Iran hawks never talk about diplomacy except as a way to discredit it.
"... And even if Iran were to accept and proceed comply in good faith, just as Iran complied scrupulously with the JCPOA, what's to prevent any US administration from tearing up that "new deal" and demanding more? ..."
Larison Two Iran hawks from the Senate, Bob Menendez and Lindse Graham, are
proposing a "new deal" that is guaranteed to be a non-starter with Iran:
Essentially, their idea is that the United States would offer a new nuclear deal to both
Iran and the gulf states at the same time. The first part would be an agreement to ensure
that Iran and the gulf states have access to nuclear fuel for civilian energy purposes,
guaranteed by the international community in perpetuity. In exchange, both Iran and the gulf
states would swear off nuclear fuel enrichment inside their own countries forever.
Iran is never going to accept any agreement that requires them to give up domestic
enrichment. As far as they are concerned, they are entitled to this under the Non-Proliferation
Treaty, and they regard it as a matter of their national rights that they keep it. Insisting on
"zero enrichment" is what made it impossible to reach an agreement with Iran for the better
part of a decade, and it was only when the Obama administration understood this and compromised
to allow Iran to enrich under tight restrictions that the negotiations could move forward.
Demanding "zero enrichment" today in 2020 amounts to rejecting that compromise and returning to
a bankrupt approach that drove Iran to build tens of thousands of centrifuges. As a proposal
for negotiations, it is dead on arrival, and Menendez and Graham must know that. Iran hawks
never talk about diplomacy except as a way to discredit it. They want to make a bogus offer in
the hopes that it will be rejected so that they can use the rejection to justify more
The identity of the authors of the plan is a giveaway that the offer is not a serious
diplomatic proposal. Graham is one of the most incorrigible hard-liners on Iran, and Menendez
is probably the most hawkish Democratic senator in office today. Among other things, Menendez
has been a
booster of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), the deranged cult of Iranian exiles
that has been buying the support of American politicians and officials for years. Graham has
never seen a diplomatic agreement that he didn't want to destroy. When hard-liners talk about
making a "deal," they always mean that they want to demand the other side's surrender.
Another giveaway that this is not a serious proposal is the fact that they want this
imaginary agreement submitted as a treaty:
That final deal would be designated as a treaty, ratified by the U.S. Senate, to give Iran
confidence that a new president won't just pull out (like President Trump did on President
Barack Obama's nuclear deal).
This is silly for many reasons. The Senate doesn't ratify treaties nowadays, so any "new
deal" submitted as a treaty would never be ratified. As the current president has shown, it
doesn't matter if a treaty has been ratified by the Senate. Presidents can and do withdraw from
ratified treaties if they want to, and the fact that it is a ratified treaty doesn't prevent
them from doing this. Bush pulled out of the ABM Treaty, which was ratified
88-2 in 1972. Trump withdrew from the INF Treaty just last year. The INF Treaty had been
ratified with a
93-5 vote. The hawkish complaint that the JCPOA wasn't submitted as a treaty was, as usual,
made in bad faith. There was no chance that the JCPOA would have been ratified, and even if it
had been that ratification would not have protected it from being tossed aside by Trump.
Insisting on making any new agreement a treaty is just another way of announcing that they have
no interest in a diplomatic solution.
Menendez and Graham want to make the obstacles to diplomacy so great that negotiations
between the U.S. and Iran can't resume. It isn't a serious proposal, and it shouldn't be taken
And even if Iran were to accept and proceed comply in good faith, just as Iran complied
scrupulously with the JCPOA, what's to prevent any US administration from tearing up that
"new deal" and demanding more?
Hell is empty and all the devils are here. ~William Shakespeare
"... Scum versus scum. That sums up this election season. Is it any wonder that 100 million Americans don't bother to vote? When all you are offered is Bob One or Bob Two, why bother? ..."
"... One-fourth of Democratic challengers in competitive House districts in this week's elections have backgrounds in the CIA, the military, the National Security Council or the State Department. Nearly all candidates on the ballots in House races are corporate-sponsored, with a few lonely exceptions such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, members of the Democratic Socialists of America who are running as Democrats. ..."
"... "In interviews with two dozen Wall Street executives, fund-raisers, donors and those who raise money from them, Democrats described an extraordinary level of investment and excitement from the finance sector ," The New York Times reported about current campaign contributions to the Democrats from the corporate oligarchs. ..."
There is perhaps no better illustration of the deep decay of the American political system than the Senate race in New Jersey.
Sen. Bob Menendez, running for re-election, was censured by the Senate Ethics Committee for accepting bribes from the Florida businessman
Salomon Melgen, who was convicted in 2017 of defrauding Medicare of $73 million. The senator had flown to the Dominican Republic
with Melgen on the physician's private jet and stayed in his private villa, where the men cavorted with young Dominican women who
allegedly were prostitutes. Menendez performed numerous political favors for Melgen, including helping some of the Dominican women
acquire visas to the United States. Menendez was indicted in a federal corruption trial but escaped sentencing because of a hung
Menendez has a voting record as sordid as most Democrats'. He supported the $716 billion military spending bill, along with 85
percent of his fellow Senate Democrats. He signed
a letter , along with other Democratic leaders, calling for steps to extradite
Julian Assange to
stand trial in the United States. The senator, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, is owned by the lobby for Israel
-- a country that routinely and massively interferes in our elections -- and supported moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. He helped
cause the 2008 global financial crisis by voting to revoke
, the Depression-era law enacted to create a firewall between commercial and investment banks.
His Republican rival in the Senate race that will be decided Tuesday is
Bob Hugin , whose reported net worth is at least $84 million. With Hugin as its CEO, the pharmaceutical firm Celgene made $200
million by conspiring to keep generic cancer drugs off the market, according to its critics. Celgene, a model of everything that
is wrong with our for-profit health care system, paid $280 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a whistleblower who accused the firm
of improperly marketing two drugs to treat several forms of cancer without getting Federal Drug Administration approval, thereby
defrauding Medicare. Celgene, over seven years, also doubled the price of
the cancer drug Revlimid to some $20,000
for a supply of 28 pills.
The Senate campaign in New Jersey has seen no discussion of substantive issues. It is dominated by both candidates' nonstop personal
attacks and negative ads, part of the typical burlesque of American politics.
Scum versus scum. That sums up this election season. Is it any wonder that 100 million Americans don't bother to vote? When all
you are offered is Bob One or Bob Two, why bother?
One-fourth of Democratic challengers in competitive
House districts in this week's elections have backgrounds in the CIA, the military, the National Security Council or the State Department.
Nearly all candidates on the ballots in House races are corporate-sponsored, with a few lonely exceptions such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
and Rashida Tlaib, members of the Democratic Socialists of America who are running as Democrats.
The securities and finance industry
has backed Democratic congressional candidates 63 percent to 37 percent over Republicans, according to data collected by the
Center for Responsive Politics . Democratic candidates and political action committees have received $56.8 million, compared
with Republicans' $33.4 million, the center reported. The broader sector of finance, insurance and real estate, it found, has given
$174 million to Democratic candidates, against $157 million to Republicans. And
, weighing his own presidential run, has pledged $100 million to elect a Democratic Congress.
"In interviews with two dozen Wall Street executives, fund-raisers, donors and those who raise money from them, Democrats described
an extraordinary level of investment and excitement from the finance sector ," The New York Times reported about current campaign
contributions to the Democrats from the corporate oligarchs.
Our system of legalized bribery is an equal-opportunity employer.
Of course, we are all supposed to vote Democratic to halt the tide of Trump fascism. But should the Democrats take control of
the House of Representatives, hate speech and violence as a tool for intimidation and control will increase, with much of it directed,
as we saw with the pipe bombs intended to decapitate the Democratic Party leadership, toward prominent Democratic politicians and
critics of Donald Trump. Should the white man's party of the president retain control of the House and the Senate, violence will
still be the favored instrument of political control as the last of democratic protections are stripped from us. Either way we are
in for it.
Trump is a clownish and embarrassing tool of the kleptocrats. His faux populism is a sham. Only the rich like his tax cuts, his
refusal to raise the minimum wage and his effort to destroy Obamacare. All he has left is hate. And he will use it. Which is not
to say that, if only to throw up some obstacle to Trump, you shouldn't vote for the Democratic scum, tools of the war industry and
the pharmaceutical and insurance industry, Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry, as opposed to the Republican scum. But Democratic
control of the House will do very little to halt our descent into corporate tyranny, especially with another economic crisis brewing
on Wall Street. The rot inside the American political system is deep and terminal.
