Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Alarming trend: Assault by vehicle at public protests on the rise

There have been at least 104 incidents of people driving vehicles into protests from May 27 through Sept. 5, including 96 by civilians and eight by police, according to Ari Weil, a terrorism researcher at the University of Chicago's Project on Security and Threats who spoke with USA TODAY this summer. Weil began tracking the incidents as protests sprung up in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody.

There have been at least two fatalities, in Seattle and in Bakersfield, California.

Weil said that by analyzing news coverage, court documents and patterns of behavior – such as when people allegedly yelled slurs at protesters or turned around for a second hit – he determined that at least 43 of the incidents were malicious, and 39 drivers have been charged.

Most of the incidents happened in June, in the weeks following Floyd's May 25 killing, Weil said, and half of the incidents happened by June 7. While incidents continue to happen, they've trended downward since then, he said

"While these incidents were clustered in the beginning of the protest period, they continue to occur," Weil said on Twitter on Thursday. "As violent rhetoric intensifies in the lead up to the election, I worry about an uptick in these incidents."

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Monday, September 28, 2020

What can Senate Democrats do to slow down Barrett's confirmation?

 According to Politico, here is what Senate Democrats can do to slow down the GOP stampede to insert a new justice on the Supreme Court five weeks before a presidential election:

The “two-hour rule”

Schumer’s opening salvo last Tuesday was to invoke the rarely used “two-hour rule,” which can be used to halt all committee business after the Senate has been in session for more than two hours.

The move caught senators and aides by surprise, and it caused the cancellation of several important committee hearings — most notably, a closed Senate Intelligence Committee briefing with William Evanina, the nation’s top counterintelligence official, on the subject of election security.

Republicans quickly derided the move as a “temper tantrum” on Schumer’s part. When Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) asked for consent that his panel hold its scheduled session with Evanina, Schumer objected.

“Because the Senate Republicans have no respect for the institution, we won’t have business as usual here in the Senate,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

While the move made no difference to Republicans’ timeline to confirm a new Supreme Court justice, it was one of several ways Democrats could disrupt the chamber’s activity.

Perhaps most importantly, when the Judiciary Committee holds its series of confirmation hearings for Barrett in October, the sessions will almost certainly last longer than two hours. Democrats could then invoke the two-hour rule to halt the hearing for the rest of the day.

Slow down legislative business

The Senate can finish up its work on a bill or a nomination quickly with the agreement of all 100 senators. But that rarely happens, and McConnell and Schumer often spend their days haggling over floor time to reach a consent agreement.

On Thursday, Democrats refused to give consent for the Senate to quickly pass a government funding bill, requiring McConnell to file cloture and set up a final vote possibly for as late as Wednesday, just hours before the Sept. 30 deadline. The move also prevents senators up for reelection from campaigning while they tend to Senate business next week.

“Right now I think they're just trying to throw a wrench into anything we do,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters. “Obviously it's retribution for the decision on the court, and they just want to be difficult. I don't know why. It doesn't make sense to me either to bring everybody back next week when we could finish this today.”

Object to recess

When the Senate concludes its business for the day, it requires the consent of all 100 senators. Any one lawmaker can object to recessing.

Democrats could force the chamber to remain in session even when Republicans want to close up shop for the day or for a couple of weeks in October to allow vulnerable incumbents to head home and campaign for reelection in the final stretch before November. Still, even if the Senate doesn’t formally recess, individual senators could still leave Washington.

Deny a quorum

In order to conduct business, the Senate requires a quorum, or a majority of senators to be present. Any one senator can move to require a quorum call. If just a few Republicans are absent for any reason, Democrats could boycott the quorum call, effectively preventing the Senate from doing business.

Points of order and motions to adjourn

Any senator can raise what is dubbed a “point of order” to ask the presiding officer a procedural question. If the senator disagrees with the presiding officer’s ruling, he or she can appeal it and trigger a roll call vote, requiring senators to spend time voting on the objection. Democrats could theoretically do several of these in a row, which could stall proceedings for hours, even days.

They can also force a series of votes on motions to adjourn or to recess, further occupying valuable floor time and delaying the Senate’s business.

