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Sedition Cases Against Capitol Rioters ‘Will Bear Fruit Very Soon,’ Says FBI – Reason.com

Sedition charges in the works for Capitol rioters. On Tuesday, the Department of Justice announced that it will bring sedition charges against people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The punishment for seditious conspiracy is up to 20 years in prison.

So far, the Capitol riot has spawned more than 150 federal cases and more than 50 cases in D.C. court, FBI Assistant Director in Charge Steven D’Antuono said yesterday, adding that the FBI has opened more than 400 subject case files. (Back on January 15, only 42 people faced federal charges.)

As for seditious conspiracy cases: “Yes, we’re working on those cases, and I think those results will bear fruit very soon,” D’Antuono said.

Calls for sedition charges haven’t stopped with people who stormed the Capitol, with some raising the possibility of sedition charges against politicians who spread election fraud conspiracy theories or encouraged people to come to D.C. to protest.

Under federal law, the crime of seditious conspiracy is defined as two or more people conspiring “to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof.”

While this might technically apply to some folks involved in the events of January 6, “sedition charges are almost always a terrible idea,” cautions Reason‘s J.D. Tuccille.

“Sedition prosecutions in the U.S. have a particularly shameful history,” as Bloomberg‘s Noah Feldman pointed out last fall in a piece titled “Sedition laws are the last resort of weak governments.”

Not only is their historical use full of horror stories, but their very nature makes them ripe for abuse at any time, as a catchall threat against anyone who challenges government policy or criticizes government actions. They can also be used to escalate criminal acts at any protest around the country into a federal case, as former Attorney General William Barr endorsed last year.

Many of the people who stormed the Capitol deserve some charges, and seditious conspiracy might seem as good as any at a glance. But reviving the use of sedition charges like this could backfire against free speech and protests more broadly.

Law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh explains a little bit more about sedition and seditious conspiracy charges:

This is just a special case of the broader proposition that conspiring to commit a crime can itself be a crime. You can be punished under state law for conspiring to commit murder or theft or what have you. You can be punished under federal law for conspiring to commit bank robbery, or to defraud the federal government. Likewise, you can be punished under the “seditious conspiracy” statute for conspiring to illegally oppose the enforcement of the law.

The current federal statute on sedition is, at the very least, much less severe than its historical counterpart:

[Seditious conspiracy] is quite a different statute from the Sedition Act of 1798 (or from the common-law crime of seditious libel), which punished (among other things) false and malicious speech intended to defame the federal government. And to the extent that the seditious conspiracy law punishes agreements to commit crime, which may be expressed by speech, such conspiracy is viewed as constitutionally unprotected, because it is speech integral to the criminal conduct that is being planned. For more on this, see U.S. v. Rahman (2d Cir. 1999).


IMPEACHMENT UPDATE

Republicans declare impeachment trial itself unconstitutional. The majority of GOP senators designating the latest Trump impeachment trial unconstitutional wasn’t enough to stop it from moving forward. But its ultimate prospects aren’t good. “Lawmakers narrowly killed a Republican effort to dismiss the impeachment charge as unconstitutional,” says The New York Times. But the 55–45 vote “strongly suggested that the Senate would not be able to convict the former president.” All Democrats plus at least 17 Republican senators need to vote to convict Trump in order for it to happen.


FREE MINDS

Indiana lawmakers are trying to make it harder for Libertarians to get on ballots. A new measure (House Bill 1134) from state Rep. Ethan Manning (R–Denver) “would require Libertarians to collect signatures of registered voters to run for governor or U.S. Senate. Under current law, Libertarians nominate those offices in a primary convention and are not required to gather signatures required of Republicans and Democrats as part of the primary ballot process,” notes The Journal Gazette.

Manning’s bill would still allow Libertarians to nominate governor and U.S. Senate candidates via convention but would then also require the nominee to meet the signature requirement, which is 500 registered voters for each of the state’s nine congressional districts.”

“Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said a cynical person would see it as a bill to punish Libertarians because they did well in the last gubernatorial election, and some believe they siphon votes from Republicans. …

Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, said the bill adds more requirements on Libertarians without giving them any new powers or advantages.”


FREE MARKETS

Apple and Google sued over Telegram posts. “Here’s an interesting lawsuit, brought to you by some familiar names,” writes Tim Cushing at Techdirt. “And by ‘interesting,’ I mean ‘exceedingly stupid.'”

Apparently, former U.S. ambassador and Coalition for A Safer Web head Marc Ginsberg is suing Apple over content posted to encrypted messaging app Telegram, which is not affiliated with Apple except insofar as the Telegram app is available through the Apple app store. Ginsberg argues that some Telegram posts and chats are bad, so Apple shouldn’t even make Telegram available. More from Cushing:

Ginsberg claims the Telegram app violates Apple’s developer guidelines and California’s hate speech law and should be removed from the app store. Because Apple hasn’t removed the app, it has been downloaded and used by people who engage in anti-Semitic speech. (Ginsberg is Jewish.) Because Telegram refuses to remove this content, it somehow leaks into Ginsberg’s life through the app store—even if Ginsberg has never downloaded the app or engaged with its users.

