Criminalization of Indigenous land defenders on the rise, says UN report

Indigenous leaders and their water-protector allies set up camp to protest a pipeline in front of the Minnesota Capitol Building. Michael Nigro/AP

This story was originally published by Grist as part of the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, an Indigenous-led collaboration between Grist, High Country News, ICT, Mongabay, Native News Online, and APTN. It is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. 

When around 70,000 Indigenous Maasai were expelled from their lands in northern Tanzania in 2022, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. For years, the Tanzanian government has systematically attacked Maasai communities, imprisoning Maasai leaders and land defenders on trumped-up charges, confiscating livestock, using lethal violence, and claiming that the Maasai’s pastoralist lifestyle is causing environmental degradation—a lifestyle that has shaped and sustained the land that the Maasai have lived on for centuries. This rise in criminalization, especially in the face of mining, development, and conservation, is being noted in Indigenous communities around the world and was the key focus of a report released this week at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the largest gathering of Indigenous activists, policymakers, and leaders in the world.

“It’s a very serious concern because the Indigenous people who have been resisting the taking over of their lands and territories, they are the ones who most commonly face these charges and criminalization,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples told a packed panel on the topic on Tuesday. “There is a need to focus on criminalization because this is what brings fear to Indigenous communities, and it is also what curtails them in their capacity to assert their right to self-determination.”

The report “Criminalization of Indigenous Peoples’ human rights” lays out the mechanisms by which Indigenous Peoples around the world are increasingly facing criminalization and violations of their rights with impunity. Indigenous land, subsistence, and governance rights are often poorly implemented if at all, leading to violations when they intersect with government and third party interests, especially in extractive industries and conservation. In addition to historical discrimination, a lack of access to justice for Indigenous rights holders—including environmental and human rights defenders, journalists, and communities—leads to higher rates of arrests and incarcerations. The report provides recommendations for UN bodies, states, and other relevant actors to better address this growing threat.

The use of criminal law to punish and dissuade people from protesting or speaking out is typically the way people understand criminalization, said Fergus Mackay, a Senior Legal Counsel and Policy Advisor to Indigenous Peoples Rights International, an organization that works to protect Indigenous Peoples rights defenders. But the bulk of criminalization Indigenous Peoples face actually stems from the inadequate recognition or non-recognition of their rights by governments. “The lack of recognition of Indigenous rights in national legal frameworks is at the heart of this issue,” Mackay said.

This is especially prevalent when those rights intersect with public or protected lands, or areas that overlap with extractive interests, conservation, or climate mitigation measures. For example, in Canada, First Nations Fishermen are being arrested and harassed by federal fisheries officers for fishing–rights protected by treaty. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Baka Indigenous peoples have been beaten, imprisoned, and prevented from using their customary forest by eco-guards hired to protect wildlife. A 2018 study estimated that more than a quarter million Indigenous peoples have been evicted due to carbon-offset schemes, tourism, and other activities that lead to the creation of protected areas.

“The criminalization of Indigenous People could also be considered the criminalization of the exercise of practicing Indigenous rights,” said Naw Ei Ei Min, a member of Myanmar’s Indigenous Karen peoples and an expert UNPFII member at Tuesday’s panel.

Defamation and smear campaigns through social media are often used in the lead-up to false criminal charges, especially when Indigenous peoples speak up against government-supported private companies investing in large-scale projects on their traditional lands, said Tauli-Corpuz. Berta Cárceres, the renowned Indigenous Lenca environmental defender who opposed the development of the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras, had previously been detained on fabricated allegations of usurpation of land, coercion and possession of an illegal firearm before she was killed in 2016. Tauli-Corpuz, the former Special Rapporteur, along with around 30 other Indigenous leaders, was herself placed on a terrorist list in 2018 by the Philippine government, a move that was criticized harshly by the UN.

Criminalization comes with serious consequences. In 2021, of the 200 land and environmental defenders killed worldwide, more than 40 percent were Indigenous. According to Indigenous Peoples Rights International, an organization founded in part to address the growing concern over criminalization of Indigenous Peoples, despite representing only 6 percent of the global population, Indigenous defenders suffered nearly 20 percent of attacks between 2015 and 2022 and were much more likely to experience violent attacks.

The UN report also pointed to the high rates of incarceration of Indigenous People, and their disproportionate risk of arrest. In Canada, dozens of members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, who have long protested the creation of the Coastal GasLink pipeline that will cross their unceded territory, have been arrested and await trial in Canada. That trial is currently on hold because of allegations of excessive force and harassment of the police

In countries like New Zealand and Australia, Indigenous peoples are already massively overrepresented in prisons. In Australia, despite making up only 3 percent of the population, Aboriginal Australians make up almost 30 percent of the incarcerated population. “This really speaks about the racism and discrimination that exists, which is the foundation for filing the criminalization cases against them,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

Indigenous journalists were included in this year’s report as being increasingly at risk of criminalization. In 2020 Anastasia Mejía Tiriquiz, a Guatemalan Kʼicheʼ Mayan journalist, was arrested and charged with sedition after reporting on a protest against the municipal government. And just this year, Brandi Morin, an award-winning Cree/Iroquois/French journalist from Treaty 6 territory in Alberta, was arrested while covering an Indigenous-led homeless encampment in Edmonton.

Indigenous Peoples are also affected by the growing use of criminal law to deter free speech and protests. Since the Indigenous-led protests against the Dakota Access pipeline on the Standing Rock reservation in 2016, lawmakers in two dozen states in the US have taken up bills that ratchet up penalties for pipeline protesters. Globally, laws targeting everything from anti-terrorism, national security, and free speech only add to the ability for states to lay criminal charges on Indigenous activists. 

Olnar Ortiz Bolívar, an Indigenous Baré lawyer from Venezuela who works to defend the rights of Indigenous communities, has been the target of both physical violence and harassment for his work in the Amazon, an area where illegal miners, criminal organizations, and the government are competing for control of resources, especially gold. He has been an outspoken critic of the government-designated mining area in southern Venezuela known as the Orinoco Mining Arc. Now he fears that a new bill introduced by the Maduro regime into congress, that effectively turns dissent against the government and protesting into a criminal act, will severely affect his ability to continue to speak out against such projects.

“It’s a contradiction because we have rights in theory, but we don’t have the right to practice those,” he said. “What they are doing is taking away the freedom of expression of Venezuelans and, evidently, of the Indigenous People, who are increasingly vulnerable.”

As countries attempt to reach their goals of protecting 30 percent of their lands and waters by 2030 along with growing demand for transition minerals, criminalization of Indigenous Peoples is likely to grow, say experts. A survey of more than 5,000 existing “energy transition mineral” projects found that more than half were located on or near Indigenous Peoples’ lands; for unmined deposits, that figure was much higher. 

The report set forth a series of recommendations to counteract criminalization, emphasizing the importance of revising national laws, improving measures to protect Indigenous human rights defenders and access to justice, and promoting efforts to prevent, reverse, and remedy criminalization and its consequences.

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Just for Fun: Three Year Letterman, Rising Star of Twitter/X, Had a HUGE Week

Most of us who frequent the Twitter/X platform know of the rising phenom, Three Year Letterman.

The man is a Youth Football Coaching Legend, Die-hard Georgia Fan, Three-Year High School Football Letterman, Showstopping Little League Umpire, and Region Champion (3-way tie).

DISCLAIMER: Some claim that the Three Year Letterman account is an obvious parody account, he’s not actually a coaching legend, he doesn’t believe Benjamin Franklin was President, his Uncle Gary only eats at Denny’s, he financed his waterbed like everyone else, and he never lettered in shhhhtuff. One of the primary goals of the account, they say, is to dupe people who take themselves so seriously that they miss the obvious joke, creating endless entertainment for the people of Twitter/X.

We, of course, don’t believe any of that and President Franklin would roll over in his grave at such slander, but the Waterbed cartel carries a lot of sway with our advertisers, hence the disclaimer.

Coach, as his fans call him, had quite the week spreading his vast coaching knowledge across cyberspace, often to individuals who were unappreciative of his genius and the legal perspective only a licensed notary public can provide.

Is the Three Year Letterman a conservative? A liberal? Nobody cares at the local Beef O’Brady’s.

All that matters is that Coach dutifully appears, every day, in the replies of people who were given way too much water at football practice when they were young.

