And Now Sedition

Little Brazil out here is just a few blocks along Venice Boulevard in Culver City just west of the old MGM studios, now Sony Pictures – a small “Brazilian Mall” and a few curious restaurants and that’s it. This is not Rio or Bahia. But it will do. And a few years ago it was lunch there with a woman who had lived in Rio for a few years. She ordered. Her Portuguese was good. And we talked about life there. Brazil had been a military dictatorship from 1964 through 1985 – the Bossa Nova years – but she said it wasn’t that bad. You got used to it. The trick was to never say anything in particular about anything. Go about your business. Keep your head down. Otherwise, you’d die.

She lived, but she left. She said she had come to hate living like that. She had grown up in Brooklyn and Queens and had that New York attitude. She said whatever the hell she wanted to say whenever and wherever she wanted to say it. And she wasn’t going back to Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro, that Donald Trump wannabe, was taking Brazil back to the old days. Screw that. Los Angeles would do for now.

But there’s no escaping anything now. America can become what Brazil had been. Consider the Washington Post’s latest scoop:

Hours before law enforcement forcibly cleared protesters from Lafayette Square in early June amid protests over the police killing of George Floyd, federal officials began to stockpile ammunition and seek devices that could emit deafening sounds and make anyone within range feel like their skin is on fire, according to an Army National Guard major who was there.

D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco told lawmakers that defense officials were searching for crowd control technology deemed too unpredictable to use in war zones and had authorized the transfer of about 7,000 rounds of ammunition to the D.C. Armory as protests against police use of force and racial injustice roiled Washington.

In sworn testimony, shared this week with the Washington Post, DeMarco provided his account as part of an ongoing investigation into law enforcement and military officers’ use of force against D.C. protesters.

They were amassing live ammunition, and grabbing their super ray gun, for this:

On June 1, federal forces pushed protesters from the park across from the White House, blanketing the street with clouds of tear gas, firing stun grenades, setting off smoke bombs and shoving demonstrators with shields and batons, eliciting criticism that the response was extreme. The Trump administration has argued that officers were responding to violent protesters who had been igniting fireworks, setting fires and throwing water bottles and rocks at police.

But DeMarco’s account contradicts the administration’s claims that protesters were violent, tear gas was never used and demonstrators were given ample warning to disperse – a legal requirement before police move to clear a crowd. His testimony also offers a glimpse into the equipment and weaponry federal forces had – and others that they sought – during the early days of protests that have continued for more than 100 days in the nation’s capital.

This is about overreaction and this guy should know:

DeMarco, who provided his account as a whistleblower, was the senior-most D.C. National Guard officer on the ground that day and served as a liaison between the National Guard and U.S. Park Police.

Or it was just a misunderstanding:

A Defense Department official briefed on the matter downplayed DeMarco’s allegations, saying emails asking about specific weaponry were routine inventory checks to determine what equipment was available.

That seems unlikely:

The chaos that erupted on the evening of June 1 played out before millions of viewers on split-screen television broadcasts as President Trump strode through the emptied park toward St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he delivered remarks and posed for photos with a bible.

U.S. Park Police Chief Gregory Monahan has testified that protesters were given clear warnings to disperse via a Long Range Acoustic Device. But DeMarco told lawmakers that is impossible because there was no such device on the scene at the time.

And there are the emails:

Just before noon on June 1, the Defense Department’s top military police officer in the Washington region sent an email to officers in the D.C. National Guard. It asked whether the unit had a Long Range Acoustic Device, also known as an LRAD, or a microwave-like weapon called the Active Denial System, which was designed by the military to make people feel like their skin is burning when in range of its invisible rays.

The technology, also called a “heat ray,” was developed to disperse large crowds in the early 2000s but was shelved amid concerns about its effectiveness, safety and the ethics of using it on human beings.

Pentagon officials were reluctant to use the device in Iraq. In late 2018, the New York Times reported, the Trump administration had weighed using the device on migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border – an idea shot down by Kirstjen Nielsen, then the Homeland Security secretary, citing humanitarian concerns.

The super ray gun had been abandoned – over the ethics of using it on human beings – over humanitarian concerns – but does someone have one that Team Trump could borrow for a day or two? But they got the other items:

DeMarco also testified that a stash of M4 carbine assault rifles was transferred from Fort Belvoir to the D.C. Armory on June 1 and that transfers of ammunition from states such as Missouri and Tennessee arrived in subsequent days.

