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Author: CounterPoint (Page 3 of 12)

The Supreme Court’s Objectivity Theater

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

After months of corruption scandals and plummeting public approval, the Supreme Court released a document on November 13 to correct, in its words, the “misunderstanding” that the justices “regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules.” That’s a narrow, and telling, statement of intent—calm down, everyone, we do have ethics rules! There’s just one small qualification: They don’t prohibit any of the things making you mad at us in the first place.

When Congress made tentative noises about providing minor checks and balances on the court, the justices erupted in outrage, telling Congress to go f* itself

Let’s examine the document. It sets out broad, affirmative standards of behavior, few of which are compulsory. As plenty of critics have noted, the word “should” appears 53 times in the code, but the word “must” appears just six times. Just two of those musts involve specific rules, both about obtaining prior approval before being paid for teaching. Similarly, while the document copies a lot of language from the ethics rules for lower courts, Bloomberg Law noticed that the justices struck the word “enforce” from their provisions about maintaining a high standard of conduct. They also cut a mandate to “take appropriate action” if they get “reliable information” that a fellow justice has violated the guidelines.

But the most important omission isn’t a verb in the formal text. While it bans—or at least discourages—justices from leading, speaking, or donating to “political organizations,” unlike the lower courts, the Supreme Court never defines that term.

MUCH more here:

Pluralistic: Red-teaming the SCOTUS code of conduct (17 Nov 2023)

New Supreme Court Ethics Code Is Designed to Fail


By Michael Waldman

The Supreme Court announced yesterday that the justices will subject themselves to a code of ethics. It is, in some ways, welcome news.

But the code comes with a whiff of condescension. The justices only took this step, they explain, because of some “misunderstanding” by the public about their probity. It’s not accountability — it’s the appearance of accountability. The Supreme Court has been the only court in the country without a binding ethics code. Now it has one of the country’s weakest. These new rules are more loophole than law.

The idea behind an ethics code is simple: nobody is wise enough to be the judge in their own case. Yet the justices will still judge themselves. There is no mechanism to enforce the code — no arbiter to enforce, apply, or even interpret these rules. And the Brennan Center and other reformers have urged a variety of possible ways to do this. One idea is to bring in retired judges to advise on or even decide issues. There are other ideas as well. This code adopts none of them.

The rules themselves are weak. Consider recusal, when justices step aside from considering a case. The justices took the rule that applies to lower court judges but then inserted a handful of new loopholes, including one that could be so big that it swallows the rule — allowing a justice to disregard a required recusal if they think their vote is needed in the case. And the financial disclosure rules haven’t tightened at all — a significant shortcoming, since the justices have proven themselves troublingly adept at sidestepping the current rules, whether for RVs, tuition, fishing trips, or real estate deals.

If the Court is to hold itself to the highest ethical standards, as Chief Justice John Roberts has repeatedly said is his aim, the justices must do more. Real financial transparency. Recusal whenever a conflict of interest creates the appearance of bias. Most importantly, an external body to tell us when a justice has fallen afoul of the rules. That’s what checks and balances are all about.

Still, this is a big moment. Public trust in the Court has collapsed to the lowest level ever recorded. The Senate Judiciary Committee was on the verge of issuing subpoenas to Harlan Crow, Clarence Thomas’s benefactor. Lawmakers were making noise about passing an ethics code if the justices did not act first. Public pressure can matter.

There were hints in the explanatory essay that accompanied the rules that there may be more to come. Let’s hope so. The Supreme Court faces a historic crisis of legitimacy, one of the justices’ own making. Yesterday’s code of ethics is the Court’s opening bid — the bare minimum to pacify an angry public.

Let’s keep up the pressure.


FTC Details How Amazon Aims to Deceive Customers and Harm Sellers

Karina Montoya

The Federal Trade Commission last week released information that was previously redacted in the antitrust lawsuit it filed in September against Amazon. Perhaps the most explosive new revelation is that Amazon’s exponential growth in advertising – which brought the company $38 billion in revenues last year – was based in large part on intentionally deceptive business practices designed to harm both consumers and third-party sellers.

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The allegations throw into doubt Amazon’s ability to continue to grow its advertising business, which has evolved from selling ads on its proprietary marketplace to other web publishers and smart TV providers. Indeed, if the FTC prevails in its case, Amazon will be prohibited from engaging in this conduct and may be forced to shut down or spin off large parts of this operation.

The newly publicized portions of the lawsuit mainly recount Amazon’s advertising practices since 2014. In essence, the complaint shows that the core goal of this operation was to extract additional profits from its marketplace sellers, who were often all but required to buy advertising to at least break even. The extortionary nature of this model was first detailed by Open Markets’ executive director Barry Lynn in 2020.

