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.

December 12, 2013

How George W. Bush Failed the GOP – Rachel Maddow

Meet the Press - Season 65Rachel Maddow is expanding her job responsibilities: she now has a monthly column in the Washington Post with a six-month contract.  I don’t read the Post regularly and wondered if I would come across her first column. No problem! Reprints popped up today in two of my favorite online news services, Truthout and Reader Supported News (RSN).

The mission of Truthout, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, reads: “Truthout works to spark action by revealing systemic injustice and providing a platform for transformative ideas, through in-depth investigative reporting and critical analysis. With a powerful, independent voice, we will spur the revolution in consciousness and inspire the direct action that is necessary to save the planet and humanity.”

Both sites provide writings from the greatest progressive thinkers of our time, and both come from Marc Ash. Truthout donations are tax-deductible; contributions to RSN are not. Ash wrote, “This is a new experiment: can an organization serve the community and still pay its taxes? The answer should be yes.” In neither case, however, do corporations control the content.

Ash started Truthout in 2001 after George W. Bush stole the presidency; RSN came along in 2009. Scott Galindez joined Ash at RSN the next year. Like many of us, he is “angry, and believe[s] that one way to take our government back is to inform the public of the truth.” What he asks from the readers is “to spread the news we provide.”

Sister site of RSN is Writing for Godot where readers can post their own essays. In Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, Godot never comes, but many others do. Galindez writes that the “God” for which people wait can “be equated with social justice and order, tolerance and compassion.” These have not come for Galindez for the past nine years, but perhaps tomorrow …. And that’s why we follow progressive websites—reading about social justice and order, tolerance and compassion.

Since Jeff Bezos, the $33 billionaire founder/CEO of amazon.com, purchased The Washington Post, he has kept a low profile. Hiring Rachel Maddow to write a column speaks well of his intentions. In no way would I presume to paraphrase Rachel Maddow. Here is her column, verbatim, about how George W. Bush failed the GOP. You can go to the original to find links to more information about her subject. Thank you, RSN.

 

After a presidency, what comes next? Not just for the president but also for the members of the administration, the president’s allies in Congress, his or her political party?

In the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, no hearty saplings were ever able to take root in the shade of that big tree. No one expected Vice President Dick Cheney to ever be a contender for the presidency – part of his effectiveness was his willingness to say and do very unpopular things. When he snapped at ABC’s Martha Raddatz, “So?” as she questioned him about public disapproval of the Iraq war, he wrote the perfect epitaph for his vice presidency.

But by the time the Bush era was winding down, the whole administration, including the president, was stewed in terrible, Cheney-level disapproval ratings. And now, almost no one who played a significant role in that administration is anywhere to be found in electoral politics, beyond the tertiary orbits of Punch-and-Judy cable news and the remains of what used to be the conservative “think tank” circuit.

That’s true even for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who had no formal role in his brother’s administration but will probably always find the familial association an insurmountable obstacle to his own presidential hopes.

Unlike the Reagan administration, the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration, the George W. Bush presidency elevated precisely no one to the ranks of national leadership who wasn’t there before. The 2008 Republican presidential primaries were like some odd eight-year cicada hatch in which the candidates went underground in 2000 and then birthed themselves after Bush and Cheney were gone, as if the intervening years had never happened.

The 2000 second-place finisher, Sen. John McCain? You’re next in line for 2008! And four years later: second-place Mitt Romney? You’re next in line for 2012!

The unpopular presidency of George W. Bush has proved to be a blackball on the résumés of a generation of Republican leaders. Maybe Cheney’s daughter Liz will break the pattern next year with a successful Senate bid in Wyoming, but if you made it through that sentence without spitting coffee out your nose, you’re in rare company.

The fascinating turmoil in the Republican Party since 2008 is not just a personnel problem – it’s also ideological. If you were putting together a legacy to inspire the next generation of conservatives, you wouldn’t pick the Bush administration’s trailing ends of land wars, budget deficits, torture, a crusade against gay rights and a financial collapse to rival the Great Depression. The isolationism and libertarian iconography of the Ron Paul wing of the party really does appeal to young people more than Bush-Cheney Republicanism. Social conservatives really do feel backed into a corner and ready to fight against a country that is turning against them faster than most pollsters can keep up. There really is something ripe for renewal in Republicans’ self-conception as fiscal conservatives, when the clear pattern is that budget deficits grow under Republicans and shrink under Democrats. The Republican Party is a churning swirl of conflicting ideological currents, and that’s going to take some time to work out.

