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September 6, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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Yesterday, Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia, to attend the U.S.–Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and the East Asia Summit. ASEAN is a political and economic union of 10 member states in Southeast Asia whose combined population is more than 600 million (almost twice the size of the U.S.); the East Asia Summit expands ASEAN with several more nations. At meetings today, she emphasized the U.S. commitment to Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific. “We are a proud Pacific power, and the American people have a profound stake in the future of the Indo-Pacific,” she said.

Harris noted that Americans “share historic bonds and common values with many of the people and nations here” and that the region shares the same interests in security and prosperity. Commerce between Southeast Asia and the United States supports more than 600,000 American jobs, and ongoing economic cooperation offers enormous potential for growth. “It is therefore in our vital interest to promote a region that is open, interconnected, prosperous, secure, and resilient.” She announced the establishment of a U.S.-ASEAN Center in Washington, D.C., to deepen the economic and cultural engagement between members of the two entities.

She emphasized that the United States is committed to the Indo-Pacific and that it is “committed to ASEAN centrality.” 

As the press was leaving a photo opportunity between Harris and Indonesian president Joko Widodo, the White House pool reporter called out two questions, one to each leader. The White House pool reporter is the one designated by all the other outlets to represent the press for the day. This reporter, Patsy Widakuswara, is an Indonesian American and the White House bureau chief for the Voice of America, the government-owned but independent U.S. broadcaster around the world. Indonesian officials physically blocked Widakuswara, told her to leave, and banned her from any other events. 

“It was tense, but I didn’t feel anxious or panicked or anything like that, because I knew that I was just doing my job,” Widakuswara told Liam Scott of VOA. ”And I also knew that the VP’s office would stand by me.”

And stand she did. Harris refused to enter the summit room until the entire press pool, including Widakuswara, was inside. Indonesian officials later expressed their regret, said her shouts raised security concerns, and reiterated support for press freedom (although Reporters Without Borders ranks Indonesia 108th out of 180 countries for press freedom). 

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told VOA: “A free and independent press is a core institution of healthy democracies and is vital for ensuring electorates can make informed decisions and hold government officials accountable.”

Harris’s defense of freedom of the press, a key pillar of democracy, stands out today as judges enforced the rule of law—the central pillar of democracy—in important ways.

This morning, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that Trump’s liability for defaming writer E. Jean Carroll had already been established by the jury in May and that the jury in the January trial will only have to decide how much money to award her. Kaplan also refused to cap the damages. The jury in May awarded Carroll $5 million. 

In Austin, U.S. District Judge David Ezra ruled that Texas must remove the barrier buoys and razor wire it has installed in the Rio Grande by September 15, and he prohibited Texas governor Greg Abbott from installing any others without proper approval. Ezra, who was appointed by Republican president Ronald Reagan, found that the United States was likely to win a lawsuit against Texas on the grounds that the state violated a federal law by affecting the navigation of the river and that the state cannot usurp the power of the federal government to enforce immigration laws. 

About 80% of the barrier was initially in Mexican waters in violation of international treaties, and the Mexican government has formally protested it three times. Texas Republicans are calling for Congress to defund the Department of Homeland Security until they are satisfied with its border policies. The court found “that Texas’s conduct irreparably harms the public safety, navigation, and the operations of federal agency officials in and around the Rio Grande.”

Texas has already appealed today’s decision. 

In Florida, Yuscil Taveras, the IT worker at Mar-a-Lago who alleged that Trump and his aide Walt Nauta and property manager Carlos de Oliveira tried to delete incriminating videos concerning the handling of classified national security documents from surveillance cameras, has reached a cooperation agreement with special counsel Jack Smith’s office. In exchange for not being prosecuted for his own part in the activity, Taveras will testify against the others.

Los Angeles Times senior legal affairs columnist Harry Litman wrote, “This was coming but important that it’s here…. Now [the] question is: how can Nauta and DeOlivera not do the same?” 

In that same case, Katherine Faulders and Mike Levine of ABC News reported today that voice memos made at the time by Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran show that he warned Trump in May 2022, just after the Department of Justice issued a grand jury subpoena for all the classified documents he had at Mar-a-Lago, that he had to comply and, if he didn’t, that the FBI might very well search Mar-a-Lago. Trump had asked “what happens if we just don’t respond at all or don’t play ball with them?” Despite Corcoran’s warning, Trump continued to suggest lying about the documents: “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?”

Another lawyer warned Corcoran that Trump would “go ballistic” if Corcoran pushed him to comply with the subpoena. When the FBI did, in fact, search the property the following August, Trump called it “a “shocking BREAK-IN,” with “no way to justify” it. The FBI found more than 100 classified documents still in Trump’s possession. 

Today, six Republican and unaffiliated Colorado voters, including former state, federal, and local officials, sued the Colorado secretary of state and former president Trump to keep him off the 2024 ballot. Represented by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), they argue that Trump is “disqualified from public office under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment” and therefore “does not ‘meet all qualifications for the office [of the President] prescribed by law.’” They believe the secretary of state must exclude him from the ballot because he is “constitutionally ineligible” to hold the office.

Like freedom of the press, the rule of law is central to our democracy. Its slow gathering of information and argument, weighing of evidence, and eventual verdicts is not foolproof, but it creates space to approximate the idea that we are all equal before the law. Today in Indonesia, the vice president defended freedom of the press. In contrast, faced with the inexorable march of legal processes that finally appear to be catching up to MAGA Republicans who appear to have considered themselves above the law, those same MAGA Republicans are trying to destroy the rule of law itself.   

Today on Trinity Broadcasting Network, which senior NBC News reporter Ben Collins says bills itself as the largest Christian television network in the world, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee opened his most recent episode by saying that if former president Trump loses the 2024 election because of the many indictments grand juries have handed down concerning his behavior, “it is going to be the last American election that will be decided by ballots rather than bullets.”

