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“Trump’s Brand Is Chaos”: Riots-R-Us, Straight Out Of The WWE “Wrestlemania” Playbook

It’s not for nothing that Donald J. Trump was inducted into the professional wrestling Hall of Fame in 2013. The billionaire braggart’s entire presidential campaign is straight out of the WWE “Wrestlemania” playbook—all preposterous boasts, racialized taunts and simulated mayhem that threatens to turn into the real thing. And wouldn’t TV news networks just love it?

Back last summer, when this column first took note of his uncanny impersonation of 1950s charismatic bleach-blonde bad guy Dr. Jerry Graham (“I have the body that men fear and women adore”) I was unaware of Trump’s enshrinement. Having outgrown pro-wrestling after eighth-grade, I’d never witnessed the 2007 “Battle of the Billionaires” between Trump and WWE impresario Vincent McMahon.

Anyway, if you want a laugh, Google the fool thing. Sure, it’s several minutes of your life you’ll never get back, but watching Trump posing, preening and throwing what a Rolling Stone reporter accurately characterized as “some of the worst punches in wrestling history” might wise you up to the game.

Alternatively, you could be a chump and show up at one of his campaign events to scream insults at some similarly deluded fool, or even get cold-cocked by a 78 year-old patriot and watch it being broadcast in an endless loop by CNN.

“I’d like to punch him in the face,” Trump said of a protestor at an earlier event, one of several similar incitements.

Yeah, well, the guy would probably survive.

For all The Donald’s penchant for sleeping with friends’ wives and bragging about it (Chapter 11, “The Art of the Deal”) I doubt he’s had much pugilistic experience. Very few guys with full-time butlers also have educated left-hooks. Surrounded by bodyguards most of his life, Trump appears to enjoy watching them bully people. But could things get out of hand as the campaign proceeds? Sure they could. This is the USA. Riots-R-Us. Scaring people into supporting a strongman is Trump’s only real hope of running this scam all the way to the White House.

“For the Manhattan billionaire,” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough commented in the Washington Post, “manufactured chaos is just as profitable for his brand as Paris Hilton’s sex tape was for hers.”

Never mind that Scarborough and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski until quite recently fawned over Trump almost daily. He followed former Obama White House chief of staff (and son of Chicago Mayor-for-Life Richard J. Daley) in suggesting that the candidate scheduled a campaign event on the inner-city University of Illinois-Chicago campus precisely “for the purpose of provoking protests that would energize Trump’s own supporters.”

Let’s you and him fight. Worked perfectly too. Does it matter that the students who boasted of their ability to shut the Trump rally down are Bernie Sanders supporters? No, but it figures.

As Scarborough also correctly observed, they’re political naïfs who got played, giving Trump a fine opportunity to whine “on cable news channels about how his First Amendment rights were being violated. He was doing all of this while reaching a far larger audience than he could have ever done while actually speaking at a rally.”

Sanders would do well to emphasize to supporters his own reverence for free speech rights, which I do not doubt. Why give the bully a chance to play at being the REAL victim?

On his Esquire Politics blog, my man Charles P. Pierce addressed the issue with characteristic understatement: “let’s all stipulate that chanting for Bernie Sanders while you’re shutting down a Trump rally is just about as stupid a political move as there is.”

You want to protest? Fine. Pierce suggested setting up picket lines outside the arena. “Stop being played for such suckers. Stop enlisting yourself in his bloody vaudeville.”

Meanwhile, let’s remain calm, shall we? This is nothing close to 1968, that annus horribilis in American life. No Vietnam War, with its hundreds of conscripted dead every week. No cities in flames, and prayerfully nothing like the Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy assassinations that broke the nation’s heart.

A handful of hotheads at Trump rallies shouldn’t blind us to the fact, as President Obama recently pointed out, that the angriest people in America are those without a clue about what’s actually going on.

Asked if he bore responsibility for the nation’s “incredibly polarized political climate,” Obama was scathing.

“I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things,” he said “but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is novel.”

