16 March 2017

Stop Gorsuch!

So the Senate Democrats need to decide whether to fight Gorsuch tooth and nail, risking the "nuclear option," or to surrender, thereby rejecting the "stolen seat" argument, and forgiving the Republicans for their outrageous refusal even to consider President Obama's nomination of Judge Garland to replace Justice Scalia. Though no United States Senator has, as of today, yet solicited my opinion, (we could do a lot worse than Gorsuch, but then I thought the same about Alito and Roberts and they both deceived me), I had nevertheless been pondering the question and was undecided until this morning, when I read Linda Greenhouse's latest piece in the Times. She wrote:

"This year is the 30th anniversary of the titanic battle over President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert H. Bork. The lessons from the bipartisan defeat of that nomination in the Senate are still being debated. In recent days, I’ve been thinking about one particular exchange from Judge Bork’s week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a colloquy between the nominee and Senator Paul Simon, an Illinois Democrat. Senator Simon asked Judge Bork about a speech he had given two years earlier, in which the nominee said that “when a court adds to one person’s constitutional rights, it subtracts from the rights of others.” The senator asked, “Do you believe that is always true?”

“Yes, Senator,” Judge Bork replied. “I think it’s a matter of plain arithmetic.” 

Senator Simon: “I have long thought it is kind of fundamental in our society that when you expand the liberty of any of us, you expand the liberty of all of us.”

Judge Bork: “I think, Senator, that is not correct.” 

Greenhouse's article produced this NYT published Comment from someone named HurryHarry from New Jersey:

“When a court adds to one person’s constitutional rights, it subtracts from the rights of others. - Robert Bork
A zero-sum theory of rights … - Linda Greenhouse
Ms. Greenhouse misreads Judge Bork’s assertion. To summarize it accurately she would have said “A zero-sum theory of rights over and above those already spelled out in the Constitution…”  Judge Bork is no longer here to explain his comment, but permit me to provide what I think is an example of what he meant: abortion rights. Ms. Greenhouse’s view, I believe from reading her columns over many years, is that the decision to have an abortion - say a late term abortion - should be solely among a woman, her family and her doctor. No extraneous party is “harmed” by her abortion. But abortion opponents argue that a viable fetus capable of experiencing pain - along with justice itself - are harmed when that fetus is cruelly and painfully deprived of life it otherwise would have.  Here we are talking about the “rights” of the unborn. It is supremely ironic that a prime counterargument is that a mere fetus has no rights, and is not a “person” until birth. Or, put differently, rights granted a fetus effectively deprive women wishing to have an abortion of their own rights - an affirmation of Judge Bork’s assertion, which is so contemptuously dismissed by Ms. Greenhouse in her column today."

The Times allows replies: Here's mine they published one hour after HurryHarry's piece appeared :

"A straw-man (woman?) argument. It is easy to find a "victim" in the right to abortion if you sign on to the religious view that life begins at conception. But of course, for those who don't buy that unscientific dogma, there is no victim but the woman whom you would deny the right to choose. And what about contraception? We forget the constitutional right to use contraception was established a mere 60 years ago, when it was crime in CT for married couples to use such devices. Difficult to believe, but the vote was not unanimous. The court struck down the law by a vote of 7-2. Who was injured by expanding married couples' rights to use contraceptives? Or, despite the dissent by Justice Burger, the right of unmarried couples to do likewise? Who is injured when a devoted gay couple, living together and bringing up children for decades, is granted the right to marry? Bork's argument that there is a finite number of personal liberty rights in our society tells much about Mr. Bork. Smart as he was, he was clearly unsuited to decide such questions for all of us."

All this has sharpened my focus. The Democrats should fight this 49-year-old nominee tooth and nail.  His conservative views are anathema to our liberties. The Senators should resist putting another Alito, or Roberts, or Scalia on the court. Fight the good fight, and take the consequences.  If the R's take the nuclear option route, they will regret it when the big wheel turns.  Hold fast!

A bientot!

