senate Judiciary Republicans.

Here is a specialist in clearance and background investigation issues, Brad Moss:

Um, not totally true. It happens for high level national security operatives working for the NSC and related White House components. Those individuals have to hold TS/SCI access and often times can be subject to invasive polygraph screenings.

Actual vetting, not that Kushner BS.

Here is another, Kel McClanahan, of National Security Counselors:

The White House can’t order @FBI to just rummage through a random person’s life. They can definitely AUTHORIZE FBI to rummage through a person’s life who has agreed to be subjected to a background investigation.

If this is true, it was McGahn & not Trump who was playing games…

Yes. Exactly. And, as a Senator who was one of the maybe 115 American citizens able to actually read the “FBI Investigation” work product, for Susan Collins and Jeff Flake to blithely sign off on the limited, restricted and choked off nonsense, is beyond craven. It is straight up duplicitous. And the New York Times article is kind compared to the chicanery that was clearly afoot from Don McGahn, a close friend and Federalist Society gang member for decades with Brett Kavanaugh.

In short, it is NOT about the relative “standard of proof” used by Susan Collins. She used “more likely than not” standard (effectively a preponderance of evidence standard). When she said that was the standard, she was lying. It never has been, and never will be. That was manufactured bullshit.

People have also argued that the standard should have been “reasonable accusation” or “credible accusation”. And those are even lesser than than the preponderance/more likely than not” standard Collins artificially, self servingly and cynically utilized.

Is clearance on a Background Investigation warranted? Does anybody, including the high holy Brett Kavanaugh, have any god given right to have a clean BI and be elevated to the Supreme Court? Of course not (See Title 32 of the CFR), that is gibberish propounded by old white conservative and misogynistic demagogues, like Grassley, Hatch, Cornyn and Graham in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And it is pure rubbish.

And, so too is the manufactured “standard” Susan Collins magically announced in her drama queen dog and pony show yesterday that seemed to narcissistically go on forever.

The bottom line is that whether under Collins’ manufactured and elevated standard, or even lesser ones such as reasonable or credible allegations, Brett Kavanaugh was not fit for passage and subsequent confirmation.

As Mark J. Stern detailed in Slate, Susan Collins’ manifesto announced with all the drama of a royal wedding, was in incredible bad faith. Her “standard” was nonsense and nowhere close to any applicable standard. It was a joke.

But, even more so, under ANY standard Susan Collins could have cited, her “finding” thereunder was garbage. Even in criminal sex cases, not just occasionally, but often, finders of fact (usually juries), decisions come down to weighing the relative credibility of an accuser versus the accused. And, given the relentless series of outright lies Brett Kavanaugh stated under oath, there is no way that a sentient human could see his testimony as more credible than the measured, and admitting as to gaps, honesty of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. And, again, credibility of witnesses is what criminal trials, much less less than even civil litigation burdens, as here, are decided by every day.

This is because there are usually zero other witnesses to such kidnapping, molestation and attempted rape cases as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford credibly alleged, but also because time and reticence of victims is often a factor. And, yet, cases are filed and determinations made on just such “he said/she said” allegations every day. The implication by Susan Collins, Chuck Grassley, the other wrinkled old entitled white men like Hatch in the SJC, not to mention their cynically hired criminal prosecutor, Rachel Mitchell, are complete baloney.

Somebody go ask Rachel Mitchell, and the sad old men that hired her before they fired her, how many times she has operated off of an accuser’s words. The answer will be a lie, because it happens all the time. And, yeah, that is enough to generate a full and meaningful “background investigation” despite the bullshit being proffered by the White House, Don McGahn and the SJC.

Contra Kavanaugh, Redux

[NB: CHECK THE BYLINE.]

I wanted to put this post up earlier for the purposes of an open thread to accompany today’s political theater — I mean, the next Kavanaugh hearing.

Unfortunately I have been too upset to touch my keyboard. It was Rachel Mitchell’s grilling of witness Dr. Ford, treating her like a criminal instead of a victim, which flipped my switch.

Oh I am wholly enraged now. Do NOT fuck with me today.

I can see all the women in my multiple social media timelines equally upset and angry, swaying back and forth between crying and raging at the Republican assholes seated as Senate Judiciary Committee members.

