Politics

Sen. Dick Durbin Introduces Bill to Curtail ICE’s “Unnecessary Overuse of Solitary Confinement”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/11/2019 - 8:27am in

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Justice, Politics

Slamming the “rampant and unnecessary overuse of solitary confinement” at U.S. immigration detention centers, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Thursday proposed legislation to dramatically curtail the practice.

The bill takes aim at a range of abusive practices identified in “Solitary Voices,” an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Intercept joint investigation into the heavy use of solitary confinement by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement at detention centers around the country.

If adopted, the bill would outlaw locking detained immigrants in solitary confinement in most instances as a punishment. It would also prohibit the use of isolation on individuals with severe mental illness, physical disabilities, and those who have recently given birth, with “narrow and temporary exceptions for detainees who pose a substantial and immediate threat.”

“There’s virtually no accountability when it comes to these detainees,” Durbin told NBC News in an interview. “We’re setting strict standards here, and it’s about time.” (NBC News was part of a reporting consortium spearheaded by ICIJ that included The Intercept, Grupo SIN in the Dominican Republic, Plaza Pública in Guatemala, Mexicanos contra la Corrupción in Mexico, and Univision in the U.S.)

In releasing the bill, Durbin’s office cited ICIJ’s investigation, along with reports on the misuse of solitary confinement by the Project on Government Oversight and others.

Solitary confinement is a practice well known to cause mental illness, deepen preexisting psychological issues, and even drive people to suicide. Former ICE detainees who ICIJ and its partners interviewed spoke of lasting trauma and even suicide attempts resulting from their time in the agency’s isolation cells.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Ellen Gallagher, a whistleblower within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told ICIJ she believed ICE’s use of solitary confinement “rises to the point of torture.”

In the months following publication of “Solitary Voices,” various U.S. lawmakers spoke out critically about ICE’s use of solitary confinement, but Durbin’s proposed bill is the first concrete attempt to address the issue with legislation.

The bill mandates that, for those detained immigrants who must be segregated from the general population for more than two weeks, ICE must provide at least four hours of daily time outside the cell, meaningful social interaction, and access to mental health care.

ICIJ’s investigation was sparked by a public records request, which yielded more than 8,000 records describing solitary confinement placements. But those records were far from complete: ICE detention centers are not currently required to report all cases. Durbin’s bill would require ICE personnel to send a daily report to the agency’s director about every single detainee in solitary confinement that would include the “rationale behind each such placement.”

Durbin’s bill follows sharp criticism of ICE actions from other lawmakers.

In July, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., sent a letter to ICE citing ICIJ’s work and demanding answers on “recent allegations of the misuse of solitary confinement.”

In late October, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., cited ICIJ in a letter to the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, expressing deep concerns that agency leadership, and even its own directives, are impeding the office’s ability to provide proper oversight over ICE’s use of solitary confinement. In making her case, Warren cited recent deaths of detainees in solitary confinement.

“It is crucial that the federal government deploy every available tool to stop the abuse of solitary confinement and prevent another avoidable death,” Warren said.

Durbin’s bill attempts to put the power of federal law behind CRCL’s role as a watchdog over ICE’s use of solitary confinement. The bill states that the oversight office “shall be able to review documents, request and review information, and speak privately with aliens, contractors, volunteers, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility staff.”

Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist at the Wright Institute who has studied solitary confinement extensively, said he was impressed by the comprehensiveness of Durbin’s draft bill.

“There is an epidemic of suicides in immigration detention,” Kupers said, pointing to solitary confinement as a primary culprit. “This is a very thoughtful bill that would have the effect of vastly limiting the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention facilities.”

The post Sen. Dick Durbin Introduces Bill to Curtail ICE’s “Unnecessary Overuse of Solitary Confinement” appeared first on The Intercept.

Former CalPERS Board Member JJ Jelincic Files Protest Against Election Abuses

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 8:45pm in

JJ Jelincic is still fighting the uphill battle of cleaning up CalPERS.

Lavarch review: It's time to fix NSW Labor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 12:00pm in

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 It's time to fix NSW Labor

Following a review of the flaws in NSW Labor, Chris Haviland suggests some recommendations in which it could be improved.

THE REVIEW OF NSW LABOR being undertaken by Professor Michael Lavarch was announced by NSW Parliamentary Leader Jodi McKay and Federal Leader Anthony Albanese on 13 October.