Ginsberg is also suing Google over making Telegram available through the Google Play store.


QUICK HITS

  • President Joe Biden is canceling the federal government’s contracts with private prisons. More details here from Reason‘s C.J. Ciaramella.
  • Chicago teachers may soon be going on strike. The Chicago Teachers Union “told its members to work from home Wednesday after failing this week to reach an agreement with Chicago Public Schools over reopening conditions, a move that suspends in-person classes that had already resumed and puts the union on the verge of a strike if a deal isn’t reached over the next few days,” reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Small websites and apps need Section 230, writes the CEO of MeWe, Mark Weinstein, in the Wall Street Journal:

Those who want to get rid of Section 230 say this would stop social networks and websites from unfairly censoring their users’ political comments. In reality, it would give them an incentive to censor far more aggressively. To protect themselves from being sued over content, they would remove anything remotely controversial. Users would be spied on constantly.

Ironically, this would help Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social-media giants while hurting smaller companies and new startups.

  • New legislation in California “aims to change expert testimony and forensic evidence legal standards … to make it easier for falsely accused individuals to challenge wrongful convictions,” reports Jurist.
  • A new study examines how Americans use their $600 stimulus check money. Households earning under $75,000 are more likely to spend the money relatively quickly, while higher earners are more likely to save the payment.
  • Another Democratic administration, another push to drastically hike the national minimum wage: “House and Senate Democrats on Tuesday reintroduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, more than doubling the current $7.25 hourly rate,” notes Reason‘s Billy Binion.

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Viewpoint Diversity Will Get a Boost From School Choice – Reason.com

With Americans beset by multiple crises, there’s at least a glimmer of hope that one problemthe collapse of public schools under the stress of the pandemicmay offer a partial solution to another: the deepening political polarization reflected in bitter fights over lesson content.

As families flee government institutions that seem incapable of offering education of any sort, let alone one on which all can agree, they leave behind squabbles over what students are taught in favor of educational approaches and curricula that better suit their preferences.

“The books have the same publisher,” Dana Goldstein wrote just over a year ago in a piece for The New York Times examining textbooks in California and Texas. “They credit the same authors. But they are customized for students in different states, and their contents sometimes diverge in ways that reflect the nation’s deepest partisan divides.”

This was hardly the first time curriculum warstracked in detail by the Cato Institute’s Public Schooling Battle Mapmade the headlines. Michigan officials fought for years over such details as whether students should be taught that the country is a “republic” or a “democracy” and which amendments in the Bill of Rights should be emphasized.

“First, conservatives complained about a draft of new social studies standards for Michigan classrooms,” as Bridge, a local publication, summarized the debate in 2019. “Then, liberals complained about a rewrite of those standards that appeared to favor conservative views.”

Nor has the effort to politically mold classroom lessons faded away in the past year. In recent months, the exiting Trump administration added to the drama with a crude proposal embodied in its 1776 Report to promote “patriotic education” as a rebuttal to a curriculum derived from The New York Times‘s deeply flawed 1619 project, which emphasizes the roles of slavery and racism to the exclusion of other factors in the country’s history. The incoming Biden administration promptly reversed its predecessor’s efforts.

“The 1776 Report is a political document, not a curriculum,” Patrick Riccards concluded at the education-oriented The 74.

“The 1619 Project is a thesis in search of evidence, not the other way around,” cautioned The New York Times‘s own Bret Stephens.

The reasons for the never-ending battles are obvious. “Classroom materials are not only shaded by politics, but are also helping to shape a generation of future voters,” Goldstein wrote in her piece last January. That is, politicians and activists hope to mold the country of the future by propagandizing the students of the present.

There’s no reason whatsoever to expect these battles to become less intense in the future. Americans are deeply divided over politics, values, and the perils they see in each other.

As of 2019, “55% of Republicans say Democrats are ‘more immoral’ when compared with other Americans; 47% of Democrats say the same about Republicans,” according to Pew Research.

“Most Americans (54%) now think that the biggest threat to their way of life comes from domestic enemies,” CBS News/YouGov found just last week.

If Americans were uncomfortable with the ways their political foes spun school lessons in the past, imagine their feelings about having classrooms under the control of immoral enemies!

The saving grace is that a growing number of Americans are leaving curriculum battles behind. As government-run schoolsoften in the grip of intransigent teachers unions struggle to deliver education of any sort, families flock to alternatives of their own choosing. Seeking either in-person teaching or else competent implementations of remote learning, students flee public schools for independently managed charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling variations including learning pods and microschools.

Many of those students may return to public schools after the pandemic passes to avoid greater effort and expense. But other families are expected to stick with their new education choices, out of disappointment with the performance of traditional schools as well as comfort with the new experiences.

