Law and Legal

The Gutted, ‘Unnerving’ State of the Agencies Supposed to Keep the U.S. Safe

Politico: “As the federal government girds against threatened riots in Washington this weekend and possible violence at the inauguration and state capitals across the country, it’s dealing with an unprecedented gap at the top: All of the nation’s top Cabinet departments overseeing the nation’s security are run by acting officials who have been in the job just weeks—or even hours. The acting Defense secretary has been on the job only since the week after the election; the head of the Justice Department just since Christmas; and the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security was the administrator of FEMA until midnight Tuesday morning. That means, with President Donald Trump increasingly disengaged from even the basic responsibilities of running the government, that the U.S. government is entering what many officials are calling the most dangerous time since 9/11 with a leadership vacuum unlike anything in modern U.S. history. Since 9/11 and the creation of DHS, in fact, the U.S. has never faced a presidential transition without a Senate-confirmed attorney general, DHS secretary, and Defense secretary all in place — let alone all three vacant at once. And below them, the vacancies, empty offices and acting officials only multiply, creating a dangerous vacuum in the nation’s security and intelligence apparatus that seems to be getting worse by the day. Since last Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol, nearly a dozen national security and intelligence personnel have departed in protest of the president’s actions inciting the mob. But the problem is just compounding a longstanding one: Throughout his presidency, Trump has relied on “actings” to an unequaled degree and to fill jobs for far longer than Congress intended — sometimes years. The practice has left his agencies severely undermanned and, often, staffed by people who are seriously underqualified for the positions they occupy.

We’re so far down the chain of people who wouldn’t normally be elevated to these positions, it brings greater questions about whether they’re being competently led at such a serious security situation,” said Carrie Cordero, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security who has carefully tracked the years of Trump administration personnel vacancies. “As a former counterterrorism person, I worked on al-Qaeda in the early 2000s, and this security situation feels as tense to me as it did during certain periods then when the U.S. government was mobilizing to prevent an event. It’s unnerving.”…

Categories: Law and Legal

‘We got to hold this door’ How battered D.C. police made a stand against the Capitol mob

Washington Post – “Blinded by smoke and choking on gas and bear spray, stripped of his radio and badge, D.C. police officer Michael Fanone and his battered colleagues fought to push back rioters trying to force their way into an entrance to the U.S. Capitol. The officers had been at it for hours, unaware that others in the mob had already breached the building through different entrances. For them, the West Terrace doors — which open into a tunnel-like hallway allowing access to an area under the Rotunda — represented the last stand before the Capitol fell. “Dig in!” Fanone yelled, his voice cracking, as he and others were being struck with their own clubs and shields, ripped from their hands by rioters. “We got to get these doors shut.” An officer since 9/11, the 40-year-old Fanone, who has four daughters, had been working a crime-suppression detail in another part of the District on Jan. 6. He and his partner sped to the Capitol when dispatchers broadcast an urgent citywide emergency call. “They were overthrowing the Capitol, the seat of democracy, and I f—ing went,” Fanone said…

This account is based on interviews with [Acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III], in the top job just four days before the riot, along with members of his command staff and officers on the front lines. These police leaders talked of battles using metaphors typically reserved for wars, describing fighting on three fronts, including the West Terrace, one of the few places where police prevented rioters from breaking through. Had those rioters succeeded, authorities said, thousands more people could have poured into the Capitol, with possible catastrophic consequences. Nearly 60 D.C. police officers and an unknown number of Capitol officers were hurt in the siege, with injuries that included bruised and sprained limbs, concussions and irritated lungs. Sicknick, who police said physically engaged rioters, died the next day. Authorities said he was injured, but they did not elaborate…”

Categories: Law and Legal

New Guide to Help Middle and High School Students Conduct Research with Library Resources

Teaching with the Library of Congress – This post is by Kaleena Black of the Library of Congress. “The research process can be fun and rewarding, but it can also present some challenges. For some students, the idea of research might not immediately bring to mind an exciting activity, filled with intrigue, suspense, and joy. Many students, and some adults, too, who are interested in deepening their understanding on a topic and are curious about learning more about an idea or issue, don’t consider themselves “researchers.” And even students who are committed to finding information might not be sure how to begin their research journey. To help support young people in their personal and academic research endeavors, Library educators and librarians teamed up to develop an online research guide for middle and high school students.  A variety of Research Guides have been designed by Library of Congress specialists to help researchers navigate the Library’s analog and digital collections and find resources. Currently, there are hundreds of such guides, covering more than 70 topics that relate to the arts, science, history, social and cultural studies, and more. With a focus on helping students locate and use digitized resources, this new guide offers tips on finding research inspiration, definitions for primary and secondary sources (with detailed examples for each), strategies for searching primary and secondary sources on the Library’s website and beyond, and suggestions on citing resources appropriately. There is also a feature that allows students to contact a Library of Congress reference specialist if they’re feeling stuck or need extra help in the course of their research…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Self-pardon? It might not go how Trump thinks.