More than 650 submissions were received by the 25 October deadline.

In this article, I share some extracts from my submission.

The ALP NSW branch: Time for a complete overhaul

The announcement of the Lavarch review followed damaging media coverage of the hearing at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in relation to allegations about election donations.

This has already led to the suspension and resignation of the party’s General Secretary, Kaila Murnain and serious questions regarding the conduct while in office of the previous General Secretary, Jamie Clements.

However, this review must examine more than just specific incidents in the past few years. The fact that incidents of this nature continue to occur within the party in NSW point to not only systemic administrative failures but an ongoing structural and cultural problem in the NSW branch.

It will be claimed by some that recent problems are a “one-off” caused by a “few bad apples”. This neither identifies nor addresses the real problem.

It has been 65 years since the current regime that controls NSW Labor has been in place. The absolute control of the dominant Right faction over 65 years has led to a succession of scandals and a total lack of accountability, transparency and integrity.

In 1980, a young Left member of the NSW Legislative Council, Peter Baldwin, was brutally bashed within an inch of his life as he returned home after a branch meeting. Nobody has ever been charged with this vicious crime, but it is one of the worst kept secrets in Sydney who was responsible.

In 1991, the party in NSW had the opportunity to select Graham Freudenberg, the eminent speechwriter for Prime Ministers Whitlam and Hawke, for the Legislative Council ticket. However, instead, they chose a character named Eddie Obeid, supported by Graham Richardson.

Richardson also recruited one Joe Tripodi to wrest control of Young Labor from the Left. Richardson employed Tripodi and continued to promote him until he and Obeid were both ministers in the NSW Labor Government. The shame and disgrace inflicted on the party during that period need no elaboration.

Following the disastrous rout of the 2011 State Election, efforts were made to rid the party of the worst elements of corruption. Obeid went to gaol. Others such as Tripodi featured in hearings of the ICAC.

In 2011, at a meeting of angry party members in Sydney, I described the election defeat as being a bit like the Great Fire of London of 1666, which had followed the Great Plague of 1665. The fire had been a disaster which killed many Londoners but cleaned away the stench and the disease from the plague.

Eight years later, we are back at the ICAC with more scandals. So this is not just a few bad apples, it is the result of a toxic culture arising from an undemocratic structure with systemic failures and abuses of power. Indeed, two booklets were produced by concerned party activists, one in 1983 and another in 1993 — both were titled ‘Abuse of Power’.

And, notwithstanding some attempts in the past three years to improve the party’s governance, it is still happening after 65 years.

NSW Labor simply will never win another State or Federal Election unless the organisation is cleaned up.

Historical background

It is important to understand the history of the NSW branch of the ALP. Since the 1950s, during the Great Labor Split, the branch has been controlled by a dominant group referred to as Centre Unity or the Right Faction. This group originally comprised predominately socially conservative Catholics, who were adherents of the Industrial Groups of BA (Bob) Santamaria, known as the National Civic Council (NCC).

The NCC or “Grouper” movement began around the end of World War 2. In Victoria, a number of Labor MPs broke away from the party and stood as “ALP-AC” (anti-communist) candidates and some were elected. These MPs and their supporters later started a political party, the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). The presence of the DLP, with whom Liberal Prime Minister Robert Menzies cleverly curried favour, eventually kept the ALP out of office federally for over two decades.

The DLP’s main influence was in Victoria. However, in NSW, most of the Catholic anti-communist elements were persuaded, possibly by the Church, to remain in the ALP. This had the advantage of enabling Labor to retain government in NSW whilst being in perpetual opposition in Canberra. But it also meant that the ALP in NSW was very socially conservative and was ruled by the Groupers as the dominant faction.

This led to the formation in 1954 of the Combined Unions and Branches Steering Committee, which became known as the NSW Left Faction. Its purpose was to counter the Right-wing influence of the Groupers who controlled the party. However, for 65 years, the Right has remained the dominant faction with majorities of between 55 per cent and 65 per cent of delegates at the annual State Conference.

This dominance has continued despite the obvious changes in society and in the make-up of the ALP membership since 1954. In the 20th century, until at least the 1960s, sectarianism was an ever-present feature of Australian society. Today it hardly exists.