Amazon has been quietly but steadily growing its ads business since 2008. It started selling ads known as “sponsored products,” which appear within the search results of its marketplace. Around 2014, Amazon launched more ad formats, including “sponsored brands,” which are more flashy ads placed on top of supposedly “relevant Amazon shopping results.”


According to the FTC lawsuit, it was in 2016 that Jeff Bezos ordered executives to increase the number of irrelevant ads on the corporation’s marketplace purely to drive up profits. Such ads were known inside Amazon as “defects,” and one result of their use was to degrade the user experience of Amazon customers. At the time Bezos was Amazon’s CEO. He’s been the executive chair of the e-commerce giant since the summer of 2021.

The change proved lucrative. Between 2016 and 2018, Amazon’s advertising revenue surged from $1.4 billion to an estimated $10 billion, according to Barclays and company records. This model soon attracted many copycats among other big retailers, who have followed the Amazon move to build its digital advertising agency, in what marketers now call “retail media networks.” Under this business model, retailers not only sell ads related to search queries on their websites, but they also promise targeting capabilities to reach specific shoppers across the web and connected devices.

 As reported in the Washington Monthly in July, it is this business model, founded on “sponsored product” ads, that catapulted Amazon into third place behind Google and Facebook in the market of “ad tech” tools. These services are commonly used by other web publishers, including news organizations, to connect with advertisers through a series of bids that auction ad spaces. Amazon, unlike any other retailer, directly operates an ad exchange that connects brands with web publishers. In this retail media network, advertisers seek to target Amazon users on the marketplace and the web.

 Some marketers have portrayed such a model as a better way to spend money on digital ads compared to Google or social media since the targeting is supposedly based on highly precise data about the shopping behavior of individual people. But a growing number of small businesses have started to report that investment in Amazon Ads — the commercial name of Amazon’s ad business — can be just as misleading.

 “Amazon Ads takes credit for sales that would have happened organically, like 40% [of organic sales], dramatically inflating performance [of ads],” wrote Bryan Porter, chief of e-commerce officer at drinkware company SimpleModern. “Lifetime, we’ve spent $14 million on Amazon ads. Our learning? Millions were a waste.”

FTC Sues Amazon for Illegally Maintaining Monopoly Power

Speaker Mike Johnson wants to end your right to birth control

By Thom Hartmann

Speaker Mike Johnson wants to end your right to birth control and, by the way, Ohio Republicans claim they’re going to ignore the state’s constitution and prosecute doctors and women who get abortions.

Christofascist Speaker Mike JohnsonWhen MAGA Mike was interviewed on Fox “News,” he feigned ignorance about his legislative votes and the bill he sponsored to outlaw birth control pills and IUDs. That’s how dishonest this guy is. Last July the House held a vote on a bill that would have put into law a woman’s right to use birth control pills and devices that are “FDA approved”: Johnson voted against it. He also co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act (HR 431), a so-called “personhood” bill, that would outlaw birth control pills and IUDs as well as in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

Slippery Mike also refuses to reveal to Congress anything about his finances: he’s using a loophole that only requires members of the House to reveal “interest-bearing” accounts, which is the case for most checking and savings accounts. Mike, however, found a bank that offers a checking account that does not pay interest, so we’ll never find out who’s financing him or how much money he has.

Along those same lines of Republicans defying the spirit of the law, GOP members of the Ohio legislature say they’re going to introduce legislation stripping from the state courts the ability to enforce the new constitutional amendment codifying the right to abortion. They claim the ballot measure only passed because of “foreign billionaires” (presumably a shot at their favorite boogeyman George Soros, aka “the International Jew”), and therefore they can ignore the will of Ohio’s voters. This is going to get interesting, and hopefully, it will help Democrats flip Ohio back to Blue.

Finally, Mike Johnson is in Paris today speaking to a conference of international right-wingers headlined by a man convicted of hate speech. As usual, they’re branding this Christofascist meeting with the word “freedom.”


Mike Johnson to headline Paris event aimed at global ‘right-wing alliance’

The Lobbyists Who Don’t Want A Ceasefire

Why do polls show a majority of Americans support a ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and yet only 18 members of the U. S. House are officially supporting a resolution calling for such a ceasefire?

What explains that huge gap between what the public wants and what Congress wants? Part of the answer has to do with how America’s political discourse has been deliberately polarized by conservative groups like AIPAC, the pro-Netanyahu lobbying group seeking to equate support for Israel’s fundamental right to exist with support for the specific policies of Israel’s current right-wing government. These groups publicly equate opposition to such policies to anti-semitism, polarizing the national conversation and demonizing Democrats who question Israel’s policies. 12 House Democrats, Josh Gottheimer (NJ), Jared Moskowitz (FL), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL), Lois Frankel (FL), Jared Golden (ME), Juan Vargas (CA), Angie Craig (MN), Darren Soto (FL), Haley Stevens (MI), Frederica Wilson (FL), Don Davis (NC) and Greg Landsman (OH). have accepted a combined $8 million in campaign support from AIPAC and its affiliates in the last year.

