Nel's New Day

February 20, 2019

First Amendment Contorted by Love for Saudi Arabia, Clarence Thomas

Remember Jeff Bezos? For a week, the media focused on his “junk,” his battle with the National Enquirer, and his search for the person who ripped off his photos and documents such as texts and emails. Turns out that the guilty person is Bezos’ girlfriend’s gay brother. Then Bezos generated more media buzz when he pulled the Amazon headquarters from New York City, much to the disgust of some and delight of others.

The Bezos scandal highlighted the tie between the Enquirer and the Saudi government through Bezos’ letter to AMI, the owner of the tabloid. In its mandate that Bezos state he had “no knowledge” that the Enquirer’s coverage of his affair was “politically motivated or influenced by political forces,” people guessed that the issue was Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). David Pecker, AMI’s owner and DDT’s close associate, had an immunity deal with the DOJ for their criminal suppression of stories about DDT during his campaign, paying people for stories and then not printing them. Karen McDougal’s alleged affair with DDT was one of these articles that were killed before the election.

But Pecker may wanted the Washington Post, owned by Bezos, to stop printing negative news about Saudi Arabia. Pecker used his ties with DDT to cultivate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for business opportunities, including borrowing money to buy major publications such as Sports Illustrated, Time Magazine, Fortune, and Money.  magazine. AMI’s 97-page glossy propaganda about Saudi Arabia and featuring MBS on the cover sold at Walmarts across the nation as part of Pecker’s pandering.

Jamal Khashoggi, U.S. resident and journalist, worked for the WaPo, and his writings were highly critical of MBS. Before the Saudis tortured and dismembered Khashoggi, MBS had said that he would use a “bullet” on Khashoggi if he got the chance, according to WaPo reporting. On the same day the Wall Street Journal wrote that MBS was actively enlisting U.S. media outlets to remake his image in the West and met with Vice Media co-founder Shane Smith on a yacht to discuss “an international media empire to combat the kingdom’s rivals and remake its image in the West.”

“For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,” Bezos wrote. Former longtime Enquirer editor Jerry George said that Pecker was using Bezo’ damaging photos and documents as bargaining chips. As the story unraveled, Pecker failed because Bezos refused to give into blackmail. George cited AMI’s pro-Saudi propaganda as “suspicious” because the company was “cash poor” and “suddenly” got an “influx of cash.” He suggested that “there’s another shoe to drop,” referring to Robert Mueller’s investigation into “the Saudis’ role in all of this.” A restriction of AMI’s immunity included the company staying out of politics, and WaPo revealed that the company may not have lived up to its promises.

Last year, AMI contacted the DOJ to see if the company should register as a foreign agent but said that it didn’t get any Saudi funding for their Saudi propaganda. The DOJ said probably not, but AMI wrote that a Saudi adviser submitted content for its publication and then made changes to the final version after receiving an early draft. AMI’s extortion of Bezos has brought its relation to the Saudis has brought the issue back into visibility.

DDT, who denied his own intelligence showing that MBS was responsible for Khashoggi, now faces an investigation by House Democrats about DDT’s illegal push to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia over objections by national security officials and attorneys, a plan that may have directly benefited his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Despite warnings of “potential conflicts of interest, national security risks and legal hurdles” in 2017, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and other DDT employees push for the sales. DDT plans to bypass Congress with an illegal technology transfer that can spread nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pled guilty of lying to the FBI, was an early advocate for these sales after DDT’s inauguration and recommended that Barrack, who raised $107 million for DDT’s corrupt inaugural committee, be a special representative to carry out his nuclear plan. Appearing to be from DDT, a memo told federal agencies to do Barrack’s bidding.

The House reports Flynn’s working with retired military officers to circumvent U.S. law. After he resigned, the National Security Council continued with its plan in opposition to advice from its own ethics counsel. The next adviser, H.R. McMaster, said that the illegal work must stop, but McMaster left almost two months ago. Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation has examined the possibility of Middle Eastern monarchies financially influencing DDT’s political activities, starting with his presidential campaign. Congress has not look at claims about the nuclear sales until this year because of GOP control.

In more First Amendment issues, the Covington Catholic High School (KY) teenager who appeared to harass Nathan Phillips, a Native American elder and veteran, is suing WaPo for $250 million. The defamation lawsuit alleges that the newspaper “engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism” and “wrongfully targeted and bullied” the “innocent child” Nick Sandmann. According to his lawyers, Sandmann is suffering from “the pain and destruction its attacks would cause to his life.”

The lawsuit reads like a political polemic:

“[The Post wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump (“the President”) by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the President…. [The Post’s coverage was] in furtherance of its political agenda … carried out by using its vast financial resources to enter the bully pulpit by publishing a series of false and defamatory print and online articles which effectively provided a worldwide megaphone to Phillips and other anti-Trump individuals and entities to smear a young boy who was in its view an acceptable casualty in their war against the President.”

