Current Affairs – US

Stop making excuses for Sean Spicer

Now that Sean Spicer has left his job as Press Secretary to the POTUS, some folks are busy arguing on social media that he is really a “nice guy” that does not deserve all of the scorn that has been heaped on him in his recent role, that he is a basically a “decent man”.
As far as I can tell, nobody forced Sean Spicer to take the job of Press Secretary. He was not drafted to the role, there was no blackmail that anybody is alleging or admitting to in order to get him to take the job. He volunteered to take that role, and then proceeded to utter claims and assertions, almost on a daily basis, that made Baghdad Bob look like a gold-plated exemplar of truth-telling.
There is a well-known historical feature of acting in a mendacious, deceitful and evil way, known as the Nuremberg Defense, which was attempted by numerous German officials and military members when they were arrested after the end of World War II. The defense boiled down to “I was only obeying orders”. The courts trying those German officials swiftly shot down that attempted defense.
Not only that, but in the US military, the UCMJ specifically states that a military member is under no obligation to follow an order that is plainly illegal.
Sean Spicer took a job that he should have known would force him to bullshit, lie and deflect in public. He signed up to do that job voluntarily. Whether he really understood how much weapons-grade bullshit he would have to utter, I do not know, but if he did not realize the potential extent of it, he clearly was not paying attention to the historical behavior of his new boss.
He might, for all I know, be a fine fellow who donates generously to charity, helps old ladies across the road etc. etc. However, if every time the public sees a person, they are behaving like a deceitful horse’s ass, the public is likely to conclude that they actually are a deceitful horse’s ass.
So…Sean Spicer has to take accountability for being the attempted second coming of Baghdad Bob before he is likely to be taken seriously in any form of spokesperson advocacy role. It’s his own fault. He squandered his public credibility and his reputation over the last 7 months. It was his choice and actions. Those have consequences.


Kim Brown, lawyers fees and the ACLU

We all know the story…Kim Brown, County Clerk in Kentucky, which is an elected position, determined that she would not issue marriage licenses for gay people. The state ordered her to issue licenses, she refused, so other people in her office issued the licenses after the ACLU sued to force the marriage licenses to be issued.
The ACLU sued for recovery of lawyers fees in the court cases.
Now a judge has ruled that the State owes $224k in lawyers fees to the ACLU.

Kim Davis’ lawyers are spinning this as a victory since Davis herself is not personally liable.
There is a lot of comment expressing disappointment that the judge did not rule that Kin Davis herself was personally liable for the fees.
I am not sure that the disappointment was fully justified. The position of County Clerk in Rowan County is an elected position. Effectively the electors voted for Davis to run the County Clerk’s office. They presumably knew of her convictions that gay marriage should not be allowed before they elected her. (NOTE – Davis ran for office and was elected as a Democrat).
So, the taxpayers who elected a person should be accountable.
The unfortunate aspect of the judge’s ruling is that, because the State of Kentucky, anxious to backup Davis in her quixotic battle, became a defendant in the case brought by the ACLU, the state is the body that now has to pay the lawyer’s fees. Ideally, the judge would have ruled that Rowan County electors should pay the fees award. After all, they elected Kim Davis.


Methods of sabotaging investigations

At this point in time it is clear that Donald Trump is seriously trying to evade responsibility for any acts that he and his family may have committed in the past or since he became the President.
We can tell this because he is working on two tactics:
1. He has ordered staff to investigate Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, looking for issues that might give him (as he sees it) grounds to dismiss him
2. He has been asking legal advisors about the limits of his Presidential Pardon powers

