The Consequences of Addiction

I’ve been contemplating further on the Dominion Voting Systems’ (Dominion’s) defamation lawsuit against Fox Corp. (Fox), which led to revelations that Fox knowingly spread falsehoods about Dominion’s voting systems which, by extension, lent credence to former President Donald Trump’s and his acolytes’ unfounded claims that that the presidential election had been stolen from Mr. Trump.  My reflections have landed upon the same conclusion as I’ve expressed in earlier posts about what I now consider the greatest threat to our democracy.  It actually isn’t Mr. Trump, Fox, or alt-right media.

First, a seeming aside, but not:  on April 20, Barron’s stated that Philip Morris International narrowly missed analysts’ projections for its first quarter 2023 revenue – a mere $8 billion instead of $8.1 billion – but reported, “[Chief Financial Officer Emmanuel Babeau] argues its long-term smoke-free goals remain on track.”  Then:  “[Philip Morris] is aiming to make a majority of its sales from smoke free products by 2025. Its heat sticks are in the process of getting approval, and the company plans to relaunch IQOS, a heated tobacco product, in the U.S. next year.”  Later:  “Babeau notes that … the longer-term outlook remains robust, given broad-based adoption of its smoke-free products, like IQOS, as well as the company’s ability to maintain market share in the traditional cigarette market, even as it recedes in importance for the business. Although combustible tobacco revenue was lower, that was offset by price increases of more than 7%, demonstrating, he says, that ‘consumers are ready to accept price increases because of inflation.’  On the growing smoke-free side of the business, IQOS users increased by nearly one million since the end of 2022, while its Zyn nicotine pouches ‘are absolutely flying,’ the CFO says, with nearly 47% growth in U.S. shipments. … Philip Morris’s sales show ‘remarkable numbers in terms of growth,’ Babeau says.”  In other words:  Philip Morris’ shareholders should be reassured of the company’s future profits. 

Contrast this with statements from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):  “Research suggests that heated [i.e., smoke-free] tobacco products and their emissions contain many of the same harmful ingredients as regular cigarettes, as well as other harmful ingredients not present in regular cigarettes.”  The CDC classifies nicotine pouches – placed in the mouth, although containing no tobacco — with “tobacco products,” which the CDC says can lead to nicotine addiction and may lead to oral cancers.  Those of us who know baseball history remember the stories of the old time major league tobacco chewers who ultimately suffered and succumbed to mouth cancer.

Philip Morris is selling and stoking addiction.  It is perhaps but a slight exaggeration to suggest that everybody over the age of 7 in this country with any sense knows that tobacco and nicotine, no matter the form, are harmful.  Philip Morris’ customers choose to ignore the risk.  They even defy inflation for the privilege of consuming products that will kill them.

Now to Fox.  Amid the torrent of commentary attending the Dominion – Fox settlement, a talking head mentioned something I had forgotten:  that for a period after the 2020 presidential election, Fox did attempt to back away from the Trump cohort’s claims that the election had been stolen – and that the channel immediately began losing ratings to tiny outfits One American News (OAN) and Newsmax, which were entirely committed to promoting the hoax.  In other words, an apparently notable segment of Fox viewers didn’t want to hear facts – they were determined to believe what they wanted to believe.  They had become addicted to the information opiate that Fox and the rest of the alt-right media had been selling them in ever-more-powerful doses over the preceding 25 years.  When Fox tried to provide them alternate weaker stuff, they went looking for another dealer.  Fox saw that its profits were going to suffer.  If the Murdochs, Fox management and Fox hosts didn’t know it before, they knew it then:  once Fox had led its viewers; now Fox is their captive.  Notwithstanding its recent dismissal of Tucker Carlson, its virulent dissimulation will continue because, aside from rare hiccups like the Dominion lawsuit, such is necessary for Fox to maintain its profits. 

Philip Morris and Fox are publicly traded companies.  Some would hold that it is actually their duty – in order to maximize their shareholders’ returns – to create and cater to poisonous addiction.