But part of the reason it may be taking so long already is those lost years: the period from 2000 to 2008 that effectively obviated the authority and the leadership potential of all of Washington’s Republican elites. The George W. Bush administration didn’t just cast too much shade on the next generation of leadership – it also apparently poisoned the ground.

The Obama administration’s ability to nurture and support the next round of national leadership in the Democratic Party is going to be a big part of its long-term legacy. Unless Vice President Biden’s presidential hinting suddenly takes a turn for the serious, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is the obvious inheritor of the party’s mantle. But, as in 2008, the Beltway may be overstating her inevitability. The grass roots aren’t all with her, frankly, and it’s yet to be seen if she’s interested in trying to win them over. Mainstream press may buy big-dollar donors (and more mainstream press), but it can’t buy the passionate volunteers and activists and excitement that are the oxygen for a winning campaign and sustained, effective leadership.

The collapse of national leadership prospects for the Republican Party is one of the greatest political failures and most important legacies of George W. Bush. Barack Obama looks less likely to repeat that fate, but it depends on a strong grove of nationally viable Democrats starting to grow now. The crescendo of attention to Elizabeth Warren is a healthy part of that process, as is the growing national interest in such diverse Democrats as Sherrod Brown, Claire McCaskill, Cory Booker, Wendy Davis, Martin O’Malley, Deval Patrick, Andrew Cuomo and Amy Klobuchar.

Inside the White House, the task of growing one’s own successors must seem like one of the less pressing items on the president’s long daily to-do list. But the previous administration’s trail of scorched earth and exiles has curtailed the prospects for the Republican Party and governing conservatism more profoundly than almost anything that administration pursued in terms of policy. It is a cautionary tale that Democrats and the Obama White House should heed sooner rather than later. Grow your successors, nurture your legacy.

February 9, 2013

Desperate McConnell Lies about Background Checks

American Crossroads has fired the opening salvo in Kentucky over a possibility of Ashley Judd running for the Senate in 2014 when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s term is up. Judd hasn’t declared, but Karl Rove’s conservative super PAC has dropped $10,000 into a Web-only ad pointing out she lives in Tennessee, works as an actress, and—horrors—campaigned for President Obama.

McConnell is trying to look as if his campaign is separate from the attack ads. His campaign manager Jesse Benton said, “We’re just focused on building an elite campaign and talking to Kentucky voters about Senator McConnell’s tremendous leadership.” Yet the two are connected through the Crossroads’ president, Steven Law, who has also served as McConnell’s chief of staff. Law also managed McConnell’s first re-election campaign in 1990 and later served as executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, whose purpose is to get GOP senators elected and re-elected.

McConnell’s desperation shows up in his campaign’s fundraising email:

“There are almost too many schemes to list. But President Obama’s worst center around:… a thinly-veiled national gun registration scheme hidden under the guise of ‘background checks’ to ensure federal government minders gain every bureaucratic tool they need for full-scale confiscation…. It is almost hard to believe the sheer breadth and brazenness of this attempt to gut our Constitution.”

One can expect the NRA to make a statement like this. But coming from McConnell, it brought out the fact checkers who make the senator look pretty bad. Washington Post wrote that nothing in the president’s plan creates a national gun registration scheme; it simply extends the current Brady law rule on background checks to all firearm sales. In fact, current law specifically prohibits using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to create a federal firearms registry and requires that all records be destroyed within 24 hours.