The Democrats, who refuse to address the social inequality they helped orchestrate and that has given rise to Trump, are the party
of racial and ethnic inclusivity, identity politics, Wall Street and the military. Their core battle cry is: We are not Trump!
This is ultimately a losing formula. It was adopted by Hillary Clinton, who is apparently weighing another run for the presidency
after we thought we had thrust a stake through her political heart. It is the agenda of the well-heeled East Coast and West Coast
elites who want to instill corporate fascism with a friendly face.
"... Friday morning, in response to Murphy offering praise to Menendez, Hugin released a statement saying, "If Bob Menendez were a Republican, and had been indicted for bribery and found to have violated federal law by the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee, would Governor Murphy be singing the same tune? Of course not." ..."
"... Adele Malpass is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She was formerly chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party and money politics reporter for CNBC. ..."
The New Jersey Senate race was supposed to be a done deal with incumbent Bob Menendez easily cruising to
re-election. It's rated solid or likely to remain Democratic by most election watchers, and the Democrats were
certainly putting it in their win column as they mapped out plans to retake the Senate.
But someone forgot to tell New Jersey voters that this race was uncompetitive.
show it to be tight -- Menendez simply has not shaken Republican challenger Bob Hugin in a state Hillary Clinton
carried by 14 points over Donald Trump two years ago.
Part of the reason seems to be that despite his acquittal in court on federal corruption charges, Menendez has not
escaped the taint that came with his 2015 trial. Another is that Hugin, the wealthy former CEO of a biopharmaceutical
company, had already spent nearly $16 million in the race. Throw into this mix a state with the worst affordability
index in the country and an expected increase in the gasoline tax on Oct. 1 -- on top of significant increases in
state taxes enacted this spring. It seems a combustible mix in which an attractive and well-funded outsider with a
sterling resume can give the political establishment heartburn.
Meanwhile, Menendez has a lot of baggage to defend. In 2015, he was indicted on federal corruption charges pursued
by his fellow Democrats -- the first U.S. senator to be indicted by the administration of his own party in 30 years.
He was accused of doing favors for Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, who is now serving 17 years in prison for
Medicare fraud. Prosecutors presented evidence of 19 free private plane trips and campaign donations, which they
asserted came in exchange for political favors. According to prosecutors, one such trip to the Dominican Republic
supposedly involved underage prostitutes. Menendez strongly denied those allegations, but in the #MeToo era, any
lingering suspicion is unhelpful for a politician. And though he was not found guilty by the jury, Menendez was
rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee.
While he may have survived his legal battles, New Jersey voters have apparently not forgotten. In a June primary,
an unknown Democratic opponent who raised less than $5,000 got 38 percent of the vote against Menendez. That
challenger, Lisa McCormick, didn't have enough money to run ads reminding the electorate of Menendez's legal
troubles. But Bob Hugin did. Hugin's campaign began running hard-hitting television spots against the incumbent in
February. Menendez was pounded by ads titled "Guilty," "Screwed" and "Dead Last." By July, Menendez was leading Hugin
by two percentage points, and in an August poll he was up by only six.
The damage had been done. In an August Quinnipiac poll, only 29 percent of the voters had a favorable opinion of
Menendez and 49 percent of the voters believed he was involved with serious wrongdoing, compared to 16 percent who
did not. While Menendez only spent $800,000 through June, he's now playing catch-up and recently started both
positive and negative television ads.
The economic climate in New Jersey is not necessarily conducive to incumbents. Since 2015, the Tax Foundation has
rated New Jersey as having the worst tax climate for business and the highest property taxes in the country. For some
homeowners in the state, it's possible to pay 15 percent of their income toward property taxes. This spring,
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy raised corporate and personal income taxes amid the already high tax environment. "The
affordability crisis in our state continues to get worse," said Hugin. "We're losing millennials at the highest rate
in the nation and Trenton politicians just made things worse by raising taxes another $1.6 billion."
Friday morning, in response to Murphy offering praise to Menendez, Hugin released a statement saying, "If Bob
Menendez were a Republican, and had been indicted for bribery and found to have violated federal law by the
bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee, would Governor Murphy be singing the same tune? Of course not."
Though Hugin allowed that the governor is "by all accounts a good man," he added that "[h]is loyalty to his
party over his principles when it comes to Senator Menendez is embarrassing. Sadly, it's a testament to how toxic and
divided our politics are today."
As the polls have started to look positive for the challenger, he's been able to capitalize on this environment by
getting endorsements from four local Democratic officials. In 2015, the New Jersey Star-Ledger, the largest paper in
the state, called for Menendez to resign amid the corruption charges, even though the paper had endorsed him in the
past. "Menendez is hurting other down-ballot candidates, especially in competitive congressional races," said Hugin's
spokesman, Nick Iacovella.
With Donald Trump's approval rating in the mid-30s in New Jersey, Menendez has made criticizing the president his
top priority and accuses Hugin of being a Trump Republican. In a state where Democrats out-register Republicans,
Menendez is hoping that an anti-Trump sentiment and a large Democratic turnout will still lead him to victory. Hugin,
however, is hardly a Trump clone. A Princeton grad who earned a master's degree in business at the University of
Virginia, he has supported the president's tax cuts and most economic policies. But he's also described himself as
pro-choice on abortion, favors a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and has opposed the administration's
policy of separating families at the border.
In a session with the media in late spring, Hugin complained that the administration's plans to cut Hurricane
Sandy relief were "ridiculous."
"I think my philosophy is very clear: New Jersey first,"
he said that day
. "I support President Trump in every way when he does something that's good for New Jersey. And
I'll fight anybody who's not doing good things for New Jersey."
Adele Malpass is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She was formerly chairwoman of the
Manhattan Republican Party and money politics reporter for CNBC.
During a hearing last
week, Judge William Walls seemed to signal that argument was dead on arrival by citing a recent Supreme Court ruling
that has vexed public-corruption investigators across the country. "I frankly don't think
that," Walls told prosecutors, referring to the decision in
McDonnell v. United States
changed the standard for bribery.
Walls eventually decided to let the case proceed, declining to throw out most of Menendez's charges. But the close
call underscores the continuing fallout from
last year. That ruling, like a series of others from the
Court in recent years, recast actions once eschewed in politics as reasonable behavior for elected officials. The
justices have portrayed these rulings as necessary on First Amendment grounds. But the long-term effects could imperil
the public's faith in democratic institutions.
"There's a way in which
a lot of the Supreme Court decisions have been ever narrowing what corruption means," Tara Malloy, a staff lawyer at the
Campaign Legal Center, told me. "And
is one further example of it."
The case narrowed what could be defined as an "official act" under federal corruption statutes -- the quo of a quid pro
quo, so to speak. Since
, it only applies to direct exercises of a government official's power, like
voting for legislation or signing an order. More seemingly mundane activities, like urging other officials to intervene
in someone's favor or setting up meetings for donors, do not qualify.
Before the decision, federal prosecutors brought cases against Democrats and Republicans alike by arguing that
"official act" applied to all sorts of actions taken by public officials. Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a
Republican, was convicted in 2015 after taking more than $175,000 in luxury gifts, personal loans, and more from Johnnie
Williams, a Virginia businessman who received favors from the governor. On appeal, McDonnell argued his actions were
part of being an elected official and fell beyond what federal bribery laws could prohibit.
The Supreme Court agreed. Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the Court's opinion, appeared to anticipate a public
backlash. "There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that," he wrote. "But our concern is
not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the
government's boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute." All eight justices sided with McDonnell, with the
ninth seat vacant after Antonin Scalia's death in February.
"The concern of the Court was that the prosecution not define 'official act' -- which is what the statute there
required -- too broadly," Malloy said. "They thought that 'official act,' according to the prosecution, was basically
anything a public official did by reason of their position or through the resources of their position. And the Court
said, 'No, no, no.'"