Recommended

This week was no different, except he put in an effort that was worthy of a free weekend pass to Splash Country at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge.

That’s saying a lot, considering, he singlehandedly destroyed the Supreme Leader of Iran last week (no, seriously).

The week began with a contentious exchange with Kair Lake’s ‘War Room’.

Remember, the point is not whether you like these people or not, it’s whether they’re so deeply entrenched in their bubble that they fail to recognize that the Three Year Letterman is a p … … purveyor of unparalleled historical knowledge and expert in matters of the U.S. Constitution, much like its author, Ben Franklin.

He then turned to the conservative powerhouse account, Catturd™, whose real identity is shrouded in mystery.

Coach has long suspected that the Catturd™ account is actually run by his very own Uncle Gary. He may have gotten a little too close to the truth on this one because Catturd™ was forced to block.

Imagine, getting blocked by your own uncle on Twitter/X. Nevertheless, the unyielding coach marshaled forward.

The next vict … er … recipient of Coach’s Constitutional prowess was none other than lefty gun-grabber, David Hogg.

Hogg thought he could challenge the Three Year Letterman on the impeachment clauses in the Declaration of Independence using Constitutional arguments.

Coach literally got him to threaten to go to law school so he could fight better on Twitter/X. LOLOLOL!

Next, he picked a fight with some lady we didn’t recognize, but she apparently shows off her … umm … ‘trophies’ on OnlyFans.

It started when Coach called out the sacrilegious use of the American flag colors on a bikini worn by Tiffany Gomas (the ‘those mother****** aren’t real plane lady).

Sinclair was quite upset at being challenged and pretended to be wholly unimpressed with Coach’s upper-crust station in life (we don’t believe her).

It really is quite entertaining.

Coach then squirreled up the community organizer social justice crowd by going to bat for Madison Cawthorne, who was involved in a car accident with a Florida State Trooper. He simply explained that the Senator had diplomatic immunity and his HIPPA rights could not be violated.

That was followed by a celebration of President Benjamin Franklin’s deathday.

Always the leader, Coach was sure to tag people who might be interested: Dolly Parton, David Hasselhoff, Amanda Bynes, Kate Gosselin, Jiffy Lube, Kmart Fashion, Farrah Abraham, Kevin Federline, and Whitesnake. 💀💀💀

The brilliant run was nearing an end, but not before he mixed it up with Wendy’s and Tyler Swift’s husband, Jason Kelce.

Amazing. They don’t know who they’re messing with. Really, they don’t.

The grand finale of this whirlwind tour of coaching expertise was a review of Tyler Swift’s latest album.

Let’s just say the Swifties are not big fans of criticism of their queen, even if it comes from a youth football coaching legend … maybe especially if it comes from a youth football coaching legend.

Keep up the good work, Coach. We hope you and Uncle Gary can patch things up over a box of wings at Hooters.

Until then, we’ll all be watching for what comes next.



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Pennsylvania Court Lets Suit Over Removal of Columbus Statue Go Forward

Italian Sons & Daughters of America v. City of Pittsburgh, decided yesterday by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (Judge Patricia A. Mccullough, joined by Judges Renée Cohn Jubelirer, Christine Fizzano Cannon, Ellen Ceisler, Lori A. Dumas, and Stacy Wallace, and with Judge Michael H. Wojcik concurring in the result), reversed a trial court’s decision approving of Pittsburgh’s removal of a Columbus statue from a public park. The trial court had held that the removal didn’t violate the First Amendment, because monuments permanently erected in a park were “government speech,” but the Commonwealth Court concluded that the removal did potentially violate state law:

Here, in its First Amended Complaint, ISDA does not challenge Mayor Peduto’s or the Art Commission’s actions on First Amendment grounds; nor does ISDA contest that the placement of the Statue in Schenley Park constitutes government speech that the City otherwise may regulate, change, or remove as it sees fit. Thus, ISDA does not argue that … government speech principles … are inapplicable. Rather, ISDA argues that Mayor Peduto and the Art Commission, in taking action to remove the Statue, did not comply with applicable provisions of the Charter and Code, violated ISDA’s rights to due process, violated public trust principles, and breached a contract entered into between the City and ISDA’s putative predecessor, the Sons of Columbus.

In issuing its decision, the trial court did not make any findings of fact and did not rule on any of Appellees’ expressly pleaded preliminary objections, including the objection to ISDA’s standing. Instead, the trial court broadly concluded that, because the Statue constitutes government speech, ISDA cannot, as a matter of law, plead a viable claim because the City is free to do with the Statue as it pleases, notwithstanding any local or state-wide legislation or other restrictions to the contrary … [on the view that] “Local ordinances and state laws cannot be used to restrict future government’s speech rights.” ….

[But a]lthough a government generally may determine those views that it will espouse by way of its own speech, it nevertheless may not do so in violation of applicable “law, regulation, or practice.” … The fact that … monuments or pieces of art constitute “government speech” only protects the government from certain First Amendment challenges. It does not, as the trial court here concluded, give government “free reign” to act as it pleases in defiance of the law….

The trial court below did not make any findings or rulings regarding whether Appellees’ actions in seeking to remove the Statue from Schenley Park violated the Charter, the Code, or the Ordinance. It instead dismissed ISDA’s claims on the ground that such procedural irregularities did not matter in light of Summum. The trial court further declined to make any findings or rulings regarding whether the Art Commission’s administrative proceedings were constitutionally adequate or whether ISDA had standing to bring this lawsuit in the first place. The trial court instead cast ISDA’s claims as “procedural arguments at best” and did not analyze them. The trial court further explained that, even if ISDA is correct and Appellees violated the Charter, Code, and/or Ordinance in pursuing the Statue’s removal, the new mayor’s administration is still free to comply, if it wishes to do so. Id. In any event, according to the trial court, ISDA’s claims against Appellees are now moot, and the new mayor’s administration has effectively been granted a “do over.”

[W]e simply cannot agree with the trial court’s conclusions that (1) the Statue’s status as government speech renders Appellees’ actions per se valid, and (2) ISDA’s claims are irrelevant procedural quibbles now mooted by the new mayor’s ability to comply with the law if he so chooses…. We accordingly reverse the trial court’s order dismissing the First Amended Complaint based on the government speech doctrine and remand for further factfinding and decision, as appropriate, on Appellees’ remaining preliminary objections.

Nonetheless, the court upheld the trial judge’s decision not to recuse himself:

[In one of the hearings], and in partial reliance on James W. Loewen’s book Lies My Teacher Told Me, the trial court judge discussed at length his views on, inter alia, historiography, freedom of expression, Christopher Columbus, the post-Civil-War South, and the City’s role in leading the nation on the issue of statue removal….

{Specifically, the trial court explained:

History is often said to be written by the “winners[,”] and our understanding of it as a nation tends to evolve over time as research reveals new understandings and our cultural norms change. Undoubtedly, history as taught to most in the United States has been from a nationalistic and [E]urocentric perspective. Certainly, our national understanding of history is evolving today as evidenced by the statue removal movement occurring all over the United States with respect to Confederate and Union generals, [p]residents, explorers like Christopher Columbus, civil leaders, and here in Pittsburgh, past cultural icons like composer Stephen Foster. My father, a career high school history teacher and lifelong reader of history, taught me at an early age that the commissioning of Confederate general[ ] statues in the Jim Crow [S]outh was part of the “Lost Cause” response to Reconstruction efforts and often [was] intended as [a] symbol of white supremacy, while the federal government’s commissioning of military bases [ ] and battleships commemorating the Confederacy and the placement of Confederate figures in the halls of Congress were at least by some[ ] motivated by an intent to heal the nation. Recently, in July [ ] 2020, Congress voted to remove those same figures from the House of Representatives as our understanding of history has evolved and the statues are no longer deemed appropriate in our contemporary nation trying to heal the issue of racial divide, ultimately inflamed by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Open[-]mindedness as a community requires that we listen to each other and weigh the concerns expressed collectively with the sincere intent of trying to understand all sides of an issue. We must also be mindful that freedom of expression can be a double-edged sword. The fate of the Christopher Columbus statue should be determined after all concerns are fully expressed and heard with an intent to reach a common ground that reflects Pittsburgh and its pride in being a diverse and welcoming community. However, this must be done while recognizing the good and bad that comes with statues depicting historical figures. While acknowledging that historical figures are people and necessarily come with heroic qualities along with character flaws, nonetheless, racism, slavery and prejudice must always be condemned and rejected by our city. Discrimination has and continues to exist. Indigenous people and the immigrants who followed have all unfortunately shared that experience, [ ] which should [not] be acceptable to a community striving for better. With this common understanding, I am asking that we strive to reach a consensus in good faith. It is my belief that through conciliation, Pittsburgh will lead the nation on this issue of statue removal vis a vis history and evolving community historical understanding.} …

