Friday, June 30, 2023

A Supreme Week From Hell, Con't

And the Roberts Court saved the worst for last, obliterating Colorado's law protecting same-sex couples from discrimination by ruling that a Christian web site designer cannot be forced to do work for the same-sex couple she believes are second-class citizens.

In a defeat for gay rights, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruled on Friday that a Christian graphic artist who wants to design wedding websites can refuse to work with same-sex couples. One of the court’s liberal justices wrote in a dissent that the decision’s effect is to “mark gays and lesbians for second-class status” and that it opens the door to other discrimination.

The court ruled 6-3 for designer Lorie Smith despite a Colorado law that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender and other characteristics. Smith had argued that the law violates her free speech rights.

Smith’s opponents warned that a win for her would allow a range of businesses to discriminate, refusing to serve Black, Jewish or Muslim customers, interracial or interfaith couples or immigrants. But Smith and her supporters had said that a ruling against her would force artists — from painters and photographers to writers and musicians — to do work that is against their beliefs.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court’s six conservative justices that the First Amendment “envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands.” Gorsuch said that the court has long held that “the opportunity to think for ourselves and to express those thoughts freely is among our most cherished liberties and part of what keeps our Republic strong.”

In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote: “Today, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class.” She was joined by the court’s two other liberals, Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Sotomayor said that the decision’s logic “cannot be limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” A website designer could refuse to create a wedding website for an interracial couple, a stationer could refuse to sell a birth announcement for a disabled couple, and a large retail store could limit its portrait services to “traditional” families, she wrote.

The decision is a win for religious rights and one in a series of cases in recent years in which the justices have sided with religious plaintiffs. Last year, for example, the court ruled along ideological lines for a football coach who prayed on the field at his public high school after games.

The decision is also a retreat on gay rights for the court. For nearly three decades, the court has expanded the rights of LGBTQ people, most notably giving same-sex couples the right to marry in 2015 and announcing five years later in a decision written by Gorsuch that a landmark civil rights law also protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from employment discrimination.

Even as it has expanded gay rights, however, the court has been careful to say those with differing religious views needed to be respected. The belief that marriage can only be between one man and one woman is an idea that “long has been held — and continues to be held — in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the court’s gay marriage decision.
Gorsuch, pulling a Full Alito, practically begs for those with "closely held religious beliefs" to sue over state and federal civil rights protection laws in order to create battleship-sized holes to allow discrimination. We're not quite there yet, but very soon it will be legal to discriminate against whoever you hate most as a religious belief and to refuse to offer them goods and services. The bright line from the Hobby Lobby decision by Scalia to this ruling by Gorsuch is visible from two or three galaxies over.
We're basically at that point now with LGBTQ+ folks.  We can now clearly see the end of the civil rights era, with it being replaced by a "Christian" theocratic dictatorship.

America is going to be a terrible place for everyone who isn't a white straight "Christian" male very soon, and your rights as a US citizen or even as a human being are now optional.

In a stinging defeat for President Joe Biden, the Supreme Court blocked the administration’s student loan forgiveness plan Friday, rejecting a program aimed at delivering up to $20,000 of relief to millions of borrowers struggling with outstanding debt.

The decision was 6-3 with Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the conservative supermajority.

It will immediately become a potent issue in the 2024 presidential race, as Biden can try to galvanize liberals by claiming the conservative court prevented him from delivering debt relief to voters. Republicans, meanwhile, are celebrating the ruling as a defeat for a “bailout” plan.

Republican-led states and conservatives challenging the program say it amounts to an unlawful attempt to erase an estimated $430 billion of federal student loan debt under the guise of the pandemic.

Roberts said the Biden administration and Secretary of Education rewrote the law.

“The Secretary’s comprehensive debt cancellation plan cannot fairly be called a waiver – it not only nullifies existing provisions, but augments and expands them dramatically,” Roberts wrote. “However broad the meaning of ‘waive or modify,’ that language cannot authorize the kind of exhaustive rewriting of the statute that has taken place here.”

The White House sought to use the HEROES Act authority to waive the debt.

Roberts said the government needed direct authorization from Congress.
And Republicans will never allow that.
But you'll vote for them anyway because it's Biden's faaaaaaaaaaaaaault.

Householder Of Cards, Con't

Imagine how utterly, massively corrupt you have to be as a Republican politician to actually be convicted of bribery and racketeering and to actually get the maximum sentence for your crimes because of their scope.

In one of the largest corruption cases in Ohio history, former state House Speaker Larry Householder was sentenced Thursday to the maximum 20 years in prison for orchestrating a nearly $60 million illegal bribery scheme that fueled his return to political power.

Once one of the most powerful politicians in Ohio, Householder is now a convicted felon, guilty of racketeering conspiracy and breaking the public's trust.

“Beyond financial greed, I think you just liked power," U.S. District Judge Timothy Black said before sentencing Householder. "You weren't serving the people. You were serving yourself."

Black denied a request that Householder be allowed to report to prison. Instead, two U.S. Marshals handcuffed Householder behind his back and escorted him out of court with his family watching from the front row.

Householder expressed no remorse for leading an extensive bribery scheme at the Ohio Statehouse but instead focused on the harm a prison sentence would impose on his relatives and loved ones. "I would give my life in a heartbeat for my wife and any of my sons," he said.

When Householder's attorney Steven Bradley made a similar argument right before the sentencing, Black interrupted: “The harm to his family was caused by him, not by the court."

Householder, former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges and three other men were charged with participating in a pay-to-play scheme that helped Householder win control of the Ohio House of Representatives in 2018, pass a $1.3 billion bailout for two nuclear plants in House Bill 6 and defend that law against a ballot initiative to block it.

"You know better than most people how much that money could have meant to the people of Ohio,” Black said of the $1.3 billion bailout. “How many lives could you have improved but you took that away from the people of Ohio and you handed it over to a bunch of suits with private jets."

Federal prosecutors had asked Black to impose a prison sentence between 16 and 20 years. Householder's attorneys requested between a year and a year-and-a-half in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Glatfelter emphasized the importance of deterring future politicians from repeating Householder's actions. "Sentencing will communicate to the public that the rule of law applies to everyone in this country, including politicians."

Of course the bigger issue is that the Supreme Court tossed a bribery case in New York last month because Clarence Thomas basically said that misuse of public funds is so broad that anything could constitute bribery under our current system, and if I'm Householder's team, I appeal to the 6th Circuit here in Cincy and ask for the prison sentence to be delayed as there's a good chance you'll win.

Mark my words, the opportunity to nullify federal RICO charges against former Republican politicians will not be passed up by the Roberts Court.  

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Last Call For Tales Of The Shattered Rainbow, Local Edition

A federal judge has blocked Kentucky's vile anti-trans law from taking effect today, saying that the law violates the Constitution and finding that gender-affirming care is medically necessary.

Seven transgender youth and their families sued the state in May, challenging the medical portion of Senate Bill 150 and asking for temporary injunctive relief. The families, who use pseudonyms in the lawsuit, argued the new law violates both plaintiffs’ and their parents’ individual protected rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

On Wednesday, hours before the full law was slated to take effect Thursday, U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Kentucky David Hale found merit in that claim and temporarily blocked that portion of the law from being enforced.

