“All professions are conspiracies against the laity.”
― George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara
This famous quote from Shaw pretty much sums up the role of State Bars in disciplining errant lawyers. It seems that in the modern USA, only a conviction of something mega-serious like embezzlement or felonious conduct will get a lawyer disbarred at state level. Certainly, scumbaggery and ethically challenged behavior does not qualify most of the time in most states.
The good news is that one of the principals of the defunct legal entity Prenda Law, a copyright troll firm, has essentially agreed to a plea bargain with the Minnesota State Bar, under which he is barred from practising law in that state for a minimum of 4 years.
However, elsewhere, the culture of impunity appears to be alive and well.
This article about the copyright troll company Righthaven, which was shut down in late 2011 after losing a collection of lawsuits against it, is illustrative. Righthaven was clearly a sleazy and unethical enterprise from the very beginning, and its principals were adjudged to have deceived the court system on multiple occasions. Yet attempts to have the principals of Righthaven disciplined by the Nevada State Bar went nowhere. The bar brazenly bullshitted about the conduct of Righthaven, finding that there was no malfeasance even when the court system clearly pointed it out.
One of the more frustrating underlying issues of the 2016 election campaign is how Donald Trump has been playing most of the mass media like a cheap violin. He verbally abuses them on almost a daily basis in his campaign rallies, even going so far as to mock one journalist with a physical handicap. He arbitrarily and capriciously decides who gets press credentials and who does not, and, most recently, he claims to be holding a press conference which turns out to be a formal public statement occurring after the journalists are expected to sit through an infomercial for the press conference venue, which just happens to be owned by one of Trump’s companies. (To their credit, the media collectively refused, perhaps for the first time, to go along with that particular piece of weapons-grade bullshit).
In the UK we have a term for this behavior pathology. It is called “taking the piss”.
Donald Trump’s strategy (if you can call it that) is simple to understand. Since he despises the mass media, because they have the power to point out his lying, dissembling and general level of BS, he is going to give them the run-around, humiliate and embarrass them at every opportunity, and generally treat them like something he would normally scrape off the bottom of his shoe. The objective is, simply, to render them irrelevant, so that he can continue to hold rallies and utter nonsense in a resonant well-modulated voice. His campaign is not based on winning over the media, followed by a ground game to get out the vote, as most campaigns set out to do. He intends to bypass nearly all of the normal and accepted approaches to winning elections, and win the job of POTUS by direct appeal to an angry and highly motivated base which may be unrepresentative of the modern USA, but which is going to Push the Button for him without fail.
The problem for the mass media is a rock-meet-hard-place one. As they see it, if they refuse to engage with Trump, his high percentage of lies and bullshit go unreported and unchallenged to a wider audience. However, if they attempt to engage with him, he seems to be able to treat them like dirt and there is no negative consequence for him. Most of his supporters also hate the mass media, who they consider to be biased, so for him there is no current downside to treating the media this way.
This article by Tom Scocca departs from the usual agonizing over “should we be tougher on Trump?” to point out that the underlying relationship between Donald Trump and the media is really based on negotiation. The media decides most of the time what questions to ask Donald Trump in interviews and press conferences, and, as Scocca points out, right now the question of when Donald Trump will release his tax returns is one that the media refuses to use as a negotiating card with Trump. Politicians need publicity like you and I need oxygen, and the media, no matter how much Trump may despise them, provide him with most of his publicity oxygen. Even if he holds 2 rallies a day for the rest of the campaign, he can at most reach 50,000 people directly a day. He can reach 10 million easily in a TV interview. The math is not even close.
Scocca’s view is that the media needs to be consistently and persistently demanding that Trump release his tax returns as it’s #1 question, and should consistently remind viewers and listeners that Trump will not do that, unlike Hillary Clinton. His view is that my sticking to that question and refusing to tolerate dissembling and BS answers, the media will be taking a negotiating position (“You can refuse to release your tax returns, in which case that is all you will hear questions about, or you can release them, in which case we will move to the next question”).
Would an approach like this work? Well, if the media took lessons from Jeremy Paxman, they might stand a chance.
