Category Archives: Current Affairs

Manafort and Gates: Mueller’s new 32-count indictment (text)

Paul J. Manafort, Jr., of Alexandria, Va., and Richard W. Gates III, of Richmond, Va., were indicted by a federal grand jury on Feb. 22, 2018, in the Eastern District of Virginia. The indictment contains 32 counts: 16 counts related to false individual income tax returns, seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, five counts of bank fraud conspiracy, and four counts of bank fraud. Text of the indictment in U.S. v. Paul J. Manafort, Jr., and Richard W. Gates III (1:18-cr-83, Eastern District of Virginia). — Joe

A description of AR-15 injuries by a radiologist who attended to Parkland shooting victims

“I have seen a handful of AR-15 injuries in my career. I saw one from a man shot in the back by a SWAT team years ago. The injury along the path of the bullet from an AR-15 is vastly different from a low-velocity handgun injury. The bullet from an AR-15 passes through the body like a cigarette boat travelling at maximum speed through a tiny canal. The tissue next to the bullet is elastic—moving away from the bullet like waves of water displaced by the boat—and then returns and settles back. This process is called cavitation; it leaves the displaced tissue damaged or killed. The high-velocity bullet causes a swath of tissue damage that extends several inches from its path. It does not have to actually hit an artery to damage it and cause catastrophic bleeding. Exit wounds can be the size of an orange.” — Heather Sher, What I Saw Treating the Victims From Parkland Should Change the Debate on Guns, The Atlantic.

Recommended. — Joe

Weekend reading: One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported

Here’s the blurb for One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported (St. Martin’s Press, Sept. 19, 2017) by E.J. Dionne Jr., Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann:

American democracy was never supposed to give the nation a president like Donald Trump. We have never had a president who gave rise to such widespread alarm about his lack of commitment to the institutions of self-government, to the norms democracy requires, and to the need for basic knowledge about how government works. We have never had a president who raises profound questions about his basic competence and his psychological capacity to take on the most challenging political office in the world.

Yet if Trump is both a threat to our democracy and a product of its weaknesses, the citizen activism he has inspired is the antidote. The reaction to the crisis created by Trump’s presidency can provide the foundation for an era of democratic renewal and vindicate our long experiment in self-rule.

The award-winning authors of One Nation After Trump explain Trump’s rise and the danger his administration poses to our free institutions. They also offer encouragement to the millions of Americans now experiencing a new sense of citizenship and engagement and argue that our nation needs a unifying alternative to Trump’s dark and divisive brand of politics―an alternative rooted in a New Economy, a New Patriotism, a New Civil Society, and a New Democracy. One Nation After Trump is the essential book for our era, an unsparing assessment of the perils facing the United States and an inspiring roadmap for how we can reclaim the future.

— Joe

How have your members of Congress voted on gun bills? [Chart]

NPR tracks and charts voting records of members of Congress for the following gun bills:

  • Brady Bill (1993, House and Senate): Enacted into law. Refers to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. Passed in 1993, the Brady bill established five-day waiting periods and required background checks for gun purchases.
  • Assault Weapons Ban (1994, House and Senate): Enacted into law, expired in 2004. This law banned people from making, selling or owning certain types of semiautomatic weapons.
  • Closing Gun Show Loophole (1999, House and Senate): Did not become law. This refers to separate measures in each chamber that would have (broadly speaking) required people purchasing guns at gun shows to undergo a background check and a three-day waiting period.
  • Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (2005, House and Senate): Enacted into law. This measure protects firearm manufacturers from being sued for crimes committed with the firearms they manufactured.
  • Concealed Carry Reciprocity (2011 and 2017, House; 2013, Senate): Did not become law. These bills would have allowed a person with a concealed-carry permit in one state to legally carry a concealed firearm in other states.
  • Manchin-Toomey Bill (2015, Senate): Did not become law. This bill would have required background checks for the purchase of guns at gun shows and online.
  • Murphy Amendment (2016, Senate): Did not become law. This measure would have expanded background checks to cover guns sold online and at gun shows.
  • Feinstein Amendment (2016, Senate): Did not become law. This measure would have barred people on terrorist watch lists from buying firearms.
  • Mental Health (2017, House and Senate): Enacted into law. This bill undid an Obama-era regulation that added some people with mental illnesses to the FBI’s background check database.

— Joe

Tracking Trump’s approval rating by state

On a daily basis, Morning Consult polls registered voters across the country what they think about President Trump. Every month the company releases those numbers to provide a detailed understanding of how Trump is viewed in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., benchmarked against previous results. To date, this project is based on more than 800,000 surveys. See the full methodology here, and explore the full polling results here.

H/T to beSpacific. — Joe

On porn stars, cut-outs and the importance of legal ethics

Bernie Burk concludes More Adventures in Ethics, Now with Porn Stars: Trump Lawyer Seizes the Moral and Ethical Low Ground by Appearing to Claim He Committed Disciplinary Violations and Possibly Felonies, The Faculty Lounge, Feb. 15, 2018, with the following:

This story is not going away anytime soon. Cohen’s exceptionally implausible protestations make a protracted investigation more likely than ever. While this will create much rich and rewarding work for various professionals in New York and Washington, it’s no good for the profession at large. The only silver lining I see—and it’s mighty thin—is that all these events are the best reminder of the importance of legal ethics since Watergate.

