In Session On Suppression
April 2, 2021
The Good News
- Pfizer jab ‘stopping 91% of cases in first six months’ (BBC)
- No need for a food fight: USDA drops Trump plan to cut food stamps for 700,000 Americans (CBS)
“Whatever the immediate gains and losses, the dangers to our safety arising from political suppression are always greater than the dangers to the safety resulting from political freedom. Suppression is always foolish. Freedom is always wise.” — Alexander Meiklejohn
The Court’s In Session On Suppression
(Montinique Monroe via Getty Images)
Much attention has been paid lately to Georgia’s voter suppression efforts. But for some time now, other Republican-controlled states have been weaponizing the ballot box by using chilling tactics in a thinly disguised form of voter intimidation designed to suppress turnout among their political foes.
Consider the Texas case of Crystal Mason. In 2016, Mason was serving on supervised release — similar to probation — for a 2012 federal felony conviction. No one, including her probation officer, ever told the 41-year-old mother of three that being a felon on supervision meant she couldn’t vote under Texas law.
Mason hadn’t planned to vote in the 2016 election before her mother encouraged her to. When poll workers couldn’t find her name in the list of registered voters, they gave her a provisional ballot and said it would be counted if she was eligible to vote. Mason filled out the ballot and left. Election officials later found her to be ineligible, and her vote was never counted.
Mason lives in Tarrant County, where 12,668 provisional ballots were cast between 2014 and 2019. During that period, over 11,000 of those ballots were rejected, including Mason’s. But in February 2017, Mason, who is Black, was arrested on an illegal-voting warrant, taken to a Fort Worth courthouse, placed in handcuffs, and jailed. In March 2017 — despite her protests that she was unaware of the law and never would have cast even a provisional ballot if she had known — a state judge found Mason guilty.
Texas law criminalizes illegal voting in cases where someone “knows” they are not eligible to vote. Mason’s lawyers had argued that prosecutors failed to prove she knew she was ineligible. Regardless, Mason was sentenced to five years in prison. Her probation was revoked and she returned to prison for several months.
In 2020, an appeals court in Ft. Worth upheld Masons’ conviction, saying “the fact that she did not know she was legally ineligible to vote was irrelevant to her prosecution.”
Charging someone with felony illegal voting is not only unusual, but out of those 11,000 people who had cast rejected provisional ballots, only two appear to have been criminally prosecuted. In February 2017, Rosa Ortega, a 37-year-old single mother of four, was found guilty of having cast two illegal votes as a non-US citizen. When Ortega moved to Fort Worth, she had registered to vote, thinking mistakenly that as a Hispanic immigrant with permanent legal US residence, she was entitled to vote. She was sentenced to eight years in prison. Contrast that with a White male judge in Fort Worth who pleaded guilty in 2018 for knowingly forging numerous signatures to secure his reelection. He received probation.
Mason, at least, has been given one more chance. On Wednesday, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal appellate court in Texas, said it would hear Mason’s case. (Guardian, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)
2021 Looks A Lot Like 1984
(Santosh Krl via Getty Images)
- On February 1, the military in Myanmar seized power and returned the country to full military rule after almost a decade of quasi-democracy. Most television broadcasts were suspended and telephone and internet access was blocked in major cities.
- In the last two months, the military’s response to pro-democracy protests, civil disobedience, and general strikes has escalated into a brutal effort to put down the movement. Thousands have been injured and more than 520 killed. The regime has arrested at least 56 journalists, outlawed online news outlets known for hard-edged reporting, and crippled communications by cutting off mobile data service. Three photojournalists have been shot and wounded while taking pictures of anti-coup demonstrations.
- Social media savvy young people have jumped into the fray, calling themselves citizen journalists and risking their lives to document the military’s brutality and share it online when they can get access. On Wednesday, a UN special envoy warned the 15-nation Security Council that “a bloodbath is imminent” if it does not act to curb the violent military crackdown. (NYT, $; CBS News)
The Dadaab Dilemma
- In the past, Kenya has threatened to close down two huge refugee camps which are housing a majority of Somali. Dadaab, which borders Somalia, has 224,462 refugees and Kakuma has 163,299. Of the total number of 512,494 refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya, 274,299 are Somali.
- Now, Kenya has issued the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) a “14-day ultimatum to have a roadmap on definite closure of Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps,” a sudden move that has quite alarmed UNHCR and its donor organizations. No reason was given for the ultimatum but observers were quick to point to Kenya’s deepening row with its neighbor that has resulted in Somalia severing diplomatic relations.
- The two countries are embroiled in a dispute over the establishment of a single maritime boundary between Somalia and Kenya in the Indian Ocean. The dispute led Somalia to refer Kenya to the International Court of Justice. Apparently caught off guard, the UN body thanked Kenya for “generously hosting refugees and asylum seekers for several decades,” but said the order would be challenging to implement in light of the recently imposed partial Covid-19 lockdown. (Guardian)
Additional World News
- Pentagon ‘watching’ as Russia steps up aggression in Eastern Europe (Politico)
- Mystery brain disorder baffles Canadian doctors (Guardian)
- Net gains: How India trawlers’ plastic catch is helping to rebuild roads (Guardian)
- Japan Is Finding It Harder to Stay Quiet on China’s Abuse of Uyghurs (NYT, $)
- Can Eritrea’s Afwerki hold on to power after the Tigray war? (Al Jazeera)
- Is the international community failing Ethiopia again? (Al Jazeera)
- Elite minority of frequent flyers ’cause most of aviation’s climate damage’ (Guardian). The rate of emissions is sky high.