Until the 1970s, one of the reasons Catholics tended to join or support either Labor or the DLP was that they weren’t welcome in the Liberal Party. The Liberals under Menzies were a white Anglo-Protestant party. In their 23 years of Government from 1949 to 1972, not one Liberal Minister was a Catholic.

Compare that to the present time, as the hard-Right socially conservative Catholics are becoming quite dominant in the Liberal Party. Two examples are obviously Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews. It is instructive that Abbott has said publicly that one of his most important mentors was Bob Santamaria.

This has led to a change in the nature of the people who make up the NSW Right. No longer is it dominated by hard-line Catholics.

The Left, too, has changed markedly. Since the 1960s, with the various protest movements around peace and equality and particularly since the Whitlam Government introduced free tertiary education, many university-educated professionals with a social conscience have joined the Labor Party.

To a large extent, the ideological differences between the factions in NSW have diminished. But the numerical dominance at the annual Conference and in positions of power still remains. This is a function, not of ideology but of power and the desire to cling to power.

A quick look at the NSW Labor Rules will show that factions don’t exist in the rules.

However, the reality is that when one group continually dominates a party to this extent, it leads to systemic problems. The old saying “power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely” applies. The dominant faction becomes so used to power that it becomes autocratic, unaccountable and resists any change that might threaten its hold on power.

NSW is the only state where one group has had such a large and long-lasting dominance at the State Conference and therefore at Head Office level. Unsurprisingly, NSW is also the only state which doesn’t have any direct election of delegates to the annual Conference. As the Right have clear control under the current Conference structure, they have repeatedly pushed back against any moves to democratise or reform the party to give members more say.

John Faulkner, a highly-regarded senator, produced a raft of proposals in 2014. Faulkner had been one of three eminent party figures, along with former Premiers Bob Carr and Steve Bracks, who had presented a review of the 2010 Federal Election campaign with a number of recommendations for reform and democratisation of the party. Most of these have never been implemented.

Faulkner’s 2014 proposals received huge support from party units, particularly those relating to direct elections of party officers and Upper House positions. However, the ruling faction, with some help from unions in both factions, would not embrace any change.

Just as Bill Shorten found to his cost at the 2015 National Conference, once a group has power, it is almost impossible to make them agree to any change that might jeopardise or reduce that power. So change has to be forced upon them.

Recommendations

Here are some of the key recommendations included in my submission:

  • that the General Secretary no longer be an elected position, but an appointed CEO-style position appointed by and responsible to a Board of Management;
  • that a new management team, reporting to the General Secretary, be appointed by merit selection. The team will include a Compliance/Governance Officer, a Finance Officer, a Fundraising Officer and a HR/Training Officer;
  • that the NSW Presidential Officers be directly elected by membership ballot of all party members in NSW;
  • that all NSW Annual Conference Delegates be directly elected by membership ballot within their constituency;
  • that the rules be amended to provide for a greater representation of rank and file delegates at the NSW Annual Conference;
  • that a Board of Management is established, comprising 13 members elected by the Annual Conference; and
  • that the Administrative Committee continue to exist, meeting quarterly and focus on strategic political direction, campaigning and policy matters within the party.

Chris Haviland is a former Federal MP. He is a 40-year member of the ALP and a 25-year member of the Sydney Swans.

Hooray! BBC War of the Worlds Adaptation Begins on Sunday

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 7:23am in

At last! The BBC is set to screen its adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic SF novel, The War of the Worlds, on Sunday 17th November 2019 on BBC 1 at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it on page 64 of the Radio Times runs

Dramatisation of the HG Wells’s classic Sci-Fi tale, set in Edwardian England. Lovers Amy and George are among the first to notice when a mysterious capsule lands on Horsell Common near Woking in Surrey. Some thing it is an asteroid, but then it starts to shudder and move.

The additional article about the drama on page 63 by Alison Graham says of it

There’s an angry red planet, burning with fury, and its murderous emissary is falling to Earth, ready to destroy life as we know it by landing directly on, er, Woking. Blameless Woking in Surrey, the heart of the Home Counties. Surely it can’t be a twisted dislike of middle-class southerners that powers this gigantic beast?

The HG Wells sci-fi classic is dusted off in a thumping adaptation, with Rafe Spall as journalist George and his “wife” Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson), who have scandalised the town by living together unwed. She’s very progressive, considering this is Edwardian England, having a degree and a job as an assistant to an astronomer, Ogilvy (Robert Carlyle). 