“Based on the evidence submitted, the court finds that the treatments barred by SB 150 are medically appropriate and necessary for some transgender children under the evidence-based standard of care accepted by all major medical organizations in the United States,” Hale wrote in his order. The families who’ve sued have “shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their constitutional challenges to SB 150.”

The bill, passed this session, was the subject of massive protests in Frankfort this year, with many in the LGBTQ community saying that the omnibus bill unfairly targeted them and that it was “anti-trans.”

Senate Bill 150 passed with the support of the vast majority of GOP legislators, who have supermajorities in both chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed the bill, but the legislature overrode his veto. Numerous major medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Medical Association, have filed amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs who assert the law is unconstitutional.

In addition to banning banning puberty-blockers, hormones and gender-affirming surgeries for kids under 18, Senate Bill 150 also bans discussion and lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation, prevents trans students from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, and stops school districts from requiring teachers use a student’s preferred pronouns. Those portions of the law remain intact.

In his Wednesday order, Hale debunked many of the assertions Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron cited in his defense of the law, and chided him for relying on “unnecessarily inflammatory language.”

“The Commonwealth offers no evidence that Kentucky healthcare providers prescribe puberty-blockers or hormones primarily for financial gain as opposed to patients’ well-being,” Hale said, referencing a claim made by Cameron. “Nor do the quoted studies from ‘some European countries’ questioning the efficacy of the drugs, or anecdotes from a handful of ‘detransitioners’ banning the treatments entirely, as SB 150 would do.”

Hale continued, “doctors currently decide, based on the widely accepted standard of care, whether puberty blockers or hormones are appropriate for a particular patient. Far from ‘protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession.’” Rather, “SB 150 would prevent doctors from acting in accordance with the applicable standard of care,” the judge wrote.

Cameron claimed in a filing that the law doesn’t violate parents’ due process to seek medical care for their children, because they do not have “fundamental right to obtain whatever drugs they want for their children, without restriction.”

But plaintiffs’ parents don’t allege this in their lawsuit, Hale said. Rather, they insist on “the right to obtain established medical treatments to protect their children’s health and well-being,” he wrote.

If the law were to take full effect, it would “eliminate treatments that have already significantly benefited six of the seven minor plaintiffs and prevent other transgender children from accessing these beneficial treatments in the future,” Hale wrote.

Blocking the law from taking effect “will not result in any child being forced to take puberty blockers or hormones,” he continued. “Rather, the treatments will continue to be limited to those patients whose parents and health care providers decide, in accordance with the applicable standard of care, that such treatment is appropriate.”

AG Daniel Cameron is appealing the injunction based on the grounds that trans kids need to be made to suffer or some shit to keep the normies happy, but frankly, fuck him.

The bigger issue is every time that anti-trans bills like this have been challenged in federal court as the KY ACLU did here, the feds have enjoined and blocked the laws from taking effect because they are patently unconstitutional.

This was always headed for SCOTUS.

A Supreme Week From Hell, Con't

As widely expected, telegraphed, implied, hinted at and foretold, all six conservatives on the Supreme Court have effectively ended race as an admission factor in colleges and universities.

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down affirmative action programs at the University of North Carolina and Harvard in a major victory for conservative activists, ending the systematic consideration of race in the admissions process.

The court ruled that both programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and are therefore unlawful. The vote was 6-3 in the UNC case and 6-2 in the Harvard case, in which liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was recused.

The decision was hailed by prominent conservatives, who say the Constitution should be "colorblind," with former President Donald Trump calling the ruling "a great day for America." Liberals, however, condemned the ruling, saying affirmative action is a key tool for remedying historic race discrimination.

"It wasn’t perfect, but there’s no doubt that it helped offer new ladders of opportunity for those who, throughout our history, have too often been denied a chance to show how fast they can climb," said former first lady Michelle Obama, the first Black woman in that role.

President Joe Biden called the decision a "severe disappointment," adding that his administration would provide guidance on how colleges could maintain diversity without violating the ruling.
What this means is that by ruling considering race as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, it's very, very possible that everything involving race will be challenged by conservatives, including all federal protections for schools, housing, job discrimination, etc.

We'll see, but at this point I expect a brutal crash in college admissions for Black folk going forward.

The Big Lie, Con't

Yet another county elections official in a Biden 2020 swing state has been run out of town on a rail by slobbering MAGA chuds threatening them and their family over the Big Lie.
An Arizona county elections director quit Tuesday, accusing the local elections department of caving to "a faction of the Republican party" and failing to protect her from "intimidation."

"I have watched as you idly stood by when I was attacked," Geraldine Roll, the Pinal County elections director, wrote in an email to the county's manager, Leo Lew.

Roll added that she has been “subject to ridicule, disrespect, intimidation” and “cannot work for an individual that does not support me.”

In an interview with Pinal Central, which first reported the email, Roll emphasized the fraught nature of her departure. She said she had "quit," rather than "resigned," adding: "I think there's a big difference."

In her email, Roll also alleged that the elections department had become politicized, arguing that the office has departed from "impartiality" and "common sense" in favor of "extremist" rhetoric catered toward "a faction of the Republican party."

"Clearly, politics are the value this administration desires in a place where politics have no place: election administration," Roll wrote. "With no regrets, I quit."

A Pinal County spokesperson has confirmed the email’s contents to NBC News.

In a statement, Lew thanked Roll for her "service during very challenging times."

"Although I disagree with her assessment, she has been an impactful public servant, and I wish her the best and know that she will continue to do great things in her career," Lew said.

The election director's resignation is the latest in a string of headwinds to hit the Pinal County Election Department. Last year, the department mailed roughly 63,000 defunct ballots to voters about a month before the primary election, when some polling places were faced with a ballot shortage.

Since the 2020 election, the Department of Justice has received a growing number of reports of threats to election workers.
Republicans don't want elections. They lose them.
So they are driving out all the people who run them.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Retribution Execution, Con't

Team Trump has finally lost patience with House GOP Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and unless he can get out of this hole quickly with the Tangerine Tyrant, he may not be Speaker of the House of much longer.
The former president embraced McCarthy — once dubbed a “RINO” by conservatives — during his time in the White House, elevating the California Republican as he feuded with other GOP congressional leaders. He personally intervened in January to ensure McCarthy won his dream job, ultimately convincing his critics to stand down amid a battle for the speakership.

And just a few weeks ago, Trump notably kept quiet about the debt ceiling deal McCarthy struck with President JOE BIDEN — a major, and intentional, boost for the speaker that was crucial in ensuring the deal could withstand a conservative pile-on.

That’s why it came as a shock yesterday when McCarthy dissed Trump in a CNBC interview, openly questioning whether Trump would be Republicans’ best presidential nominee in 2024 after carefully avoiding the topic for months.

“Can he win that election? Yeah, he can win that election,” McCarthy said, referring to a Biden-Trump matchup. “The question is: ‘Is he the strongest to win the election?’ I don’t know that answer.”