“Think about it: if somebody told you seven years ago we’d have 4.9% unemployment, 20 million newly insured, gas is $1.80, deficits cut by three-quarters, marriage equality a reality, bin Laden out of the picture, Wall Street reform in place you wouldn’t have believed me….Imagine what Trump would say if he actually had a record like this—instead of selling steaks.”

And shadow-boxing with college kids.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, March 16, 2016

March 17, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Protestors, Trump Supporters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Stinking Open Sewer”: Unhappy Anniversary: How Anthony Kennedy Flooded Democracy With ‘Sewer Money’

On today’s anniversary of the Citizens United decision, which exposed American democracy to increasing domination by the country’s very richest and most reactionary figures – the modern heirs to those “malefactors of great wealth” condemned by the great Republican Theodore Roosevelt – it is worth recalling the false promise made by the justice who wrote the majority opinion in that case.

Justice Anthony Kennedy masterminded the Supreme Court’s January 21, 2010 decision to undo a century of public-interest regulation of campaign expenditures in the name of “free speech.” He had every reason to know how damaging to democratic values and public integrity that decision would prove to be.

Once billed as a “moderate conservative,” Kennedy is a libertarian former corporate lobbyist from Sacramento, who toiled in his father’s scandal-ridden lobbying law firm, “influencing” California legislators, before he ascended to the bench with the help of his friend Ronald Reagan.

While guiding Citizens United through the court on behalf of the Republican Party’s billionaire overseers, it was Kennedy who came up with a decorative fig leaf of justification:

With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.

 As Jane Mayer’s superb new book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right reveals in excruciating but fascinating detail, Kennedy’s assertion about the Internet insuring disclosure and accountability was nothing but a little heap of happy horse-shit. “Independent” expenditures from super-rich right-wing donors have overwhelmed the opponents of their chosen candidates, promoting a durable Republican takeover of Congress — often through the deployment of false advertising and false-flag organizations.

Late last year, Kennedy confessed that his vaunted “transparency” is “not working the way it should,” a feeble excuse since he had every reason to know from the beginning that his professed expectation of “prompt disclosure” of all political donations was absurdly unrealistic.

The Citizens United debacle led directly to the Republican takeover of the Senate as well as the House. Last week, the Brennan Center for Justice released a new study showing that “dark money” – that is, donations whose origin remains secret from news organizations and voters – has more than doubled in Senate races during the past six years, from $105 million to $226 million in 2014.

During the past three election cycles, outside groups spent about $1 billion total on Senate races, of which $485 million came from undisclosed sources. In the 11 most competitive Senate races in 2014, almost 60 percent of the spending by “independent” groups came from those murky places, and the winners of those races benefited from $171 million of such spending.

In elections gone by, when anonymous smear leaflets would appear in local races — funded by nobody knew whom — political operatives would shake their heads and mutter about “sewer money.”

Today we can thank Anthony Kennedy, who was either poorly informed or willfully ignorant, for turning American democracy into a stinking open sewer.

What a legacy.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, January 21, 2016

January 21, 2016 Posted by | Anthony Kennedy, Citizens United, Democracy | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Much ‘Free Speech’ Can You Buy?”: Citizens United Produced A Platinum Class Of Mega-Donors And Corporate Super PACs

In today’s so-called “democratic” election process, Big Money doesn’t talk, it roars — usually drowning out the people’s voice.

Bizarrely, the Supreme Court decreed in its 2010 Citizens United ruling that money is a form of “free speech.” Thus, declared the learned justices, people and corporations are henceforth allowed to spend unlimited sums of their money to “speak” in election campaigns. But wait — if political speech is measured by money then by definition speech is not free. It can be bought, thereby giving the most speech to the few with the most money. That’s plutocracy, not democracy.

Sure enough, in the first six months of this presidential election cycle, more than half of the record-setting $300 million given to the various candidates came from only 358 mega-rich families and the corporations they control. The top 158 of them totaled $176 million in political spending, meaning that, on average, each one of them bought more than a million dollars’ worth of “free” speech.

Nearly all of their money is backing Republican presidential hopefuls who promise: (1) to cut taxes on the rich; (2) cut regulations that protect us from corporate pollution and other abuses of the common good; and (3) to cut Social Security, food stamps and other safety-net programs that we un-rich people need. The great majority of Americans adamantly oppose all of those cuts — but none of us has a million bucks to buy an equivalent amount of political “free” speech.

