Friday, April 14, 2023

Something to Know - 13 April

Two separate pieces today; one by Robert Reich and the other by Professor Richardson.  See how the misadventures of a Supreme Court Justice goes beyond "Gee, I did not know I had to report it", and enters the area of being against the law.   The other piece by HCR puts Trump's problem with messing with top secret documents in the same league of one 21-year old Air Force National Guardsman messing with DOD secret documents.   Trump's main activities these days is commuting from his Florida swamp resort to court houses and back as he does the Havey Weinstein two-step deposition and pleading dances:

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Clarence Thomas's bizarre claim that he failed to disclose the lavish gifts he received from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow because he didn't believe he had to brought me back to a day 30 years ago when Bill Gates asked me to lunch.

I was secretary of labor then. Gates was the CEO of Microsoft, and the richest person in America.

Curious and flattered, I accepted his invitation.

I don't recall much about the lunch except that it was at an expensive restaurant, and everything Gates said struck me as rather predictable.

When I returned to my office, the Labor Department's chief lawyer stopped by to ask if I had enjoyed the lunch, and if I had paid for my portion. I was embarrassed to tell him that paying had never occurred to me. I was having lunch with Bill Gates, for crying out loud.

The chief lawyer patiently explained that federal law barred employees of the executive branch from accepting gifts whose value exceeded $50 — which would include my extravagant lunch with Bill Gates. "There are exceptions," he said, "but my advice is that you send Gates a check for the value of your lunch."

"Really?" I asked, incredulously. "I don't even know how much it cost!"

He whipped out a piece of paper. "We phoned his office, and you owe him $120."

"But…" I stammered.

"Oh, and be sure to make it a personal check," he said. "I can have it delivered to his hotel this afternoon. For safety sake, add $15 to cover the cost of delivery."

So I did what the Labor Department's chief lawyer advised I do. I made out a check to Bill Gates for $135.00.

I believe, but cannot be sure (this was 30 years ago), that he cashed it.


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"Today the Justice Department arrested Jack Douglas Teixeira in connection with an investigation into alleged unauthorized removal, retention, and transmission of classified national defense information."

In a press conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland made the announcement that the FBI had arrested Teixeira, a 21-year-old employee of the United States Air Force National Guard. Teixeira allegedly is the source of more than 100 classified U.S. documents that surfaced on social media gaming channels and then spread across the internet over the past several months.

Friends who spoke anonymously to reporters say Teixeira showed them the documents to impress them. They described him as a Christian libertarian who is worried about the direction the country is going. Materials from Teixeira online also reveal racist and antisemitic behavior.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) immediately took to Twitter to defend Teixeira. He is "white, male, christian [sic], and antiwar. That makes him an enemy to the Biden regime," she wrote. She went on to attack U.S. support for Ukraine.

But there is likely more here than her usual attacks on the Biden administration and support for Russia. Removing, retaining, and transmitting classified national defense information sounds an awful lot like what it appears former president Trump did (recent reports suggest that federal investigators seem to be building a case that he showed at least one document to people, although removing and retaining documents are crimes by themselves). Now a young man has been arrested for that behavior, unceremoniously arrested by armed FBI agents with an armored vehicle as a news helicopter caught the arrest on film.

It makes sense that Trump supporters who are concerned about the former president's similar behavior will do their best to downplay Teixeira's case. As the media begins to talk about just how serious espionage is and makes people aware of its legal perils, they will want to disparage the charges against Teixeira in case the former president ends up with the same problem.

And speaking of problems, it turns out that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas neglected to disclose not only the "hospitality" he enjoyed at the hands of Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, but also a real estate deal. Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan, and Alex Mierjeski of ProPublica—which broke the initial story about Thomas's involvement with Crow—revealed today that Crow paid Thomas more than $100,000 for a house in which his mother was living and for two vacant lots.

The reporters note that, by law, justices are required to disclose real estate sales of more than $1,000. Thomas did not report the sale, thus obscuring the flow of money—not just hospitality—to him from Crow. Further, Crow then made significant improvements to the home, where Thomas's 94-year-old mother still lives, and bought and tore down the house next door.

Calls for at least an investigation of Thomas are growing louder. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who is a leader of the effort to clean up the courts, said: "It would be best for the Chief Justice to commence a proper investigation, but after a week of silence from the Court and the latest disturbing reporting, I'm urging the Judicial Conference to step in and refer Justice Thomas to the Attorney General for investigation" for possibly breaking government ethics laws.

The Judicial Conference meets twice a year to examine policy and administration of the federal court system and to recommend new laws to make it function better. It is made up primarily of leading circuit judges and led by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, in this case John Roberts.

The speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, which recently expelled two young Black lawmakers who have since been returned to office, is also in trouble. Judd Legum of Popular Information first chased down that speaker Cameron Sexton is living in Nashville rather than the district he represents.

With more digging, Legum has turned up that Sexton apparently bought a $600,000 home in Nashville and hid that purchase, keeping his name off the documents and keeping his wife's signature obscure. He has argued that he could legally continue to represent Crossville, his alleged place of residence, because so long as he has a "definite intention of returning," Tennessee law okays lawmakers living elsewhere. But the purchase of a $600,000 home in Nashville seems like a pretty permanent abandonment of Crossville.

Legum also notes that Sexton has been drawing $313 a day to commute back to his district while he is not, in fact, commuting back to his district. Since 2021, he has claimed $92,071 in expenses, likely enough to cover his mortgage.

The Republican lawmakers in Tennessee may come to regret the attention they've drawn to themselves and their habits of governance.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis is also in trouble, although his trouble is political.

Today the Republican-dominated Florida legislature passed a bill that would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, which is before many people even know they're pregnant. The measure is popular with the Republican base, whose support DeSantis will need for a presidential bid, should he decide to make one. But abortion restrictions are hugely unpopular across the country, giving Democrats a big leg up in every election that has come since the Supreme Court last summer overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

DeSantis signed into law a bill banning abortion after 15 weeks last April, before the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health decision that overturned Roe. In that case, he held a midday press conference and made a speech. But Dobbs has created a powerful backlash. This time around, for this even stricter measure, DeSantis signed the bill late tonight and released a picture of the signing after 11:00 p.m., when few people would see it. He appears to be trying to appeal to the base while also keeping his actions quiet enough to slide them under the radar screens of non-MAGA voters.

DeSantis's secret signing stands in marked contrast to the scene in Michigan, where Governor Gretchen Whitmer today signed into law two new gun safety measures, one requiring guns to be locked away rather than left loose in a home with a minor child, and one requiring background checks for gun show and private purchases. A mass shooting at Michigan State University two months ago killed three students and badly wounded five others.

Whitmer signed the bills during the day, before a crowd at Michigan State University's Spartan Stadium. Although Republicans oppose the new laws and have already sued to stop them from going into effect as scheduled next year, Whitmer said, "All of these initiatives are supported by a majority of Michiganders…. I've gotten letters from all across our state asking for us to get this done."



Q. What is the difference between a law-abiding gun owner and a criminal?

A.  The .2 of a second that it takes to pull a trigger.

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