At the same time, Roberts also took an exceedingly generous view of McDonnell's activities. Where the Justice
Department saw an elected official providing special perks for a lucrative donor, the chief justice saw the risk that
"conscientious public officials" could be hauled in by prosecutorial zealots. "Officials might wonder whether they could
respond to even the most commonplace requests for assistance, and citizens with legitimate concerns might shrink from
participating in democratic discourse," he mused, as if to suggest judges and juries would not be able to tell the
Randall Eliason, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor, described
to me as "a lawyerly opinion in the worst sense of the word." By focusing on just one aspect of the statutory definition
of "official act," he said, the Court missed the broader issues with the relationship between McDonnell and an
influential donor who showered him, and his wife, with lavish gifts. He offered a jarring hypothetical that illustrates
how officials could leverage their power in a post-
Currently, I could set up a system where I'm a governor and I tell everybody who might want to meet with someone
in my cabinet to make a pitch, or try to get a contract, or advocate for some program. I could say, "Okay, I'll set
up a meeting for you. The cost is $10,000." And that just goes in my pocket. That's not a campaign contribution; it's
not going to be reported to the public anywhere. That's just going to be a gift for me, and I'll set up the meeting.
I'm not going to tell anybody what to do, I'm not going to tell them what to decide, I'll just get you in the room.
And if you don't pay me, no meeting.
Eliason and other legal observers had thought McDonnell could prevail in his appeal, but the scale of the ruling came
as a surprise. "I mean, access is valuable, right?" Eliason told me. "And you can just pay for access as long as the
official doesn't actually agree to decide something for you, but can get you in the room with the other movers and
shakers who are going to do it. Now that's not considered corruption."
Three months after the ruling, the Justice Department abandoned its efforts to prosecute McDonnell and his wife.
"After carefully considering the Supreme Court's recent decision and the principles of federal prosecution, we have made
the decision not to pursue the case further," it said in a terse press release. McDonnell celebrated the outcome,
telling reporters his "wrongful" conviction was "based on a false narrative and incorrect law."
If it hasn't already,
could affect how prosecutors build corruption cases and limit the range of
behaviors for which they'll pursue charges. Those watching the Menendez case in New Jersey could be even more motivated
to do so. But Malloy also warned that
fits into a broader pattern of how the Roberts Court approaches
corruption in politics, and what it could do in future cases.
"We're not simply talking about these criminal prosecutions. We're talking about the full range of laws that attempt
to protect the integrity of government," she said, citing statutes on ethics, political transparency, and campaign
finance the justices have taken a narrower view of. Malloy attributed the shift to the departure of Sandra Day O'Connor
"Once upon a time, for instance, a campaign-finance law could be justified if there was a concern that money could
provide influence or access to officials," she explained. "The Supreme Court in recent years has said, 'No, no, no, we
don't really care if your campaign contribution gets you access or ingratiation or a whole bunch of favors. We think
corruption is much more like quid pro quo and maybe even just cash for votes.'"
In the 2003 case
McConnell v. FEC
, for example, O'Connor voted with the majority to uphold most of the
McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law. Seven years later, a five-justice majority -- including Samuel Alito,
O'Connor's replacement -- overturned
Citizens United v. FEC
to allow unlimited independent
expenditures in political campaigns. And in 2014, the Court struck down aggregate limits on campaign donations in
McCutcheon v. FEC
Following the justices' decision last year,
's impact quickly reverberated through other
public-corruption cases, including two high-profile prosecutions in New York. In July, a three-judge panel in the Second
Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out the conviction of Sheldon Silver, once the powerful state-assembly speaker. The
judges ruled that the jury instructions had conformed to the pre-
standard of "official acts"
and couldn't be reconciled with the Supreme Court's ruling. Three months later, in September, the Second Circuit
also overturned the conviction of Dean Skelos, the state senate's former majority leader, on similar grounds.
Silver had been convicted of extortion, fraud, and money laundering in 2015. Prosecutors said he
state funds to a Columbia University cancer researcher in exchange for millions of dollars; they also
connected him to favorable-treatment deals for two real-estate development firms. Skelos was found guilty of eight
corruption-related charges the same year for allegedly
using his influence
to secure jobs and payments for his son. Federal prosecutors plan to seek retrials for both
Silver and Skelos, who were known as power brokers in the state.
came down as federal prosecutors were preparing to go to trial against Menendez, a senator since 2006. At the crux of
the case is his friendship with Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida ophthalmologist and frequent campaign donor.
Prosecutors have depicted Menendez as a
personal legislator of sorts
to Melgen. He allegedly used his political influence to help obtain visas for Melgen's
girlfriends, secure contracts for him in the Dominican Republic, and intervene in a
Medicare billing dispute
with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Menendez has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyers argue the favors don't rise to the newly heightened standard of
official acts. Federal prosecutors, for their part, argue that the stream of benefits that flowed from Melgen to
Menendez meet the threshold under federal law without linking specific quids to specific quos. Even though Walls
declined to dismiss the charges against the lawmaker, he could still dismiss some of them later in the trial if the
prosecution fails to present enough evidence. And like McDonnell himself, Menendez could also challenge any convictions
under the stream-of-benefits theory on appeal.
Behind these legal doctrines and prosecutorial theories are questions about the popular legitimacy of the republican
system -- about voters being able to trust that the officials they elect aren't the puppets of the country's richest
and other recent public-corruption rulings risk are institutions where cash and favors
flow freely, where consequences are exceptional, and where public vice is made indistinguishable from civic virtue. No
Americans expect a government of saints, but they expect their government to be able to root out the sinners in its
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"... "Let us linger over the perversity," he writes in "Why Millions of Ordinary Americans Support Donald Trump," one of the seventeen component essays in Rendezvous with Oblivion : "Let us linger over the perversity. Left parties the world over were founded to advance the fortunes of working people. But our left party in America -- one of our two monopoly parties -- chose long ago to turn its back on these people's concerns, making itself instead into the tribune of the enlightened professional class, a 'creative class' that makes innovative things like derivative securities and smartphone apps ..."
"... And the real bad news is not that this Creative Class, this Expert Class, this Meritocratic Class, this Professional Class -- this Liberal Class, with all its techno-ecstasy and virtue-questing and unleashing of innovation -- is so deeply narcissistic and hypocritical, but rather that it is so self-interestedly parasitical and predatory. ..."
Thomas Frank's new collection of essays: Rendezvous with Oblivion: Reports from a
Sinking Society (Metropolitan Books 2018) and Listen, Liberal; or,Whatever
Happened to the Party of the People? (ibid. 2016)
To hang out with Thomas Frank for a couple of hours is to be reminded that, going back to
1607, say, or to 1620, for a period of about three hundred and fifty years, the most archetypal
of American characters was, arguably, the hard-working, earnest, self-controlled, dependable
white Protestant guy, last presented without irony a generation or two -- or three -- ago in
the television personas of men like Ward Cleaver and Mister Rogers.
Thomas Frank, who grew up in Kansas and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, who
at age 53 has the vibe of a happy eager college nerd, not only glows with authentic Midwestern
Nice (and sometimes his face turns red when he laughs, which is often), he actually lives in
suburbia, just outside of D.C., in Bethesda, where, he told me, he takes pleasure in mowing the
lawn and doing some auto repair and fixing dinner for his wife and two children. (Until I met
him, I had always assumed it was impossible for a serious intellectual to live in suburbia and
stay sane, but Thomas Frank has proven me quite wrong on this.)
Frank is sincerely worried about the possibility of offending friends and acquaintances by
the topics he chooses to write about. He told me that he was a B oy Scout back in Kansas, but
didn't make Eagle. He told me that he was perhaps a little too harsh on Hillary Clinton in his
brilliantly perspicacious "Liberal Gilt [ sic ]" chapter at the end of Listen,
Liberal . His piercing insight into and fascination with the moral rot and the hypocrisy
that lies in the American soul brings, well, Nathaniel Hawthorne to mind, yet he refuses to say
anything (and I tried so hard to bait him!) mean about anyone, no matter how culpable he or she
is in the ongoing dissolving and crumbling and sinking -- all his
metaphors -- of our society. And with such metaphors Frank describes the "one essential story"
he is telling in Rendezvous with Oblivion : "This is what a society looks like when the
glue that holds it together starts to dissolve. This is the way ordinary citizens react when
they learn that the structure beneath them is crumbling. And this is the thrill that pulses
through the veins of the well-to-do when they discover that there is no longer any limit on
their power to accumulate" ( Thomas Frank in NYC on book tour https://youtu.be/DBNthCKtc1Y ).