It’s not just cuts to taxes, regulations and some good public programs that are endangered by the Court’s ridiculous ruling, but democracy itself. That’s why a new poll by Bloomberg Politics found that 78 percent of the American people — including 80 percent of Republicans — want to overturn Citizens United. But those 358 families, corporations and Big Money politicos will have none of it. In fact, America’s inane, Big Money politics have become so prevalent in this election cycle that — believe it or not — candidates have found a need for yet another campaign consultant.

Already, candidates are walled off from people, reality and any honesty about themselves by a battalion of highly specialized consultants controlling everything from stances to hairstyle. But now comes a whole new category of staff to add to the menagerie: “donor maintenance manager.”

The Supreme Court’s malevolent Citizens United decision has produced an insidious platinum class of mega-donors and corporate super PACs, each pumping $500,000, $5 million, $50 million — or even more — into campaigns. These elites are not silent donors, but boisterous, very special interests who are playing in the new, Court-created political money game for their own gain. Having paid to play, they feel entitled to tell candidates what to say and do, what to support and oppose. A Jeb Bush insider confirms that mega-donors have this attitude: “Donors consider a contribution like, ‘Well, wait, I just invested in you. Now I need to have my say; you need to answer to me.’”

Thus, campaigns are assigning donor maintenance managers to be personal concierges to meet every need and whim of these special ones. This subservience institutionalizes the plutocratic corruption of our democratic elections, allowing a handful of super-rich interests to buy positions of overbearing influence directly inside campaigns.

Donors at the million-dollar-and-up level are expecting much more than a tote bag for their “generous gifts” of “free speech.” Of course, candidates piously proclaim, “I’m not for sale.” But politicians are just the delivery service. The actual products being bought through the Supreme Court’s Money-O-Rama political bazaar are our government’s policies, tax breaks and other goodies — as well as the integrity of America’s democratic process. To help fight the injustice of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and get Big Money out of our political system, go to www.FreeSpeechForPeople.org.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, October 28, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Citizens United, Corporations, Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“If You’re Scratching Your Head, You’re Not Alone”: Rubio Is Confused About Christianity, Marriage Equality, And The Constitution

Marco Rubio went on television with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody and suggested that Christianity is on the verge of being labeled “hate speech.”

If you’re scratching your head, you’re not alone.

Rubio’s rambling statement botched a simple understanding of constitutional law and free speech rights. Not to mention reality.

According to CBN’s transcript:

“If you think about it, we are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech,” Rubio told CBN News. “Because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage you are labeled a homophobe and a hater.”

“So what’s the next step after that?” he asked.

“After they are done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church is hate speech and there’s a real and present danger,” he warned.

Rubio appeared to be referring to the legal concept of “clear and present danger,” which the Supreme Court developed in the early 20th century, attempting to articulate the circumstances under which the government can proscribe political speech. Through the early 20th century the Court applied it in situations in which a person’s speech was deemed to be a threat to national security, sustaining a war effort, or to the stability of the government. But in the later part of the century, the Court abandoned it.

The Court last appeared to address this idea in 1969, in Brandenburg v. Ohio. In that case, it reversed the conviction of Clarence Brandenburg, a Ku Klux Klan leader, under an Ohio statute that criminalized “crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform” for a speech in which he said, “if our President, our Congress, our Supreme Court, continues to suppress the white, Caucasian race, it’s possible that there might have to be some revengeance taken.” The Ohio law, the Court held, violated Brandenburg’s free speech rights.

Although the Court’s opinion does not use the term “clear and present danger” and explicitly reject it, in his concurrence, Justice William O. Douglas noted his skepticism that it could be squared with the First Amendment at all. “Though I doubt if the ‘clear and present danger’ test is congenial to the First Amendment in time of a declared war,” he wrote, “I am certain it is not reconcilable with the First Amendment in days of peace.”

Returning to Rubio’s statement, he is vague about who is labeling Catholic teaching “hate speech.” Does he mean the government? Does he mean people on the internet? Under the First Amendment, the government cannot stop citizens from engaging in speech, even if a listener finds it hateful. If by “they” he means American citizens, the simple answer is “they” have a constitutionally protected right to criticize the Catholic church; the church also has a constitutionally protected right to its doctrine.

