Air Date 1/7/2022
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: During today's episode, I'm gonna be telling you about a podcast I think you should check out. It's called Future Hindsight, a weekly show that embraces the civics lifestyle. Listen to Future Hindsight wherever you get your podcast or at FutureHindsight.com, and keep an ear out mid show when I tell you more about it.
And now, welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we shall take a look at the criminal charges against Donald Trump that the January 6th Committee has referred to the Department of Justice, but examine them through the lens of past presidential crimes that have gone unpunished from Nixon to George W. Bush.
Clips today are from Democracy Now!, The Brian Lehrer Show, CounterSpin, This Week, and The Young Turks, with an additional members-only clip from The Mehdi Hasan Show.
And stay tuned to the end where I'll explain why there's no debates to be had between the upsides and the downsides of social media and other innovative modern tech.[00:01:00]
No One Is Above The Law - Calls Grow for Trump to Be Charged to Avoid Another Coup Attempt - Democracy Now! - Air Date 12-20-22
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Weissman, head of Public Citizen, if you can talk about these four criminal charges: obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, false statements to the federal government, and inciting or assisting an insurrection? These are the criminal charges that the House Select Committee is referring to the Justice Department.
ROBERT WEISSMAN: Yeah, I think what’s important about them is maybe two things. One, for those who of us who were watching January 6 unfold in real time, it seemed as a rally that sort of spun out of control. And what the January 6 committee has shown beyond any doubt, and has now referenced in their referral to the Justice Department, is that the insurrection was planned and intentional. In fact, we have [00:02:00] reason to believe that Trump actually hoped to be at the Capitol leading the physical insurrection. So it wasn’t something that was an accident or a spur-of-the-moment thing; it was part of an overall scheme. That’s, I think, the first point.
The second thing that the committee has shown, and is, again, reflected in the referral, is that the insurrection itself was part of a broader scheme to overthrow the election. Again, in real time, I think a lot of us seeing what happened after the election in November of 2020 thought this stuff was just sort of child’s play and Trump working out his own psychodrama, claiming there was a fraud and a lie when — a fraud with the election when there never had been, but what we now know is that there was an actual, orchestrated, significant scheme that could have succeeded to overthrow the election.
And so, the four charges together reflect both those things: the intentionality behind the insurrection and the multifaceted overall scheme that Trump led, [00:03:00] masterminded, orchestrated, and nearly succeeded in carrying out.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about technically what this means, that this House select committee is referring criminal charges to the Justice Department. The Justice Department is investigating separately. They don’t need this to indict the president. But so, what does it mean?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: Well, that’s right. The Justice Department is going to make its own determination. They’re free to ignore, if they choose, what the House committee has now referred to them. But I think they’re not going to ignore it. For one thing, the committee has generated a lot of evidence, that’s now going to be made available to the Justice Department, and that should inform the decision that the Justice Department takes.
I think what’s going to be really important, for the reasons that Chairman Thompson laid out at the beginning, and as Ruth just said, that the Justice Department proceed with a prosecution. There are going to be a lot of reforms proposed. The House Republicans are not likely to move forward with them. One significant reform is going to probably be achieved in [00:04:00] legislation in the next couple days to deal with the mechanism of counting electoral votes. But at the end of the day, the most important thing to prevent this kind of coup from ever taking place again is accountability for the people at the top, and most importantly for the single person who masterminded it, Donald Trump.
Now, whether the Justice Department proceeds with this, that decision has now been kicked over, at least in the first instance, away from the actual leadership of the Justice Department to a special prosecutor, Jack Smith. Hopefully, he’s going to make the decision soon to proceed with an investigation and have the Attorney General Merrick Garland agree that that should take place. The longer they wait, the harder it’s going to be politically to proceed with a prosecution.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Jack Smith, Professor Ben-Ghiat, is an interesting guy. He served as head of the Justice Department Public Integrity Unit in 2010. He served in The Hague, prosecuting war [00:05:00] crimes. He was also involved in New York City in the prosecution of a group of New York City police officers involved in the 1997 attack on Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant who was raped, sodomized, and attacked by New York City police. Can you talk about Jack Smith and, more significantly, also what that history means, from police corruption and violence to The Hague?