And I believe that Frank's self-restraint, his refusal to indulge in bitter satire even as
he parses our every national lie, makes him unique as social critic. "You will notice," he
writes in the introduction to Rendezvous with Oblivion, "that I describe [these
disasters] with a certain amount of levity. I do that because that's the only way to confront
the issues of our time without sinking into debilitating gloom" (p. 8). And so rather than
succumbing to an existential nausea, Frank descends into the abyss with a dependable flashlight
and a ca. 1956 sitcom-dad chuckle.
"Let us linger over the perversity," he writes in "Why Millions of Ordinary Americans
Support Donald Trump," one of the seventeen component essays in Rendezvous with Oblivion
: "Let us linger over the perversity. Left parties the world over were founded to advance the
fortunes of working people. But our left party in America -- one of our two monopoly parties --
chose long ago to turn its back on these people's concerns, making itself instead into the
tribune of the enlightened professional class, a 'creative class' that makes innovative things
like derivative securities and smartphone apps " (p. 178).
And it is his analysis of this "Creative Class" -- he usually refers to it as the "Liberal
Class" and sometimes as the "Meritocratic Class" in Listen, Liberal (while Barbara
Ehrenreich uses the term " Professional Managerial Class ,"and Matthew Stewart recently
published an article entitled "The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy" in the
Atlantic ) -- that makes it clear that Frank's work is a continuation of the profound
sociological critique that goes back to Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class
(1899) and, more recently, to Christopher Lasch's The Revolt of the Elites (1994).
Unlike Veblen and Lasch, however, Frank is able to deliver the harshest news without any
hauteur or irascibility, but rather with a deftness and tranquillity of mind, for he is both in
and of the Creative Class; he abides among those afflicted by the epidemic which he diagnoses:
"Today we live in a world of predatory bankers, predatory educators, even predatory health care
providers, all of them out for themselves . Liberalism itself has changed to accommodate its
new constituents' technocratic views. Today, liberalism is the philosophy not of the sons of
toil but of the 'knowledge economy' and, specifically, of the knowledge economy's winners: the
Silicon Valley chieftains, the big university systems, and the Wall Street titans who gave so
much to Barack Obama's 2008 campaign . They are a 'learning class' that truly gets the power of
education. They are a 'creative class' that naturally rebels against fakeness and conformity.
They are an ' innovation class ' that just can't stop coming up with awesome new stuff" (
Listen, Liberal , pp. 27-29).
And the real bad news is not that this Creative Class, this Expert Class, this
Meritocratic Class, this Professional Class -- this Liberal Class, with all its
techno-ecstasy and virtue-questing and unleashing of innovation -- is so deeply narcissistic
and hypocritical, but rather that it is so self-interestedly parasitical and
The class that now runs the so-called Party of the People is impoverishing the people; the
genius value-creators at Amazon and Google and Uber are Robber Barons, although, one must
grant, hipper, cooler, and oh so much more innovative than their historical predecessors. "In
reality," Frank writes in Listen, Liberal ,
.there is little new about this stuff except the software, the convenience, and the
spying. Each of the innovations I have mentioned merely updates or digitizes some business
strategy that Americans learned long ago to be wary of. Amazon updates the practices of
Wal-Mart, for example, while Google has dusted off corporate behavior from the days of the
Robber Barons. What Uber does has been compared to the every-man-for-himself hiring
procedures of the pre-union shipping docks . Together, as Robert Reich has written, all these
developments are 'the logical culmination of a process that began thirty years ago when
corporations began turning over full-time jobs to temporary workers, independent contractors,
free-lancers, and consultants.' This is atavism, not innovation . And if we keep going in
this direction, it will one day reduce all of us to day laborers, standing around like the
guys outside the local hardware store, hoping for work. (p. 215).
And who gets this message? The YouTube patriot/comedian Jimmy Dore, Chicago-born,
ex-Catholic, son of a cop, does for one. "If you read this b ook, " Dore said while
interviewing Frank back in January of 2017, "it'll make y ou a radical" (Frank Interview Part 4
But to what extent, on the other hand, is Frank being actively excluded from our elite media
outlets? He's certainly not on TV or radio or in print as much as he used to be. So is he a
prophet without honor in his own country? Frank, of course, is too self-restrained to speculate
about the motives of these Creative Class decision-makers and influencers. "But it is ironic
and worth mentioning," he told me, "that most of my writing for the last few years has been in
a British publication, The Guardian and (in translation) in Le Monde Diplomatique
. The way to put it, I think, is to describe me as an ex-pundit."
Frank was, nevertheless, happy to tell me in vivid detail about how his most fundamental
observation about America, viz. that the Party of the People has become hostile to the
people , was for years effectively discredited in the Creative Class media -- among the
bien-pensants , that is -- and about what he learned from their denialism.
JS: Going all the way back to your 2004 book What's the Matter with Kansas? -- I
just looked at Larry Bartels's attack on it, "What's the Matter with What's the Matter with
Kansas?" -- and I saw that his first objection to your book was, Well, Thomas Frank says the
working class is alienated from the Democrats, but I have the math to show that that's false.
How out of touch does that sound now?
TCF: [laughs merrily] I know.
JS: I remember at the time that was considered a serious objection to your
TCF: Yeah. Well, he was a professor at Princeton. And he had numbers. So it looked
real. And I actually wrote a response to
that in which I pointed out that there were other statistical ways of looking at it, and he
had chosen the one that makes his point.
JS: Well, what did Mark Twain say?
TCF: Mark Twain?
JS: There are lies, damned lies --
TCF: [laughs merrily] -- and statistics! Yeah. Well, anyhow, Bartels's take became
the common sense of the highly educated -- there needs to be a term for these people by the
way, in France they're called the bien-pensants -- the "right-thinking," the people who
read The Atlantic, The New York Times op-ed page, The Washington Post op-ed page,
and who all agree with each other on everything -- there's this tight little circle of
unanimity. And they all agreed that Bartels was right about that, and that was a costly
mistake. For example, Paul Krugman, a guy whom I admire in a lot of ways, he referenced this
four or five times.
He agreed with it . No, the Democrats are not losing the white working class outside the
South -- they were not going over to the Republicans. The suggestion was that there is
nothing to worry about. Yes. And there were people saying this right up to the 2016
election. But it was a mistake.
JS: I remember being perplexed at the time. I had thought you had written this brilliant
book, and you weren't being taken seriously -- because somebody at Princeton had run some
software -- as if that had proven you wrong.
TCF: Yeah, that's correct . That was a very widespread take on it. And Bartels was
incorrect, and I am right, and [laughs merrily] that's that.
JS: So do you think Russiagate is a way of saying, Oh no no no no, Hillary didn't really
TCF: Well, she did win the popular vote -- but there's a whole set of pathologies out
there right now that all stem from Hillary Denialism. And I don't want to say that Russiagate
is one of them, because we don't know the answer to that yet.
JS: Um, ok.
TCF: Well, there are all kinds of questionable reactions to 2016 out there, and what
they all have in common is the faith that Democrats did nothing wrong. For example, this same
circle of the bien-pensants have decided that the only acceptable explanation for
Trump's victory is the racism of his supporters. Racism can be the only explanation for the
behavior of Trump voters. But that just seems odd to me because, while it's true of course that
there's lots of racism in this country, and while Trump is clearly a bigot and clearly won the
bigot vote, racism is just one of several factors that went into what happened in 2016. Those
who focus on this as the only possible answer are implying that all Trump voters are
irredeemable, lost forever.
And it comes back to the same point that was made by all those people who denied what was
happening with the white working class, which is: The Democratic Party needs to do nothing
differently . All the post-election arguments come back to this same point. So a couple
years ago they were saying about the white working class -- we don't have to worry about them
-- they're not leaving the Democratic Party, they're totally loyal, especially in the northern
states, or whatever the hell it was. And now they say, well, Those people are racists, and
therefore they're lost to us forever. What is the common theme of these two arguments? It's
always that there's nothing the Democratic Party needs to do differently. First, you haven't
lost them; now you have lost them and they're irretrievable: Either way -- you see what I'm
getting at? -- you don't have to do anything differently to win them.
JS: Yes, I do.
