Saturday, June 15, 2024

Something to Know - 15 June

A recap of yesterday's news and events.   Trump is able to show a gathering of chief executives that he is not fit to be re-elected, while his sycophants in Congress play differently.   Plus, other things in need of knowing:

Heather Cox Richardson from Letters from an American 

Jun 14, 2024, 8:09 PM (13 hours ago)
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Today, former president Trump turned 78. For his birthday, Representative Greg Steube (R-FL) introduced a bill to name 4,383,000 square miles of the coastal waters off the United States over which the U.S. has sole authority, a region called the exclusive economic zone, the "Donald John Trump Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States." 

A less welcome present was that the chief executive officers who attended a meeting with Trump in Washington yesterday told reporters they found him uninformed and unfocused. Christina Wilkie and Brian Schwartz of CNBC noted that the attendees dislike the Biden administration's enforcement of antitrust laws, its price caps on drugs and medical products, and its promise of progressive tax policy and like Trump's promise to slash regulations and cut taxes, so they went into the meeting hoping to support him.

One CEO left the meeting with the takeaway that "Trump doesn't know what he's talking about," and several, Andrew Ross Sorkin of CNBC reported, said that he "was remarkably meandering, could not keep a straight thought [and] was all over the map." He could not explain how he planned to accomplish any of the policies he was proposing. When asked why he had chosen a policy of bringing the corporate tax rate down to 20%, he allegedly answered: "Well, it's a round number." 

No one applauded Trump, attendees reported, in striking contrast to reports of the enthusiasm of Republican lawmakers yesterday. This difference underscores that Trump likely intended yesterday's grandstanding to send a political message that Republican members of Congress support him despite his criminal convictions, while the lawmakers themselves were trying to show party unity at a time when they are bitterly divided. 

Also today, the Supreme Court handed down the Garland v. Cargill decision, which considered whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) correctly determined that a device that dramatically increases the speed at which a semiautomatic weapon fires bullets, called a bump stock, could be prohibited under the law, originally passed in 1934, that outlawed machine guns. 

By a 6–3 vote, the Supreme Court said the ATF did not make that decision correctly and that bump stocks were not banned under the law.

After the Parkland, Florida, shooting of February 14, 2018, when Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, then-president Trump told reporters that he had been studying the issue of gun safety. This was his first articulated policy on that issue, and although the Parkland shooter did not use a bump stock, Trump said he had told then–attorney general Jeff Sessions to write regulations to ban bump stocks in October of the previous year, after a gunman using them had fired up to 1,000 rounds of ammunition in 11 minutes, killing 58 people and wounding about 500—two died later—at a Las Vegas music festival. 

By the time the ATF finalized a new rule on December 18, 2018, Sessions was gone and it was Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker who announced that bump stocks would be classified as a "machinegun" under federal law. The rule went into effect on March 26, 2019. People who owned bump stocks had to get rid of them, either by destroying them or by taking them to an ATF office. The ATF estimated that about 520,000 bump stocks needed to be destroyed. 

A Texas gun store owner, Michael Cargill, handed over his two bump stocks under protest and then sued the ATF, saying it did not have the authority to reclassify bump stocks. 

Today, in a majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court dove deep into the mechanics of bump stocks to try to establish that they were not physically machine guns and that because of differences in the mechanical operations between true machine guns and bump stocks, the law did not prohibit bump stocks. ATF officials thus had no business defining bump stocks as they did in 2018, and those who want them can own them.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote: "There is a simple remedy for the disparate treatment of bump stocks and machineguns. Congress can amend the law—and perhaps would have done so already if ATF had stuck with its earlier interpretation. Now that the situation is clear, Congress can act." 

Indeed, if Congress truly reflected the will of the people, it would have acted on this issue years ago. A Pew poll from June 2023—when bump stocks were illegal—showed that 64% of Americans want assault-style weapons banned altogether, as they were between 1994 and 2004. But Republicans have increasingly fetishized guns as a symbol of individualism, and Republican senators have kept most gun safety legislation at bay by weaponizing the filibuster, which means that any legislation must have not simply a 51-vote majority to pass the Senate, but 60 votes.  

In other Supreme Court news, yesterday Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) released documents showing that Justice Thomas accepted at least three more trips from billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow than had previously been known. 

And in other news concerning our nation's horrific history of mass shootings and the political meaning of guns, today a federal judge ordered the liquidation of the personal assets of conspiracy theorist and InfoWars host Alex Jones to begin the payment he owes to the families of those murdered at Sandy Hook. For years, Jones told his followers that the shooting was a hoax to encourage restrictions on gun ownership, prompting harassment of the victims' families. 

A jury in Texas and a jury in Connecticut awarded the families $1.5 billion in damages for defamation; Jones owns about $9 million of personal assets but will keep his $2.8 million home in Texas. The judge threw out an attempted reorganization of Jones's company, Free Speech Systems, saying Jones's creditors would recover more money in state courts. The families have sued Jones for hiding millions of dollars in assets. 

Reacting to the news of the Supreme Court's decision in Garland v. Cargill, gun safety advocate David Hogg, who survived the Parkland shooting, wrote: "Ah yes because who doesn't need the ability to freely turn a semiautomatic AR-15 into what in effect is a machine gun. This is f*cking insane."

"We know thoughts and prayers are not enough," President Biden said in his own statement about the Supreme Court's decision, referring to the usual response of Republicans after a mass shooting. "I call on Congress to ban bump stocks, pass an assault weapon ban, and take additional action to save lives—send me a bill and I will sign it immediately."





Juan Matute
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― The Lincoln Project

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