Recommended for Burk’s detailed analysis of the transaction involving Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and the porn star known as Stormy Daniels. — Joe

Federal public health and safety policy implications for public mass shootings

From the CRS report Public Mass Shootings in the United States: Selected Implications for Federal Public Health and Safety Policy (April 16, 2013, R43004):

This report focuses on mass shootings and selected implications they have for federal policy in the areas of public health and safety. While such crimes most directly impact particular citizens in very specific communities, addressing these violent episodes involves officials at all levels of government and professionals from numerous disciplines.

— Joe

13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian entities indicted as part of the Mueller investigation (text)

The indictment charges Russians with gaming social media and taking actions in the US to meddle in the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton. Here’s the text of the indictment. — Joe

CRS on the federal government’s obligation to include countervailing information in FISA applications

From the CRS Legal Sidebar, HPSCI Memorandum Sparks Debate over FISA Application Requirements (February 14, 2018 LSB10076):

A central factual question that appears to be disputed by the competing memoranda [the declassifed Nunes memo and the still classified Schiff memo] is the degree to which information potentially undermining the FISA application’s reliability was omitted from the application. Although CRS is not in a position to answer that factual question, this Sidebar endeavors to explain the legal requirements regarding the government’s obligation to include countervailing information in FISA applications.

— Joe

Weekend reading: Stiglitz’s Globalization and Its Discontents Revisited: Anti-Globalization in the Era of Trump

From the blurb for Joseph E. Stiglitz’s Globalization and Its Discontents Revisited: Anti-Globalization in the Era of Trump (W. W. Norton & Company, Nov. 28, 2017):

In this crucial expansion and update of his landmark bestseller, renowned economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz addresses globalization’s new discontents in the United States and Europe. Immediately upon publication, Globalization and Its Discontents became a touchstone in the globalization debate by demonstrating how the International Monetary Fund, other major institutions like the World Bank, and global trade agreements have often harmed the developing nations they are supposedly helping. Yet globalization today continues to be mismanaged, and now the harms―exemplified by the rampant inequality to which it has contributed―have come home to roost in the United States and the rest of the developed world as well, reflected in growing political unrest.

With a new introduction, major new chapters on the new discontents, the rise of Donald Trump, and the new protectionist movement, as well as a new afterword on the course of globalization since the book first appeared, Stiglitz’s powerful and prescient messages remain essential reading.

— Joe

Litigation records relating to Trump’s three travel ban executive orders

Lawfare’s Litigation Documents & Resources Related to Trump Executive Order on Immigration is an archive of court filings and related resources surrounding Trump’s three travel ban executive orders. — Joe

Mother Jones’s open-source US mass shootings dataset covers data from 1982 to the present

You can download the dataset in CSV, XLS, or TXT formats here. For an analysis see A Guide to Mass Shooting in America. — Joe

Bibliography of CRS reports on mass shootings

CRS produces several reports on issues relevant to mass shootings such as yesterday’s Florida school shooting. These issues include mass murder with firearms, firearms regulation, domestic terrorism, and hate crime. For a list, see Mass Shootings and Terrorism: CRS Products (June 24, 2016 R44520). — Joe

CRS report: U.S. Family-Based Immigration Policy

From the overview of U.S. Family-Based Immigration Policy (Feb. 9, 2018 R43145):

Family reunification has historically been a key principle underlying U.S. immigration policy. It is embodied in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which specifies numerical limits for five family-based immigration categories, as well as a per-country limit on total family-based immigration. The five categories include immediate relatives (spouses, minor unmarried children, and parents) of U.S. citizens and four other family-based categories that vary according to individual characteristics such as the legal status of the petitioning U.S.-based relative, and the age, family relationship, and marital status of the prospective immigrant.

Those who favor expanding family-based immigration by increasing the annual numeric limits point to the visa queue of approved prospective immigrants who must wait years separated from their U.S.-based family members until they receive a visa. Others question whether the United States has an obligation to reconstitute families of immigrants beyond their nuclear families and favor reducing permanent immigration by eliminating certain family-based preference categories. Arguments favoring restricting certain categories of family-based immigration reiterate earlier recommendations made by congressionally mandated immigration reform commissions.

— Joe

Who falls for fake news?