There is a presumption that Commonwealth judges are “honorable, fair and competent,” and, when confronted with a recusal request, are competent to determine whether they can rule “in an impartial manner, free of personal bias or interest in the outcome.” Our Supreme Court also has recognized that,

[w]hile the mediation of courts is based upon the principle of judicial impartiality, disinterestedness, and fairness pervading the whole system of judicature, so that courts may as near as possible be above suspicion, there is, on the other side, an important issue at stake: that is, that causes may not be unfairly prejudiced, unduly delayed, or discontent created through unfounded charges of prejudice or unfairness made against the judge in the trial of a cause…. If the judge feels that he can hear and dispose of the case fairly and without prejudice, his decision will be final unless there is an abuse of discretion. This must be so for the security of the bench and the successful administration of justice. Otherwise, unfounded and ofttimes malicious charges made during the trial by bold and unscrupulous advocates might be fatal to a cause, or litigation might be unfairly and improperly held up awaiting the decision of such a question or the assignment of another judge to try the case. If lightly countenanced, such practice might be resorted to, thereby tending to discredit the judicial system. The conscience of the judge alone is brought in question; he should, as far as possible, avoid any feelings of unfairness or hostility to the litigants in a case.

Here, ISDA argues that the trial court judge should have recused himself from presiding over this case because the extensive commentary in the … Order created an appearance of impartiality, bias, and impropriety. More specifically, ISDA argues that the trial court judge’s interpretations of his father’s teaching career, the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, the Jim Crow South, ethnic discrimination, and the City’s exemplary future in leading the nation in statue removal injected extraneous and irrelevant issues into a lawsuit involving straightforward claims asserting that Appellees did not comply with the Charter, Code, and Ordinance. ISDA therefore argues that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the Recusal Motion.

We generally agree with ISDA that the personal commentary in the trial court’s October 30, 2020 Order is irrelevant and extraneous and does not inform the legal analysis of the claims asserted in the First Amended Complaint.

We nevertheless cannot conclude that the trial court’s denial of the Recusal Motion constituted a clear abuse of discretion. To the extent that ISDA claims that the personal nature and irrelevance of the commentary indicates bias, it is the very irrelevance of the bulk of the trial court’s order that requires affirmance on this issue. The issues in this case center on the legislative status of the Ordinance, the procedures in the Charter and Code, if any, that are applicable to public monument removal, and ISDA’s standing to bring this lawsuit. The trial court has yet to rule on any of those issues.

The personal opinions the trial court judge has expressed on subjects immaterial to their resolution do not themselves constitute evidence that, as to the disposition of the actual issues at hand, he will be biased, prejudiced, or unfair to a degree that raises substantial doubt as to his ability to preside impartially. Without such evidence, we must defer to the trial court judge’s own self-assessment that he can, and we trust will, preside over the resolution of this matter in an impartial and judicious manner. Accordingly, we affirm the denial of the Recusal Motion….

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Happy Anniversary To Temporary Insanity!

Have a picture of an orange croissant named Mose, courtesy of our pal Cliff Hendroval

Once upon a time, there was a fella named Daniel Sickles. He was born in New York City in 1819, though he frequently lied and said he was born in 1825. His family was wealthy and well-connected — so well-connected that his parents were able to get Benjamin Franklin Butler, the former US attorney general under Andrew Jackson, to help him study law so he could pass the bar. Which he did.

Sickles did well for himself, getting in with the Tammany Hall Democratic machine, getting elected to the New York state Assembly and then the New York Senate and then, ultimately, the actual Senate.

Oh! Sorry — let’s rewind a bit there, shall we? Because before all of this, he went to go stay at the home of Lorenzo de Ponte, who of course wrote the librettos for Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così Fan Tutte (as well as several for Salieri, because he was messy like that) and somehow lived an even more ridiculous life than the man I am about to tell you about (I forget which of the biographies about him I read because they all have very similar titles and this was a decade ago, but it was riveting).

Anyway! Sickles was friends with his son and for some reason moved into a house with a bunch of musicians to study languages. Sure, why not!

Also living in that house was Antonio Bagioli, da Ponte’s protegé who had married de Ponte’s “adopted” daughter (actually his real daughter, whom he fathered at the age of 70) — whom he had started “courting” when she was an adolescent and married when she was 17 and he was significantly older. They had an infant daughter named Teresa.

Some years later … 32-year-old Daniel Sickles follows in the footsteps of his mentor and marries the then-15-or-16-year-old Teresa, whom he has known since she was an infant … which creeped out both sides of the family pretty equally (supposedly why he started lying about his age). It is after that that he goes into politics.

So, Sickles is in politics, he’s got his child bride, but he’s screwing around on her left and right. In one very famous incident, he brought Fanny White, the famous New York courtesan, with him to London, to an event for Queen Victoria. Now, some people say he tried to introduce her to Queen Victoria and was stopped, others say he actually did it and got to curtsey at her and everything. Fanny White actually seems like she was cool as hell, and I hope she did get to curtsey at Queen Victoria. (Here! You can read The Life and Death of Fanny White, Being A Complete and Interesting History of the Career of That Notorious Lady for free!)

While he’s running around and out and about, Teresa starts hanging out with his lawyer buddy Philip Barton Key II — the son of “Star Spangled Banner” author Francis Scott Key. Romantically. At a time when he was known as the handsomest man in all of Washington DC.

I don’t see it, but okay.

Phillip Barton Key II

Someone, reportedly a woman who was jealous of Teresa, sends a letter to Sickles about the affair — and he is told that Key signals that he wants to see Teresa by hanging a string out of a window, which actually does not seem like a very good system.

 Courtesan Fanny White   Hon. Daniel Sickles  Dear Sir with deep regret I enclose to your address the few lines but an indispensible duty compels me so to do seeing that you are greatly imposed upon. There is a fellow, I may say, for he is not a gentleman by any means by the name of Phillip Barton Key. I believe the district attorney who rents a house of a negro man by the name of A Gray situated on 15th street between K and K streets for no other purpose than to meet your wife Mrs. Sickles. He hangs a string out of the window as a signal to her that he is in and leaves the door unfastened and she walks in and Sir I do assure you with these few hints I leave the rest for you to imagine.

The letter, as reprinted in Harper’s Weekly, April 1859 (transcript in ALT text)

So, one day, Sickles sees Key hanging out and signaling for Teresa to come out, and he goes out there with two single-barrel Derringers and a revolver, and yells at him, “You have dishonored my home and family!” Key reaches into his pocket and throws a pair of opera glasses at Sickles, which was surprisingly ineffective, and Sickles pulls out one of the guns and shoots him dead.

image: Daniel Sickles kills Phillip Barton Key II

Murder really does look classier with a top hat.

Sickles is arrested, but he gets this full-on OJ dream team of lawyers, and they come up with the idea that he was driven temporarily insane by finding out that his wife, whom he cheated on constantly, was getting it on with the star-spangled son. Meanwhile, the media at the time was very much on his side, portraying him as a poor, put-upon cuckold, wasting away in jail because he loved his slutty wife too much. President James Buchanan, whom Sickles had once worked under, even stopped by the courtroom to shake his hand before the trial started.

And it worked! The jury acquitted Sickles on April 20, 1859, making him the first person to be found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. He did, however, lose some goodwill when he and Teresa briefly reconciled, because people were like “What she did was so bad that you went temporarily insane, but now you’re back together? Really?” but they were soon estranged again.

Sickles continued serving as a congressman and then later went and served the Union in the Civil War and either totally screwed Gettysburg up or did a purposely brilliant thing that helped them win it, depending on whom you ask. Sickles, of course, was in the latter camp and pestered anyone who would listen for a Medal of Honor for years until they finally just gave him one (to shut him up, probably). I recommend reading about this from someone who knows more about war history and tactics than I do, because none of it actually makes any sense to me. We all have our limits!