RUTH BEN-GHIAT: [inaudible] set to assess the activities of—just keeping to Trump for the moment—of somebody like Trump, who has such a broad range of criminality. There is no one else in America—I can think of Berlusconi in Italy as a partial equivalent—who is criminal in so many ways as Trump. So, the fact that Jack Smith has prosecuted a sitting [00:06:00] politician, he’s done corruption cases—because, of course, we heard that one of the charges is that Trump was trying to defraud the U.S. government, and fraud is what he does. Let’s remember that when Trump ran for office in 2016, he was under investigation for fraud for Trump University.
And then, of course, the prosecuting in The Hague is extremely important, because this has never happened before, but Donald Trump is somebody who’s different than any president we’ve ever had, Republican or Democrat, because he is an autocratic individual. The people he admires, the leaders he admires are autocrats. And he has no regard for human life whatsoever, and so, he would commit war crimes if he could. Indeed, we heard from John Kelly, in Peter Baker and Susan Glasser’s book, hat he was disappointed that his generals were not acting like Hitler’s generals. So, Jack Smith, with his range of experience, seems to be the perfect [00:07:00] person that we have been sent at this moment in time.
Historian Meets Watergate Prosecutor On The Right (And Wrong) Kinds Of Presidential Accountability - The Brian Lehrer Show - Air Date 12-28-22
BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: So, Jill, take us back some 50 years to the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and the debate over how to hold the president and his co-conspirators accountable. Nixon, as we know, had to resign the presidency, which many people considered punishment enough, but he was never prosecuted for what many people considered crimes.
So what went into those deliberations?
JILL WINE-BANKS: Oh, well there were a variety of opinions on the staff of the Watergate Special Prosecutor. I was for indicting Richard Nixon while he was the sitting president, and then raised that issue again right after he resigned. Leon Jaworski opposed that position, and while we were discussing it after he resigned, when Leon was more inclined to accept that position, he got pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford, and [00:08:00] that ended the possibility of indictment. He was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the indictment. And so in a way, he did get some accountability through the trial of his co-conspirators, but he did not get indicted. And, as you said, Gerald Ford and many others thought that it needed to be ended, and that's why he pardoned him.
I think that was the wrong decision, and we're seeing the historical result now. If he had been indicted, he would've been convicted in the same way that if he had gone to trial in the Senate, he would've been convicted, and that would've ended the discussion today about can you or can you not indict a former president. Can you hold someone accountable for crimes committed while in office? And the answer would've been clearly yes.
I just wanna add one other thing, which is you mentioned the roadmap. And the roadmap in the [00:09:00] context of Watergate was a document that we prepared to give to the House Judiciary Committee, which was doing the impeachment inquiry. So it was us giving them the evidence as a roadmap to impeachment, versus in this case where the House Committee is giving the Department of Justice a roadmap. And that's a very different circumstance.
BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: You know, Julie and I saw the presidential historian Michael Beschloss on television the other day saying not prosecuting Nixon might have seemed like a good thing at the time. "Our long national nightmare is over," I think was what Gerald Ford said. And resigning the presidency was considered consequences enough, consequence enough by many people, accountability enough. But that doesn't wear well over time, because of the lack of precedent that it sets for Donald [00:10:00] Trump, who allegedly has committed much worse things than Richard Nixon even did.
Do you agree with Michael Beschloss about that?
JULIAN ZELLZER: I think there's a strong argument to be made that when President Gerald Ford decided to pardon Nixon, it was choosing at least an imagined path toward healing the nation, which isn't actually what happened, over accountability. And that when you miss the chance to impose accountability, when it's viable, when the political circumstances are right, you leave things undone. And I do think the Nixon cases is a famous one with the president and the individual where things were not resolved. And I do believe that since that time, there's been a high cost. And I'll add, he didn't heal the nation. The nation moved further apart. Gerald Ford's own standing plummeted after he issued this pardon, so it didn't even work the way he anticipated.
BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: Jill, as we look at the January 6th [00:11:00] convictions and prosecutions that are taking place and that they're all so far of pretty low level individuals, right? Just those who heeded the call to come to the Capitol that day and took the step of breaking in, or trying to obstruct the proceedings, things like that. When we look back at Watergate, some of the high ranking officials of the Nixon administration did go to trial, did go to prison, even if Nixon himself didn't. Right? We're not seeing that yet with January 6th. But that happened in Watergate, didn't it?
JILL WINE-BANKS: It did happen, and it is what must happen here. As I said, I am all for indicting, assuming that there is nothing in the evidence that we don't know that would be exculpatory. Based on the evidence that is available to you and me and Julian right now, the evidence seems to be clear that there have been crimes committed [00:12:00] and that there needs to be accountability for that.
But yes, the chief of staff, the chief of domestic policy, the former Attorney General, all went to jail. The White House counsel went to jail. So all of those people went to jail on the same crimes for which Richard Nixon was guilty and was a co-conspirator. There's no question about his guilt. And the evidence was very strong, very clear.
Lisa Gilbert on the January 6 Report - CounterSpin - Air Date 12-23-22
JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: I guess what I wanna get at is, I think a lot for the public, there's an important distinction to be made about Donald Trump, and then what also enablers did.
The idea of even if Trump in some fanciful other planet goes to jail, will that still prevent another thing like this from happening? So there's an interest in separating out the criminal charges against an individual, and how do we also [00:13:00] as a society address the problems that were obviously evidenced on that day.
LISA GILBERT: That's right. No, that that is definitely right. There is more than one solution needed to the problem of an insurrection. This is a piece of it, what we're talking about now, the individual who is most culpable being held accountable, and the fact that that person was the president of the United States makes it more important, not less, that we do in fact hold him accountable. That's the piece the DOJ is pursuing. That's the piece that is being pursued in Georgia prosecution. And we want to see it born out, we want charges and we want them to stick.
However, separately, we also need to reform our democracy such that no other president can ever be this bankrupt morally and can't do anything like this again.
And so there are a lot of threads to that. One piece, actually, we had a victory this week. I don't know if people are paying attention to this, but the Electoral Count Act reforms, which many of us in DC have been lobbying for for months now,[00:14:00] passed, or were included as a part of the year-end budget deal, so will soon pass.
So this is critical because it could prevent the idea of the vice president, simply in his posture as chair of the Senate as he is, he is overseeing an electoral count, could change what he's perceiving. So that sort of unclear language in the original Electoral Count Act is what Trump relied on and misled his followers around, and certainly part of what sparked the insurrection. Assuming the Electoral Account Reform Act passes, that will no longer be an option.
We need that and we need other reforms to continue to protect democracy to move forward as well.
JANINE JACKSON - HOST, COUNTERSPIN: Well, let me ask you about those because I feel like we're all getting a civics lesson about what laws are meaningful, what laws, it turns out they don't mean anything if you don't push on them. And we're all learning a lot here and I think a lot of folks are thinking that their [00:15:00] idea about what's right and what's wrong is somehow reflected in the law. And we know that that's an imperfect relationship. And so there are other things that we could make more sturdy. There are other things that we could back up in order to -- setting Donald Trump aside -- in order to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. What are some of those also?
LISA GILBERT: Well, certainly a lot of the reforms that we're talking about are contained in an omnibus legislative package called the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which we are hopeful could garner some bipartisan support, as did the Electoral Count Act reforms I was just talking about. So what it would do is, is shore up a lot of the loopholes that the Trump administration showed us exist. As you say, one of the main things we learned from his administration is that many things that we always thought were law or were actually just norms, were actually just things that presidents have always done, but they're [00:16:00] actually not required to do. So take his tax returns is a clear example of that. All presidents have always released them, but they were not apparently yet officially required to do so. So those kinds of things. So some of the reforms carried within that legislation are things like improving our whistleblower laws so that it is easier for those within government who are seeing things that might be coming from an unhinged president, those can be more easily shared, and those people are protected. Things to shore up our inspectors general so that if pressure is being applied to agencies or across the country, they'll be able to catch it and they'll be protected and won't have to fear being fired without cause.
There are just a couple things. But I think there are numerous places where the fact that laws are not as clear as we once thought. He was able to take advantage of that and abuse our ethical assumptions.