But one night there’s a shattering noise, strange clouds fill the air and soon an unspeakable foe stalks the land, killing at will. Woking will never be the same again.

The I wrote a little piece about the adaptation yesterday, but instead of talking about the plot concentrated instead on the changes to the female lead, who is barely mentioned in the book, and that the astronomer, Ogilvy, is now gay. Peter Harness, who has adapted it, said that this made the story more interesting as Amy and Ogilvy were both outsiders. It’s definitely an attempt to make it more contemporary. Amy’s character obviously has been changed in order to introduce a strong female lead, and I suspect the decision to make her a scientist follows the campaign to get more women into science and engineering. As for the pair’s domestic arrangements, this seems partly based on some of the ideas circulating in very radical circles at the time – that marriage was a burden to women, and should be abolished and free love practised instead – and Wells’ own promiscuity. The decision to make Ogilvy gay also seems to me to be an attempt to make the story more contemporary. Or it might simply be following the lead of Dr Who, which has had a series of gay characters since its revival.

Regardless of the precise reasons for the changes, it looks excellent. It’s also been a long time in coming. It was due to be released last October and I wondered if it was ever going to be released at all. Now it seems it will, and I’m looking forward to it.

Trump Directed Diplomat to Ask Ukraine to Probe Biden in Overheard Cellphone Call

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 7:21am in

In a jaw-dropping operational security lapse, President Donald Trump discussed his demand for Ukraine to open investigations of Joe Biden and other Democrats in a cellphone conversation with an American diplomat who was in a restaurant in Ukraine at the time, the House impeachment inquiry was told on Wednesday.

During that call with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Trump spoke so loudly about “the investigations” that someone in the restaurant who was not on the phone could hear his words, according to Bill Taylor, the senior American diplomat in Ukraine.

It is highly likely that others were listening too. Russia’s intelligence services have previously demonstrated the capability to intercept the phone calls of American diplomats in Ukraine and make recordings that can be used to compromise or embarrass those officials.

Taylor described the incident in his opening statement at the public impeachment hearing, explaining that a member of his staff who had accompanied Sondland to a meeting with a senior Ukrainian official and then the restaurant in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, was the one who overheard Trump.

According to Taylor’s sworn statement, “in the presence of my staff at a restaurant, Ambassador Sondland called President Trump and told him of his meetings in Kyiv. The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations.’ Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.”

That cellphone call took place on July 26, one day after Trump had pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do him the “favor” of boosting right-wing conspiracy theories about Biden and other Democrats by opening criminal investigations on them.

At the time, Sondland was leading the secret effort directed by the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to get Zelensky to announce investigations of both Burisma — a Ukrainian gas company that once employed Biden’s son Hunter — and supposed meddling in the 2016 election by Ukrainian officials to undermine Trump.

After the call, Taylor said, “The member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought of Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”

Sondland told Ukrainian television that day that he “had a great lunch with my team, but before that I had a wonderful, hour-long meeting with President Zelensky — that followed on the heels of his telephone call yesterday with President Trump.” Photographs of the meeting that day between American diplomats and Zelensky show that Sondland sat directly across the table from the Ukrainian president, appearing to be the head of the delegation.

After the hearing, the embassy staff member who overheard the call was identified by NBC News as David Holmes, a counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. Earlier on Wednesday, Holmes was summoned by the House impeachment inquiry to give non-public testimony — a deposition now scheduled for Friday. That means Sondland will not know what Holmes said about the call when he testifies in public next week.

On Thursday, The Associated Press reported that a second embassy official who was in the restaurant also “overheard President Trump’s call with Sondland about need for Ukraine investigations.” The second official sitting at the table was identified by The A.P. as Suriya Jayanti, a foreign service officer based in Kyiv.

Jayanti was scheduled to be deposed by House impeachment investigators in a closed session last month, but her appearance was canceled because of the funeral for former House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings and has not yet been rescheduled.

Taylor said that he and Kurt Volker, who was the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine at the time, were not present at the restaurant because they were visiting the front line between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists. Sondland and Taylor have testified that Trump withheld nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine’s military to extort a promise from Zelesnky to go on CNN and announce the investigations of his political rivals.