Sickles, the notorious womanizer, in his Union uniform.

He also got his leg blown off by a cannonball during the fight and later donated both the leg and the cannonball to a museum now known as the National Museum of Health and Medicine — and even though he was disappointed that they didn’t include his foot in the display, he still went to go visit it every year on the anniversary of losing it. It’s still there, so you can go visit it too, if you like.

Teresa later died of tuberculosis and Sickles got remarried and ended up living and doing some pretty weird shit up until the ripe old age of 94, including maybe screwing the recently deposed Queen Isabella II of Spain.

Have you been struck with a sudden urge to shower us with money and jewels? If so, we are on Substack now so you can just go ahead and click subscribe!

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You can also join our Patreon, or buy our merch, or do your Amazon shopping through our link. Or we’re now partnered with Martie, where you can buy snacks!

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Will Jim Allister stand in Lagan Valley?

I want to examine the TUV’s current strategy which could have a significant impact on the direction of political unionism. There are two alternative strategies available to them. With one, Jim Allister taking to the hustings in Lisburn could well be essential to its success. With the other, were he to stick to Ballymena it would almost certainly fail.

I start from the assumption that the TUV objective is to turn the greatest part of political unionism against what Allister calls the “Donaldson deal”.

Destroy to Rebuild

I call the first alternative ‘Destroy to Rebuild’. This is the approach that his new partners, Reform UK, are taking in Great Britain. Knowing that they can only hope to win a handful of seats (at the very best) in the coming General Election, Reform are contesting every seat in order to maximise their own vote, but much more importantly to maximise Conservatives losses. They calculate that a Tory debacle would result in the election of a new more right-wing Tory leader with whom they could join forces in a sort of reverse take-over of the Conservative party to be rebuilt in a Faragist image. They believe that the bigger the Tory defeat, the more they can move that party to the right and that when, eventually, power returns to Tory hands their ideas will be in control.

It is highly unlikely that a similar approach would enable the TUV to create the conditions for a reverse take-over of the DUP:

  1. This strategy can only work in a First Past the Post electoral system. Reform UK can cut a swathe through the ranks of Conservative MP’s with a relatively small vote share, and could repeat the trick in future council elections. The same tactic could cost the DUP some Westminster seats, but small vote shares won’t take seats from the DUP at Assembly or Council elections.
  2. Although painful, the loss of Westminster seats would be far less traumatic to the DUP than to the Conservatives. For the Conservatives Westminster is the ‘be all and end all’. Not so for any NI party, where there is a greater focus on the Assembly.
  3. DUP member backlash against the party which handed one or more “unionist” seats to Alliance and was prepared to risk gifting one to Sinn Féin might be insurmountable. This may well be a bigger factor in the smaller polity of Northern Ireland where these things are more personal than in Great Britain.

There are two further arguments against it from the TUV point of view:

  1. Every loss of a DUP MP increases the party’s need for a functioning Assembly to give it a reason for existence. The more DUP MP’s the TUV/Reform remove – the more difficult it would be to achieve another DUP withdrawal from the Assembly in protest against the Windsor Framework.
  2. It would strengthen the UUP on the opposite wing of a diminished political unionism.

How vulnerable are DUP seats?

At this point it is useful to understand the potential impact of TUV/Reform candidates in the eight Westminster seats won by the DUP in 2019. The following chart shows who would have won each constituency in 2019 at different levels of TUV/Reform total NI vote share. The TUV/Reform votes are distributed to each constituency in the same proportions as the TUV won in the 2022 Assembly election. The TUV/Reform votes have been subtracted from the DUP. No allowance has been made for changes since 2019 in constituency boundaries, candidates, general party support, or local factors. Also, no estimate has been made for possible changes to tactical voting which would have occurred if a TUV candidate had been in the race. This is the starting point from 2019, not in any way a prediction for 2024.

For example, take East Belfast. If the TUV vote across NI were greater than 4%, the constituency would have been won by Alliance. In actual fact the boundary changes could be expected to reduce that break point to somewhere between 2% and 3%. If other candidates entered the race that could rise back up to 4 or even 5%. And Alliance can point to their Council vote share in 2023 being 4% higher than in 2019. So, these figures can only be broadly indicative for each constituency.

Chart 1: Winning Party

For context, the TUV won 7.6% of the vote in the last Assembly election where it stood in every seat. The latest opinion polls placed it between 5% and 6%.

It can be seen that TUV/Reform candidates would likely cost the DUP two seats at their current level of support (East Belfast and South Antrim), while North Antrim would be on a knife’s edge if they return to 2022 levels. Under the “Destroy to Rebuild” strategy, Allister would stand in North Antrim as the TUV candidate most likely to take the seat.

But while higher levels of TUV/Reform support could result in the loss of further DUP seats, it is not until they achieve a 17% vote share in Northern Ireland that they are in the running to win a second seat.

Indeed at 20% the DUP have lost every seat except East Londonderry, but TUV/Reform still have only two.

The 1973 Strategy

But does Allister really want or intend to contest every seat? When he was asked that question the other day he could have replied with a simple “Yes!”. Instead, the lawyer chose to say, “That certainly is the aspiration and intention. We haven’t named our 18 candidates, but I said it was our intention to seek to do that.” Not exactly an unequivocal contractual commitment.

He then went on to say, “If the greater number of unionists reject the Donaldson deal, then it’s dead in the water and that’s the opportunity they’ll be given”.

What Allister is hinting at is the ‘1973 Strategy’.

In the Assembly elections that year the candidates for the dominant Ulster Unionists self-declared as either Pro or Anti the White Paper which created a power sharing Executive and led to the Sunningdale Agreement. They all stood as Ulster Unionists. The Pro White Paper UU’s won handsomely, taking nearly 183,000 votes to the 86,000 for Anti White Paper UU’s. But within 8 months the Pro White Paper faction had lost control of the party and many left. The votes cast for the DUP, Vanguard and Anti-White Paper candidates had meant that a majority of unionists had voted against the White Paper. Before long Vanguard had been absorbed back into the Ulster Unionist party.

The first step of the 1973 Strategy would be to treat the Westminster election as a referendum for unionists on the Protocol /Windsor Framework/Donaldson deal. The second would be to encourage DUP candidates to declare themselves, as the sitting MP’s already have, as being pro or anti the Donaldson deal; rewarding the Anti’s with the withdrawal of the TUV/Reform candidate in their constituency.

The Race to 172,000 votes

There were slightly under 344,000 votes cast for unionist candidates in 2019. If a similar number of unionists vote this time the target for the Antis would be 172,000

If the TUV/Reform took the same share as in the 2022 Assembly election they would have only 61,000.

If Allister frames the election as a unionist referendum on the Protocol with TUV/Reform as the representatives of outright rejection he gets a result that looks like this.

Chart 2

It could be more, it could be less, TUV/Reform could even be well into a double figure vote share, but the overall picture remains the same – a colossal defeat for those who outright reject the Donaldson deal.

“Ah, but” Jim might like to claim in the TV studio as the results come in, “other unionists such as Sammy Wilson and Carla Lockhart don’t like the deal either.” But how much water will that carry when TUV/Reform candidates have spent the previous six weeks or more denouncing Wilson and Lockhart and all other DUP candidates as offering only half-hearted opposition at best?

If Allister wants to place the votes for the four DUP MP’s who criticised the deal in the ‘No’ column he will have to direct his supporters to vote for them and stand down his candidates for East, South and North Antrim and Upper Bann. But even this would not be enough. Again, assuming TUV/Reform candidates perform at 2022 share levels, the outcome would look like this:

Chart 3

A graph with blue squares and white text

Description automatically generated

Still a very long way short. Clearly, barring an unlikely tsunami of movement to TUV/Reform, Allistair will need to move up to 60,000 or so votes which were cast for other unionist candidates into his column, by getting those candidates to declare against the Donaldson deal. But that will not be far from easy. The size of the challenge can be seen in Chart 4.

Chart 4

A graph with numbers and text

Description automatically generated

As well as the Core Anti Dealers shown in Chart 3, there are Core Deal Accepters – the 3 pro-deal DUP MP’s (Robinson, Campbell and Shannon), plus the UUP and Conservatives. Tom Elliott, who may well once again be the UUP candidate in Fermanagh South Tyrone, has been highly critical of the Windsor Framework, so those votes have not been included in the Core Accept column at this time.

