Thursday News: Cruel and unusual


SENATE REPUBLICANS BLOCK RULES TO EASE BURDENS ON INMATES: North Carolina State Rep. Sarah Stevens introduced an amendment Wednesday that would block new rules from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services aimed at making jails safer. The amendment, which was adopted into a Senate bill containing a package of regulatory changes, strikes two of the 33 proposed DHHS rules. One is intended to prevent jails from holding more inmates than their designated capacity, and another would require jails to have both indoor and outdoor recreation spaces for inmates. The amendment comes on the heels of a rising number of suicides and deaths in North Carolina jails over recent years, and is part of a package of rules that DHHS officials and activists have said would make conditions safer and more humane for inmates.

60 PROMINENT NC ATTORNEYS PUSH FOR REMOVAL OF CONFEDERATE MONUMENTS FROM CAPITOL GROUNDS: A prominent group of more than 60 North Carolina attorneys urged Gov. Roy Cooper and other state officials Wednesday to remove Confederate monuments from the State Capitol grounds, arguing in a letter that they "offend guarantees in our state and federal constitutions." The signatories include four former U.S. attorneys, two deputy or assistant attorneys general for the state, civil rights attorneys and a number of university law school professors. "It is fair to say that the signatories believe the statues violate the state and federal constitutions," Hampton Dellinger, one of the signers, said in an email. "That’s how it would be presented in a lawsuit." A state law passed in 2015 says monuments can't be moved from state grounds except in a narrow set of circumstances. A Cooper push to move Confederate monuments from Capitol Square in downtown Raleigh petered out in 2018 after the North Carolina Historical Commission declined to back the move, referenced the 2015 law and suggested new signs to add context instead.

RALEIGH'S MASK REQUIREMENT WILL NOT BE ENFORCED BY POLICE: Baldwin said she was irate that crowds of people without masks and ignoring social distancing guidelines were milling about outside restaurants in the Glenwood South area over the weekend. "That was alarming," she said, adding that she saw numerous people, including elderly people, without masks at her supermarket on Saturday. "This [requirement] is really meant to make people aware and say, 'Hey folks, we need to do this to protect others,'" she said. Raleigh police won't be citing anyone for not wearing masks in public, Baldwin said, noting that the city wants to focus on education to get people to comply. "I think people will follow rules. This is a rule," she said, comparing it to the drop in people watering lawns during a drought more than a decade ago after Raleigh banned it. Raleigh's requirement is patterned after one Durham County put into effect last month, and Baldwin said people have complied there. Orange County also requires masks in public.

BOLTON SAYS TRUMP ASKED CHINESE PRESIDENT TO HELP HIM WIN ELECTION BY BUYING U.S. GOODS: President Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 U.S. election, telling Xi during a summit dinner last year that increased agricultural purchases by Beijing from American farmers would aid his electoral prospects, according to a damning new account of life inside the Trump administration by former national security adviser John Bolton. During a one-on-one meeting at the June 2019 Group of 20 summit in Japan, Xi complained to Trump about China critics in the United States. But Bolton writes in a book scheduled to be released next week that “Trump immediately assumed Xi meant the Democrats. Trump said approvingly that there was great hostility among the Democrats. “He then, stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming U.S. presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win,” Bolton writes. “He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome. I would print Trump’s exact words but the government’s prepublication review process has decided otherwise.” At the same meeting, Xi also defended China’s construction of camps housing as many as 1 million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang — and Trump signaled his approval. “According to our interpreter,” Bolton writes, “Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.”

TRUMP APPOINTEE MOVES TO POLITICIZE U.S. FUNDED GLOBAL MEDIA OUTLETS: A conservative filmmaker who recently took over a United States global media agency removed the chiefs of four news organizations under its purview on Wednesday night, according to people with knowledge of the decision, in an action that raises questions about their editorial independence. The filmmaker, Michael Pack, also dismissed the head of a technology group and disbanded the bipartisan board that helps oversee and advise those five organizations. He replaced its members largely with Trump administration political appointees, including himself as chairman. One board member works for a conservative advocacy organization, Liberty Counsel Action. Mr. Pack is a close ally of Stephen K. Bannon, the former campaign strategist and White House adviser to President Trump who has urged Mr. Trump to take charge of the news organizations and reshape them to his purposes. Democrats in the Senate held up Mr. Pack’s nomination for years, but Mr. Trump urged Republicans in recent weeks to push through the confirmation. Last month, the attorney general for the District of Columbia said his office was investigating whether Mr. Pack had illegally enriched himself by sending $1.6 million from the Public Media Lab, a nonprofit group he oversees, to his for-profit film production company. The organizational heads dismissed Wednesday night were Bay Fang of Radio Free Asia; Jamie Fly of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Alberto M. Fernandez of Middle East Broadcasting Networks; Emilio Vazquez of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting; and Libby Liu of the Open Technology Fund.



