Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Clarence needs to step down, Joe needs to nominate someone to serve

How is this legal -- it's actually not -- Chris Panella and Brent D. Griffiths (Business Insider) report:

Clarence Thomas' mother is living rent-free in the home GOP megadonor Harlan Crow bought from the family, according to CNN.

And that deal may have saved her more than $150,000 in rent for the property, according to Zillow estimates.

Last week, ProPublica revealed Crow's undisclosed 2014 purchase of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' childhood home in Savannah, Georgia — part of a widening scandal around Thomas and Crow's close relationship.

An occupancy agreement allows Thomas' 94-year-old mother, Leola Williams, to stay in the home without paying rent for the rest of her life, CNN reported. While Williams doesn't pay rent, she's responsible for other expenses such as property taxes and insurance, CNN added. 

According to Zillow's estimates for what the property would cost to rent, Williams could have saved as much as $154,900 over the years.

This is corruption, plain and simple.  It is unethical and it shouldn't have taken place.  Now that it has taken place and now that it has been exposed, Clarence Thomas needs to be kicked off The Court.  He has diminished and tarnished the legacy and reputation of an institution that we once didn't see as politicized.  It is appalling and he needs to immediately step down.  If he refuses to do so, he needs to be impeached.

The right-wing doesn't want it to happen.

They don't want President Biden to be able to nominate a justice to the Supreme Court.  Too bad.  He's corrupt and he's really just a whore.  He's got to go.  

Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Tuesday, April 18, 2023.  Crooked Clarence continues to ruin the image of The Court, Marjorie Taylor Greene has demonstrated she's not fit to serve on a Homeland Security Committee, Iraq has artifact issues (along with climate issues) and much more.

Starting with Crooked Clarence who put a price on justice.  Erin Snodgrass (INSIDER) reports:

Juan Williams, a political analyst at Fox News, as well as a decades-long friend to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, expressed his support f0r an investigation into the conservative justice following a recent spate of corruption allegations.

Thomas is facing renewed scrutiny following the revelation last week that the he sold his childhood home to GOP mega-donor Harlan Crow — and never disclosed the sale.

The ProPublica report came days after the outlet first reported that Thomas has been accepting and failing to disclose several luxury vacations from Crow for years. While Thomas defended the undisclosed trips by citing an ill-defined "personal hospitality" exemption included in disclosure requirements, the real estate revelation has thus far been harder to explain away.

CNN reported on Monday that Thomas plans to amend his financial disclosure forms to accurately reflect the real estate deal, but four ethics law experts told ProPublica last week that the justice likely violated a federal disclosure law that was enacted in the wake of Watergate, sparking public pressure for an official investigation into Thomas' financial dealings, as well as growing calls for his resignation and impeachment.

Wow.  Juan's done more than 'legal expert' Jonathan Turley.  Turley's dismissed this.  Turley's acted as though it's normal.  And then he's avoided it.  He promotes himself as some sort of Constitutional expert but he is just a scared little rabbit, afraid he might weigh in wrong and be dropped from the FOX "NEWS" payroll.  Claims to cover the courts but can't really explore Crooked Clarence.

At THE NEW REPUBLIC, Alex Shephard addresses conservatives (Jonathan Turley became one when FOX "NEWS" tossed enough money at him) who minimize Clarence's crooked actions:

