Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

Month: June 2018

Here’s How Totalitarianism Works!

 

The President with no love of the media directs Congress to pass a law, stripping libel of its first amendment protections and presuming it to be character assassination. The law punishes publishers who have  published not only false facts, but also false opinions.  The law drops the requirement that the plaintiff has to prove malice. The law sets  a minimum for statutory damages of $100,000.00 per libel by a multistate  wide or internet publisher. 

Furthermore, the loser must pay the winner’s legal fees. The clergy (except those barred for national security reasons) and public officials are immune from being sued.  Congress, which this President’s party controls, quickly passes the bill  over vigorous protest by the remaining opposition. 

A major internet publisher had previously published an opinion critical of the President’s statements after the Charlottesville demonstrations. As soon as the President signs the bill into law, he sues the publisher, hiring high-priced lawyers. Because of the legal fees provision, the lawyers aren’t worried about getting stiffed by the President. 

The case is tried before a jury, which finds for the publisher.  However, the judge, who was  appointed by the President, sets aside the jury verdict as not following the law and directs entry of a $20 million judgment against the publisher, with $2 million in legal fees. 

The defendants take their case to the  circuit court of appeals and draw a panel of three judges, two of whom were appointed by the prior president. The appeals court reverses the trial judge, reinstating the jury verdict and declaring the libel law unconstitutional as violating the first amendment. 

The President appeals to the Supreme Court.  The Court announces its decision, by a vote of 6 to 3, that the new law is constitutional. It also finds that the law is meant to occupy the entire field of libel, so a state can’t make a law that conflicts with federal libel law. 

The President still has several similar cases ready to be filed against the same publisher.  This effectively will put the publisher out of business. The publisher settles by turning over its stock to the President. The business side of the publisher keeps its jobs. The editorial staff is replaced. In exchange for releases to the individuals, they are allowed to keep their money, less a few million dollars pledged to one of the President’s re-election Super-PACs . 

One last item : the settlement was not confidential. The President stages several rallies at which he proclaims winning the fake-news publishers over to his side. The publishers were unable to refute the President’s false statements, at the peril of subjecting themselves to new libel claims.

That’s how totalitarianism works!

Standoff at the Red Hen

Stephanie Wilkinson owns a small restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. She was summoned to the Red Hen from home last Friday night after getting  a call from the chef.  The staff thought that Sara Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, had just sat down with four or five other people.  They didn’t know what to do. Wilkinson drove over.

When Wilkinson  walked in, she was happy to see that the staff had been sensible enough to take orders and begin service. She eyeballed the dinner party and then caucused with the staff in the kitchen. Wilkinson asked the staff what they wanted her to do. One person mentioned Trump trying to keep transgender people out of the military. Another talked about Trump’s terrible detention and separation policy and that Sanders lies for the administration.

Wilkinson reflected that several people on the staff are gay and that Lexington was a tiny blue speck in a big, red field.  She walked back into the dining room, introduced herself and asked Sanders out to talk on the patio.

Sanders is a steely professional. Her jousting with the press corps is a running story.  Unflappable and prepared, she is just what her talkative boss wants. As the detention policy entered its second week, the reporters were getting personal with her, trying to break her rigid stand in support of the President’s despicable policy, one which he reversed unhappily last week before dinner.

Press secretaries  normally are measured by their performance in answering tough questions. They prepare for a daily briefing by being ready to advance their boss’s cause on the day’s hot issue.  

“I explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.”

Sanders Meets the Press.  

Earlier last week, Sanders dodged a lot of questions and echoed her boss’s statements.     

“That’s fine. I’ll go,” said Sanders.  

A couple of weeks,ago, in a lawsuit about a religious baker refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, the Supreme Court avoided deciding how to square the baker’s beliefs with the couples’ civil rights. 

The Red Hen Affair is different. No one’s constitutional rights were violated by Wilkinson refusing service. The guests were asked to leave because Sanders is an effective mouthpiece for the administration’s cruelty and insensitivity. 

I disagree with the White House policies, and I disagree with Wilkinson.  She should have served her guests, as she would expect to be served.  In fact, it’s a shame that Wilkinson didn’t let them stay.  It could’ve been the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Cannabis Nation — Vapor for Vipers

As a relic of the 1960s, I take more than a passing interest in the progression of marijuana in the lives of Americans.  Thus, a wedding trip to Colorado starts with a visit to the local dispensary. It turns out that some of my fellow relic  attendees began their sojourn with a stop at a Mary Jane shop.  Even though a few bought for medicinal purposes, marijuana is big business in Colorado, so much so that it is consumed primarily for recreational use. Or is it?

There’s a New Sheriff in Town

Pondering this question, I thought about the fact that major cigarette producers are poised to sweep into the weed trade just as soon as the federal government gives the country the Green light.  Hundreds of thousands of acres have been acquired in anticipation of nationwide legalization.  