UPDATE – Given that Donald Trump apparently promised to donate $5m to charity if Barack Obama was born in the USA, and Mark Cuban has offered Trump $10m to debate him for 4 hours on policy, the media can always add those two questions to the one about tax returns.
…and now i wish I hadn’t.
There was a breakin to regular programming because of a shooting incident in West Fort Worth, which so far has resulted in 1 death and 2 police officers wounded, one seriously.
NBC5DFW went into full overdrive mode, with on-the-scene people near the scene of the shooting and also at the hospital where the two wounded police officers were taken.
It was soon clear that the whole purpose of TV news these days is not to inform. They could have done that in about, ooh, 2 minutes, based on what was not a lot of information, especially since the entire scene was on lockdown because of concerns that a shooter might still be alive and at large. Of course, I had this dream of an NBC reporter sneaking into the crime scene to try and get an “exclusive” with the shooter…(“Mr Smith, can you tell our viewers how you felt as you shot the police officers?”).
The entire 20 minutes was geared towards two objectives, none of them laudable.
Objective #1 – generate drama. I tell you, these reporters could be moonlighting for a TV cops-and-robbers drama. They didn’t inform, they performed. They went into this bizarre Highly Serious mode, talking in hushed reverent voices every time the police officers were mentioned. Then they would snap into breathless “OMG something is happening – let’s go to our man on the scene” mode and quiz the on-the-ground person, eleciting next to nothing of any significance.
Objective #2 – make it last. A two minute summary was spun out to 20+ minutes by all of the faux drama, constant to-ing and fro-ing from the studio heads to umpteen live locations in Fort Worth. A press officer from the Fort Worth PD showed up, but, this being an ongoing incident, he didn’t exactly have a lot that he could say, and most of the content was already known. Nevertheless, he managed to join in the drama by asking viewers to pray for the officers, and the media had to ask him umpteen questions, most of which he could not answer because he had literally only just showed up and probably didn’t know everything yet.
As I watched this cluster**k of a broadcast, all of the reasons why I no longer watch network or cable news came up in front of me in sharp relief. This, folks, is the USA news media. Over-dramatic, obsessed with minutae, spinning everything out, speculating up the wazoo…all of the underlying structural faults were laid bare in one 20 minute extravaganza of almost substance-free faux-drama. But here’s the bad news. We the viewers will continue to see this crap every time we turn on until we stop turning on.
…Leilani Thomas, who has been sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance in school since the second grade, and recently faced off against a teacher who played the same “you’re being disruptive” card that the people objecting to NFL players seem to play a lot of the time.
As this story explains, not only did Leilani refuse to back down, but the school backed her, and the teacher who tried to shut down her principled and legal dissent has been disciplined.
One of the more distressing features of the US political system is the heavy reliance on what has been termed “dog whistles” by reactionary and regressive politicians and political candidates. A “dog whistle” is a message that is designed to activate a positive emotional response in the candidate’s core supporters, whilst plausibly appearing either anodyne or completely different to uncomitted listeners.
“Dog Whistles” are in some ways a form of innuendo, another form of indirect speech that I am very familiar with, having grown up in the UK in an era where you were not allowed to directly mention or talk about sex on radio or television. As a result, innuendo became a standard device for introducing sex into programs, while allowing the performers to plausibly (if deceptively) answer in response to objections “I have no idea what you’re talking about. What did YOU think I was talking about?”.
Historians and fans of old English literature will recognize the same underlying indirect speech pathology in the old story of the murder of Thomas Beckett in 1170, after the King of England, in exasperation, uttered the classic line “Will nobody rid me of this turbulent priest?”. Another excellent example of indirect speech (drawn from the London East End gangster world), showing the sinister potential, is on display starting at 01:46 of this comedy sketch from Monty Python about a shakedown.
