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Friday newsletter: SCOTUS won't intervene on student loan forgiveness, Kevin Spacey gets win in 'Me Too' case and more
Debut roundup for the Weekly Dystopia our start for news updates on institutions and values in our modern world
Happy Friday and welcome to the debut news roundup for the Weekly Dystopia! I see this first run as a prototype of sorts that will form the basis for future newsletters. Bear with me as build this thing from the ground up.
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First up is news from the Supreme Court. Justice Amy Comey Barrett signaled the Supreme Court is unwilling to intervene at this time in case against President Biden’s unilateral decision to forgive an estimated $400 billion in student loans.
SCOTUS WON’T INTERVENE IN STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS CASE: Barrett declined to issue an emergency injunction in the case of Brown County Taxpayers Association v. Biden, which the challenges Biden’s decision to forgive $10,000 in student loan payments for individuals making less than $125,000 a year, or $250,000 for married couples.
From Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog:
Barrett’s denial came just one day after the group came to the Supreme Court. Telling the justices that the program would result in “a gargantuan increase in the national debt accomplished by a complete disregard for limitations on the constitutional spending authority,” the group urged the justices to act quickly to put the program, which goes into effect on Sunday, Oct. 23, on hold.
The group’s request went to Barrett because she handles emergency requests from Wisconsin and neighboring states. Barrett’s decision not to refer the request to the full court indicates that she did not view it as a close call.
Barrett’s rebuff could be based on any number of reasons. The case, which was filed Oct. 4 in trial court, has barely inched ahead in the judicial system, which might suggest Barrett thought it was premature for the Supreme Court to intervene.
I would think, however, the Supreme Court would be eager to adjudicate in a case over an unprecedented move by Biden on student loans incurring $400 billion in spending through executive action. The power of the purse, after all, is reserved for Congress.
Biden may claim he has legal justification for the forgiveness, but I would the think Supreme Court would want issue its imprimatur on a case with major separation of powers issues. Western institutions are important to uphold, as this newsletter argues, Biden asserting authority to spend $400 billion, an amount comparable to major spending packages by Congress, suggests a shift away from the intended role for the executive branch.
KEVIN SPACEY ACQUITTED IN PROMINENT ‘ME TOO’ CASE: In another nail in the coffin for a “Me Too” movement already buried and entombed in the ground, a jury sided with Kevin Spacey in a case alleging he sexually molested then-14 year old Anthony Rapp in 1986.
The jury, however, concluded Spacey didn’t molest the fellow actor. Rapp was seeking $40 million for psychological injuries.
According to the Associated Press, the jury didn’t take long to reach that conclusion:
The verdict in the civil trial came with lightning speed. Jurors at a federal court in New York deliberated for a little more than an hour before deciding that Rapp hadn’t proven his allegations.
When the verdict was read, Spacey dropped his head, then hugged his lawyers. He didn’t speak to reporters as he left the courthouse.
“We’re very grateful to the jury for seeing through these false allegations,” said his attorney, Jennifer Keller.
After Rapp came forward with sexually misconduct allegations against Spacey, numerous other claims were made against him. Over the summer, a judge in Los Angeles approved an order for Spacey to pay $30.9 million to the creators of “House of Cards” on the basis he violated his contract by sexually harassing crew members.
The Associated Press article on the decision in Rapp case includes details about the trial that may have led the jury to reach its conclusion:
At the trial, Spacey testified that he was sure the encounter with Rapp never happened, in part because he was living in a studio apartment rather than the one bedroom that Rapp cited, and he never had a gathering beyond a housewarming party.
“I knew I wouldn’t have any sexual interest in Anthony Rapp or any child. That I knew,” he told jurors.
During her closing arguments to the jury, Keller suggested reasons Rapp imagined the encounter with Spacey or made it up.
It was possible, she said, that Rapp invented it based on his experience performing in “Precious Sons,” a play in which actor Ed Harris picks up Rapp’s character and lays on top of him, mistaking him briefly for his wife before discovering it is his son.
ELON MUSK UNDER SCRUTINY FOR TWEETS, TWITTER DEAL: Elon Musk is again in the news cycle, with a reminder about being careful what you tweet, especially when you're a powerful billionaire making threats about cutting off satellite services to Ukraine.
Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs and Saleha Mohsin report Musk’s tweets and potential deal to acquire Twitter are getting the attention of federal investigators:
Biden administration officials are discussing whether the US should subject some of Elon Musk’s ventures to national security reviews, including the deal for Twitter Inc. and SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network, according to people familiar with the matter.
Twitter shares fell 5.1% as the market opened in New York on Friday.
US officials have grown uncomfortable over Musk’s recent threat to stop supplying the Starlink satellite service to Ukraine -- he said it had cost him $80 million so far -- and what they see as his increasingly Russia-friendly stance following a series of tweets that outlined peace proposals favorable to President Vladimir Putin. They are also concerned by his plans to buy Twitter with a group of foreign investors.
In related news, the Washington Post has obtained internal documents Musk upon acquiring Twitter would seek to cut “nearly 75 percent of Twitter’s 7,500 workers, whittling the company down to a skeleton staff of just over 2,000.”