Historian Meets Watergate Prosecutor On The Right (And Wrong) Kinds Of Presidential Accountability Part 2 - The Brian Lehrer Show - Air Date 12-28-22
BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: You wrote in your op-ed in the Times it took almost a decade to set in place a suite of laws to deal with the toxic foundation [00:17:00] of Nixon's presidency. So that's not just about who goes to jail for Watergate, that's about something structural. So what happened then, and what question do you think it raises for now?
JULIAN ZELLZER: Yeah, I mean there were two streams of issues. One was Nixon and the individual connected to the presidency. Do you have accountability? And that's a large part of the January 6th report.
But then there was a second question in the 1970s: How do you fix the system? How do you deal with some of the underlying factors that allowed Nixon to do what he did? What were the roots of the imperial presidency?
And the seventies is a really interesting period in that you have this coalition of good government reform organizations like Common Cause, legislators on Capitol Hill often referred to as the Watergate babies -- people who were elected in 1974 and were committed to making the system better -- and investigative reporters. And they pushed for legislation [00:18:00] for years. And although it wasn't perfect, there were a lot of important bills that get through in the seventies, including campaign finance reform in 1974, reform to the intelligence system in 1978 before Nixon steps down, war powers resolution, budgeting reform, ethics in government reform, and much, much more.
And the point reformers understood [was] that you can't always contain or anticipate bad behavior by elected officials. So part of the challenge is how do you strengthen the democratic system? And I think that's a question right before Congress today. There was one initial success with the reform that passed last week of the Electoral Count Reform Act, which tries to close some of the holes that Trump wanted to exploit.
But much more needs to be done, from voting rights to additional protections of how the electoral count actually works. Unless we do that, I think we're perpetually gonna be in a [00:19:00] dangerous place.
BRIAN LEHRER - HOST, BRIAN LEHRER SHOW: Jill, anything you wanna add about the reforms that Watergate brought or ones you're looking for after January 6th?
JILL WINE-BANKS: Let me talk first about the ones from Watergate, which definitely included campaign reforms that were essential because without so much unaccountable money, Watergate wouldn't have happened. The White House had hundreds of thousands of dollars, which back then was like millions of dollars, in safes in the White House that they could use for anything. And so they used it for stupid things like the Watergate break-in, which if they were making decisions based on limited resources, they would've never used it for that. But that was undone by the Supreme Court and Citizens United. So the protections that we got in that legislation have been undone and Congress hasn't found a way to re- form the campaign system.
I would say the other big difference is that even with [00:20:00] the Electoral Count Act reform -- which is wonderful and was very much needed, was one of the most obvious things that was needed -- that can only cure what has already happened. They have stopped the gaps that were trying to be exploited by Trump and his colleagues.
But what happens when you have bad immoral people in office? They will think of new ways around existing laws. And I think as Julian said, you cannot always predict what the new ways around are. The only way around that is electing people of good moral character and not people who are liars. Your last segment, you were talking about Santos and his lies. If he's in Congress, he can't be trusted any more than Donald Trump, who has a history of lying, can be trusted. So we have to focus on better candidates. That doesn't mean we don't add all the laws that we can possibly add [00:21:00] that might stop this. But who would've ever predicted a president would try to interfere with a peaceful transfer of power? That's something that is so unlikely that no law existed to stop it, in the same way that there's no enforcement to the Emoluments Clause, because we never really thought a president would do what Donald Trump did. And so we need to fix all of those things that we now know about. But predicting what future evil may come is a little harder.
Brazen David Cay Johnston on How Trump's Tax Returns Show He Defrauded U.S. & Enriched Himself - Democracy Now! - Air Date 1-3-23
AMY GOODMAN: David, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Talk about what you found most significant, what you were most surprised by in these latest tax releases.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, that Donald used a number of legal devices to reduce taxes is no surprise, but he did something absolutely brazen, and that requires we go back to 1984. That was the year Trump Tower was selling apartments like crazy and his first [00:22:00] casino opened. So he had Amazons of cash flowing into his pockets. He filed a tax return that included something called a Schedule C. That’s what freelancers use. It’s what I use for my book writing business. And on it, he showed no revenue but over $600,000 of expenses. Auditors from the City of New York and the state of New York spotted that, disallowed it. Trump demanded trials. He lost both. The judges wrote scathing opinions about what he was doing.