McConnell knows this because he first served on the committee that wrote the law and then was one of only 17 GOP senators to vote for the law. More than that, he signed a letter about the firearms database prohibition, saying it should be made permanent rather than lasting for just one year as most language in appropriations bills does.  Thus The Washington Post gives McConnell four Pinocchios, the award for biggest lie regarding gun background checks.

pinocchio_4

Republicans are fond of using Ronald Reagan as an example for good government in the 21st century. They should heed his op-ed piece from March 29, 1991, explaining the importance of the Brady Bill:

“While there has been a Federal law on the books for more than 20 years that prohibits the sale of firearms to felons, fugitives, drug addicts and the mentally ill, it has no enforcement mechanism and basically works on the honor system, with the purchaser filling out a statement that the gun dealer sticks in a drawer.

“The Brady bill would require the handgun dealer to provide a copy of the prospective purchaser’s sworn statement to local law enforcement authorities so that background checks could be made. Based upon the evidence in states that already have handgun purchase waiting periods, this bill–on a nationwide scale–can’t help but stop thousands of illegal handgun purchases.

“And, since many handguns are acquired in the heat of passion (to settle a quarrel, for example) or at times of depression brought on by potential suicide, the Brady bill would provide a cooling-off period that would certainly have the effect of reducing the number of handgun deaths.

“Critics claim that “waiting period” legislation in the states that have it doesn’t work, that criminals just go to nearby states that lack such laws to buy their weapons. True enough, and all the more reason to have a Federal law that fills the gaps. While the Brady bill would not apply to states that already have waiting periods of at least seven days or that already require background checks, it would automatically cover the states that don’t. The effect would be a uniform standard across the country.

“Even with the current gaps among states, those that have waiting periods report some success. California, which has a 15-day waiting period that I supported and signed into law while Governor, stopped nearly 1,800 prohibited handgun sales in 1989. New Jersey has had a permit-to-purchase system for more than two decades. During that time, according to the state police, more than 10,000 convicted felons have been caught trying to buy handguns.”

The NRA leaders and the “no gun laws” proponents repeat, ad nauseum, that all the government needs to do is enforce current laws. Yet our laws allow websites, the largest being Armslist, to advertise guns for sale with no checks. Investigators discovered that 54 percent of these sellers were openly willing to sell firearms to people who admitted that they couldn’t pass a background check.

New York City’s 2011 investigation found more than 25,000 weapons for sale on just 10 websites.  Jon Lowy, director of the legal action project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said, “The last figure we have is 40 percent of gun sales take place without a background check. That figure is probably low, because it dates from before the advent of the thriving internet market.”

According to John Feinblatt, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s chief policy adviser, the number of guns offered on these ten websites sites grew 68 percent from 2011 to 2012. “Just as gun shows have been a problem because criminals know they can buy guns without detection, the internet is a place where criminals, felons, and other prohibited purchasers can find a weapon,” he noted.

Feinblatt said that states without the private sale loophole and with background checks for private gun sales have 38 percent fewer women killed with guns by intimate partners than states without these safeguards. Without universal background checks even for internet sales, “we’re basically giving a free pass to criminals,” he said.

Even people at gun shows think that mandatory background checks are a good idea. An NRA volunteer from Colorado Springs summed it up: “It tends to keep the bad guys away

If Mitch McConnell wants to get re-elected, he might want to take note of the following statistics. At the end of January, 92 percent of people in the United States—and 97 percent of all women—supported universal background checks for gun purchases, according to a CBS News poll. Quinnipiac found that 92 to 95 percent of voters in Virginia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania backed expanded background checks, including those on people purchasing their weapons at gun shows. A poll from Women’s Donor Network shows that 90 percent of women are very concerned about gun violence.

In early December, Public Policy Polling, the group that most accurately predicted the presidential election last November, found that only 37 percent of Kentucky voters approved of McConnell, the lowest approval rating among all the U.S. Senators. He was so upset about the PPP survey showing him just a few points above Ashley Judd that he paid for his own survey—and found the same percentage.

Although the GOP doesn’t provide government tracking of gun deaths in the United States, informal reports show over 1686 deaths by guns since the Newtown (CT) massacre.

March 10, 2012

Newspapers Censor ‘Doonesbury’

Republicans can force women to do their will, but they can’t talk about it. Neither can the media, at least not on the “funny pages.” After Gary Trudeau used the obscenely ridiculous occurrences within the past few weeks in next week’s comic strip Doonesbury, many newspapers are refusing to run this series because of its “graphic imagery” and “graphic language.” At least some of the newspapers are moving the comic strip series to the opinion pages or posting it on their websites although others are out and out rejecting it.