Who’s really responsible for the damage these companies cause?  We have adopted, and anyone with a conscience fully supports, a regulatory scheme to limit certain tobacco company actions – perhaps most crucially, restrictions on their malign attempts to hook impressionable youth (we can thank the Almighty that the Second Amendment doesn’t include the right of a well-regulated militia to keep and bear tobacco 😉 )– but ultimately individuals make their own decisions and, even if they at first make bad choices, can choose to rid themselves of nicotine addiction; but despite the oceans of data available to acquaint anyone able to see or hear about the dangers of Philip Morris’ products, the fact remains that Philip Morris is projecting “remarkable numbers in terms of growth” because millions of Americans willingly consume its products knowing the dangers.

Fox is obviously a more difficult case; it operates at the crossroads of free speech and American capitalism.  On April 21, during MSNBC’s Morning Joe broadcast, Washington Post Associate Editor Eugene Robinson asked Andrew Weissmann, formerly a lead prosecutor in Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel’s Office among other impressive offices and currently a professor at New York University Law School, whether an adverse ruling to Fox if the Dominion defamation suit case gone to trial “ … might have had an impact on the governing Supreme Court decision … that gives wide latitude to reputable news organizations ….”

Mr. Weissmann responded:  “I think that the key word that you used, Eugene, is the word, ‘reputable.’  If I were at a reputable news organization, I don’t know that I’d be particularly worried [about potential expanding defamation liability] at what we saw at the National Enquirer, which was completely colluding with the Trump campaign, or at what we saw at Fox News.  If you talk to any reputable journalist, [what the National Enquirer and Fox News did] is so far beyond the pale in terms of what news is supposed to be; you’re not just colluding with one political campaign.  So I don’t think … you need to worry …. The [interest of the private companies bringing defamation suits against Fox News] is not to get a public apology, to defend American democracy, or to protect the information flow.  They’re trying to get the damages to their clients.  And so that’s where you really think the [the Federal Election Commission], which did impose a small fine on the National Enquirer, needs to step in, and it can’t be a small fine.  … Is there going to be some regulatory damage that’s going to deter [the promulgation of lies] so we don’t have the repetition.  Because it’s really easy [for a media company with a business model like Fox News’] to just simply avoid denigrating a company so you won’t get sued and still promulgate a big lie.  So you need to have the government step in to have some kind of regulation of that kind of conduct. [Emphasis Added].” 

Mr. Weissmann has an august legal background while I’m just a retired lawyer who worked for a Midwest-based company, but I was appalled by his answer.  What’s a “reputable” news organization is in the eye of the beholder.  I wouldn’t like to have a regulatory apparatus run by Mr. Trump or FL Gov. Ron DeSantis determine who was a “reputable” news organization, or what speech should be regulated.  Mr. Weissmann, I, and all lawyers of our generation were taught the 1919 words of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.:  “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic [Justice Holmes’ Emphasis].”  Although one might argue that Fox’ lies amounted to falsely shouting “fire” in the theater of American public opinion, I would counter that unlike an actual theater occupant, who would have no way of easily ascertaining if the shout was false, any American citizen who wishes to discern the validity of any political media assertion has the ready means to do so.

I am accordingly opposed to any regulation of Fox or other alt-right outlets, no matter what venom they spew.  Any American who wants to see beyond their misrepresentations, can.  We – and I suspect all reading this note – have beloved family members and friends in the alt-right vortex, who, politics aside, would do anything for you.  One continues to have the same affection for them, as one would continue to have for a family member or friend who smokes or is in the grip of an opioid addiction.  Even so, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan – actual Republicans – preached and believed in personal responsibility.  I would submit that the greatest danger to our republic today isn’t blackguard politicians or unscrupulous media, although their message enables the disease to metastasize; it’s our citizens who willingly choose to stay hooked on their own poisonous alternate reality.

Perhaps a Bungled Opportunity on the Debt Ceiling

I haven’t posted much in recent weeks about the growing debt ceiling crisis; it is what it is and we are where we are.  What prompts this note is a May 20 Politico report:

“Looking back on the first two years of [President] Joe Biden’s presidency, [U.S. VA Sen.] Tim Kaine has one big regret about a largely successful stretch of Democratic rule: That his party didn’t try to raise the debt ceiling on its own last year.

The Virginia senator believes that if Democrats had tried to hike the debt limit before the House GOP swept into a majority, even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) might have gone along with it. But Biden’s party never moved on the issue. And six months later, Democrats are stuck doing exactly what they said they wouldn’t — negotiating on the debt ceiling with Republicans.