“Sondland calling Trump on a cellphone from Kyiv is extraordinary for all sorts of reasons,” Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, observed on Twitter. “Normally EU Ambos don’t call presidents. They never do so to discuss Ukraine policy. Doing so on a cellphone from Kyiv means whole world was listening in.”

Trump’s appalling operational security is notable because, during the 2016 presidential campaign, he frequently accused Hillary Clinton of having committed a crime and compromised national security by using a private email account as secretary of state. Since taking office, however, Trump has reportedly continued to make calls on his iPhones, even after warnings from American intelligence officials that Russian and Chinese spies are regularly eavesdropping on his calls.

Last Updated: Thursday, Nov. 14, 12:30 p.m. ET
This article was updated to reflect new reporting that identified the American diplomat who overheard President Trump ask Gordon Sondland if Ukraine was willing to pursue “the investigations” he had demanded. On Thursday, The A.P. reported that at least one other American embassy official also overheard the conversation in the restaurant.

The post Trump Directed Diplomat to Ask Ukraine to Probe Biden in Overheard Cellphone Call appeared first on The Intercept.

Private Eye on the Real Reason the Americans Don’t Want Anne Sacoolas Investigated: RAF Croughton is a Spy Base

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 6:52am in

This fortnight’s edition of Private Eye, for 15th – 28th November 2019, has a very interesting article in its ‘In the Back’ pages. Titled ‘RAF Croughton – Base Motives’, this alleges that the real reason Trump and the Americans have been so reluctant to see Anne Sacoolas, the women, who allegedly killed Harry Dunn in a road accident, is married to an American intelligence officer and the base on which they lived was a communications intelligence base run by the CIA and the NSA, with links to Britain GCHQ. The article is worth quoting in full

It is hardly surprising the US is reluctant to see Anne Sacoolas put on trial in a UK court over the death of 19-year-old Harry Dunn in a crash outside “RAF” Croughton given what goes on inside the Northamptonshire base.

Sacoolas left the UK shortly after the August crash, initially claiming “diplomatic immunity” because her husband works at Croughton, described as housing an “annexe of the US embassy”. But that is not the full picture. The base is a major CIA/Pentagon communications centre. It is not staffed by diplomats; Sacoolas’ husband is an intelligence officer. It has satellite and fibre-optic links to US bases around the world and to the UK’s own signals intelligence-gathering and eavesdropping headquarters, GCHQ, in Cheltenham.

From Croughton, with British contrivance, more than 200 US personnel control and monitor US air strikes by drones based in Djibouti on the Red Sea, including attacks on targets in Yemen and Somalia. The base is also the hub of a CIA/ American National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance network, intercepting communications throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. It was from there, for example, that the Americans were found to have tapped into the mobile phones of prominent politicians, including German chancellor Angela Merkel.

The US also describes “RAF” Croughton (under the purely nominal command of a British officer) as the home of its 422nd Air Base Group. But that too, is just another cover, designed to hide its CIA/NSA activities. However, under the 1952 Visiting Forces Act, which covers US bases in Britain, military personnel come under the jurisdiction of the British police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for any action outside their bases.

After Donald Trump’s botched attempt last month to broker a resolution, when Harry Dunn’s family visited Washington seeking justice for their son, it seems the US has now dropped all pretence at “immunity”. The fact that the UK police have been to the US to interview Sacoolas and submitted a file to the CPS would suggest that they may also drop any argument that the 1952 act does not apply to civilian operatives.

Reports in both the UK and US suggest those representing Sacoolas might now be looking to negotiate some kind of plea deal – which might prevent scrutiny in court of what staff do at Croughton. It’s clear that neither the US nor British intelligence agencies would welcome such attention. Not least because the US hopes to expand Croughton and set up a “joint intelligence analysis centre”, a headquarters for all American intelligence communications in Europe and Africa.

Scared Johnson Now Reduced to Throwing Coarse Insults at Labour

Oo-er, Johnson must be getting scared! I have a rule of thumb that someone is winning an argument when their opponent turns to ad hominem insults or profanity. And by this standard, Johnson is losing, as today he hurled a coarse insult in Labour’s direction. Speaking at a manufacturer of electric vehicles today, our comedy prime minister was expected to make a speech referring to the ‘groundhoggery of Brexit’, the ‘horror show’ of a Corbyn government propped up by Nicola Sturgeon, and described the prospect of second referendums on Brexit and Scottish independence as ‘political onanism’. Onanism is a rather elevated term for masturbation. It comes from Onan, one of the figures in the Old Testament. ‘Groundhoggery’ simply comes from the film Groundhog Day, whose hero is condemned to relive the same day over and over until he finds some way of breaking the cycle.