So, what turns up in these six years of tax returns? Well, he filed 65 of Schedule Cs. Twenty-six of them had zero revenue and hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses. There were a handful of others where the income and the expenses, exactly to the dollar, equaled out, which is impossible to believe is anything but manipulation. For those 26 returns where he was [00:23:00] on notice that it’s illegal to create a fictitious business and take deductions, he could easily be prosecuted, either by the federal government or Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, for cheating on state taxes the same way. And that, I think, is the most brazen thing in there.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, David Cay Johnston, for those people who are not familiar with these Schedule Cs, what are the IRS regulations about being able to have a business that has no income but has all kinds of expenses, and how long can that go on before the IRS normally has a red flag to go after you?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: You can start up a business and have expenses to start up, but you have to show that you were attempting to make a profit. If you go on for five years, the IRS will almost always declare that this is a hobby, and the taxpayers aren’t going to subsidize your hobby. But that Trump did 26 of these [00:24:00] shows how determined he was to thumb his nose at the law.
And Trump has always done this. I’ve known Donald now for almost 35 years, and he’s always thumbing his nose at the law when he gets caught, as he has repeatedly in various civil and regulatory actions and some court cases, like where he cheated illegal immigrants, as he called them, who were brought into the country to work for him. He always somehow says, “Oh, no, this is a great victory for me. You don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s too complicated.” Nonsense. Donald Trump has been a criminal his whole life. He’s just very good at evading law enforcement.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And unlike, let’s say, a reporter like Maggie Haberman, whose recent book on Trump has gotten a lot of attention as a new expert on Trump, there are people like you and, of course, the late great Wayne Barrett who have been tracking—who were tracking Trump over decades. This whole [00:25:00] issue of him actually during the six years of his running for president and being president actually having net losses, could you talk about that?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, Donald reported net losses. We should think about that the way we talk about crime, reported crime. We don’t know the real level of that. So, Donald reported massive losses, so big that he had $150-some million of positive income—wages, capital gains, dividends, interest and pensions, $150 million-plus—but his tax returns show negative income of about $53 million. That’s a $200 million swing.
A lot of that was accomplished through a law that Donald Trump lobbied for in 1992 that allows real estate people, people who are big real estate investors—not mom-and-pop “I own one rental unit” people, but big [00:26:00] real estate investors—to live pretty much tax-free, if their only income is from real estate and the rest of their income is modest.
I’ve been told by a number of retired IRS agents who have reached out to me that they’ve gone over the returns, and their fundamental conclusion—and these are people who don’t know each other; they know me—they all said the same thing: A lot of the numbers on the tax returns appear to be just made up. Of course, who ever heard of Donald just making something up?
The tax returns, Amy, show that Donald paid more taxes, income taxes, to foreign governments than to the United States. And Donald’s foreign entanglements as president should concern us a lot. You’ll recall in the 2016 campaign he said, “The Saudis buy lots of apartments from me. They pay big prices. Why shouldn’t I like them? I like them.” That tells you that he’s influenced by people putting money in his pocket. And the president of the United States should not be. He should be insulated from that.
Everything you heard [00:27:00] Donald say during the two debates, with Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, was basically nonsense. In the case of paying taxes, there’s a tiny sliver of truth, because he paid overseas. The rest of it is absolute nonsense, and he knew it was absolute nonsense. But understand, Donald has no problem with lying through his teeth. He’s lied under oath in judicial proceedings. Donald essentially believes that whatever he says makes it so. So he just makes stuff up.
AMY GOODMAN: What about breaking the law?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, "why didn’t auditors catch Donald Trump?" is a very good question. First of all, Congress has given the IRS for two decades—more than two decades—extra money to pursue the working poor and make sure they don’t cheat on their taxes. But at the top, the Republicans have ordered the cuts of audits of corporations and wealthy people. Almost 25,000 [00:28:00] families make $10 million a year or more. In the most recent year we have data, 66 audits were closed. That’s nothing. That’s a fraction of 1% of those families.