‘If I could do one thing different,’ Kaine lamented this week, it would have been a late-2022 debt hike. ‘And I was saying it at the time … “‘hey, we got the votes.”’”

I noted in these pages on November 17, 2022:

“Given the paralysis and partisan histrionics that see overwhelmingly likely to ensue when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives, I would hope that for the good of the nation, during the upcoming lame duck Congressional session Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (due to the power of the filibuster) can agree to pass measures that have received or could garner bipartisan support to blunt some of the most destructive future MAGA impulses. … Below is a short list of such potential measures. …

  1. Raising the federal debt limit to an amount projected to carry the United States through to April 1, 2025.  Our citizenry will really decide the future direction it wishes the nation to take based upon whom it elects president in 2024.  In the meantime, the full faith and credit of the United States should not be held hostage to partisan rabble. …”

Since I don’t claim expertise in the nuances of the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule, it’s not clear to me, given Mr. Kaine’s comments quoted by Politico, whether Democrats, as I suggested in my post, needed a number of Republican Senators’ support to have raised the debt ceiling in late 2022.  I’ve been assuming that they needed Republican Senate votes, and couldn’t get them.  One could infer from Mr. Kaine’s comments that they didn’t need Republican help.  If six months ago, I – an old retired Midwesterner —  could predict the debt ceiling train wreck we are now facing, it makes one blink to think that Democratic Congressional leadership didn’t see it coming.  If Democrats failed to raise the debt ceiling although they had the votes (alone or with Republican Senate help) to do so — a point I’d like to see definitively addressed – such failure can at best be characterized as shockingly naïve, and arguably more appropriately as startlingly obtuse legislative malpractice.

On the Role of Journalism: a Postscript

In a note this past February, I stated, “I entirely reject the notion that the standard of [journalistic] objectivity for collection and dissemination of facts should in any way vary according to a reporter’s gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, or other attribute.  … [W]hat is vital is that journalists, as [New York Times Columnist Bret] Stephens puts it, ‘provid[e] the public with the raw materials it needs to shape intelligent opinion and effective policy.’  That’s all, and that’s enough.  After journalists have fulfilled their responsibility – a sacred one in a democracy – it is thereafter up to our people, for good or ill, to form their own conclusions.”

On May 15th, New York Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger published an essay in the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), entitled, “Journalism’s Essential Value,” in which he addresses the philosophical debate regarding the concept of objectivity currently occurring in some quarters of professional journalism.  Mr. Sulzberger – whose forebears established the Times as we know it and have maintained its standing for over a century – states in part:

“Independence is the increasingly contested journalistic commitment to following facts wherever they lead. It places the truth—and the search for it with an open yet skeptical mind—above all else. … [I]n this hyperpolarized era, independent journalism and the sometimes counterintuitive values that animate it have become a radical pursuit.

Independence asks reporters to adopt a posture of searching, rather than knowing. It demands that we reflect the world as it is, not the world as we may wish it to be. It requires journalists to be willing to exonerate someone deemed a villain or interrogate someone regarded as a hero. It insists on sharing what we learn—fully and fairly—regardless of whom it may upset or what the political consequences might be. Independence calls for plainly stating the facts, even if they appear to favor one side of a dispute. And it calls for carefully conveying ambiguity and debate in the more frequent cases where the facts are unclear or their interpretation is under reasonable dispute, letting readers grasp and process the uncertainty for themselves.

This approach, tacking as it does against the with-us-or-against-us certainty of this polarized moment, requires a steadfast, sometimes uncomfortable commitment to journalistic process over personal conviction. Independent journalism elevates values grounded in humility—fairness, impartiality, and (to use perhaps the most fraught and argued-over word in journalism) objectivity—as ideals to be pursued, even if they can never be perfectly achieved. And crucially, independent journalism roots itself to an underlying confidence in the public; it trusts that people deserve to know the full truth and ultimately can be relied upon to use it wisely.”

Although his piece is not short (even compared to my more than occasional long-windedness  😉 ), I would submit that it is well worth your time.  I tried to add a link here, but either due to CJR’s web protections or my technological ineptitude — almost certainly the latter — I couldn’t get the link to embed. Since I could access the essay although I do not subscribe to the CJR, I am hopeful that by entering the search, “Sulzberger” and “Columbia Journalism Review,” you will be able to reach it as well.