16 February 2017

Fake News/Fake History, and World War i

Up until a year ago, I never really understood what started WW I.  I got it that the Archduke was shot, but it was never clear to me who he was, who shot him, and why, and how did that start the great conflict. Then I read "The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914," by historian Christopher Clark. Long book but immensely readable and scary to see how the links of the chain snapped together so quickly, and mindlessly.  The book was a NYTimes "Ten Best."  I heartily recommend it.

What is so frightening is that the spark was a generations-old Serb nationalistic mythology. Total "Fake News/Fake History," but truth was incapable of erasing or diluting it. The mythology was at the heart of the Serb assassination of the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The assassination quickly led to a local conflict, then all the NATO-like treaties on both sides kicked in, and tens of millions of people were killed. (Btw, the Serbs never abandoned their fake historical myth, and 100,000 people were killed, and some 10-20,000 women raped, in the Bosnian War the Serbs started in 1992.

The myth, illogical, factually indefensible, demonstrably false, endured.

Now read the below article from Salon, about the endurance of Trump's mythology, Trump's fake history, and the support of his followers despite all facts, logic, et al.

If you already have trouble sleeping, this may not be for you.

25 January 2017

Triple Reverse, Iteration II

Ok, a revised and expanded outline of my novel. Actually it may be  long enough to call a novella.

Here is the outline of the chronology;

1. Billionaire presidential candidate Bullworth refuses to publish his tax returns in his campaign opposing President Albright’s bid for a second term. The press criticizes Bullworth, and publicly speculates that his tax returns might reveal that he pays little or no federal income tax, and ii) has foreign investments, especially in Russia, that would embarrass him.

2. The speculation about Bullworth’s  connection to Russia is heightened by the candidate’s repeated positive statements about the Russian leader and his decision to choose as his campaign manager a close associate who, it was discovered, was to be paid $12 million in cash by a Russian-supported Ukrainian leader who was so pro-Russian, he was overthrown by his Ukrainian constituents.

2. Bullworth deflects the criticism by accusing the press of bias. No, more than bias, he accuses the press of dishonesty. The press defends itself with justifiable vigor and intensity, and insists it is impartial. That press defensiveness becomes the new front page story, and the tax return story and Russian connection slip to page three.

3. Wikileaks dribbles out emails stolen from President Albright’s political party. The content is embarrassing. No corruption, treason, or criminality is involved, but the press feasts on the backbiting, gossip, and stuff probably found on the email servers of many local school boards. The leaks are serially released, and the press, eager to demonstrate its journalistic even handedness,  pays exhaustive and exhausting attention to them.  The  print-inches are are right up there with the Kardashian jewel theft, with the result that the Bullworth tax return story and his affinity for Russia’s leadership, are buried ever deeper the bowels of Section One of the newspaper, and the last 60 seconds of some tv newscasts.

4. U.S. intelligence agencies reveal it was Russia that hacked the email account and fed the take to Wikileaks, but Bullworth calls the claim “ridiculous,” and says he has inside information it was a 300 pound nephew of one of his former political competitors from Tenafly, New Jersey.  That gets much coverage. Almost as much as the hacked email gossip. The tax return issue is now mentioned only rarely -- in section two of the paper, along with movie schedules, and only one cable news show even mentions it, and then only occasionally.

5. More distractions:  Bullworth is revealed on tape boasting of his pussy grabbing propensities. The press goes berserk with coverage of the story. The refusal to disclose tax returns is now hardly ever mentioned in the press, and stories of the Russian hack decline but for an occasional reference in the sports section in articles about Russian doping. Skeptics wonder whether the pussy grabbing “confession” was not, in fact, an attention grabbing stunt that i) dominated the news, ii) attracted more white male voters, and, iii) was enhanced by a report on an obscure internet site known for its profitable manufacture of false news, that a recent poll showed that 53% of white women wanted their pussies grabbed by Bullworth. When Bullworth’s press secretary, Pamela Smiley, was asked about that viral report, she said, “It must be true, it was on the internet.”