Even now Grassley is interrupting the hearing’s flow to insert his own testimony of the timeline to questioning Dr. Ford, thereby reducing the amount of time the Democratic members have to question Dr. Ford. It’s a filibuster and he can’t yet explain why he didn’t ask for an FBI investigation.

Absolutely enraging.

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and the subsequent abuse of Dr. Ford has been a gross unforced error on the part of the Republican Party and the Trump administration. The questionable election of admitted sexual abuser Trump encouraged the largest number of women ever to run for public office. The 116th Congress will be very different because of this ongoing pink wave, first seen in the streets the day of the 2017 Women’s March.

This hearing and everything that led up to it will trigger an avalanche, a tsunami.

Get your rage on, let it out here. Burn it down and salt the earth, pave the way for that massive wave to come.

“In exchange for fire we women
Were made, another fire, greater
Much harder to fight.”

“We are women: in some things, we hesitate.
But in others, no one can surpass our courage.”
— Euripides

Gods help Kavanaugh when he appears later today. Gaia may slip her axis if he and the GOP senators fuck up any more badly than they have with women.

UPDATE: Kavanaugh’s performance today proved he does not have the appropriate judicial temperament appropriate to his current job let alone the Supreme Court.

CALL YOUR SENATORS NOW and tell them to vote NO on Kavanaugh.

Congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121

If their D.C. line is busy or their mailbox is full, try contacting your senators’ local office numbers. Time is of the essence given the Republicans are meeting this evening to tally votes.

Can Senator Feinstein Block The Appointment of Rachel Mitchell?

As you know by now, Maricopa County (Arizona) sex crimes unit chief Rachel Mitchell has been deemed by Chuck Grassley and the Senate Judiciary Republicans as their front person to examine Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. From NBC News:

The woman chosen by Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans to question Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser will be in an unusual position when she goes face-to-face with Christine Blasey Ford on Thursday.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced Tuesday that he hired Rachel Mitchell, an outside attorney to question Kavanaugh and Ford, on behalf of the 11 male Republicans on the committee — despite Ford’s wishes to be questioned by the senators themselves about her accusation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers.

So, the eleven old white men of the SJC want a female stand in to make their evisceration and shining on of putative kidnapping, sexual assault and attempted rape victim Dr. Ford. Because the optics the GOP men, and men are the only sex that has ever served for Republicans on SJC, looked too ugly for even them.

But is this unprecedented move, clearly designed with public optics and maximal humiliation of Dr. Ford even appropriate? Maybe not!

Now, I am not a Senate Rules expert, but a comment made me go do a little digging. Here is the text of the the most recent version of the United States Senate Standing Rules, Orders, Laws, And Resolutions. Here, specifically, is the section, contained in Chapter 43 thereof, in §4301(i)(3) relating to committee retention of consultants:

(3) With respect to the standing committees of the Senate, any such consultant or organization shall be selected by the chairman and ranking minority member of the committee, acting jointly. With respect to the standing committees of the House of Representatives, the standing com- mittee concerned shall select any such consultant or organization. The committee shall submit to the Committee on Rules and Administration in the case of standing committees of the Senate, and the Committee on House Oversight in the case of standing committees of the House of Representatives, information bearing on the qualifications of each consultant whose services are procured pursuant to this subsection, including organizations, and such information shall be retained by that committee and shall be made available for public inspection upon request. (Emphasis added)

So, Senator Feinstein, is this indeed the case? If so, why would you assent to appointment of a prosecutorial thug like Rachel Mitchell to examine the putative victim here, Dr. Ford?

Rachel Mitchell is currently head of the Sex Crimes Unit in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO). She has served under three heads of the MCAO, but she was elevated to her current position because she was an extremist who fit the desired bill by the notorious former MCAO head, Andrew Thomas. As you may recall, Andy Thomas not only had to leave the MCAO in disgrace, but subsequently was disbarred for his zealotry. And that kind of craven zealot is exactly who Rachel Mitchell identified with and was promoted by back in January of 2005. And is Mitchell always hard on sex criminals? No, in fact her past also includes sweetheart deals to abusive clergy members in politically charged cases.

