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Exclusive: Biden arrives in a Saudi Arabia where human rights violations go far beyond Khashoggi’s murder – TalkOfNews.com

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Biden arrives in a Saudi Arabia where human rights violations go far beyond Khashoggi’s murder

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Lina al-Hathloul is an activist from Saudi Arabia whose sister, Loujain, was imprisoned and tortured from 2018 to 2021. She traveled to Washington this week to explain to policymakers just how devastating it is that President Joe Biden has traveled to the Middle East to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, known as MBS.

“The thing is, Saudi Arabia is now a police state. So whatever reforms they brag about having, concretely, it really depends on the will of MBS,” Lina al-Hathloul told me. “It’s a dictatorship and a dark era for Saudi that we’ve never experienced before.”

Biden, who has said since 2018 that he is appalled by the assassination and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi directed by MBS, kept his distance from the crown prince for the first 17 months of his presidency until strategic interests won out.

The murder of Khashoggi in October 2018 may be just one of the most brazen examples of MBS’s rule. Since then, his pattern of repression has continued. The crown prince is guiding an internal crackdown and continues to target dissidents abroad. And even though he made some promises to reform, there is no accountability within Saudi Arabia because there are no independent journalists, watchdogs, or anyone to hold him accountable.

The superficial changes — opening movie theaters, launching a golf tournament, hosting concerts with international stars — obscure what is really going on in the country. “Basically, it’s changes for the West to see,” al-Hathloul told me. “Society is being muzzled.” She says that the government of MBS disappears Saudis for no reason, “sometimes only because MBS, you know, has doubts about people.” (A tweet can be risky, there are reports of torture in prisons, families get caught up in restrictive travel bans, and those who criticize MBS have been disappeared.)

The crackdown is not just inside Saudi Arabia; a transnational clampdown continues. Dissidents have been threatened on social media, US citizens harassed and entrapped. The former No. 2 in Saudi intelligence, Saad Aljabri, recently told 60 Minutes that he was tipped off in 2018 that MBS had sent a hit team to Canada to go after him, which ended up being held up at customs. Last week, Manea al-Yami, a Saudi political activist living in exile in Lebanon, was killed in what his party called an “assassination.”

There are also promised reforms that the young crown prince has not lived up to. MBS said he would stop the execution of minors, but that policy continues. In 2015, the then-17-year-old Mustafa al-Darwish was arrested for protesting; the Saudi government recently executed him.

Al-Qst, the human rights watchdog run by Saudi exiles, says that an unprecedented 120 executions have taken place so far in 2022, including 81 men in a mass execution in March.

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A tweet posted by Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul’s sister, Lina, showing a screenshot of them having a video call following Hathloul’s release after nearly three years in detention.
Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images

MBS pledged to end the guardianship system over women, whereby they are subservient to men and hold little autonomy in society. Saudi Arabia has at long last provided women the right to drive, and religious institutions are being reformed. But aspects of the draconian laws remain: Women can’t be released from prisons, shelters, or correctional facilities without a guardian. Women are still required to have a guardian’s permission to marry, and they don’t have equal authority over children, according to Hala Aldosari, an activist and public health researcher from Saudi Arabia who lives in exile in the United States. She says the system’s implementation varies by region, and there is little information on rural areas, where the authority of guardians is determined largely by families with little margin for women to challenge it in courts.

“We are not in a position to monitor or follow up on any promises being delivered or not because there are no independent media and no independent human rights organizations communicating with people on the ground,” Aldosari told me. “Definitely, human rights are very much gone.”

One Saudi executive I interviewed recently, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, contested these criticisms. He said my reporting was too negative, that MBS had presided over many improvements for those living in Saudi Arabia.

The US State Department’s reporting rebuts this line of thinking.

In its 2021 annual country report for Saudi Arabia is a litany of abuses. Some of the “significant human rights issues” are worth emphasizing: “collective punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual” or “criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity.” Those in Saudi prisons do not live in safety, and the State Department notes “cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees by government agents” and “harsh and life-threatening prison conditions.”

Sixty-five pages of deeply researched documentation backs up those troubling violations.

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The State Department goes on to note, “In several cases the government did not investigate, prosecute, or punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity.”