In 1970, a Philip Morris employee issued an internal memo, which offered the company’s mission:

We are in the business of relaxing people who are tense and providing a pick up for people who are bored or depressed. The human needs that our product fills will not go away. Thus, the only real threat to our business is that society will find other means of satisfying those needs. We are in the business of relaxing people who are tense and providing a pick up for people who are bored or depressed. The human needs that our product fills will not go away. Thus, the only real threat to our business is that society will find other means of satisfying those needs….”

There He Goes Again

Fast forward through the cigarette commercials.  It is now 2018. Philip Morris has filed for patents on Pakalolo. developing a pot inhaler. Vaping is overtaking smoking as a delivery system for nicotine, THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis plants, and  CBD, (cannabidiol), a second organic compound that delivers non psychoactive effects. It’s the CBD that delivers the mellow, sleep-inducing and pain-reducing qualities.  

 

There is yet another big player in the Bhang business, and that is the liquor industry. Like cigarette and prescription drug manufacturers, alcohol producers have a beat-them-or-join-them relationship with reefer.  The beer industry ran a study that concluded that there was a 15% loss of sales in states where recreational use was legalized. They also see the Sticky Wicky as a rival for their market. 

Blame Canada

Constellation Brands, makers of Corona Beer and Svedka Vodka, bought a 10% stake in Canopy, another producer working the Canadian market.  They are in the midst of trying to develop a marijuana beverage. Canopy trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Its ticker is WEED. Several makers have held the line against legalizing marijuana use, but it’s more likely that one day you’ll see weed beers in supermarkets.

The first step in bringing pot to market was its legalization for the treatment of certain conditions, such as glaucoma, and as an anti-nausea drug, helpful for patients receiving chemotherapy.  Dispensaries popped up in states legalizing medical use.  The early versions were affiliated with medical professionals who met with a patient, rendered a diagnosis and wrote up a scrip for some ganja relief. The business tie of the doctor to the stoner created some creative and funny marketing ideas.  

When marijuana’s use to treat muscle spasm and generalized pain was officially recognized, the game was afoot.  Prescriptions came flying out of medical offices.  Naturally, many patients were gaming the system, like the woman who tried tobring a service peacock on a United Airlines flight. 

Approval of reefer for recreational use more or less ended the need for a subterfuge to buy it openly.  A handful of states has approved the sale for recreational use, dear Colorado and Washington, being the first, in 2012.

When the Colorado visitors met at the Boulder wedding party, several exchanged their stories. One had gotten some baked goods for fun, but said it also reduced her anxiety level. Another guest coming off serious surgery supplemented her prescribed pain killers with a gummy bear. Yet another bought some herb for fun– and back pain.  Yet another partied hardy on chocolate bars, which also relieved eye pressure.

The most common over the counter use is for relaxation and anxiety relief. People now taking anti-anxiety medicines claim to achieve good results without losing the ability to function.  There are preparations available especially for use at work. Mondo sells marijuana in powdered form, especially to take to the office. When’s the next coffee break?

With alcohol, Pharma and the tobacco industry converging on the marijuana market, how could our pro-business President resist approval of national legalization — especially if they’ve generously donated to one of his Super-Pacs?  

The Court Kicks the Cake Down the Road

The Supreme Court whipped up a puzzling confection in the recent Gay Wedding Cake case. It’s not so much that the baker won and the same-sex couple lost. The Court told the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ruled against the baker, in the future not to air out their personal views and sent the case back down to be reheard. They told the Commissioners to shut up and decide.

It’s said that hard cases make bad law. This is one hard case. The majority teed off on the Commission for injudicious statements about how religion has been used as a pretext for inhuman behavior, citing slavery and the Holocaust. The Commissioners seemed to mix up racial intolerance with religious intolerance. No matter, at least nobody denied the Holocaust.

The comments by the Commissioners outraged the majority. Justice Kennedy wrote, “To describe a man’s faith as ‘one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use’ is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable and by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere. One commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law—a law that protects anti-discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.”

Two judges of the Court’s left-wing were almost as disapproving of the Commission. Justice Kagan, who voted with the majority, said that the Commission’s decision had been “infected” with bias and hostility against religion. Kagan didn’t disagree with the Commission’s finding.  They couldn’t allow it to stand. Perhaps Kagan and Sotomayor, on one side, and Gorsuch, on the other, are laying the groundwork for drawing majorities in future cases.

Justice Gorsuch didn’t think that the Court went far enough in pulverizing the Commission. He was focused on the difference between the Commission’s approval in other cases of other bakers refusing to decorate cakes with anti-gay messages requested by the prospective customers.