Politico: “An unprecedented move by President Donald Trump to grant himself a pardon during his remaining days in office could divide his handpicked Supreme Court majority. Court-watchers are bracing for an epic, intra-Federalist Society clash that could determine whether Trump — and future presidents — can declare themselves immune from criminal investigations even after leaving the White House. “I think it’s a very close question whether it would ultimately be allowed to go forward, but I think there’s a chance a self-pardon might be struck down and be found to be the only limit on the pardon power,” said Kristin Hucek, a former lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney. The Constitution contains no explicit bar to a president giving himself or herself a pardon, but some scholars contend the founders implied that the clemency power should not be used for self-dealing. The long-running legal debate, which has quickened in recent days amid reports that the president has discussed the idea of a self-pardon with aides, has gained fresh urgency now that Trump has stacked the court with three dyed-in-the-wool conservatives: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. While most of the justices claim to be both textualists — meaning that they adhere closely to the literal words of the Constitution— and originalists — who believe the intent of the founders is crucial to interpreting the law — cleavages sometimes emerge and they might do so again in a case over the validity of a Trump self-pardon…”

Categories: Law and Legal

The Capitol Rioters Weren’t ‘Low Class’

The Atlantic – The business owners, real-estate brokers, and service members who rioted acted not out of economic desperation, but out of their belief in their inviolable right to rule: “They were business owners, CEOs, state legislators, police officers, active and retired service members, real-estate brokers [one of whom arrived in DC via private jet], stay-at-home dads, and, I assume, some Proud Boys. The mob that breached the Capitol last week at President Donald Trump’s exhortation, hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, was full of what you might call “respectable people.” They left dozens of Capitol Police officers injured, screamed “Hang Mike Pence!,” threatened to murder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and set up a gallows outside the building. Some were extremists using the crowd as cover, but as federal authorities issue indictments, a striking number of those they name appear to be regular Americans. And there’s nothing surprising about that. Although any crowd that size is bound to include people who are struggling financially, no one should be shocked to see the middle classes so well represented among the mob. The notion that political violence simply emerges out of economic desperation, rather than ideology, is comforting. But it’s false. Throughout American history, political violence has often been guided, initiated, and perpetrated by respectable people from educated middle- and upper-class backgrounds. The belief that only impoverished people engage in political violence—particularly right-wing political violence—is a misconception often cultivated by the very elites who benefit from that violence.

The members of the mob that attacked the Capitol and beat a police officer to death last week were not desperate. They were there because they believed they had been unjustly stripped of their inviolable right to rule. They believed that not only because of the third-generation real-estate tycoon who incited them, but also because of the wealthy Ivy Leaguers who encouraged them to think that the election had been stolen…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Still going to the grocery store? With new virus variants spreading, it’s probably time to stop.

Vox: “…More cases mean more really sick people, more strain on hospitals and health workers, more rationing of health care — and more deaths, including the entirely preventable ones now firmly linked to ICU bed shortages. More cases will also give the virus more opportunities to mutate further and potentially escape our vaccines, perpetuating the cycle of doom. The implication is clear: If we want the pandemic to end as fast as possible, we need to pump the brakes right now. And we don’t have to wait for the vaccines to slow the spread of the virus. We simply need to do what we’ve been doing all along to prevent infections, just much, much better. At an individual level, that means avoiding optional gatherings with other people — even grocery trips — whenever possible, or cutting them very short.

Shopping for five minutes in the grocery store is a lot better — six times better — than shopping for 30 minutes,” said Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since the odds of becoming infected rise the longer you’re exposed. “Picking up groceries at the curbside is even better, and having them delivered is even better still.” (If you’re able to get groceries delivered or pick up curbside, it will also help reduce the risk for those who aren’t able to take advantage of those options.)..”

Categories: Law and Legal

Coronavirus deaths climbing while country deals with political unrest

Axios: “Coronavirus deaths continue to reach tragic heights while the country grapples with a vaccine rollout, an impeachment and ongoing civil unrest. The state of play: States with the top-five death rates per 100,000 residents as of Thursday January 14, 2021 include

  • New Jersey, with 227 people dead per 100,000 residents
  • Massachusetts — 196
  • Rhode Island — 188
  • South Dakota — 186
  • Connecticut — 182

Also via Axios – “The U.S. is now averaging nearly 250,000 new coronavirus cases per day — a crisis of staggering proportions, even though many Americans have tuned it out. The big picture: It’s not even sufficient to say the pandemic is “still going on,” as if it’s a fire that hasn’t finished burning out. The pandemic is raging. Its deadliest and most dangerous days are happening right now. And it keeps getting worse.”

