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Under Color of Law – February Edition

By February 21, 2024March 18th, 2024News

Waiting on the World to Change

Sometimes we may all wonder what will it take to finally move past the danger and threat of the Trump-led conservative right or even what it takes to make Trump shut up. The writer E. Jean Carroll may have given us the answer to the question of what it takes to make former President Trump shut up or slow him down in defaming and lying about a person.

The answer begins with a jury verdict in the tens of millions of dollars – $83.3 million to be exact. Personally, I had expected the damages award to be north of 100 million but Trump’s post-verdict reaction shows the verdict affected him because he held back from further insults directed at her, instead focusing his insults on the judge in the case and anybody else besides E. Jean Carroll.

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The trial told us a lot about just how ineffective Trump is in a courtroom. His presence, his storming out during closing arguments, and his own testimony all helped the jury come back with astonishing speed – likely incentivized by the judge starting their deliberations on a Friday afternoon with a glimpse of the freedom for the weekend – in short Trump was a disaster for himself.

So was his legal team’s performance with Alina Habba giving a dramatic performance of a lawyer who defiantly doesn’t know her way around a courtroom.

Along with Chris Kise – Trump’s lawyer in the civil fraud case – the two put on a show worthy of the movie My Cousin Vinny for legal humor with Kise failing to even qualify Trump as an expert witness and Habba repeatedly being blocked from admitting evidence because she didn’t seem to know how.

The trial also continued a pattern of defamation suits used to combat disinformation as in the enormous back-breaking verdict delivered against former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But the key here is that both cases involved disinformation that targeted people like the election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss targeted by Giuliani’s racist tropes and Trump’s woman-hating rhetoric about E. Jean Carroll.

Similarly, the verdict against Fox News came for disinformation that targeted a corporate person – Dominion Voting Systems. These verdicts are a triumph of good lawyering for noble purposes but they are no remedy for the massive disinformation campaigns already online which social media companies do little to combat.

But for now, they have delivered some accountability. For Trump, the peril is far greater than he cares to admit because when taken in conjunction with the potential damages award pending in the New York Attorney General’s civil fraud trial – he faces civil damages approaching a half-billion dollars. That adds up even for someone of Trump’s supposed wealth.


Middle East

As promised, President Biden ordered strikes carried out against 85 sites in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for the killing of three American soldiers in Jordan. These are likely just the first response to what was always an inevitability – loss of American military lives as part of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The soldiers killed – 23-year-old Spec. Breonna A. Moffett, 46-year-old Sgt. William J. Rivers, and 24-year-old Spec. Kennedy L. Sanders – were all from the same Army Reserve unit in Georgia. They were support personnel – not combat soldiers – the kind of work essential to the functioning of the military. Moffett and Sanders were both young black women who like so many others found the Army a good employment gig.

Per reporting in the NYT – black women who are only 14% of the civilian population make up 36% of all enlisted women in the Army. Moffett enlisted right after high school. Sanders came from a part of the state where the median income is half the national average and had just decided to re-enlist.

Throughout history, the military has drawn from the heartlands of their country and from those for whom military service is the best opportunity or only opportunity.

Joe Biden's America

Slowly, almost begrudgingly, the media is beginning to report more on the economic upturn under the Biden administration.

Coverage of accomplishments by Biden does not seem to fit the traditional sport-coverage style of political coverage with polls used to pump up spectator excitement – and a constant drum beat of negative poll results for Biden versus positive ones for Trump or hardly seem calculated to drive up viewership. But the fact of the matter is we live in an ahistorical moment in politics where the norms – including polling (remember the non-“Red Wave” of 2020) – are being shown to be outdated.

Some simple facts: Biden inherited an economy reeling from the first pandemic of our generation, worsened by Trump policies that contributed to hundreds of thousands dead from COVID-19, government agencies in the midst of neglect and being taken over by the likes of Peter Navarro, an attempt to overthrow an election and a President who actively encouraged racial and sexist hatred.

What did Biden do? He stemmed the bleed-out and made the economy strong again with growth and job gains beating inflation and the stock market at record highs.

Will this translate into better support for Biden? Yes. Ultimately, informed voters are not going to vote for Donald Trump because they wish their wallets felt heftier. But the key is “informed.” Democrats need to remind voters of the disastrous policies of the Trump administration as well as explain what the economic indicators mean for future economic strength. And they need to have people who have benefited from better employment, job gains, and recovery from the pandemic talk about it.

