Saturday News: Twenty Twenty Two


NC SUPREME COURT IRONS OUT RECUSAL PROCEDURE FOR INDIVIDUAL JUSTICES: The order, filed last week by the state Supreme Court but emailed to attorneys Thursday, applies to all cases before the justices. It allows a justice to either decide on their own or ask the rest of the court to act on a recusal or disqualification motion. Whichever option is used, the ensuing ruling is final, the order said. The court's four-paragraph order would appear to ease concerns by some Republicans and their conservative allies that a majority of the court could remove Barringer and Berger Jr. against their will. Registered Democrats hold a 4-3 seat advantage. The lawsuit plaintiffs had argued that justices should not be allowed to judge their own impartiality, and that leaving a disqualification decision to colleagues was best for objectivity. In other words, they can still refuse to recuse, and the Court (and us) will have to live with it. Again, Judicial elections matter.

TAX CUTS AND PSYCHOLOGICAL SCREENING FOR COPS GO INTO EFFECT TODAY IN NC: The two-year state budget bill written by Republican legislators and signed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in November reduces the current 5.25% individual rate to 4.99% for 2022. The law directs that the rate fall incrementally until it reaches 3.99% in 2027. The budget law also raises the amount of income not subject to taxes through the standard deduction. For example, a married couple filing jointly won't have to pay any taxes on the first $25,500 of income for the 2022 tax year, compared with $21,500 in 2021. Another new law requires law enforcement recruits to receive psychological screenings from a licensed psychologist to determine their suitability for police work before being formally employed to work as an officer or deputy. Such a requirement had previously been set in administrative rules that could be subject to change and hadn't applied to sheriffs' deputies, according to training officials. This and another Jan. 1 requirement that officers get access to regular training of mental health and wellness strategies were contained in wide-ranging police reform legislation signed by Cooper in September. Hopefully they will screen these applicants for vulnerability to conspiracy theories and racial bias, and not just rubber stamp them mentally competent.

FAMILY DOLLAR IS ABOUT TO FIND OUT RACISM IN THE WORKPLACE IS UNACCEPTABLE: A Black woman who worked nights and weekends at Family Dollar as a second job said a white, male colleague made disparaging comments about her race and threatened her, prompting her to request a transfer. She got fired instead, according to federal court filings. Now the former employee is suing in North Carolina federal court, saying Family Dollar discriminated and retaliated against her for reporting the harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bars race-based discrimination in the workplace. A lawyer representing the woman did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on Thursday, Dec. 30, and a representative from Family Dollar declined to comment on pending litigation. According to the lawsuit filed Dec. 27 in the Middle District of North Carolina, the woman works during the week as an intake coordinator at a mental health facility. In 2018, she took a second job as an assistant manager at a Family Dollar store in Durham. The woman is seeking more than $75,000 in compensatory damages as well as punitive damages, all unpaid compensation and attorneys’ fees to cover the cost of the litigation. We're in the third decade of the 21st Century, and this shit is still happening. Ugh. And before you ask, no, this is not one of Art Pope's stores.

OVER 700 HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH CRIMES RELATED TO TRUMP'S FAILED COUP: Federal prosecutors in the District have charged more than 725 individuals with various crimes in connection with the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection, when hundreds of rioters forced their way into the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. attorney’s office said Friday. Of those arrested, 225 people were charged with assault or resisting arrest. More than 75 of those were charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon against police officers. The office said 140 police officers, including Capitol officers and members of the D.C. police department, were victimized during the attack. The office said about 10 individuals were charged with assaulting members of the media or destroying their equipment. Some 640 people were charged with entering a restricted federal building or its grounds. And another 75 were charged with entering a restricted area with a deadly weapon. About 165 individuals, the office said, have pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges, from misdemeanors to felony obstruction. So far, 70 defendants have received some kind of sentence from a judge. Of those, 31 people were ordered jailed, and 18 were sentenced to home detention. The remaining 21 defendants were placed on probation. In early December, Robert Scott Palmer, 54, of Largo, Fla., received the longest prison sentence to date among those convicted in the attack. A U.S. District Court judge sentenced him to more than five years in prison. That's actually more people being jailed than I thought would be the case, and there will be more in the months to come.