The pandemic could permanently boost homeschooling “partly because people who haven’t really thought about it before suddenly saw themselves forced into [home schooling], and then realizing that it’s something they can see themselves doing,” Christopher Lubienski, a professor of education policy at Indiana University, told Education Week in November.

“COVID-19 is a catalyst for families who were already skeptical of the traditional school system—and are now thinking about leaving it for good,” agreed Emma Green in a September article for The Atlantic.

As those families leave the public schools for options of their own choosing, they’re not only selecting teaching approaches that work for their kids, they’re also picking curricula or, at least, learning environments with which they’re comfortable.

That’s exactly what troubles supporters of the education establishment such as Harvard Law School’s Elizabeth Bartholet. She favors a “presumptive ban” on homeschooling in part because families might teach their children “views and values counter to much of the education provided in public schools,” as she infamously argued last year in the Arizona Law Review. Ironically, Bartholet’s article appeared almost as The New York Times exposed the competing ideological biases in public school textbooks. And, within months, the public schools she champions buckled under the stress of dealing with the pandemic and families began looking for other education options.

Perhaps Bartholet’s knee-jerk rejection of family-chosen education would have been softened by more exposure to those alternatives. “Greater exposure to private schooling instead of traditional public schooling is not associated with any more or less political tolerance, and greater exposure to homeschooling is associated with more political tolerance,” according to research published in 2014 by the Journal of School Choice.

What a salve more tolerance could prove to be for a country divided into hostile tribes who view each other as immoral enemies. And what a lot of time and energy can be diverted from ideological wars to education when families choose their children’s lessons instead of fighting with each other over the content.

In the end, school choice may prove to be a path not only to better education but also to greater diversity of viewpoints and, perhaps, a little less conflict between people who think differently.

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Brickbat: Malevolent Monarchy – Reason.com

A Thai court has sentenced Anchan Preelert, 65, to 43 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to 29 counts of sharing and posting clips on YouTube and Facebook that were critical of the monarchy. This is the longest sentenced ever imposed by a court for violating the country’s lese majeste law. She originally faced up to 87 years in prison, but the court decided to be lenient with her because she acknowledged her crimes.

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Presidential Mercy Is a Woefully Inadequate Remedy for Injustice – Reason.com

When Donald Trump pardoned Steve Bannon last week, the outgoing president blocked the former White House strategist’s prosecution for bilking donors to an organization that claimed to be raising money for a wall along the border with Mexico. When Trump granted a commutation to Craig Cesal, by contrast, he freed a man who had already served 17 years of what was originally a life sentence for repairing trucks that were used to transport marijuana.

As those examples reflect, Trump’s acts of clemency mixed favors to cronies with relief for genuinely deserving federal prisoners hit with grossly disproportionate penalties. The controversy over his choices highlights longstanding problems with a clemency system that is a woefully inadequate remedy for the injustices routinely inflicted by rigid and draconian federal sentences.

Trump’s final batch of 70 commutations brought his total to 94, which included dozens of nonviolent drug offenders, 18 of whom had received life sentences. He shortened more sentences than all but one of his eight most recent predecessors.

The one exception is Barack Obama, who granted a record 1,715 commutations, nearly all in his second term and the vast majority during his last year in office. Even Obama, however, approved just 5 percent of petitions for commutations, five times Trump’s rate (which was in turn 10 times George W. Bush’s rate) but still pretty slim odds for people languishing behind bars, often because of conduct that violated no one’s rights.

On Trump’s last day in office, The New York Times complained that he had “largely bypassed a rigorous Justice Department process for vetting and approving” pardons and commutations. Yet that process, as the Times noted two days later, “has left thousands of petitions waiting for review with a small team of lawyers unable to keep up.”

Margaret Colgate Love, who served as the Justice Department’s pardon attorney from 1990 to 1997, says she was “continually frustrated by the hostility of the prosecutors to whom I reported, who evidently feared that pardon would undo their hard work.” Those prosecutors “were unreceptive to suggestions that pardon could tell good news about their work by showcasing rehabilitation and redemption.”

As a result, Love says, “the Justice Department sent few favorable pardon recommendations to the White House.” While some of the system’s critics think the White House should cut the Justice Department out of the process (as Trump effectively did) to avoid this conflict of interest, Love argues that a better approach would be for Congress to let judges or executive agencies perform some of the clemency system’s functions.

People often seek pardons, for example, to recover their Second Amendment rights, something that Love suggests could be accomplished “by application to an administrative agency or a court.” She notes that the FIRST STEP Act, a 2018 law that Trump supported, authorized judges to reduce prisoners’ sentences for “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” a reform that could be expanded to cover many of the people who are now desperately hoping for commutations.

President Joe Biden has promised that he will “broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes.” He should do that throughout his administration, instead of waiting until he is nearly out of office.

Biden also favors abolishing the mandatory minimum sentences that he championed for decades as a senator. Such reforms, especially if they are retroactive, would have a much bigger impact than liberal use of clemency: During the first year after the FIRST STEP Act took effect, its relatively modest changes resulted in shorter sentences for more than 7,000 people.

