The end of a democratic Israel?

We begin today with the lead editorial from Haaretz about the judicial “reforms” that an Israeli far-right coalition pushed through the Knesset.

All those 64 will be remembered forever as being responsible for crushing the rule of law and fatally undercutting the separation of powers. Even the moderate forces in the coalition, who worked to forge a compromise with the opposition and soften the terms of the law, will not be able to wash their hands of it. They are no less responsible for this black day than the law’s architects – Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman.

But the heaviest blame falls on Benjamin Netanyahu. The most destructive prime minister in Israel’s history has again proven that he is prepared to sacrifice Israel’s democracy for his personal political survival. Netanyahu is smashing Israel into tiny parts using the divide and conquer method. He incites and stirs up emotions, disrupts, tears the social fabric, crushes the rule of law and weakens the judicial system – all in order to escape the horror of judgment. Netanyahu is taking revenge on the system that decided to put him on trial, and along the way he is taking revenge on the entire country.

Following passage of the law on Monday, Levin and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir made clear that this was only the beginning. “We have taken the first step in the important historical process of reforming the judicial system,” Levin said. Ben-Gvir promised that “we must pass the rest of the reform, primarily the change to the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee and the change to the powers of ministry legal advisers.” There is no mistaking their intention. The change in Israel’s constitutional structure aims to turn the country into a theocratic, bigoted, racist and dark state, where women, LGBT people, Arab citizens and other minorities will be discriminated against; a country that will annex the occupied territories and establish an official rule of apartheid.

Meryl Kornfield of The Washington Post looks at the challenge that Israel’s judicial overhaul presents to the U.S. and President Joe Biden.

As Netanyahu has pressed ahead with his judicial overhaul, in part at the urging of his right-wing coalition partners, Biden has spent weeks trying to navigate the increasingly turbulent moment in the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Biden has been a staunch supporter of the Jewish state for 50 years, often recounting his meeting with former prime minister Golda Meir, and he shares the view of many U.S. politicians that Israel is a vital democratic ally in an often-hostile region.

But Netanyahu’s moves, which could greatly weaken the independence of Israel’s judiciary, have challenged Biden’s agenda of promoting democracy, putting the president in a difficult situation as he seeks to rebuke Netanyahu while affirming his support for Israel itself.

Before Monday’s vote, Biden found various ways to signal his displeasure without issuing an overly harsh statement. He told New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, for example, that his “recommendation to Israeli leaders is not to rush.” On other occasions, he has said simply that in democracies it is best not to make fundamental changes unless they have widespread support.

For the moment, a significant alteration in U.S. policy toward Israel appears unlikely.

Glenn Thrush, Ben Protess, Alan Feuer, and Adam Goldman of The New York Times says that the Justice Department is not constrained personnel-wise by the sheer volume of cases related to Number 45. 

At the peak of the Justice Department’s efforts to hunt down and charge the Jan. 6 rioters, many U.S. attorney’s offices and all 56 F.B.I. field offices had officials pursuing leads. At one point, more than 600 agents and support personnel from the bureau were assigned to the riot cases, officials said.

In Fulton County, Ga., the district attorney, Fani T. Willis, a Democrat, has spent about two years conducting a wide-ranging investigation into election interference. The office has assigned about 10 of its 370 employees to the elections case, including prosecutors, investigators and legal assistants, according to officials.

The authorities in Michigan and Arizona are scrutinizing Republicans who sought to pass themselves off as Electoral College electors in states won by Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020.

For all their complexity and historical importance, the Trump-related prosecutions have not significantly constrained the ability of prosecutors to carry out their regular duties or forced them to abandon other types of cases, officials in all of those jurisdictions have repeatedly said.

Andrew Mitrovica of AlJazeera reminds us of the ordinary people holding Number 45 to account.

The ordinary, anonymous Americans who constitute the three grand juries which, to date, have charged or are expected to charge a vulgar simpleton who was cloaked in enormous power as president – have heeded Franklin’s call to keep their republic intact.

They are doing their part in corralling an unrepentant scoundrel who yearns to exercise the privileges and prerogatives of an omnipotent monarch.

This is an essential act of citizenship that has required enlightened Americans to reject – sometimes at great risk and usually with little fanfare – the sinister designs of a demagogue who prefers autocracy to democracy.

So was the defiance of largely anonymous Capitol police officers, motivated no doubt, in part, by the imperative to preserve, protect and defend the US Constitution. They stood their ground despite being outnumbered, overwhelmed and hurt in body, mind and spirit.

They prevailed.

Bob Berwyn of Inside Climate News writes about a new report indicating the projected frequency of extreme heatwaves.

In the current climate, warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius (1.9 Fahrenheit) by humans, these extreme heatwaves are no longer rare, “due to warming caused by burning fossil fuels and other human activities,” the authors wrote. “Events like these can now be expected approximately once every 15 years in North America, about once every 10 years in southern Europe and approximately once every five years in China.”

Their analysis also concluded that greenhouse gas pollution made the European heatwave 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5F) hotter, the North American heat wave 2C (3.6F) hotter, and the heatwave in China 1C (1.8F) hotter. The heat in North America and Europe would have been “almost impossible” without global warming, while the heat in China was made 50 times more likely by the current level of greenhouse gas pollution. […]

There aren’t, however, any signs suggesting that greenhouse gas emissions will drop soon. The same day the attribution analysis came out, G20 countries failed to reach a deal on phasing out fossil fuels and government officials in the United Kingdom promised to extract all their remaining fossil fuel reserves in the North Sea, instead of trying to reduce fossil fuel production,  while the next global climate conference, COP28, is still set to be led by the head of a huge oil and gas company.

