Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

Author: Evan Sarzin (Page 1 of 20)

Peckergate: Bezos, Pecker and Bezos’ Pecker

Amazon/Washington Post chief Jeff Bezos and National Enquirer (AMI)  boss David Pecker have squared off in public over Pecker’s threatened publication of purloined pictures of Bezos’ penis. AMI threatened to publish photos Bezos sent to Lauren Sanchez, his paramour, unless Bezos made a public statement that AMI’s earlier airing of Bezos’ extramarital affair wasn’t politically motivated.  Post Publisher Bezos is a frequent political target of Donald Trump, and Pecker and the future ex-president, who has stumped for tougher libel laws, are old chums.  Bezos believes that the Enquirer’s attack was politically motivated, and he went public with AMI’s threat, calling it blackmail and extortion, rather than knuckling under. 

Legal pundits took promptly to the airwaves.  Alan Dershowitz, one-time hero of the Left, presented the first section of his future appellate brief on the subject of libel and extortion. The constitutional law scholar argued that AMI is protected by the first amendment, which, when it comes to extortion, needs “some breathing space.” Dershowitz pulled the term from the existing body of first amendment jurisprudence, in which it has been used to limit government’s ability to restrict speech or to punish the speaker. 

In  the 1963 landmark case of NY Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court ruled that a media defendant could not be held liable for libel unless its publication was motivated by actual malice. In his opinion, Justice William Brennan employed the breathing space parlance to justify enhanced press protection.  

Breathing space has become a fixture in first amendment cases.  In 2012, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a federal law making it criminal to lie about earning a military honor, referencing  the necessary breathing space.  Even a lie about valor deserves a little oxygen. 

Dershowitz repeated the phrase several times, suggesting that he was trying to sell the concept’s  application.  He argued that, under the principle of breathing space, the first amendment protects coercive extortion if carried out by a member the media. 

Blackmail and extortion are types of coercive speech; threats to cause a listener to do something he or she might not otherwise do. Blackmail is the demand for payment in exchange for not disclosing something concerning the listener.  Such as “Give us $140 billion or we’ll publish a picture of your pecker.” That’s illegal, no question.  But “ Make an announcement that our reporting about your affair wasn’t politically motivated or we ’ll publish a picture of your pecker.” Not illegal, according to Dershowitz and AMI. 

The latter is speech designed to influence a listener’s decision. If the listener has a legitimate choice in response, the threat can be considered persuasive speech. “Endorse the Wall to prevent the country from being overrun by a caravan of Honduran refugees or we will report that you want the country to be overrun by a caravan of Honduran tefugees,” is of the persuasive sort, arguably. “Endorse the Wall or we’ll publish a picture of your pecker?” Feh.  

In the former case, the threatened reaction is related to the subject of the demand. More to the point, the listener has a legitimate choice that flows from the subject. In the latter case, the response has no connection to the threat. The threatened action is meant to cause the listener personal humiliation and economic loss,

havng nothing to do with his political position on the Wall. 

Coercive speech doesn’t deserve breathing space.  In fact, it should be smothered in its sleep.  Free speech is intended to enable an open exchange of ideas, free of official repression.  The first amendment wasn’t intended to protect someone threatening personal harm to a listener.   that instance, it is the listener, also a member of the media,  whose first amendment rights need protection. 

Worth a Thousand Words and a Shove Out the Door

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Democrat, admitted yesterday that he posed in a racially offensive photograph . In 1984 he and another medical school student posed as a black man in black face and a Klansman in a Ku Klux Klan hooded robe. The picture was published as his yearbook page. The editors at the East Virginia Medical School didn’t have a problem running it.
The two men are shown standing next to each other but it isn’t a promotion for National Brotherhood Week. Northam issued a public apology (although, today he’s denying it) and didn’t try to defend the photo or offer context. So far, despite calls for his resignation, he refuses to step down. He will probably be forced to resign; replaced by Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who is black.

It’s hard to look at the picture and say, “That was then and this is now.” Certain instances of racially and sexually abusive behavior have ended public careers and caused public ostracism. There is no statute of limitations  and no possibility of rehabilitation. Some acts are so shocking and offensive that forgiveness would be considered acceptance. In those cases, there is zero tolerance.  Our society is still working through how Northam and others like him should be treated for such offenses. There is a compelling reason, other than politics, to banish Northam. Short of physical violence, black face, along with the “N word,” is the most publicly reviled display of racism. The photo is a graphic representation. It is more nauseating to see it than to hear about it. Ostracism sends a clear signal to parents and children to preach against this form of hatred, or else make sure it’s hidden in a place where no one will see it.