Thomas may not have deliberately changed his votes at Crow’s behest, but a chummy relationship between a right-wing megadonor who literally funds organizations that appear before the Supreme Court and a justice on that court, involving the bestowing of many lavish gifts—which said justice then hides from the public—is clearly crooked. Crow’s relationship with Thomas is based entirely on the former’s wealth and the latter’s influence. It obviously speaks to Thomas’s own contempt for his critics and opponents: He is identifying as a member and agent of a vast right-wing machine. He is, more importantly, using his position in government to enrich himself—it is obvious that Thomas would not be the beneficiary of Crow’s largesse if he were not on the Supreme Court. 
That all of this is amoral on its face should be clear to anyone who values a functional democracy. Having a member of the Supreme Court hobnobbing around and taking all kinds of presents from a billionaire megadonor goes against bedrock principles of self-government. A civic-minded judge or lawmaker labors diligently to avoid even a hint of impropriety; Thomas has done no such thing and instead has gleefully filled his pockets. The idea that Shapiro—or anyone else—knows Thomas’s heart is silly. It’s also irrelevant: We don’t need to connect the dots to determine which bronze gnome wrought which Supreme Court decision. The appearance of a conflict of interest is sin enough. 
To accept what Thomas and Crow have cooked up between themselves is to accept rampant corruption on the Supreme Court, full stop. It shows that the court has no ability to police itself and no interest in doing anything that might ameliorate the continued and growing influence of right-wing megadonors on its justices—particularly Thomas. Undoubtedly Crow and Thomas’s close relationship has influenced the justice’s thinking. Surely Crow has expressed his opinions on ideological matters during those many hours they’ve spent together, sunning in the Riviera.
Crow derives a benefit from keeping Thomas steeped in lavish gifts—all that boodle may not be necessary to push Thomas to rule a certain way, but it sure helps influence other people in Crow’s orbit. He can present himself as someone who has the ear of one of the most powerful jurists in the country. He can also send the message that there are rich rewards to be reaped by staying in the plutocrat’s good graces. And so the failure to do anything about Thomas and Crow’s relationship sends a message to right-wing justices everywhere. If you hold the line—and rule in the manner Crow prefers—you too can one day rake in gifts, vacations, playdates, and weird trips to an absurd “park” containing dozens of statues of fallen dictators. Corruption is welcome. Thomas may not have changed any of his votes at Crow’s behest—but that doesn’t mean others won’t. 

This is a serious issue.  Clarence should be resigning.  Instead, he acts like he's done nothing wrong while he further sullies the reputation of The Court.  Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern (SLATE) note:

When news broke last week, by way of dogged reporting in ProPublica, that Justice Clarence Thomas had accepted decades’ worth of hospitality from billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow, that this same donor had funded his wife’s legal and political activities and in fact helped pay her salary, and that Thomas had disclosed none of this, our suggestion that the justice had clearly broken the law was dismissed as left-wing “smear.” ProPublica’s new reporting, dropped on Thursday, showed that the same billionaire donor, Harlan Crow, spent $133,363 purchasing several properties co-owned by Thomas, and that these sales were never disclosed. As our colleagues at Slate confirmed this week, Thomas’ mother actually still lives in the property owned by Crow, to which he has made valuable improvements (in addition to buying the house next door and dispensing with previously troublesome neighbors). Unlike the rules around the undisclosed luxury travel reported last week, ProPublica could not find a single ethics expert willing to squint and hop on one foot in a way that would make the failure to report the real estate transaction seem arguably lawful. The court has not responded in any way to the latest revelations. Defenders of Justice Thomas somehow continue to urge that this is a smear campaign by liberals.

In a way, the fact that money went from Harlan Crow’s pocket to Thomas’ mom’s house seems less horrifying than last week’s superyachts and half-million-dollar luxury air travel. Who among us wouldn’t want a billionaire to evict the noisy neighbors who were keeping our mothers up late? But it helps to parse out what mattered about both Thomas stories and what is mostly a distraction. That Thomas is a “hypocrite” for claiming to like parking outside Walmarts to commune with real people while secretly indulging his taste for luxe global travel? Doesn’t really matter. Harlan Crow’s penchant for cunningly little embroidered Nazi table linens? Weird, surely, but materially inconsequential. The Wall Street Journal editorial board’s claim that Thomas is a good and great man being tarnished by “left-leaning” ProPublica (which, let’s recall, is actually founded by former Wall Street Journal folks)? Whatever.
What mattered last week and what still matters this week is whether the Crow/Thomas dealings can be seen as classic quid pro quo (or perhaps quid pro Crow) corruption. We too often think this can only happen in a scene in which cartoon ducks with big sacks of cash pay politicians to do their bidding, which is never how this actually happens. And the longstanding defense to those claims is that Justice Thomas is too independent a thinker and jurist to be influenced by gifts of bibles and vacations and rent-free housing. But what this new reporting shows—and what actually matters—is that Crow and those like him, who have poured billions of dollars into funding cases before the court, campaigns to seat certain justices on the court, and crusades to keep other justices off the court, turn out to just own the whole building. In tandem with the Leonard Leos and Mark Paolettas who have been rendered in art for all eternity, the Harlan Crows are the actual landlords of the houses where the six conservative justices seemingly get to live rent-free.
If you’re defending Thomas’ unlawful refusal to disclose these transactions by saying he’s too famous/powerful/important/busy/put-upon to disclose these transactions, you are missing the point. Disclosure laws aren’t tawdry “gotcha” traps that form the basis of smear campaigns. Disclosure rules are the only means of transparency in a world of increasingly broken democratic systems. Citizens United and its dismantling of campaign finance reform? Justified on the grounds that disclosure rules suffice to ferret out corruption. We don’t demand that public figures deal honestly with the public because we are mean; we do it because law and democracy rise and fall on knowing who paid who for what.