Biden, writing this week on the opinion page where Jamal Khashoggi’s columns once were published, said, “My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad.”

But al-Hathloul told me that by going to Saudi Arabia, Biden is empowering and emboldening MBS. “They always forget how much Saudi exists only because the US protects it,” she told me. “The US has a lot of leverage on Saudi and it seems to forget about it and just bow down to Saudi pressure on oil.” Delaying a one-on-one meeting between MBS and Biden was just one mechanism. Biden could have preconditioned a visit on a prisoner release, as activists have suggested. Other US leverage could come in the form of weapons sales and the possibility, already being discussed, of a regional security guarantee for Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s blatant violations are part of a larger trend in the Middle East. Israel soldiers’ well-documented killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh demands accountability. The Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah has endured a decade of spurious charges, being arrested on and off, and now, serving in an Egyptian prison since 2019, has staged over 100 days of a hunger strike in protest. In Saudi Arabia, Biden will meet the Egyptian president and other Arab leaders, many of whom oversee brutal regimes that disregard human rights. “The politics, the foreign policies of the US, is empowering and supporting this status by not holding any country in the Middle East accountable,” Aldosari said.

Some of these horrifying trends were outlined by Jamal Khashoggi in his articles for the Washington Post. In 2017, he compared MBS to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and called on Saudis to speak out: “We are a kingdom of silence no longer.”

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Exclusive: Today in Supreme Court History: January 26, 1832 – TalkOfNews.com

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Today in Supreme Court History: January 26, 1832

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1/26/1832: Justice George Shiras Jr.’s birthday.

Justice George Shiras Jr.

The post Today in Supreme Court History: January 26, 1832 appeared first on Reason.com.

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Exclusive: Liberals Are Mad That McCarthy Named MAGA Republicans to Subcommittees on COVID and Government Weaponization – Good – TalkOfNews.com

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Liberals Are Mad That McCarthy Named MAGA Republicans to Subcommittees on COVID and Government Weaponization – Good

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced members named to two select subcommittees – one investigating the origins of COVID and another looking into the weaponization of the federal government – and Democrats are livid over the addition of certain MAGA lawmakers.

“The government has a responsibility to serve the American people, not go after them,” McCarthy said in a statement.

“The Members selected to serve on these subcommittees will work to stop the weaponization of the federal government and will also finally get answers to the Covid origins and the federal government’s gain of function research that contributed to the pandemic,” he added.

McCarthy notes that the weaponization subcommittee is necessary because congressional Democrats and the Biden administration engaged in a “dangerous pattern of the government being used to target political opponents while they neglected their most basic responsibilities.”

RELATED: Conservative Victory: Dan Crenshaw Loses Race To Chair Homeland Security Committee to Freedom Caucus Member Green

MAGA Members Named to House Select Subcommittees

A couple of names that showed up on the House select subcommittees raised the ire of Democrats, particularly those associated with the MAGA movement.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) continued reaping the fruits of a kinship with McCarthy that would make Frank Luntz blush, being named to the COVID-19 subcommittee.

Greene celebrated the appointment, stating her intention to investigate the role of gain-of-function research, the Democrat “authoritarian” lockdowns, the ineffective vaccines forced on the American people, and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s role.

Greene will also be sitting on the House Homeland Security and Oversight Committees.

Also named to the COVID subcommittee is former White House physician Ronny Jackson (R-TX), who has consistently challenged President Biden to undergo a mental fitness evaluation.

Jim Jordan (R-OH) will chair the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government after being rejected by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on the January 6th panel.

RELATED: White House Terrified of MAGA Republicans Being Named to Committees Investigating Biden Administration

Liberals Aren’t Happy

Liberals on social media responded with outrage over MAGA Republicans representing their constituents on the select subcommittees.

Because see, it would be better to have completely partisan sham committees like the January 6th debacle.

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Democratic Congressman Don Beyer dismissed both panels as “devoted to conspiracy theories.”

This is fine by us, since these days “conspiracy theories” mostly just means “the media hasn’t admitted it yet.”

House Judiciary Democrats lambasted McCarthy for having “sold out our democracy to empower MAGA extremists.”

Richard Stengel, a former Obama administration official, also took the dismissive ‘conspiracy theory’ path.