In the 2022 midterm elections, AIPAC and what was effectively its campaign arm, Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), outspent all comers to oust Democratic primary candidates who’d dared to criticize the Israeli right, most particularly liberal Michigan Rep. Andy Levin, who was also president of his local synagogue, and who surely spoke for most Jewish Democrats in criticizing Israeli governments in general for abridging Palestinian rights, and the ultra-Orthodox in Bibi’s coalition in particular for pushing for a more theocratic state. What was notable about DMFI’s campaigns was that the attack ads they ran didn’t focus on Israel at all—they often involved themselves in districts that weren’t heavily Jewish—but on whatever else they could come up with, verifiable or otherwise.

The fate of Andy Levin doubtless troubles the sleep of Schiff, Porter, the Democrats’ House leadership, and probably even the White House. Like those Florida retirees, Biden is also old enough to remember when Israel was the cynosure of liberals’ eyes. What’s left of that Israel, last week’s letters point out, may soon crash and burn. Democrats are calling on the president, forcefully if implicitly, to do more to avert that catastrophe.

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Mike Johnson rejects the separation of church and state

Johnson rejects the separation of church and state in our government, saying that the framers’ idea “clearly did not mean…to keep religion from influencing issues of civil government.

New House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) rejects the separation of church and state in our government, saying that the framers’ idea “clearly did not mean…to keep religion from influencing issues of civil government. On the contrary, it was meant to keep the federal government from impeding the religious practice of citizens. The Founders wanted to protect the church from an encroaching state, not the other way around.”

James Madison of Virginia, the key thinker behind the Constitution, had quite a lot to say about why the government and religion must be kept apart.

In 1772, when he was 21, Madison watched as Virginia arrested itinerant preachers for attacking the established church in the state. He was no foe of religion, but by the next year, he had begun to question whether established religion, which was common in the colonies, was good for society. By 1776, many of his broad-thinking neighbors had come to believe that society should “tolerate” different religious practices; he had moved past tolerance to the belief that men had a right of conscience.

In that year, he was instrumental in putting Section 16 into the Virginia Declaration of Rights, on which our own Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—would be based. It reads: “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.”

In 1785, in a “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments,” Madison explained that what was at stake was not just religion, but also the representative government itself. The establishment of one religion over others attacked a fundamental human right—an unalienable right—of conscience. If lawmakers could destroy the right of freedom of conscience, they could destroy all other unalienable rights. Those in charge of government could throw representative government out the window and make themselves tyrants.

Madison believed that various religious sects would balance each other out, keeping the new nation free of the religious violence of Europe. He drew on that vision explicitly when he envisioned a new political system, expecting that a variety of political expressions would protect the new government. In Federalist #51, he said: “In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the diversity of interests, and the other in the multiplicity of sects.”

To make sure men had the right of conscience, the First Amendment to the Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson called this amendment “a wall of separation between Church and state.” In a letter of January 1, 1802, he explained to a group of Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut, how that principle made him refuse to call for national religious days of fasting and thanksgiving in his role as head of the government.

Like Madison, he maintained that “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship.” “[T]he legitimate powers of government reach actions only,” he wrote, “[and] not [religious] opinions.”

“[T]hat act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’” he wrote, built “a wall of separation between Church & State.” It prevented him from such religious practices as declaring a day of fasting in times of trouble, or thanksgiving in times of triumph.


The Rise of the Christofascists

Christian fascism is a term that is used to describe a far-right political ideology that denotes an intersection between fascism and Christianity. It is sometimes referred to as “Christofascism“, a neologism that was coined in 1970 by the liberation theologian Dorothee Sölle.[1][2][3]

Interpretation of Sölle

Tom F. Driver, the Paul Tillich Professor Emeritus at Union Theological Seminary, expressed concern “that the worship of God in Christ not divide Christian from Jew, man from woman, clergy from laity, white from black, or rich from poor”. To him, Christianity is in constant danger of Christofascism. He stated that “[w]e fear Christofascism, which we see as the political direction of all attempts to place Christ at the center of social life and history” and that “[m]uch of the churches’ teaching about Christ has turned into something that is dictatorial in its heart and is preparing society for an American fascism”.[4][5]

Christofascism “disposed or allowed Christians, to impose themselves not only upon other religions but other cultures, and political parties which do not march under the banner of the final, normative, victorious Christ” – as Paul F. Knitter describes Sölle’s view.[6][7]

Donald Trump is greeted by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) on February 4, 2020.Leah Millis / Getty

Donald Trump is greeted by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) on February 4, 2020.
Leah Millis / Getty

The most dangerous movement in American politics today is not Trumpism. It is Christofascism. With the election of Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, the organized effort to impose the extreme religious views of a minority of Americans on the entire country, at the expense of many of our most basic freedoms, took a disturbing step forward.

