(Permanent Musical Accompaniment To This Post)
Being our semi-regular weekly survey of what's goin' down in the several states where, as we know, the real work of governmentin' gets done, and where the skating rink glistens by the sun near the old crossroads sign.
We begin this week in the Commonwealth (God save it!) where a local judge and local DA's office have decided to throw hands at ICE and the administration*'s policies toward undocumented people. From the Boston Globe:
Last week, Joseph and MacGregor pleaded not guilty to obstruction charges, and MacGregor also pleaded not guilty to a perjury charge for allegedly lying to a federal grand jury. The defendants are free on personal recognizance. The matter stems from a bizarre sequence of events inside Newton District Court on April 2, 2018. That’s when twice-deported Jose Medina-Perez appeared before Joseph on drug and fugitive from justice charges while an ICE agent sat in court waiting to take him into custody to begin removal proceedings.
Prosecutors said in an indictment that Joseph spoke with defense lawyer David Jellinek and prosecutor Shannon Jurgens during a sidebar conference. Jellinek and Jurgens aren’t named in the indictment. The Globe has reported they were the attorneys of record. Prosecutors haven’t said what the Pennsylvania fugitive charge involved, but the Globe previously reported it was for a drunken driving offense. Jurgens said she didn’t think Medina-Perez was the person wanted out of Pennsylvania, and Jellinek said ICE was convinced it had its man and would grab him if he walked out of court. the indictment said.
Medina-Perez was released, and MacGregor, who’s now retired and who’s also charged in connection with the case, “used his security access card to open the rear sally-port exit and released [Medina-Perez] out the backdoor at approximately 3:01 p.m.,” the indictment said. That happened unbeknownst to the ICE agent who was still waiting in the lobby to apprehend Medina-Perez. The subterfuge was criminal, according to prosecutors, and it started earlier when the recorder was turned off during the sidebar conference.
“With the recorder off, defendant Joseph and [Jellinek] discussed devising a way to have [Medina-Perez] avoid being arrested by the ICE Officer,” the indictment said. “After ordering [Medina-Perez’s] release, defendant Joseph ordered that [Medina-Perez] be returned downstairs to the lockup for [Jellinek] to ‘further interview’ [Medina-Perez], which, in reality, was a pretext to allow [Medina-Perez] to access the rear sally-port exit in order to avoid the ICE Officer.” Thwarting ICE like that is a federal offense.
Alright, this is an interesting episode leading to a very interesting criminal case that will touch on a whole host of issues-most notably, to me, anyway, whether or not the entire criminal justice system, local and federal, is now hostage to the administration*'s bughouse-nutty immigration policies. In fact, local district attorneys have filed a lawsuit to block ICE from making arrests within state courts. Alas, as you can imagine, this is something the president* couldn't keep his stubby fingers off. And now it's a roiling mess. Again, from the Globe:
“I think it’s a sad situation and very unfortunate for Massachusetts,” Trump said during an appearance on Boston Herald Radio. “You know, these are people who probably don’t mind crime, they don’t mind what’s going on.” Trump then pivoted to a discussion about MS-13, the murderous international street gang he called “evil.” “To try to protect them, I don’t think so,” he said, referring to the lawsuit that Rollins and Ryan joined. Trump also defended the work of ICE officials, calling them “real heroes.”
It seems to me that the judge and her co-defendant well may be in some genuine trouble, but the president*'s meddling in the DA's lawsuit is genuinely inexcusable, not to mention slanderous. Speaking for Massachusetts, I'd like to suggest the president* fck the hell right off.
From here, we skip on down to Tennessee, where things are coming unstrung in a lot of ways. First, they're trying to unionize the Volkswagen plant near Chattanooga again and, this time, the company is making employees listen to the governor, which seems like a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. From Labor Notes:
The governor’s speech opened by marking his 100th day in office and the need for vocational training in the state to foreground his remarks about unionization. Beginning near the 12-minute mark, the governor said, “I do believe, based on my personal experience of working with hundreds of skilled trades people over 35 years of working, that every workplace has challenges.” He added, “There are things in your workplace that you wish were different. I also believe ... that when I have a direct relationship with you, the worker, and you’re working for me, that is when the environment works the best.” The plant’s auto workers responded with boos and clapping, reflecting a divided audience.
Wow. That's some serious dancing right there.
Volkswagen’s management was less than pleased with the heckling, according to workers in attendance.
Ach du lieber!
“We had open dialogue back by letting the governor know that we think he is full of it,” said Billy Quigg, who has worked on assembly in the plant for seven years. “Don’t preach open dialogue and then get upset when we make it clear that we disagree with what the governor is saying.”
Meanwhile, in Nashville, the state legislature has passed a whole bouquet of awful laws, including a voter-suppression bill that would severely penalize even minor clerical errors made by the workers in voter-registration drives, a voucher system for public schools the costs of which fall most heavily on various predominently Democratic parts of the state, and an anti-choice law that will be placed in abeyance for the day that Roe v. Wade is overturned by P.J. and Squi's pal in Washington.
Meanwhile, a former legislator named Larry Bates was sentenced for being a nationally known griftzilla. From the Memphis Commercial-Appeal:
Bates was convicted along with his two sons and a daughter-in-law in the scheme carried out through Bates' company, which had offices in Memphis and Boulder, Colorado. "Larry Bates, a self-proclaimed doctor in economics, held conferences across the United States, predicting an economic collapse and emphasizing the need to invest in precious metals," the federal prosecutor's office said in a news release.