Option (1) is what I term the “nuclear option”. Dismissing Mueller would send the signal that Trump intends to evade any and all external scrutiny of his actions. Remember that Richard Nixon’s position became untenable only after he fired Archibald Cox from his role of Special Prosecutor over the emerging Watergate scandal. That led to the erosion of support for Nixon inside the Republican Party to the point where he resigned rather than be convicted in a Senate impeachment trial. Firing Mueller, whose record is unimpeachably good, will put the GOP in a nasty dilemna. Accepting the dismissal will lead to them being seen as accomplices in a cover-up. Their alternative is to set up their own independent investigation into Trump’s behavior and actions, possibly with Mueller continuing in his role, but reporting to the House or the Senate without answering to the POTUS. They will be very reluctant to do that, but negative public reaction may force their hand. It’s all about the 2018 elections. If enough GOP elected representatives say “either we investigate or we will be slaughtered next year at the polls”, then the GOP may continue to investigate.
Option (2) is one I consider to be more likely. Trump does not want to resign as POTUS without protection of himself and his family from legal consequences. He therefore is likely to pre-emptively pardon his entire family and business associates for any and all illegal acts committed over the last umpteen years.
(NOTE – in 1974, in response to inquiries from the Nixon administration, legal counsel advised that a President cannot pardon himself).
If Trump were to resign as POTUS (which I consider to be unlikely, until he finds out that he will lose an impeachment trial in the Senate) he would likely demand that VP Mike Pence also pardon him as part of the resignation deal. The GOP would probably accept that sort of deal, simply to sweep the Trump era under the rug and be able to continue with their authoritarian legislative agenda.
Please note, however, my previous posting. Presidential Pardon power only extends to Federal crimes. Donald Trump could still be investigated for acts that potentially violate State laws. If he is found guilty at State level, he or his successors currently have no way to pardon him of those crimes.


The very real limit of Presidential pardons

This Tweet is highly significant:

The President has the power of pardon for Federal crimes only. For state-level crimes, pardon power rests with the Governor of the state where the defendant was indicted, prosecuted or convicted.
So, sure, the POTUS can probably pardon all of his family members, friends, business associates and other hangers-on if they are under suspicion, indicted or being prosecuted for Federal crimes. However, he has no power to pardon anybody charged or convicted of a crime under State law.
So..if the POTUS or his associates are indicted or charged under state law, he is powerless to issue any pardons.


Taking a moment out to be cynical…

What if the GOP planned all along to fail to pass a repeal bill for the ACA in both the House of Representatives and the Senate?
I can think of three very good reasons why they might want that to be the final outcome.
1. The ACA is growing steadily more popular
2. The POTUS made ACA repeal and replacement a centerpiece of his agenda, and the POTUS is unpopular
3. The POTUS promise of better insurance for less money is totally incompatible with giving rich folks a tax cut, if you try to trade the ACA off against tax policy

The GOP is, of course, hopelessly tangled up in a rhetorical cul-de-sac of its own making over the ACA. They have been promising to repeal the ACA since about the time that it was passed, and they have been bloviating and posturing to that end since 2010 (witness the number of votes scheduled in the House to repeal the ACA – up to over 60 the last time I looked).
The GOP cannot suddenly turn around and say “well, it seems that the ACA might not be all bad so let’s not repeal it”. The activist base of the party would be apoplectic with rage, and local pressure groups would immediately look for primary election targets in 2018, picking on representatives who they consider to be traitoriously disloyal. One of the reasons why so many GOP elected representatives make dingbat-crazy public pronouncements is that they are terrified of being primaried. When a representative like Renee Elmers, who was propelled into office by a Tea Party primary insurgency, can be dumped out of office by the same group of primary voters after being accused of being a RINO (a cardinal sin for any GOP political candidate), then nobody in the House from the GOP, no matter how batshit-crazy, is safe.
So, the GOP has been in rock-meet-hard-place territory. If they repeal the ACA, elected representatives fear a tidal wave of voter anger sweeping them out of office in 2018. If they abandon all attempts at a repeal, they fear primary challenges for being “insufficiently conservative” or (gasp) being named as a RINO.
So…what better option exists?
Allow the repeal bills to die due to (just failing) to get enough support.
This would be a classic tactic of virtue signalling, done all the time by politicians who want to appear tough and resolute. The world of politics is replete with examples of politicians proposing cockanamie legislation, having it shelved or voted into oblivion, and then going back to their supporters and saying “look, I tried to get it passed”.
So, the PR spin from Donald Trump that he got really close, is a classic rhetorical sleight of hand that papers over the reality that, in all probability, the majority of GOP senators and house members are glad that ACA repeal has died a death. They still have the option to slowly strangle the ACA by other means of course. That would be a cunning and slow dismantlement of the ACA without having to take ownership for publicly killing it. Think arsenic poisoning instead of shooting.