6. Bullworth wins the election.

7. Ms. Smiley announces that since Bullworth won the election, no one any longer cares about the income tax issue, and the President-elect has decided not to release them, audit or no audit. Smiley's announcement is barely noticed because it is buried in the avalanche of news about the report that Bullworth paid for a Golden Showers episode in a Moscow hotel. Is the story true or false?  If it's true, was Bullworth entrapped by Russian agents?  Why did the press and the FBI wait till AFTER the election to publish that questionable story, but, BEFORE the election, publish the unquestionably ridiculous story that some deviant spouse of the White House Press Secretary’s third cousin had published Facebook pictures of her breasts that had freckle patterns containing a secret code advising ISIS where the Secret Service parked the Presidential limo.

This is the post-truth era, and “ alternate facts” prevail. What is important is what attracts the attention of the public this instant. The Bullworth tax return issue is, as our millennials tell us, “so over.” Now the only tax return issue in the forefront of the public consciousness are the penalty letters received from the IRS when it finds $21.46  of checking account interest was not reported as income on last year’s tax returns. And the Russians hack-interference with the election?  Please, it would be “unpatriotic” to suggest Bullworth is not going to be a legitimate President.

8. On December 11, the Brighton Beach Ledger, a small Brooklyn neighborhood newspaper that normally appeals only to its predominantly Russian subscribers, vaults to national attention by publishing irrefutable documentary proof that the whole Golden Showers shtick was reverse false news, i.e,. it was false, masquerading as real, but designed to encourage a vigorous public debate over whether it was false, and whether it was journalistically ethical to first fail to report it and then change course and report it when somebody else did. The only purpose of the story, the secret documents revealed, was not to encourage people to believe it was accurate, but to create a debate that shifted public attention away from the Russian email hack that produced the Bullworth victory.  

9. Now we have a real uproar. The CIA, the FBI, the NSA, and Homeland Security all open investigations, and after a brief but intensive inquiry, unanimously conclude that not only was the Golden Showers story a phony, but so was the Bullworth pussy grabbing tape. Moreover, the Kardashian jewel thieves were former KGB associates of the Russian Leader Ynetski, making that particular news story a new tributary of the river of fake news, i.e. the robbery was real, but it was perpetrated for fake reasons!  The investigative agencies’ report to Congress reveals that all that “news” was developed in a conspiracy between the Bullworth campaign and the Russian Leader, Boris Ynetski.  The only motive for creating the stories was to capture the news cycle, bury the story of the Russian interference in the United States electoral processes, and thereby assure a Bullworth victory. Congress, of course, immediately leaked the joint intelligence agency report to the “establishment” news organizations, and the outraged public started to organize a march on Washington.

10. Ynetski denied everything.

11. On December 18, Mrs. Mulva Seleznev, the wife of a  Russian emigre, struggled with her poor English to tell a complicated story to the desk sergeant at the Brighton Beach precinct of the New York City Police Department. With the aid of a civilian precinct interpreter, the police learn that though she was opposed to the scheme from the git-go, Mrs. Seleznev's husband, a former KGB agent, had been instrumental in feeding the false Golden Showers story to the national press via his website "Reelnewz." Afterwards, he suffered pangs of conscience -- he loved his new home in America and his daughter had just been admitted to Harvard -- so he revealed the truth to the Brighton Beach Ledger. But that’s not the reason she was talking to the police. She was frantic because her husband had disappeared.

12. On December 28, the New York State police announced that a Montauk fisherman had caught a large bluefish that had apparently encountered a food source so plentiful that it had delayed its fall migration to its winter haven in Chesapeake Bay. The fisherman was eager to see what kept the big fish so far north for so long, and after filleting the critter, cut open its stomach. He found partly decomposed squid, porgies, a small bluefish, and a human finger. DNA evidence conclusively established that the digit had once been attached to Dmitri Seleznev of Brighton Beach, the missing Russian emigre.

