Tag: public citizen
Public parks

The People Have A Right To Enjoy Their Parks

Public parks belong to the public, right? A billionaire can't cordon off an acre of Golden Gate Park for his private party. But can a poor person — or anyone who claims they can't afford a home — take over public spaces where children play and families experience nature?

That is the question now before the Supreme Court case, Grants Pass v. Johnson. Before going into particulars, note that both Republican and Democratic politicians think the answer should be "no." That leaves activists who support the right of "the homeless" to take over public property. They want a "yes."

The case is a challenge to a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in San Francisco, that cities cannot evict "homeless" campers if there are more of them than the local shelters can accommodate. It stems from an ordinance issued by Grants Pass, Oregon, that strictly limits the opportunity to erect a home on public spaces. It forbids even wrapping oneself in a blanket while sitting or lying in public.

A conservative Ninth Circuit judge, Daniel Bress, issued an angry response to the ruling that, critics say, has actually encouraged the sprawling tent encampments tormenting the nine Western states in the court's jurisdiction. It's been noted that in the four years since the decision, homelessness in the states the Ninth Circuit covers grew by about 25% while falling in the rest of the country.

Bress urged the judges to just look out the windows of their San Francisco courthouse. They will see, he said, "homelessness, drug addiction, barely concealed narcotics dealing, severe mental health impairment, the post-COVID hollowing out of our business districts."

Gavin Newsom, Democratic governor of California, joins in the criticism. The Grants Pass decision, he says, has "impeded not only the ability to enforce basic health and safety measures, but also the ability to move people into available shelter beds and temporary housing."

The debate over the rights of the "homeless" has always stumbled over an agreed definition of the homeless population. Some may be families unable to meet rising rents. Some are mentally ill. Some are addicts, while others are "drug tourists." Some reject the accommodations at shelters, preferring to sleep under the stars.

Is the solution to let any of these groups take over parks where children play? Is it to let them visit squalor on the very business districts cities need to pay for public services, including theirs?

The city of Los Angeles holds that homeless camps deny pedestrians and the disabled use of the streets. Cities in Arizona have argued that the law is simply unworkable. The enormous encampment in Phoenix has reportedly cost Arizona millions of dollars and years of litigation.

Drawing lines isn't always easy. Can a city criminalize public urination by someone who doesn't have access to a toilet? What about lighting a fire to cook on? Addiction is not a crime, though it is constitutional to punish someone for using illegal drugs.

It may be necessary to dust off a term coined by John Kenneth Galbraith in the 1950s, though in a way the economist did not intend. It's the existence in this country of what he called "private affluence, public squalor." While the urban rich may have five acres at their country house for their kids to play on, their housekeepers' children have only public parks as their green playground.

We don't pretend here to have an answer for the homeless problem. Because the population is diverse, the answers must also be diverse. But one answer can't be to strip away the public's right to use the public spaces that ultimately belong to them.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Multiple Lawsuits Filed Against Trump’s ‘National Emergency’ Gambit

Multiple Lawsuits Filed Against Trump’s ‘National Emergency’ Gambit


A coalition of 16 states filed suit on President’s Day to block Trump’s plan to build a border wall without Congressional authorization, seeking to enjoin him from seizing funds under the guise of a “national emergency,” which they argue is unconstitutional.

Brought by a group of Democratic governors — plus the Republican governor of Maryland — the filing asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to issue a preliminary injunction against the president that would bar him \ from acting on his emergency declaration before the case is decided.

Trump is already facing at least two lawsuits over his unnecessary wall, and there are more on the way.

Even before he officially declared a national emergency in an unhinged rant, it was clear that there were going to be lawsuits. Yes, plural.

And it isn’t like he didn’t know he’d get sued. He said so Friday, when he announced the emergency. He also said that he “didn’t need to do this,” a statement that somewhat undercut his assertion there was an emergency.

Now, there are two lawsuits and the promise of at least one more, and that doesn’t include the fact that the House Judiciary Committee has already said they are going to investigate as well.

The first two lawsuits came from public interest groups. On Friday — the same day the “emergency” was announced — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued the Department of Justice (DOJ). Their lawsuit alleges that the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) didn’t provide any documents that explain the legal authority Trump has to make the national emergency declaration.