Jay Rosen explains the POTUS approach to the media

In his latest article at Pressthink, Jay Rosen explains how the deingration and dismissal of the media is a permanent feature of the Trump approach to governance, for a number of reasons which he explains in some detail.
Media employees and leaders who expect that he will suddenly smack his forehead one day in the near future and say “OMG I have made a terrible mistake by being mean to all those media folks – let me invite them to dinner at the White House so I can apologize” are living in cloud-cuckooland.
Trump’s entire strategy is to totally discredit the established media in order to promote only media channels that are beholden to him (step forward Breitbart), or to shift the entire focus of his communications towards direct communication with his support base, mostly using Twitter.
This is not exactly a new approach. GOP politicians have been doing this to varying degrees for a long time. Rick Perry, when running for re-election to the Governorship of Texas in 2012, persistently refused to meet with any of the Texas newspapers, most of whom endorsed his opponent, gave few interviews and almost no news conferences, and avoided debates as much as he could. Instead, he relied on his enormous fund-raising advantage to blanket the media outlets with his own adverts. Greg Abbott did much the same thing in 2016 against Wendy Davis, that time around he had an even bigger fund-raising advantage.
Distribution channel experts call this disintermediation. It has been happening in other industry sectors for decades (see the airline and travel industries, where travel agents are going out of business at a rate of knots as travelers deal direct with airlines, hotels, rental car companies etc.) If the media thought they were exempt from that trend, they clearly were not paying attention. All it needed was a political movement with the ability to either buy massive airtime on established media outlets (they don’t mind using the media channels for communication, they just don’t want any commentary or investigation), or a candidate or party with the ability to use free social media platforms as a direct communication tool. The ability to covertly flood social media channels like Twitter and Facebook with postings from fake accounts and bots has now been developed to a high degree in the last 2 years. The results can be seen easily today with analysis tools showing that 45% of Donald Trump’s Twitter followers are probably fake accounts or bots.
So, when it comes to election time, the GOP blankets the airwaves with paid adverts, and covert organizations flood social media with supportive posts and links from fake accounts and bots, while Donald Trump babbles and burbles away all the time on Twitter.
The result is likely to be the same.
The established media outlets can no longer obtain much of any airtime with the White House, and they still have not worked out what to do about it.
The media has to decide whether they want to be manipulated into playing by Trump’s rules or not. So far, all the indications are that they are unwilling to do what they should do; namely to stop attending briefings where the main content is a White House spokesperson whining about and excoriating the media for promoting “fake news”. Instead they need to be putting resources into the single most important activity that could change their image; investigative journalism. David Fahrenthold at the Washington Post has shown how to do it, with his relentless investigation of Donald Trump’s fake and bullshit charity donation trail.
A couple of dozen more people with Fahrenthold’s energy and resourcefulness might have uncovered a lot more well-researched facts by now. Instead, the media is still being played like the cheapest of cheap violins by a President whose only aim is to diminish their reputation down to something approaching zero. This is a classic rock-meet-hard-place dilemna. If the media repeats the Trump administration’s claims uncritically, a large number of people will regard them as spineless incompetents. If they critique the Trump administration claims, then Trump and his sycophants unleash a torrent of excoriation and abuse on social media. Most of the media outlets are unwilling to devote energy and time to refuting or dismantling the bullshit in a compelling way, and then telling the White House to go piss up a rope when they want props for a press conference whine-fest.
The clock is ticking. Another 2-3 years of this and the current generation of news networks will also be locked into a Dodo-like descent to extinction.