Break’s Over

I didn’t watch last week’s CNN Town Hall featuring former President Donald Trump; I knew I couldn’t stomach it.  Judging by the clips I’ve seen, the former president showed himself to be who he is:  a delusional, fascist megalomaniac.  Such characterization is obviously inflammatory, highly pejorative, and perhaps melodramatic; I leave it to you to decide whether you agree it is warranted.

While any number of liberal-leaning commentators have intoned that the CNN broadcast was a political gift to President Joe Biden – a claim which would seem to have some merit with regard to the disquieting effect that Mr. Trump’s obvious illiberal instability might well have on Republican-leaning voters in the metropolitan suburbs of swing states – I also sensed a bit of whistling past the graveyard.  The most disconcerting part of the clips I’ve seen isn’t what Mr. Trump said — he is, if nothing else, consistent – but rather the raucous approval his obvious lies and slurs received from a crowd that, while Republican, came from New Hampshire – a state generally considered to be populated by sensible, upright New Englanders who one would have thought would know better.  Although certainly not inconceivable that another candidate could yet wrest the Republican presidential nomination from him, it appears that Mr. Trump, to the enthusiastic alleluias of his cult, is resurrecting. 

We’ve had about 27 months’ respite:  27 months in which we had the luxury (?) of concentrating on the substantive global and domestic challenges we face; 27 months in which we could dream that the spell Mr. Trump has cast over a segment of our citizens would dissipate; 27 months in which we could hope that those who provide Mr. Trump lip service support either out of tribal party loyalty or fear would find the courage to denounce and disassociate themselves from him; 27 month in which we could wish that his legal problems would disqualify him.  We aren’t going to be that lucky.  [Special Counsel Jack Smith’s delay in bringing charges against Mr. Trump either for his part in the January 6th insurrection or for his misappropriation of classified documents has, given Mr. Trump’s maneuvering, now made any future indictment, no matter how strong the evidence, appear a political prosecution.  Mr. Smith – as Special Counsel Robert Mueller before him – has erred (and this is coming from a lawyer, mind you) by being too lawyerlike.  Now, I fear it’s too late.]

All who know me know my fondness for the television series, The West Wing, the account of a fictional President Josiah Bartlet and Mr. Bartlet’s White House staff.  At several points during the series’ multi-year run, the character Bartlet admonished his staff, when their focus had been diverted:  Break’s over.  Time to get back to work.

Mr. Trump has made his objective plain.  He and his supporters intend to institute an American Apartheid.  (I think the same can be said if Republicans nominate another MAGA, such as FL. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who, while lacking Mr. Trump’s animal magnetism, would have the same ultimate goal and carry less baggage to the race.)  They cannot be reasoned with, they cannot be persuaded; they can only be outvoted.  Although I concede unease about a second term for an 82-year-old president, and retain deep misgivings about Vice President Kamala Harris’ readiness for the presidency, these are the cards we’ve been dealt.  Any obvious physical diminishment by Mr. Biden, a deep recession, a perceived border crisis, a pivotal presidential debate moment, or some other notable event could tip a closely-divided electorate in key Electoral College swing states to Mr. Trump or another MAGA.  The crucible appears to be upon us.  It is time for those who believe in American democracy to get back to work.

Break’s over.

The Great Task

I have indicated before in these pages why I believe former U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney could be well positioned to derail the presidential aspirations of former President Donald Trump and any other MAGAs who subscribe to illiberal views.  Given her courageous efforts on behalf of American democracy in her last years in Congress, Ms. Cheney has my wholehearted support, although I am pretty confident that our views on many domestic issues are at odds.  (I am equally confident that our views are pretty closely aligned on foreign policy.)  During her 2022 unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for her Wyoming Congressional seat, Ms. Cheney launched a Political Action Committee (PAC) entitled, “The Great Task,” its title drawn from a phrase in President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  The Great Task has continued to post video clips since she left office.

Below is a link to a YouTube video which I understand that The Great Task is beginning to run on New Hampshire media outlets dealing with Mr. Trump.