Diane Forsyth voted for the Donaldson deal, if she is the DUP candidate for South Down those votes will go to the Core Accept column. Likewise, if Poots stands in South Belfast.

It is obvious therefore that the chances of the Anti’s clocking up the most votes are slim if they cannot command the bulk of the uncommitted from at least two out of FST, North Belfast, Lagan Valley or North Down.

The picture is complicated in FST, where Elliott historically runs as a UUP candidate with DUP backing, the two parties running a combined operation for the election. Lord Morrow, a key figure in the Fermanagh DUP, is believed to have voted against acceptance of the Donaldson deal. There will be a strong temptation to take a sufficiently Anti Windsor Framework stand to keep the TUV out of the contest. Allister could have some negotiating power here. But enough?

Would the DUP candidate in North Belfast be willing to join the Paisley/Wilson faction to gain a free run? With the possible encouragement of Lord Dodds, the Anti-deal former MP for the constituency?

With a UUP candidate for North Down already nominated, the DUP may see little chance of taking the seat from Alliance. Would that reduce or increase the incentive for their candidate to declare opposition to the Donaldson deal in order to keep the TUV out?

Which brings us to Lagan Valley. If the DUP candidate is pro the deal that could be over 16,000 votes added to the Accept score. Since ‘1973 Strategy’ would prevent Allister from standing in North Antrim he could be usefully deployed in Lagan Valley. An early declaration, while the DUP are still sorting out who to stand, could position him as the prime unionist candidate, the one other unionists would need to coalesce around to hold off the challenge from Alliance’s Sorcha Eastwood. Especially since he could spend several months in the constituency lamenting the effective abandonment of the constituency by the sitting MP who refuses to resign – a theme he has already voiced. He could almost ignore the DUP candidate and frame his campaign as a man of stature versus the ghost of the absent Donaldson. The symbolism of leading opposition to the Donaldson deal in Donaldson’s old seat could also be potent.

Conclusion

Adding to the unpredictability of all this is the age of some of the DUP MP’s. Will Jim Shannon (pro deal) wish to remain an MP until he is 74, or Gregory Campell (pro deal) and Sammy Wilson (anti deal) until they are both 76? If any of them chose not to go forward it could change the balance significantly.

An election which produced a majority of unionist votes against the Donaldson deal, with the DUP leader losing his seat, would inevitably lead to consternation in the DUP. The last such shock, when TUV opinion poll shares passed 10%, led to the overthrow of the leader, two leadership elections in quick succession, and more than two years in which Jim Allister appeared to be the dominant influence on the party’s direction. In that situation a restructuring of the party, incorporating absorption of the TUV, could not be ruled out. Jim Allister could then be influencing a new direction from the inside.

Where will Jim stand?

 


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Key local council elections to watch for clues on our general election chances – LabourList

Local elections offer a window into the mood of the nation – making this year’s set of elections all the more interesting ahead of a likely general election later in the year.

These locals will offer insights into how Labour is faring in seats that could prove crucial to it securing a majority, albeit the picture is often complicated by specific local issues and differing voting patterns at the national and local level.

Here’s our rundown of some of the councils worth keeping an eye on as we (inevitably) look ahead to the general election:

Swindon

Labour took control of Swindon council last year, ending almost two decades of Conservative rule in the south-west town. The current state of the parties is 32 Labour councillors, 23 Tories and one Liberal Democrat, with the last seat on the council currently lying vacant. The question at this year’s locals will be whether Labour can hold on to the gains it has made in recent years or even make more, with 15 Tory seats up for election and just five Labour.

Both of the town’s constituencies were held by Labour throughout the New Labour years before being won by the Tories in 2010, and the party will have high hopes of returning two Labour MPs at the general election off the back of last year’s locals.

South Swindon looks more winnable based on the 2019 result (the Conservatives’ majority in the seat is 6,625 compared to more than 16,000 in North Swindon), but Electoral Calculus is currently projecting Labour victories in both seats, taking into consideration boundary changes. Labour’s candidate in South Swindon is former MP for Lewisham East Heidi Alexander, while local councillor Will Stone has been selected to contest North Swindon.

Colchester

Colchester council is currently finely balanced, with 19 Tory councillors, 16 Liberal Democrats, 13 Labour, two Greens and one vacancy, led by a Liberal Democrat administration. With only a third of seats up for grabs and minimal movement between the parties at last year’s locals, a radical shift in the balance on the council may be unlikely. But a positive performance for Labour would bode well for the general election, when the party will be hoping to take Colchester from the Tories – a seat it has not held since 1950.

Colchester has been represented in parliament by the Tory MP Will Quince since 2015, who won a majority of 9,423 votes in 2019. Quince will be standing down at the next election, however, with Olympic rower James Cracknell chosen as the Tory candidate. Labour’s candidate is local councillor Pam Cox.

Worcester

Dmitrijs Kaminskis / Shutterstock

Worcester is currently jointly led by Labour and the Greens, with Labour the largest party on 13 councillors, followed by the Greens on 11, the Tories on seven and the Liberal Democrats on four. But with all-out elections this year following boundary changes, the balance of the parties could shift significantly following the locals. Last year’s elections saw Labour gain one seat and the Greens gain four, while the Conservatives’ total fell by seven.

Worcester has been a bellwether seat since 1979, meaning a Labour victory in the constituency at the general election would be a strong indicator that the party was on its way into government. Its current Tory MP Robin Walker has represented the seat since 2010, with his majority rising to 6,758 at the last election. Labour’s candidate in the seat is Tom Collins, a former councillor on Worcester City Council.

Though a considerable presence at the local level, the Greens are not currently projected to challenge at the general election, according to Electoral Calculus, which is currently predicting a comfortable Labour gain.

Thurrock

Thurrock council has long been in the spotlight over its financial troubles, having effectively declared bankruptcy back in 2022. The local authority is currently Conservative-led, but Labour made notable gains at the last local elections and are now just four councillors shy of the Conservatives’ total of 23. And, as highlighted by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU), the council has a “long history of flipping between both parties and landing in no overall control”.

Looking at the national picture, the Tories are currently sitting on what would appear to be a fairly comfortable majority of 11,482. But the party’s margin of victory in the seat has been far narrower in previous elections – and was just 92 votes when it gained the seat from Labour in 2010. Electoral Calculus is currently projecting a comfortable victory for Labour’s candidate Jen Craft, a former campaign manager for Margaret Hodge MP.

Bolton

Labour became the largest party on Bolton council at last year’s local elections, though just missed out on seizing overall control. This marked the latest stage in Labour’s fight back in the north-west town, with the party having lost the council to no overall control back in 2019. The current make-up of the council is 28 Labour councillors, 15 Conservatives, seven Liberal Democrats and nine councillors representing two separate local parties.

The council area covers three parliamentary constituencies, two of which are currently held by the Conservatives, Bolton North East and Bolton West, and one that is held by Labour, Bolton South East. The two Tory-held constituencies are far from straight-forwardly ‘Red Wall’ seats. Both seats elected Tory MPs through most of the 1980s and 1990s, before being taken by Labour in 1997. Bolton West was then won back by the Tories in 2015, while Labour held on to Bolton North East until 2019.

Labour’s candidate for Bolton North East is Kirith Entwistle, while Manchester City councillor Phil Brickell has been chosen to contest Bolton West. They will be looking to overturn Conservative majorities of 378 and 8,855 votes respectively.


Lord Hayward’s annual briefing to journalists on the local elections was a useful resource in pulling this list together. As well as identifying some of the above councils as ones to watch ahead of the general election, he also highlighted the following local authorities as interesting contests for Labour or other parties.

  • Basildon
  • Bristol
  • Burnley
  • Dorset
  • Dudley
  • Gloucester
  • North East Lincolnshire
  • Reigate and Banstead
  • Rochdale
  • Sheffield
  • Walsall
  • Wokingham

The Tory peer and pollster also identified the following constituencies as of interest during this local elections to Labour or other parties, in addition to some of the constituencies mentioned in this piece:

  • Great Grimsby and Cleethorpes
  • Gloucester
  • Welwyn and Hatfield
  • Earley and Woodley
  • Southend East and Rochford
  • Halesowen
  • Nuneaton
  • Dudley
  • Dorking and Horley
  • West Dorset
  • Wokingham

The LGIU’s ‘Ones to Watch 2024’ briefing also provides a useful explainer on the key contests of this year’s local elections. Alongside some of the councils discussed in this piece, contests they identify as interesting for Labour include Hyndburn, Crawley, Cannock Chase and Kirklees.