That amounts to less than 5 percent of federal prisoners, nearly half of whom are serving time for drug offenses. But the law still helped four times as many prisoners in one year than even Obama managed through commutations in eight.

If Biden truly wants to atone for his long history as a hardline drug warrior, he cannot let sentencing reform sink to the bottom of his priorities.

© Copyright 2021 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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Hypocritical Politicians Violate Their Own Coronavirus Restrictions – Reason.com

After Joe Biden’s inauguration, he ordered everyone on federal lands to wear a mask. That night, he and his family posed for pictures at the Lincoln Memorial—none of them wearing a mask.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom told Californians it’s “essential” to avoid “mixing with people outside of your household.” Then he had dinner with lots of people outside his household, without masks.

You can see the mask-less governor and the Biden family in my new video.

Newsom did apologize for attending “a friend’s birthday party.” Maybe you heard about that. But you might not know that the restaurant charges $800 for dinners or that the governor’s “friend” is a lobbyist, a politically connected “fixer” who helps select Hollywood businesses get exemptions from government shutdowns.

Restaurant owner Angela Marsden, instead of hiring an expensive lobbyist, spent her money building an outdoor patio that complied with COVID-19 regulations. But then the state shut down even outdoor dining.

“I’m losing everything,” she cried in a viral video.

But the business right next door wasn’t shut down. NBC’s TV show, Good Girls, was allowed to set up a dining area right outside her restaurant.

“She doesn’t have a powerful team of lobbyists to argue on her behalf in the state’s capital,” points out Jarrett Stepman, a reporter who covers politicians’ hypocrisy for The Daily Signal.

California gives him plenty of fodder. San Francisco Mayor London Breed went to a party at that fancy restaurant, too.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi got her hair done when California salons were closed.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves held three Christmas parties, violating his executive order limiting the number of people at gatherings.

When a reporter asked, “How is that not in conflict with the order?” Reeves responded that his parties “send a message to the people of Mississippi that you can return to a life that is somewhat normal.”

But “the people” can’t. Only politicians get to do that.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo attended a wine and paint event, just days after tweeting, “Stay home except for essential activities & wear a mask.”

Even after a photo showed her at the event, Biden nominated Raimondo to be secretary of Commerce.

“Instead of being booted out, they get a promotion,” complains Stepman.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a 14-day quarantine for anyone going to several states, including Delaware, for “nonessential” activity. Then she went to Delaware for a Biden victory celebration, something that strikes me as about as “nonessential” as it gets.

“I do a lot of things to advance the interests of the District of Columbia,” was Bowser’s arrogant defense. “All of them are necessary.”

If politicians do it, it’s always necessary. Rules are for the little people.

In Chicago, after politicians ordered salons closed, Mayor Lori Lightfoot still went to one for a haircut.

She defended her decision, saying: “I’m out in the public eye. I take my personal hygiene very seriously.”

Stepman says Lightfoot is a “double hypocrite” because “she was seen attending Election Day parties and giant street festivals not wearing a mask.”

The Heritage Foundation tracks such political hypocrisy, calling it “COVID Hypocrisy.” As I write, they’re up to 57 examples of “Rules for thee, but not for me.”

Stepman concludes, “It’s up to us to say, ‘You’re either going to follow these rules, change these rules, or we’re going to throw you out.'”

Throwing out these hypocrites would be a good start.

COPYRIGHT 2020 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS INC.
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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Schools Might Not Reopen for ‘Maybe Another Year,’ Says N.J. Teachers Union – Reason.com

Another day, another set of parents who discovered at the last minute that the planned reopening of their kids’ long-shuttered elementary schools was being thwarted by a politically powerful teachers union.

This time it was in the wealthy, New York City-adjacent suburb of Montclair, New Jersey, where Superintendent Jonathan Ponds announced late Friday “with deep regret” that the schools, closed for the past 319 days, wouldn’t even be reopening on a hybrid basis (half-in, half-remote), because negotiations with the Montclair Education Association (MEA) broke down. “I realize how unsettling this news is,” Ponds added.

The union seeks Plexiglass barriers, millions of dollars in ventilation upgrades, and for teachers to be vaccinated (New Jersey, unlike New York, does not as yet prioritize teachers for vaccines). MEA President Petal Robertson said in a statement, “It is our duty to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for our staff and a sound educational plan for our students.”

Remote learning has not been a sound “plan” for students. More like the opposite. But what about the main union contention, safety?

“The truth is, for kids K-12, one of the safest places they can be from our perspective is to remain in school,” then-director of the Centers for Disease Control Robert Redfield said in November.

COVID-19 infection rates at elementary schools in particular have been, compared to the country as a whole, microscopic—0.2 percent for teachers, 0.1 percent for students, according to economist Emily Oster’s database of 5,000-plus K-12 schools. The positive rate in New York City’s program of random school testing—currently standing at 0.52 percent from more than 360,000 tests since October—has consistently been around one-tenth of the overall community positivity rate.