TCF: The argument in What's the Matter with Kansas? was that this is a
long-term process, the movement of the white working class away from the Democratic Party. This
has been going on for a long time. It begins in the '60s, and the response of the Democrats by
and large has been to mock those people, deride those people, and to move away from organized
labor, to move away from class issues -- working class issues -- and so their response has been
to make this situation worse, and it gets worse, and it gets worse, and it gets worse, and it
gets worse! And there's really no excuse for them not seeing it. But they say, believe,
rationalize, you know, come up with anything that gets then off the hook for this, that allows
them to ignore this change. Anything. They will say or believe whatever it takes.
TCF: By the way, these are the smartest people! These are tenured professors at Ivy
League institutions, these are people with Nobel Prizes, people with foundation grants, people
with, you know, chairs at prestigious universities, people who work at our most prestigious
media outlets -- that's who's wrong about all this stuff.
JS: [quoting the title of David Halberstam's 1972 book, an excerpt from which Frank uses
as an epigraph for Listen, Liberal ] The best and the brightest!
TCF: [laughing merrily] Exactly. Isn't it fascinating?
JS: But this gets to the irony of the thing. [locates highlighted passage in book] I'm
going to ask you one of the questions you ask in Rendezvous with Oblivion: "Why are
worshippers of competence so often incompetent?" (p. 165). That's a huge question.
TCF: That's one of the big mysteries. Look. Take a step back. I had met Barack Obama.
He was a professor at the University of Chicago, and I'd been a student there. And he was super
smart. Anyhow, I met him and was really impressed by him. All the liberals in Hyde Park --
that's the neighborhood we lived in -- loved him, and I was one of them, and I loved him too.
And I was so happy when he got elected.
Anyhow, I knew one thing he would do for sure, and that is he would end the reign of
cronyism and incompetence that marked the Bush administration and before them the Reagan
administration. These were administrations that actively promoted incompetent people. And I
knew Obama wouldn't do that, and I knew Obama would bring in the smartest people, and he'd get
the best economists. Remember, when he got elected we were in the pit of the crisis -- we were
at this terrible moment -- and here comes exactly the right man to solve the problem. He did
exactly what I just described: He brought in [pause] Larry Summers, the former president of
Harvard, considered the greatest economist of his generation -- and, you know, go down the
list: He had Nobel Prize winners, he had people who'd won genius grants, he had The Best and
the Brightest . And they didn't really deal with the problem. They let the Wall Street
perpetrators off the hook -- in a catastrophic way, I would argue. They come up with a health
care system that was half-baked. Anyhow, the question becomes -- after watching the great
disappointments of the Obama years -- the question becomes: Why did government-by-expert
JS: So how did this happen? Why?
TCF: The answer is understanding experts not as individual geniuses but as members
of a class . This is the great missing link in all of our talk about expertise. Experts
aren't just experts: They are members of a class. And they act like a class. They have loyalty
to one another; they have a disdain for others, people who aren't like them, who they perceive
as being lower than them, and there's this whole hierarchy of status that they are at the
And once you understand this, then everything falls into place! So why did they let the Wall
Street bankers off the hook? Because these people were them. These people are their peers. Why
did they refuse to do what obviously needed to be done with the health care system? Because
they didn't want to do that to their friends in Big Pharma. Why didn't Obama get tough with
Google and Facebook? They obviously have this kind of scary monopoly power that we haven't seen
in a long time. Instead, he brought them into the White House, he identified with them. Again,
it's the same thing. Once you understand this, you say: Wait a minute -- so the Democratic
Party is a vehicle of this particular social class! It all makes sense. And all of a sudden all
of these screw-ups make sense. And, you know, all of their rhetoric makes sense. And the way
they treat working class people makes sense. And they way they treat so many other demographic
groups makes sense -- all of the old-time elements of the Democratic Party: unions, minorities,
et cetera. They all get to ride in back. It's the professionals -- you know, the professional
class -- that sits up front and has its hands on the steering wheel.
* * *
It is, given Frank's persona, not surprising that he is able to conclude Listen,
Liberal with a certain hopefulness, and so let me end by quoting some of his final
What I saw in Kansas eleven years ago is now everywhere . It is time to face the obvious:
that the direction the Democrats have chosen to follow for the last few decades has been a
failure for both the nation and for their own partisan health . The Democrats posture as the
'party of the people' even as they dedicate themselves ever more resolutely to serving and
glorifying the professional class. Worse: they combine self-righteousness and class privilege
in a way that Americans find stomach-turning . The Democrats have no interest in reforming
themselves in a more egalitarian way . What we can do is strip away the Democrats' precious
sense of their own moral probity -- to make liberals live without the comforting knowledge
that righteousness is always on their side . Once that smooth, seamless sense of liberal
virtue has been cracked, anything becomes possible. (pp. 256-257).
The Times dug into their relationship in 2013 after the
Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the doctor's offices, drawing scrutiny to his relationship with the
According to that article, Dr. Melgen delivered hundreds
of thousands of dollars to benefit Mr. Menendez and the Democratic Party, flying him around on a private jet
for lavish vacations and rushing to the senator's side when his mother died. After Mr. Menendez's failure to
report the trips as gifts surfaced, he later sent Dr. Melgen a check to reimburse him for the costs.
Dr. Melgen also received favors.
In 2011, he bought a stake in a company that had a
long-dormant contract with the Dominican Republic to provide port security. Mr. Menendez used his influence
to urge officials in the State and Commerce Departments to intervene so the contract would be enforced, at
an estimated value of $500 million.
The Times also reported at the time that Floridians
looking for federal appointments requiring Mr. Menendez's approval needed to first get Dr. Melgen's backing.
Dr. Melgen faced scrutiny again last year when The Times
reported that he had received $21 million in Medicare reimbursements in 2012 alone.
According to the article
: "Mr. Menendez's aides acknowledged that the senator called the Medicare
director at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2009 and brought it up at a meeting with the
acting administrator in 2012. Now both Dr. Melgen and Mr. Menendez find themselves under federal scrutiny."
Dr. Melgen and Mr. Menendez became friends in the 1990s,
when Mr. Menendez, who entered the House of Representatives in 1993, made regular visits to the Dominican
Asked about the relationship in 2013, Mr. Menendez's
office said in a statement: "Dr. Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of Senator Menendez for
The expected charges against Mr. Menendez were first
reported by CNN.
The jury selection comes more than two years after Mr. Menendez was
indicted on eight bribery counts , the result of a federal investigation into Mr.
Menendez's relationship and dealings with Dr. Melgen.
Mr. Menendez is charged with receiving luxury hotel rooms, flights on Mr. Melgen's private
jet and donations to a Democratic super PAC in exchange for political advocacy, lobbying and
favors, such as intervening to help obtain visas for Mr. Melgen's college-age girlfriends from
Brazil, Ukraine and the Dominican Republic.
Mr. Menendez is also accused of lobbying the Obama administration to change the Medicare
reimbursement policy, which would have brought a financial windfall for Mr. Melgen.
NEWARK -- The federal corruption trial of Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey ended in a mistrial on Thursday after jurors said
they were unable to reach a verdict, leaving Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, free to return to Congress but injecting uncertainty as he
faces re-election next year and his party faces a difficult battle to retake the Senate.
After interviewing jurors individually in his chambers, Judge William H. Walls emerged to tell the court that, after nine weeks
of testimony, the jury was deadlocked and that, as a result, "there is no alternative but to declare a mistrial."
One juror told reporters that 10 of the 12 jurors supported finding Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, not guilty, saying that prosecutors
had not made the case that the favors and gifts exchanged between the senator and a wealthy eye doctor went beyond what good friends
do for each other.
Following the ruling, Mr. Menendez seemed both relieved and defiant, denouncing prosecutors who pursued criminal charges against
him. "The way this case started was wrong, the way it was investigated was wrong, the way it was prosecuted was wrong, and the way
it was tried was wrong as well," he said.
How Sen. Bob Menendez's corruption case could change the way members of Congress do business - The Washington Post
In April 2015, federal prosecutors
dropped a bomb
on one of Senate Democrats' leading foreign policy voices. They accused Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)
of doling out political favors for one of his longtime friends in exchange for luxurious trips, lavish gifts and
Menendez, who was reelected to his second full term in 2012 and was the top Democrat on the Senate
Foreign Relations committee at the time, has pleaded not guilty and said he has done nothing wrong.