By mid-June, about 7,000 rounds of 5.56 mm and 7.62 mm ammunition rounds had been transferred to the D.C. Armory, DeMarco said.

This would be Kent State done right! But it wasn’t. It was just a close call:

DeMarco told legislators that, having served in a combat zone where he spent time assessing various threats, he did not feel threatened at any point by protesters near the White House “or assess them to be violent.”

“From my observation, these demonstrators – our fellow American citizens – were engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights,” he said. “Yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.”

That’s not what the administration had said. The administration thinks that there has been far too much expression of First Amendment rights:

Attorney General William P. Barr told federal prosecutors in a call last week that they should consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition, according to two people familiar with the call.

The highly unusual suggestion to charge people with insurrection against lawful authority alarmed some on the call, which included U.S. attorneys around the country, said the people, who described Mr. Barr’s comments on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Everyone is scared shitless of Barr – he’s a mean bastard – but they did leak his comments to the press, privately. Break a window and go to jail for sedition, for insurrection, for conspiracy to overthrow the government through violence? This is dictator crap. This scared them, as did that:

The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions.

The directives are in keeping with Mr. Barr’s approach to prosecute crimes as aggressively as possible in cities where protests have given way to violence. But in suggesting possible prosecution of Ms. Durkan, a Democrat, Mr. Barr also took aim at an elected official whom President Trump has repeatedly attacked.

Is there a way to put the president’s opponents or just his critics in jail for a very long time? Barr was just asking, but he already knows the answer to that:

During a speech on Wednesday night, Mr. Barr noted that the Supreme Court had determined that the executive branch had “virtually unchecked discretion” in deciding whether to prosecute cases. He did not mention Ms. Durkan or the sedition statute.

“The power to execute and enforce the law is an executive function altogether,” Mr. Barr said in remarks at an event in suburban Washington celebrating the Constitution. “That means discretion is invested in the executive to determine when to exercise the prosecutorial power.”

In short, he can do all this. No one can stop him. He was telling his federal prosecutors to start the process of making protest something like treason. The job is to help Donald Trump:

The disclosures came as Mr. Barr directly inserted himself into the presidential race in recent days to warn that the United States would be on the brink of destruction if Mr. Trump lost. He told a Chicago Tribune columnist that the nation could find itself “irrevocably committed to the socialist path” if Mr. Trump lost and that the country faced “a clear fork in the road.”

So now the United States Department of Justice will stop Biden by, as Malcolm X put it, any means possible:

Mr. Barr’s actions have thrust the Justice Department into the political fray at a time when Democrats and former law enforcement officials have expressed fears that he is politicizing the department, particularly by intervening in legal matters in ways that benefit Mr. Trump or his circle of friends and advisers.

Hell, that’s his job now, but this sedition thing is a stretch, or maybe not:

The most extreme form of the federal sedition law, which is rarely invoked, criminalizes conspiracies to overthrow the government of the United States – an extraordinary situation that does not seem to fit the circumstances of the protests and unrest in places like Portland, Ore., and elsewhere in response to police killings of Black men.

The wording of the federal sedition statute goes beyond actual revolutions. It says the crime can also occur anytime two or more people have conspired to use force to oppose federal authority, hinder the government’s ability to enforce any federal law or unlawfully seize any federal property — elements that might conceivably fit a plot to, say, break into and set fire to a federal courthouse.

Congress has stipulated that a conviction on a charge of seditious conspiracy can carry up to 20 years in prison.

And the only issue is the use of force to oppose federal authority. Define “force” the right way and everyone goes to jail. And two weeks earlier it was this:

Attorney General William P. Barr sidestepped questions on Wednesday about President Trump’s incendiary conspiracy theory about a plane “loaded with thugs” headed to Washington over the weekend, saying that he did not know “what the president was specifically referring to,” but that the FBI was investigating myriad reports that outsiders had traveled to the city to cause trouble.

He must have decided that was sedition, but this is complicated:

“There are all these different statutes the government can use if they are worried about things like property damage,” said Jenny Carroll, a University of Alabama law professor. She said that turning to statutes like sedition would mark an escalation in the government’s effort to quell the violence. “If you start charging those people, even if you don’t get a conviction, it may make people think twice before going out to exercise their right to free speech.”

But of course that’s the whole idea, along with putting your political enemies in jail:

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney is sharply criticizing an investigation by his own party into Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, saying it’s “not the legitimate role of government” to try and damage political opponents.