Categories: Law and Legal

When FOIA Goes to Court: 20 Years of Freedom of Information Act Litigation by News Organizations and Reporters

“In 2020, news organizations and individual reporters filed 122 different Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits to compel disclosure of federal government records—more than any year on record according to federal court data back to 2001 analyzed by the FOIA Project. In fact, the media alone have filed a total of 386 FOIA cases during the four years of the Trump Administration, from 2017 through 2020. This is greater than the total of 311 FOIA media cases filed during the sixteen years of the Bush and Obama Administrations combined. This report focuses on news media “FOIA litigants” (a.k.a. “FOIA plaintiffs”). These include both traditional news organizations and alternative news sources when their primary purpose is to be a news source. The FOIA Project’s analysis found that since January 1, 2001, the news media has filed a total of 697 separate FOIA cases in federal court. Looking at these cases reveals 374 distinct plaintiffs, 117 news organizations and 257 individual reporters. A few key FOIA litigators rise to the top. The top ten filers make up less than three percent of all plaintiffs, yet they accounted for 281 of the 697 FOIA cases-40 percent of the total suits filed. To view the list of ‘Top 10’ FOIA litigators as well as a more expansive list of rising stars in the FOIA litigation community, view the FOIA Project’s full report at the link below. Using the FOIA Project’s unique dataset of FOIA cases filed in federal court, this report provides unprecedented and valuable insight into the rapid growth of media lawsuits designed to make the government more transparent and accountable to the public. The complete, updated list of news media cases, along with the names of organizations and reporters who filed these suits, is available on the News Media List at FOIAProject.org.”

Categories: Law and Legal

The Capitol Riot: Documents You Should Read (Part 1)

“The Pentagon’s timeline of its response to the January 6, 2021 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol features multiple discrepancies with the public record, while the first federal indictment of mob participants details the specific legal charges that likely will be brought against others, according to the documents in the National Security Archive’s first “January 6 Sourcebook” posted today. The Sourcebook, subtitled “documents you should read,” includes:

  •  the Dissent Channel message signed by more than 100 State Department employees denouncing the attack as undermining the U.S. promotion of democracy abroad (published by Josh Rogin of the Washington Post in his Twitter feed);
  • the earlier 2006 FBI report warning of white supremacists’ influence in far-right circles, released by the House Oversight Committee;
  • the Department of Homeland Security threat assessment from October 2020 warning that violent white supremacy was “the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland” (published by Lawfare);
  • the FBI poster “seeking information” on “violence at the U.S. Capitol”;
  • the text of the speech by President Trump at the Ellipse just prior to the mob marching on the Capitol (published and annotated by the Washington Post);
  • the Congressional Research Service report detailing the steps Congress was taking to certify the presidential election vote when the mob interrupted (posted by Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists); and
  • the federal grand jury indictment of one of the mob members, Mark Leffingwell, citing five different sections of the U.S. Code violated by the mob. (First reported by Josh Gerstein of Politico.)..”
Categories: Law and Legal

How Amazon manipulates consumers to keep them subscribed to Amazon Prime

Report by Norway’s Consumer Council (NCC) / Forbrukerradet – YOU CAN LOG OUT, BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE: “Executive summary In this report, we show how Amazon makes it unreasonably cumbersome to unsubscribe from the Amazon Prime service. The process of cancelling an Amazon Prime subscription is riddled with a combination of manipulative design techniques, known as ‘dark patterns’. Consumers who want to leave the service are faced with a large number of hurdles, including complicated navigation menus, skewed wording, confusing choices, and repeated nudging. As we argue in this report, the sum of these practices is a process that seems designed to be obscure and manipulative, in order to keep consumers bound to the paid service. These practices were observed on Amazon’s platforms in both the US and in Europe. In our opinion, the use of dark patterns to prevent consumers from leaving a service is in breach of consumer law. Although Amazon is one of the largest online platforms globally, the dark patterns described throughout this report are emblematic of a broader problem. Consumers are faced with dark patterns on a daily basis; whether they want to use an online retailer, unsubscribe from a service, protect their privacy, and in many other situations. These manipulative design features undermine consumers’ ability to make free and informed choices by making us act against our own interests in favour of the interest of service providers. We call on service providers to stop using dark patterns and on consumer authorities to crack down on infringements of consumer and marketing law..”