His lawyers have spent the past year battling the FBI and Justice Department over whether federal prosecutors can
actually investigate Menendez in the first place -- a debate centered on a centuries-old constitutional clause that
has the potential to redefine how the executive branch can look into the legislative branch. On Monday, Menendez's
lawyers are asking a federal three-judge panel in Philadelphia to throw out some or all of the dozen or so bribery
and corruption charges facing Menendez on the basis of a 1780s constitutional clause that they argue prevents
scrutiny of lawmakers' official legislative activities.
What the judges decide later this year could have major ripple effects for how secure -- or not -- members of
Congress feel in their day-to-day jobs from federal prosecution. Adding to the drama: The whole case has the
potential to reach the Supreme Court. Here's what you need to know about this latest turn in a complicated corruption
case, in three questions:
Remind me again of the case's details?
Sen. Menendez indicted on corruption charges
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) was indicted on Wednesday on federal corruption charges.
This past spring, Menendez became just
one of 12 U.S. senators indicted
while in office. Proving corruption is a high bar in the U.S judicial system. In
Menendez's case, prosecutors are trying to prove that Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, specifically
received political favors from Menendez in exchange for giving Menendez something.
They are trying to show that Menendez intervened on behalf of Melgen twice -- once to try to solve his friend's
Medicare billings problem with the government and another trying to grease the wheels for Melgen's port cargo
contract in the Dominican Republic. In exchange, prosecutors argue, Menendez accepted a series of trips and gifts
over the years from his friend, including free private-jet flights, stays at resorts in Paris, trips to the Dominican
Republic and more than $750,000 in campaign contributions.
"No ordinary constituent from New Jersey received the same treatment," the Justice Department said in an August
filing. (In a sign of just how tough it is to prove bribery charges, in September, a federal judge
out four bribery charges
, saying Melgen's contributions to Menendez's legal defense fund didn't contain any
explicit agreement of quid pro quo.)
Menendez has said his friend's trips and gifts were a natural result of his friendship and that he never
inappropriately intervened on behalf of his friend. In what's become a nasty back and forth, lawyers have accused
prosecutors of trying to dig up dirt on him -- even his sex life. The investigation started after an anonymous tipster
told the FBI and media outlets that Menendez was patronizing underage prostitutes in one of his trips to the
Dominican Republic. Those allegations appear to be fabricated, wrote
The Post's Carol Leonnig in August
, but they've given the defense leverage with which to argue that the Justice
Department will "stop at nothing" to try to put Menendez behind bars.
So what's going on Monday?
Menendez in March 2015: 'I'm not going anywhere'
During a news conference, March 6, 2015, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he had no
intention of resigning during the trial phase of the corruption investigation against him. (Reuters)
Three federal appellate court judges will be hearing arguments from both sides about something much broader than
the two friends' alleged quid pro quo. The judges will be considering whether the executive branch, in the form of
the Justice Department, overstepped its constitutional bounds by investigating and charging Menendez in the first
Menendez's lawyers are arguing that the senator was doing official legislative business in advancing his
constituent's interests in Washington, and the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause prevents lawmakers'
legislative acts from being scrutinized by the other two branches of government -- except for "Treason, Felony and
Breach of Peace." Menendez was engaged in none of that, they say, and they're asking the judges to throw out at least
some of the dozen or so counts of bribery and corruption on the claim that federal prosecutors unconstitutionally
Federal prosecutors argue that the "speech or debate" clause doesn't apply if lawmakers are trying to influence
the other branches of government, and they say they can prove in court that Menendez was trying to do just that.
What the judges decide later this year could go to trial, possibly right around the time of the November
presidential elections. Depending on how the judges rule later this year, the case and its applications to the
"speech or debate" clause could also end up at the Supreme Court.
What happens next?
That's an open-ended question. Over the years, courts have expanded the protections lawmakers have from
investigation to go beyond what they say or do on the House or Senate floor,
the Associated Press's David Porter
. But Lee Vartan, a former assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey, told Porter
that a case as specific as this is "uncharted territory."
And that's what makes this case and its potential legal ramifications so appealing to analyze. It is a
high-profile case litigating a not-widely-known constitutional clause. What the judges decide could set the precedent
for how protected -- or not -- lawmakers feel they are from investigation in the future.
The Supreme Court has rejected Sen. Bob Menendez's attempt to throw out the bribery and corruption charges against him, setting
the stage for a trial for the New Jersey Democrat this fall.
With Monday's announcement, Menendez can no longer block the proceedings against him from moving forward, a major setback for
his efforts to avoid criminal trial.
Abbe Lowell, Menendez's lead defense attorney, said the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the appeal was "disappointing," but
still said Menendez will be "vindicated when all the facts are heard at trial."
"It's disappointing that the Supreme Court did not take this opportunity to set a clear, bright line of the separation of powers
to ensure that Congress remains an independent and co-equal branch of government, free of interference and retribution from the executive
as the Framers intended," Lowell said in a statement. "While the senator always understood it is rare that the Supreme Court hears
any case before trial, given the gravity of the Constitutional issues raised, he believed it was important to try."
Lowell added: "As the senator has been saying for more than four years since the government began chasing these wild allegations,
he has always acted in accordance with the law. Sen. Menendez remains confident that he will be vindicated when all the facts are
heard at trial." Menendez's defense team had filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in December, seeking a hearing on its argument
that the Justice Department violated the senator's constitutional privilege under the Speech or Debate Clause, which shields lawmakers
and aides from legal action for legitimate legislative activities. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled against Menendez.
After a long-running criminal probe, Menendez was indicted by the Justice Department in April 2015 on 14 felony counts related
to favors allegedly done in exchange for gifts and political contributions made by Dr. Salomon Melgen, a longtime friend and campaign
Federal prosecutors claim Menendez or his staff intervened with federal agencies on Melgen's behalf to resolve a multi-million
dollar billing dispute over Medicare charges, to maintain a $500 million port security contract with the Dominican Republic and to
obtain U.S. visas for Melgen's girlfriends. Melgen has also been indicted in this matter.
Menendez pled not guilty in the case and has argued that his actions were routine constituent services or did not directly involve
Melgen. Menendez's attorneys have also argued that the New Jersey Democrat never mentioned Melgen's name during an August 2012 meeting
with then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Marilyn Tavenner, then the acting head of the Center for Medicare
and Medicaid Services.
Sebelius and Tavenner were summoned to Capitol Hill for a private meeting with Menendez in the office of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.),
who at that time was the Senate majority leader. According to Sebelius, the topic of the meeting was a dispute between CMS and Melgen.
CMS claimed Melgen had overbilled the government for millions of dollars, which Melgen fought.
A unanimous Supreme Court has overturned the corruption convictions of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell,
ruling that federal prosecutors relied on a "boundless" definition of the kinds of acts that could lead
politicians to face criminal charges.
The decision from the eight-justice court could make it tougher for prosecutors to prove corruption cases
against politicians in cases where there is no proof of an explicit agreement linking a campaign donation or
gift to a contract, grant or vote.
Story Continued Below
The court's opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, rejected the government's position that simply
agreeing to meet with someone on account of such largesse could be enough to constitute an official act that
could trigger a corruption conviction.
"There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with
tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the
Government's boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute," Roberts wrote. "A more limited
interpretation of the term 'official act' leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, while comporting with
the text of the statute and the precedent of this Court."
The justices set forth a straightforward rule: "Setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or
hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an 'official act.'"
In addition, the chief justice warned that accepting the government's stance in the case could chill all
sorts of routine interactions between politicians and their supporters.
"Conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf,
and include them in events all the time. The basic compact underlying representative government assumes that
public officials will hear from their constituents and act appropriately on their concerns -- whether it is the
union official worried about a plant closing or the homeowners who wonder why it took five days to restore
power to their neighborhood after a storm," Roberts wrote.
"The Government's position could cast a pall of potential prosecution over these relationships if the union
had given a campaign contribution in the past or the homeowners invited the official to join them on their
annual outing to the ballgame. Officials might wonder whether they could respond to even the most commonplace
requests for assistance, and citizens with legitimate concerns might shrink from participating in democratic
discourse," the chief justice added.
A jury convicted McDonnell on 11 corruption-related felony counts in 2014, including "honest services"
fraud, extortion and conspiracy.
The trial triggered public outrage as evidence showed the Virginia Republican and his wife accepted over
$175,000-worth of loans and gifts, such as vacations, designer clothes and a Rolex watch, from a businessman
seeking the state's help in promoting a tobacco-based dietary supplement. McDonnell also borrowed a Ferrari
from the businessman, Johnnie Williams, who turned state's evidence and was not prosecuted.