Twitter, regardless of whether Musk acquires the company, would likely be faced with massive staff reduction, according to the Post:
Even if Musk’s Twitter deal falls through — and there’s little indication now that it will — big cuts are expected: Twitter’s current management planned to pare the company’s payroll by about $800 million by the end of next year, a number that would mean the departure of nearly a quarter of the workforce, according to corporate documents and interviews with people familiar with the company’s deliberations.
NIH BARS GENETICISTS' ACCESS TO INFO ON 'FORBIDDEN TERRITORY': In the latest example of institutions of learning and research becoming institutions of stifling controversial or dissenting views, the National Institutes of Health is blocking access by scientists to an important database of genetic information if the governmental organization feels the research would enter "forbidden territory":
An article in the City Journal, written by James Lee is a behavioral geneticist at the University of Minnesota, goes into the details on NIH restricting access to the Database of Genotypes & Phenotypes:
My colleagues at other universities and I have run into problems involving applications to study the relationships among intelligence, education, and health outcomes. Sometimes, NIH denies access to some of the attributes that I have just mentioned, on the grounds that studying their genetic basis is “stigmatizing.” Sometimes, it demands updates about ongoing research, with the implied threat that it could withdraw usage if it doesn’t receive satisfactory answers. In some cases, NIH has retroactively withdrawn access for research it had previously approved.
I can understand the controversies that would emerge as a result of research demonstrating a link between biological or behavioral characteristics to certain genotypical information, particularly if that's centered on a particular group of people.
But even those controversial issues aren’t grounds for rejection. According to the article, NIH isn’t denying access to the database for inquiries based on race of sex, but "a broad range of attempts to explore the relationship between genetics and intelligence."
From the City Journal:
The cost of this censorship is profound. On a practical level, many of the original data-generating studies were set up with the explicit goal of understanding risk factors for various diseases. Since intelligence and education are also risk factors for many of these diseases, denying researchers usage of these data stymies progress on the problems the studies were funded to address. Scientific research should not have to justify itself on those grounds, anyway. Perhaps the most elemental principle of science is that the search for truth is worthwhile, regardless of its practical benefits.
Also some news stories on developments overseas:
U.S. SAYS IRANIAN SOLDIERS WORKING WITH RUSSIA IN UKRAINE: A follow-up news development from my analysis yesterday on Russia getting assistance from Iran and Saudi Arabia in the invasion of Ukraine. It turns out Iran is not just providing Russia with ballistic weapons and drones, as previously reported, but military personnel, according to a public assessment from the U.S. government:
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby conveyed the intelligence to reporters on Thursday, according to a report in the Associated Press:
The White House said Thursday that the U.S. has evidence that Iranian troops are “directly engaged on the ground” in Crimea supporting Russian drone attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure and civilian population.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Iran has sent a “relatively small number” of personnel to Crimea, a part of Ukraine unilaterally annexed by Russia in contravention of international law in 2014, to assist Russian troops in launching Iranian-made drones against Ukraine.
“The information we have is that the Iranians have put trainers and tech support in Crimea, but it’s the Russians who are doing the piloting,” Kirby said.
My analysis speculated on the potential consequences for powers like Iran aiding Russia with its territorial incursions, acknowledging options are limited. But with a physical presence of military personnel, there’s even more reason to address Iran's cooperation with Russia.
BEIJING CRACKS DOWN ON FREE SPEECH IN HONG KONG: As much as free speech is facing new threats in America, CBS News has a story from reporters on the ground in Hong Kong reminding us that discourse without government reprisal is still much worse in authoritarian regimes.
Beijing's continued intolerance for free speech, Elizabeth Palmer and Tucker Reals of CBS News report, has gone to new levels since China began reining in control in recent years:
One high profile case has highlighted China's intolerance of criticism. In the summer of 2021, Hong Kong national security police arrested five young speech therapists for their part in an alleged "conspiracy to distribute seditious materials."
Their crime: Publishing three children's books about a village full of sheep. The books were thinly disguised political allegories about China's takeover of Hong Kong.
District Court Judge Kwok Wai-Kin ruled that some of the material in the books had "a seditious intent," and brought "hatred against the government."
Side note: I remember as a youth in 1997 watching the transfer from power of Hong Kong as a colony under the jurisdiction of Great Britain to China. The United Kingdom sent then-Prince Charles to preside over the ceremony, which in many ways signaled the end of the British Empire. At the time, the transfer seemed consistent with values of territorial sovereignty. Twenty-five years later, rule under Beijing appears to have limited the dignity of the people of Hong Kong as opposed to expanding it.
From the CBS News report:
Hongkongers used to enjoy some of the liveliest, freest speech in the world, until China took over in 1997. In 2020, in reaction to a strong pro-democracy movement, China's central government imposed a vague new national security law, which, in effect, can be used to silence any criticism of Beijing's governance and policies.
Under intense pressure from Beijing, Hong Kong's government has shut down independent news outlets. The respected Apple Daily newspaper was not only forced to close but its senior staff were sent to jail. This summer, when Hong Kong's huge, internationally renowned book fair opened, there were no books on display with any kind of political edge.
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