For now, Northam, a Democratic politician, will be forced out due to the 1984 photo. For now, Steve King, a Republican politician, was stripped of all leadership positions by Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, due to racially offensive statements made publicly and reported.  However, Congress stopped short of censure and removal. Different result if there was no picture of Northam or if King had been videotaped? I think so. Different result if Northam was a Republican and King a Democrat? Without a doubt.

No Takers on Trump Nothingburger

The White House proposal Saturday to end the shutdown was a feint, an illusion  of compromise.  Actually, it was a Nothingberder. 

The administration proposed three years of temporary protection for the Dreamers, which was DOA.  The White House thought to act because the Supreme Court is unlikely to hear its  appeal of the lower court’s rejection of Trump’s DACA termination. The odds are about 20  to 1 against the High Court taking the case (the final posting for this year’s cases will occur Tuesday). In effect, Trump was offering ice in the winter. Pelosi and other Democrats would not consider it. 

Even worse for the White House, Trump’s pitched looked like amnesty to his supporters, which will piss off Rush, Ann and the 2016 base. Trump’s proposal should never have seen the light of day.

Mike Pence said that the proposal showed the administration is reaching out. It doesn’t seem likely. The Trump base hated it. The Democrats didn’t give it a thought. Media on the left and right ridiculed it. The proposal was just another misconceived publicity stunt.

Game, Set and Match?

If Trump specifically directed Cohen to conceal the true status of Trump Moscow in his Congressional testimony, that is subornation of perjury, a crime.  It’s the kind of crime Congress can’t ignore. 

It would have to be that precise and there’s got to be corroborating evidence. Cohen vs Trump won’t do it.

Wait! There’s More!

Prior to his testimony, Cohen filed a written statement with Congress, reviewer in advance by the White House, which falsely represents Ed that the Moscow project ended in January 2016  in fact, it didn’t end until the following November.

Cohen: “I assume we will discuss the rejected proposal to build a Trump property in Moscow that was terminated in January of 2016; which occurred before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary.”

No one st the White House interceded to correct the record.

It’s 2016 All Over Again

Future Ex-President Trump got soundly thumped for his speech from the Oval Office. He said nothing new, looked as if he were embalmed and couldn’t wait to get off the air. Yet, when it was over, I had this disquieting feeling, like I had not really heard him at all; as if it passed right through me.

The Democratic leadership followed him up, chiding him for his lies. I knew that I had heard this before; not just the other day from the White House lawn, but three years ago on the campaign trail. They still haven’t learned that this approach fails with an audience that is willing to forgive him his trespasses because it thinks that he stands for a greater truth. The Democrats would do well to take this seriously. They must meet the substance, not the form, of the argument. The Democrats are missing the forest for the trees – again. This myopia guarantees another four years out of power.

FEPOTUS wants to build a Border Wall, but nevertheless admits that it is not an answer for Border Security. The Democrats do not want a Border Wall but they recognize the need for border security. They dismiss the Wall as a medieval answer to a 21st Century problem. They claim that Trump is lying about a crisis at the border, and they argue that if there is a humanitarian crisis, Trump has caused it. They reached a stalemate, and our government has decided to put itself out of business.

The government shutdown is entering its third week, with federal employees going without a paycheck. FEPOTUS said two weeks ago that he was proud to own the shutdown. Although he has retreated from those words, he might just as well double-down on them. He will live or die by them. Republicans have begun to retreat publicly. At least four Senators would vote to reopen the government but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t put the measure up for a vote. Each side vows that it will let this stalemate drag on until the other side caves. In the meantime, 800,000 federal employees and their dependents are in existential peril.

The Democrats and the media see this as all on Trump.  They are preaching to their choir, just as they did in 2016. They are not addressing the anger and frustration of an active and discontented part of the electorate; which put is faith in Trump, notwithstanding his lies, insensitivity, corruption and sheer incompetence.  Although Trump has scaled back his thirty-foot concrete monument to a steel fence, the true believers have not shrunken from their belief in the need for a barrier and a belief in him.