BIDEN AND PUTIN FACE OFF OVER POTENTIAL INVASION OF THE UKRAINE: After tough talk between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin over the Russian troop buildup on the Ukraine border, both sides insist they are hopeful that a pathway to easing tensions could open during diplomatic talks set for January. But with less than two weeks to go before senior U.S. and Russian officials are to meet in Geneva, the chasm is deep and the prospect of finding an exit to the crisis faces no shortage of complications. Biden on Friday told reporters that he advised Putin when they spoke by phone a day earlier that the upcoming talks could only work if the Russian leader “deescalated, not escalated, the situation” in the days ahead. The U.S. president said he also sought to make plain to Putin that the U.S. and allies stood ready to hit Russia with punishing sanctions if the Russians further invade Ukraine. A top Putin aide on Friday reinforced that Russia stands by its demands for written security guarantees. Moscow wants it codified that any future expansion of NATO must exclude Ukraine and other former Soviet bloc countries and demands that the bloc remove offensive weaponry from countries in the Russian neighborhood. “We will not allow our initiatives to be drowned in endless discussions,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the state RIA-Novosti news agency Friday. “If no constructive answer comes in a reasonable time and the West continues its aggressive course, Russia will have to take all necessary measures to maintain a strategic balance and remove unacceptable threats to our security.” I've been worried about this for many years, see me in the comments.



Blast from the past...

A little over 13 years ago, actually:

Although the debate Friday night did expose some stark differences between the two candidates for President, there are some areas they both come close to agreement on. Unfortunately, it doesn't necessarily follow that this consensus represents a solid policy position that will forward America's future. I am referring specifically to Barack Obama's stated desire to see Ukraine's accession to NATO successfully realized, which I believe is just one in a long line of wrong-headed and downright dangerous foreign policy moves.

Since shortly after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, the U.S. has engaged in numerous attempts to bring stability and Democracy to the region, and I can safely say that our efforts have kept states from failing, saving countless lives in the process. Aside from the humanitarian result, these efforts also contributed to the maintenance of peace and a modicum of adherence to international law.

But these efforts required the infusion of American dollars to be successful, and being the good capitalists that we are, American taxpayers expected there to be some kind of payoff down the road. But what kind of payoff? Most Americans assume that we merely loan a country some money, and that country will pay us back when they get on their feet, with maybe a little interest thrown in there for the effort. The reality is not nearly so clear-cut, and the return on our investment is fraught with complications and is likely to jeopardize the very peace we were initially concerned with preserving.

Like America, the Russian Federation's well-being is inextricably tied to commerce, which is itself tied to external trade relations. Thanks in part to an extremely aggressive approach by our State Department (medium-sized pdf) in securing trade relationships with former Soviet republics and satellite nations, the Russian Federation has found itself struggling with an ever-decreasing number of trade options with its neighbors.

To work from the assumption that our behavior in this region is both legal and ethical, and in no way should be viewed as a provocation by Russians, is to turn a blind eye to the realities of the world we live in.

Vladimir Putin cannot and will not sit idly by while Russia's options are swept off the table. And while it may be comforting (if inaccurate) to look upon our approach as insurance against a resurgence of "Stalinist-type aggression", that will be little comfort when our beleaguered military is engaged in pitched battles with Russians in the Crimea, while we watch our economy and strategic influence wither under the strain of one more unnecessary conflict.

I am under no delusions about the integrity of Vladimir Putin; whether we can "trust" him or not. The truth is, we can't. But we can trust him to react violently to what he views as an intrusion by NATO in bordering nations. What would we do if placed in that situation? Contemplate that.