The I’s Nigel Morris, in his article on the planned speech, ‘PM: I’ll pour cold water on Labhour’s Brexit ‘onanism’, said that Johnson would ‘risk accusations of resorting to crude insults’. Yes, he has. Mike put up a piece about it this morning, titled ‘Boris’ obscene insult with cement the nation’s opinion of him’.  Michael Rosen, the Children’s Poet Laureate, tweeted

Dear Dominic
Are you absolutely sure that I should drop one of these obscure obscenity bombs every few days?
Horatio pro fellatio
Boris

And the Independent commented that this wasn’t the first time Johnson had resorted to off-colour language in public. He described money spent on child abuse inquiries as ‘spaffed up the wall’, gay men as ‘tank-top wearing bum-boys’ and referred to the President of Turkey in a limerick with a word rhyming with ‘Ankara’. How statesmanlike! And I have to say, I find his smear of gay men rather bizarre. They’ve got a reputation for being rather well-turned out, otherwise we wouldn’t have the show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, in which two gay men advise a straight bloke on how to dress better. And from what I remember, the tanktop was never an exclusively gay fashion. It appeared in the ’70s, and all kinds of men and boys wore it without any thought that it had anything to do with homosexuality. I had one. Lenny Henry had a joke about how he had one, and wondered why he couldn’t pick up women at the disco when wearing it. And it’s a bit rich for Johnson, who was educated at Eton, to make sneering remarks about homosexuals with the reputation public schools have for homosexuality.

Johnson was also expected to say that while Britain was admired and respected around the world, foreign countries would be baffled by our failure to get Brexit done. Mike concludes his piece by stating that

the leaders of those other countries that have caused Mr Johnson such concern will be even more “baffled” if he wins an election with language like this.

Boris Johnson’s obscene insult will merely cement the nation’s opinion – of him

Quite. Johnson is increasingly showing himself to be an incompetent buffoon, who can only stave off attacks on his government and conduct in office through coarse insult. And it belies the confidence the Tory press claim they have in a Conservative election victory. Today’s Times had its leading headline on the front page proclaiming that the Tories were 14 points in the lead over Labour. But yesterday’s I reported that there was confusion among politicians over the whether polls could be trusted.

Johnson’s little bit of crudity suggests he and his chief advisor, Dominic Cummins, don’t.

To paraphrase the old movie poster for the David Cronenberg remake of The Fly, they’r afraid. They’re very afraid.

Make them so and vote them out on December 12.

Under Pressure From Left, New Jersey Democrats Back Off Vote to Gut Minimum Wage Law

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 5:10am in

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Under pressure from activists, New Jersey Democrats on Wednesday postponed a vote on a bill that would almost certainly suspend the $15 minimum wage increase they signed into law in February.

Democrats passed the current minimum wage bill in 2016 under former Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who vetoed it. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed a later version of the bill into law in February, initiating the scheduled phase-in for the increase. Under the plan, the state would reach a $15 minimum wage for most workers by 2024. New Jersey is currently one of at least 30 states with minimum wages above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, according to the Department of Labor.  

But a measure that advocates say puts the wage increase schedule in jeopardy was scheduled to come up for a vote in the state Senate’s labor committee on Thursday. Advocates from two New Jersey groups say that after they raised concerns with some of the bill’s sponsors, staffers assured them the vote had been postponed. On Wednesday morning, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders joined the the bill’s critics on Twitter, urging state senators to “stand on the side of workers and their families,” saying that the proposed measure was a “threat to their livelihood.” By Wednesday morning, the proposal had been removed from the committee’s Thursday schedule. It is unclear when the committee will take the bill up again.

Democratic state Sen. Vin Gopal, who introduced the bill in March with Republican state Sen. Kristin Corrado, responded to critics on Twitter — including Sanders — to say that he had asked for the bill to be removed from the committee schedule. Gopal added that he looked forward “to meeting with stakeholders in the weeks and months ahead on the positives and negatives of both bills.”