Read more of our coverage of the 2024 local elections here.

If you have anything to share that we should be looking into or publishing about this or any other topic involving Labour, on record or strictly anonymously, contact us at [email protected]

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Second Amendment Roundup: ATF redefines “engaged in the business”

ATF’s Final Rule Definition of “Engaged in the Business” as a Dealer in Firearms amounts to 466 pages of responses to comments and the final rule itself.  Over 252,000 of the 258,000 comments or 98% in favor of the proposed rule were form letters with identical text found online and recommended by (anti-gun) organizations.  Only 5,140 were not form letters.  Of the 99,000 comments opposed to the rule, 80,000 or 81% were form letters.  That means that 18,810 were not form letters.  So more than three times the numbers of opponents filed comments with actual substance as did those in favor.

The final rule is substantially the same as the proposed rule.  See my previous post “‘He’s at it again!’  Merrick Garland proposes ever-more intrusive ATF regulations.”  A number of points that I (and others) made in comments filed in opposition to the proposed rule were taken seriously enough for ATF to reject at length.

One new item stands out.  The Gun Control Act (GCA) excludes occasional sales and purchases of a “personal collection” of firearms from the term “engaged in the business” of dealing in firearms.  The proposed rule defined “personal collection” to include curios and relics and firearms used in recreational activities.  In response to numerous comments criticizing the proposal for not including firearms used for self-defense, the final rule explicitly states that “the term [personal collection] shall not include firearms accumulated primarily for personal protection.” Yet nothing in the statute excludes such firearms from being part of a personal collection.

By purporting to exclude the occasional buying and selling of firearms acquired for self-defense from the “personal collection” category, the rule would render the person more likely to be subject to the licensing requirement.  Yet that category was enacted by the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986, which declared that the rights of citizens … to keep and bear arms under the second amendment to the United States Constitution … require additional legislation to correct existing firearms statutes and enforcement policies.”  And the Supreme Court stated in D.C. v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects “arms ‘in common use at the time’ for lawful purposes like self-defense.”

In defining “engaged in the business” as a dealer, the rule states that “there is no minimum threshold number of firearms purchased or sold that triggers the licensing requirement,” and that “even a single firearm transaction or offer to engage in a transaction, when combined with other evidence … may require a license.”  Sounds pretty vague given that engaging in business of dealing in firearms without a license is a serious felony.

The rule purports to create a presumption in civil and administrative proceedings that one is engaged in the business if one “repetitively resells or offers for resale firearms” within 30 days after purchase, or within a year after purchase if the firearms are “new, or like new in their original packaging” or “the same make and model, or variants thereof.”  These are activities in which collectors typically engage – sometimes quickly moving the collection up the ladder with more collectible acquisitions and collecting variations of the same make and model.  Nothing in the GCA imposes such time limits.

The rule also purports to create a presumption in civil and administrative proceedings that “a person has intent to predominantly earn a profit” if the person “posts firearms for resale, including through the Internet” or repetitively rents “a table or space at a gun show,” and the list of presumptions “are not exhaustive.”  Again, these are activities in which collectors typically engage. And the statute excludes from such “predominant intent to earn a profit” occasional sales to enhance a personal collection.

The rule claims that the above rebuttable presumptions do not apply in criminal cases, but says the opposite by stating that “they may be useful to courts in criminal cases, for example, when instructing juries regarding permissible inferences.”  Jury instructions are based on statutory text and judicial opinions, not advocacy by the very agency involved in prosecuting alleged violations.

Many comments argued that the rule violates the Second Amendment.  While dictum in Heller did not question the validity of “laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” the new rule – which is not a “law” – redefines “engaged in the business” to include many private, non-commercial sales.

ATF’s commentary includes the following fundamental misunderstanding of Supreme Court precedent: “In response to commenters stating that the Department should not use the Heller two-step process, the Department acknowledges that Bruen abrogated the ‘two-step’ framework of Heller, as ‘one step too many,’ and rejected the application of means-end scrutiny at the second step.”  But it was lower courts that obstructed Heller, not Heller, that invented the two-step framework.  Relying on text and history, Heller rejected means-ends scrutiny (for which Justice Breyer argued in his dissent), and N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen reinforced and expanded on that rejection.

In support of its expansion of the licensing requirement, ATF’s response seeks to find historical analogues under Bruen in the wrong places.  In 1794, Congress restricted the export of arms and matériel in order to enhance the arming of America at a time when war with Great Britain threatened.  The colonies restricted arms trade with Indians to reduce the threat from hostile tribes.  Massachusetts enacted a gun proving law.  Various laws concerning gunpowder were enacted to ensure a safe, reliable supply.  None of these laws parallels the “how” and the “why” of the rule’s radical expansion of the licensing requirement.

ATF’s commentary fails to rebut the comments that the agency lacks delegated authority to promulgate the rule.  In enacting the Gun Control Act in 1968, Congress rejected a provision that would have made it a crime to violate a regulation.  Instead, all GCA offenses are defined in terms of violations of “this chapter,” i.e., chapter 44 of 18 U.S.C., the criminal code.  The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 reduced ATF’s regulatory authority by changing the original phrase “such rules and regulations as he [the Secretary] deems reasonably necessary” to “only such rules and regulations as are necessary.”  Finally, the delegation by Congress to ATF to promulgate explicit, limited regulations negates the power to adopt expansive, general regulations under the rule expressio unius est exclusio alterius.

The commentary also fails to rebut comments citing Supreme Court precedents such as Thompson/Center Arms v. U.S. holding that both criminal and noncriminal applications of a statute must be interpreted consistently and, if ambiguity exists, interpreted against the government in accord with the rule of lenity.

Finally, on some issues ATF is plainly erroneous but sticks to its error nonetheless.  For instance, the GCA prohibits an FFL from transferring a firearm in interstate commerce to a non-FFL, but exempts “returning a firearm or replacement firearm of the same kind and type to a person from whom it was received.”   18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(2)(A).  ATF adds the limitation that it may be returned only “for the sole purpose of repair or customizing,” which it justifies because the phrase “has long been found in the regulations.”  Never admit a mistake, especially if it is longstanding.

“As more persons become licensed under this rule, those licensees will conduct more background checks,” as the commentary correctly states.  Indeed, that is its purpose.  Since Congress rejected universal background checks, the Biden Administration decided to do the same by regulation.

This rule on “engaged in the business” is the third major set of new regulations set forth by Attorney General Garland, following those on “frames-or-receivers” and “pistol braces.”  They were preceded by the Trump Administration’s “bump-stock” rule, which is the subject of Cargill v. Garland, which was argued in the Supreme Court this term.  We’ll see whether the Court sets limits on what has become a constant pushing of the envelope of regulatory overreach by the executive branch.

* * *

As I posted last week, the Commissioner of the Washington Supreme Court scheduled a hearing on April 17 regarding the stay he issued against the injunction against enforcement of the state’s magazine ban that was ruled unconstitutional by the Superior Court for Cowlitz County in State of Washington v. Gator’s Custom Guns.  At the hearing, the Commissioner responded to criticism for his issuance of the stay without having time to study the court’s 55-page ruling and the state’s 32-page motion to stay.  He stated that he received the papers on April 8 at 4:14 pm and issued the stay at 4:58 pm.  He didn’t need more time to review the papers because he had done “a lot of research” beforehand and made himself into an expert on the issue; he “anticipated all the arguments the Attorney General would make” and had “boiler plate templates” for the stay order.

Most of the “hearing” consisted of the Commissioner’s musings.  A 12-gauge shotgun or a revolver would be good enough for self-defense.  A semiautomatic works fine with 5 or 10 rounds.  Judge Benitez’s decision in Duncan v. Bonta holding California’s magazine ban violative of the Second Amendment was based on experts who were “snake oil” salesmen.  The arms that pioneers had when Washington was settled were “mind-bogglingly” different than now.  The Commissioner anticipates a decision next week on whether the stay will be made permanent.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to be lifted.

