Monday, December 10, 2018

I Don't Get It...

When the media leaves out a big chunk of a story, chances are, that is where the story is.

First, a disclaimer.  I am no fan of "President Trump" - I find him to be boorish and stupid, insulting and ugly - both physically and spiritually.   I don't support his policies, either.  I tend to vote Democratic, almost all the time, even when sometimes it is painful to do so.

But on the other hand, from a policy perspective, I don't see him as acting any differently that any other Republican.  He cuts taxes, loosens regulations, and engages in crony capitalism.   What did you expect from a Republican?  About the only thing that distinguishes him from traditional Republicans (in the modern sense) is his disregard of the deficit and his short-sighted foreign policy.   Those are the areas the Democrats could attack and pry loose some Republican votes.  Sadly, they are letting this opportunity slip by.

Instead, they are trying to cast Trump in moral terms - perhaps to pry loose some support from the Evangelicals.  Trump doesn't say the liturgy!  Trump has sex with porn stars!  Trump isn't really Christian!   These may be truthful statements, but in the realm of politics, irrelevant.

Like the Whitewater investigation before it, it seems the Russian collusion investigation is producing nothing that can be proven, other than that the President has sexual appetites.  Bill Clinton got a blowjob - big deal.   Even back in the 1990's, it was hard to get anyone to do other than feign outrage about this.  Today?  Trump isn't ashamed he banged a porn star - the guy who "grabs 'em by the pussy" has no real shame.

So what's the big deal?  The press reports that it is a foregone conclusion that any "hush money" payment made to a porn star is a de facto violation of campaign finance laws.   And this leaves me, a lawyer, scratching my head.  After all, Stormy Daniels didn't contribute to Trump's campaign, did she?  (or are blowjobs considered "payments in kind" these days?).  What exactly is the legal argument that this hush money payment was a violation of Campaign Finance Laws?

And like clockwork, the "experts" and the media sweep this under the rug and say, "Bobby, this is way above your head. You just don't get it, do you?"

And to quote Ron White, "I'm listening..."

As I noted before, whenever the media or someone tells only one side of a story, the odds are, the other side isn't very helpful to their cause.   And it took some digging (0.05 seconds, according to Google) but I found someone willing to come down from the mountain and explain this to us plebes.  And as it turns out, it isn't so much a "foregone conclusion" but what we call in the law, "a thin reed."

Funny thing is, I found the explanation in the Washington Post's opinion page, written by some slug who was a former chairman this-or-that of something called the Federal Election Commission.  What the heck does he know, anyway?  Maybe the reporters from the Post should read their own newspaper sometime!

He explains it better in his article than I can, so read the link.  The nub of this is, if you assume the payments to Stormy Daniels, et al, were for the purpose of advancing his campaign, then they should have been itemized and reported to the FEC, even if Trump used private funds.   This isn't exactly a cut-and-dried thing, to me.   The intent of the payment becomes key.  Was he trying to prevent Melania and his family from finding out? Or was he grooming his image as a candidate?  And how far does grooming go, in terms of reporting requirements?

And is this a capital crime after all?  Failing to itemize and report a personal contribution?  In this era of no-holds-barred Citizens United, it seems like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.

It wasn't like he was misusing campaign funds to pay hush money to porn stars.  He was using his private funds.   And paying off a porn star is a campaign expense?   I am not sure I get this.  Yes, ordering 100,000 "MAGA" hats is a campaign expense.  I am less sure about the porn stars.

As the author of the Post piece put it succinctly
But let’s go in that direction. Suppose Trump had used campaign funds to pay off these women. Does anyone much doubt that many of the same people now after Trump for using corporate funds, and not reporting them as campaign expenditures, would then be claiming that Trump had illegally diverted campaign funds to “personal use”? Or that federal prosecutors would not have sought a guilty plea from Cohen on that count? And that gets us to a troubling nub of campaign finance laws: Too often, you can get your target coming or going.
The press today is reporting this as though it were Watergate-levels of corruption.  In case you missed it, in Watergate, Nixon had a small army of evildoers break into offices - and not just in the Watergate Hotel - and perform "dirty tricks" to smear opponents and spy on them.   Nixon was nailed for trying to cover it up, which itself was illegal, but arguably not as bad as the underlying crime.

