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“When Top Prosecutors Break Bad”: So What Does It Say About Our Politics That Two Of Them Were Indicted This Month?

In theory, attorneys general are the people who are supposed to catch the bad guys, not be them.

But now two attorneys general from big, important states have been indicted within the space of a few days of each other. One is accused of forgetting to tell investors in an energy project that he had a stake in it, and the other is accused of leaking secret grand jury proceedings to the media to smear political opponents.

The more colorful story comes to us from Texas, where Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton was indicted on felony securities fraud charges. If you’re from outside Texas and Paxton’s name is ringing a vague bell, it might be because a mere two days after the Supreme Court issued its same-sex marriage decision, Paxton came out roaring that judges in the great state of Texas were entitled to deny marriage licenses based on their religious beliefs. I think Alabama may have beaten him to the punch on that one, but that’s about it. Paxton’s move led some other Texas lawyers to start calling for him to be disbarred.

The merest look into Paxton’s track record leaves you shaking your head that the man ever managed to become Texas’s top lawyer to begin with. He’s been in the financial soup before. Back when he was a legislator, he got hooked up in a Ponzi scheme. In that one, he got bilked and lost nearly $100,000. The man who according to the Dallas Morning News perpetrated the swindle had previously established his credibility by being part of an expedition group that claimed to have found the remains of Noah’s Ark in Iran.

Paxton also seems to have lifted a $1,000 Montblanc pen that another man had left behind at a security checkpoint. This wasn’t revealed until after he was elected AG. And now, a grand jury in his home county north of Dallas says he talked friends into investing $600,000 in an energy company while failing to tell them that he was making a commission off their investments. An attorney general!

Paxton’s attorneys have said he will plead not guilty.

In Pennsylvania, the indicted attorney general is Kathleen Kane, who in 2012 became the first female Democrat ever elected to the job. In the Democratic primary, she beat Patrick Murphy, the former congressman and Iraq War veteran.

The Kane indictment has its roots in a 2014 Philadelphia Daily News article about how a different prosecutor bungled an investigation into a local civil rights leader a few years prior. Kane had sparred with that prosecutor, so when people started wondering where the Daily News got its info, thoughts turned naturally toward Kane’s office. Kane acknowledged that her office may have provided the paper with some material but insisted that none of it was bound by secrecy rules. Or maybe that someone in her office did that without her knowledge. Now she’s been charged with perjuring and obstructing administration of law, though she maintains she has done nothing wrong.

Kane is slightly more than just a local Philly story. After beating Murphy, she dispatched the Republican in a landslide. She got talked up for a lot of races. Big future. And she clearly has connections beyond southeastern Pennsylvania. It popped my eyes a little to see that Kane is being represented by Gerald Shargel. Why? Because Shargel is a New York lawyer. And he is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, a mob lawyer. Partly. He does other stuff. He’s a brilliant lawyer, and everybody up to and including John Gotti is entitled to a vigorous defense. It’s just a little surprising.

But Shargel is Clarence Darrow compared to the man Kane had doing her public relations, Washington lobbyist Lanny Davis. On this front, she chose to link arms with Ivory Coast war criminal Laurent Gbagbo and National Football League thought criminal and Washington, D.C., football team owner Dan Snyder, both of whom had been served by this same PR heavy. But about a month before her indictment, Kane’s wiser angels prevailed, and she ended her relationship with Davis. Or maybe he severed ties to her. It’s unclear. In any case, the Allentown Morning Call reports that Davis was her 10th PR adviser in the space of two years.

We’ve all come not to expect much from politicians. And in a lot of places, at the local and state level, when a pol retires after 20 or 30 years without ever having been indicted, that’s something that counts as a legitimate accomplishment. But from attorneys general, who direct huge staffs of lawyers and investigators and can destroy careers and put people in jail, it would be nice to do a little better than this.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, August 14, 2015

August 15, 2015 Posted by | Attorneys General, Kathleen Kane, Ken Paxton | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“We Deserve Good Policing”: Legal Or Not, ‘Warrior Policing Mentality’ Leads To Deadly Outcomes

When I first heard about the arrest and subsequent death of Sandra Bland in Texas after she apparently tried to get out of the way of a police vehicle and failed to signal a lane change, I immediately thought of the University of South Carolina law professor (and ex-cop) Seth Stoughton’s distinction between the “warrior” and “guardian” models of policing, as explained here at TMS a while back.