Despite Speaker Johnson’s claims of being a constitutional “originalist,” via his elevation by a unanimous vote of his Republican colleagues, he has moved America closer to having precisely the kind of government America’s founders most feared.

There is a reason the word “God” does not appear a single time in the Constitution. The founders were breaking with an England and Europe that were still in the thrall of the idea that rulers derived their powers from heaven above, “the divine right of kings.” But the Constitution explicitly states their view that the powers of government are derived “from the consent of the governed.”

Thomas Jefferson said he viewed with “solemn reverence that act of the whole of the American people” which established “a wall of separation between church and state.” George Washington approved a treaty stating, “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” The First Amendment in America’s Bill of Rights states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The principal author of the Constitution, James Madison, in his treatise, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” described 15 reasons why the U.S. government must avoid backing any religion.


Here’s Why Mike Johnson Is More Dangerous Than Donald Trump

Speaker Mike Johnson Believes God Has Ordained Him

Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson doesn’t hide his religion or his belief in the primacy of his Christian beliefs. Quite the contrary. Here’s what he told Sean Hannity Thursday on Fox News: “Someone asked me today in the media, ‘People are curious, what does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’ I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview. That’s what I believe.’”

This came the day after he used his precious first remarks as speaker to tell the House and the country that he believes God has ordained him. “I believe that Scripture, the Bible, is very clear: that God is the one who raises up those in authority…I believe that God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific moment in this time.’”

(He also introduced his “dedicated wife of 25 years” to the nation—and her absence at his acceptance speech—like this: “She’s spent the last couple of weeks on her knees in prayer to the Lord. And, um, she’s a little worn out.”)

Surely, then, when asked about the mass shooting in Maine, this would be a chance for him to speak out against the most sacred commandment—Thou shalt not kill—and use his new divinely ordained power to speak to the need to address the availability of weapons that make murder possible on a quick and massive scale. Right?  Nope.

“The problem is the human heart,” he told Hannity. “It’s not guns. It’s not the weapons. At the end of the day we have to protect the right of the citizens to protect themselves and that’s the Second Amendment…This is not the time to talk about legislation.”

Mike Johnson is now second in line to the presidency.


What Do You Hear When the New House Speaker Says He’s Been Ordained By God?

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Think that your plastic is being recycled? Think again.

Plastic is cheap to make and shockingly profitable. It’s everywhere. And we’re all paying the price.

Plastic, and the profusion of waste it creates, can hide in plain sight, a ubiquitous part of our lives we rarely question. But a closer examination of the situation can be shocking.

Currently, about 430 million tons of plastic is produced yearly, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)—significantly more than the weight of all human beings combined. One-third of this total takes the form of single-use plastics, which humans interact with for seconds or minutes before discarding.

“The amount of plastic on our planet—it’s like one big oil spill.”

A total of 95% of the plastic used in packaging is disposed of after one use, a loss to the economy of up to $120 billion annually, concludes a report by McKinsey. (Just over a quarter of all plastics are used for packaging.) One-third of this packaging is not collected, becoming pollution that generates “significant economic costs by reducing the productivity of vital natural systems such as the ocean.” This causes at least $40 billion in damages, the report states, which exceeds the “profit pool” of the packaging industry. One paper estimated that the average person consumes five grams of plastic every week—mostly from water. About 95% of the tap water in the United States is contaminated. Microplastics are also widely found in beer, salt, shellfish, and other human foods.

In the United States, only about 5% to 6% of plastics are being recycled each year.

Notably, what doesn’t get reused or recycled does not chemically degrade but rather becomes a fixture of our world; it breaks apart to form microplastics, pieces smaller than five millimeters in diameter. In the past few years, scientists have found significant quantities of microplastics in the further reaches of the ocean; in snow and rainfall in seemingly pristine places worldwide; in the air we breathe; and in human blood, colons, lungs, veins, breast milk, placentas, and fetuses.

The solution to that problem lies further upstream: to address plastic pollution, those who produce plastics need to pay for the damage it causes, and the world will also have to make less of it. We’ll have to develop better, more recyclable products. We’ll also have to find sustainable alternatives and increase what ecologists call circularity—keeping those products in use as long as possible and finding ways to reuse their materials after that.


Think that your plastic is being recycled? Think again.

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