Secondly, Donald knows that so long as he has loss carry-forwards—that is a tax deduction he couldn’t use this year, but he can use in future years—an auditor assigned to his tax return would quickly conclude that even if he found a whole bunch of bogus material, he’d still owe no taxes. So the IRS practice is generally to close such a file and move on to one that’s easier and will produce immediate revenue. We need to change that. I’ve asked the IRS and members of Congress now for decades to conduct a detailed study of people who report negative incomes, not once in a while because a business fails, but year after year after year, which is what Trump does. I think we’d discover some shocking things about our tax system. Yes, Juan.
JUAN GONZALEZ: David, I’d [00:29:00] like to ask you, in terms of this, going back to the Schedule C issue that you mentioned, you highlighted, in one piece you wrote about it, you said that you thought that this was the easiest case to make in terms of a potential criminal activity. Why is that, and why would a jury be more likely to find someone guilty just on the Schedule C violations than on the more complex legal issues that arise when you study Trump’s filings in depth?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Yeah. Juan, first of all, that’s not the most important case to bring. The most important case are the human intelligence documents he stole and took to Mar-a-Lago. But on the tax front, creating a fictitious business and taking tax deductions for it is a plain and simple thing ordinary people can understand. Many of the things Donald Trump has done with his taxes are esoteric. It took me years [00:30:00] and years and years to learn how the tax system really works. We pay tax lawyers tremendous amounts of money because our tax code, unnecessarily, is ridiculously complicated and involves very complex concepts involving accounting and depreciation and recognition of income and all sorts of terms that I’m sure most people watching are going, “What?” But this is simple and easy to prove.
And remember, Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan DA, got 17 felony convictions on 17 charges against the Trump Organization and a subsidiary company, both 100% owned by Donald Trump, for much smaller tax fraud involving freebies that were untaxed to executives—cars, apartments, things like that. Showing to people, “Here’s the tax return. There’s no evidence of a business that existed. He took these deductions. There’s no evidence of [00:31:00] documentation, receipts and invoices and things that show actual business,” people will grasp that, I believe, and I think it would take a prosecutor at most three days to present the case.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, why was only one IRS agent charged with investigating and reviewing Donald Trump’s taxes when he was president? The significance of that kind of review not having happened, even though it’s the law, David?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Presidential tax returns and vice-presidential returns are supposed to be audited. Biden and Kamala Harris have been audited. Obama and Biden were audited. Donald Trump appointed the Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, and he appointed Charles Rettig, who until recently was the IRS commissioner. And while they say they had no idea that these audits weren’t being done, they’re responsible. Doesn’t matter if you didn’t know. The question is “Why didn’t you know?”
Assigning a [00:32:00] single IRS agent to something this complex and refusing him access to specialists—the IRS employs specialists...
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: ...in everything, in all sorts of things—shows you that this is the lawlessness of the Trump administration. They were lawless.
Obama on Investigating Bush Crimes: "Need to Look Forward" - This Week - Air Date 1-11-09
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The most popular question on your own website is related to this. On Change.gov, it comes from Bob Furtick of New York City, and he asks, "Will you appoint a special prosecutor, ideally Patrick Fitzgerald, to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?"
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We're still evaluating how we are gonna approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions and so forth. And obviously we're gonna be looking at past practices. And I don't believe that anybody is above the law.
On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that, for example, at the CIA, you've got [00:33:00] extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've gotta spend all their work looking over their shoulders and lawyering.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So no 9/11 Commission with independent subpoena power?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have not made final decisions, but my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that, moving forward, we are doing the right thing? That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law that they are above the law. But my orientation's gonna be to move forward.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So let me just press that one more time. You're not ruling out prosecution, but will you tell your Justice Department to investigate these cases and follow the evidence wherever it leads?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What I think my general view when it comes to my attorney general is: he's the people's lawyer. Eric Holder's been nominated. His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interest of the American people, not to be swayed by my day-to-day politics.
So ultimately he's gonna be making some calls. But my general belief is that when it comes to [00:34:00] national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned Eric Holder.