My NYT Gift Article


Presidential Immunity

At the D.C. Circuit arguments on Trump’s claim of absolute presidential immunity, federal court of appeals judge, Florence Y. Pan, asked a question for the ages of Trump’s attorney:

“Could a president order SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? That is an official act, an order to SEAL Team Six?” Pan asked.

“He would have to be, and would speedily be impeached and convicted before the criminal prosecution,” Sauer said.

“I asked you a yes or no question,” Pan said.

“If he were impeached and convicted first,” Sauer replied.

“So your answer is no,” Pan said.

Sauer responded, “My answer is qualified yes. There is a political process that would have to occur.”

Pan – full disclosure Judge Pan’s parents were friends with my parents and we overlapped briefly at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. – made plain the real danger in what Trump seeks which is the power of a dictator.

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Fani Willis

Calls for Fani Willis to be disqualified because of an alleged personal relationship with one of the prosecutors on the team prosecuting Trump are baseless because it has nothing to do with the evidence against Trump and other co-defendants.

At best, it’s maybe an HR issue.

At worst, it’s using old racist tropes against black women and blacks. Willis’s recent filing should put an end to the questions but it won’t because Georgia pro-Trump anti-black politicians will continue to hound Willis.

More On My Take

Big Tech

Voice Actors Lobby Against AI

In the 2006 movie Mission: Impossible III, Tom Cruise’s IMF team upgraded from merely using high-tech masks to take on the identity of a villain they needed to foil and added a voice replicator that required the villain to say some words for the program to learn and be able to mimic his voice.

The villain – played by the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman – has to say a string of nonsense words while at gunpoint for the app to “learn” how to mimic his voice. Fast forward to 2024 and that would no longer be necessary as AI can now handle that task without the gun.

First, it was actors, then animators, and now voice actors are joining the growing list of industries, and specifically unions, that will be threatened by the increased use of AI.

Synthetic voices, eerily mimicking human actors, threaten to replace them, prompting the National Association of Voice Actors (NAVA) to fight back. They lobby for regulations protecting voice likeness, demanding control over how their voices are used and fair compensation.

This isn’t just about job security; it’s about safeguarding actors from their voices being misused for harmful purposes like disinformation. Draft legislation is emerging in the Senate, but with films like The Safe Zone, which was principally written by ChatGPT, already being produced, there is a very clear threat to the livelihood of directors, writers, and actors.

Bill Ackman and Sam Altman Using AI to Unseat Biden

Bill Ackman and Sam Altman backed an AI version of Congressman Dean Phillips named the “Dean.Bot” to stand in for the candidate to meet and answer questions from voters. Not surprising that someone like Ackman who wants to use his wealth to manage society would be pushing for this dangerous application of AI in elections.

Congressional Posturing on Keeping Kids Safe on the Internet

The recent hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee where they mostly took turns posturing as do-gooders as they questioned big tech CEOs, including Mark Zuckerberg (Meta), Linda Yaccarino (“X”) and Should Zi Chew (TikTok) was a great example of why today’s Congress is useless in legislating safeguards – or any guard rails in technology.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R. S.C.) used the opportunity to mutter breathy comments about Zuckerberg having “blood on his hands” prompting Zuckerberg to eventually make an apology to parents present whose children had suffered and even died from exploitation on the internet.

Most notably, Senator Tom Cotton (R. Arkansas) used the opportunity to fan racist anti-Chinese sentiment by insisting the TikTok CEO – a Singaporean – must have ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

My suggestion would have been for Chew to bring up the fact that Cotton lied about his military service by claiming to be an Army Ranger and asking if a real American patriot does that…

Chief Justice John Robert’s Grade-School Level Book Report on AI

Chief Justice John Roberts remarkably concluded his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary with no mention of the enormous bleed-out of credulity from the high court in light of the revealed gifts and friends-with-benefits arrangements by so many of the justices but particularly Justice Thomas.

Instead, Roberts – who supposedly has a strong interest in technology – wrote a cheerful primer about how the Supreme Court has moved from typewriters to computers and even allowed radio broadcasts of oral arguments during the pandemic. It was an epic fail at diverting attention from SCOTUS’s problems and read like it was written by ChatGPT.

Please do let me and the team know what topics you would like to hear more from me about – look forward to hearing your voices!

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