But if Rubio is suggesting that “they” are the government, I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the scenario he is suggesting. Is he suggesting the government will deem a church’s teaching “hate speech?” There’s no basis or precedent that would remotely suggest that the government could regulate religious speech (whether “mainstream Christian teaching” or other religious teaching) at all, much less deeming it “hate speech.” The Free Exercise Clause protects religious practice and religious speech. Under the Free Speech Clause, the government cannot proscribe “hate speech” or even define it. Under the Establishment Clause, the government cannot endorse (or renounce) a particular religion.

You can say gay people are intrinsically disordered. Or you can say they don’t have a constitutional right to get married. They can say you’re a homophobe. The government can’t stop any of you.

But Rubio blurs the issue by suggesting that a nebulous “they” will first “go[] after individuals,” after which there is a slippery slope to arguing that “the catechism of the Catholic Church is hate speech.” Although CBN transcribed his next words as “and there’s a real and present danger,” if you watch the video, he says, “and that’s a real and present danger.” Suggesting, therefore, not that he believes “they” will argue that Catholic teaching is a “real and present danger” (whatever that is) but that the nebulous “they” present a “real and present danger” to Christianity.

Rubio’s statement is simply a confused muddle of fear-mongering and constitutional misconception. Neither of which is very presidential.

 

By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, May 28, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Christianity, Marco Rubio, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Higher Courts Let Prosecutors Get Away With Murder”: Supreme Courts Bear Responsibility For Conduct They Accept From Attorneys

For anyone studying the bubbling issue of prosecutor misconduct, the LAT states—Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas—form a good lab. March alone brewed up:

—belated charges against a prosecutor in Texas, where the defendant was executed a decade ago;

—soul-searching in Louisiana, where a prosecutor bemoaned his win that sent an innocent man to prison;

—and absolution in Arkansas, where the state’s Supreme Court informed me that a prosecutor who withheld critical evidence from a man on trial for his life did not violate any rules of professional conduct.

The Texas case centered on Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the arson murder of his three young daughters. Now the State Bar of Texas has filed a formal petition accusing the prosecutor of obstructing justice by making false statements and concealing evidence favorable to Willingham’s defense.

“Before, during and after the 1992 trial, [Jackson] knew of the existence of evidence that tended to negate the guilt of Willingham and failed to disclose that evidence to defense counsel,” the bar said.

It won’t help Willingham, who protested his innocence to the end. But the move suggests that at least some Texans are paying attention.

Next door in Louisiana, a former prosecuting attorney reflected on a conviction he’d won that kept a man on death row for 30 years—and held himself accountable.

“As a prosecutor and officer of the court, I had the duty to prosecute fairly,” attorney A.M. “Marty” Stroud III wrote to a Shreveport newspaper. “Part of my duty was to disclose promptly any exculpatory evidence relating to trial and penalty issues of which I was made aware. My fault was that I was too passive. I did not consider the rumors about the involvement of other parties…”

Stroud agreed that Louisiana owed significant monetary compensation to the man whom he’d helped convict. Yet, he wrote, “The state does not accept any responsibility for the damage suffered by one of its citizens. The bureaucratic response appears to be that nobody did anything intentionally wrong, thus the state has no responsibility. This is nonsensical.”

Noting that evidence that would have cleared the defendant was available at the time of the trial, Stroud wrote: “The easy and convenient argument is that the prosecutors did not know of such evidence, thus they were absolved of any responsibility for the wrongful conviction.”

Stroud dismissed that argument. And he refused to absolve himself.

Last year, 125 men and women were released from prison because they were wrongfully convicted, according to a report by the National Registry of Exonerations. Two-thirds of those cases were overturned because prosecutors either reopened investigations themselves or cooperated with other investigators to ensure that justice was done.

But supreme courts, who bear the ultimate responsibility for the conduct they will accept from attorneys, have stood by like indulgent parents, tolerating outrageous behavior and even ruling that others must too.