And, observed Redfield, “The infections that we’ve identified in schools when they’ve been evaluated were not acquired in schools. They were actually acquired in the community and in the household….The data strongly supports that K-12 schools—as well as institutes of higher learning—really are not where we’re having our challenges.”

Unions may utilize the rhetoric of safety, but the determinative factor in school closures is their own power. As Reason Foundation Director of School Choice Corey DeAngelis has documented, the biggest correlating factor in all-remote learning is not the level of community infection, nor the quality of ventilation systems, but rather the comparative political strength of the relevant teachers union.

Union muscle is especially swole in Montclair. From The New York Times:

The newly elected mayor, Sean Spiller, is the No. 2 official at the statewide teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association. The president of the local teachers’ labor group, Petal Robertson, is competing for a leadership job at the association. And one of the governor’s top political strategists, Brendan Gill—an Essex County commissioner who is also the township’s Democratic chairman—lives there, as does the state’s new education commissioner, Angelica Allen-McMillan.

Mayor Spiller’s comment to the Montclair Local is a model of brow-furrowing concern, communicating empathy while accomplishing bupkis.

“Our educators, students, and parents…deserve high praise for going above and beyond to continue the work of teaching and learning,” Spiller wrote to the paper. “It is from that starting point that we need all parties working together….It is important that all educational stakeholders collaborate in order to ensure we have an appropriate and clearly articulated safe plan for any return to in-person instruction.”

Such impotent bureaucratic gobbledygook is hardly limited to union-hack Jersey mayors. Here’s the president of the United States on Monday, when asked, in light of the Chicago walkout, whether he believes teachers “should return to schools now”:

Biden’s stammering here is in direct proportion to the fundamental untenability of his—and teachers unions’—position. Headlines from Dec. 8 had it that the then-president elect was pledging to have K-12 schools reopen within his first 100 days in office, but too many people were expressing relief rather than looking at the caveats embedded (and italicized) in his headline-making quote: “It should be a national priority to get our kids back into school and keep them in school…If Congress provides the funding, we need to protect students, educators and staff. If states and cities put strong public health measures in place that we all follow, then my team will work to see that the majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days.”

So many terms with hedged or slippery definitions, so many union lawyers ready and incentivized to exploit.

Congress has provided scores of billions in COVID-related extra funding for K-12 schools—around $15 billion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act last March, and $54 billion in the relief bill passed in December, on top of the Department of Education’s annual $40 billion or so. Biden’s latest $1.9 trillion coronavirus-relief proposal, billed as the first of two, includes another $130 billion earmarked directly for K-12 reopening, plus an additional $350 billion for states to patch their budgets, of which public education is always a large share.

Would even that be enough funding? Could unions (as in Montclair) still object to what they deem as insufficiently “strong public health measures”?

Well, consider this: The Biden administration is already signaling that the 100-day deadline (which comes April 30) won’t be met. “On a call with reporters Wednesday,” CNN reported last week, “Carole Johnson, Biden’s Covid testing coordinator, acknowledged that the reopening timeline may need to be extended.”

As New York Post columnist and fellow Brooklyn public school parent Karol Markowicz reiterated yesterday, “There is no amount of money the Biden administration can shower on schools to get them all open full-time in September. The [social distancing] ‘rules’ will ensure that many kids won’t be in class full-time for the foreseeable future. Unlike in cities across the world, the city and state will continue to ignore the fact that kids are at uniquely low risk from COVID-19.”

At the end of my latest print-magazine column, which was posted Monday but printed nearly three weeks before, I concluded, sourly, that “if New York City is indeed the model, the most ‘open’ thing will be the government’s checkbook—that and parents’ web browsers as they explore every option for their kids that doesn’t include a teachers union.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, you may recall, announced with great fanfare in early December that, having arbitrarily closed all public schools three weeks prior, he was now set to reopen all five days a week! He even held up Gotham as a role model for the rest of the country, despite the fact that, to cite one of hundreds of thousands of examples, my 12-year-old has set foot on a campus all of seven times since March 15, 2020; zero since November.

Sure enough, just this afternoon on CNN, when asked about schools reopening not in 100 days but in September, City Council member and Health Committee Chair Mark Levine said: “It’s too soon.”

The same message is coming from the political class mismanaging affairs across the Hudson. Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association (which is foursquare behind the unofficial teachers strike in Montclair), told the Times that the Garden State should be prepared for “interruptions in learning for maybe another year.”

Well, teachers unions should be prepared, too. Prepared for massive middle-class evacuations from public education in the blue states where unions hold sway.

Take a good, long look at this Burbio map of K-12 school reopenings across the country. “Just over one-third of US K-12 students [have] never been in the classroom this year and they are concentrated in two areas. We call them ‘Always Virtual”: West Coast and the Mid Atlantic states plus metro areas outside those states such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Cleveland, Boston, plus smaller cities,” the site notes. “These regions have a particular combination of state level regulations, logistical challenges and local stakeholder resistance that separate them from the rest of the country.”