Someone should print that last paragraph and tape it to Turley's office door.  

Speaking of his office door, let's be honest.  We raise our kids with the hope that they'll have better lives.  Why would we then send them to George Washington University?  We want the best for them and now that Turley's transitioned into a hate monger, why would we send our kids there?  We got them to 18 and ready for college -- an accomplishment, yes.  We didn't do that to turn them into soulless hate merchants.  We want them to hope for the future.  They won't get a hope at an institution that allows a transphobe and homophobe like Turley to flourish.  These are our treasured loved ones.  They're too important to have their minds put in the hands of a monster so we need to avoid not just George Washington University's law school, but the whole university.  And that probably means our donations need to drop when it comes to George Washington University -- give less or, better yet, none at all.

I'm workshopping it, I've got a series of lunches coming up about how we best use our money to invest in colleges and which investments are betraying our youth.   Anyway,  Khaleda Rahman (NEWSWEEK) notes:

Following The Washington Post's report, lawyer David R. Lurie tweeted: "Thomas's disregard for legal disclosure mandates exemplifies the attitude of the Supreme Court's extremist majority toward the citizens to whom they issue increasingly imperious dictates: Contempt."

Newsweek reached out to Lurie via Twitter and a Supreme Court spokesperson via email for comment.

Lurie also warned that the nation's federal courts are "living on borrowed legitimacy" in a post for journalist Aaron Rupar's Public Notice newsletter last week.

He wrote that "the corrupt conduct of Justice Thomas demonstrates, some members of the Trump Era judiciary appear to believe there is no longer a need for them even to maintain an appearance of judicial probity."

He noted that Thomas had not recused himself from election cases following the 2020 election even though his wife, Virginia Thomas, a conservative activist, had reached out to the Trump White House and lawmakers to urge them to attempt to overturn election results.

"We now know that — even as Ginni Thomas was raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from 'family friend' Harlan Crow — Thomas himself was receiving lavish gifts of travel and other benefits from the billionaire, a right-wing activist, with an intense interest in the subject matters of many cases that come before the Court," Lurie wrote.

The Supreme Court keeps tripping over its own robes. Last week, ProPublica revealed that a conservative megadonor has been secretly subsidizing the lifestyle of Justice Clarence Thomas. In a rare public statement, the justice claims he asked others on the Court and in the judiciary, who assured him he need not disclose such beneficence.

It’s not clear which is worse: if this is true, or if it isn’t.

Thomas said all this merely involved “personal hospitality” from a friend (albeit a billionaire who befriended Thomas only after he was appointed to the Court). That might evoke a dinner party or a weekend at a friend’s lake house. Hardly: Thomas frolicked on Harlan Crow’s superyacht, flew on his personal jet, vacationed at his private resort, and traveled with him to Bohemian Grove, an all-male retreat in California. According to ProPublica, the largesse was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Thomas claimed to want to avoid chichi vacations. “I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There’s something normal to me about it,” Thomas said. “I come from regular stock, and I prefer that — I prefer being around that.” They say hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.

This all shows the perils of DIY ethics. The Supreme Court is the only court in the country with no enforceable code of ethics. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has pointed out that the Court quickly launched a formal investigation of the leak of the Dobbs decision last year. It could do so again. If the Court will not craft a set of ethics rules — and pronto — Congress can and should do so.

Congress should also investigate. There’s ample precedent: Justice Abe Fortas, too, was found to be receiving support from a wealthy benefactor, and the controversy proved so intense that he resigned.

But beyond stronger rules, the scandal shows how lifetime tenure can engender justices with a startling sense of entitlement and a belief that they are beyond accountability. Thomas almost certainly knows that cavorting around the globe in a superyacht isn’t “personal hospitality” in the spirit of current rules. After briefly disclosing the trips and causing a minor stir in 2004, he decided it would be better to keep them to himself. He was confident he could avoid consequences.