Rachel Mitchell is one of the worst choices imaginable for the current task. It is a heinous move by Chuck Grassley and a direct and complete screw you to Dr. Ford and sexual abuse and rape victims across the United States and world.

And the “screw you” to victims is especially salient with the existence of additional putative victims of Brett Kavanaugh’s drunken debauchery. Not only is there Debbie Ramirez, who did not seek to come forward, but was located because friends and classmates of hers and Kavanaugh, while Kavanaugh was at Yale, started recalling her victimization and talking about it. Jane Mayer has more on that, not to mention her and Ronan Farrow’s original reporting on Ramirez.

And, just as of an hour or two ago, yet another troubling story of Brett Kavanaugh’s misogyny and conduct has been made public by her lawyer Michael Avenatti. Julie Swetnick has issued a sworn affidavit that is chilling. Swetnick is a A 1980 graduate of Gaithersburg High School in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and has has held multiple security clearances for work done at the Treasury Department, U.S. Mint, IRS, State Department and Justice Department. In short, she is a more than credible person who has put her statement under oath and penalty of perjury.

Here is her affidavit, and it is chilling. It describes what now seems obvious, Brett Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge were part of a group of a private boys school wilding gang that drank to excess regularly mistreated women. Judge and Kavanaugh were “joined at the hip” according to Swetnick. She further states:

There is more, much more, including descriptions of girls, including Ms. Swetnick herself, being knocked out with spiked punch and gang raped.

And that is where we find ourselves today. It appears that Senator Feinstein can put the kibosh on the craven hiring of a zealot prosecutorial thug like Rachel Mitchell and, further, can with the help of any and all Republican Senators of conscience, slow down this train wreck and investigate the claims and give a real hearing. That means someone among Jeff Flake, Lisa Murlowski, Susan Collins, or another, needs to step up and do the right thing. Will they? Will Senator Feinstein?

Within the last minute, Senator Feinstein has issued the following statement:

Washington—Following the release of a sworn affidavit from Julie Swetnick detailing new allegations of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh, all 10 Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today urged President Trump to immediately withdraw the nomination or order an FBI investigation into all allegations.

The senators wrote: “We are writing to request that you immediately withdraw the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court or direct the FBI to re-open its background investigation and thoroughly examine the multiple allegations of sexual assault.

“Judge Kavanaugh is being considered for a promotion. He is asking for a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court where he will have the opportunity to rule on matters that will impact Americans for decades. The standard of character and fitness for a position on the nation’s highest court must be higher than this. Judge Kavanaugh has staunchly declared his respect for women and issued blanket denials of any possible misconduct, but those declarations are in serious doubt.”

That is a nice statement, but there appears to be so much more that Senator Feinstein can do Jeff Flake just took to the Senate Floor and, despite some words of empathy, wholeheartedly accepted that tomorrow’s sham hearing in SJC is all that there will ever be. While Flake appeared close to tears, he, as usual, said and intends to do nothing admirable and/or heroic.

It is a sad show we are watching. The hallowed halls of the Supreme Court deserve better, and so too do the American people.

Facebook on the Hot Seat Before Senate Judiciary Committee

This is a dedicated post to capture your comments about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon. At the time of this post Zuckerberg has already been on the hot seat for more than two hours and another two hours is anticipated.

Before this hearing today I have already begun to think Facebook’s oligopolic position and its decade-plus inability to effectively police its operation requires a different approach than merely increasing regulation. While Facebook isn’t the only corporation monetizing users’ data as its core business model, its platform has become so ubiquitous that it is difficult to make use of a broad swath of online services without a Facebook login (or one of a very small number of competing platforms like Google or Twitter).

