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MARCY WHEELER, emptywheel at gmail.com, @emptywheel
A noted blogger on legal issues, Wheeler writes at EmptyWheel.net. She wrote Monday: "When Obama announced Friday the formation of a technical advisory group to review our SIGINT programs, I naively believed 'outside' and 'independent' meant 'outside' and 'independent.' ...
Wheeler notes that Obama said: "we're forming a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies. We need new thinking for a new era. ... So I am tasking this independent group to step back and review our capabilities -- particularly our surveillance technologies." [emphasis added throughout]
Wheeler writes: "I also naively believed this was an effort to take up Ron Wyden and Mark Udall's call to get an independent review of the program, which the rest of the Senate Intelligence Committee thwarted a year ago. ... Nope! In the memo Obama just released [PDF] ordering James Clapper to form such a committee, those words 'outside' and 'independent' disappear entirely: 'Within 60 days of its establishment, the Review Group will brief their interim findings to me through the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the Review Group will provide a final report and recommendations to me through the DNI no later than December 15, 2013.'
"And neither Obama nor the Intelligence Committees get to hear from this Group themselves. It all goes through James Clapper. What on Friday was an outside and independent group is now branded by the Director of National Intelligence as the Director of National Intelligence Group. ... It took exactly 72 hours for that good idea to fizzle into a navel gaze directed by the guy who lies to Congress."
MICHAEL FIGURA, michael at bordc.org
ABC News reports: "New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city will appeal a ruling by a federal judge [Monday] that the NYPD's controversial so-called "stop-and-frisk" policy is unconstitutional."
Legal fellow at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Figura said today: "The order in Floyd is a historic victory that will impose important reforms on the NYPD related to stop and frisk, including an independent monitor, a [test] of police-worn cameras and mandated community input. However, to ensure better policing for all New Yorkers, it will still be crucial for the New York City Council to overturn the mayor's veto on bills that expand profiling protections and establish an Inspector General for the NYPD."
A nationwide consortium, the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) represents an unprecedented effort to bring other voices to the mass-media table often dominated by a few major think tanks. IPA works to broaden public discourse in mainstream media, while building communication with alternative media outlets and grassroots activists.
"This is a good day for advancing our efforts to help Honolulu survive the costs and consequences of the climate crisis."
Hawaii's Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected U.S. oil giants' effort to scrap a climate deception lawsuit brought by the City and County of Honolulu, allowing the case to head to trial.
Filed in 2020, the lawsuit accuses ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, Sunoco, and other major oil and gas companies of introducing and promoting fossil fuel products that they knew were a threat to the world's climate. The oil giants engaged in "public deception campaigns designed to obscure the connection between their products and global warming and the environmental, physical, social, and economic consequences flowing from it," the lawsuit alleges.
In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald wrote that Big Oil's attempt to toss the lawsuit on the grounds that it is "another in a long line of lawsuits seeking to regulate interstate and international greenhouse gas emissions" fell short because the suit "does not seek to regulate emissions and does not seek damages for interstate emissions."
"Rather, plaintiffs' complaint 'clearly seeks to challenge the promotion and sale of fossil-fuel products without warning and abetted by a sophisticated disinformation campaign,'" Recktenwald wrote. "This case concerns torts committed in Hawaii that caused alleged injuries in Hawaii. Thus, defendants' arguments on appeal fail."
Matthew Gonser, executive director of Honolulu's Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency, applauded the court's decision in a statement and pledged to "continue pursuing this case in the trial court where we filed it three and half years ago, and where discovery can now begin in earnest."
"This is a good day for advancing our efforts to help Honolulu survive the costs and consequences of the climate crisis," said Gonser.
The Hawaii Supreme Court began hearing Big Oil's arguments for dismissing the Honolulu suit back in August, shortly after wildfires ravaged the town of Lahaina on the island of Maui, killing at least 97 people. Scientists argued the climate crisis helped create the dry conditions that allowed the fires to spread with catastrophic speed.
Maui County is suing Big Oil along with Honolulu and dozens of other cities, counties, and states across the U.S.
In September, the state of California became the largest economy in the world to take legal action against the fossil fuel industry, accusing it of an "ongoing campaign to seek endless profits at the expense of our planet."
While oil and gas company profits have declined this year compared to last year's record-shattering windfalls, they began to trend upward again in the third quarter of 2023. Exxon and Chevron—both of which recently agreed to acquire two of their smaller competitors—posted profit increases of 15% and 8.5% respectively in the third quarter compared to the previous three months.