Where did that confidence come from? At least in part from the assurance that comes with years of accumulated power and influence.

Few government jobs anywhere in the world are quite like that of U.S. Supreme Court justices: nine unelected people who dictate wide swaths of national policy. And if they’re put on the Court at a young age, they get to do so for many decades with no real risk of removal. Only one justice has ever been impeached (Samuel Chase in 1804). None has ever been convicted. Supreme Court justices are, in this way, more akin to royalty than public servants. Only a single U.S. state mirrors the federal system — the rest have either fixed terms or mandatory retirement.

We can make a change, as I recently argued in the Los Angeles Times. There is a broad bipartisan consensus in favor of term limits for Supreme Court justices. Justices would serve for up to 18 years, with each president allowed two appointments per presidential term. I describe all this in my upcoming book, The Supermajority: How the Supreme Court Divided America.

Term limits would ensure that the composition of the Court better mirrors the preferences of American voters and stop presidents from influencing national policy decades beyond their terms in office. Term limits would also prevent any individual from accumulating unaccountable power, as Thomas seems to believe he has.

Transphobe Ben Burgis has weighed in on a topic.  No surprise, he Tweets like the uninformed blowhard that he is:

Apr 14
Issues I couldn’t care less about: *Whether the leaker deserves the “whistleblower” label *What his motives were Issues I care a lot about: *Whether the American public should know about our government’s foreign policy *Whether media should help the Pentagon catch leakers

Written like the idiot he is.

The leak didn't happen in a vacuum and its effects don't take place in a vacuum.  People are rushing in with no knowledge and making very revealing statements.

I'm not talking about the press coverage of the information itself.  That information is now public and must be covered.  

But the label does matter.  Ed Snowden is a whistle-blower and that should come with protection and support.  

I don't think we can say the same about someone who began revealing classified information in online chats to impress others and needed more and more gratification so he went on to reveal more and more.  This matters.  

It matters because someone who is too crazy to be in Congress -- and whoever that would be possible -- has praised the current leaker as a "hero."  That's Marjorie Taylor Greene.

She praised the man the day his identity was known.

And it matters, tubby Ben, because she sits on the House Homeland Security Committee and I don't think I'm alone in not wanting someone on that Committee if they're applauding the mishandling of classified information.

Ed Snowden and Chelsea Manning did what they did because they thought the public had a right to know.  I can get behind that and I can support it.  Someone like the leaker who just left it lying around and only brought it up to impress others?  


That's illegal with no real appeal process.  He abused his clearance and he revealed classified information.  He broke the law and there was no reason such as the public good for it.

It matters.  Marjorie Taylor Green makes it matter by her praise of him.  She is not to be trusted with classified material.  She should be immediately removed from the Homeland Security Committee.  She has demonstrated that she does not believe in the basic rules. 

Will she be removed?  Probably not.  Kevin needs her to much to hold onto his leadership position at present.  But that's what needs to happen and, within the court of public opinion, that's what should happen.  And when the elections come up next year, whomever runs against her should be hammering her for her public statements on this matter. 

Meanwhile, Madeleine Muzdakis (MY MODERN MET) reports:

After a hard day's work, ancient people liked to unwind at the pub just like modern folks. At least, that is what new findings on the important archeological site of Lagash in Iraq indicate. As recently announced by the University of Pennsylvania, archeologists digging at the site uncovered a tavern dating to around 2700 B.C.E. The find is complete with an oven, benches, a clay refrigerator known as a zeer, and bowls with food remnants. These findings can tell historians and archeologists a lot about daily life in a busy, ancient industrial center.

Lagash is one of the largest archeological sites in southern Mesopotamia. The city dates to the Early Dynastic period from 2900 to 2300 B.C.E. The urban center was part of a trio of cities that formed a powerful polity. Lagash was situated near fertile lands, but archeologists also believe it was an important center of craftsmen and industry. Excavations have uncovered ceramic kilns and trenches where wet clay was stored. Tables and benches nearby suggested a workroom. These workers may have lived in the domestic quarters also discovered on the site, which contained a kitchen, bowls with food, a grinding stone, and a toilet. 