Notes:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2023/09/06/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-at-the-11th-u-s-asean-summit/

https://www.voanews.com/a/indonesian-officials-harass-white-house-pool-reporter-after-harris-widodo-meeting/7257121.html

https://www.dallasnews.com/news/2023/09/06/judge-orders-texas-to-remove-border-buoys-from-rio-grande-rejects-abbott-invasion-claim/

https://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2023/08/10/texas-says-shallow-river-makes-buoys-legal-amid-gop-calls-to-defund-homeland-security/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/texas-border-barriers-buoys-removed-federal-judge-biden-administration/ 

https://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/mike-huckabee-warns-2024-will-be-the-last-election-decided-by-ballots-rather-than-bullets-if-trump-loses/

https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.txwd.1172749163/gov.uscourts.txwd.1172749163.50.0.pdf

https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/06/politics/mar-a-lago-it-worker/index.html

https://www.citizensforethics.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/2023-09-06-08-43-07-Anderson-v-Griswold-Verified-Petition-2023.09.06.pdf

https://www.citizensforethics.org/news/press-releases/lawsuit-filed-to-remove-trump-from-ballot-in-co-under-14th-amendment/

https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/06/politics/e-jean-carroll-trump-defamation-lawsuit/index.html

https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.nysd.543790/gov.uscourts.nysd.543790.214.0.pdf

https://abcnews.go.com/US/trump-warned-fbi-raid-mar-lago-team-feared/story?id=102932105

https://www.state.gov/establishment-of-a-u-s-asean-center-in-washington-d-c/

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June 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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My First Job, at the Stanford Internet Observatory Julia Steinberg

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Like a zillion other bright-eyed Stanford undergrads, I was drawn to work at a place that promised I’d “learn about the abuse of the internet in real time,” writes Julia Steinberg. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

The Stanford Internet Observatory—a research center tasked with rooting out “misinformation” on social media—is shutting its doors. Chances are if you’ve heard of the SIO it was in a scathing piece from Michael Shellenberger or Matt Taibbi, who have accused the center of being a key node in the censorship-industrial complex.

It was also my first employer. Like a zillion other bright-eyed Stanford undergrads, I was drawn to work at a place that promised to “learn about the abuse of the internet in real time, to develop a novel curriculum on trust and safety that is a first in computer science, and to translate our research discoveries into training and policy innovations for the public good.” To me, that meant ending internet abuse like the glamorization of anorexia on social media or financial scams that steal billions every year. But mostly I worked on the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), which SIO ran during the 2020 and 2022 elections. The purpose of that project was to identify so-called “fake news” spreading on social media. 

In actuality, SIO hired a load of interns to scan social media for posts deemed to be mis- and disinformation. It turns out that the posts we students flagged were often sent along to moderators at Twitter (now X), Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, which took them down in order to quash dissenting viewpoints—viewpoints that sometimes ended up being right, as in the case of Covid likely being the result of a lab leak, or Hunter Biden’s hard drive being his actual hard drive—not Russian disinformation. 

Thanks to the work of independent journalists, the SIO’s work has come under a lot of scrutiny, including in Washington. A recent House Judiciary Committee report alleges that, by cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security, the SIO’s Election Integrity Partnership “provided a way for the federal government to launder its censorship activities in hopes of bypassing both the First Amendment and public scrutiny.” 

The SIO has stated that “Stanford has not shut down or dismantled SIO as a result of outside pressure. SIO does, however, face funding challenges as its founding grants will soon be exhausted.” But on June 13, Platformer reported that much of SIO’s staff was on the way out: “Its founding director, Alex Stamos, left his position in November. Renee DiResta, its research director, left last week after her contract was not renewed. One other staff member’s contract expired this month, while others have been told to look for jobs elsewhere, sources say.”

The Supreme Court will soon rule on a case, Murthy v. Missouri, that addresses whether the U.S. government should be able to collaborate with social media companies to censor commentary. The plaintiffs, in their brief, lambast SIO for its role in abetting government censorship. We’ll be watching that case closely.

Julia Steinberg is an intern at The Free Press. Read her piece on the college dropout who unlocked the secrets of ancient Rome using AI. And follow her on X @Juliaonatroika.

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My Promise to Palestine Chris Hedges

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When I accepted the Tafik Diab Prize for my writing on the genocide in Gaza in Cairo on June 10 I explained why the cartoonist Joe Sacco and I are planning to do our next book together on Gaza.

Written speech:

I would like to start with a story that happened to me in Gaza on October 5, 2000. One day I was working on a report at Natzarim (Jewish settlement). There were Palestinian boys near me. The boys threw rocks towards the Israeli army. A soldier shot one of the boys — and the boy died. Four boys each lifted up a limb and we ran. The incident aftected me to such an extent that I did not shave for three weeks. After three weeks, I went to visit the boy’s house to meet his family. I told his mother I was with her son when he was killed. The mother told me that when her younger son heard that his brother had been killed he went into the kitchen, and then he left the house. After ten minutes she asked her husband where her son had gone. They went out to look for him and saw him in the street with a knife in his hand.

She asked him, “Where are you going?”

He answered, “I am going to kill Jews.” I have never been able to forget that child. I often wonder where he is. He would be a man in his thirties now. Is he still alive? Married? Does he have children? Are he and his family frightened of the bombing? Where have they taken refuge? God willing, I will write a book on Gaza with the cartoonist Joe Sacco, the author of “Palestine” and “Footnotes in Gaza.” During that time I will look for him, I will complete his story and the stories of many others. Israel is determined to erase them from existence and from history. This is my promise.

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