If Facebook’s core mission is connecting people with a positive experience, it should be regulated like a telecommunications provider — they, too, are connectors — or it should be taken public like the U.S. Postal Service. USPS, after all, is about connecting individual and corporate users by mediating exchange of analog data.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) offers a potential starting point as a model for the U.S. to regulate Facebook and other social media platforms. GDPR will shape both users’ expectations and Facebook’s service whether the U.S. is on board or not; we ought to look at GDPR as a baseline for this reason, while compliant with the First Amendment and existing data regulations like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

What aggravates me as I watch this hearing is Zuckerberg’s obvious inability to grasp nuance, whether divisions in political ideology or the fuzzy line between businesses’ interests and users’ rights. I don’t know if regulation will be enough if Facebook (manifest in Zuckerberg’s attitude) can’t fully and willingly comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 2011 consent decree protecting users’ privacy. It’s possible fines for violations of this consent decree arising from the Cambridge Analytica/SCL abuse of users’ data might substantively damage Facebook; will we end up “owning” Facebook before we can even regulate it?

Have at it in comments.

UPDATE — 6:00 PM EDT — One of my senators, Gary Peters, just asked Zuck about audio capture, whether Facebook uses audio technology to listen to users in order to place ads relevant to users’ conversational topics. Zuck says no, which is really odd given the number of anecdotes floating around about ads popping up related to topics of conversation.

It strikes me this is one of the key problems with regulating social media: we are dealing with a technology which has outstripped its users AND its developers, evident in the inability to discuss Facebook’s operations with real fluency on either the part of government or its progenitor.

This is the real danger of artificial intelligence (AI) used to “fix” Facebook’s shortcomings; not only does Facebook not understand how its app is being abused, it can’t assure the public it can prevent AI from being flawed or itself being abused because Facebook is not in absolute control of its platform.

Zuckerberg called the Russian influence operation an ongoing “arms race.” Yeah — imagine arms made and sold by a weapons purveyor who has serious limitations understanding their own weapons. Gods help us.

EDIT — 7:32 PM EDT — Committee is trying to wrap up, Grassley is droning on in old-man-ese about defending free speech but implying at the same time Facebook needs to help salvage Congress’ public image. What a dumpster fire.

Future shock. Our entire society is suffering from future shock, unable to grasp the technology it relies on every day. Even the guy who launched Facebook can’t say with absolute certainty how his platform operates. He can point to the users’ Terms of Service but he can’t say how any user or the government can be absolutely certain users’ data is fully deleted if it goes overseas.

And conservatives aren’t going to like this one bit, but they are worst off as a whole. They are older on average, including in Congress, and they struggle with usage let alone implications and the fundamentals of social media technology itself. They haven’t moved fast enough from now-deceased Alaska Senator Ted Steven’s understanding of the internet as a “series of tubes.”

Trumpnami 2 by Rayne for Emptywheel.net

Jared’s Flynn ‘Surfing’, Election Day to Present

Quite a bit has been written about the Senate Judiciary Committee’s request last week asking Jared Kushner’s attorney Abe Lowell for “missing” documents omitted from his client’s previously requested document production. Didn’t anybody find odd the time range Senators Feinstein and Grassley specified in the letter, asking for all communications to, from, or copied to Lt. General Michael Flynn?

Here’s an excerpt from the November 16 letter; note the bit underlined in red:

From election day last year to the present.

To the present.

Has Jared Kushner — or other(s) copying both Kushner and Flynn — still been in direct communication with Michael Flynn all this time, even after Flynn resigned in February? Even after it looked like he was being investigated by Mueller? Even after it looked like Kushner himself was under scrutiny by both Mueller and Congress?

Does the Senate Judiciary Committee think Kushner’s trying to build a defense case on “I’m too stupid to be a criminal!” based on his sloppy surfing over their document requests?

Or is Kushner so confident his daddy-in-law can pardon him that he isn’t even bothering to hide his ongoing relationships with co-conspirators or his obstruction — and just keeps surfing on by?

Worse, does this range suggest the Senate Judiciary Committee believes Kushner has been actively using a backchannel to communicate with others under investigation, including Russian contacts and Michael Flynn?

And does the range suggest Kushner may have been communicating with Flynn even while out of the country — perhaps even during his recent unannounced wee-hours pajama party in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman while they talked ‘strategy’?

This is an open thread. Bring your off-topic discussions here.

Stephen Miller’s and Trump’s Gross Re-Politicization of DOJ

There was some legitimate concern about inappropriate machination of the Department of Justice when Trump named and confirmed Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General. Typical discussion followed this by Isaac Arnsdorf at Politico:

Donald Trump suggested on the campaign trail that he could use the Justice Department to fulfill his political agenda, taunting Hillary Clinton by threatening to throw her in jail over her email scandal.