The Democrats should have called for hearings on the first day of the new Congress. They should have a parade of witnesses on the situation along the border and other witnesses as to what is needed. If there is a crisis, then the adults, our adults, should be fashioning a solution. At least, it would show that they are taking the concern seriously enough to investigate and move toward a solution. That, more than any words, would show that they care about the truth of the situation and the solutions needed for greater border security.

If the Democrats do nothing, FEPOTUS can call off the shutdown with impunity. He’ll say he, not Democrats, “cares” about the federal workers. He will take credit for offering a solution, however ridiculous it may be. The Democrats, having done nothing, will be made to appear closed in heart and mind, and they’ll have way to fight back. Hillary Redux.

Democrats may not agree that there is a  need but they will do themselves a disservice by trivializing the concerns of those who do. Deplorables Redux. To Democrats, Schumer and Pelosi’s rebuttal to Trump looks earnest and responsible. To non-Democrats,  it sounds like a hectoring scolding, and they appear to be smug and petulant – much the way Hillary did. They’re misreading the situation again, again, again.

The Rainbow Congress: Two Narratives

The composition of the 116th Congress has garnered a lot of attention. The singular event for the House Democrats was the swearing-in of its diverse caucus, a happy moment amid the gloom of the ongoing government shutdown. Among the new faces was Representative Rashida Tlaib, one of two Muslim women first to hold a seat in Congress. Two Native American women gained House seats for the first time. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rock star of the Rainbow Congress, at 29 is the youngest woman ever to win a seat. Only 38% of the Democratic members are white men.  When Democrats saw the class photo, their hearts soared proudly at the picture of diversity.

Meanwhile on the other side of town, Donald Trump cringed as he examined the picture of the Rainbow Congress. . The scene looked like a shuk, an outdoor market in the square of a Middle Eastern town. He double-checked the photo for goats and donkeys before tossing it on the Resolute Desk. Trump thought, this is a picture of the end of America.

Two Trains Running

Two competing concepts propel American historical study.  One is the narrative of American triumphalism. It extols the founders’ prescience, the virtues of industry and capitalism and the “great man” theory of history.  The other narrative is that of American progressivism, the story of the disenfranchised, persistently struggling against monied, reactionary interests.

In the Progressivist narrative, American history becomes as a story of enlightened people, forever seeking to overcome the Constitution’s slavery-driven imperfections.   Under the conservative and incremental legal system inherited from England, it chronicles the inexorable journey toward a more perfect union.

Both narratives are needed for a coherent, non-pixelated view of American history. Trimuphalists consider the Rainbow Congress to be the democratic experiment gone horribly wrong. People are taking office who weren’t meant to hold power or even to have a voice in government. They will ruin our institutions.

Progressives hold that the Rainbow Congress proves the striving narrative. If Progressives remain strong, their efforts will win them a seat at the table. The Blue Wave Midterm success fulfills the Progressive aspiration for universal equality contained in the Declaration of Independence.

The Morning After

On the second day of the Rainbow Congress, Representative Tlaib publicly referred to Donald Trump as an M.F., as in “impeach the M.F.”  The putative MF-in-Chief, scolded the freshman representative, saying that she disrespected the nation and disgraced her family.

Representative Ocasio-Cortez defended her colleague, tweeting:

Republican hypocrisy at its finest: saying that Trump admitting to sexual assault on tape is just “locker room talk,” but scandalizing themselves into faux-outrage when my sis says a curse word in a bar.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi had tried to avoid the I-word.”  Now, she had to address it, as well as deal with Tlaib’s coupling of it to the Oedipal sobriquet. Pelosi said that while she doesn’t monitor her caucus’s language, she thought it wasn’t much different from Trump’s remarks, such as referring to certain black pro football players as SOBs.

For at least one day in a suddenly different Washington, political correctness, along with the federal government, stood in recess.

 

Trench Warfare over a Border Wall

Democrats Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer will face off against Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the next two years in a divided government. These three-dimensional grandmasters are now in control of the Congressional chessboard.

Democrats made their opening move on the first day of the 116th Congress. The House passed several bills: a continuing resolution, funding the Department of Homeland Security for one month (there’s no funding for the Wall); the other bills, reopening the rest of the government. The bills would end the two week-old government shutdown, and the Wall would get kicked down the road.