Earlier this month, the Sandmann lawyers sent letters warning litigation to over 50 media organizations, celebrities, and politicians. As the wealthiest man in the world, WaPo owner Jeff Bezos has the most money and is considered DDT’s biggest media enemy, and the $250 million is the same amount that Bezos paid for the Post in 2013. Nick’s parents, Ted and Julie Sandmanns, say they want to “teach the Post a lesson it will never forget.” They argue that Nick is not a public figure, lowering the bar for winning their lawsuit.

While Nick was described as a “child,” the lawsuit calls Nathan Phillips “a phony war hero” who “targeted and bullied” Sandmann. Phillips said that Sandmann and his peers from Covington surrounded him after he tried to stop possible violence between them and a few Hebrew Israelites. About Sandmann’s comment on the Today show, Phillips used the terms “insincerity, lack of responsibility”—“coached and written up for him.” About the encounter, Phillips said that he was trying to get out of an ugly situation. “That guy in the hat [Sandmann] stood in my way, and we were at an impasse.” Phillips added, “Then I went to go pray about it …. I forgive him.”

The Sandmanns may find support in their war on freedom of the press from Supreme Court Clarence Thomas. He hopes to attack the media through his proposal to reconsider the 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan which determined that public figures must have greater proof to claim libel. Thomas’ “roadmap” to  helping DDT’s change in libel laws permitting him to sue news organizations came after Thomas and his far-right activist wife Ginni Thomas had dinner with DDT and his wife Melania Trump. Trump’s pledge to change libel laws so he can sue news organizations for their reporting.

Last Tuesday, Thomas expressed concern about the high court’s refusal to hear an appeal from Katherine McKee, who claimed Bill Cosby’s lawyer leaked a letter that distorted her background and damaged her reputation after she claimed that Cosby raped her. Lower courts cited the Times v. Sullivan precedent in dismissing her case with the justification that disclosing her accusation required her to meet a higher libel standard of malice that applies to public figures. The decision to not take the case was unanimous, but Thomas wrote a sole opinion that the 1964 case was wrongly decided.

Since 1964, public officials can sue for libel only if the person responsible for the statement knows that the statement is false or if the person recklessly disregarded its falsehood. Subsequent Supreme Court cases have added all public figures to public officials to protect journalists and media organizations from intimidation by wealthy and/or powerful public figures wishing to exploit minor errors in reporting. That Supreme Court decision protect the media reporting on Thomas sexual harassment by Anita Hill. Thomas, who claims to be an originalist, following only the word of the U.S. Constitution and not its meaning, said, “We should carefully examine the original meaning [of the First Amendment.]” An early interpretation of this right, as shown by the first Sedition Act in 1798, was that the government could punish any published story, and the Sedition Act still exists. If the Supreme Court supports Thomas, the First Amendment could disappear.

February 8, 2019

DDT: Week 107 – Temper Tantrums, Threats

A wild week—Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) delivered his usual lies in the State of the Union speech and the House committees began its investigative hearings. Tweets from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) have the stench of fear, with a recent example of a tirade about how investigations of his scandals not being “allowed” finished by how “Dems and their committees are … even stealing people who work at White House.” An unnamed staffer guided a CNN reporter to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the Intelligence Committee, for an explanation. Schiff has hired former National Security Council members, who DDT had dumped, to work in the investigation into DDT’s finances and foreign connections. In an inverse act, Kashyap Patel, former staffer for former House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA), to join the National Security Council.

Acting AG Matt Whitaker joined Republicans in responding with the same fear as DDT. Whitaker rudely responded to Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee hearing today, even telling the chair that his time for questioning was up. Whitaker said, “I’m here voluntarily,” but he might not be so fortunate at his next hearing. He refused to answer questions while disrespecting House Democrats. GOP committee members repeated conspiracy theories including the lie about the FBI tipping off CNN for the Roger Stone arrest. After he pounded the table and yelled at chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) tried to shut down Eric Swalwell (D-CA) when he questioned Whitaker about taking donations from foreign groups. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) attacked Whitaker for the redactions in a memo from Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein to Robert Mueller about the investigation. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) asked Whitaker to get DOJ employees to be loyal to DDT, despite the oath that they take to be loyal to the U.S. Constitution. Vox has a good rundown of the event.

Because the Senate still has a GOP majority, Richard Burr (R-NC), chair of its Intelligence Committee, is dragging his heels in any investigation of Russia collusion, but DDT still had to lie when he said that the committee had finished its investigation and had found “NO COLLUSION.”

The shutdown came about—and may return—because Congress has not provided a budget that Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) will sign. At the same time, however, DDT has failed to comply with the law. It is his legal obligation to send a budget to Congress by the first Monday in February—February 4, 2019–which he has not done.