On Tuesday, BP announced $3.29 billion in third-quarter profits, up from $2.6 billion in the second quarter.
"As the United States comes off a summer of dangerous, record-breaking extreme heat, Americans are paying the price for climate disasters while Big Oil CEOs are lining their pockets," Cassidy DiPaola, campaign manager for Fossil Free Media, said in a statement. "Big Oil's rapidly growing profits and fossil fuel expansion jeopardizes a livable future for all and the health of our democracy."
"Prosecutors seeking to test out laws like this are likely to go after people who won't garner much sympathy from the public," wrote one author and abortion rights activist.
An Idaho teenager and his mother who allegedly took a 15-year-old girl to neighboring Oregon for an abortion without parental knowledge or consent are facing felony kidnapping and other charges in a prosecution viewed as a test case for the state's "abortion trafficking" statute.
In April, Idaho became the first state in the nation to pass a so-called "abortion trafficking" law, criminalizing the transportation of pregnant minors within the state for the purpose of obtaining an abortion or abortion medication. While 18-year-old Kadyn Swainston and his 42-year-old mother Rachael Swainston of Pocatello were not charged under the law—perhaps because it is being challenged in court—author and activist Jessica Valenti noted that "prosecutors used theexact language of the trafficking law in the kidnapping charge."
"It's actually a pretty slick move, allowing prosecutors to charge the two with abortion trafficking without citing the statute specifically in case it gets blocked," Valenti wrote on her Substack.
The Idaho State Journal reported Monday that Kadyn Swainston has been charged with rape, second-degree kidnapping, and three counts of producing child sexually exploitative material—all felonies.
Rachael Swainston is charged with second-degree kidnapping, trafficking in methamphetamine, two counts of possession of a controlled substance, and one count of harboring a wanted felon—also all felonies.
If convicted of the most serious charges against them, the Swainstons could receive life prison sentences. According to Pocatello police, a woman contacted them in June claiming that her 15-year-old daughter—identified in court records as K.B.—had been raped by Kadyn Swaintston, who had been in a consensual relationship with the girl since he was 17 years old but as an adult allegedly ran afoul of the state's statutory rape law. The woman told investigators that the Swainstons took K.B. to Bend, Oregon for an abortion, without her knowledge or consent.
Valenti noted that police obtained permission from K.B. to track her phone's geolocational data to the area of the Planned Parenthood clinic where she had her abortion.
While executing a search warrant at the Swainstons' home, police also found more than 40 grams of methamphetamine there, as well as fentanyl and psychedelic mushrooms, and photos showing Kadyn Swainston and K.B. engaging in sex acts. They also found and arrested a man wanted on an outstanding warrant on meth trafficking charges who was staying in the home's storage shed.
"It's not surprising that the people at the center of this case seem to be having a really difficult time—we know that the most marginalized among us are much more likely to be charged or targeted by law enforcement in abortion-related cases (and all others)," wrote Valenti. "We also know that prosecutors seeking to test out laws like this are likely to go after people who won't garner much sympathy from the public."
"The hope," she added, "is that people will be a little less outraged over an objectively outrageous law."
Craig Mokhiber called out "the current wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people, rooted in an ethno-nationalist settler colonial ideology, in continuation of decades of their systematic persecution and purging."
Human rights attorney Craig Mokhiber left his United Nations post with a resignation letter excoriating the U.N. response to Israel's devastating war on the Gaza Strip—a four-page document that has been circulating on social media this week.
Mokhiber, who has spent decades with the U.N., was serving as the New York director for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). His letter to the agency's leader, Volker Türk, is dated October 28—when Israeli forces were shifting to the "second stage" of a war that has killed thousands of Palestinians in Gaza in retaliation for a deadly Hamas-led attack on Israel.
"Once again, we are seeing a genocide unfolding before our eyes, and the organization that we serve appears powerless to stop it," Mokhiber wrote. "As someone who has investigated human rights in Palestine since the 1980s, lived in Gaza as a U.N. human rights adviser in the 1990s, and carried out several human rights missions to the country before and since, this is deeply personal to me."
"We have lost a lot in this abandonment, not least our own global credibility. But the Palestinian people have sustained the biggest losses as a result of our failures."