Nathaniel Rakich of FiveThirtyEight points out that 2023 is the year of expanding voting rights.

…this year, voting-rights advocates got some significant wins too: States — controlled by Democrats and Republicans — have enacted more than twice as many laws expanding voting rights as restricting them, although the most comprehensive voter-protection laws passed in blue states. In all, 39 states and Washington, D.C., have changed their election laws in some way this year. Here’s a rundown of the most important shifts.

Driven by many Republicans’ false belief that lax voting laws allowed the 2020 election to be stolen from former President Donald Trump, 2021 was a record-breaking year for voting restrictions. According to data from the Voting Rights Lab, a pro-voting-rights organization that tracks election-law legislation, state legislators introduced 566 bills restricting voter access or election administration that year, 53 of which were enacted. This year hasn’t been quite so busy, but as of July 21, 366 laws with voting restrictions had been proposed and 29 had been enacted. […]

Unlike two years ago, though, we’d argue that the bigger story of this year’s legislative sessions was all the ways states made it easier to vote. As of July 21, according to the Voting Rights Lab, 834 bills had been introduced so far this year expanding voting rights, and 64 had been enacted. What’s more, these laws are passing in states of all hues. Democratic-controlled jurisdictions (Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Washington) enacted 33 of these new laws containing voting-rights expansions, but Republican-controlled states (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming) were responsible for 23 of them. The remaining eight became law in states where the two parties share power (Nevada, Pennsylvania and Virginia).

Twitter’s former Head of Trust & Safety Yoel Roth writes for Lawfare proposing that social media content moderation models should be based on the “public editor” model instead of a legalistic model.

Social media content moderation discussions often invite comparisons to the work of the American judiciary. Law professor Kate Klonick dubbed platforms like Facebook and Twitter “the New Governors” of speech: in one light, behaving as software companies; in another, carrying out many of the lawmaking and law enforcement responsibilities traditionally associated with governments themselves. Within companies, trust and safety discussions commonly reference an eclectic mix of concepts drawn from American First Amendment law, international human rights approaches, and criminology. Company staffers often see themselves as not just managing a website, but constructing a system of justice. Facebook’s 2020 decision to launch the Oversight Board as a sort of “Supreme Court” (in Mark Zuckerberg’s words) for the platform’s moderation decisions makes the comparisons even more apt.

Writing about the earliest days of content moderation at Facebook and YouTube, Klonick describes the companies’ shift from a set of loosely articulated standards (“Feel bad? Take it down”) to a more exhaustively documented set of rules. The goal of this transformation, she writes, was to help companies manage their explosive growth by reducing the amount of individual and subjective decision-making required of moderators. But it also transformed the work of trust and safety from the enforcement of loose, vibes-based guidelines living in the heads of a small cohort of Silicon Valley staffers into a form of judicial scrutiny. An entire field of work emerged to engage in the Talmudic study of platform policies.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the American lawyers responsible for leading platforms’ early policy and content moderation efforts brought the traditions they learned in law school to social media content governance. The principle of stare decisis—abiding by established precedent—became a cardinal rule within companies. Twitter’s trust and safety staffers would agonize over key decisions, ensuring that the handling of emergent issues was wholly consistent with past applications of the company’s policies. As happened with Teigen’s tweet about President Trump, content moderation decisions—especially those involving prominent figures—often involve a painstaking parsing and documentation of user behavior reminiscent of offline procedures for handling criminal evidence. And, as Facebook’s Oversight Board began its work in 2021, the group found itself rehashing one of the central debates of American constitutional law: whether the role of a judiciary is to adhere closely to the text of the laws they interpret (a doctrine of interpretation known as textualism or originalism), or to see it as a “living” document subject to evolution and change through interpretation. In this world of new governors, harried platform staffers codifying rules in a haphazard assortment of internal documents, guidelines, PowerPoint presentations, and emails became the framers of bizarre, modern-day constitutions.

Finally today, Catherine Belton, Shane Harris, and Greg Miller of The Washington Post report that intelligence officials underscore the degree to which Russian President Vladimir Putin was “paralyzed” by the Wagner Group rebellion.

The lack of orders from the Kremlin’s top command left local officials to decide for themselves how to act, according to the European security officials, when Prigozhin’s Wagner troops stunned the world by entering the southern Russian city of Rostov in the early hours of June 24, seizing control of the Russian military’s main command center there, and then moved into the city of Voronezh, before heading further north toward Moscow.

Without any clear orders, local military and security chiefs took the decision not to try to stop the heavily armed Wagner troops, the security officials said.

Many on the local level could not believe the Wagner rebellion could be happening without some degree of agreement with the Kremlin, the security officials said — despite Putin’s emergency televised address to the nation on the morning of the mutiny in which he vowed tough action to stop the rebels, and despite a warrant issued for Prigozhin’s arrest for “incitement to insurrection” on the eve of his march to Moscow. […]

The disarray in the Kremlin also reflects a deepening divide inside Russia’s security and military establishment over the conduct of the war in Ukraine, with many including in the upper reaches of the security services and military supporting Prigozhin’s drive to oust Russia’s top military leadership, the European security officials said.

Everyone have the best possible day!

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