13. This was the most covered news story since Hitler invaded Poland. Bullworth was inundated with press inquiries. Congress demanded answers. Pamela Smiley said the whole furor was just an attack by known opponents, i.e., the press, the progressives, the members of Congress and elites of both parties who had opposed Bullworth’s nomination and election.  As to the evidence of his complicity in the Russian interference scheme, Bullworth tweeted: “I won. They are just sore losers. Sad.”

There was no evidence, indeed no suggestion, that the devout Vice President-elect Christian O’Malley, had any involvement, or even knowledge, of the Bullworth-Ynetsky conspiracy.  His undoubted purity added steam to the impeachment movement. So while Bullworth planned his inaugural address, the House planned impeachment hearings, Sean Hannity declared he always had secret doubts about Bullworth, Rush Limbaugh went on an extended vacation, and Fox News joined the demand for Bullworth’s impeachment.

14. But one op-ed columnist in The New York Times, was skeptical. Collin Brooksman suspected the intelligence agencies’ revelations were, if not inaccurate, at least incomplete.  It’s not that she credited the Bullworth and Ynetksy denials, or that she believed that the CIA had faked the evidence. She did not. But she was an experienced journalist, and her gut told her something was amiss. How could the brilliant Russian Leader Ynetski, who excelled at the political long game, have so cleverly maneuvered to have his pawn elected, but then suffer to see those same maneuvers stimulate the move to impeach his asset immediately after his taking office? What had Ynetski accomplished? In short, she thought there was a piece missing to this puzzle, but she couldn’t be more specific than that. Because her column appeared in that “old folks” medium, a newspaper, it wasn’t Tweeted, Snapchatted, Facebooked, or Instagrammed, and so it quickly disappeared from view.

15. The out-going Albright cabinet had consisted of fourteen men and women of varied talents and sophistication. The more important posts, State, Treasury, Defense, and Homeland Security were occupied by intelligent professionals. Other appointments tended to be more more political in nature. Some cabinet Secretaries were people with political clout, others had raised money for the Albright campaign. That is not to say that the Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Labor, HHS, Education, etc., were not  smart and patriotic, but only that some of them had been appointed for a reason other than their skill sets, and some were barely public figures prior to their appointment and confirmation.  The pre-inauguration disposition of these officers was important because Article II, Section 1.6 of the Unites States Constitution provides:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

In The Presidential Succession Act of 1947, and in predecessor statutes, the Congress did what the Constitution authorized it to do, and provided for succession in case the President and Vice President were dead or disabled. They legislated the following sequence: Speaker of the House,  President Pro-tem of the Senate, and then the cabinet members in the order in which their positions had been created. Thus, the first cabinet officer in the line of succession was the Secretary of State, and the fourteenth was the Secretary of Homeland Security.  Obviously, the likelihood that any of those people would succeed to the Presidency was way remote. In 228 years, succession had never descended beyond the Vice President.

16. In the week before the inauguration, President Albright’s cabinet did what their predecessors had done.  They followed tradition and submitted their resignations effective 12:01 PM on January 20th, the day and time the new President was to take his oath of office.

But security officials paid attention to details no one else thinks about. While the three elected successors to the presidency had always been forbidden to travel together on the same airplane, the passing of the torch to a new administration was such an important symbol our great democracy, that security precautions were abandoned, and they all sat, cheek by jowl, with the new President and Vice President at their swearing in ceremony. This was politically important, but nevertheless troublesome to the security nerds at DHS. Their job was to ask the "What if" questions. And one of those questions was what if all three elected successors were killed by a device launched at (or planted under) the reviewing stand? If the new President and his three elected successors were killed, and all fourteen cabinet members had already resigned, the United States would have NO EXECUTIVE BRANCH, no civilian commander-in-chief, no person authorized to launch defenses against nuclear attack, no person to sign laws passed by Congress (even if enough members survived to pass a law in the absence of their leadership.) And there was NOTHING in the Constitution authorizing any solution the problem. Anarchy? Probably not, but a period of frightening weakness and uncertainty, for sure.