Now, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, will have to decide whether to follow his predecessors by vowing to not let politics drive the DOJ’s decision-making.

That was one, and a serious, level of concern. Today we find said concern not close to being deep enough as to how the Trump White House would try to run Justice as merely a lever of their extreme politics.

But, via the New York Daily News, comes a little noticed, and truly frightening report of just how renegade and ridiculous the “fine tuned machine” the Trump White House is determined to be in politicizing the DOJ. In an article captioned “Stephen Miller called Brooklyn U.S. Attorney at home and told him how to defend travel ban in court”, comes the stunning news that:

In the chaotic hours after President Trump signed on a Friday afternoon the sloppily written executive order meant to fulfill his Muslim ban campaign promise, Stephen Miller called the home of Robert Capers to dictate to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District how he should defend that order at a Saturday emergency federal court hearing.

That’s according to a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the call, which happened as Department of Justice attorneys cancelled plans, found babysitters and rushed back to their Brooklyn office to try and find out what exactly it was they were defending and who was being affected by it — how many people were already being held in America, how many were being barred from arriving here and the exact status of each person.

The full article at the NYDN is mandatory reading, but let that sink in for a second. 31 year old Stephen Miller, a wet behind the ears extreme right wing ideologue with white nationalist leanings and NO, repeat NO legal training, much less law degree, called up a United States Attorney – at home! – to “dictate” how the DOJ would operate in an emergency litigation situation in an United States District Court.

Stunning is too weak of a response. Shocking is insufficient. It is actually hard to know what the proper words for this are.

I asked Matthew A. Miller, former OPA head under the Obama DOJ for a thought on the implications of Stephen Miller’s hubris in this instance. His reply was:

The last time a White House started dictating demands to U.S. attorneys, the sitting Attorney General had to resign in disgrace. This raises yet another in a series of questions about whether the Sessions Justice Department will be independent from the Trump White House.

Exactly. I would have said “unprecedented” above along with “stunning” and “shocking”, but for what occurred during a period of the Bush/Cheney regime when the interaction and control of the DOJ from the White House was extreme. And, ultimately, blown up as beyond unacceptable and appropriate by more reasoned minds and authorities. And, I might add, substantially due to the Fourth Estate of the press, that Trump blithely and ignorantly describes as “enemies of the American people”.

Yes, it is really that important of a moment now with Stephen Miller (note: NO relation to Matthew A. Miller) and the extreme hubris and lack of institutional awareness, competence or control, and obvious disdain for any, by the Trump Administration.

Back in 2007 Senator Sheldon Whitehouse created, and displayed at a Senate hearing, a stunning graphic displaying the shocking difference between communication between the Clinton White House and DOJ, and the ridiculous political input that the Bush Cheney White House had to DOJ.

With the grossly inappropriate statements of President Donald Trump as to how “he” will direct prosecutions of political enemies and other criminal and military defendants, leakers and others, to the literally insane conduct of Stephen Miller here, it is time to remember Senator Whitehouse’s chart.

It is also time to wonder if Sheldon Whitehouse and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have the cojones to take the fight for the Constitution and integrity of the justice system once again to a renegade White House. And the Trump White House has quickly made the Bush/Cheney White house look better in the rear view mirror, as truly craven as they were.

And, yes, the situation is exactly that dire if you recall the same Stephen Miller, being sent out and directed to all the Sunday political shows to declare and mandate that:

“…our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

This is straight up an Article II Branch declaration of pure tyranny by Stephen Miller and Trump. This is a serious problem, and this is an Administration making good on its promise and determination in that regard.

DiFi and the Silly Season of Senate Committee Music Chairs

A little over an hour ago, there was some rather notable news tweeted out by CNN:

Intel cte’s @SenFeinstein will give up the chair and move to Judiciary, source tells @CapitolHillCNN. @SenatorReid to announce today

I have talked to both sources at both the Senate Judiciary Committee and Personnel offices and have yet to hear a denial. This is, then, significant news as to a complete reshuffling of key Majority Senate Leadership assuming it continues to bear out.