Unsurprisingly, Trump world flipped out. We’re told top aides to the former president and allies who know both men quickly traded messages asking, in short: What the fuck? Some called McCarthy a “moron,” we’re told. Others looked to Trump campaign hand BRIAN JACK, who also advises the speaker and has been a critical bridge between both men, to play mediator as Trump hit the trail in New Hampshire.

McCarthy immediately pivoted into clean-up mode. He called Trump to apologize, according to the NYT’s Annie Karni. He offered Trump-loving Breitbart reporter Matt Boyle an exclusive interview, where he walked the comments back and accused the media of taking them out of context.

“Trump is stronger today than he was in 2016,” McCarthy told Boyle.

This morning, we can report that none of these moves have assuaged the fury in Trump’s inner circle. McCarthy, they feel, has taken advantage of the former president when it benefits him and failed to show unflinching loyalty in return. They don’t understand how he could “misspeak” — as McCarthy, we’re told, put it to Trump — on something so critical.

In fact, McCarthy’s damage control made things worse. After the debacle yesterday, the speaker’s campaign allies pushed out fundraising emails and texts claiming, “Trump is the STRONGEST opponent to Biden!” — then asking for money.

Fundraising off of Trump’s name without permission is a huge no-no for the former president, whose team requires explicit approval for any campaign to use his name and likeness. Trump’s team, we’re told, asked McCarthy’s last night to take down the fundraising pitch.

Now, it’s not the first time McCarthy has been crosswise with Trump. Shortly after the Jan. 6 insurrection, McCarthy floated the idea of censuring Trump for his actions and was later caught on tape discussing the idea of asking Trump to resign. Yet the two continued their symbiotic bond: McCarthy quickly assumed a key role in restoring Trump’s prominence in the GOP, and Trump stayed in McCarthy’s corner as he battled for the gavel.

But yesterday’s drama came at a sensitive moment, with a major question already bouncing around Trump world: Why hasn’t McCarthy endorsed Trump?

While it’s unclear if Trump has explicitly asked McCarthy for his support, his silence on the matter has baffled the former president and his close allies.

McCarthy has told some Trump backers that he’s holding off because an endorsement “might hurt” Trump by tying him to the party establishment, according to one GOP campaign consultant who asked not to be named. He’s also suggested that as the highest-ranking Republican in office, just two heartbeats away from the presidency, perhaps he should stay neutral.

But Trump’s allies aren’t buying that. The former president, the thinking goes, will never allow McCarthy to stay on the sidelines in a nasty GOP primary and expects his full support, something many of them think he’ll get eventually — and perhaps, now, sooner rather than later.

“At what point is it okay for Kevin McCarthy not to endorse Trump?” the consultant above asked. “Donald Trump has been very good to Kevin McCarthy.”

Yesterday’s brouhaha also raised questions about how long Trump should — or would — support McCarthy.

Many of the ex-president’s strongest allies in Congress have been stacking up their grievances against McCarthy, waiting for the right moment to make a move. Several would be more than happy to force a vote to oust the speaker if Trump wanted — and Trump knows that.

“If Donald Trump wanted … he could have him out as speaker by the end of the week,” the GOP consultant said
Now, a large part of this is Team WIN THE MORNING high school kabuki bullshit.
But not all of it. 
McCarthy already has had to deal with several of his caucus supporting Ron DeSantis, most notably my own Congressman, Thomas Massie, who took his Rules Commitee slot and then jumped the Trump ship. McCarthy endorsing Trump could cost him his job. 
But Trump wants results: impeachments of Biden, VP Harris, several cabinet members, and more, expungements of his own impeachments (ahich actually aren't a thing but hey) and most of all for McCarthy to directly interfere with Jack Smith's investigation and indictments, and McCarthy can't deliver on those.

Personally I'd love to see this fight go public and for Trump to call for McCarthy's ouster, and if that actually happens, woo boy. Whether or not McCarthy can continue walking a greased tightrope in a hurricane is anyone's guess. He's made it to the six-month mark. But if Trump wants him gone and names, say, Elise Stefanik as his favored replacement, well, get the popcorn.

We all know how Trump treats his contractors and lackies in the end.

Striking Out In Hollywood

The Writers Guild of America is continuing to strike against Hollywood studios and streaming giants in order to secure benefits and pay, and with no end to the conflict in sight, it's looking like the Screen Actors Guild will be joining writers on the picket line at the end of the week.
EARLIER THIS MONTH, members of the Screen Actors Guild voted to authorize a strike if their negotiating committee doesn’t reach an agreement on a new contract with major Hollywood studios by June 30. SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher released a video message this week with an update on the negotiations, telling members, “We are having an [sic] extremely productive negotiations that are laser focused on all of the crucial issues you told us are most important to you. We’re standing strong and we are going to achieve a seminal deal.”

But the message didn’t sit right with a lot of actors who are urging SAG not to settle for a deal that doesn’t represent all of their demands. More than 300 actors signed a letter addressed to the SAG-AFTRA Leadership and Negotiating Committee that’s circulating and was allegedly sent to leadership expressing their concern with the idea that “SAG-AFTRA members may be ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not.”

“We hope you’ve heard the message from us: This is an unprecedented inflection point in our industry, and what might be considered a good deal in any other years is simply not enough,” the letter, obtained by Rolling Stone, says. “We feel that our wages, our craft, our creative freedom, and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade. We need to reverse those trajectories.”

The message was signed by hundreds of members, including Hollywood stars like Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Rami Malek, Quinta Brunson, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ben Stiller, Neil Patrick Harris, Amy Schumer, and Amy Poehler.

Representatives for SAG-AFTRA didn’t immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.

With just days left to make a deal before their contract with Hollywood studios, streamers, and production companies runs out, everyone who signed the letter says they’re “prepared to strike if it comes to that,” even though it’s not preferable because it “brings incredible hardships to so many, and no one wants it.” The members addressed a number of issues that are important to them when it comes to negotiations, including minimum pay, residuals that consider the growth of streaming, healthcare, pensions, and regulation around how self-tapes are used in the casting process.
The elephant in the room of course is AI.
It's already possible for folks to use AI to copy voices and likenesses of actors. as well as using it to write dialogue, scripts, and stories. Hollywood's entire creative industry is headed for a cliff as people can increasingly bring their fanfiction stories to life. What was a cautionary tale four years ago and a warning siren two years ago is now a full-fledged red alert in 2023, especially as more and more media giants are burying old shows to avoid paying license fees and residuals to creatives.

This all points to Hollywood studios going virtual across the entire industry and very soon, taking likenesses and voices of famous actors and making movies without actual people in them. Hell, we already have at least one Marvel show using an entirely AI-generated opening sequence.

This is going to be a hell of a fight in the months and years ahead.

I'd go on strike too.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Last Call For Lordy, There Are Tapes

Ladies and gentlemen, here's audio evidence that Donald Trump committed a federal crime.

CNN has exclusively obtained the audio recording of the 2021 meeting in Bedminster, New Jersey, where President Donald Trump discusses holding secret documents he did not declassify.

The recording, which first aired on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” includes new details from the conversation that is a critical piece of evidence in special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment of Trump over the mishandling of classified information, including a moment when Trump seems to indicate he was holding a secret Pentagon document with plans to attack Iran.