The ‘Weaponization’ subcommittee, Stengel claims, is “a body that creates rather than investigates conspiracy theories and which will eventually undermine itself.”

We literally just watched the January 6th sham create highly directed and produced filmography rather than evidence, doctored actual evidence, created conspiracy theories, and admitted they wanted to tell people what they should believe.

If Democrats are mad about MAGA Republicans serving on committees to provide a counterpoint to Democrat and media lies, then McCarthy is most definitely doing the right thing.

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Exclusive: Why older mass shooters like the California gunmen are so rare – TalkOfNews.com

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Why older mass shooters like the California gunmen are so rare

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The gunmen in both of the recent shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, California, had an unusual profile compared to most perpetrators of violent crime: They were both senior citizens.

The Monterey Park gunman, who killed 11 and injured nine before fatally shooting himself, was 72. The Half Moon Bay gunman, who killed seven people before he was arrested in what police have characterized as an act of workplace violence, is 66.

Mass shooters of that age are rare, especially those with no prior criminal record, as was the case with the Half Moon Bay gunman. (The Monterey Park gunman had one arrest in 1990 for illegal possession of a firearm.) According to data from the National Institute of Justice, mass shooters between 1966 and 2021 were on average 34 years old, and those over the age of 60 accounted for a little over 3 percent of all mass shootings, which are defined as shootings in which four or more people are killed.

The notion that people “age out of crime” is one of the most well-documented phenomena in the field of criminology. The California shootings should be seen as exceptions to that principle, not as nullifying examples, according to Ashley Nellis, co-director of research for the Sentencing Project, which advocates for criminal justice reform.

“The predictability of age is probably the most reliable point of data that we have about people who commit violent crime. Young people are just substantially more likely, and by extension, older people are substantially unlikely, to commit crime,” Nellis said. “It’s certainly a cautionary note to anybody who would be jumping to make policy based on these two events.”

Research has repeatedly shown that criminal activity increases throughout teen years, reaches its highest point at age 17, the oldest that someone can be charged with a juvenile crime, and subsides thereafter throughout life. Property crime peaks at a slightly younger age than violent crime. But even chronic offenders would be statistically likely to stop committing crime by around the age of 40, Nellis said.

There are a lot of theories as to why that might be. Typical milestones associated with getting older, like graduating or getting married, may put people on a trajectory that veers away from criminality. Brain development isn’t complete until the mid-20s, hindering decision-making that might lead to crime and risky behavior. Young people have less financial security, and people in poverty are more likely to commit crimes. Some crimes might be physically demanding, and older people just might not have the strength to carry them out.

But both gunmen in the California shootings buck the archetype of a violent criminal, and their motives still aren’t entirely clear. Investigators have said that the Monterey Park shooter frequented the dance studio where he killed his victims and that the Half Moon Bay gunman, who lived and worked as a forklift driver at a mushroom farm, was angry at the coworkers he shot. Previously, there have been mass shooters as old as 70, including a gunman who opened fire at a church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, and killed three people last June.

Though age can sometimes factor into the decision to impose a less harsh sentence on young offenders, the Half Moon Bay shooter’s advanced age won’t have any bearing on the length of his sentence, as is standard practice in the US.

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He will be charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, with a special circumstance allegation of multiple murder and sentencing enhancements for each count because of his use of a firearm, the San Mateo County district attorney announced Wednesday. If convicted on those charges, he could be facing up to life in prison without the possibility of parole. (He won’t face the death penalty, given that California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, placed a moratorium on executions in the state in 2019.)

Life sentences without parole have become increasingly common in the US over the last few decades. But Nellis argues the age of older offenders like the Half Moon Bay shooter should be considered a mitigating factor when making sentencing decisions — especially given that the use of executive clemency to release them early has become nonexistent, as she writes in a 2022 report.

“Regardless of age, somebody who does commit an act of violence like this is likely to be rehabilitated, be reformed, be ready to return to society within 10 years,” she said.

Recidivism is unlikely among older people, according to data from the US Sentencing Commission, and keeping them in prison comes at a high taxpayer cost, which includes health care bills that balloon at the end of life. It’s difficult to say how much those who’ll decide the fate of the Half Moon Bay suspect will take that data into account; his initial arraignment is Wednesday.

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