Local stakeholder resistance. There are the taxpayers who fund K-12 education, and the 50 million-plus kids who enroll in K-12 public schools, yet the real-world power dynamics of the situation is that the holder of the stake is neither the funder nor consumer of this wretched monopoly product. It’s the public-sector unions, and the politicians they support.

Public school enrollment is down significantly this year. The U-Haul Index of domestic one-way moving-truck action shows Always Virtual states in the top six slots for losing trucks: California, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, while the three biggest gainers were the heavily reopened states of Tennessee, Texas, and Florida. The budgets both of state governments and local public schools are tied directly to the size of population. If people leave, so will their tax dollars, and the government jobs they fund.

The savvier among the Democratic political class realize this, which is why they’re busy in the post-Trump (meaning, post-scapegoat) era talking out of both sides of their mouth. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, recently seen yukking it up in the White House with First Lady Jill Biden, has been saying since late November that “reopening schools is vital for the health and education of our children.” She co-wrote in USA Today this week that “with robust testing, we can open schools this spring before the vaccine is widely available.” Yet that happy conclusion, too, is conditioned on a lengthy and expensive wishlist.

There are signs that some unions are beginning to worry about the public catching onto the gap between macro reopening rhetoric and micro school closures. “Has the Public Turned on Teachers?” asked an Education Week headline Monday. “At First Deemed Pandemic Heroes, Some Now Feel Like Villains.” Well, refusing to teach in person after getting vaccinated may reduce the ol’ sympathy, yes. Or accusing parents who want schools to be reopened of “white supremacy.”

My beef, and the beefs of the public school parents I interact with, is not with our kids’ teachers, who have been doing their best, and clearly would like more reopening. The complaint is rather with teachers unions and union-backed politicians who, when not making an absolute mockery of science with their fearmongering, are operating as if the end goal is not to urgently and fully open every damn public school in the country, but rather to maximize the dollar squeeze from comparatively powerless taxpayers.

In the meantime, current or recent public school parents hearing rumor of September uncertainty will be busy checking local private school prices and further-flung real estate listings.

“We’ll have to see how many of those folks come back home after normalcy can be achieved,” David Adkins, executive director of the Council of State Governments, told the Times last month. If the exodus accelerates, Adkins warned, that could devolve into a “death spiral.”

No wonder preference for school choice is spreading. Parents want to be able to predict when their kids will attend school. It’s amazing that teachers unions do not yet seem to understand how much public sentiment is poised to turn against them.

Consider one final anecdote. Montclair, New Jersey, is a good liberal town filled with good liberal journalists who work in, or remotely from, good liberal Manhattan. And what was the headline about Monday’s botched reopening in the good liberal New York Times?

Schools Were Set to Reopen. Then the Teachers’ Union Stepped In.

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Another Houston Cop Is Indicted for Murder Because of a 2019 Drug Raid That Killed a Middle-Aged Couple – Reason.com

A second Houston narcotics officer has been charged with murder in connection with the January 2019 no-knock drug raid that killed Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas in their home on Harding Street. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg yesterday announced that a grand jury had indicted Officer Felipe Gallegos for murdering Tuttle, who according to police fired at the cops after they broke into his home and killed his dog while serving a search warrant based on a heroin deal that never happened. Gallegos faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.

Gerald Goines, the former narcotics officer who lied to obtain the search warrant, already had been charged with two counts of felony murder as well as federal civil rights violations. Steven Bryant, an officer who backed up Goines’ phony story, likewise faces state and federal charges. Prosecutors say Goines’ shady practices go back more than a decade, tainting at least 164 convictions.

The new indictments also include eight current or former narcotics officers who are accused of “engaging in organized criminal activity” by falsifying government records as part of “a long-term scheme to steal overtime from the city.” Five were charged with first-degree felonies that carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, while three were charged with second-degree felonies punishable by prison terms of two to 20 years.

So far 12 current or former narcotics officers have been charged as a result of the investigation triggered by the Harding Street raid. “The consequences of corruption are that two innocent people and their dog were shot to death in their home by police; four officers were shot, one paralyzed,” Ogg said. “Now all of them will face jurors who will determine their fate.”

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who described the cops who killed Tuttle and Nicholas as “heroes” but wants credit for not covering up Goines’ lies, implicitly criticized the decision to charge Gallegos with murder. “It was our investigation that uncovered the malfeasance of the two former HPD officers [Goines and Bryant] who were subsequently charged with criminal offenses related to their actions in obtaining the warrant,” he said in a statement he posted on Twitter yesterday. “Today, I learned that another officer who was involved in the Harding Street officer-involved shooting [Gallegos] has been indicted for murder. I have said many times that the other officers involved in the incident, including the officer indicted today, had no involvement in obtaining the warrant and responded appropriately to the deadly threat posed to them during its service.”