- Ever Given Memes Made Suez Canal Rescuers Work Harder (Business Insider) & How the stuck Suez Canal ship, the Ever Given, was freed (WaPo, $). What will win: a stuck cargo ship or an endless supply of internet memes?
- 7 Hong Kong democracy leaders convicted as China clamps down (AP)
- Covid vaccine scheme ‘unacceptably slow’ in Europe, says WHO (Guardian)
The Darkness Near The End Of The Tunnel
- President Biden’s push to get millions of Americans vaccinated against Covid-19 has been remarkable. Vaccines continue to quickly roll out, and millions of people are getting shots every day. But amidst this good news some states have rushed to lift restrictions well before public health experts say it’s truly safe to do so, and they’re worried that upticks in new cases mean another surge could be on the way.
- Michigan is in the throes of a coronavirus outbreak that is one of the largest and most alarming in the country. Infection levels have exploded in recent weeks throughout the state. The rapid rise in cases is partly attributable to the B.1.1.7 variant, originally identified in Britain and now widespread in Michigan.
- But what is most alarming is the broader return to pre-pandemic life — as seen in relaxing of mask-wearing, social distancing, and other strategies meant to slow the spread of the virus — many weeks before a substantial portion of the population is vaccinated. On Monday, the head of the CDC said she felt a sense of “impending doom” about a potential new surge of cases.
- The next day, President Biden asked states to pause their reopening efforts and continue mask-wearing protocols, saying that the country was “giving up hard-fought, hard-won gains.” His plea was largely ignored by Republican-led states. That same day Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchison announced he was dropping the state’s mask mandate immediately, a day earlier than previously planned. (NYT, $; ABC News)
The Flood-Gaetz Are Open, And Matt Has Little Support
- Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) was a rising star in the GOP and a staunch ally of President Trump. So it was a surprise when it came to light this week that Bill Barr’s Justice Department had opened an investigation in the final months of the Trump administration to examine whether Gaetz had violated federal sex trafficking laws.
- Gaetz went on Fox News to vehemently deny allegations, first reported in a New York Times article Tuesday, about the inquiry into his possible relationship two years ago with a then-17-year-old girl. Gaetz also allegedly paid the girl to travel with him. Gaetz claimed he’d done nothing wrong, and that he and his family were actually the targets of a multi-million dollar extortion plot hatched by a former Justice Department official.
- But instead of circling the wagons and declaring the investigation was “fake news,” Republican leaders and opinion makers are mostly staying quiet. Gaetz sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department. But when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Gaetz should be removed from the committee, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) waffled, saying he would consider removing Gaetz if the allegations against him were “proven.” (NYT, $; NBC News, Tampa Bay Times)
Additional USA News
- Atlanta, Colorado mass shootings expose lax gun laws, loopholes (USA Today)
- Delta and Coca-Cola pivot on Georgia’s restrictive voting law: ‘It’s unacceptable’ (Guardian)
- US Unemployment Benefits Applications Unexpectedly Rose Last Week (Bloomberg)
- Biden broadband plan will be hated by big ISPs, welcomed by Internet users (ArsTechnica). Hidden fees will be broad-banned.
- Vaccine passports and digital vaccination records, explained (Vox)
- The Underdogs at Understory: The restaurant putting workers in charge – and inequality on the chopping block (Guardian)
- How Biden Became the Dollar Sign President (Politico). Just call him Jo$eph R. Biden.
- 6 Bold Ideas for Gun Reform That Could Actually Happen (Politico)
- Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan made health insurance free for millions (Vox)
- Campus Housekeeping Has Been Key To In-Person College (NPR)
- Everyone’s favorite nay-sayers: Freedom Caucus frets over how far to push its rebellion (Politico)
Friday Night Twitter Smackdown
- After Amazon received a barrage of criticism last week for working conditions in its warehouses and among its delivery drivers, CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly pushed executives and directed his PR team to go on the offensive.
- The PR team definitely did as told. Tweets trolling Congress members considered to be hostile to the company became so aggressive that one of Amazon’s own security engineers filed a support ticket — titled: “Suspicious activity on @amazonnews Twitter account” — that aired concerns about whether the company’s Twitter account had been hacked.
- The ticket said, “These tweets are unnecessarily antagonistic (risking Amazon’s brand) and may be the result of unauthorized access by someone with access to the account’s credentials.” As evidence, the engineer included links to eight tweets sent between March 23 and March 25.
- The engineer said the postings not only showed a lack of the usual “quality careful wording,” but also showed the use of a different source label: “the offending tweets all report ‘Twitter Web App’ instead of ‘Sprinklr.’”
- Sprinklr allows users to schedule posts to a number of social media platforms; it’s widely used by media organizations and PR teams. If a company uses a tool like Sprinklr, any posts made by using the Twitter website would be considered highly unusual.
- Logs state that the support ticket was closed because it was an “ongoing PR issue and does not require any technical support.” (ArsTechnica)
Additional Weekend Reads
- “Natural capital” accounting method might give nature an economic voice (ArsTechnica)
- Bhutan’s 350-year-old recipe for wellbeing (BBC)
- Do You Have Nafas, the Elusive Gift That Makes Food Taste Better? (NYT, $)
- Apple forced to offer Russian iPhone users local apps at setup thanks to new law (Verge)
- Someone in The Kalahari Collected Crystals a Whopping 105,000 Years Ago (ScienceAlert)
- Lightning Rocks And Life (NPR)
- Purple Urchins Devour Kelp Forests, So Divers Fight Back (NPR)
- ‘It smelled like pain and regret’: inside the world of competitive hot chilli eaters (Guardian)
- Android sends 20x more data to Google than iOS sends to Apple, study says (ArsTechnica)
- Narwhal Tusks Tell a Troubling Tale (Wired)
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