So I was pleased to see that TPM recruited Stoughton to watch the daschcam video of the encounter between Texas trooper Brian Encinia and Bland and offer his commentary.

He concludes that Encinio did nothing illegal–but also avoided several opportunities to de-escalate the situation, pretty clearly because he thought it was important to have Bland acknowledge his authority. And so an encounter that might have been brief and harmless–it seems Encinio intended to give Bland a mere warning until she started acting uppity–turned confrontational, violent, and eventually, for Bland, lethal.

Concludes Stoughton:

When Encinia ordered Bland to exit her vehicle, she refused. “I don’t have to step out of my car.” Rather than handling the remainder of the stop with her sitting in the car, or explaining why he wanted her to step out of the car, or attempting to obtain her cooperation, or calmly explaining the law, Encinia simply invoked his legal authority, shouting at one point, “I gave you a lawful order.” He was right. It was lawful. And when Bland did not obey, she was refusing a lawful order, a crime under Texas law. Her arrest, like the confrontations that led up to it, may have been lawful, but it was entirely avoidable had Encinia chosen a different approach.

We all deserve more than legal policing. We deserve good policing.

Now it’s entirely possible Encinio was strictly following his training, which, as Stoughton has noted in the past, is often based on the “warrior model” notion that every citizen is a potential cop-killer and every encounter a potential shoot-out, making it incumbent on the officer to “stay in charge” from the first moment. But if this isn’t a situation where bad policing can be blamed on a “bad cop,” it’s all the more reason to examine our policies to make sure certain Americans don’t have to assume–as Sandra Bland seemed to fear, accurately–that minor traffic offenses can turn deadly.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 24, 2015

July 26, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Shootings, Sandra Bland | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“We’re In The Grip Of Madness”: Obsession With Guns Now Infects College Campuses

The Texas Legislature has just passed its version of campus-carry — a bill that allows students, teachers, janitors, administrators, and anyone else with a firearms permit to carry concealed handguns on college campuses throughout the state. That means students sitting in a library or classroom or strolling through a classic tree-lined quadrangle may be armed.

College campuses don’t have enough problems with student misbehavior? Administrators aren’t frazzled enough coping with rapes, binge drinking, and routine infractions such as cheating? The Legislature had to add concealed weapons to the mix?The illogic is hard to overstate. This is what one proponent of the measure, GOP state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, had to say: “An armed society is a safe society, so any time you have gun control, there is far more opportunity to become victims.”

Ah, where to begin?It should be clear from the recent spate of police shootings that even those who are highly trained make mistakes with their weapons. They fire too quickly, killing the unarmed. They shoot bystanders. They miss altogether. What makes the gun lobby think that civilians would handle their firearms with more precision and control?

One Texan who is intimately familiar with firearms tried to persuade the Legislature not to pass campus-carry. Adm. William McRaven, who is now the chancellor of the University of Texas System, said, “I’m a guy that loves my guns. I have all sorts of guns. I just don’t think bringing guns on campus is going to make us any safer.”

The man is a former Navy Seal. He commanded the U.S. Special Operations forces who killed Osama bin Laden. But the GOP-dominated Legislature ignored him.

Clearly, we’re in the grip of a kind of madness, an irrational, fevered obsession with firearms. Sometime in the not-too-distant (I hope) future, historians and anthropologists will study our society’s gun sickness to try to figure out how we became so warped by firearms ownership. They’ll ponder this cultural weirdness just as we look back at the Salem witch trials and the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness.

To be sure, the vast majority of Americans are not persuaded that more guns are tantamount to more safety. They know better. Polls show that we support additional gun safety laws, including a ban on large-capacity magazines and broadening background checks to make it more difficult for criminals and the deranged to get guns.

But we don’t care enough. We haven’t gone about the business of isolating this madness, quarantining the fevered, protecting ourselves from the spread. We’ve allowed this infection to embed itself in the bloodstream of civil society.

Currently, according to the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states prohibit concealed weapons on college campuses. Twenty-three others allow college presidents or regents to make the decision. But it seems inevitable that campus-carry laws will spread.