The grand jury obviously disagreed. Contrary to what Acevedo implies, the issues raised by this disastrous operation go beyond the fictitious transaction that supposedly justified it. According to a lawyer representing Nicholas’ family, she and Tuttle were taking a nap when plainclothes cops stormed into their house around 5 p.m. and immediately used a shotgun to kill their dog. According to Acevedo, Tuttle responded to this violent invasion by grabbing a revolver and shooting at the intruders, who responded with overwhelming force.

Two years later, the HPD still has not publicly said how many shots were fired or which rounds struck the injured officers. The Houston Chronicle notes that “neither Acevedo nor Ogg has ever released the ballistics report showing which officers shot Tuttle or Nicholas.”

The cops claimed they had to shoot Nicholas because she was moving toward an injured officer who had collapsed on a couch and seemed like she was about to take his shotgun. A forensic examination commissioned by her family contradicted that account, finding that the fatal shot was fired by someone standing outside the house who would not have been able to see her. The indictment of Gallegos for killing Tuttle means prosecutors believe that shooting was not justified either. The charge against Gallegos says he “unlawfully, intentionally and knowingly” caused Tuttle’s death by shooting him.

At a press conference today, the officer’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, said the grand jury had “indicted a hero.” According to Hardin, Gallegos “had no idea” the search warrant was based on false information, and he shot Tuttle after his colleagues were wounded. Hardin conceded that “it appears [Tuttle and Nicholas] were innocent of drug activity.” But he added that once Tuttle “started shooting,” firing a total of four rounds, “he was not innocent.” Hardin said witnesses heard the officers shout “Police! Search warrant!” as they entered the house, and “they were dressed in a way” that “anybody would look at them and know they were a police officer.”

Nicholas’ mother and brother have been trying to discover exactly what happened during the raid, which was not recorded by body cameras. Their lawyer, Michael Doyle, is seeking to depose city and HPD officials. The city has resisted him at every turn. The Texas Supreme Court has twice rejected the city’s attempts to move the case out of Harris County Probate Court. A few weeks ago, Judge Kenneth Hoyt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas agreed that the case belongs where it is.

“The Nicholas family again is grateful to be moving forward with our investigation,” Doyle said in a press release. “It’s time for the cover-up to end. The city’s continuing efforts to conceal the truth about the Harding Street raid have now been rejected by five separate county, state and federal courts. Judge Hoyt’s order rejected the City’s unprecedented, two-year cover-up of the facts of the killings, who was involved, and who needs to be held accountable. This federal-court order means the city’s wall of silence will start crumbling.”

In addition to the fraudulent warrant and the questionable use of deadly force, the raid has revealed what Ogg calls a “pattern and practice of lying and deceit,” including phony overtime and fake documentation of payments to confidential informants. Based on those findings, she filed felony charges against six narcotics officers, including Goines, Bryant, and three supervisors, last summer. Three of those cops—Sgt. Clemente Reyna, Sgt. Thomas Wood, and Officer Hodgie Armstrong—are among those charged again this week. Reyna’s attorney complained that Ogg is trying to “criminalize administrative errors” and “repackaging” the charges from July.

“Houston Police narcotics officers falsified documentation about drug payments to confidential informants with the support of supervisors,” Ogg said in July. “Goines and others could never have preyed on our community the way they did without the participation of their supervisors; every check and balance in place to stop this type of behavior was circumvented.” After Ogg announced those charges, which included theft and tampering with government documents, Acevedo finally released the results of an internal audit that revealed widespread sloppiness, if not outright malfeasance, in the HPD’s Narcotics Division.

Acevedo portrays himself as an avatar of transparency and reform—a role he unconvincingly played during the Democratic National Convention last summer. But after repeatedly describing Tuttle and Nicholas as dangerous heroin dealers who maintained a locally notorious “drug house,” he was forced to admit that the case against them, which began with a false tip from a neighbor, had been fabricated. Now Acevedo, who 10 months after the raid was still dismissing “the chances of this being systemic,” wants us to believe the problem is limited to a couple of bad apples.

[This post has been updated with comments from Gallegos’ lawyer.]

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Cops Must Destroy Illegal Surveillance Videos From Spa Visited by Robert Kraft – Reason.com

A federal court has ordered Florida law enforcement officials to destroy video footage allegedly featuring New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and other men getting hand jobs from women the state would go on to convict and seize assets from.

State prosecutors had argued against destruction of the 2019 video on the grounds that the footage might be relevant to an ongoing federal lawsuit brought by patrons who were not charged with criminal spa visits. That group of unnamed plaintiffs allege that “they were innocent Spa patrons and were recorded unclothed,” State Attorney David Aronberg wrote in a December 30 motion. However, “the State believes it is simply a matter of time until the federal lawsuit will eventually be dismissed on the bases [sic] of absolute prosecutor immunity, qualified immunity, and the failure to state a claim,” Aronberg added.

By now, multiple state judges have forbid prosecutors from using the footage that was secretly obtained from Orchids of Asia Day Spa—a massage business in Jupiter, Florida, that authorities shut down as part of a purported human trafficking sting.