From the abstract for Gordon Pennycook and David G. Rand’s Who Falls for Fake News? The Roles of Analytic Thinking, Motivated Reasoning, Political Ideology, and Bullshit Receptivity:

Fake news represents a particularly egregious and direct avenue by which inaccurate beliefs have been propagated via social media. Here we investigate the cognitive psychological profile of individuals who fall prey to fake news. We find a consistent positive correlation between the propensity to think analytically – as measured by the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) – and the ability to differentiate fake news from real news (“media truth discernment”). This was true regardless of whether the article’s source was indicated (which, surprisingly, also had no main effect on accuracy judgments). Contrary to the motivated reasoning account, CRT was just as positively correlated with media truth discernment, if not more so, for headlines that aligned with individuals’ political ideology relative to those that were politically discordant. The link between analytic thinking and media truth discernment was driven both by a negative correlation between CRT and perceptions of fake news accuracy (particularly among Hillary Clinton supporters), and a positive correlation between CRT and perceptions of real news accuracy (particularly among Donald Trump supporters). This suggests that factors that undermine the legitimacy of traditional news media may exacerbate the problem of inaccurate political beliefs among Trump supporters, who engaged in less analytic thinking and were overall less able to discern fake from real news (regardless of the news’ political valence). We also found consistent evidence that pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity negatively correlates with perceptions of fake news accuracy; a correlation that is mediated by analytic thinking. Finally, analytic thinking was associated with an unwillingness to share both fake and real news on social media. Our results indicate that the propensity to think analytically plays an important role in the recognition of misinformation, regardless of political valence – a finding that opens up potential avenues for fighting fake news.

— Joe

ProPublica and WNYC Studios launch 12-episode ‘Trump, Inc.’ podcast series

The first episode in the 12-episode podcast series, produced ProPublica and WNYC Studios, grapples with conflicts of interest by starting at the very beginning: the January 11, 2017 press conference when Trump announced how he would handle potential conflicts of interest as both President and the owner of the Trump Organization.

According to ProPublica’s announcement, upcoming episodes with include (1) the record fines a Trump casino received around money laundering; (2) stories on the company’s foreign deals and financing; (3) a look into the Russian money trail; and much more.

Here’s the link to the Trump, Inc. podcast series. — Joe

CRS report: Resolutions to Censure the President: Procedure and History

From the introduction to Resolutions to Censure the President: Procedure and History (Feb. 1, 2018 R45087):

Censure is a reprimand adopted by one or both chambers of Congress against a Member of Congress, President, federal judge, or other government official. While Member censure is a disciplinary measure that is sanctioned by the Constitution (Article 1, Section 5), non-Member censure is not. Rather, it is a formal expression or “sense of” one or both houses of Congress. As such, censure resolutions targeting non-Members use a variety of statements to highlight conduct deemed by the resolutions’ sponsors to be inappropriate or unauthorized.

Resolutions that attempt to censure the President for abuse of power, ethics violations, or other behavior, are usually simple resolutions. These resolutions are not privileged for consideration in the House or Senate. They are, instead, considered under the regular parliamentary mechanisms used to process “sense of” legislation.

H/T to beSpacific. For links to additional CRS reports on this topic, see the LLB post. — Joe

How YouTube’s algorithm distorts reality: The Guardian’s video explainer

The 2016 presidential race was fought online in a swamp of disinformation, conspiracy theories and fake news. A Guardian investigation has uncovered evidence suggesting YouTube’s recommendation algorithm was disproportionately prompting users to watch pro-Trump and anti-Clinton videos. See Paul Lewis’s ‘Fiction is outperforming reality’: how YouTube’s algorithm distorts truth, The Guardian, Feb. 2, 2018 for details. — Joe

Weekend reading: The Unmaking of the President 2016: How FBI Director James Comey Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency

From Kirkus Review for The Unmaking of the President 2016: How FBI Director James Comey Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency (Scribner Feb. 6, 2018) by Lanny J. Davis: “According to Davis … the negative effect is indisputable, and he has the data, compiled both before and well after the election, to back up his claims. While he occasionally tumbles into legal jargon, he provides compelling criticism of the FBI, the New York Times, and others.” — Joe

CRS report: Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues

Here’s the abstract for the CRS report Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues (Jan. 17, 2018 RS20844):

When civil unrest, violence, or natural disasters erupt in countries around the world, concerns arise over the ability of foreign nationals in the United States from those countries to safely return. Provisions exist in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to offer temporary protected status (TPS) and other forms of relief from removal under specified circumstances. The Secretary of Homeland Security has the discretion to issue TPS for periods of 6 to 18 months and can extend these periods if conditions leading to TPS designation do not change. Congress has also provided TPS legislatively. A foreign national who is granted TPS receives a registration document and employment authorization for the duration of a given TPS designation.

The United States currently provides TPS to approximately 437,000 foreign nationals from 10 countries: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. TPS for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone expired in May 2017, but certain Liberians maintain relief under an administrative mechanism known as Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). Since September 2017, the Secretary of Homeland Security has announced plans to terminate TPS for four countries—El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan—and extend TPS for South Sudan. No decision about Honduras was made by the statutory deadline in November 2017, thus automatically extending that country’s designation for six months.

There is ongoing debate about whether migrants who have been living in the United States for long periods of time with TPS should receive a pathway to legal permanent resident (LPR) status. In addition, Venezuela’s political and economic strife have prompted some U.S. lawmakers to call for its designation for TPS.

— Joe