I continue to harbor doubts that Ms. Cheney will have much impact on the electoral fortunes of Mr. Trump or any other MAGA unless she attracts major media attention by declaring for the Republican presidential nomination – a step which would have little chance of ultimate success while involving the clear risk of physical danger to herself in our current toxic and violent environment, and thus, one that any advisor would be understandably reluctant to recommend.  That said, this video shows that she does not intend to leave the stage.  I suspect that this is not the last we’ll hear from Ms. Cheney; I certainly hope it is not.

“… The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863

Treason Doth Never Prosper

Yesterday, four members of the Proud Boys, including their leader, Enrique Tarrio, were found guilty of seditious conspiracy arising from their actions before and related to the riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, joining members of the Oath Keepers, including their founder, Stewart Rhodes, who have previously been found guilty of seditious conspiracy related to the insurrection.

I understand that a number of these defendants claimed as part of their defense that they were not guilty of sedition because they were called to action by former President Donald Trump.  Put aside the patent culpability of Mr. Trump; such obviously provides these traitors no excuse.  They are responsible for their own actions.  They forgot their English literature:

“Treason doth never prosper.” English poet John Harrington; Alcilia.

“Men at times are masters of their own fates; the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”  Cassius to Marcus Brutus; William Shakespeare; Julius Caesar

Those who cherish American democracy can draw some reassurance from these convictions.  Even so, while Mr. Trump and other MAGAs continue in their endeavors, we cannot let our guard down; but for the actions of former Vice President Mike Pence and a few others, the insurrection incited by Mr. Trump on January 6th might well have succeeded.  The threat to our way of life has not gone away.  When the thought of this note occurred to me, I was pretty sure of my Shakespeare, but looked up Mr. Harrington’s declaration to check my memory.  I found that I had actually only recalled part of it.  The rest constitutes a caution:

“Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it Treason [Emphasis Added]”.

That said, today Joe Biden remains president and it’s a warm and sunny Friday in the Midwest. While we need to remain cognizant of Mr. Harrington’s vital warning, one might be excused from also embracing a more pleasant perspective for this early spring weekend.  If so, in addition to outdoor pursuits, one can contemplate the potpourri of television viewing available tomorrow:  commencing with an early champagne cocktail, toasting the coronation of King Charles III; then enjoying several Cherry Cokes with Warren Buffett throughout the day as CNBC – seemingly inordinately proudly, considering the promotion it has offered this week — broadcasts the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting; and watching the sun start to set with a Mint Julep as one witnesses the Kentucky Derby.

If the weather holds, we ourselves plan to stain a retaining wall.  We will celebrate any successful conclusion with the appropriate refresher – perhaps even a Schlitz  😉 . 

Stay well.   

On Tanking and Other Random April Notions

A few disparate impressions as we move further into spring:

“Tanking is the art of creating a purposefully bad team with the intention of losing games to gain high draft picks. … Tanking aims to … ultimately win a championship with the core constructed while tanking.”

  • What Are The Odds: A Statistical Analysis of Tanking in The NBA;; Brayden Gerrard, March 11, 2019

If there was a Mr. Republican who controlled the party’s national strategy – and if there were such a being, he would, being a Republican, obviously be a white male 😉 – he might well be thinking that having former President Donald Trump as the party’s 2024 nominee would be in the best long term interests of the party:  “Let Trump and [FOX News Commentator Tucker] Carlson take the party over the edge to what is currently looking like it will be a general election shellacking.  After winning the culture war for years with many moderate Americans who are alienated by what they perceive as progressives’ obsession on Americans’ gender, ethnic, religious, and sexual preference identities and disregard for traditional American values and hallmarks, now it is we who are on the wrong side of the American middle with our positions on abortion, health care, book banning, guns and climate; we even seem poised to put ourselves on the wrong side of the American majority on the debt ceiling and perhaps Ukraine.”  Mr. Republican might reason:  “The GOP can’t win in 2024 without the MAGAs, but Trump can’t win without the traditional Republicans; let’s tank and concede a Biden re-election.  We still have the majority of Americans with us on many issues such as immigration and crime [note that at the same time Wisconsinites were providing liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz an 11-point victory this past April on the strength of abortion rights, they were voting in higher percentages for referenda in favor of tightening state welfare eligibility and keeping criminal defendants in jail before trial].  A Trump debacle will give us years to develop and test positions in areas in which we are now considered too extreme, and we’ll have a great chance to win in 2028 when Americans will be ready for a change, with a fresh candidate against a Democrat almost certainly more progressive than Biden.”