Oh yes it is:

GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, has said the committee will issue a report before the Nov. 3 election on Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine. Johnson, a close ally of President Donald Trump, is leading the investigation into Burisma, a gas company in Ukraine that paid Hunter Biden to serve as a board member while Joe Biden was vice president to President Barack Obama.

Hunter goes to jail. His father is disgraced. Then the people vote. Trump is reelected in a landslide, but Mitt objects:

Most Republican senators have been on board with Johnson’s inquiry. But Romney, a frequent Trump critic, has repeatedly made clear he has concerns about politicizing the committee’s work.

The Utah lawmaker, who was the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, had his strongest words yet for what he called the “Biden-Burisma” investigation at a committee meeting Wednesday, saying that the inquiry from the “outset had the earmarks of a political exercise.”

Romney added: “Obviously, it is the province of campaigns and political parties’ opposition research, the media, to carry out political endeavors, to learn about or dust up one’s opponent. But it’s not the legitimate role of government or Congress, or for taxpayer expense to be used in an effort to damage political opponents.”

Mitt didn’t visit Rio in the late sixties. That’s how things are done. But perhaps this hasn’t been settled yet:

Senate Democrats have strongly objected to the inquiry and have charged that Johnson could be amplifying Russian propaganda to hurt Biden.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., offered a resolution calling for “the cessation of any Senate investigation or activity that allows Congress to act as a conduit for Russian disinformation.”

Johnson himself came to the floor to object, preventing the measure’s passage. He denied that any Russian disinformation was part of the investigation, calling the Democrats’ resolution “false charges” and “wild claims against me.”

The Russians had nothing to do with this. Putin told him so? This was getting ugly, but the week before it had been this:

A senior prosecutor working with Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham on his investigation into how U.S. intelligence agencies pursued allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election has resigned.

The departure of Nora Dannehy, a well-respected former federal prosecutor in Connecticut who rejoined the government in early 2019 to help Durham with the investigation, is likely to raise fresh questions among Democrats about whether Attorney General William P. Barr is pushing the case toward a public announcement to benefit President Trump ahead of November’s election. They have long accused Barr of having political motives in his decision-making surrounding the Durham probe.

The whole idea was to prove that Obama and Biden had been illegally spying on Trump since early 2016 to undermine his coming presidency and that was absolute treason. They both should be shot for treason, or be jailed forever, right now. Barr may have talked Trump down. Convict the second-level folks to prove this “treason” happened, and arrest them just before the election in a big public spectacle. That would do the trick. No one would vote for Biden:

Republicans are hopeful the prosecutor will bring cases against higher-level Justice Department or FBI officials who worked during the Obama administration, which could validate their critiques of the Russia probe. Democrats, though, fear Barr might orchestrate a late-hour revelation of his findings and alter the presidential race.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that Barr has been using the Justice Department “as a shield to protect Trump” and go after his enemies. “The Durham investigation was political from the start and issuing ‘findings’ before the election would violate DOJ policy,” Schiff said.

Of course it was, but Nora Dannehy wouldn’t play along:

The development was first reported Friday by the Hartford Courant, which said she had been considering resignation for weeks. The paper, citing unidentified colleagues of Dannehy’s, said she resigned partly out of concern that the top of the Justice Department was pressuring Durham’s team to produce results before the election.

Of course he was:

Barr has said Durham’s first priority is to investigate and charge criminal cases, and the attorney general has said he will not delay the probe’s findings because of the looming election. Justice Department policies call for prosecutors to not take actions for the purpose of affecting an election, and by tradition they generally avoid taking steps that could have that appearance.

Barr doesn’t agree. His job is to get Trump reelected. He speaks for the justice department and he is Trump’s man:

Attorney General William Barr suggested on Wednesday that the calls for a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties” in history “other than slavery.”

The comments came minutes after he slammed the hundreds of Justice Department prosecutors working beneath him, equating them to preschoolers, in a defense of his own politically tuned decision making in the Trump administration.

Addressing a Constitution Day celebration hosted by Hillsdale College, the event’s host asked Barr to explain the “constitutional hurdles for forbidding a church from meeting during Covid-19.”

Hillsdale College is for severe and serious evangelical fundamentalists and Barr did not disappoint:

“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” Barr said as a round of applause came from the crowd.