Categories: Law and Legal

Has the IRS mailed your stimulus check yet? Track its progress with a free post office tool

CNET- This USPS will help you follow your stimulus check right to your mailbox, so you don’t accidentally throw it away. “The IRS is nearing the Jan. 15 deadline to send out second stimulus checks through direct deposit, despite some setbacks. And it is still mailing payments up to this Friday cutoff as paper checks or EIP debit cards. If you’re eligible for a second payment of up to $600 per person, but you didn’t see the money it in your bank account yet, you may want to start watching your mailbox, where your check could arrive after the Jan. 15 deadline. There are two free and easy ways to track your stimulus check. The first is by using the IRS’ stimulus check tracker tool, which can give you information about your payment schedule, how it’s arriving, your second stimulus check total and if there’s been an error processing your check. Then, if you learn your payment is coming in the mail, you can sign up for a free USPS service that shows you when your letters have been scanned, are in transit and have been delivered to your home. That includes your second stimulus check…”

Categories: Law and Legal

How to Hold Social Media Accountable for Undermining Democracy

Harvard Business Review: “The problem with social media isn’t just what users post — it’s what the platforms decide to do with that content. Far from being neutral, social media companies are constantly making decisions about which content to amplify, elevate, and suggest to other users. Given their business model, which promotes scale above all, they’ve often actively amplified extreme, divisive content — including dangerous conspiracy theories and misinformation. It’s time for regulators to step in. A good place to start would be clarifying who should benefit from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has been vastly over-interpreted to provide blanket immunity to all internet companies — or “internet intermediaries” — for any third-party content they host. Specifically, it’s time to redefine what an “internet intermediary” means and create a more accurate category to reflect what these companies truly are, such as “digital curators” whose algorithms decide what content to boost, what to amplify, how to curate our content…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Switching to Signal? Turn on these settings now for greater privacy and security

ZDNet – “Many people are making the switch from WhatsApp to Signal. Many are switching because of the increased privacy and security that Signal offers. But with a few simple tweaks, did you know that you can make Signal even more secure? There are a few settings I suggest you enable. There are some cosmetic differences between the iOS and Android versions of Signal, but these tips apply to both platforms. The first place you should head over to is the Settings screen. To get there, tap on your initials in the top-left corner of the screen (on Android you can also tap the three dots on the top-left and then Settings). There are three settings on iOS and four on Android I recommend turning on, and a few others worth taking a look at…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Record ocean heat in 2020 supercharged extreme weather

The Guardian: “The world’s oceans reached their hottest level in recorded history in 2020, supercharging the extreme weather impacts of the climate emergency, scientists have reported. More than 90% of the heat trapped by carbon emissions is absorbed by the oceans, making their warmth an undeniable signal of the accelerating crisis. The researchers found the five hottest years in the oceans had occurred since 2015, and that the rate of heating since 1986 was eight times higher than that from 1960-85. Reliable instrumental measurements stretch back to 1940 but it is likely the oceans are now at their hottest for 1,000 years and heating faster than any time in the last 2,000 years. Warmer seas provide more energy to storms, making them more severe, and there were a record 29 tropical storms in the Atlantic in 2020…”

See also Outsideonline – How Biden Can Start Protecting the Environment. “The end of the Trump administration can’t come soon enough for our climate and public lands. Thankfully, there are a series of actions our new president can immediately take to begin undoing the damage…”

Categories: Law and Legal

ABA Legal Fact Check updates prior posts on impeachment, perils of frivolous lawsuits

“The American Bar Association has updated ABA Legal Fact Checks on impeachment and the perils of filing frivolous lawsuits to assist reporters and editors working on these timely stories. With the U.S. House of Representatives voting to impeach President Donald J. Trump today for the second time in 13 months, the update on impeachment explores its law and history as well as what is meant by the Constitution’s term “high crimes and misdemeanors” and rules applicable to the trial the Senate must conduct once the House files articles of impeachment. The factcheck on frivolous lawsuits notes that because lawyers are officers of the court, they must follow certain court rules when they file lawsuits and outlines how these suits could eventually lead to disciplinary action against lawyers for violating applicable rules of professional conduct. ABA Legal Fact Check seeks to help the media and public find dependable answers and explanations to sometimes confusing legal questions and issues.”

Categories: Law and Legal

How Should Pharmacies Handle Extra Doses of COVID-19 Vaccine?

