Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Last Call For Supremely Unforgiving

It's pretty clear from the oral arguments in today's SCOTUS hearing on President Biden's student debt forgiveness program that there's five, if not six votes to scrap the idea completely, and at the minimum the argument is whether even congressional approval would be constitutional.

Conservative justices holding the Supreme Court’s majority seem likely to sink President Joe Biden’s plan to wipe away or reduce student loans held by millions of Americans.

In arguments lasting more than three hours Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts led his conservative colleagues in questioning the administration’s authority to broadly cancel federal student loans because of the COVID-19 emergency.

The plan has so far been blocked by Republican-appointed judges on lower courts.

It was not clear that any of the six justices appointed by Republican presidents would approve of the debt relief program, although Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett appeared most open to the administration’s arguments.

Biden’s only hope for being allowed to move forward with his plan appeared to be the slim possibility, based on the arguments, that the court would find that Republican-led states and individuals challenging the plan lacked the legal right to sue.

That would allow the court to dismiss the lawsuits at a threshold stage, without ruling on the basic idea of the loan forgiveness program that appeared to trouble the justices on the court’s right side.

Roberts was among the justices who grilled the Biden administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, Elizabeth Prelogar, and suggested that the administration had exceeded its authority with the program.

Roberts pointed to the wide impact and expense of the program, three times saying it would cost “a half-trillion dollars.” The program is estimated to cost $400 billion over 30 years.

“If you’re talking about this in the abstract, I think most casual observers would say if you’re going to give up that much ... money. If you’re going to affect the obligations of that many Americans on a subject that’s of great controversy, they would think that’s something for Congress to act on,” Roberts said.

Kavanaugh suggested that the administration was using an “old law” to unilaterally implement a debt relief program that Congress had rejected. He said the situation was familiar: “in the wake of Congress not authorizing the action, the executive nonetheless doing a massive new program.”

That, he said, “seems problematic.”

Kavanaugh noted that the administration was citing the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic as authority for the debt relief program. He argued that some of the “finest moments in the court’s history” have been “pushing back against presidential assertions of emergency power.”
I know redicting SCOTUS is a mug's game as I've said in the past, but even I don't have any optimism of a win here. This is just six conservative justices being cruel for cruelty's sake, and they're going to take the opportunity to be terrible people.
If the standing issue is the only defense the Biden administration has here, this case is already pushing up daisies.
Bonus points for everyone who'll blame Biden for this in 2024 and solemnly declare they'll never vote Democratic again, as if somehow abdicating voting leading to Republican wins isn't what put six conservatives on SCOTUS in the first place.

The Big Lie, FOX News Edition

Another court filing in the Dominion Voting Services defamation case against FOX News finds that under oath, FOX chairman Rupert Murdoch admitted some particularly nasty stuff in a deposition last month.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the conservative media empire that owns Fox News, acknowledged in a deposition that several hosts for his networks promoted the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald J. Trump, and that he could have stopped them but didn’t, court documents released on Monday showed.

“They endorsed,” Mr. Murdoch said under oath in response to direct questions about the Fox hosts Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo, according to a legal filing by Dominion Voting Systems. “I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight,” he added, while also disclosing that he was always dubious of Mr. Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud.

Asked whether he doubted Mr. Trump, Mr. Murdoch responded: “Yes. I mean, we thought everything was on the up-and-up.” At the same time, he rejected the accusation that Fox News as a whole had endorsed the stolen election narrative. “Not Fox,” he said. “No. Not Fox.”

Mr. Murdoch’s remarks, which he made last month as part of Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox, added to the evidence that Dominion has accumulated as it tries to prove its central allegation: The people running the country’s most popular news network knew Mr. Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election were false but broadcast them anyway in a reckless pursuit of ratings and profit.

Proof to that effect would help Dominion clear the high legal bar set by the Supreme Court for defamation cases. To prevail, Dominion must show not only that Fox broadcast false information, but that it did so knowingly. A judge in Delaware state court has scheduled a monthlong trial beginning in April.

The new documents and a similar batch released this month provide a dramatic account from inside the network, depicting a frantic scramble as Fox tried to woo back its large conservative audience after ratings collapsed in the wake of Mr. Trump’s loss. Fox had been the first network to call Arizona for Joseph R. Biden on election night — essentially declaring him the next president. When Mr. Trump refused to concede and started attacking Fox as disloyal and dishonest, viewers began to change the channel.