“These are the papers,” Trump says in the audio recording, while he’s discussing the Pentagon attack plans, a quote that was not included in the indictment.

In the two-minute audio recording, Trump and his aides also joke about Hillary Clinton’s emails after the former president says that the document was “secret information.”

“Hillary would print that out all the time, you know. Her private emails,” Trump’s staffer said.

“No, she’d send it to Anthony Weiner,” Trump responded, referring to the former Democratic congressman, prompting laughter in the room.

Trump’s statements on the audio recording, saying “these are the papers” and referring to something he calls “highly confidential” and seems to be showing others in the room, could undercut the former president’s claims in an interview last week with Fox News’ Bret Baier that he did not have any documents with him.

“There was no document. That was a massive amount of papers and everything else talking about Iran and other things,” Trump said on Fox. “And it may have been held up or may not, but that was not a document. I didn’t have a document, per se. There was nothing to declassify. These were newspaper stories, magazine stories and articles.”

Trump pleaded not guilty earlier this month to 37 counts related to the alleged mishandling of classified documents kept at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

The audio recording comes from a July 2021 interview Trump gave at his Bedminster resort for people working on the memoir of Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff. The special counsel’s indictment alleges that those in attendance – a writer, publisher and two of Trump’s staff members – were shown classified information about the plan of attack on Iran. 
If you still want to know why Republicans are trying to invent a Joe Biden "bribery scandal" out of smoke and mirrors where nobody can actually come up with the tapes proving anything at all happened, it's because these tapes proving Trump is a crook actually exist.

A Supreme Week From Hell, Con't

The good news: the "independent state legislature" theory is dead and buried after a 6-3 SCOTUS decision today authored by Chief Justice Roberts. The bad news is the NC GOP is likely to redraw an even worse, more gerrymandered map that favors the GOP and will cost Democrats two or more House seats in 2024.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to impose new limits on state courts reviewing certain election-related issues by ruling against Republicans in North Carolina fighting for a congressional district map that would heavily favor their candidates.

The justices ruled on a 6-3 vote that the North Carolina Supreme Court was acting within its authority in concluding that the map constituted a partisan gerrymander under the state constitution.

In doing so, the court declined to embrace a hitherto obscure legal argument called the “independent state legislature” theory, which Republicans say limits state court authority to strike down certain election laws enacted by state legislatures.

After the then-Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court issued the ruling last year, the court flipped to Republican control following November's mid-term elections and recently overturned the decision, a move that prompted questions about whether the justices even needed to decide the case.

The congressional map in North Carolina will be re-drawn ahead of the 2024 election anyway because of a state law provision that says interim maps can only be used for one election cycle. As a result of the North Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling, that map is likely to tilt heavily toward Republicans.

The independent state legislature argument hinges on language in the Constitution that says election rules “shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.”

Supporters of the theory, which has never been endorsed by the Supreme Court, say the language supports the notion that, when it comes to federal election rules, legislatures have ultimate power under state law, potentially irrespective of potential constraints imposed by state constitutions.

A Supreme Court ruling that embraced the theory would have affected not only redistricting disputes, but also other election-related rules about issues like mail-in voting and voter access to the polls that legislatures might seek to enact even when state courts have held that those rules violate state constitutions. The theory could also bring into question the power of governors to veto legislation.

Then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist embraced a version of the theory in the Bush v. Gore ruling issued later in 2000, which ultimately led to Republican George W. Bush’s taking office as president. During December's oral argument, several justices cited Rehnquist’s opinion, which did not secure a majority at the time, in support of the notion that there should be some constraints on the scope of state officials, including judges, to make changes to election laws enacted by legislatures that are not anchored in law.

The independent state legislature theory has subsequently been cited by supporters of former President Donald Trump in various cases during the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath.

The North Carolina case was being closely watched for its potential impact on the 2024 presidential election.
Roberts stepping in himself here to put an end to this nonsense is definitely one of those "I'm not going to go down as the villain in history!" kind of efforts, even though it's largely too late for that. Still, with both the NC state legislature and state Supreme Court firmly in the hands of the GOP, expect the 7-7 party split in the US House to become 10-4 or even 11-3 GOP in 2024. Your state's gerrymander will depend on whom you elect to run your state.

The real issue though is that Roberts does leave the door open for federal review of state Supreme Court rulings on gerrymanders in "extraordinary" cases. That could be very important down the line and it's going to be tested sooner rather than later. We're not out of the woods yet.
Also, the Chief Justice rules that states are bound by their constitutions as far as electors go, so the Trumpian theory of "alternate slates of electors" also gets tossed into the trash can.

Oh, and Clarence Thomas's dissent is just two dozen pages of whinging. Fuck him.

Equal Justice, Under The Law, Con't

The Club Q shooter who massacred five and injured 19 others in Colorado Springs last year is getting five consecutive life sentences with no parole, as Colorado abolished the death penalty in 2020.

The suspect accused of fatally shooting five people and injuring 19 others last year at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado has pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree murder and agreed to serve five consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole as part of a deal with prosecutors, the defendant told a judge.

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 23, also pleaded guilty Monday morning to 46 counts of attempted murder in the first degree – with 48-year consecutive sentences each – and no-contest to bias-motivated crimes in the November 19 massacre at Club Q in Colorado Springs.

Shortly after Aldrich confirmed the plea deal, survivors began to give victim impact statements as the court moved directly to the sentencing phase.

“Why isn’t the punishment for this much harsher?” Ashley Paugh’s husband, Kurt Paugh, said in court. Her sister described the state of mind of the slain woman’s child – prompting tears in the courtroom.

“My 11-year-old niece wants to forgive you because that’s what she says her mom would want her to do,” Stephanie Clark said to Aldrich.

Aldrich, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, was charged with more than 300 state counts, including murder, assault, attempted murder and hate crimes. Prosecutors could not seek the death penalty in the case because Colorado in 2020 abolished the death penalty – becoming the 22nd state to do so.

The massacre at Club Q – long considered a safe haven for the LGBTQ community in a city with a history of being anti-gay – evoked memories of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, which left 49 people dead.

The Club Q victims – Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Daniel Aston, Derrick Rump and Paugh – were among at least 642 people killed in 2022 in mass shootings with four or more wounded, excluding shooters, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

This year’s pace of slayings is on track to exceed that, with 385 people killed in mass shootings in the first 177 days of this year, the Gun Violence Archive reports.
I've got to say good riddance to a monster. I don't believe in capital punishment, but five consecutive life sentences without parole, one for each murder, is exactly what they deserve. 

I hope this stops the next LGBTQ club shooting, but we all know more violence is coming here in Gunmerica.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Last Call For Ridin' With Biden, Con't

President Biden announced at the White House today that a number of infrastructure programs would be getting federal money from the bill passed last year, starting with high-speed internet.
President Joe Biden Monday announced how $42.5 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law he championed will be distributed to expand high-speed internet access across the country.

The funding will go to all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories, and is aimed at bolstering internet access particularly for the 7% of people who live in underserved areas, according to the White House.

With White House remarks announcing the funding, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris plan to kick off a three-week pitch aimed at touting their administration's investments across the country -- from the 2021 infrastructure law and a host of other legislation they argue is starting to make concrete improvements in Americans' lives.