The scene now shifts to the GOP-controlled Senate under McConnell’s control. McConnell has 53 Senators in the caucus and a joker in MIke Pence’s tie-breaker. He can afford to lose only three votes. Two of them, Susan Collins (ME) and Corey Gardner (CO), have said that they would break ranks over the shutdown. If another defects, the measure would pass the Senate and go over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. McConnell won’t put the measure up for a vote because Trump would either veto it, thwarting the will of a bipartisan Congress; or refuse to veto it, infuriating his base. Ordinarily, McConnell would be happy to see the bill lying on the floor of Senate, the life draining out of it. Because Trump has agreed to take responsibility for the shutdown, each time a government employee misses a paycheck, it will be held against an insensitive, out-of-touch Chief Executive and a tyrannical party leader who has placed party before national interests. McConnell may be boxed in this time.

Naturally, Trump is trying to lower expectations. He has reduced his redoubtable border wall to the national security equivalent of aluminum siding. The negotiation went off the rails when he welched on his 2017 promise to the Democrats to take action on the Dreamers (DACA). They don’t consider him a trustworthy negotiating partner. As a result, they won’t make any concessions until Trump commits himself unconditionally.

Trump does have a way out of this double-bind. He could negotiate a strong border security package without a wall but with much heavier commitments otherwise. Democrats would be obliged to commit more than $5 billion to the package, and they would lose some of their leverage on DACA. Trump could crow that he got more money than the Democrats were  willing to pay, and he got better border security. He might have to make a firm commitment on DACA. Then he’d have to sell that package to his base. In essence, he would need superior negotiating and political skills to get there. He hasn’t demonstrated that he possesses them. Unless he’s willing to deputize someone to be the dealmaker, he will continue to get outmaneuvered.

That leaves the Congressional leaders. Eventually, McConnell will need to sit down with Pelosi and Schumer. They’ll put together a deal, and then they will have to back Trump into accepting it.

As Heads Continue to Roll

Mick Mulvaney: Out of the Sandbox

Donald Trump wasn’t conservative enough for Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney said that candidate Trump was a terrible person, and he wouldn’t vote for him. Nevertheless, he accepted the President-elect’s offer to run the Office of Management and Budget. Later, he added the title of Director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau after Obama appointee Richard Cordray was fired.

As CPFB director, Mulvaney immediately fired all members of the agency’s advisory board and defanged the pro-consumer agency. As  OMB director, his office has become a way station for the stray lobbyist or dissatisfied donor. Yet, after two years of service, Mulvaney is not the object of a criminal investigation. High praise, indeed.

On paper Mulvaney, a deficit hawk, is an unlikely chief of the OMB, which has overseen a historic increase in the national debt.   Mulvaney claimed that the United States would outgrow its spending hikes, which so far is not the case. Growth as measured as a percentage of GDP fell from the promising 4% range into quicksand of 2%. Mulvaney’s hoped-for growth by tax cut has not materialized.

Trophy Hunter

All the more surprising is Mulvaney’s willingness to take on another job, this time as Acting Chief of Staff. He’s going to hold on to the OMB title, avoiding the necessity of  ramming another anti-agency industry hack through the Senate confirmation process. Mulvaney coming aboard with the title of Acting Chief of Staff gives him cover if he is dumped like Priebus and Kelly were. It also gives him control on domestic policy and relations with congress. At least, Mulvaney has more latitude to conduct government business in a comparatively conventional way.

Translating Trump

Can Mulvaney do what his predecessors could not? For starters, he is trying with some success to translate Trump’s impulsiveness into political norms. This morning on Meet the Press, he addressed many  pressing issues.  On the border wall: “We gave [Democrats] an offer [between the $5 billion figure and the $1.6 billion figure] and we’re waiting to hear back from them right now.” His statement is addition by subtraction. The administration will drop its settlement number to end the shutdown, making it sound like the usual congressional horse-trading. Still, no DACA, no wall, as far as the Democrats are concerned.

Mulvaney tries to be plain spoken-ish. “The president is not going to not accept money for a border wall.” Mulvaney also shifted the administration on getting Mexico to pay for the wall.  He conceded matter-of-factly that the administration cannot actually make Mexico pay for the wall. He  suggested that Trump’s promise was aspirational,  not transactional.  For Mulvaney, Mexico’s greater deterrence of Central America migrants becomes a stand-in for the wall. The slatted fence with the points is another stand-in for the wall. Without fanfare, Mulvaney downgraded the wall from BBW (Big, Beautiful Wall) to FWB (Fence with Benefits). Border wall has been re-purposed as border security, opening the door to non-wall measures which are acceptable to the Democrats and don’t look to Trump’s base like surrender.  Congress will make a deal sooner or later, and Mulvaney will be smack dab in the middle of it.