(In the infamous Louisiana case of Connick v. Thompson, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2011 that a prosecutor could not be held liable for withholding evidence in a murder case because the defendant, who was a month from execution before the withheld evidence was discovered, had not shown that the prosecutor’s office displayed “deliberate indifference” to its duties.)

Echoes of that protectionism can be heard in the Arkansas case of Tim Howard, who will be retried later this month for a double murder that occurred 18 years ago near where these three states join. As I wrote here before, Howard is being retried because after he was sentenced to death, investigations turned up potentially exculpatory evidence that had been withheld from his attorneys.

I know firsthand how loath state officials have been to hold his prosecutor accountable. Four years ago, when I learned of the withheld evidence, I wrote an article for my newspaper first. Then, as a citizen, I wrote a letter to the state supreme court’s Committee on Professional Conduct, complaining about what the prosecutor, Tom Cooper, had done.

Supreme courts routinely sanction lawyers for offenses as minor as misspelled words in briefs or as serious as defrauding clients or showing up drunk in court. I thought that withholding evidence in a death case constituted a gross violation of the court’s Rules of Professional Conduct.

While I didn’t say as much in my letter, I viewed Cooper’s failure to turn over key evidence as horrific neglect, at best. To my mind, it rose to the same level as that of a surgeon who killed by failing to sterilize an instrument, or a driver who ran over a kid while texting. Given the high stakes of a capital trial, there seemed no kinder way to spin it.

The director of the court’s Office of Professional Conduct promptly notified me that he would wait for a court to rule on whether the misconduct I alleged—and which the state’s attorney general by then had tacitly acknowledged—had actually occurred.

The letter also informed me, in all caps and bold type, that I must not disclose the nature of my complaint to anyone, including, ironically, members of the news media. If I did, the letter warned, I could be held in contempt of court and “punished by fine or jail.”

While Howard’s case wound its way back to court for a ruling, I reflected on the Arkansas Supreme Court’s threat. I concluded that it was unlawful, a violation of First Amendment.

I wrote to the committee explaining my concern, but after receiving no response I filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state Supreme Court’s Committee on Professional Conduct. That was in 2011.

Arkansas’s attorney general represented the committee. My attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, argued that the boiler-plate letter I’d received, which went to all persons filing complaints about attorneys, constituted prior restraint and struck at the heart of free-speech protections—protections that were voted into the Bill of Rights particularly so that citizens could discuss their elected officials.

The state never did admit error. But in January 2013, we settled. I withdrew my lawsuit and the court ordered that henceforth the content of complaints could be discussed.

The following November, the judge hearing Howard’s claim about the withheld evidence concluded that misconduct had indeed occurred, though he softened his ruling by opining that the misconduct had been “inadvertent.” Nevertheless, he vacated Howard’s conviction, opening the way for the new trial that will take place this month.

As soon as the judge announced his finding of misconduct, I wrote again to the Office of Professional Conduct. Pointing out that a court had now made a finding of misconduct, I would renew my complaint against Cooper.

Sixteen months passed without a response. During that time I learned that, of the hundreds of attorneys the committee has sanctioned during the past 25 years, not one has been a prosecutor.

I began to think that my letter about Cooper, like my earlier ones about the First Amendment, would be totally ignored. But in the middle of March, just three days after my article about Howard’s upcoming trial appeared here, a letter from the director of the Office of Professional Conduct arrived at my office.

Could it be? A judge had found misconduct serious enough to warrant a new trial for a man who’d spent 16 years on death row, and would the state Supreme Court’s Committee on Professional Conduct finally break with its long tradition and actually punish a prosecutor instead of threatening those who dared to complain about one?

Nope.

This latest letter advised me that, though my complaint against Cooper was “carefully reviewed,” “sufficient evidence” had not been found that Cooper—the former prosecutor who is now a judge—had violated even one tiny rule of professional conduct.

No doubt most defendants facing a judge would love to murmur the word “inadvertent” and be graciously forgiven. But that doesn’t work in America’s courts—unless you’re a prosecuting attorney.

 

By: Mara Leveritt, The Daily Beast, April 6, 2015

April 7, 2015 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Prosecutors, State Supreme Courts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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