It comes as Biden faces political headwinds on his handling of the economy, which consistently is a top issue for voters heading into the 2024 elections.

On Wednesday, he is scheduled to deliver what the White House is billing as a major speech on "Bidenomics" – what his advisers have labeled his economic philosophy of investing in the middle class.

The Biden administration announced Monday it will disperse $1.7 billion for more than 1,700 new buses around the country, some of which are expected to be electric.

Outlining the funds on a press call last week, an administration official said 700 of the buses will be zero-emission — a category that is often electric.

The official said an additional 610 buses will have “low or no” emissions, while 400 will be “traditional” buses and about 14 will be powered by hydrogen.

The Federal Transit Administration did not respond to follow-up questions by The Hill asking for additional details on the “traditional” and low-to-no emissions buses.

The funds announced Monday, which will also go toward other programs like workforce training, come from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This is the second slate of bus grants announced by the Biden administration under the law.
Republicans are already attacking this as "wasteful spending" and are vowing to cut or eliminate these programs in spending bills due October 1.

A group of U.S. Senate Democrats last week approved funding levels for dozens of federal departments for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 — setting up a likely clash with House Republicans as a deadline approaches later this year.

The move to advance the spending plan was essential if Congress is going to avoid a partial government shutdown or a series of stopgap funding bills. But the levels agreed to by the Senate Appropriations Committee are significantly different from the ones their House Republican counterparts adopted last week. The panel approved the numbers following a party-line 15-13 vote.

The next steps will include the panel debating all 12 annual government spending bills and later moving to negotiate those with the House. If Congress doesn’t pass all of the bills by Jan. 1, a provision from the debt limit bill would trigger a 1% across-the-board spending cut until Congress approves all the funding measures.

Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, noted the panel is restricted in what it can spend by the debt limit and budget agreement that President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy brokered earlier this year.

That agreement set total spending for the fiscal year set to begin Oct. 1 at $1.59 trillion, with $886.3 billion going toward defense and $703.7 billion for domestic spending accounts.

Murray said she is concerned about those limits, and indicated the committee will take up additional government spending bills to address national disaster response, border security and to boost aid to Ukraine.

“The challenges we face under the limits imposed by the debt ceiling deal do not get any easier and they don’t get any better if we start going backwards, or if we abandon our return to regular order, or we write unserious bills.,” Murray said.

“And as we all know, chaos only helps those who want to see our government shut down, including our adversaries — like the governments of Russia and China — who are rooting for Congress to descend into chaos,” Murray added.
The real spending fight will take place in the months ahead.

Russian To Judgment: Putin On A Show

I've read some pretty wild reasons as to why Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin called off his coup after just a day or so, but Occam's Razor reminds us the simplest explanations are most often correct, and in this case, it's that "Putin threatened Prighozin's family and the families of the rest of Wagner's bigwigs."
Russian intelligence services threatened to harm the families of Wagner leaders before Yevgeny Prigozhin called off his advance on Moscow, according to UK security sources.

It has also been assessed that the mercenary force had only 8,000 fighters rather than the 25,000 claimed and faced likely defeat in any attempt to take the Russian capital.

Vladimir Putin will now try to assimilate Wagner Group soldiers into the Russian military and take out its former leaders, according to insights shared with The Telegraph.

The analysis offers clues into the mystery of why Prigozhin, the Wagner Group leader, called off his mutinous march on Moscow on Saturday just hours before reaching the capital.

There remains speculation about what formal deal was struck, if any. The Kremlin said on Saturday that Prigozhin would head to Belarus in exchange for a pardon from charges of treason.

There has been no comment from Prigozhin over the suggestion. It also remains unclear if Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, is set to be demoted or fired, as Prigozhin demanded.

On Sunday, the Russian MP Andrey Gurulyov, a prominent Kremlin propagandist, said there was “no option” but for Prigozhin and another high-profile Wagner figure to be executed.

Putin has not been seen in public since addressing the nation on Saturday morning, but a pre-recorded interview filmed earlier in the week was played on state television on Sunday.
As far as how long Prigozhin himself survives, well, that's the million-ruble question, isn't it?

On Sunday, intelligence officials and diplomats — unsure if they had just witnessed an aborted coup or a thwarted mutiny — were left to parse official Kremlin statements and re-watch blurry videos posted on Telegram, the social network that Prigozhin has used to try to convince the Russian people that the war in Ukraine has been a strategic disaster led by incompetent commanders and political sycophants.

Publicly, U.S. officials have highlighted the possible benefits to Ukraine from the chaos in Russia. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the brief Wagner revolt, and how it was ultimately if tentatively resolved, showed “cracks in the facade” of Putin’s authoritarian leadership.

“Think about it this way: 16 months ago, Russian forces were on the doorstep of Kyiv in Ukraine, believing they would take the capital in a matter of days and erase the country from the map as an independent country. Now, what we’ve seen is Russia having to defend Moscow, its capital, against mercenaries of [Putin’s] own making,” Blinken said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.”

“Certainly, we have all sorts of new questions that Putin is going to have to address in the weeks and months ahead,” Blinken added.

Officials in the United States and around Europe said they were unsure of what comes next and were concerned about the instability that could follow an effort by Putin’s rivals, including Prigozhin, to unseat the president at a vulnerable moment.

High on the list of questions policymakers are now putting to their intelligence analysts is whether Prigozhin has managed to shake the foundations of the Kremlin so strongly that Putin will feel compelled to sack top generals or ministers leading the war, as Prigozhin has repeatedly demanded.

More immediately, though, there’s another question: What just happened? One minute, Prigozhin had taken over a key military headquarters in the south running Russia’s war machine in Ukraine. The next, he had agreed to a truce brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who’s more accustomed to playing second fiddle to Putin than intervening between warring factions.

“Why did it calm down so quickly, and how come Putin’s puppet Lukashenko got the credit?” asked one senior European diplomat, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions. “What impact will it have on Russia’s defenses, and are there going to be any personnel changes in the military leadership?”
Remember, US intelligence services have been crippled for a decade by Dudebro Defector's leaks exposing means and methods against Russia. Moscow's been a black hole for the US ever since. The fact that we're seeing multiple US news outlets tells us that both the State Department and intelligence services know basically nothing other than "something was up" in the weeks leading up to the coup and know even less now about Russia and its nuclear arsenal is...not good.

The UK is in a better position, it seems, to gather information from Putin and his oligarchy, than we are. That should worry a lot of people.

A Supreme Week From Hell

With the last week of June upon us, several critical Supreme Court decisions are still awaiting, and these rulings could affect the rights and lives of tens of millions of Americans in the days ahead.

The Supreme Court is set to hand down key decisions this week on student debt relief, affirmative action and federal election laws as it enters the last week of its summer session with 10 cases pending.

The court has given no indication it will break its norm of finishing decisions by the end of June, and the next batch is slated to be released Tuesday morning.

Beyond the decisions, the court is also forming its docket for the next term. The justices on Monday could announce whether they will take up several high-profile cases, including on guns, racial discrimination and qualified immunity.