CREW had requested those documents from DOJ back in early January and also requested an expedited review given that everyone has a significant interest in knowing, sooner rather than later, the underlying legal basis for Trump declaring a national emergency. The OLC denied expedited review and told CREW that they wouldn’t even make the normal deadline of 20 working days. So, CREW sued to get those documents.

The American people shouldn’t be in the dark about a matter as important as this. CREW’s lawsuit seeks to shed some light by asking the court to order the DOJ to provide those documents, including legal opinions, immediately.

Friday’s other lawsuit was filed by Public Citizen on behalf of Texas landowners and an environmental group. The landowners are people who have been informed that the wall will be built on their property.

Taking their property to build the wall is theoretically permissible under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which allows the government to exercise eminent domain and take private property for public use. However, conservatives are generally virulently opposed to such a thing.

Trump likes the idea just fine though.

Public Citizen’s lawsuit isn’t just about the taking of land. It also challenges the idea that there is a national emergency at all. Migration at the southern border is not an unforeseen emergency, for example. And most important of all: “[A] disagreement between the President and Congress about how to spend money does not constitute an emergency authorizing unilateral executive action.”

And there’s another lawsuit getting teed up. California announced on Friday that they’re planning on suing. It looks like several other states — including Hawaii, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Oregon — will join the suit.

Trump may be confident that he’ll find a sympathetic ear at the Supreme Court that he’s already stacked with two extremely conservative judges, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh. With Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, there are, regrettably, five votes to back Trump’s most absurd and vicious impulses. That’s exactly what they did in the travel ban case.

Here’s hoping that Chief Justice John Roberts’ desire to maintain the independence of the judicial branch comes through and Trump eventually gets told he can’t use a national emergency to get his pointless wall.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

New Report: Trump Organization Minting Money On Ethically Dubious Deals

New Report: Trump Organization Minting Money On Ethically Dubious Deals

When not desperately auctioning off access to the president’s family, the Trump Organization is still finding other ethically questionable ways to cash in on Donald Trump’s presidency.

A new report by Public Citizen shows evidence of an “alarming … array of interest groups trying to cozy up to Trump by spending money at his properties.”

“Donald Trump entered office with the most blatant and potentially corrupting conflicts of interest in the history of American politics, and things only got worse from there,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

“Business is booming at the Trump International Hotel in D.C., not because of the décor, but because corporations and foreign governments want to curry favor with the president.”

On paper, Trump Jr., along with his brother Eric, are in charge of the Trump Organization. However, Donald Trump has refused to divest from or sell off his family businesses, and thus still profits from individuals and entities that visit Trump properties.

Foreign governments aren’t the only groups spending money in the hopes of currying favor with Trump. Companies are getting in on the action as well.

The National Mining Association and Chamber of Commerce have plunked down bags of money at Trump properties, even though (or perhaps because) they have substantial policy interests that can be addressed by the executive branch.

One private prison company is already reaping rewards. According to the Washington Post, executives and wardens from GEO Group, which runs private prisons, “gathered for four days of meetings, dinner receptions and golf outings at the luxurious 800-acre Trump National Doral, [following] an intense effort by GEO Group to align itself with the president and his administration.”

After that expenditure, GEO group — which also gave $225,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC and $250,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee — “secured the administration’s first contract for an immigration detention center, a deal worth tens of millions a year.”

Members of Congress are also among those hoping to buy favorable treatment from Trump. More than 30 political candidates or political organizations are listed in Public Citizen’s report.

California’s Dana Rohrabacher says he raised more than $100,000 at the fundraiser he held at the Trump International Hotel. The congressman’s staff insisted there were no unethical motivations, simply that Trump’s “properties are set to a standard that is very elegant.”

(Recent health inspection reports from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property in Florida found 15 health violations in the club’s two main kitchens.)

Other members of Congress, including Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Kennedy (R-LA), also spent campaign funds at Trump properties.

Not a single penny from Democrats was spent at any of Trump’s businesses or properties.

In a chicken-and-egg type quandary, it is unclear whether Trump’s rampant corruption is driving his unpopularity at home and abroad, or if his unpopularity is forcing him to turn to rampant corruption to make a buck. Whatever the case may be, Trump’s conflicts of interest raise unprecedented ethical, legal, and national security concerns that must be addressed.

Donald Trump gestures next to an architectural rendering of The Trump Organization’s $200 million redevelopment of the iconic Old Post Office building into a luxury hotel, in Washington September, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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