First off, a tenured Senator like Feinstein does not leave a high value Committee Chairmanship without another, or something higher, on the offer. CNN said she it is to “move to Judiciary”. But DiFi has long been a member of the SJC, that can only portend she will then become Chairman of Judiciary.

Ryan Grim at Huffington Post has also picked up this shuffle, and beat me to the punch by a few minutes:

If Feinstein does take over leadership of the Judiciary Committee, that could ease the passage in the Senate of a renewed assault weapons ban, which was passed under President Bill Clinton in 1994 but expired in 2004. The shooting rampage on Friday in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were murdered by a gunman with a military-style assault weapon and high-capacity magazines, has renewed calls for stricter gun control legislation.

On Tuesday, speaking in the Capitol before the party’s weekly caucus lunch, Feinstein told reporters who had asked her whether she will jump to Judiciary, “Keep tuned. I think it is [going to become open], and I think it’ll happen.”

On Monday, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) who was the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, passed away at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Now that Inouye’s post is empty, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is rumored to be looking at taking over Appropriations — in turn opening up the leadership slot at Judiciary. Feinstein could then move from her current spot as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee to chair Judiciary.

That is good, fast reporting and coincides with what I can discern. And Appropriations Chair is a long time traditional home for the Senate Pro-Tem, which Pat Leahy became with yesterday’s passing of Inouye.

So, what about SSCI? Next in line would, by seniority, be Jay Rockefeller. But, as Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann pointed out, Rockefeller gave up leadership at Intel nearly three years ago to take over the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee helm, and there is no reason to think he would double back. That gave a brief glimmer of hope that Ron Wyden might get the nod at SSCI, but HuffPo’s Grim, in a tweet, thinks he is more likely to take over the helm of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the outgoing Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, who did not seek reelection. That would mean the next senior Democrat on SSCI as Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

Now, if I were Wyden, I would want the SSCI job over Energy. It is likely most progressives would like him there as well, which is why the smart money likely says Reid talks him into the Energy Chair.

So, we are into the Congressional equivalent of Formula One silly season; i.e. the end of the year shuffling of drivers before the season is really over. The one real wildcard here is Wyden.

Senate Judiciary Committee: Closing the Barn Door after the Barn’s Been Foreclosed

Sometime this week, the long-awaited terms for the foreclosure settlement will be released, giving banks immunity for much of the fraud and forgery they committed in the course of taking homeowners’ houses.

Which makes the timing of this hearing the Senate Judiciary Committee just announced beyond absurd.

“Examining Lending Discrimination Practices and Foreclosure Abuses”

Senate Judiciary Committee
Full Committee

DATE: March 7, 2012

A better time for such a hearing might have been December 2010, just as the full extent of the robosigning was being exposed. In fact, that’s the second-to-last hearing John Conyers hadbefore Dems lost their House majority. Since that time, he has been imploring the Administration and the Attorneys General to do something substantive about foreclosure problems, even asking MI’s AG not to sign onto the settlement.

But next week!?!?! Just as the settlement will be enacted, making many of these issues (though reportedly not civil rights issues) moot?!?! Really?!?!

I mean, if the Judiciary Committee is going to hold a hearing in the immediate future, it’d be far better to hold a hearing considering what impact it will have on justice in this country to assign a $2,000 price tag to fabricating forged documents or engaging in other fraudulent activities before a court. Will judges ever be able to trust corporations in their courtrooms again? Will private citizens have access to this $2,000 Get Out of Jail Free card, or only Too Big to Fail institutions?

Alternately, act like the bankster-owned body the Senate is, and simply call a hearing to discuss whether having pension funds pay to buy immunity for the banks hurts corporations.

And then there’s the witness list: right now, just Civil Rights Division head Thomas Perez will testify. I’m all in favor of Thomas Perez in most any role–his work at Civil Rights has easily been the best part of DOJ under Obama. But aren’t there other people who might better address foreclosure abuses, even if the hearing just focuses on lending discrimination?

I mean, I’m all in favor of someone finally conducting oversight over the fraud going on in this country. But this hearing couldn’t be more badly timed.