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STEALTH ATTACK: While Europeans Sleep, Americans Flood Twitter With Things They Can’t Understand

Europeans love to remind Americans that they are ‘more cultured’ than we are. Americans, in return, love to remind Europe that we don’t give a single damn what they think about us. As long as we are footing most of the bill for NATO, we like to tell them what Col. Nathan R. Jessup said to Daniel Caffey in ‘A Few Good Men’:

‘I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather that you just said ‘thank you’ and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand the post. Either way, I don’t give a DAMN what you think you’re entitled to.’

Right on, Colonel.

Yet earlier this week, a social media trend started popping up on Twitter, citing things Europeans know that America just can’t understand. We’re not sure why, no one can really ever explain these things, but you can bet America was not likely to take it lying down. Last night, America struck back … HARD.

We think this is the tweet that might have started it all: 

We don’t know who this account is. It says it’s located in Virginia but it has Australian and Ukrainian flags. Whatever, it’s confusing. So is the ‘joke’ it tried to make. Umm, it’s a hot pot. Big deal. What’s so hard to understand about that? 

No matter what the point of that tweet was, it was GAME ON from there, as America took over the trend on Twitter with hilarious memes and gifs. (And the ‘Europeans are sleeping…’ part of us made us proud. As proud as we are about George Washington crossing the Delaware in the middle of the night — on Christmas — to defeat the British.) 

Here are some of our favorites: 

Recommended

That’s just gorgeous. Those pictures make us want to belt out America The Beautiful at the top of our lungs. 

OK. Some funny things may go on at certain Bass Pro Shops in America. But they are OUR Bass Pro Shops and Europe has nothing like them. 

Looooong, hot showers are as American as apple pie. And we like to have them every day, unlike SOME European countries we could name [cough–France–cough]. 

We LOVE our air-conditioning. It keeps us from getting all hot and sweaty like everyone will be at the Paris Olympics this summer. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be America without many people standing up for our Second Amendment rights. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is ALSO an American. Just sayin’.

Oh, we want that. Badly. 

That’s so beautiful, it brings a tear to our eye. 

Of course, all those guns really mean just one thing: 

God bless you, Florida Man. You ARE America. 

People also were quick to point out the superiority of American food. 

An American tradition unlike any other. Joey Chestnut is a HERO. 

We KNOW Europeans don’t get biscuits and gravy. They admitted it earlier this week. 

Europeans, for the most part, don’t know how to make good fries … which are NOT chips. 

Even our water and drinks are better. Because we know how to keep them cold. 

And then there are the obvious advantages of American personal and dental hygiene. 

Let’s not forget America’s pastime, which Europeans definitely don’t understand (OK, we don’t understand cricket either, but we know the matches can be interminable).

And no matter how many other countries adopt the metric system, America never will. Because it’s dumb. 

Interstate trucking, dogs in big trucks, waffles with maple syrup, and … armadillos packing heat. That is AMERICA, BABY. 

Let’s hope so. It is always under attack, but we will never give it up.  

Check and mate. 

We’ll take the American Bald Eagle over a European swallow (carrying or not carrying coconuts) any day of the week and twice on Sunday. 

God bless America. And better luck next time, Europe. 

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The Canadian Political Landscape

 

A recent discussion prompted me to outline my understanding of the Canadian political landscape.

There are only two coherent views of government, two coherent ideologies. One sees the state as like a family. Everybody is responsible for everybody else. The government is in the role of parent. It has a moral duty to do whatever it can for the good of the whole, in trust, and to help everyone in need. This is the classic conservative view, as articulated by Edmund Burke. 

The other is that the government is in the role of a contractor. There is a social contract, under which the government has specific responsibilities. The government is not our parent, because all men are created equal. We freely hire it to do a specific job. Whenever possible, we decide for ourselves, because we are all adults and free will is the reason we exist. This is the classic liberal view, as articulated by Jefferson or Lord Acton. 

I am a liberal, and have always been a liberal. My views have not changed since adolescence. Then, these views seemed to put me on the left; now, they seem to put me on the right. Left and right have lost all meaning, it seems.

Liberalism has often been confused with sexual libertinism, which is something else. The proper liberal definition of liberty is that given by Pope St. John Paul II: freedom is freedom to do what is right. After the right to life, the prime and essential human right is the right to conscience; because without free will, we cannot act as moral beings. Sinful acts are not expressions of freedom, because we become enslaved to the sin. That is what vice is.

Government must not decide for us on moral questions.

The liberal will not want laws against sodomy or pornography, for example, unless their exercise can be shown to infringe on the rights of others. But he or she will certainly not want the state endorsing sodomy or pornography, or giving them special privileges, or a public forum. Forcing others to endorse sodomy, pornography, or the like; publicly funding them; or teaching them to children in state schools as positive values; is profoundly illiberal, as it forces some to go against their conscience. Laws against sodomy or pornography are less problematic, since nobody is bound by conscience to engage in masturbation or homosexual sex.

Liberalism requires opposition to abortion. The right to life is fundamental.

“Hate speech” laws are profoundly illiberal, as well as antidemocratic.

The entire edifice on which liberalism is built, is the doctrine of human equality and the importance of free will. These are Christian principles; you could also say Jewish. Without Christianity, without ethical monotheism, they collapse. Any government that does not acknowledge this and support the Jewish and Christian religions is illiberal. This does not mean obstructing freedom of religion for any citizen.

The rap against liberalism is that it does not provide for the less fortunate, as conservatism argues for. The liberal response is that government entitlements subvert morality by supplanting charity. Private charity is a moral act; there is no morality in paying taxes. Government entitlements also subvert free will by teaching dependence; they violate the doctrine of human equality; and they violate property rights.

That said, nobody should be left homeless or to starve or to die from lack of medical care. This is no departure from liberal principles; a basic social safety net follows from the right to life. The idea, currently popular, of having a Guaranteed Annual Income actually originated with Milton Friedman’s “negative income tax.” There is also a liberal argument, made by Friedman, that education should be free to the individual, including college or university, on the principle of human equality and no inherited privilege.

A liberal position logically calls for a strong defense. Government exists to protect our rights from being infringed. This includes protecting us from foreign enemies. It also implies support for alliances, the concept of collective security: that is exactly what government is for on the individual level.

As a liberal, I do not want government legislating morality, because that interferes with the exercise of free will, and therefore with the human mission to become a moral being.

Moreover, it violates the principle of human equality. There are no superior beings competent to know better than the individual what is best for every individual. Were there, there is no mechanism to ensure they are the ones that end up in government.

But I can respect the conservative or Red Tory position. Sometimes, with an ill-educated or ill-informed electorate, or in times of social chaos, when the structures of civil society are absent, it is perhaps best.

Now, given this definition, the Canadian Liberal Party is not liberal. The liberals, as opposed to the Liberals, are now what in Canada are called “Blue Tories.” 

But the Liberal Party is not conservative either. Those are the “Red Tories.” Like the conservatives, the Liberals want big government, and want to restrict free will and the individual–liberty. But the Liberals, and the modern left generally, are a third thing, not a coherent philosophy of government but a collective madness, inchoate rage, an urge to control everything, kill everyone and then commit suicide. Nazism, Marxism, wokeism, postmodernism, Mao’s Cultural Revolution; it is all the same thing. There is no God, nothing is real, there is no right and wrong, gimme.

I believe Justin Trudeau is the worst prime minister Canada has ever had. The first qualification for office has to be wanting what is best for the country. Trudeau has no allegiance to Canada; he is on record saying there is no Canadian cultural mainstream. Canada to him is no more than a geographical location. The second qualification is mere competence; Trudeau has no relevant experience or education and no idea what he is doing. He is only play-acting. The third qualification is honesty, and Trudeau is as corrupt as he thinks he can get away with. Scandal after scandal, and no remorse.

All this before even getting to his political ideology, which is just the aforesaid collective tantrum; and then his specific policies. He has Canada on track to join the Third World. I suggested this to colleagues in New Blue six months ago, and to them that seemed hyperbolic. Now everyone in my feeds online seems to be saying it. The figures on falling productivity are obvious.

Trudeau has also done a remarkable job of destroying Canada’s international standing, built up with blood, sweat, and tears over the years. I am particularly sensitive to this, as a Canadian who lived for so long abroad. Our reputation abroad was one foundation of our prosperity, vastly underestimated. Canada had widespread and favourable brand recognition. Trudeau is an instinctive bully; he likes to pick fights and try to dominate. And he is too stupid not to pick fights with international leaders he encounters. Nor does he care about the damage he is doing.