Justice Thomas wrote a long opinion advancing a freedom of speech justification for his refusal. This was the way the case was briefed but the Court clearly wanted to avoid the head-on collision. He was preparing for the next tilt between religion and discriminatory treatment..

As expected, the Fabulous RBG, along with Sotomayor, dissented from the decision. She didn’t sanction the Commission’s reckless statements but she didn’t connect those statements with a hostility to this baker’s religion. The baker wouldn’t sell a cake to the couple because they’re gay and getting married. They didn’t ask the baker to break any laws, distinguishing this case from another cake refusal, where the customer requested cake decoration which would violate the Colorado anti-discrimination law. 

In setting the Court up for another decision, they got this case all wrong. At Judge School, they’re taught to avoid big decisions if they can get by with a little one.  Their first mistake was taking the case after initially refusing it.  Once Gorsuch took his seat, his vote broke a deadlock, and five of the Judges voted to accept it. Having taken the case on, they could have disposed of it on less controversial grounds. Before the Commission got the case, an Administrative Law Judge ruled against the baker. The Commission upheld the ALJ’s finding. When a government agency decides a case, a court will  overturn it only if the decision is irrational; arbitrary and capricious as they say. None of the judges found that the Commission made a wrong decision, let alone an irrational one. Their vote to return the case to the Commission rested on the comments of two of the Commissioners.  There was nothing in the record of this baker case to connect the Commissioners’ ill-considered comments with its findings.

The Supreme Court sent the message that they will pursue judicial activism in the service of the judges’ personal views.   This can be seen in the comments of some Justices that show that they are giving religious freedom priority by scrutinizing the words of two Commissioners rather than the decision itself. This draws our courts one step closer to overriding administrative rulings.

The decision violates another judicial tenet—not to step into political issues. Colorado voters choose their officials. In fact, due to this case the Colorado legislature has been fighting over the bill that enables the commission. So, the composition of the Commission is a Colorado political process The Court superseded the Colorado  political process.

Some initially thought this was a win for the baker – it’s not. It has to be read as an elevation of the freedom of religion or as a first right among equals.  Agencies, and the politics or personal views of its members, will face scrutiny. They’ll have to learn  not to lead with their chins or wear their personal views on their sleeves.

Looking for One Honest Mandamus

Last Wednesday, a federal judge hinted that he might have to toss out a case against future ex-President over the Constitution’s emolument clause.  The clause prevents him from accepting money or property from a foreign government.  Two Democratic politic action groups, which brought the case, would be out of court. 

Yet,  there may be hope. First, the judge mentioned that only Congress can prohibit the  Opportunist-in-Chief from accepting foreign funds, quipped the judge, recognizing the irony in his pronouncement. This GOP Congress hasn’t  demonstrated a lick of courage to stand up to the president, especially on issues many of the members know they should be addressing.

I don’t know if any private citizens have challenged Congress on its failure to act when the failure is on an issue as obvious as this. The Trump entities are raking it in.  He’s still an owner.  Unlike other presidents, he refused to give up his holdings or put them in a blind trust.  He’s benefiting; he’s made no effort to hide it.

  It should be a burning Congressional issue, but it’s not even being discussed.  Committees should have been convened, hearings held.   If the Republicans in Congress can’t get excited about Russia, they should wake up about actions that are clearly against the Constitution.  Instead,  the GOP House is fleeing, many  retiring and not take a drubbing in November and be left in campaign debt.  

There may never have been a cabinet member deserving of censure, if not impeachment, more than Scott Pruitt. He has abused his office, drawing favors from lobbyists, spending a sick amount on luxury items. His $40,000.00 phone booth smacks of Maxwell Smart.  He’s given extravagant raises to his aides.  Clearly, he has abused his office and violated the public trust. 

For that reason, Congress should vote to impeach Pruitt, because he won’t quit and his boss won’t cut him loose.  What if the plaintiffs sue to force Congress to impeach Pruitt and take action against Trump for rampant violations of the clause?

It would be a bold stroke for any judge to order Congress to act.  Unprecedented, in fact.  However, it would bite Democrats as well as Republicans.   And with a Chief Executive who refuses to execute the laws and a Congress that violates its oath to protect the Constitution, only the courts remain to enforce the law of the land.   Unfortunately with for years between presidential campaigns, four years is an eternity, and the damage done may be irreversible.  A court can’t act on its own initiative.  It needs a case in front of it.

My suggestion  is that the plaintiffs amend their lawsuit to seek a writ of mandamus (an order to compel) the Congress to take action to enforce the emoluments clause and to impeach. Secretary Pruitt.

Congress will push back, claiming that it is a political question, and the courts have no business entering into it. Nevertheless it’s time to call the question. We have a cowardly Congress, a corrupt EPA Secretary and a President smiling like a Cheshire Cat.   Four years is too long to wait to throw the rascals out.

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