In the court's opinion, Roberts seemed eager to head off criticism that the justices were blessing
politicians' brazen attempts to improve their own financial condition through use of their official positions.
However, the chief justice emphasized that there were also risks in allowing prosecutors to decide for
themselves what kinds of conduct crossed the line.
"None of this, of course, is to suggest that the facts of this case typify normal political interaction
between public officials and their constituents. Far from it. But the Government's legal interpretation is not
confined to cases involving extravagant gifts or large sums of money and we cannot construe a criminal statute
on the assumption that the Government will 'use it responsibly,'" Roberts wrote.
McDonnell was sentenced to two years in prison, but never began serving the time after the Supreme Court put
his sentence on hold last year.
In a statement, McDonnell thanked his legal team and repeatedly invoked his religious faith.
"From the outset, I strongly asserted my innocence before God and under the law. I have not, and would not,
betray the sacred trust the people of Virginia bestowed upon me during 22 years in elected office," the former
governor said. "It is my hope that this matter will soon be over and that my family and I can begin to rebuild
In an interview Monday, a lawyer for McDonnell hailed the court's unanimous decision as a blunt rebuke of
"The court squarely rejected the entire theory this prosecution was based on from the beginning and embraced
the theory we've been articulating literally from day one on this case," said Noel Francisco, the attorney who
argued for McDonnell at the Supreme court. "We think it's a vindication for the governor."
McDonnell's wife, Maureen, was also convicted for conspiracy by the same jury and sentenced to a year and a
day in prison. She was free pending appeal. Her attorney, William Burck, expressed confidence Monday that her
conviction will also be overturned.
"This decision applies no less to our client Maureen McDonnell and requires that her conviction immediately
be tossed out as well, which we are confident the prosecutors must agree with," Burck said in a statement.
"Mrs. McDonnell, like her husband, was wrongfully convicted. We thank the Supreme Court for unanimously
bringing justice back into the picture for the McDonnells."
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente, whose office prosecuted the McDonnells,
issued a terse statement about the high court's ruling.
"The U.S. Attorney's Office is reviewing the Supreme Court's decision in the
does not have any further comment at this time," Boente said.
Despite the public outcry over the McDonnells' actions, his challenge to his convictions received a
groundswell of support from public officials, ex-prosecutors and former legal advisers to presidents of both
In a series of amicus briefs filed with the high court, the former officials warned that giving
anti-corruption laws the sweeping breadth urged by the Justice Department would have dramatically constrained
the normal operation of government.
The Supreme Court noted those briefs in its opinion Monday -- the final one delivered before the typical summer
break. The ruling also allowed the shorthanded court, through the voice of its chief, to emphasize agreement at
the end of a term where the justice deadlocked in a series of cases.
"... I got to thinking today about how neocon and neoliberal are becoming interchangeable terms. ..."
"... As neoconservatism developed, that is with Iraq and Afghanistan, the neocons even came to embrace nation building which had always been anathema to traditional conservatism. Neocons sold this primarily by casting nation building in military terms, the creation and training of police and security forces in the target country. ..."
"... 9/11 too was critical. It vastly increased the scope of the neocon project in spawning the Global War on Terror. It increased the stage of neocon operations to the entire planet. ..."
"... Politically, neoconservatism has become the bipartisan foreign policy consensus. Democrats are every bit as neocon in their views as Republicans. Only a few libertarians on the right and progressives on the left reject it. ..."
"... The roots of neoliberalism are the roots of kleptocracy. Both begin under Carter. Neoliberalism also known at various times and places as the Washington Consensus (under Clinton) and the Chicago School is the political expression for public consumption of the kleptocratic economic philosophy, just as libertarian and neoclassical economics (both fresh and salt water varieties) are its academic and governmental face. The central tenets of neoliberalism are deregulation, free markets, and free trade. If neoliberalism had a prophet or a patron saint, it was Milton Friedman. ..."
"... Again just as neoconservatism and kleptocracy or bipartisan so too is neoliberalism. There really is no daylight between Reaganism/supply side economics/trickledown on the Republican side and Clinton's Washington Consensus or Team Obama on the other. ..."
"... The distinctions between neoconservatism and neoliberalism are being increasingly lost, perhaps because most of our political classes are practitioners of both. ..."
"... At the same time, neoliberalism went from domestic to global, and here I am not just thinking about neoliberal experiments, like Pinochet's Chile or post-Soviet Russia, but the financialization of the world economy and the adoption of kleptocracy as the world economic model. ..."
"... I'm now under the opinion that you can't talk about any of the "neo-isms" without talking about the corporate state. ..."
"... With neocons, it manifests itself through the military-industrial complex (Boeing, Raytheon, etc.), and with neolibs it manifests itself through finance and industrial policy. ..."
"... But each leg has two components, a statist component and a corporate component. ..."
"... It also explains why economic/financial interests (neolib) are now considered national security interests (neocon). The viability of the state is now tied to the viability of the corporation. ..."
"... Corporate/statist (not sure "corporate" captures the looting/rentier aspect though). We see it everywhere, for example in the revolving door. ..."
"... I think you could also make the argument that Obama is perhaps the most ideal combination of neolib & neocon. ..."
"... A reading of the classical liberal economists puts some breaks on the markets, corporations, etc. Neoliberalism goes to the illogical extremes of market theory and iirc, has some influence from the Austrian school ... which gives up on any pretense of scientific exposition of economics or rationality at the micro level, assuming that irrationality will magically become rational behavior in aggregate. ..."
"... Therefore, US conservatives post Eisenhower but especially post Reagan are almost certainly economic neoliberals. Since Clinton, liberals/Democrats have been too (at least the elected ones). You nailed neoconservative and both parties are in foreign policy since at least Clinton ... though here lets not forget to go back as far as JFK and his extreme anti-Communism that led to all sorts of covert operations, The Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Remember, the Soviets put the missiles in Cuba because we put missiles in Turkey and they backed down from Cuba because we agreed to remove the missiles from Turkey; Nikita was nice enough not to talk about that so that Kennedy didn't lose face. ..."
"... Perhaps it should be pointed out that the Clintons became fabulously wealthy just after Bill left office, mostly on the strength of his speaking engagements for the financial sector that he'd just deregulated. ..."
"... The unfortunate fact of the matter is that at that level of politics, the levers of money and power work equally well on both party's nomenklatura. They flock to it like moths to porch light. ..."
"... "Don't believe them, don't fear them, don't ask anything of them" - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ..."
I got to thinking today about how neocon and neoliberal are becoming interchangeable terms. They did not start out that
way. My understanding is they are ways of rationalizing breaks with traditional conservatism and liberalism. Standard conservatism
was fairly isolationist. Conservatism's embrace of the Cold War put it at odds with this tendency. This was partially resolved by
accepting the Cold War as a military necessity despite its international commitments but limiting civilian programs like foreign
aid outside this context and rejecting the concept of nation building altogether.
With the end of the Cold War conservative internationalism needed a new rationale, and this was supplied by the neoconservatives.
They advocated the adoption of conservatism's Cold War military centered internationalism as the model for America's post-Cold War
international relations. After all, why drop a winning strategy? America had won the Cold War against a much more formidable opponent
than any left on the planet. What could go wrong?
America's ability not simply to project but its willingness to use military power was equated with its power more generally. If
America did not do this, it was weak and in decline. However, the frequent use of military power showed that America was great and
remained the world's hegemon. In particular, the neocons focused on the Middle East. This sales pitch gained them the backing of
both supporters of Israel (because neoconservatism was unabashedly pro-Israel) and the oil companies. The military industrial complex
was also on board because the neocon agenda effectively countered calls to reduce military spending. But neoconservatism was not
just confined to these groups. It appealed to both believers in American exceptionalism and backers of humanitarian interventions
(of which I once was one).
As neoconservatism developed, that is with Iraq and Afghanistan, the neocons even came to embrace nation building which had always
been anathema to traditional conservatism. Neocons sold this primarily by casting nation building in military terms, the creation
and training of police and security forces in the target country.
9/11 too was critical. It vastly increased the scope of the neocon project in spawning the Global War on Terror. It increased
the stage of neocon operations to the entire planet. It effectively erased the distinction between the use of military force against
countries and individuals. Individuals more than countries became targets for military, not police, action. And unlike traditional
wars or the Cold War itself, this one would never be over. Neoconservatism now had a permanent raison d'être.