Slate: “…Since the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine rollout began in December, there have been reports across the country of providers ending up with vaccine doses they need to use up right away. In some cases, this results from vials containing “extra” doses—for instance, each Pfizer vaccine vial is designed to hold five doses, but many contain six, and Moderna vials are designed to hold 10 but many contain 11. In other cases, like what appears to have happened at Safeway the night Ruskin received her vaccine, providers must thaw a certain number of vaccine vials for daily appointments, but people who make those appointments may not show. Whether doses are “extra” or “leftover,” these situations require providers to make quick decisions about what to do with them; unthawed doses are only good for a few hours at room temperature. Amid an already chaotic vaccine rollout, it appears there’s little official guidance on what providers should do with these doses. In some cases, policies—or confusion over how to comply with them—have led to doses thrown away. After Stat reported in early December that one in six doses of the Pfizer vaccine were discarded because it was unclear whether “extra” doses in vials were usable, the Food and Drug Administration issued official guidance clarifying that those doses could indeed be used. And in some areas of the U.S., local and state public health guidance requires providers to use extra doses on groups eligible for vaccination, leading some providers to throw away doses if they can’t find people from those eligible groups. In a particularly dispiriting account published in the New York Times, a nurse called a nursing home, an urgent care center, and a women’s shelter and even ventured out on foot to administer vaccines at those locations, but ultimately, doses still went to waste…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Why Aren’t We Wearing Better Masks?

The Atlantic – Cloth masks are better than nothing, but they were supposed to be a stopgap measure. “If you’re like most Americans, there’s a good chance you’re going to wear a cloth mask today. Doing so makes sense. It remains the official recommendation in the United States, and it is something we’ve both advocated since the beginning of the pandemic. Both of us wrote articles as far back as March urging people to wear homemade cloth masks. We’re also the authors (along with 17 other experts) of a paper titled “An Evidence Review of Face Masks Against COVID,” which was just published in peer-reviewed form in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But it’s past time for better solutions to be available to the public. We first released the paper as a preprint back in April, and it took nine months to go through peer review. We’re happy that it’s published but, to be honest, we’re also deeply disappointed that it’s still relevant. We’d hoped that by 2021 supply chains would have ramped up enough to ensure that everyone had better masks. Cloth masks, especially homemade ones, were supposed to be a stopgap measure. Why are so many of us still wearing them? Don’t get us wrong; everything we said about the efficacy of cloth masks stands the test of time. Wearing them is much better than wearing nothing. They definitely help reduce transmission of the coronavirus from the wearer and likely protect the wearer to some degree as well. But we know that not all masks are equal, and early on in the pandemic, there was a dire shortage of higher-grade masks for medical workers. During those emergency conditions, something was much better than nothing. There are better possibilities now, but they require action and guidance by the authorities. Even all cloth masks are not equal. Construction, materials, and fit matter, and these can’t be tracked or certified with homemade masks. Unlike cloth masks, medical-grade masks (also called respirators) that adhere to standards such as N95 (in the U.S.), FFP2 (in the European Union), and KN95 (in China) do a much better job of protecting the wearer and dampening transmission. Ideally, they should also come with instructions on how to wear them and ensure that they fit properly…”

Categories: Law and Legal

Domestic Terrorism and the Attack on the U.S. Capitol

CRS Insight via LC – Domestic Terrorism and the Attack on the U.S. Capitol, January 13, 2021: “On January 6, 2021, a large group of individuals breached the U.S. Capitol security while Congress was in session. Members were voting on whether or not to certify President-Elect Joe Biden’s election victory, and many participants in the attack allegedly intended to thwart this effort. According to media coverage, violent participants injured scores of District of Columbia Metropolitan Police and U.S. Capitol Police officers and killed one, while four civilians have died as well. In light of this incident and the violent threat to the operation of the U.S. Congress, policymakers may be interested in whether this incident may be treated as domestic terrorism and if the participants are domestic terrorists, among other issues. This Insight discusses whether or not participants and their actions may be categorized as domestic terrorists and domestic terrorism,respectively, and issues around designating domestic fringe groups, such as the Boogaloo Bois and Proud Boys who were allegedly involved in the attack,as terrorist organizations. It concludes with possible next steps for Congress..”

Categories: Law and Legal

These D.C. museum websites provide online collections of inaugural pomp and pageantry

Washington Post: “Tourists usually pack into Washington’s museums in the days leading up to inauguration, cooing over the first ladies’ gowns at the National Museum of American History or lining up to see the new president’s portrait at the National Portrait Gallery. While most museums remain closed for the foreseeable future, virtual exhibitions allow viewers to enjoy the experience — and maybe learn something while they’re at it…”

Categories: Law and Legal

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