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NHS crisis: This is what’s caused it and how we can solve it

The healthcare crisis is a political choice, not an economic necessity

Prem Sikka is an Emeritus Professor of Accounting at the University of Essex and the University of Sheffield, a Labour member of the House of Lords, and Contributing Editor at Left Foot Forward.

By any measure, the UK healthcare system is in deep crisis. It is mainly due to policies of the government which have normalised austerity, real wage cuts, poverty, regressive taxation and under-investment in public services. People are paying for this with their lives.

Evidence of the crisis is all too visible. At the end of February 2024, some 6.24m individuals were waiting for 7.54m National Health Service (NHS) hospital appointments in England alone. This compares to 2.5m appointments in 2010 when the Conservative government came to office. It increased to around 4.6m in February 2020 just before the pandemic, and hit 6.2m in February 2022 and has increased since then.

The consequences are deadly. Some 300,000 people a year are dying whilst waiting for a hospital appointment. Millions have a long wait for ambulance and treatment in accident and emergency departments. In 2023, 14,000 people died in Accident & Emergency departments at hospitals. The deceased are typically the less well-off and suffering from delays and cancellations of hospital appointments.

The NHS has been weakened by years of underinvestment. It has fewer doctors and nurses per person than most of its peer countries. Due to lack of beds, staff and equipment, Britons die sooner from cancer and heart disease than people in many other rich countries. In 2022, over 39,000 people in England died prematurely of cardiovascular conditions including heart attacks, coronary heart disease and stroke.

It is not only hospitals; people are finding it hard to see a family doctor, often known as general practitioners (GPs). In 2015, the government promised to increase the number of GPs by 5,000 by 2020, but February 2024 there were the equivalent of 1,862 fewer fully qualified full-time GPs than there were in September 2015. Despite the pandemic and an ageing population, government funding for GPs in 2022-23 was 3.3% lower than in 2018-19. One in 20 patients have to wait at least four weeks to see a GP, a necessary precursor for most hospital appointments.

The UK has 49 dentists per 100,000 people, the lowest rate among G7 countries Last year, 23,577 dentists performed NHS work, down 695 on the previous year, and over 1,100 down on pre-pandemic numbers. Low rates of pay are cited as a major reason for dentists’ refusal to accept NHS patients. People are reduced to using pliers to pull their own teeth out and use glue to manage dental problems. Lack of oral health can increase the risk of gum, mouth and heart disease.

Neoliberal Economics

Agony for many is the direct result of government enforced austerity, anti-trade union and worker laws, real cuts in wages and unchecked profiteering. In 1976, workers’ share of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the form wages and salaries was 65.1%. It is now barely 50%. Despite real economic growth, the average real wage is unchanged since 2007. In March 2024, the pre-tax annual median wage was £28,104. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimated that a single person needs £29,500 a year to reach a minimum acceptable standard of living, and a couple with two children need to earn £50,000 between them. Low wages mean that more than 50% of the population has income which is below the level needed for minimum standard of living.

Nearly 6.2m workers are in insecure jobs, defined as low pay, temporary or part-time roles with contractual insecurity and very limited access to workers’ rights. Around 17.8m adults have annual income of less than £12,570. Some are able to top-up their incomes with social security benefits, which have failed to keep pace with inflation. From 2013-2019, government reduced social security benefits in real terms by freezing their value or increasing them by a lower rate than inflation. Work doesn’t pay enough and 38% of the claimants of universal credit are in work.

UK state pension is the main or the only source of income for majority of retirees. It is around 50% of the minimum wage and 2.1m retirees live in poverty. Out of a population of about 68 million, despite welfare payments, 12m people live in absolute poverty i.e. income below 60% of median income. Some 4.2m children, a quarter of all children, live in poverty. More than 400,000 children and young people a month are being treated for mental health problems.

Child poverty levels in the UK are worst among world’s richest nations. A UNICEF report ranked the UK 39th out of 39 countries. The government’s two-child benefit cap has deprived 422,000 families, often the poorest, of £3,200 a year.

People’s disposable income is depleted by a regressive tax system which penalises the poorest. In 2021-22, the richest fifth households paid 31% of gross household income in direct taxes; compared to 14% by the poorest fifth. The richest fifth paid 9% of its disposable income in indirect taxes, compared to 28% by the poorest fifth.

Low wages, never-ending austerity, loss of public services, regressive taxation and unchecked profiteering has deprived them of good food, housing, medicines, education and goods and services essential for a healthy lifestyle. In 2022/23, more than 800,000 patients were admitted to hospital with malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies, a threefold increase in 10 years. Scurvy and rickets, once banished, have returned. People living in damp, mouldy, poor and crowded accommodation are more likely to suffer from asthma, wheezing, respiratory illness, tuberculosis and meningitis. 1 in 6 people aged 16+ had experienced symptoms of a common mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety.

Due to poverty and lack of healthcare, 2.7m people are chronically ill. More than 500,000 under-35s are out of work due to long-term illness. A study reported that between 2012 and 2019, government imposed austerity caused 335,000 excess deaths in England and Scotland i.e. nearly 48,000 a year. According Marie Curie Charity, around 93,000 people are dying in poverty, which includes 68,000 senior citizens and 25,000 working age adults. Another study estimated that between 2011 and 2020, 1.2m people in England died prematurely from a combination of poverty, austerity and Covid.

The necessary healthcare support has been systematically eroded. In 2016, Exercise Cygnus concluded that the NHS would not be able to cope with a flu pandemic. The government responded by cutting the number of hospital beds. In 1997/98, England had 299,000 NHS hospital beds compared to 141,000 in 2019/20, down to 103,277 general and acute beds in January 2024. The decline may be partly explained by better medicine, technology and, care of the mentally ill in community, but the same factors affect other rich countries too.

The UK has 2.4 hospital beds per 1,000 population; compared to 12.6 in Japan, 7.8 in Germany, 6.3 in Poland, 5.7 in France, 4.4 in Switzerland, 3.4 in Norway, 3.1 in Italy, 3.0 in the Netherlands and Spain, and 2.9 in Ireland. The number of beds in unevenly spread and the poorest areas have the fewest. For example, Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has just 0.9 beds per 1,000 people, less than the average for Mexico. Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has just 1.7 hospital beds per 1,000 people, about the same level as in Colombia.

Ending the Crisis

Pandemics and ageing population add to healthcare pressures but the UK crisis is manufactured by the government’s intoxication with neoliberal economic theories advocating real cuts in wages and public services. These policies need to be reversed with emphasis on equitable distribution of income and wealth, better housing and funding of public services.

Such recommendations rile neoliberals who immediately raise the old bogey of “we can’t afford it”. It is as though they accept death and misery as the price for adherence to defunct economic theories and glory of the social gods of arbitrary self-imposed fiscal rules. They never asked about affordability when the state provided £1,162bn of support (£133bn cash and £1,029bn of guarantees) to bailout ailing banks and £895bn of quantitative easing to support capital markets. Since February 2022, some £12bn of support, including £7.1bn military aid has been provided to Ukraine. Some £37bn was found for the war in Afghanistan. In the last decade over £75bn subsidy has been handed to privatised rail companies.

People deserve better. Without eradicating poverty and creating a good healthcare system and social infrastructure, the UK economy cannot be revived. Capital’s share of GDP will need to be reduced so that workers can have better quality of life. Even if governments are unwilling to embrace the Modern Monetary Theory or additional borrowing, millions can be raised for better and effective healthcare by eliminating tax anomalies and perks enjoyed by wealthy elites. For example, by taxing capital gains at the same marginal rates as wages, around £12bn a year in additional revenues can be raised. The same remedy for dividends can raise another £4bn-£5bn. Levying national insurance on recipients on capital gains and dividends, currently exempt, can raise another £8bn-£10bn. Indeed, a few a few reforms without increasing the basic rate of income tax and national insurance or the headline corporation tax rate can yield over £90bn a year in extra tax revenues.

The healthcare crisis is a political choice not an economic necessity. Governments which can fund wars, bailout banks and subsidise corporations can also save lives and improve the quality of life of their citizens.

Image credit: Sheila – Creative Commons

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