Here are the remaining cases as the Supreme Court wraps up its annual term:

President Biden’s plan to forgive student debt for more than 40 million borrowers will soon be greenlighted or blocked, depending on how the justices rule.

Biden’s plan would forgive up to $10,000 for borrowers who meet income requirements and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients.

But the debt relief remains on hold until the Supreme Court resolves two lawsuits challenging the plan.

If either succeeds, the debt relief will be blocked.

During oral arguments, the conservative majority cast doubt that the administration had the authority to cancel the debts, expected to amount to hundreds of billions of dollars.

But before they can strike down the plan as unlawful, the justices must first decide whether any of the challengers have legal standing.

The six GOP-led states and two individual borrowers challenging the plan have promoted various arguments.

Missouri’s argument received the most attention, and conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court’s three liberals in questioning the state’s theory during oral argument.

The cases are Biden v. Nebraska and Department of Education v. Brown.

When the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action in college admissions in 2003, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in her majority opinion made a temporal prediction:

“The Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today,” she wrote.

That landmark decision, Grutter v. Bollinger, marked its 20th anniversary Friday.

It might not reach its 21st.

The justices have been weighing whether to overturn Grutter — and decades of affirmative action programs in higher education along with it — in challenges to admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

During oral argument, the majority appeared skeptical of upholding race-conscious college admissions.

The justices tend to write no more than one majority opinion for each monthly argument session.

Chief Justice John Roberts and conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh have not yet issued majority opinions for any cases argued in November, when the affirmative action challenges were heard, meaning one of them is the likely author.

The cases are Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina.

Web designer Lorie Smith, an evangelical Christian, is challenging Colorado’s public accommodation law on free speech grounds.

Like many other states, Colorado’s law prohibits businesses that serve the public from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

Smith wants to expand her business to create wedding websites. But Colorado’s law would demand she create same-sex wedding websites if she wants to do so for opposite-sex unions, and Smith is vehemently opposed to gay marriage.

The justices are now set to decide whether public accommodation laws, as applied to Smith and other artists, violate the First Amendment by compelling their speech.

The conservative majority signaled support for Smith during oral argument.

Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch appear to be the likely pool of authors because they are the two remaining justices who have not issued majority opinions from a case argued in December.

The case is 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis.

The court is weighing a major election clash that will decide who has the final word on setting federal election rules.

North Carolina Republican lawmakers appealed a state court ruling that struck down their congressional map, promoting to the justices a sweeping argument known as the “independent state legislature” theory.

That theory asserts that state legislatures have exclusive authority to set federal election rules under the Constitution.

Adopting it would claw back the ability of state courts and state constitutions to block legislatures’ congressional map designs and other regulations surrounding federal elections.

It’s possible, however, that the court tosses the case without reaching the theory’s merits.

As the justices considered the case, Republicans regained control of North Carolina’s top court and overturned the underlying decision that struck down the state’s congressional map.

The Supreme Court has been paying close attention to whether they still have jurisdiction in the case, a potential offramp from the high-stakes dispute.

Based on the decisions released so far, Roberts or Gorsuch appears to be the likely author of the majority opinion.

The case is Moore v. Harper.

Again, predicting SCOTUS decisions is something even the experts get wrong, and I'm just a guy with a blog who probably should have walked away a decade ago. But as I'm here and you're reading this, I expect three really awful conservative decisions and a punt on the independent state legislature nonsense, with the court all but begging for cases where they can greatly expand on the precedents set in all four cases.

But if the worst comes to pass, and the Roberts Court sides with NC in the final case there, our democracy is all but finished. The notion that state legislatures can simply determine the electoral college outcome of each state regardless of the vote for president is heartstopping lunacy, and you'd better believe that Republican state legislatures will anoint Republican winners for everything across the board, no matter what the voters actually say or do.

Granted that would mean Democratic state legislatures could simply appoint democrats across the board too, but who knows how far that could go? We don't need to find out.

The point is, this is most likely going to be a dismal week, starting Tuesday.  

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Russian To Judgment: Well That Was Fast

Friday night's coup in Russia was over by Saturday night, as Putin supposedly has cut a deal with Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner Group mercs, but at this point both Putin and Prigozhin, and the war on Ukraine, are both on borrowed time and everyone knows it.
A short recap of the past 24 hours in Russia reads like the backstory for a fanciful episode of Madam Secretary or The West Wing. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the brutal convicted criminal who leads the Wagner mercenary group, declared war on the Russian Ministry of Defense and marched into the city of Rostov-on-Don. He then headed north for Moscow, carrying his demand for the ousting of Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. The city went on alert.

Prigozhin and his men came within 125 miles of the capital—that is, closer to Moscow than Philadelphia is to Washington, D.C. He then said that a deal had been struck and that Wagner’s forces were turning around to avoid bloodshed. Apparently, however, the blood Prigozhin saved from being shed was his own. If the “deal” announced by the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov accurately reflects an actual settlement, Prigozhin has in the space of a day gone from being a powerful warlord to a man living on borrowed time in a foreign country, waiting for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inevitable retribution.

According to Peskov, Russia is dropping all charges against Prigozhin, who must now go into exile in Belarus. Wagner fighters who did not take part in the rebellion will be given amnesty, and then they will sign contracts that will bring them under the control of Shoigu’s Ministry of Defense. I suggested yesterday that Shoigu’s attempt to seize Wagner’s men and dissolve the force might be one of the reasons Prigozhin went on the march. This outcome is a defeat of the first order for Prigozhin, who has now lost everything except his life.

We can at this point only speculate about why Prigozhin undertook this putsch, and why it all failed so quickly. One possibility is that Prigozhin had allies in Moscow who promised to support him, and somehow that support fell through: Perhaps his friends in the Kremlin got cold feet, or were less numerous than Prigozhin realized, or never existed at all. Prigozhin, after all, is not exactly a military genius or a diplomat; he’s a violent, arrogant, emotional man who may well have embarked on this scheme huffing from a vat of his own overconfidence.

Nonetheless, this bizarre episode is not a win for Putin. The Russian dictator has been visibly wounded, and he will now bear the permanent scar of political vulnerability. Instead of looking like a decisive autocrat (or even just a mob boss in command of his crew), Putin left Moscow after issuing a short video in which he was visibly angry and off his usual self-assured game. Putin reportedly worries a great deal about being assassinated, and so perhaps he wanted to hunker down until he had more clarity about who might be in league with Prigozhin. But whatever the reason, he vowed to deal with Prigozhin decisively and then blew town, probably to his retreat at Valdai, in a move that looked weak and disorganized.

Bringing in President Aleksandr Lukashenko as a broker at first seemed an odd choice on Putin’s part, but it makes a bit more sense in light of the supposed deal. The Belarusian autocrat could personally vouch for Prigozhin’s safe passage; Lukashenko has no connections in Moscow that are more important than Putin; he does not live or work in the Kremlin and so he was a secure choice to carry out Putin’s terms; he owes Putin his continued rule and has no reason to betray him. Also, sending in Lukashenko was something of a power move: Putin is a former intelligence officer, and in that world, Prigozhin is merely a scummy convict. The two men were friendly before this, but they were not equals. It would have been a huge loss of face for the president of a great power to negotiate with his former chef in person.