Mulvaney is the Message

Mulvaney also is also seizing control of the message. If this morning’s appearances are a preview of things to come, Mulvaney will get the chance to move the congressional pile and to propose compromises that don’t completely forfeit the boss’s political capital.

Making It Real

According to Mulvaney, Trump now realizes that he can’t fire the Fed Chief.  If so, this recognition is uncharted territory for the Accidental President.  Mulvaney chalks up Mattis’ firing to a difference in philosophy between Trump and Mattis. Of course, it is just as much a difference in process, which Mattis identified as a reason for leaving.   Mulvaney is trying to forge a real-world convergence of American politics and Trump’s alternste universe.

Shortly after the Sunday shows, the White House announced that the nomination of a new Defense Secretary has been advanced from to January  3rd from February 28th.  The announcement is meant to assure the public that this administration is not the shambles it appears to be, and to persuade the public that there is at least one person ready to lead the Pentagon under this president. Mulvaney’s fingerprints are on this too.

Out of the Sandbox

For the moment and until further notice,  Mulvaney will play the adult in the room. He is attempting to project himself as the savior of a lost administration, or at least the voice of reason drowned out by the White House din.  If this is political calculation by Mulvaney, he is playing it smart. ​

Kelly never had any political arrows in his quiver.  He is a former general, not a former legislator. On the other hand, Congressman Mulvaney was washed ashore in Washington bu the Tea Party tsunami. Paradoxically, he’s trying to build an unsinkable platform using the DC swamp as his foundation.

Will Orange Be the New Orange?

 

According to latest filings in the Michael Cohen case, the Southern District of New York prosecutors have determined that the evidence shows that the man who would be FEPOTUS directed Cohen to pay hush money to cover up one of his affairs to keep it from the voting public. That’s a felony. Although he deserves to be prosecuted,  it’s not clear that he should be prosecuted.  Sometimes the best way to deal with a bum is just to give him the Bum’s Rush.

If there’s evidence that Trump directed Cohen to gag Stormy Daniels and the Enquirer to pay off Karen McDougal, to keep it from the voters, then it’s a strong case. It’s not beyond him to have done it, although for his supporters it wasn’t necessary. His voters had already crossed that Rubicon. They would stick by him if he shot someone, especially a Democrat. They had steeled themselves against Trump’s womanizing. Surely, his people wouldn’t have cared if he bonked a porn star about ten years earlier.

It’s possible that the Toxic Revenger was trying to keep it from the kids. They are the only ones with blinders as to his character defects. As for Melania, if I am reading her fashion tips correctly, she doesn’t care.

The Southern District prosecutors might not have a slam-dunk case against him for election fraud.   They have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to defraud voters, not just to deceive his family.  What’s more, any prosecution would have to wait until he leaves office, which, unless we’re lucky, probably won’t happen before 2020.

There’s lots of time remaining for him to do additional stupid things and further run the country into the ground like it was the Trump Taj Mahal. It would be great if he quit or if there were votes to remove him. Yet, it might not be a good idea to prosecute him once he’s gone.   If no one is going to prosecute him, indicting him is just waving the red cape in front of this Bull Artist without having the hidden sword to finish him off.

Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, and it most likely cost him the bicentennial election of 1976. Ford thought that it was more important for the country to move on.  A case against Nixon would have lasted years and would have reignited a partisan battle. If somehow, Nixon was acquitted by a jury unwilling to send a former president to jail, then his forced resignation would become a cause celebre. We would still be litigating how badly Nixon had been treated when the Democrats forced him out of office – unconstitutionally.  Donald Trump would now be standing on the ruins of Nixon’s battlements.

FEPOTUS has screwed us all as thoroughly as he has his other victims. Think about the 2016 election like it was a massive Trump U. matriculation. There is no hell hot enough for a scoundrel like him. Punishing him comes with a heavy price, though. In 2020 we can run him and his bag of snakes out for good. We wouldn’t be well-served by continuing the battle. Besides, his base might really put their torches and pitchforks to use.

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