17. In a process not publicly known, security officials took steps to avoid that remotest of possibilities. Starting after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, upon any change of administration, the outgoing cabinet members were required to meet and decide amongst themselves which one of them would not resign until at least one new cabinet officer had been appointed by the new President and confirmed by the Senate, a process that probably would take less than a week after inauguration. The big cheeses in the Albright cabinet were all were eager to flee D.C. and be on their way home, to vacations, family outings, business ventures, whatever, and they readily accepted the gracious offer of a cabinet officer who volunteered to postpone her resignation for a few days: the 12th on the cabinet succession list,  Education Secretary Sonia Ross,  a significant contributor to the Albright campaign. The agreeable lady had acquired her fortune upon the unexpected death of her husband, casino mogul Stephen James. The couple had reportedly been on the brink of divorce when James was killed in a mysterious boating accident on Lake Mead, and the widow Ross resumed her maiden name.

18. On January 20, as agreed, she stayed home alone, guarded by the Secret Service. The “Designated Survivor” intermittently watched the proceedings on television while she went about her business packing her belongings for her move back to Nevada, The rest of her former cabinet colleagues had already fled the city.

19. Bullworth and O’Malley were sworn in without untoward event. The sparse crowd cheered, and the officials sitting on the reviewing stand applauded, though many did so while grinding their teeth.

20. While Bullworth was reading his nine-minute inaugural address from the teleprompters, he raised his arm for emphasis, a gesture reminiscent of his campaign speeches. But this time he found himself pointing at a distant raisin in the otherwise blue sky. He hesitated for only a moment, but continued reading aloud. When he looked up two seconds later, the tiny raisin had become a fat grape and was on its way to watermelon size.

21. Subsequent investigations revealed that the missile had been launched from a fishing trawler off the coast of Virginia. That vessel had immediately thereafter disappeared from coastal radar.  Eight days later, the U.S. Navy found her sitting on the bottom in 1,275 feet of water  The vessel was raised, and investigators found that two large bilge sea cocks were in the full-open position.There could be no doubt the ship had been scuttled. The vessel's motorized lifeboat was not on board. No crew members, or remains of crew members, had been found.

22. The missile had exploded right on target. Ninety-seven people were killed and 113 injured.  Among the dead were President Bullworth, Vice President O’Malley, the Speaker of the House Macintosh, President Pro-tem of the Senate Jackson, four Justices of the Supreme Court, assorted spouses, and 61 members of Congress.

23. DHS deputy Secretary Tom Abernathy, who was in charge of inauguration security, had been observing the scene from his aerie atop the Washington Monument. He immediately put “Operation DS” into effect, and an on-call platoon of heavily armed U.S Marines from Joint Base Andrews rushed to the home of Secretary Ross. Abernathy breathed a sigh of relief when he learned she was safe, and he ordered that she be immediately hustled to a secure location in the bowels of DHS headquarters, where a television crew was waiting to record a surviving member of the Supreme Court administer the oath of office. Though hardly by means any citizen had anticipated, the country had its first woman President.

24. On February 20, to assure the anxious American public that our federal government was intact and returning to normal, there was ceremonial public swearing in as well. In attendance were the new Vice President, former  New York City Congressman Alex Barber --he had been appointed by President Ross and confirmed by all 72 surviving members of the U.S.Senate, pursuant to the 25th Amendment -- and the new Speaker of the House, the new President Pro-tem of the Senate, and numerous family members, including the President’s beaming widowed father, Mr. Victor Ross, nee Vladimir Roskovitch.

24. On March 2, The New York Times published a column entitled "The Missing Piece of the Puzzle," written by Collin Brookman. In it she reported on on a startling coincidence: information from Immigration, Social Security, and IRS records that came into her possession via a confidential source, revealed that Vice President Alex Barber was the son of Brighton Beach Uber driver Alexi Barbrovski.

25. On March 3, Brooksman was served with a "forthwith" Grand Jury subpoena issued by the newly appointed United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, demanding the source of the leaked records.

25. Russian Leader Boris “Long Game” Ynetski was among the scores of international leaders sending congratulations to the new American leaders. He sent along a video of him sitting at his desk, with a tight smile, offering to meet with the new President at her earliest convenience.