One of the classic early political “dog whistles” in the US political process was “States Rights”, a mantra first used by George Wallace when he ran for President. Supporters of Wallace hearing “States Rights” heard “I will permit states to continue with racial and ethnic discrimination”. The fundamental logical nonsense that states do not have rights, only people have rights, was never really discussed. This rhetorical sleight of hand, still used today, allowed candidates to signal to supporters that they still tacitly supported discriminatory practices.
To bring us bang up to date, Donald Trump used a “dog whistle” today, when talking about Hillary Clinton. I am pasting the Twitter exchange that sort of explains it. This example of indirect speech, when translated from the dog whistle, is revealing and sinister in equal measure. He seems to be basing his wish on the (false) premise that Hillary Clinton wants to abolish or modify the Second Amendment regulating the possession and use of firearms.
— gshevlin (@gshevlin) September 17, 2016
I am not sure what the best response is to something as sinister as this. Ideally nobody would pay it any attention. However, in the current election cycle, where Donald Trump’s whole campaign seems to be predicated on old-style rabble-rousing, ignoring it may not be an option.
UPDATE – Jim Wright at Stonekettle has the best response so far:
So basically he's saying that gun nuts are dangerous and can't be trusted not to kill people they disagree with https://t.co/EBFqSXO4Ba
— Stonekettle (@Stonekettle) September 17, 2016
From US singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash:
This qtr's songwriting royalty statement: for 45,000 streams of my song 'Seven Year Ache' on one Big Tech service: $3.13. @artistrightsnow
— rosanne cash (@rosannecash) September 16, 2016
This illustrates why I refuse on principle to subscribe to music streaming services. They rip off artists. I buy my music via CD, digital download, and via The Standing O Project, which splits revenues 50:50 with its artists.
Folks, i know I am going to make myself unpopular with what I am about to say. But that is OK.
If your response to people doing things that you disapprove of is to endorse, propose or agree with the idea that they should go live somewhere else,
You really think that somebody should remove themselves from the USA just because they did or said something that you don’t like?
Let me spell it out.
Your views on this topic are unserious.
If somebody’s failure to stand for the Anthem, recite the Pledge of Allegiance etc. etc. offends you, that’s your problem. Not theirs. Nobody can be forced to do either activity (SCOTUS has ruled on this more than once). Unless they were making direct threats to the safety of individuals, or engaging in sedition, they have a perfect right to take those actions and/or make those statements. Dissent is not disloyalty, unless you are dealing with a dictatorship or an extremely thin-skinned and insecure person or group.
For a country that prides itself on being King Of The Heap, a lot of you sure seem to be horribly insecure. Somebody refused to stand for the National Anthem and this is some sort of mortal insult? Do you know how hyper-sensitive and thin-skinned that looks?
The only countries that enforce obeisance to symbols are totalitarian dictatorships, the kinds of countries that would disappear you in a heartbeat if you said something that the government didn’t like. If you want to know more about totalitarian dictatorships, go read some 20th Century European history and gain an understanding of which countries enforced saluting of flags and recitals of loyalty oaths. You probably wouldn’t want the USA to be spoken of in the same breath as those countries.
Now, before some of you start up with the “but I’m entitled to my opinion!” comeback, let me say that I have no problem with people expressing opinions. However, saying “if you don’t like it, leave the USA” is not an expression of opinion. If’s actually a form of eliminationist rhetoric. You want that person gone because they upset you? Sorry, but no. It makes you sound like a spoiled entitled little brat. If you disagree with them, try a cogent argument instead. It might not make you feel so emotionally fulfilled, but it stands a better chance of getting you taken seriously.
I pointed out that many of the people on Twitter who have modified their Handle name to include the word “deplorable” are, based on their recent tweets, meeting the general definition of “deplorable”.
Here is an excellent example from my Twitter timeline today. This person is not a recent sockpuppet account or any type of false-flag account, the account dates from November last year, around the time that Donald Trump began dog-whistling to nativists and white supremacists.
If you are thinking of self-identifying as “deplorable”, this is some of the company you are associating with.
White men should not be race mixing either, in my opinion. If a White man has mixed kids, they are not White. https://t.co/kkqilVyy6S
— Deplorable Mary (@marylovefreedom) September 14, 2016