A surprising feature of the neighborhood was the tavern. Benches for guests, a zeer, an oven, and remnants of storage vessels containing food all suggest a thriving working-class watering hole. “It’s a public eating space dating to somewhere around 2700 BCE,” says Professor Holly Pittman, curator of the Penn Museum’s Near East Section and the Lagash project director. “It’s partially open air, partially kitchen area.”

To uncover the tavern, the team employed modern technologies. Using drone imagery and magnetometry analysis (testing the magnetism of objects under the soil), they could determine where best to dig. They then removed the dirt in microstratigraphic layers—very thin slices with surgical precision. Pittman described it in a statement as “like doing very careful surgery…Just 50 centimeters down, we were able to capture all of this. We were happily astounded.”

AFP notes that, in the past. looting was the biggest threat to Iraqi artifacts; however:

Now the changing weather and its impact on the land, especially creeping desertification, spell an additional threat to ancient sites all across southern Iraq, according to Mansrawi.

“In the next 10 years,” he said, “it is estimated that sand could have covered 80 to 90 per cent of the archaeological sites.”

[. . .]

Compounding its woes, Iraq is also one of the five countries most affected by some effects of climate change, including drought, according to the United Nations.

Upstream dams in Turkey and Iraq have reduced the flow of its big rivers, and more water is wasted by Iraq’s ancient irrigation system and outdated farming practices.

Iran.  I believe AFP meant "Upstream dams in Turkey and Iran have reduced the flow of its big rivers."

Still on artifacts, Rachel Avraham (INTERMOUNTAIN JEWISH NEWS) notes:


Iraqi historian Omar Mohammed, known for his Mosul Eye blog, now an NGO, is known for documenting life in his city under ISIS rule. 

He has started a new project, “Reviving the Jewish history of Mosul.”

Under ISIS, the tombs of the Prophets Jonah and Daniel were both destroyed, as were the local mikveh ritual bath and a couple of synagogues. 

In a recent talk that Mohammed gave to Qesher, he emphasized that what happened to the Tomb of Jonah was not only a tragedy for the Jewish people but for all of the people of Mosul.

“I used to hear stories about the Prophet Jonah. The people of Nineveh were the only people who heeded his warning,” said Mohammed. 

“After three days of studying the offer from G-d, they decided to follow G-d’s message and received divine protection. Unfortunately, this divine protection left us in 2014, when Mosul was overrun by ISIS, who systematically destroyed the cultural heritage of Iraq.”

The ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh was located in what is now the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Today, Nineveh is a common name for the half of Mosul that lies on the eastern bank of the Tigris River.

Mohammed said that the Tomb of Jonah was not presented to him as a Jewish site. “I learned everything about Jonah except for his Jewish heritage. Later on, I went to a school and learned that it was once the Jewish school. In 2000, it was demolished to the ground by Saddam Hussein and then they built a new structure.”

Mohammed first learned about the Jewish heritage of Mosul from Iraqi Jewish historian Sami Ibrahim. Mohammed was still living under ISIS rule when Ibrahim managed to send him a book in digital form that really inspired him. 

In anticipation of worsening dust storms, EARTH.ORG notes Iraq is talking of a tree initiative which would see the planting of five million trees:

15% of Iraq’s total surface area is currently categorised as being in a state of desertification. The country is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because of its extensive oil reserves – with the fifth largest reserve in the world at over 140 billion barrels’ supply. 

Iraq’s fragile social contract under an oil-led growth model has reportedly been a source of economic volatility and, according to the new World Bank Group’s Country Climate and Development Report (CCDR), the country faces the challenge of moving away from total oil dependence towards a more sustainable future. Without the capacity to achieve sustainable development, leaders will have to come up with costly, extensive projects. 

For decades, Iraq has suffered from summer heatwaves, frequent droughts, and desertification triggered by intense dust storms – the duration and intensity of which are increasing due to global warming and increased vulnerability due to arid conditions almost all year round. 

According to government figures, more than seven million citizens have been affected by climate change, with extreme weather events and natural disasters displacing hundreds of thousands of people who rely on agriculture and hunting for a living. Climate change has also impacted the physical environment in Iraq, as declining surface water reserves, recurring drought and increasing water salinity continue to contribute to large-scale desertification. 

Projections of water availability in Iraq are highly uncertain under different climate change scenarios, which has huge implications for both human health and the natural environment. 


The following sites updated:

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