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Sunday, September 27, 2020

Trump's nominee: Scalia’s ‘Judicial Philosophy Is Mine, Too’

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, has compiled an almost uniformly conservative voting record in cases touching on abortion, gun rights, discrimination and immigration, reported The New York Times. If she is confirmed, she would move the court slightly but firmly to the right, making compromise less likely and putting at risk the right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade.

Judge Barrett’s judicial opinions, based on a substantial sample of the hundreds of cases that she has considered in her three years on the federal appeals court in Chicago, are marked by care, clarity and a commitment to the interpretive methods used by Justice Antonin Scalia, the giant of conservative jurisprudence for whom she worked as a law clerk from 1998 to 1999.

But while Justice Scalia’s methods occasionally drove him to liberal results, notably in cases on flag burning and the role of juries in criminal cases, Judge Barrett could be a different sort of justice.

“There may be fewer surprises from someone like her than there were from Justice Scalia,” said Brian T. Fitzpatrick, a former law clerk to the justice and a law professor at Vanderbilt University. “She is sympathetic to Justice Scalia’s methods, but I don’t get the sense that she is going to be a philosophical leader on how those methods should be executed.”

One area in which almost no one expects surprises is abortion. Mr. Trump has vowed to appoint justices ready to overrule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. Groups opposing abortion have championed Judge Barrett’s nomination. And her academic and judicial writings have been skeptical of broad interpretations of abortion rights.

Judge Barrett will doubtless tell senators that the Roe decision is a settled precedent, as she did when Mr. Trump nominated her to the appeals court in 2017. And the Supreme Court may not hear a direct challenge to Roe anytime soon, preferring instead to consider cases that could chip away at abortion rights.

But when the day comes, many of Judge Barrett’s supporters are convinced that she will not flinch. Justice Scalia wrote that the Constitution has nothing to say about abortion and that states should be allowed to decide the question for themselves. There is no reason to believe Judge Barrett disagrees.

Overruling a major precedent is no small undertaking, of course. But Judge Barrett has indicated that some precedents are more worthy of respect than others. 

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Saturday, September 26, 2020

GateHouse: A ship without a captain, compass or rudder

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
September 25, 2020

As the winds of war swirled in Europe in 1938, a back-bencher in the British House of Commons gave a fiery speech denouncing the closed minds of the burgeoning totalitarian regimes of central Europe.

During a session in Parliament, an aging politician stood up and said, “You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police ... yet in their hearts there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts.”

He exclaimed, “A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.”

The words of that aging politician, Winston Churchill, could easily be invoked today. As President Donald Trump campaigns for reelection, he rails against any thoughts or words that examine his or the nation’s failures. He paints protesters as un-American and educators who study racial injustice as “Marxist” radicals who hate America and are revising history.

On the stump Trump suggests any criticism of the United States, even of slavery, is unpatriotic. According to the Washington Post, Trump’s rhetoric stands in sharp contrast to American leaders such as former President Barack Obama, who “spoke more frankly of the nation’s shortcomings, painting it as a country constantly striving to perfect itself.”

According to TIME, most Americans concur with Obama. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 71% of registered voters agreed with the statement that “it makes the U.S. stronger when we acknowledge the country’s historical flaws.”

Trump is fearful of that “little mouse of thought.” On Constitution Day, according to the New York Times, the president focused much of his speech on what he called “left-wing rioting and mayhem” which are, according to Trump, the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools,” adding that “it’s gone on far too long.”

UCLA historian Gary Nash told TIME, revisionist history is a sign of a healthy democracy. “Why in a democratic society shouldn’t we be looking at history, warts and all? If we show only a smiley-face history we’re just mimicking what kids learn in authoritarian regimes,” he says. “As long as historical research is still valued, there will always be revisions to history.”

Bill Moyers wrote on his blog Moyers on Democracy that since Trump’s inauguration, “a handful of writers have urged Americans to heed history’s lessons on resisting tyranny in all its forms.”

One such writer is Thomas Ricks. His book, “Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom,” examines the writings of Winston Churchill and George Orwell, tracing how both came to recognize and resist abuses of power and political propaganda.

During an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air in 2017, Gross read the last line of Ricks’ book, ”(T)he fundamental driver of Western civilization is the agreement that objective reality exists, that people of goodwill can perceive it and that other people will change their views when presented with the facts of the matter.”