Prigozhin gets to stay alive, at least for the moment, but his life as he knew it (and maybe in any sense) is over. Putin, however, is now politically weaker than ever. The once unchallengeable czar is no longer invincible. The master of the Kremlin had to make a deal with a convict—again, in Putin’s culture, among the lowest of the low—just to avert the shock and embarrassment of an armed march into the Russian capital while other Russians are fighting on the front lines in Ukraine.

Prigozhin drew blood and then walked away from a man who never, ever lets such a personal offense go unavenged. Putin, however, may have had no choice, which is yet another sign of his precarious situation. All of the options were terrifying: Ordering the Russian military to attack armed Russian men would have been a huge risk, especially because those men (and their hatred of the bureaucrats at the Defense Ministry) have at least some support among Russia’s officers and political elites. Killing Prigozhin outright was also a high-risk proposition; with their leader dead and the Russian military closing in, the Wagnerites might have decided to fight to the death.

This wound to Putin’s power goes deep, but how deep is difficult to gauge for now, especially because we do not know whether Shoigu or Gerasimov still have their jobs. And although the rebellion has taken Wagner off the field in Ukraine, Putin may still seek to cover this ignominious moment by escalating Russia’s brutality there. But two things appear certain. First, Putin has suffered a huge political blow, and he has survived by making deals both with Prigozhin and with his own colleagues in the Kremlin that are, by any definition, a humiliation. And second, Yevgeny Prigozhin has changed the Russian political environment surrounding Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Prigozhin’s rebellion and its effects will last beyond today, but how long he will live in Belarus—or stay alive in Belarus—to see how the rest of it plays out is unclear.
At this point nobody knows how this will end, and anyone who says they do is lying. But the current situation in both Ukraine and Russia is untenable. We've already seen one massive crack in the dam. More are coming. And Ukraine now has even more of a reason to fight back.

Sunday Long Read: Behind The Silicon Curtain

"Artificial Intelligence will come for your job" is the prevailing conventional wisdom, but like most wild and disruptive predictions of the future, the reality is a lot more boring.
A few months after graduating from college in Nairobi, a 30-year-old I’ll call Joe got a job as an annotator — the tedious work of processing the raw information used to train artificial intelligence. AI learns by finding patterns in enormous quantities of data, but first that data has to be sorted and tagged by people, a vast workforce mostly hidden behind the machines. In Joe’s case, he was labeling footage for self-driving cars — identifying every vehicle, pedestrian, cyclist, anything a driver needs to be aware of — frame by frame and from every possible camera angle. It’s difficult and repetitive work. A several-second blip of footage took eight hours to annotate, for which Joe was paid about $10.

Then, in 2019, an opportunity arose: Joe could make four times as much running an annotation boot camp for a new company that was hungry for labelers. Every two weeks, 50 new recruits would file into an office building in Nairobi to begin their apprenticeships. There seemed to be limitless demand for the work. They would be asked to categorize clothing seen in mirror selfies, look through the eyes of robot vacuum cleaners to determine which rooms they were in, and draw squares around lidar scans of motorcycles. Over half of Joe’s students usually dropped out before the boot camp was finished. “Some people don’t know how to stay in one place for long,” he explained with gracious understatement. Also, he acknowledged, “it is very boring.”

But it was a job in a place where jobs were scarce, and Joe turned out hundreds of graduates. After boot camp, they went home to work alone in their bedrooms and kitchens, forbidden from telling anyone what they were working on, which wasn’t really a problem because they rarely knew themselves. Labeling objects for self-driving cars was obvious, but what about categorizing whether snippets of distorted dialogue were spoken by a robot or a human? Uploading photos of yourself staring into a webcam with a blank expression, then with a grin, then wearing a motorcycle helmet? Each project was such a small component of some larger process that it was difficult to say what they were actually training AI to do. Nor did the names of the projects offer any clues: Crab Generation, Whale Segment, Woodland Gyro, and Pillbox Bratwurst. They were non sequitur code names for non sequitur work.

As for the company employing them, most knew it only as Remotasks, a website offering work to anyone fluent in English. Like most of the annotators I spoke with, Joe was unaware until I told him that Remotasks is the worker-facing subsidiary of a company called Scale AI, a multibillion-dollar Silicon Valley data vendor that counts OpenAI and the U.S. military among its customers. Neither Remotasks’ or Scale’s website mentions the other.

Much of the public response to language models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT has focused on all the jobs they appear poised to automate. But behind even the most impressive AI system are people — huge numbers of people labeling data to train it and clarifying data when it gets confused. Only the companies that can afford to buy this data can compete, and those that get it are highly motivated to keep it secret. The result is that, with few exceptions, little is known about the information shaping these systems’ behavior, and even less is known about the people doing the shaping.

For Joe’s students, it was work stripped of all its normal trappings: a schedule, colleagues, knowledge of what they were working on or whom they were working for. In fact, they rarely called it work at all — just “tasking.” They were taskers.

The anthropologist David Graeber defines “bullshit jobs” as employment without meaning or purpose, work that should be automated but for reasons of bureaucracy or status or inertia is not. These AI jobs are their bizarro twin: work that people want to automate, and often think is already automated, yet still requires a human stand-in. The jobs have a purpose; it’s just that workers often have no idea what it is.
Nobody seems to actually know what this is going to be, and it all reminds me of the dot-com boom and bust 25 years ago.  A lot of people think there will be a huge revolution, but that revolution has been predicted for decades now.

We'll see.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Russian To Judgment: Judgment Russian Edition

So, helpful tip if you ever find yourself the dictator of a major power: don't turn your military over to a large mercenary company, toss them into a year-plus long meat grinder invading your neighbor, and then treat those mercs like shit, because they might decide that they don't like you any more, and they have lots and lots of things that go boom and bang.

The hall of mirrors that Vladimir Putin has built around himself and within his country is so complex, and so multilayered, that on the eve of a genuine insurrection in Russia, I doubt very much if the Russian president himself believed it could be real.

Certainly the rest of us still can’t know, less than a day after this mutiny began, the true motives of the key players, and especially not of the central figure, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group. Prigozhin, whose fighters have taken part in brutal conflicts all over Africa and the Middle East—in Syria, Sudan, Libya, the Central African Republic—claims to command 25,000 men in Ukraine. In a statement yesterday afternoon, he accused the Russian army of killing “an enormous amount” of his mercenaries in a bombing raid on his base. Then he called for an armed rebellion, vowing to topple Russian military leaders.

Prigozhin has been lobbing insults at Russia’s military leadership for many weeks, mocking Sergei Shoigu, the Russian minister of defense, as lazy, and describing the chief of the general staff as prone to “paranoid tantrums.” Yesterday, he broke with the official narrative and directly blamed them, and their oligarch friends, for launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Ukraine did not provoke Russia on February 24, he said: Instead, Russian elites had been pillaging the territories of the Donbas they’ve occupied since 2014, and became greedy for more. His message was clear: The Russian military launched a pointless war, ran it incompetently, and killed tens of thousands of Russian soldiers unnecessarily.