Politically, neoconservatism has become the bipartisan foreign policy consensus. Democrats are every bit as neocon in their views
as Republicans. Only a few libertarians on the right and progressives on the left reject it.
Neoliberalism, for its part, came about to address the concern of liberals, especially Democrats, that they were too anti-business
and too pro-union, and that this was hurting them at the polls. It was sold to the rubiat as pragmatism.
The roots of neoliberalism are the roots of kleptocracy. Both begin under Carter. Neoliberalism also known at various times and
places as the Washington Consensus (under Clinton) and the Chicago School is the political expression for public consumption of the
kleptocratic economic philosophy, just as libertarian and neoclassical economics (both fresh and salt water varieties) are its academic
and governmental face. The central tenets of neoliberalism are deregulation, free markets, and free trade. If neoliberalism had a
prophet or a patron saint, it was Milton Friedman.
Again just as neoconservatism and kleptocracy or bipartisan so too is neoliberalism. There really is no daylight between Reaganism/supply
side economics/trickledown on the Republican side and Clinton's Washington Consensus or Team Obama on the other.
And just as we saw with neoconservatism, neoliberalism expanded from its core premises and effortlessly transitioned into globalization,
which can also be understood as global kleptocracy.
The distinctions between neoconservatism and neoliberalism are being increasingly lost, perhaps because most of our political
classes are practitioners of both. But initially at least neoconservatism was focused on foreign policy and neoliberalism on
domestic economic policy. As the War on Terror expanded, however, neoconservatism came back home with the creation and expansion
of the surveillance state.
At the same time, neoliberalism went from domestic to global, and here I am not just thinking about neoliberal experiments,
like Pinochet's Chile or post-Soviet Russia, but the financialization of the world economy and the adoption of kleptocracy as the
world economic model.
jest on Mon, 08/20/2012 - 5:55am
I'm now under the opinion that you can't talk about any of the "neo-isms" without talking about the corporate state.
That's really the tie that binds the two things you are speaking of.
With neocons, it manifests itself through the military-industrial complex (Boeing, Raytheon, etc.), and with neolibs it
manifests itself through finance and industrial policy.
For example, you need the US gov't to bomb Iraq (Raytheon) in order to secure oil (Halliburton), which is priced & financed
in US dollars (Goldman Sachs). It's like a 3-legged stool; if you remove one of these legs, the whole thing comes down. But
each leg has two components, a statist component and a corporate component.
The entity that enables all of this is the corporate state.
It also explains why economic/financial interests (neolib) are now considered national security interests (neocon). The viability
of the state is now tied to the viability of the corporation.
lambert on Mon, 08/20/2012 - 9:18am
Corporate/statist (not sure "corporate" captures the looting/rentier aspect though). We see it everywhere, for example in the
I think the stool has more legs and is also more dynamic; more like Ikea furniture. For example, the press is surely critical
in organizing the war.
But the yin/yang of neo-lib/neo-con is nice: It's as if the neo-cons handle the kinetic aspects (guns, torture) and the neo-libs
handle the mental aspects (money, mindfuckery) but both merge (like Negronponte being on the board of Americans Select) over time
as margins fall and decorative aspects like democratic institutions and academic freedom get stripped away. The state and the
corporation have always been tied to each other but now the ties are open and visible (for example, fines are just a cost of doing
business, a rent on open corruption.)
And then there's the concept of "human resource," that abstracts all aspects of humanity away except those that are exploitable.
First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi
jest on Mon, 08/20/2012 - 1:37pm
I like the term much better than Fascist, as it is 1) more accurate, 2) avoids the Godwin's law issue, and 3) makes them sound
Yes, I would agree that additional legs make sense. The media aspect is essential, as it neutralizes the freedom of the press,
without changing the constitution. It dovetails pretty well with the notion of Inverted Totalitarianism.
I think you could also make the argument that Obama is perhaps the most ideal combination of neolib & neocon. The
two sides of him flow together so seamlessly, no one seems to notice. But that's in part because he is so corporate.
Lex on Mon, 08/20/2012 - 8:28am
Actually, neoliberalism is an economic term. An economic liberal in the UK and EU is for open markets, capitalism, etc. You're
right that neoliberalism comes heavily from the University of Chicago, but it has little to do with American political liberalism.
A reading of the classical liberal economists puts some breaks on the markets, corporations, etc. Neoliberalism goes to the
illogical extremes of market theory and iirc, has some influence from the Austrian school ... which gives up on any pretense of
scientific exposition of economics or rationality at the micro level, assuming that irrationality will magically become rational
behavior in aggregate.
Therefore, US conservatives post Eisenhower but especially post Reagan are almost certainly economic neoliberals. Since Clinton,
liberals/Democrats have been too (at least the elected ones). You nailed neoconservative and both parties are in foreign policy
since at least Clinton ... though here lets not forget to go back as far as JFK and his extreme anti-Communism that led to all
sorts of covert operations, The Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Remember, the Soviets put the missiles in
Cuba because we put missiles in Turkey and they backed down from Cuba because we agreed to remove the missiles from Turkey; Nikita
was nice enough not to talk about that so that Kennedy didn't lose face.
"Don't believe them, don't fear them, don't ask anything of them" - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Hugh on Mon, 08/20/2012 - 3:57pm
I agree that neoconservatism and neoliberalism are two facets of corporatism/kleptocracy. I like the kinetic vs. white collar
The roots of neoliberalism go back to the 1940s and the Austrians, but in the US it really only comes into currency with Clinton
as a deliberate shift of the Democratic/liberal platform away from labor and ordinary Americans to make it more accommodating
to big business and big money. I had never heard of neoliberalism before Bill Clinton but it is easy to see how those tendencies
were at work under Carter, but not under Johnson.
This was a rough and ready sketch. I guess I should also have mentioned PNAC or the Project to Find a New Mission for the MIC.
Hugh on Mon, 08/20/2012 - 10:44pm
I have never understood this love of Clinton that some Democrats have just as I have never understood the attraction of Reagan
for Republicans. There is no Clinton faction. There is no Obama faction. Hillary Clinton is Obama's frigging Secretary of State.
Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, both of whom served as Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary, were Obama's top financial and economic
advisors. Timothy Geithner was their protégé. Leon Panetta Obama's Director of the CIA and current Secretary of Defense was Clinton's
Director of OMB and then Chief of Staff.
The Democrats as a party are neoconservative and neoliberal as are Obama and the Clintons. As are Republicans.
What does corporations need regulation mean? It is rather like saying that the best way to deal with cancer is to find a cure
for it. Sounds nice but there is no content to it. Worse in the real world, the rich own the corporations, the politicians, and
the regulators. So even if you come up with good ideas for regulation they aren't going to happen.
What you are suggesting looks a whole lot another iteration of lesser evilism meets Einstein's definition of insanity. How
is it any different from any other instance of Democratic tribalism?
Lex on Mon, 08/20/2012 - 11:49pm
Perhaps it should be pointed out that the Clintons became fabulously wealthy just after Bill left office, mostly on the strength
of his speaking engagements for the financial sector that he'd just deregulated. Both he and Hillary hew to a pretty damned neoconservative
foreign policy ... with that dash of "humanitarian interventionism" that makes war palatable to liberals.
But your deeper point is that there isn't enough of a difference between Obama and Bill Clinton to really draw a distinction,
not in terms of ideology. What a theoretical Hillary Clinton presidency would have looked like is irrelevant, because both Bill
and Obama talked a lot different than they walked. Any projection of a Hillary Clinton administration is just that and requires
arguing that it would have been different than Bill's administration and policies.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that at that level of politics, the levers of money and power work equally well on
both party's nomenklatura. They flock to it like moths to porch light.
That the money chose Obama over Clinton doesn't say all that much, because there's no evidence suggesting that the money didn't
like Clinton or that it would have chosen McCain over Clinton. It's not as if Clinton's campaign was driven into the ground by
lack of funds.
Regardless, that to be a Democrat i would kind of have to chose between two factions that are utterly distasteful to me just
proves that i have no business being a Democrat. And since i wouldn't vote for either of those names, i guess i'll just stick
to third parties and exit the political tribalism loop for good.
"Don't believe them, don't fear them, don't ask anything of them" - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
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