He had previously argued that the compromise bill was geared toward protecting small business owners. Under the new bill, scheduled minimum wage increases would be suspended based on unspecified increases in unemployment, and decreases in retail sales, or decreases of at least 2 percent in total state revenue, to be certified by the state treasurer. That means if unemployment increases slightly, or sales from retail dip for reasons unrelated to a tax or policy change, there would be no minimum wage increase. A dip of 2 percent in total state revenue is relatively unlikely. New Jersey’s unemployment is at an all-time low, so it’s almost certain to increase at some point. 

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association, one of the state’s most active lobbying groups, says it has also “long advocated” for Gopal’s compromise bill. The group has been active in fighting against minimum wage increases in the state. It published blog posts in November 2018 and January this year — before Murphy signed the minimum wage increase into law — advocating for suggestions that were later included in the current law, including exemptions for seasonal workers like farm workers, tipped workers, and small businesses of five or fewer employees.

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross announced Tuesday morning he was opposing the bill. Norcross, a co-sponsor of Sanders’s 2019 Raise the Wage Act, sent a letter to state Senate leadership urging them to vote against it, calling it an “irresponsible proposal that will harm both workers and businesses.” The premise of the bill is “illogical,” Norcross said. “If our economy were to slow for any reason, the first thing we should do is ensure that people at the lower end of the economic scale have family-sustaining wages that they can spend in their community. That’s exactly what our current wage law does.” (Donald is the brother of George Norcross, one of the state’s Democratic Party leaders.)

Gopal, a 34-year-old senator in his first term, has positioned himself among business-friendly Democrats. He took office last year and has been floated as a potential gubernatorial candidate. Gopal previously served on the board of directors for the then-Monmouth County Chamber of Commerce and was president of the Hazlet Business Owners Association. He did not respond to a request for comment. 

Local organizations like New Jersey Citizen Action, New Jersey Working Families, and New Jersey Policy Perspective have been engaged in a yearslong effort to get legislators to pass a $15 minimum wage that covers as many working families as possible. NJPP, a nonprofit research institute, has released reports demonstrating that raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty and funnel money back into the state’s economy. 

“I don’t really consider it a compromise bill. It’s a roll-back bill,” said Dena Jaborska, associate director at New Jersey Citizen Action, a grassroots organization working toward social, racial, and economic justice in the state. 

Jaborska was surprised to hear that Democrats would consider voting on the bill, given their track record on issues like earned sick leave policy and expansion of paid family leave. “The legislature used to agree it was a terrible idea that people at minimum wage lived in poverty,” she said. “Not really sure why they would then go back and negate their own previous action, which they did victory laps and celebrated when they passed it.”

The legislature is just about to start working on anti-wage theft legislation too, Jaborska said. That’s why the movement on Gopal’s bill was all the more puzzling — voting on it would cast a shadow on those efforts. 

As it stands, the existing law already includes provisions that delay minimum wage increases for farm workers, tipped workers, and workers at firms with five or fewer employees. Because of those carveouts, NJPP President Brandon McKoy said, Democrats’ arguments that the Gopal bill is meant to appeal to small business interests don’t hold up. “I think that’s a spin,” he said. “Business interests had their opportunity to negotiate and what they got out of negotiating the bill was more carveouts.” 

“Considering the cost of living in New Jersey, and New York has gone to a $15 minimum wage more quickly than we did, if we want to stay competitive with New York in attracting workers, we can’t be entertaining a process that would possibly further delay increases,” McKoy said. 

The timing of the vote on the Gopal bill, just after last week’s elections in the state Assembly, raised questions for Sam Finkelstein, a progressive activist in New Jersey and law student at Seton Hall University. “They made a ton of noise about how great it was that they passed this minimum wage bill,” he said. “And then the second that people actually go and vote [in last week’s general election], and they’re their safest, then all of a sudden they put this stuff up.”

Jaborska noted that state senators won’t face reelection until 2021, yet Democrats are weighing legislation that would undo their progress in the state. “It is the silly season in New Jersey.”

The post Under Pressure From Left, New Jersey Democrats Back Off Vote to Gut Minimum Wage Law appeared first on The Intercept.

HHS Investigates Google-Ascension Secret Medical Records Project for Millions of Patients; Concrete Evidence of HIPAA Violations

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/11/2019 - 10:12pm in

Google and Ascension look to have shot their medical data project in the head with their flagrant disregard for patient privacy laws.

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