In Oregon, the Register-Guard (Eugene) plans a link on registerguard.com for readers who want to see the series while The Oregonian (Portland) posted on its website that Gary Trudeau “in our judgment went over the line of good taste and humor in penning a series on abortion using graphic language and images inappropriate for a comics page.” They also plan to post the series with a poll about the decision not to run it in the newspaper at gocomics.com/doonesbury. Of the 44 comments to the decision thus far, only one commended the newspaper. Sample comments to the decision:

This newspaper thinks its readers are morons.

I disagree with your shortsighted decision.

When did the Oregonian become the arbiter of “good taste” for its readers?

You are eroding your trust with the public you serve by this decision.

It is an embarrassment to the state of Oregon that our largest newspapers so freely practices censorship.

Apparently the obscene nature of the matter and its substance can be reported, but mocking the asinine nature of the subject is verboten.

For its premise, the “shocking” series uses the recent spate of state legislation requiring ultrasounds–many of them transvaginal–for women seeking abortions.It shows a woman going to a clinic where she is confronted people who state that she should be ashamed. A doctor reads a script for Gov. Rick Perry (TX) inviting her to a “compulsory transvaginal exam,” and a middle-aged legislator calls her “slut.” In one panel, the mandated procedure is compared to rape with the device described as a “ten-inch shaming wand.”

Complaining about the “language” and “imagery” is ironic because the same information has been on the news where children can see and hear it. Rush Limbaugh’s program is aired at a time that children have ready access to it.

In defense of the Texas law that requires an ultrasound before an abortion, abortion being a legal medical procedure in this country, Perry’s spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said that the governor is proud of his leadership on the sonogram laws. Frazier also said, “The decision to end a life is not funny. There is nothing comic about this tasteless interpretation of legislation we have passed in Texas to ensure that women have all the facts when making a life-ending legislation.”

Frazier is right about ending a life not being funny. People in Texas, more than in any other state, should be knowledgeable about ending lives because of the huge number of people, some of them innocent, executed by that state. This is also the same state that will no longer receive federal monies to help 130,000 low-income women in obtaining contraceptives and breast cancer examinations.

Thus Texas will protect the children and guarantee that more women become pregnant because they are unable to obtain birth control, an action probably leading to more abortions. This is the country where a political party that claims to be for “limited government” can force doctors to perform medical procedures with which they disagree. Women can be forced to hear a description of the image and the fetal heartbeat, but comic strip readers are “protected” from hearing about the horrific law passed by some of the states, with Virginia making the eighth one earlier this past week.

Doonesbury is satire, defined as an attack on or criticism of any stupidity or vice or a critique of dangerous religious, political, moral, or social standards. Stephen Colbert used satire when he employed an ultrasound wand to make Margaritas during his Super Tuesday program. (In my viewing area, Stephen Colbert’s show aired at 6:00 pm and therefore readily available to young people.) Laughter comes from shock, and the states’ mandates to force women to have transvaginal ultrasounds before an abortion is shocking.

The fact that Doonesbury is influential may frighten conservatives. The comic strip has caused social change, for example when it satirized a law in a Florida county that required minorities to have a passcard in the area. The law repealing this act was nicknamed the Doonesbury Act. Conservatives know that the most effective way to defeat opposition is to silence it.

Kudos to the Washington Post and the Cleveland Plain Dealer for running the satiric comic strip where it has always been—on the “funny pages.” Debbie Van Tassel, assistant managing editor of features at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, said that she and other top editors have decided to run the next Doonesbury. “We didn’t deliberate long. This newspaper deals with those issues [abortion and transvaginal ultrasounds] routinely in the news sections and in our health section.” She pointed out that the first page carried a story about the movement by women legislators across the country to curb men’s abilities to get vasectomies and prescriptions for erectile dysfunction. “I haven’t heard of any objections to that story yet,” Van Tassel said.

Fortunately some newspapers don’t want to suppress negative reactions to the conservatives’ attack on women.

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