"Between 2007 and 2013, customers gave more than eighty-seven million dollars to First American Monetary Consultants for the purpose of buying precious metals. During this same period, the proof showed the defendant diverted customers’ monies that were to be used to purchase precious metals to the defendants own use and benefit." The prosecutor's office said Bates diverted $4 million to create a Christian radio network, International Radio Network, while other funds were used for trading commodities and building a 10,000-square-foot house in Middleton, about 80 miles east of Memphis. By 2009, the company accumulated more than $26 million in unfilled orders from customers.
Render unto my pocket, you suckers.
We move from there over to Louisiana, where CNN brings us the story of a place called LaPlace, in the middle of that state's toxic wasteland, where sick residents are being told that it's nobody's fault, and certainly not the fault of their good pal, chloroprine.
Her grandchildren suffer an array of ailments, from skin conditions to breathing problems. Her 7-year-old great-grandson's breathing is so labored, she says, "you can feel his heart trying to jump out of his chest." Watkins lives in the shadow of a plant that spews chloroprene -- a chemical so toxic the Environmental Protection Agency says nearby residents face the highest risk in the country of developing cancer from air toxins. "You gotta live here to try to breathe the air, drink the water, see the children so sick and watch people die," Watkins says. "Industry is wonderful to have, but if it's killing the people in the area that they live in, what good is industry?" Watkins is a worthy advocate, a 76-year-old great-grandmother challenging those in power. Her words are often punctuated by folksy aphorisms: "Nothing beats a failure but a try," she says. And try she will.
In 2010, the EPA determined that chloroprene is "likely carcinogenic to humans," meaning studies showed it likely causes cancer in people. The EPA has not set a legal limit for chloroprene emissions. But according to a May 2016 memo, federal regulators said the "upper limit of acceptability" for cancer risk was an annual average of 0.2 micrograms of chloroprene per cubic meter. Anything more than that would increase the risk of developing cancer, the EPA determined. Residents say they were largely unaware of the 2010 EPA finding. But in December 2015, the EPA updated its National Air Toxics Assessment map, which showed an elevated risk of cancer around the plant -- prompting Denka to enter into an agreement with the state of Louisiana to voluntarily reduce chloroprene emissions by 85%.
The company, however, is telling the folks that chloroprene isn't unhealthy anyway.
The town hall meetings may have been intended to reassure residents, but they only seemed to create more questions: Residents wondered why they weren't warned years before and said their complaints have been ignored. While Denka agreed to the voluntary 85% reduction, it disputes the EPA's 0.2 recommendation and insists its own research shows no connection between chloroprene and cancer. Denka is a Japanese chemical company that bought the plant from DuPont in 2015. Denka officials say the EPA based its cancer estimate on faulty science and have demanded that the EPA issue a correction. The company commissioned and submitted a study that argued chloroprene's classification should be changed from "likely carcinogenic to humans" to "possibly carcinogenic" -- and that the 0.2 guideline should be changed to 31.2, more than 150 times the EPA's recommendation.
It's another classic jobs vs. poison dilemma in an obscure place in which the plant is a primary economic engine. What the people know is that their neighbors are getting sick and dying.
Robert Taylor III grew up near the plant and was in and out of the hospital with kidney problems throughout his youth. He moved away after high school and had no problems for more than 20 years. But six months after moving back, Taylor says, his kidneys failed. Sitting at his kitchen table, he points across the street: "Husband and wife died from cancer." Then, he waves his hand toward another home: "Husband died of cancer. Both of his sons got cancer."
"These people are filling us up with this poison," he says of the plant.
There are thousands of little time bombs like this around the country and in so many of them, the people most closely involved are talking past each other. And people get sick and die. We need a vocabulary for these conversations that doesn't include the phrase, "sacrificing for the economy."
Also in Louisiana, we find another example of ICE and the administration*'s batshit-nutty immigration policies screwing up local law-enforcement. From Mother Jones:
In June 2017, before signing a historic suite of criminal justice reform bills, Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, declared, “I’m not proud of our title as the most incarcerated state, but that now is going to be part of our history.” True to his word, the governor announced one year later that his state no longer had the nation’s highest incarceration rate. As Louisiana began to send fewer people to jail and release inmates more quickly, Immigration and Customs Enforcement stepped in to fill the void. Since February, ICE has started housing detained immigrants at three new jails in the state, doubling the agency’s capacity in Louisiana. In the coming weeks or months, Louisiana may surpass California to become the state with the second-most ICE detainees, behind Texas.
This is America. We don't leave cells empty for long.
The new contracts in Louisiana show that ICE continues to disregard the limits Congress tried to impose on the number of immigrants it detains. The 2019 spending bill passed by Congress in February instructed ICE to reduce its detainee population from about 50,000 to 40,000 by September. Yet ICE has routinely exceeded congressional limits, and it’s taking things even further with the Louisiana contracts, which are expanding its capacity by another 2,500 detainees. The three Louisiana jails are run by LaSalle Corrections, a Louisiana-based private jail operator that started in the nursing home business before realizing it could apply the same model to running jails: Keep occupancy high and costs low.
Bad enough to treat the old folks as though they live in a Times Square SRO, but keeping occupancy of a prison high and its costs low is like running a rewards program for Devils Island.
And we conclude, as is our custom, in the great state of Oklahoma, where, as Blog Official Left Banke Cowboy Friedman of the Plains informs us from Paris (!), a former jail administrator soon will be sampling institutional dining himself. From ABC8 in Tulsa:
Former Garfield County jail administrator Jennifer Shay Niles was sentenced Tuesday to 55 hours in jail. She was among several people charged following the 2016 death of Anthony Huff. According to the Enid News & Eagle, Niles testified Tuesday that Huff was restrained because he had been kicking doors and hitting his head on a wall. But prosecutor Chris Boring said Huff was left to suffer in the chair and wasn't removed until he was dead. The state medical examiner's office listed Huff's probable cause of death as chronic alcoholism.
This is your democracy, America. Cherish it.
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