Ricks replied, ”(T)his is the essence of Western society and, at its best, how Western society operates.” He continued, ”(Y)ou can really reduce it to a formula. First of all, you need to have principles. You need to stand by those principles and remember them. Second, you need to look at reality to observe facts and not just have opinions and to say, what are the facts of the matter? Third, you need to act upon those facts according to your principles.”

Facts, principles and action are essentially absent among today’s leaders - our nation is a ship without a captain, compass or rudder.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino

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Friday, September 25, 2020

Federal government carries out 7th execution as election looms

The 14th Execution of 2020

The U.S. government executed Christopher Andre Vialva on September 24, 2020 for a 1999 Texas double murder, reported the Texas Tribune.

Vialva’s death was scheduled to be the seventh federal execution this year after a push by President Donald Trump’s administration to restart the federal death penalty after a 17-year hiatus. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty nationally in 1976, only three men on federal death row were executed before 2020. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was executed in 2001, and two executions in 2001 and 2003 stemmed from Texas murders.

Vialva was pronounced dead at 6:46 p.m. Eastern, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. It was the first federal execution for a Texas case this year, and the 40-year-old was the first Black man killed in the 2020 federal executions, which are taking place during a pandemic. In Texas — the state that by far executes the most people — several executions have been taken off the calendar due to the new coronavirus, resulting in what is expected to be the lowest number of state executions in one year in nearly a quarter-century.

Vialva was convicted in the slaying and robbery of an Iowa couple when he was 19. He and others, including his co-defendant and fellow death row inmate, Brandon Bernard, carjacked Todd and Stacie Bagley on their way home from church, according to court records. The couple was kept in the trunk while the young men tried to pull money from the victims’ bank accounts and pawn a wedding ring. Eventually, Vialva shot both of the victims in the head while they were in the trunk, and Bernard set the car on fire, the records state.

The crime was deemed a federal crime, not a state one, because the killing occurred on a secluded part of the Fort Hood U.S. Army post in Killeen. This year, Fort Hood has been heavily scrutinized as at least nine soldiers have died in suicides, homicides and accidents.

The Trump administration aimed to restart federal executions last year, when it set five executions for December 2019 and January 2020 in cases in which men had been convicted of murdering children. The government planned to use pentobarbital, the same lethal drug Texas uses in its routinely held executions. Court fights over the lethal injection procedure and the drug’s potential painful effects delayed the executions, but the first federal execution since 2003 took place in July in Terre Haute, Indiana.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a 2019 statement that “we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

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Thursday, September 24, 2020

AG Barr denies oversight access to Congress

The Department of Justice sent a stunning letter to the House Judiciary Committee, refusing to bring the assistant attorney general and Bureau of Prisons director to testify as the committee had requested, because—according to the department—when Barr testified in July the committee used its time to “air grievances,” reported Slate. Since the Democrats did not stick to the script, the DOJ argues, the hearing did not serve a “legitimate legislative purpose,” and DOJ decided it was in its right to ignore any future request.

That’s not how oversight has ever worked. Barr’s unilateral declaration—that any attempt by Congress to question him or his officials is illegitimate—is just the latest effort to place the executive branch above its constitutional obligations. The administration has spent recent years refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas for executive documents, most notably during the impeachment inquiry, but the refusal to even appear is a complete rejection and dismantling of oversight altogether. This latest effort calls for the only possible proportionate response: William Barr should be impeached.

Under standard congressional oversight, as it has gone for generations, witnesses appear before the committee and then—for better or worse—they are left to the whims of whatever Congress wants to discuss. Just ask former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who testified for 11 hours in 2015 while Republicans demanded she respond to inquiries about their latest conspiracy theories. Or look at the recent hearing with large tech companies, which Republicans used to float wild accusations about censorship of conservatives in social media.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The federal government carries out sixth execution of 2020

The 13th Execution of 2020

Over previous 56 years, before President Trump, the federal government had executed just three people — all in the early 2000s. Prior to this year there had been a 17-year hiatus in federal executions, reported The Associated Press.

William Emmett LeCroy, 50, was pronounced dead on September 23, 2029 at 9:06 p.m. EDT after receiving a lethal injection at the same U.S. prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where five others have been executed in 2020.

Lawyers had asked President Trump in a petition to commute LeCroy’s sentence to life in prison, saying that LeCroy’s brother, Georgia State Trooper Chad LeCroy, was killed during a routine traffic stop in 2010 and that another son’s death would devastate their family.