(Is there a Republican master strategist?  Nah.  Are MAGA diehards such as U.S. OH Rep. Jim Jordan seeking to prop up Mr. Trump as part of some long term Republican strategy?  Nah; I know, I know.  They’re just blackguards.)

Next:  There are obviously all different types of smarts.  Since FL Gov. Ron DeSantis went to Yale, and is widely reported to study issues, he seemingly has what might be called, “academic smarts.”  That said, Mr. DeSantis appears to be too politically dumb to be president.  Turning hard to the right on abortion in the face of recent nationwide polls and electoral results is inept enough for a candidate who will need to win swing states to win the general presidential election; but his fight with The Walt Disney Company, the signature employer in his state, over culture issues is so egregiously politically stupid for a Republican that it makes one blink.  Say what you will about Mr. Trump and former WI Gov. Scott Walker [and I’ve said plenty 😉 ]; these men, while campaigning as populists, were politically savvy enough to cultivate and maintain great relationships with the business community.  For Mr. DeSantis to seek to use his office to punish the Disney organization over culture issues is akin to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s crackdown over the last couple of years on mighty Chinese conglomerates perceived by Mr. Xi as being too powerful.  I am confident that many major American CEOs are calculating that if Mr. DeSantis is using his gubernatorial power to go after Disney today, he could use presidential power to go after them for perceived slights tomorrow.  Since I consider Mr. DeSantis every bit as dangerous to America as Mr. Trump, I’m happy to see that he seems to be as politically obtuse as he is boring.

Next:  Unless U.S. CA Sen. Dianne Feinstein can return to Washington by the end of April, she should resign.  There have been plenty of credible reports to indicate that Sen. Feinstein, 89, is no longer physically able to fulfill the duties of her office.  I consider the claims that the calls for her resignation are gender-based – i.e., if she was a man, no one would be calling for her to resign – a progressive spasm irrelevant to the main point:  getting President Joe Biden’s judicial appointments confirmed.  [I would understand the reluctance to pressure Ms. Feinstein if California had a Republican governor; but I’d make the same call for resignation if it involved U.S. MD Sen. Ben Cardin (to be 80 this year, representing a state with a Democratic governor), if it was obvious that Mr. Cardin could no longer serve and his continuance in the Senate was blocking the President’s judicial appointments.]  Someone Ms. Feinstein trusts should go to the Senator and advise her to step down.  Democratic CA Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint Ms. Feinstein’s successor, and given the already-hotly contested 2024 California Democratic primary battle for Ms. Feinstein’s seat, the appointee should be a “caretaker.”

Two final notes, arguably more significant: 

First, those chortling – and there is a fair amount of chortling in this note – about the Republicans’ seemingly dimming prospects to win the White House in 2024 with Mr. Trump as their nominee, need to keep one thing in mind:  Mr. Biden’s health.  If he appears hale all the way to Election Day in a race against Mr. Trump, I think he wins.  If he has a significant health reversal in the last few weeks before the election – the worst kind of “October Surprise” (recall that U.S. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just couldn’t quite make it to Inauguration Day, 2021, and the havoc her truly untimely death has caused) – Mr. Trump can win.  Those who believe in democracy should hold their breaths that the octogenarian Mr. Biden remains healthy at least until Wednesday, November 6, 2024.  (I doubt U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ readiness for the presidency, but even if my estimation is correct, we will muddle through; Mr. Trump’s illiberalism is an existential threat to our way of life.)

Finally, the debt ceiling.  There is no substantive issue – Ukraine, race, abortion, guns, Social Security/Medicare, climate, election reform, or anything else – I consider as important as maintaining the full faith and credit of the United States.  For us to be able to continue to pay our debts, Congress must pass a law raising the debt ceiling by sometime this summer.  U.S. House Republicans, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, are posturing (as they always do when a Democrat is president) about budget restrictions they will require in order to vote to raise the debt ceiling.  Safeguarding America’s democracy from provocateurs is existential, more important than any substantive issue, including maintaining its full faith and credit.  If counseling the President, I’d recommend that he get this blunt message to Mr. McCarthy  (if he hasn’t already):  “Kevin, I’m not compromising with you.  I’m not going to accept any budget limitations in order to get your votes on the debt ceiling.  I’m going to sit here and talk about Social Security, Medicare, and our need to protect our troops and our veterans.  There are enough votes in both houses to pass an unrestricted debt ceiling.  If we default, Americans won’t blame me; they’ll blame you and your extremists for the fallout.  In 2025, any Kwik Trip will be big enough to hold the entire Republican House Caucus; and you won’t be there.  You know it.  I know it.  Have a nice day.”