Yet Kraft and other patrons were only ever accused of paying for sexual massages from adult women who were all licensed masseuses, legal immigrants, and willing employees of Orchids of Asia. Criminal cases against Kraft and other patrons were eventually dismissed, though the women they patronized were convicted on felony charges.

Still, State Attorney Aronberg sought permission to hold on to the unlawfully obtained video footage.

Judge Rodolfo A. Ruiz II of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida has now ordered the destruction of the Orchids of Asia video footage. That action came about in response to a lawsuit filed by “John Doe, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated,” against Aronberg, the town of Jupiter, the Jupiter Police Department, and detective Andrew Sharp, who applied for the warrant to install the surveillance cameras.

In his January 22 order, Ruiz granted John Doe’s motion to compel destruction of the massage room video. Ruiz ruled that the defendants “shall destroy the videos unlawfully obtained through the surveillance of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa […] from January 18, 2019 to January 22, 2019, including any body camera footage obtained during associated traffic stops as well as any copies thereof.”

The motion to compel destruction was unopposed, and Ruiz noted that the destruction is “pursuant to the terms of the parties’ settlement agreement.”

Last January, the parties discussed a settlement but decided to await the outcome of a state appeals court fight over the footage, according to a joint status report filed last September. The parties resumed settlement discussions after Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in August 2020 “that total suppression of the video recordings was constitutionally warranted.”

“The  Does  believe  that  a  settlement  is  possible  if  the  recordings  are destroyed  by  order  of  this  Court  or  the  state  court,” the September 2020 status report noted,” and there is some compensation to the Does for their suffering and the legal expenses incurred here.”

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Biden Orders Justice Department to Phase Out Use of Private Prisons – Reason.com

President Joe Biden issued an executive order today to phase out the Justice Department’s use of private prisons.

As part of what the White House dubbed “equity day,” Biden signed an order directing the Justice Department not to renew contracts with private prisons, which have long been a target of criminal justice reform advocates.

“Mass incarceration imposes significant costs on our society and communities, while private prisons profiteer off of federal prisoners in less safe conditions for prisoners and correctional officers alike,” the White House said in a fact sheet, according to Reuters.

Civil liberties and criminal justice groups applauded the order, although it was far from their most significant demands of the new administration, which include ending the federal death penalty and ending solitary confinement.

“Today’s executive order validates something we’ve been saying for years: No one should profit from the human misery that is caused by mass incarceration,” David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national prison project, said in a press release. “Prison privatization increases the potential for mistreatment and abuse of incarcerated people, and this move by the Biden administration will start curtailing this insidious practice.”

In the grand scheme of the U.S. criminal justice system, the order will not have a significant impact. State prison systems hold the majority of the roughly 2.3 million incarcerated people in the country. And of the federal prison population, only 15 percent are held in private prisons.

Fathi noted that Biden’s order will not touch the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the immigration detention system, nor the private contractors the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) uses for other services, such as medical care. Fathi said that while today’s order is a good first step, “President Biden has an obligation to do more, especially given his history and promises.”

Nor are private prisons the source of the most pressing problems within the federal prison system. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the BOP was under severe stress due to chronic understaffing, which led to nurses and cooks being pressed into guard duty. There were also persistent problems with corruption, sexual assault, medical neglect, and low staff morale, not to mention the embarrassing death of disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein in a Manhattan jail.

Reason reported last year on a string of deaths due to alleged medical neglect at FCI Aliceville, a federal women’s prison in Alabama.

The pandemic put all of these problems into even sharper relief, as the federal prison system struggled, and failed, to adequately protect incarcerated people and staff. 

CNN also reported that Biden will sign an executive order reinstating Obama-era limits on the transfer of military equipment to local and state law enforcement. The Pentagon’s 1033 program distributes surplus military equipment to police. Most of those items are mundane things like cold-weather gloves and filing cabinets.

Amid national outrage over images of militarized police in Ferguson, Missouri, the Obama administration limited the program in 2015, prohibiting the transfer of such items as camouflage, .50-caliber ammunition, tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and bayonets. Police departments in possession of these items were asked to return them.

President Donald Trump, who portrayed himself as a staunch ally of the police, rescinded the Obama memo, including tighter reporting requirements, in 2017.

A Brown University study published last year found that the Department of Defense’s (DOD) 1033 program has transferred at least $1.6 billion worth of equipment to police departments across the country since 9/11, compared to just $27 million before the terrorist attack. That equipment includes mine-resistant, armored-protective vehicles, or MRAPs, which are hulking, armored personnel carriers designed to survive bomb blasts on the roads of Iraq and Afghanistan. Thanks to the 1033 program, 1,114 MRAPs are currently in the possession of American police departments. 

The 1033 program is not the most significant federal source of police militarization, though. The program is dwarfed by Department of Homeland Security anti-terrorism grants to local police, as well as shared revenue from property seizures and forfeitures.