But that was only a small part of this:

Barr has faced immense blowback from Justice Department employees and even rank-and-file attorneys in the department since the close of the Mueller investigation, for swaying cases in a way that undermines longstanding legal policies.

Wednesday, he upped the ante and equated them to preschoolers.

“Name one successful organization or institution where the lowest level employees’ decisions are deemed sacrosanct, there aren’t. There aren’t any letting the most junior members set the agenda,” Barr said during his speech.

“It might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it is no way to run a federal agency,” the attorney general added.

Yes, he hates whiny little babies:

In the speech, Barr questioned any criticism he’s received for “interfering” in cases. The attorney general has ultimate authority, he said.

“These people are agents of the attorney general. As I say, FBI agents. Whose agent do you think you are?” Barr asked on Tuesday, adding that career lawyers, too, might be influenced by politics.

“And I say, ‘What exactly am I interfering with?’ When you boil it right down, it’s the will of the most junior member of the organization who has some idea he wants to do something. What makes that sacrosanct?”

“They do not have the political legitimacy to be the public face for tough decisions and they lack the political buy-in necessary to publicly defend those decisions,” Barr also said.

He’s working for Trump. That’s his legitimacy. Case closed, so just shut up.

As the New York Times’ Peter Baker notes, there’s a lot of that going around:

President Trump on Wednesday rejected the professional scientific conclusions of his own government about the prospects for a widely available coronavirus vaccine and the effectiveness of masks in curbing the spread of the virus as the death toll in the United States from the disease neared 200,000.

In a remarkable display even for him, Mr. Trump publicly slapped down Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the president promised that a vaccine could be available in weeks and go “immediately” to the general public while diminishing the usefulness of masks despite evidence to the contrary.

No one believes any of that, but he’s the president, so he’s right and they’re wrong, and that’s that. And now they’ve made him very angry:

Mr. Trump lashed out just hours after Dr. Redfield told a Senate committee that a vaccine would not be widely available until the middle of next year and that masks were so vital in fighting the disease caused by the coronavirus, Covid-19, that they may even more important than a vaccine.

“I think he made a mistake when he said that,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “It’s just incorrect information.” A vaccine would go “to the general public immediately,” the president insisted, and “under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said.” As for Dr. Redfield’s conclusion that masks may be more useful than a vaccine, Mr. Trump said that “he made a mistake,” maintaining that a “vaccine is much more effective than the masks.”

He’s right. Don’t listen to experts. But that’ll be hard to maintain:

With Mr. Trump saying one thing and his health advisers saying another, many Americans have been left to figure out on their own whom to believe, with past polls showing that they have more faith in the experts than their president…

The public scolding of Dr. Redfield was only the latest but perhaps the starkest instance when the president has rejected not just the policy advice of his public health officials but the facts and information that they provided. Public health officials are in strong agreement about the value of masks even as Mr. Trump generally refuses to wear one, mocks his opponent for doing so and twice in the past two days questioned their utility based on the advice of restaurant waiters.

Likewise, health officials have said that it will be many months before a vaccine can be distributed to the population at large, allowing life to begin returning to a semblance of normal, even as Mr. Trump has promised to approve one in time for the general election on Nov. 3. By Mr. Trump’s own account, he personally called Dr. Redfield after Wednesday’s hearing to challenge his testimony, renewing questions about pressure on scientists who are supposed to be isolated from partisan politics.

But with the election looming, Mr. Trump is intent on convincing the public that the worst is behind the country. He has repeatedly expressed no regret about his handling of the threat, even with the death toll mounting.

Go ahead, hand Joe Biden a gift:

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, said Mr. Trump’s undisguised fixation on the election calendar in declaring when a vaccine will be available has damaged his own credibility.

“So let me be clear. I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump,” Mr. Biden said. “And at this moment, the American people can’t either.”

More and more people agree about that, but then there was this:

The president’s comments came at a briefing where he again presented a glossy view of the pandemic, displaying charts meant to indicate that it was under control. He framed the crisis through a partisan lens, suggesting that fatalities in states that vote for Democrats should not be counted. “If you take the blue states deaths out, we are at a level I don’t think anybody in the world would be at,” he said.

Florida – Texas – now Iowa – that’s not even remotely true. But he says it’s true. And he’s very angry.

Now what? The trick is to never say anything in particular about anything. Go about your business. Keep your head down. Otherwise, it’s twenty years in jail for sedition. Oh, and learn a little Portuguese. This is Brazil now.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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