14 January 2017

Gresham's Law and the Press

Gresham wasn’t the first guy who said it, but he evidently had a better press agent than his predecessors, so he gets the public credit for “Bad money drives out the good.” Originally, at least, Gresham’s “bad” money referred to counterfeit money.

Who’da thunk the day would come when we would be saying that about “news?” We are awash with counterfeit news. It dominates the public attention, captivates a  material part of our population, and therefore the press. The result: the counterfeit stuff drives the real stuff out of circulation.  Given the current nature of our republic, that is a serious problem. Even people who know better (or at least should, given their status as political leaders), latch on to it, repeat it, and encourage others to spread junk news when in their political interest. Because of modern technology, beheading the messenger is no longer the most efficient way to combat real news that you don’t like. Today, the best way is to bury it (the news, not the messenger), is to make facts disappear in a wash of junk news.

But it’s complicated. Once we recognize false news drives real news out of circulation, we need to identify what news is false.  You might think that most adults with an IQ equal to at least 50% of their body weight, would recognize that Obama is not a Kenyan Muslim, it was not the Israelis who took down the Twin Towers, and Hillary did not abduct children at the Ping Pong Pizzeria, but you would be wrong. The statistics are scary.

And those are the easy ones.

Law professors, philosophers, and game-theory intelligence specialists love hypotheticals.  Here’s my hypo, and it is the outline of my next book, a le Carre-type novel entitled, Triple Reverse. There are four chapters to the current outline:

Chapter I:
During the campaign, Mr. Trump reveals himself to be an uber-boor, by boasting, on tape, that, with impunity, he grabs unsuspecting women’s pussies, and fucks women he has just met.  The Russians are hacking our election, North Korea is building bigger and better nuke missiles, the mid-east is in total chaos with millions dying, and yet Trump’s grope-and-fuck story is page one, above the fold. (This story is so big, some editions of the NY Times actually printed the words “pussy” and “fuck”, a first, I am sure. I may devote a whole chapter to the newspapers internal debate on that subject). The “hook” to the pussy/fuck story,-- a fact the makes the story even more salacious and therefore more “newsworthy,”--  is that we are led to think we are eavesdropping on what Trump thinks is a private conversation. But how could he be unaware? He is a professional on-camera personality, he knew the bus was loaded with sound and video technicians, the video we all saw was not shot with an iPhone, it was done by a professional crew using professional shoulder-borne equipment, along with sound recorders, standing within six feet of him, and what a coincidence, all three participants, Trump, the tv host, and the attractive woman who met the bus, were shot facing the camera! But my book is a novel, not a history book, and in my story Trump pulls off the deception because it is essential to the false news avalanche that follows. The press buys it, it dominates the news, the honorable, intelligent First Lady issues a dramatic condemnation of the candidate, and all that attention yields two hoped-for results: the white male voters who were Trump’s base admire the guy even more, and the story about  Trump’s unprecedented refusal to reveal his tax returns is not only driven from page 1 to page 10, but disappears from the nightly news altogether.

Chapter II:
The Russians continue to dribble stolen Democrat emails to the press, which eats it up and plays it like a Kardashian striptease. Trump denies it’s the Russians, tweets he knows stuff our intelligence agencies don’t know, and suggests the hack was done by a 300 pound kid from New Jersey. Chris Christie takes it personally and gets fired from the campaign. Comey bites the shiny poisoned apple, and the tax return story gets demoted from page 10 to page 25.

Chapter III:
Phases 1 and 2 are successful: Mr. Trump wins the election, and Ms. Kellyanne Conway is declared the only nominee for a new Academy Award Category, the title of which is to be announced.  On cue, it is revealed that a British former intelligence officer with a sterling reputation, who had been employed first by anti-Trump Republicans, then by Democrats, to do “oppo research” on Trump, has produced a 35-page dossier asserting the Russians have a video of Mr. Trump consorting with Russian prostitutes who satisfy Trump’s deviant desire to participate in a “Golden Showers” episode, and at his command, the ladies pee on the bed where Mr. Obama slept in a Moscow Hotel. The dossier cites numerous Russian sources, none of which can be confirmed.  Golden Showers becomes the new front-page story and the new lead on tv network news. The cable news channels are lovin’ it.