The gun lobby has more energy, more focus, more intensity. Its minions take their odd enthusiasm to state legislatures, to city councils, and to court, where they seek to overturn even modest gun safety laws. They target politicians who dare suggest that not every private citizen needs to own a shoulder-fired rocket launcher.

When Gov. Greg Abbott signs the bill, as expected, Texas will become the ninth state to allow campus-carry, and proponents will continue to push in gun-crazed states with Republican-dominated legislatures. Look for some to emulate Utah, which has the broadest (and nuttiest) law, outdoing Texas. Its statute specifically bans any college campus from prohibiting concealed weapons. In Texas, at least, private colleges may opt out.

There is a very real danger that some student will kill another on campus. Or kill a teacher with whom he or she has a disagreement. Or go on a rage-fueled spree and kill several people.

Texas, especially, ought to know better. It was the scene of one of the nation’s earliest spree shootings, in 1966, when former Marine Charles Whitman fired from the clock tower on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin.

Unfortunately, the Texas Legislature has trampled the memory of the dead.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize Commentary in 2007, The National Memo, June 6, 2015

June 6, 2015 Posted by | College Campuses, Concealed Weapons, Texas Legislature | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Goal Is To Limit Representation”: The Conservatives Who Gutted The Voting Rights Act Are Now Challenging ‘One Person, One Vote’

Ed Blum, who brought the case that led to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, is now going after the historic principle of “one person, one vote.” The Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to hear Evenwel v. Abbott, Blum’s latest case, which challenges the drawing of state Senate districts in Texas. The obscure case could have major ramifications for political representation.

Blum first began attacking the Voting Rights Act after losing a Houston congressional race to a black Democrat in 1992 and founded the Project on Fair Representation in 2005 to challenge the constitutionality of the VRA. The Evenwel case doesn’t deal directly with the VRA but on how districts should be calculated. Since the Supreme Court’s 1964 Reynolds v. Sims decision, districts have been drawn based on the total population of an area. Blum instead wants lines to be drawn based only on eligible voters—excluding children, inmates, non-citizens, etc. from counting toward representation.

If that happened, legislative districts would become older, whiter, more rural, and more conservative, rather than younger, more diverse, more urban, and more liberal. “It would be a power shift almost perfectly calibrated to benefit the Republican party,” explains University of Texas law professor Joey Fishkin. “The losers would be urban areas with lots of children and lots of racially diverse immigrants. The winners would be older, whiter, more suburban, and rural areas. It would be a power shift on a scale American redistricting law has not seen since the 1960s. While not nearly as dramatic as the original reapportionment revolution, it would require every map in every state to be redrawn, with the same general pattern of winners and losers.”

Demographically, the gap between Republicans and Democrats is wider than it has ever been. “House Republicans are still 87 percent white male, compared to 43 percent of House Democrats—the widest gap we’ve ever seen,” explains Dave Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report. “In terms of composition of districts, the median GOP district is 76% white, while the median Dem district is 49% white—again, the widest gap we’ve ever seen. Overall, the median House district is 68% white, compared to 63% for the nation as a whole.”

This representation gap explains why Republican officials are pushing new voting restrictions like voter ID laws and cuts to early voting, which disproportionately impact minority voters and seek to make the electorate smaller and whiter. A victory for Blum’s side in Evenwel would make districts across the country even less representative of the country as a whole.

Blum claims to be fighting for race neutrality but he’s often done the bidding of the most powerful figures in the conservative movement and Republican Party. As I reported in 2013:

His Project on Fair Representation is exclusively funded by Donors Trust, a consortium of conservative funders that might be the most influential organization you’ve never heard of. Donors Trust doled out $22 million to a Who’s Who of influential conservative groups in 2010, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafted mock voter ID laws and a raft of controversial state-based legislation; the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Koch brothers’ main public policy arm…Donors Trust has received seven-figure donations from virtually every top conservative donor, including $5.2 million since 2005 from Charles Koch’s Knowledge and Progress Fund. (The structure of Donors Trust allows wealthy conservative donors like Koch to disguise much of their giving.)