Yesterday was National Black HIV Awareness Day, and Tuesday DDT announced that he will end the HIV epidemic by 2030. Here’s the male white crowd who plan to carry out the plan.

The Supreme Court released both conservative and not-quite-so-conservative opinions. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal wing in striking down Louisiana’s restrictive anti-abortion law—at least for now—but moved to the conservative side in refusing a Muslim any religious support during his execution in Alabama. The Supreme Court had already found the Louisiana law unconstitutional when the same one was passed in Texas, but DDT has added two conservative justices since 2016 when Roberts had dissented from overturning the Texas law. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), up for reelection next year, is taking criticism when she supported Brett Kavanaugh for the high court because she believed his promise that he would not overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade, legalizing some abortions.

AMI, owner of the National Enquirer which helped elect DDT with its suppression of news, may have lost its immunity from Robert Mueller. If the publishing company cooperates and avoids committing crimes, it won’t face prosecution for paying off a woman who had an affair with DDT. Upset about news published in the WaPo, AMI tried to extort Jeff Bezos, the newspaper owner, by threatening to publish more embarrassing material about his sexual affair.

Instead of being coerced, Bezos published the extortion message and his response in which he defined the extortion terms:

“In the AMI letters I’m making public, you will see the precise details of their extortionate proposal: They will publish the personal photos unless Gavin de Becker and I make the specific false public statement to the press that we ‘have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.’”

Bezos’ documents can be read in entirety here. The National Enquirer’s final paragraph in the blackmail note reads:

“If [Jeff Bezos] agrees to cease and desist such defamatory behavior [meaning reporting in the Washington Post], we are willing to engage in constructive conversations regarding the texts and photos which we have in our possession. Dylan Howard stands ready to discuss the matter at your convenience.”

Bezos indicated that the reason for National Enquirer’s may be WaPo’s coverage of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,” wrote the world’s richest person.

DDT has refused to submit a requested report from Congress regarding White House findings on whether Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is personally responsible for the torture and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. U.S. intelligence determined that the premeditated murder was almost certainly from orders by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but DDT said he would retain relationships with Saudi Arabia even if the rulers were responsible for the killing. Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, has claimed that the killing was a “rogue operation.” A bipartisan Senate group is considering asking the White House to lay sanctions against anyone considered “responsible.” A bill might include a refusal to sell Saudi Arabia certain military arms.

ICE may have hit a new low. Ordered last summer by the Supreme Court to give specific hearing dates, ICE agents issued “dummy” dates with threats that people would be deported if they didn’t attend. Immigrants crossed the country to comply with the orders only to find that the fake scheduled hearings didn’t exist. Chaos ensured as the photo to the left shows. Court administrators tried to help the immigrants by double-checking addresses and promising that they would soon receive hearing notices.

Because DDT has pulled out of a nuclear treaty with Russia, Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s military to develop new ground-launched hypersonic missiles with an intermediate range and to convert previously sea-based cruise missiles for ground launch.

U.S. Central Command (Centcom) Commander Gen. Joseph Votel, the top U.S. general in charge of military operations in the Middle East, testified that he was not consulted before DDT’s announcement of all 2,000 troop withdrawal from Syria. He also testified that taking pressure off ISIS will permit it to regroup and have “renewed vigor.”

The GOP and DDT’s tax cuts for the wealthy and big business may raise the deficit trillions of dollars, but many DDT’s supporters are discovering that it doesn’t help them. Here’s one of the angry responses:

“The @GOP tax bill cost my family THOUSANDS of dollars this year on our return due to changes, thereby hitting us with the LARGEST tax increase of our lives. We are middle-class homeowners, and you raised our taxes. Infuriating!”

IRS accounting deception to keep people unaware of how little tax cuts would help them—at least until after the midterm elections—may have added to their frustration. Instead of telling people that the tax “reform” wouldn’t give much relief to most people, the IRS changed withholding guidelines that would give more money back to workers in each paycheck by reducing the amount of taxes withheld throughout 2018. In the past, people tended to get refunds, but the new system means much smaller refunds or even the requirement to send more money to the IRS. Discovering that corporations are getting even more of a break than they were promised will undoubtedly result in more rage, especially if they find out that companies get a much larger tax break fi they move their profits overseas—about half as much tax responsibility.

Maybe some people have already learned their lesson: over three-fourths of registered voters want the wealthiest people in the U.S. to pay higher taxes. Even a Fox poll shows that 70 percent of people want increased taxes for those earning more than $10 million.

Other polls are also not favorable for DDT. He went into the Oval Office with a growing economy, but two years later, 56 percent of people in the U.S. believe that the economy is slowing down or worse. Seventeen percent think that the economy is in a recession or depression. Sixty-seven percent of Americans believe interest rates will go up in the next six months, including 20 percent who believe they will go up “a lot.” Likewise, a majority (61 percent) see inflation rising in the near future, including 17 percent who say it will increase a lot.

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