Chapter IV:
The not-yet-celebrated author of this not-yet- best-selling novel (reminder, c’est moi) has several options for the end of his novel. In no particular order, they are:

Option 1: The Golden Showers report is mostly true and the President-elect is not only a bully and a liar, but also a sicko. He was entrapped by the brilliant former KGB officer now CEO of Russia, Inc., who now holds the switch that can release the sword currently swinging over Trump’s head.

Option 1 (a): The Russians not only taped the event, they arranged for its publication, knowing Mr. Trump would deny it, and thus be exposed to the blackmail threat for the next four (or more) years.

Option 1 (b): The Russians know what Trump did because the women were Putin’s agents, but they have no tape. Trump does not know that, so he is still living in Option 1(a) land.

Option 2: The report is a brilliant piece of fake news, and its release was carefully planned to occur after the election.  It relies on a multiplicity of unverifiable sources, and was crafted so as to capitalize on Mr. Trump’s affinity to grab pussies and fuck strange women, which are added indicia of the likelihood of truth. Forget the glove—this is about the shoe: if it fits, wear it. The impossibility of determining truth or falsity makes the story hotter, as does Mr. Putin’s, chilling, smug-grin, denial. After all, isn’t a Putin denial evidence of the opposite?

Even the details of its release were wickedly clever. Putin counted on the self-consciousness of the established press agencies caused by i) the belated recognition they had been doing Russia’s bidding via their failure to throttle coverage of the Clinton email story even though there was abundant evidence it was part of a Russian plan, and ii) the constant Trump “working the ref” criticism of the press every time they published a truthful but negative report of something Trump said or did. Unable to verify the accuracy of the scandalous report that circulated before the election, the press refused to bite. How did Putin know Comey would publicly discuss his investigation of Clinton before the election, but wait until after the election to effect a publication of the Golden Showers investigation, is a subchapter I have not developed yet, but it should be fun. In any event, after the election, Comey and Company revealed the still-unverified report to the President and the Trump team, and it instantly became the number one song on the hit parade. If I take this route, I will reveal who on the Trump team arranged the release of the report so Buzzfeed could out it. This gives the press two things now to gum about: is the report true, and what is the “ethics” of reporting this still unverified piece of raw intel. The Putin plan was the work of genius. With all the chatter, Putin, possibly with the complicity of Trump, has succeeded in driving the Russian election-hack story deeper into the first section of the paper, and the Trump tax return story onto page three of Business Section.  That’s only a way station. It’s headed for the Society Pages.

I haven’t yet decided which of these options I will adopt for Chapter IV. I will deal with that later. Now I am too busy entertaining offers from publishers.  I am holding out for a seven figure advance. Stay tuned. Triple Reverse will sell for $29.95 on Amazon, and my blog readers are eligible to receive discounted autographed copies.

A bientot!

11 December 2016

R.I.P., The First Amendment?

In 1787, there was significant opposition to ratifying the draft constitution because convention delegates feared it gave too much power to the Executive Department and could lead to a monarchy. Specifically, the draft did not spell out the rights reserved to the citizens against the government, and the draft was adopted and ratified only because of the Founders' assurances that appropriate amendments would promptly be drafted and offered up for adoption and ratification. James Madison, et al, were good to their word and two years later, we had the Bill of Rights. First things first, and The Amendment directs that Congress (later all government entities, state and federal) shall “make no law abridging the freedom of speech… .’’ The aim was to protect the citizens’ rights to criticize the government.

Despite the apparently clear language barring any abridgement of speech (“make no law”), the language does not mean what it says, it means only what the Court, on any given day, says it means, and our judiciary has consistently ruled the government may indeed abridge freedom of speech by some laws, e.g., those barring libel, threats, incitement, criminal conspiracy, criminal contempt, child porn, -- the list is long. Over the years, the Supreme Court has tinkered with the definition, and the result has been a contraction or expansion of The Amendment in accordance with prevailing political winds.