"I also worked in these halls through the genocides against the Tutsis, Bosnian Muslims, the Yazidi, and the Rohingya. In each case, when the dust settled on the horrors that had been perpetrated against defenseless civilian populations, it became painfully clear that we had failed in our duty to meet the imperatives of prevention of mass atrocities, of protection of the vulnerable, and of accountability for perpetrators. And so it has been with successive waves of murder and persecution against the Palestinians throughout the entire life of the U.N.," he continued. "High commissioner, we are failing again."
The attorney asserted that "the current wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people, rooted in an ethno-nationalist settler colonial ideology, in continuation of decades of their systematic persecution and purging, based entirely upon their status as Arabs, and coupled with explicit statements of intent by leaders in the Israeli government and military, leaves no room for doubt or debate."
While the death toll in Gaza has risen—topping 8,500 on Tuesday, including over 3,500 children—hundreds of legal scholars have said Israel's war could amount to genocide. Human rights defenders have sounded the alarm over recent comments from Israeli leaders and accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of an "explicit call to genocide" in a Saturday speech.
As Mokhiber noted: "In Gaza, civilian homes, schools, churches, mosques, and medical institutions are wantonly attacked as thousands of civilians are massacred. In the West Bank, including occupied Jerusalem, homes are seized and reassigned based entirely on race, and violent settler pogroms are accompanied by Israeli military units. Across the land, apartheid rules."
Echoing experts including Israeli Holocaust scholar Raz Segal, the ex-U.N. director wrote that "this is a textbook case of genocide."
"What's more, the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and much of Europe, are wholly complicit in the horrific assault," he stressed. Mokhiber also slammed U.S.-based social media companies for "suppressing the voices of human rights defenders while amplifying pro-Israel propaganda" and the "Western corporate media, increasingly captured and state-adjacent," for "continuously dehumanizing Palestinians to facilitate the genocide, and broadcasting propaganda for war and advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, and violence."
In addition to supplying Israel with billions of dollars in military support, the U.S. earlier this month vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning violence against civilians in Israel and Gaza and advocating for "humanitarian pauses" to let aid into the strip. While the U.N. General Assembly on Friday passed a resolution—opposed by the United States and Israel—stressing the importance of protecting civilians and calling for "an immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities," it is nonbinding.
As Mokhiber wrote:
High commissioner, I came to this organization first in the 1980s, because I found in it a principled, norm-based institution that was squarely on the side of human rights, including in cases where the powerful U.S., U.K., and Europe were not on our side. While my own government, its subsidiarity institutions, and much of the U.S. media were still supporting or justifying South African apartheid, Israeli oppression, and Central American death squads, the U.N. was standing up for the oppressed peoples of those lands. We had international law on our side. We had human rights on our side. We had principle on our side. Our authority was rooted in our integrity. But no more.
In recent decades, key parts of the U.N. have surrendered to the power of the U.S., and to fear of the Israel lobby, to abandon these principles, and to retreat from international law itself. We have lost a lot in this abandonment, not least our own global credibility. But the Palestinian people have sustained the biggest losses as a result of our failures.
The attorney also argued that "the path to atonement is clear," and "Palestinians and their allies, human rights defenders of every stripe, Christian and Muslim organizations, and progressive Jewish voices saying 'not in our name,' are all leading the way." He pointed to the hundreds of people who were arrested Friday in a Jewish-led protest at New York's Grand Central Station.
"In the immediate term," he said, "we must work for an immediate cease-fire and an end to the long-standing siege on Gaza, stand up against the ethnic cleansing of Gaza, Jerusalem, and the West Bank (and elsewhere), document the genocidal assault in Gaza, help to bring massive humanitarian aid and reconstruction to the Palestinians, take care of our traumatized colleagues and their families, and fight like hell for a principled approach in the U.N.'s political offices."
As for long-term goals, Mokhiber provided a 10-point list that included disarmament, mediation, return and compensation, and "the establishment of a single, democratic, secular state in all of historic Palestine, with equal rights for Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and, therefore, the dismantling of the deeply racist, settler-colonial project and an end to apartheid across the land."
While sharply criticizing the United Nations, the attorney also said that he found "hope in those parts of the U.N. that have refused to compromise the organization's human rights principles in spite of enormous pressures to do so," acknowledging the special rapporteurs, commissions, treaty body experts, and staff who "have continued to stand up for the human rights of the Palestinian people, even as other parts of the U.N. (even at the highest levels) have shamefully bowed their heads to power."
As allegations of Israeli war crimes continued to mount on Tuesday, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson James Elder said during a press briefing that "Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children. It's a living hell for everyone else." His agency and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs are calling for an immediate cease-fire.