The “evil brought by the military leadership of the country must be stopped,” Prigozhin declared. He warned the Russian generals not to resist: “Everyone who will try to resist, we will consider them a danger and destroy them immediately, including any checkpoints on our way. And any aviation we see above our heads.” The snarling theatricality of Prigozhin’s statement, the baroque language, the very notion that 25,000 mercenaries were going to remove the commanders of the Russian army during an active war—all of that immediately led many to ask: Is this for real?

Up until the moment it started, when actual Wagner vehicles were spotted on the road from Ukraine to Rostov, a Russian city a couple of miles from the border (and actual Wagner soldiers were spotted buying coffee in a Rostov fast-food restaurant formerly known as McDonald’s), it seemed impossible. But once they appeared in the city—once Prigozhin posted a video of himself in the courtyard of the Southern Military District headquarters in Rostov—and once they seemed poised to take control of Voronezh, a city between Rostov and Moscow, theories began to multiply.

Maybe Prigozhin is collaborating with the Ukrainians, and this is all an elaborate plot to end the war. Maybe the Russian army really had been trying to put an end to Prigozhin’s operations, depriving his soldiers of weapons and ammunition. Maybe this is Prigozhin’s way of fighting not just for his job but for his life. Maybe Prigozhin, a convicted thief who lives by the moral code of Russia’s professional criminal caste, just feels dissed by the Russian military leadership and wants respect. And maybe, just maybe, he has good reason to believe that some Russian soldiers are willing to join him.

Because Russia no longer has anything resembling “mainstream media”—there is only state propaganda, plus some media in exile—we have no good sources of information right now. All of us now live in a world of information chaos, but this is a more profound sort of vacuum, because so many people are pretending to say things they don’t believe. To understand what is going on (or to guess at it), you have to follow a series of unreliable Russian Telegram accounts, or else read the Western and Ukrainian open-source intelligence bloggers who are reliable but farther from the action: @wartranslated, who captions Russian and Ukrainian video in English, for example; or Aric Toler (@arictoler), of Bellingcat, and Christo Grozev (@christogrozev), formerly of Bellingcat, the investigative group that pioneered the use of open-source intelligence. Grozev has enhanced credibility because he said the Wagner group was preparing a coup many months ago. (This morning, I spoke with him and told him he was vindicated. “Yes,” he said, “I am.”)

But the Kremlin may not have very good information either. Only a month ago, Putin was praising Prigozhin and Wagner for the “liberation” of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, after one of the longest, most drawn-out battles in modern military history. Today’s insurrection was, by contrast, better planned and executed: Bakhmut took nearly 11 months, but Prigozihin got to Rostov and Voronezh in less than 11 hours, helped along by commanders and soldiers who appeared to be waiting for him to arrive.

Now military vehicles are moving around Moscow, apparently putting into force “Operation Fortress,” a plan to defend the headquarters of the security services. One Russian military blogger claimed that units of the military, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB security service, and others had already been put on a counterterrorism alert in Moscow very early Thursday morning, supposedly in preparation for a Ukrainian terrorist attack. Perhaps that was what the Kremlin wanted its supporters to think—though the source of the blogger’s claim is not yet clear.

But the unavoidable clashes at play—Putin’s clash with reality, as well as Putin’s clash with Prigozhin—are now coming to a head. Prigozhin has demanded that Shoigu, the defense minister, come to see him in Rostov, which the Wagner boss must know is impossible. Putin has responded by denouncing Prigozhin, though not by name: “Exorbitant ambitions and personal interests have led to treason,” Putin said in an address to the nation this morning. A Telegram channel that is believed to represent Wagner has responded: “Soon we will have a new president.” Whether or not that account is really Wagner, some Russian security leaders are acting as if it is, and are declaring their loyalty to Putin. In a slow, unfocused sort of way, Russia is sliding into what can only be described as a civil war.
Break out the popcorn from your old bunkers, because this one is going to be historic.
And yes, this is 100% the end of Putin's invasion of Ukraine and the beginning of something...else.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Last Call For Orange Meltdown, Con't

Fulton County, Georgia DA Fani Willis isn't the only person looking into Trump's conspiracy to defraud the US with his Georgia fake electors scheme in 2020, for Special Counsel Jack Smith is building his own federal case and is getting fake electors to flip on Trump.
Special counsel Jack Smith has compelled at least two Republican fake electors to testify to a federal grand jury in Washington in recent weeks by giving them limited immunity, part of a current push by federal prosecutors to swiftly nail down evidence in the sprawling criminal investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The testimony, described to CNN by people familiar with the situation, comes after a year of relative dormancy around the fake electors portion of the investigation and as a parade of related witnesses are being told to appear before the grand jury with no chance for delay.

That activity could signal that investigators are nearing at least some charging decisions in a part of the 2020 election probe, sources added. It also comes just as the special counsel’s office filed charges against former President Donald Trump for his handling of classified documents.

Prosecutors initially obtained documents and interviews last spring from many of the Republicans who signed false certificates to the federal government, asserting they were the rightful electors for Trump in seven battleground states won by Joe Biden.

Prosecutors have played hardball with some of the witnesses in recent weeks, refusing to grant extensions to grand jury subpoenas for testimony and demanding they comply before the end of this month, sources said. In the situations where prosecutors have given witnesses immunity, the special counsel’s office arrived at the courthouse in Washington ready to compel their testimony after the witnesses indicated they would decline to answer questions under the Fifth Amendment, the sources added.
Locking in witness statements

The compelled testimony has allowed the special counsel’s office to lock in witness statements and potentially information that other investigators who have looked at the aftermath of the 2020 election couldn’t obtain.

At least one other witness has spoken to investigators in the past two weeks outside of the grand jury with an agreement the person would be protected from potential prosecution, another source said.
At least half a dozen witnesses have testified before the federal grand jury in Washington over four days in the past two weeks, with many of the sessions focused on the fake electors’ plot orchestrated by attorneys assisting the Trump campaign in 2020. The numbers, profile of the witnesses and prosecutor tactics suggest a probe picking up its pace, several people familiar with the investigation said.
More charges against Trump are coming later this summer, folks.
Count on it.

Highway To Heaven

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made it happen, folks: The overpass that collapsed in a tractor trailer fire two weeks ago on I-95 in Philly is repaired and traffic is open well before the July 4th holiday travel rush.

The reopened portions of I-95 have been “completed safely” and are “available for traffic,” Mike Carroll, Pennsylvania’s secretary of transportation, said Friday.

Workers labored through the night. Some worked up until a few minutes before state officials held a press conference about the reopening, installing guide rails on the road, Carroll said.

The partially reopened bridge was constructed with “the high standards that exist for our structures across the state,” Carroll said, and “every bit of material used to construct this facility has been rigorously tested and used in multiple applications for many years in Pennsylvania, and across the nation from Maine to Arizona.”

“This road is being opened because it’s completed, it’s safely completed, and it’s ready for traffic,” Carroll reiterated. “And I don’t think the people of Philadelphia want to wait one more minute to put a vehicle across 95.”

Next up, said Gov. Josh Shapiro, is building the rest of the bridge around the reopened lanes in a process officials have said they expect to take months, and to “keep traffic flowing while that work goes on.”
So a new permanent bridge will be completed later this year, but the new temporary lanes are good to go. 

Nice job, Philly.


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