But today’s challenge is perhaps beyond any we have faced before. There may not be any more rubber in the rubber band.

The guiding principle in the Supreme Court’s to-and-fro decisions has always been to appraise the value of the speech to our democracy. The Court has consistently ruled that a full and unrestrained exchange of views is a vital part of our republican scheme. Criticism of the government and its policies is good. Criticism of each other is good. Criticism of products is good. All of the above is good because the exchange of views enlarges our fund of knowledge and enhances our decision making, even if the language used is harsh and makes people angry. On the other hand, speech such as threats, child porn, defamation (i.e, false statements), incitement, etc., add nothing of value to our small-r republican society, and are therefore not protected. Indeed, false information is unredeemingly valueless, and may be civilly punishable in some circumstances (libel, false advertising, etc.), and criminally punishable in other circumstances, (e.g., perjury.)

Fake news is especially harmful when national and international affairs are involved. History is full of examples of its devastating impact: the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (the Congressional authorization for our involvement in the Vietnam War) was based on a false report, the internment of Japanese-American U.S. citizens was confirmed by our Supreme Court based upon misinformation supplied to it by our government, the Iraq War resolution was based on false reports of WMDs, false Nazi propaganda lead to the Holocaust, Serbian myths and deception led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the inception of WWI, -- the list is long.

We are now afflicted with “social media” that spew “fake news” with the efficiency of the Ebola virus, and a substantial segment of our population is infected. Much of the fake news generation is malicious; it is either knowingly false or transmitted with reckless abandon. Some of it is profitable to its originators, all of it is insidious. What is the value to our democracy of viral reports that the Pope endorsed Donald Trump, or that Hillary Clinton was involved a child abduction ring in a local pizza parlor, or that two million illegal voters cast ballots in California?  We have always had a fringe of conspiracy theorists in the country, but this is different. It is not only more substantial, more threatening to the function of our society, it is also standing the First Amendment on its head because much of this fake news is not from citizens criticizing the government, but is fake news originating from within our government, or being endorsed by it, and disseminated by it. (Or perhaps even fabricated by another government and then endorsed and distributed by our government?) When Trump issued his totally fabricated tweet about two million illegal votes, House Speaker Paul Ryan (second in line to Presidential succession) said the lie “didn’t matter” to him. And was it Vice President-elect Pence or the designated Chief of Staff Priebus, who justified the Trump fake-news tweet by saying, “Well, it’s possible.”  And it must be okay, because Kellyanne Conway basically said, “Well, he is the President-elect, and if he did it, it’s “Presidential.”

This is immediately after an apparently otherwise sane person traveled from North Carolina to Washington, D.C, went into the above-mentioned pizza parlor with a semi-automatic rifle and discharged the weapon it while looking for the children “abducted” by the Clintons. When accosted, he was only willing to go so far as to say something to the effect that there were no abducted children there at that time, and "perhaps the intel was bad." And the son of the President-elect’s designated National Security Advisor, who was working with his father on the Trump transition team, said that the abduction claim would remain a story until the pizza parlor proved it was false!

Is truth really now old-fashioned? Out of style? Irrelevant?  What does that do to First Amendment jurisprudence, indeed to our form of government, for which truth is the bedrock foundation? 

Any notion that we must tolerate this plague because of First Amendment values is, to me, comparable to the suggestion that the First Amendment confers immunity upon al Qaeda’s publication of recipes for pressure cooker bombs so its readers could kill and maim our citizenry.  I suggest neither has any social value and neither is entitled to the immunity from state action conferred by The Amendment.

 Ahh, more London overheated rhetoric, you say? Is it a hyperbolic rant to compare the dangers of fake news to terrorist propaganda? Well maybe, maybe not. The terrorist statements lead to scores, and perhaps hundreds of deaths and injuries; fake-news plagues have lead to worse.