Mr. McCarthy has shown himself to be a gutless hypocrite; I think he’ll cave.  Whether he does or not, and although I am deeply concerned about a U.S. default today and the effect that the mounting U.S. debt will have on our children and grandchildren tomorrow, one cannot appease political terrorists.

More than long enough.  (Could have cut the paragraph on Mr. DeSantis, which added nothing you haven’t already seen, heard, or thought; but just couldn’t resist piling on 🙂 ).  Have a good week.

On the Dominion – Fox News Settlement

As all who care are aware, yesterday Dominion Voting Systems (Dominion) and Fox Corp. (Fox) settled the defamation suit Dominion had brought against Fox arising from Fox’ falsehoods about Dominion’s voting systems, with Fox paying Dominion $787.5 million.  Fox released a statement indicating: “We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”

I have been a lawyer too long not to recognize that a good deal for a client is not always a good deal for society, so I certainly don’t begrudge Dominion locking in an almost record-breaking defamation settlement award, or choosing to avoid the uncertainties of trial and, if victorious, the grueling prospect of lengthy appeals against a well-funded and implacable opponent.  At the same time, I am offended by the blasé hypocrisy of the Fox statement.  I’ve seen one of Dominion’s lawyers acknowledge that Fox is not obligated by the terms of the settlement to have its hosts admit on their air that they lied about Dominion, which lies had the effect of furthering the hoax that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election and arguably at least indirectly led to the January 6th insurrection.  A First Amendment lawyer quoted by the New York Times observed:  “With the settlement, everybody wins. Fox goes its way.  Dominion gets cash.”  

Not everybody wins.  America didn’t win.  I had hoped that the settlement would require the Fox hosts to acknowledge their falsehoods on Fox air, which, even if such did not dispel the Big Lie, would perhaps at least weaken their future credibility with their viewers.  That’s not going to happen. I fear that the confirmation of Fox’ perfidy won’t even meaningfully enter the alt-right information silo. I expect one close friend who follows these pages and is more familiar with Fox propaganda than I am will provide me backhanded consolation by repeating his oft-expressed observation to the effect that even if Fox viewers knew Fox hosts were lying to them, they wouldn’t care

On that note, I guess we must, like Fox, go on our way.

On the Trump New York Indictment: A Postscript

In the original of this note, I declared:  “If the counts brought against Mr. Trump ultimately amount to no more than falsification of business records under New York law … such charges are highly likely to be seen … as ticky-tack fouls.  Such an impression helps Mr. Trump.”  I have no background in criminal law.  I have seen it reported that the 34 charges brought against Mr. Trump will amount to NY law misdemeanor counts, not felony counts, unless the prosecution can persuade a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Trump falsified his business records in order to evade apprehension for a separate felony crime.  Judging by the muted tones I heard from NY District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus Vance, Jr., during a CNN interview about the indictment, and by the reserved commentary I have heard from some of the legal experts on MSNBC’s decidedly-liberal Morning Joe, I’d venture that they consider Mr. Bragg to have brought … a whole lotta ho-hum.  (I know, I know; Al Capone.  Even so ….)  Whether this indictment ultimately helps Mr. Trump politically – more on that below — remains to be seen.

Since former WI Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in 2010, I have had a lot of surprises in politics; but rarely have I been stunned.  I was stunned by Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory; and I was stunned by the margin of Judge Janet Protasiewicz’ victory over former WI S. Ct. Justice Daniel Kelly for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court — 11 points – in such a closely divided and deeply polarized state.  Ms. Protasiewicz had campaigned primarily on women’s abortion rights and her concerns with Wisconsin’s despicably gerrymandered legislative districts.  We learned the day after the election that a close woman friend who is fairly apolitical, and who had truly significant personal issues literally coming to a head on election day, nonetheless made the time to vote for Ms. Protasiewicz because of the abortion issue.  It would appear that former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has again been proven too smart by half; if he had either allowed U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court or chosen not to proceed with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, there would not have been five U.S. Supreme Court votes to overturn Roe v. Wade (recall that conservative Chief Justice John Roberts adopted a more limited rationale that would have upheld Roe).  From Republicans’ perspective, the political milk is now spilt; they are seemingly stuck on the wrong side of an emotive, galvanizing issue that appears likely to be the political gift that keeps on giving for Democrats for years.