They couldn't nail anything to Clinton, although I still say that Hillary's commodities trading thing (where the attorney for Tyson's food guided her to make a quick hundred-grand in commodities trading, at which point she quit the game) was an actual bribe.   All they could nail Bill for was lying about his sex life, which shouldn't even be considered a crime.

And now we have this Trump thing.  We can't prove anything about Russia, although I am certain that Putin and his "Internet Research Agency" actively uses the gift of social media to influence politics all over the world.  From the 2016 election, to Brexit, to Catalonian independence, to "yellow vest" protests, the Russians are there - nudging and suggesting to people that things are actually worse than they are.   But that is just how countries act.  We do - or did - the same thing back in the day.   We would use CIA agents to influence people in foreign countries to act in a certain way - and if that didn't work, we'd stage a coup.

We created this "social media" thing and it was a gift that fell into Putin's lap. Today, you can influence public opinion in a foreign country without having set foot there.  People are idiots, and people who think Fecesbook is great are the biggest idiots of all.  Just post something about Hillary being corrupt or whatever, and 5 million people will "like" it and forward it, without bothering to check it out.   After all, it is on Facebook, it must be true, right?

My gut reaction is that the Trump campaign tried to collude with Russia, but their awkward attempts at being big-time criminals were laughed at by Putin and his cronies.  "We've got this," they said, "go back to your rallies and half-assed campaigning.  We'll get you elected without having to coordinate with you at all!"   And they did.

Maybe this investigation will turn up a "smoking gun" after all.  But so far, it seems that the media is overstating things just a little bit.  They have been going orgasmic about this for a year now, telling us that "any day now" the Mueller report will come out and the shit will hit the fan.

The problem is, we've been waiting a long time, so far with nothing to show other than a lot of petty criminals have been nabbed in other schemes.   The vaunted "collusion" has yet to be proven, and the only "smoking gun" they've found is a smoking-hot porn star.

Maybe - just maybe - the Democrats need to come up with better candidates if they want to win elections.  And no, this doesn't mean "Beto" either.  Or Stormy Daniels' lawyer (what was he thinking?).   We need better candidates and better issues.  And if you want an issue, maybe this deficit spending thing is a good place to start.   It is something that resonates with everyone, as it affects all of our finances.   And it cuts across party lines as well.

Nah!  The rights of transgender school children to use the restroom - that's a winning issue!

UPDATE :  Two additional points. The Washington Post points out that John Edwards was prosecuted for very similar violation of Campaign Finance laws. He paid off his mistress in order to prevent disclosure of their affair prior to the election.

Even though John Edwards is a pretty odious scumbag - but not quite at the level of Donald Trump -   A jury acquitted him on one charge and was deadlocked on the remaining. He was not retried. I'm not certain this is overwhelming evidence that election laws were meant to be applied in this manner.

In other news, a teacher in Virginia was fired from his job for referring to a transgender student by the wrong pronoun - not directly to the student but rather when talking to other students. It doesn't appear to have been an intentional thing, but when the issue was brought up the teacher decided to make an issue of it over religious grounds, no doubt egged on by conservatives in order to make a test case out of this.

The school principal opined that he "could not think of any worse way to treat a student." Myself, coming from an era in which students were beaten and paddled by teachers, I can quickly think of other ways. I am not sure where the outrage is over all of this is. And I think if you want to change genders or whatever, you can certainly wait till age 18, and make sure this is a real commitment and not just a phase or a fad.

Why the left has chosen this is their emblematic issue is beyond me. This is going to backfire in a huge way. Middle America isn't going to see this as a burning issue in the next election.