The execution began nearly three hours later than scheduled as LeCroy's lawyers made an ultimately failed, last-minute bid to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay.

As a curtain rose across glass windows separating witnesses from the death chamber, LeCroy lay strapped to a cross-shaped gurney, with IVs in his forearms and hands. He kept his eyes fixed firmly on the ceiling, not turning to look toward witnesses. The witnesses included the father and fiancé of Joann Lee Tiesler, whom LeCroy raped and stabbed to death 19 years ago, Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

LeCroy's spiritual adviser, Sister Barbara Battista, stood a few feet away inside the chamber, her head bowed and reading softly from a prayer book.

Asked if he had any last words, LeCroy responded calmly

LeCroy had said last week he didn’t want to play into what he called the “theater” surrounding his execution and so might not make a full statement in the minutes before he died, Battista told The Associated Press earlier Tuesday.

When a prison official leaned over him Tuesday night and gently pulled off LeCroy’s face mask to ask if he had any last words, LeCroy responded calmly and matter-of-factly. His last and only words were: “Sister Battista is about to receive in the postal service my last statement."

LeCroy kept his eyes open as someone out of his view in an adjacent room began administering the lethal injection of pentobarbital. His eyelids grew heavy while his midsection began to heave uncontrollably. After several more minutes, color drained from his limbs, his face turned ashen and his lips tinted blue. After about 10 more minutes, an official with a stethoscope entered the chamber, felt LeCroy’s wrist for a pulse and then listened to his heart before officially declaring him dead.

Another execution, of Christopher Vialva, is scheduled Thursday. He would be the first African American on federal death row to be put to death in the series of federal executions this year.

Critics say the Justice Department's resumption of federal executions this year is a cynical bid to help Trump claim the mantel of law-and-order candidate leading up to Election Day. Supporters say Trump is bringing long-overdue justice to victims and their families.

LeCroy broke into the Cherrylog, Georgia, mountain home of Joann Lee Tiesler on Oct. 7, 2001, and waited for her to return from a shopping trip. When she walked through the door, LeCroy struck her with a shotgun, bound and raped her. He then slashed her throat and repeatedly stabbed her in the back.


LeCroy had known Tiesler because she lived near a relative’s home and would often wave to her as he drove by. He later told investigators he’d come to believe she might have been his old babysitter he called Tinkerbell, who LeCroy claimed sexually molested him as a child. After killing Tiesler, he realized that couldn’t possibly be true.

Two days after killing Tiesler, LeCroy was arrested driving Tiesler’s truck after passing a U.S. checkpoint in Minnesota heading to Canada.

Authorities found a note LeCroy wrote before his arrest in which he asked Tiesler for forgiveness, according to court filings. “You were an angel and I killed you,” it read. “I am a vagabond and doomed to hell.”

"Today justice was finally served. William LeCroy died a peaceful death in stark contrast to the horror he imposed on my daughter Joann,” the victim’s father, Tom Tiesler, said in a statement.

He had been contemplating death in the days leading up to the execution

“I am unaware that he ever showed any remorse for his evil actions, his life of crime or for the horrific burden he caused Joann’s loved ones," the statement read.

A few hours before the execution, Battista, waiting near the prison, held a bag of caramel chocolate that she said was LeCroy’s favorite. In conversations with him in the days leading up to the execution, she said he had been contemplating his likely death and sounded resigned.

“He said, ‘You know, once we were not and then we are and then we are not,’” she said. “He was reflective. He didn’t seem agitated.”

LeCroy joined the Army at 17 but was soon was discharged for going AWOL and later spoke about an interest in witchcraft that began during a previous stint in prison for burglary, child molestation and other charges.

He had ruminated for days before the slaying about how Tiesler was Tinkerbell and that assaulting her would reverse a hex she put on him. After he cut her throat, he went to Tiesler’s computer to search for books about witchcraft, court filings said.

He was convicted in 2004 on a federal charge of carjacking resulting in death and a jury recommended a death sentence.

LeCroy's lawyers had unsuccessfully tried to halt the execution and argued that his trial lawyers didn’t properly emphasize evidence about his upbringing and mental health that could have persuaded jurors not to impose a death sentence. Their last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was also rejected.

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