The filings also revealed that top executives and on-air hosts had reacted with incredulity bordering on contempt to various fictitious allegations about Dominion. These included unsubstantiated rumors — repeatedly uttered by guests and hosts of Fox programs — that its voting machines could run a secret algorithm that switched votes from one candidate to another, and that the company was founded in Venezuela to help that country’s longtime leader, Hugo Ch├ívez, fix elections.
Kinda hard for Rupert to throw Trump under the bus when he's admitting to FEC violations in the process, too.
Dominion details the close relationship that Fox hosts and executives enjoyed with senior Republican Party officials and members of the Trump inner circle, revealing how at times Fox was shaping the very story it was covering. It describes how Mr. Murdoch placed a call to the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, immediately after the election. In his deposition, Mr. Murdoch testified that during that call he likely urged Mr. McConnell to “ask other senior Republicans to refuse to endorse Mr. Trump’s conspiracy theories and baseless claims of fraud.”

Dominion also describes how Mr. Murdoch provided Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, with confidential information about ads that the Biden campaign would be running on Fox.
I'm pretty sure Dominion's going to get every dime of that $1.6 billion and then some. Oh, and just maybe people go to jail?
At any rate, if there still remained any doubt that FOX is not a news organization but the corporatized media arm of the GOP, and therefore shouldn't be subject to journalistic protections in any way, that died this week. 

Good luck with your new owners, FOX.

Ron's Gone Wrong, Mouse Trap Edition

Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis has just scored a resounding victory in his battle with Disney, and any business in Florida needs to be paying attention lest they become his next target of extortion.

More Florida Republicans who dished out big bucks to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ re-election bid have been appointed to powerful public jobs—this time on the revamped board of a special tax district that oversees the Walt Disney Company.

DeSantis announced Monday that Martin Garcia, a Tampa lawyer, was appointed to the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District—previously named the Reedy Creek Improvement District—just a year after his private investment firm, Pinehill Capital, cut a check to DeSantis’ campaign for $50,000.

Garcia will now join four other DeSantis allies—also appointed Monday—in replacing senior Disney employees on the district's board, the latest bout in DeSantis’ clash with the entertainment giant since it opposed Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill in 2022.

The special district had allowed Disney to act as its own government for over five decades, controlling everything from land use to running its own fire department, and saving itself millions in taxes annually.

Now, the district will be at the mercy of DeSantis and his five appointees, as the governor now has the legal power to replace the district’s board unilaterally at his beck and call.

“Today, the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” DeSantis said Monday in Central Florida. “There’s a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day.”

Joining Garcia on the board is fellow conservative Bridget Ziegler, the wife of the Florida GOP’s chair and co-founder of Moms for Liberty, who also recently donated to DeSantis; Mike Sasso, an attorney who donated over $9,000 to Florida Republican candidates, including DeSantis, last election; Brian Aungst Jr., a Central Florida attorney who specializes in land use law; and Ron Peri, who founded the ministry “The Gathering,” which regularly spews nonsense about “Christian Nationalism” and the decaying of local schools.

Ziegler lashed out at Disney last year when it asked a marching band to cover up its Native American logo to perform at Magic Kingdom. The school’s principal didn't oblige, pulling the band from the performance altogether.

“Shameful to see Disney continue to use children as pawns to advance their WOKE political agenda,” Ziegler blasted to Twitter. “Kudos to staff for not kowtowing to their demands.”

While her recent comments have been critical of Disney, old Instagram posts showed she visited the parks and their on-property hotels with her family in 2015 and 2016.

Since then, however, Ziegler has become a conservative firebrand in Florida, particularly on issues related to education. She’s repeatedly gone on Fox News to rage about critical race theory and gender ideology in Florida schools, calling the former “anti-American.”

The Florida Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and regularly operates at the behest of DeSantis, will have to confirm the governor’s picks. The board members will not be paid a salary.

If approved, the board will garner the power to manage the special district’s infrastructure, services, taxing authority, and more. DeSantis suggested Monday that the board might push for a say in Disney’s content if the corporation wants its tax-friendly home base to remain as is.

“When you lose your way, you gotta have people that are going to tell you the truth,” DeSantis said. “All these board members very much would like to see the type of entertainment that all families can appreciate.”

No matter how you feel about Disney, a multi-billion dollar entertainment conglomerate that own huge percentages of global TV, movies, sports programming and resorts on the entire planet, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to ESPN to its own cruise line, understand that now Ron DeSantis owns Disney. If they don't play ball with his agenda, he's in a position to exact billions of dollars in retributive tax punishment on the company, crash the stock, and coerce the company's board to do his bidding as far as hiring and firing goes.

It's flat out extortion, and everyone knows it. Don't expect Disney's lawyers to get much traction, either: DeSantis will simply have his lackeys in Tallahassee change the laws again to favor the state over Disney. 

Now it's very possible that DeSantis will end up overplaying his hand like he's doing with the state's education system, but he can do a lot of damage in the meantime. And yes, what DeSantis is actually doing is exactly what Republicans accuse Democrats of doing all the time: forcing corporate decisions to further their agenda.

Leave it to the fascist to make me actually root for the $200 billion entertainment monolith because it's now the lesser of two evils, for crissakes.
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