That said:  into every life, a little rain must fall (at least for us Irish 😉 ).  As Judge Protasiewicz was winning her Supreme Court seat, Republican state Rep. Dan Knodl won a WI state Senate seat to create a Republican supermajority bloc that now has the votes to remove WI Gov. Tony Evers and other Wisconsin office holders – including judges – from office if the Wisconsin Assembly chooses to impeach them.  (As in the federal system, impeachment charges need only receive a simple majority in the lower house Assembly – now controlled by Republicans – to be referred to the state’s Senate.)  This is not comforting; Mr. Knodl was among state lawmakers who signed a letter in 2020 calling for Vice President Mike Pence to reject the certification of the 2020 presidential election.  Even so, do I think that the Republican Wisconsin legislature will seek to remove Mr. Evers from office?  I may be too optimistic, and stand ready to be corrected (some who read these notes have forgotten more about the innards of Wisconsin state politics than I’ll ever know), but I actually don’t believe that Wisconsin Republicans – despite what (or perhaps because of) what recently happened in Tennessee – will undertake such an effort; such would too closely smack of a Republican Wisconsin state coup d’etat, and could be predicted to incite too fierce a political backlash.  Do I think that the Republican legislature will seek to impeach liberal WI Supreme Court Justices if they seem likely to rule that women have abortion rights under the Wisconsin Constitution?  Again, particularly given Ms. Protasiewicz’ margin of victory, I’m guessing that Wisconsin Republicans would consider the political repercussions of such an action for such a reason too great to risk.  On the other hand, do I think they’ll consider attempting to remove a liberal WI Supreme Court Justice on some trumped up (if you will 😉 ) charge if such is necessary to avoid having their perniciously gerrymandered legislative districting – the reason some of them have jobs — declared unconstitutional under the Wisconsin Constitution?  You bet.

Back to Mr. Trump’s indictment.  Two notions:

First, I was recently asked by someone aware of my legal background why New York Supreme Court (note:  in New York courts, the Supreme Court is actually the trial court) Justice Juan Merchan doesn’t find the former president in contempt and put him in jail for attacking the judge and his family after the Judge instructed Mr. Trump during his arraignment not to make remarks that could endanger others.  My view:  Justice Merchan confronts the horns of a dilemma.  I suspect that the former president may be goading the judge because in his warped view, Mr. Trump wins either way:  either he can significantly tarnish the credibility of the proceedings by consistently casting aspersions upon the judge and the judicial system, or he gets to play the persecuted martyr if Justice Merchan orders his incarceration for contempt of court.  Ultimately, I think Justice Merchan will have little choice but to jail Mr. Trump for contempt if he continues his outbursts; but I would imagine that he’ll wait a bit.  At least were I in his place, I would feel I needed to.  He just shouldn’t wait too long.

Finally, although Mr. Bragg’s charges against Mr. Trump may well ultimately amount to no more than two-pound walking weights when compared to the baggage he’s already carrying, the notion lingers that as Mr. Trump’s legal woes mount, it might be possible for a Republican moderate to run a bit to his left and surpass him for the nomination.  However, even if that happens, Judge Protasiewicz’ victory margin makes clear what a difficult juggling act any GOP presidential nominee will have with the abortion issue in the swing states in the general presidential election campaign.  If the Republican takes the position that s/he will appoint more judges like Mr. Trump did, it will mobilize those seeking to protect women’s abortion rights; if s/he waffles on the issue, s/he will lose the Evangelicals and other religious conservatives, without whom I will venture no Republican can win the presidency.  This issue even seems to help President Biden blunt the ageism issue facing him; in two years, when asked about his obviously advanced age, he can respond, “Justices Alito and Thomas are our oldest Supreme Court Justices.  If they leave the Court during the next four years, who do you want to have appointing their successors – [the Republican candidate] or me?”