From 2006 to 2011, Blum received $1.2 million from Donors Trust, which allowed him to retain the services of Wiley Rein, the firm that unsuccessfully defended Ohio’s and Florida’s attempts to restrict early voting in federal court last year. As a “special program fund” of the tax-exempt Donors Trust, Blum’s group does not have to disclose which funders of Donors Trust are giving him money, but he has identified two of them: the Bradley Foundation and the Searle Freedom Trust. The Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation paid for billboards in minority communities in Milwaukee during the 2010 election with the ominous message “Voter Fraud Is a Felony!”, which voting rights groups denounced as voter suppression. Both Bradley and Searle have given six-figure donations to ALEC in recent years, and Bradley funded a think tank in Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute, that hyped discredited claims of voter fraud to justify the state’s voter ID law.

The challenge in Evenwel isn’t so different from the gutting of the VRA or new laws restricting voting rights. The goal is to limit representation, make it harder for some to participate in the political process and to widen the gap between the haves and have-nots.

CORRECTION: Blum says, “The Project on Fair Representation hasn’t been affiliated with Donors Trust for nearly 6 months; we are now a 501 (c) (3) so our donors will be disclosed according to the regulations that apply to all public charities.”

 

By: Ari Berman, The Nation, May 28, 2015

May 30, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Ed Blum, Evenwel v Abott, Redistricting | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The DNA Of Modern Conservatism”: Anti-Government Resistance Now The Beating Heart Of GOP

Some folks thought it was “inflammatory.” Some said it was “irresponsible,” others, “absurd,” still others, “disappointing.”

Those are some of the words affronted conservatives used in emails last month to describe my column on the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. In it, I noted how Timothy McVeigh’s act of domestic terrorism shed light on a movement of like-minded zealots motivated, as he was, by hatred of the federal government and rejection of its authority.

“Twenty years ago,” I wrote, “the idea of anti-government resistance seemed confined to a lunatic fringe operating in the shadows beyond the mainstream. Twenty years later, it is the mainstream, the beating heart of the Republican Party. And while certainly no responsible figure on the right advocates or condones what he did, it is just as certain that McVeigh’s violent antipathy toward Washington, his conviction that America’s government is America’s enemy, has bound itself to the very DNA of modern conservatism.”

That’s the argument conservatives found “hateful” “sickening,” and “dishonest.”

So it is, depending upon your religious outlook, a fortuitous coincidence or superfluous evidence of God’s puckish sense of humor that a few days later comes news of conservatives accusing the federal government of trying to take over the state of Texas. It seems the four branches of the U.S. military are gearing up for Operation Jade Helm 15, an eight-week training exercise across seven states. Right-wing conspiracy theorists online and on radio are claiming the exercise is actually a pretext for a federal takeover of the Lone Star State, with — get this — abandoned Walmarts to be used for the processing of prisoners!

Nor is this being laughed off by conservatives in positions of authority. To the contrary, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the state guard to monitor the exercise to safeguard Texan’s “civil liberties.” Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert has asked the military to change the exercise. Senator and presidential wannabe Ted Cruz said he checked with the Pentagon and while he accepts that it has no plans to conquer Texas — how magnanimous of him — “I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty” because the Obama administration “has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy.”

Forgive me if I don’t spend a lot of space pointing out that this is stupid, though I can’t resist asking: If the Navy, Army, Marines, and Air Force were, indeed, planning to take over Texas, just what does Gov. Abbott think the state guard would be able to do about it?

There is, however, a more pressing observation to be made. After all, chances are good you’ve never heard about any of this — the story hasn’t garnered major headlines — and that, hearing of it now, you are not terribly surprised. That speaks pointedly of how inured we have become to the insane, paranoiac, anti-government prattle flowing like sewage from the political right. Duly elected leaders, putatively responsible people, give credence to the crazy idea that the federal government is about to attack its second most populous state and we shrug because it’s just another Tuesday in the lunatic asylum of American politics.

Look, I get it: No one wants to be compared to McVeigh. And I’ll repeat: No one in a position of responsibility embraces his prescription of terrorist violence. But it seems to me beyond argument that in the philosophical struggle for the soul of conservatism, he lost the battle and won the war. Much of what now passes for conservatism proceeds from extremes of government loathing that would have stunned Ronald Reagan himself.

Some of my readers used many colorful words to characterize that argument. Here’s the word I’d use:

Obvious.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, May 11, 2015

May 11, 2015 Posted by | Anti-Government, Domestic Terrorism, Jade Helm 15 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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