Completely devoid of ethics

Every move Trump makes is an effort to tighten his control over federal government agencies and even individual states. And yet, his devoted followers have the audacity (not to mention ignorance) to scream about "tyranny" coming from state governments or the imaginary "deep state."

Orwell is continuously flipping over in his grave.

Pay attention: Franklin Graham and the IRS

You've probably run into the ranting of extremist evangelical leaders, including Franklin Graham, against the SCOTUS ruling on LGBT employment. But there's something more important to pay attention to with North Carolina's most vocal and prominent Trump apologist and bigot.

It looks like Graham and other far-right religious non-profits have started changed their filings with the IRS. The changes were highlighted in a Washington Post article in January - the change allows these groups to hide donors and salaries of key figures in the groups.

This filing status change deserves some more digging - Graham has been criticized for his high salary and his close work with Russia during the Trump campaign.

What, exactly, is Graham really hiding here?

The entire Post piece is worth a look, but here are some excerpts:

Several major evangelical organizations have in recent years moved to a new strategy where they shift from a nonprofit status to a “church” status with the IRS, allowing them to keep private exactly how their money is being spent and the salaries of their most highly paid employees.

That strategic shift was highlighted recently by MinistryWatch, an independent, donor-based group that monitors evangelical institutions. The IRS status change allows these groups, including Focus on the Family and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, to avoid filing a form that makes details of their institution’s finances public.

Leaders of the groups say they are changing their status to avoid administrative costs; some also believe that this status with the IRS could allow them extra religious-freedom protections in potential lawsuits over LGBT rights. The potential cost of applying to be a church is that the organizations cannot campaign on behalf of politicians or devote a substantial part of their work to lobbying on legislation. Critics say the option deprives the public of important information about how the tax-exempt organizations are operating. …

Smith said he began noticing this trend after writing about evangelist Franklin Graham’s salary in his reports for several years. Several 2015 reports suggested that Graham was making $880,000 on salaries from Samaritan’s Purse, the ministry he helped to found, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, his father’s ministry. Now that the BGEA is listed as a church, it does not file a 990 but posts a financial report on its website; that document does not clearly state Graham’s salary from the ministry. Public filings suggest his compensation from Samaritan’s Purse is nearly $700,000.

A spokesman for the BGEA pointed to a 2016 statement that explained why the ministry changed its status: It said that the ministry operates with churches, that it feels better protected from “government interference” when it is characterized as a church, and that filing a 990 consumed time and resources. …

The IRS classifies churches as a public charity (as opposed to a private foundation) and describes 14 characteristics of a church, including a recognized creed and form of worship, a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government, established places of worship, regular congregations, and Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young. While many of these large ministries include elements of these church descriptions, they tend to operate under regular business hours; in the evangelical world, they would usually be called “parachurch ministries,” supplementing the work of churches, not replacing them.

An IRS representative said the agency does not comment on the status of specific organizations.

Smith said identifying as a church was a common practice of televangelists for several years, even though they did not meet several of the above criteria; the issue came under scrutiny during the Obama administration. By not filing 990s, Smith argued, the organizations were able to avoid detailing when their leaders spent donor money on mansions, private jets and lavish lifestyles. …

Along with Focus on the Family and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, ministries filing as a “church” with the IRS include the Navigators, Gideons International, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, the Willow Creek Association and Ethnos360. …

Smith and other observers say they believe some organizations are also changing their IRS status to give them an added protection from possible future legal disputes around LGBT rights. Some activists have used public filings to identify and harass donors to organizations, especially when those organizations advocate for limiting LGBT adoptions or for other socially conservative causes. Smith pointed to how the chief executive of Mozilla resigned in 2014 after it was made public that he had made a donation to a group pushing for a ban on same-sex marriage in California.