Obama Admin: Torture Not Illegal, Just A "Disagreement" - The Young Turks - Aired 3-27-10
CENK UYGUR - HOST, THE YOUNG TURKS: The Office of Professional Responsibility in the Justice Department is tasked with the job of figuring out who is, following the laws within the Justice Department, who's following the Constitution, et cetera, et cetera. They're the ones that keep an eye out to make sure the Justice Department is actually following the law.
So they had an investigation of the infamous torture memos during the Bush administration, mainly written by Jay Bybee and John Yoo, and they wanted to see if the people who wrote these memos were following internal Justice Department guidelines and were following the law itself. And they came to a conclusion that they had not, that they had done professional misconduct. They basically, in order to appease the policy people over at the White House—namely Dick Cheney, his top lawyer, David Addington, [00:35:00] et cetera —wrote opinions that now the Office of Professional Responsibility think were not justified by the law at all, so that they should be brought up, not in a criminal trial, but brought to the bar to have them explain how in the world did you come up with these opinions inside the Justice Department saying it was okay to torture when it seems so absolutely and clearly against the laws of this country.
And to give you a sense of how egregious John Yoo was, the Office of Professional Responsibility, in the middle of the investigation, invited him in to ask him questions and he came in and answered. And they asked him, "Hey, let me ask you a wild hypothetical. What about ordering a village of re resistance to be massacred? Is that a power that the president could legally have?" Now, they're asking this cuz John Yoo wrote memos saying the president has the power to do anything, anything. He can torture people, he can ignore Congress' laws, as long as we're in a time of war, and we are always at [00:36:00] war with terrorism, the president is above the law basically.
Now, that's unjustifiable in our system according to our laws and according to our constitution, that's why they think this is professional misconduct. But they're giving him an opportunity here. Could the president order a massacring of civilians? Here's John Yoo's answer. "Yeah. Although, let me say this, so, so certainly that would fall within the Commander of Chief's power over tactical decisions." not unclear. Yes. It falls within his tactical decision power making. If you'd like to massacre civilians perfectly capable of doing that, and that would be perfectly legal. And the investigator is shocked. He can't believe it. He asked to order a village of civilians to be exterminated? Yoo's answer: sure. He didn't stutter.
Now, this is obviously against the law. It's not even taking US law into consideration at all. It's just John Yoo's opinion that yeah, the president can do any damn thing he likes, he can murder anyone he likes. [00:37:00] It's crazy, right? So why am I angry at the Obama administration? Well, they sent in a hack. In the terms of the Washington media, they call him a "career veteran". His name is David Margolis. He takes the conclusions of the Office of Professional Responsibility that said this was professional misconduct on you and Bybee's part, and he changes it. Did he do his own separate investigation? Did he interview Yoo? Did he go through all the things that they did? Nope. He's a political hack brought in to wash things over. So he takes that and goes, no, it's not professional misconduct. I, in my infinite wisdom have decided that it does not rise to that level. It's just simply something we disagree with. Well, it's just a matter of disagreement then, isn't it?
So, they will not be brought before the bar. There will be no investigation. [00:38:00] No crimes were committed, even though they did all this investigation and said that this was misconduct. Throw that in the garbage cuz they brought in a politician or a guy who'll do whatever a politician says, and in this case, Obama, to say, we're gonna look forward. We're not gonna look backward. The Justice Department's job is not to look at crimes of the past, which is of course nonsense. That's exactly what the Justice Department is supposed to do. They look at crimes that happened and I'm supposed to look into the future, what crimes might possibly happen. No, you look at the crimes that did happen and prosecute them.
So they are free to go. No one will suffer any consequences for the torture that was ordered for the ridiculous, outrageous, so-called legal memorandum that were written to justify it, and John Yoo will continue to be a law professor. HA! A law professor. Here's the critical part—it's one thing for somebody to break the [00:39:00] law, it's another thing for someone to sanction it. Sanctioning it is almost worse because, look, you'll always have criminals. You'll always have people pushing the boundaries, in this case, of our democracy to say, oh, no, no, no, the president is above the law. The president can break the law. The president could order torture, the president could order murder, and none of it matters. You'll always have those guys. But if you don't punish them or if you don't, at least say, "hey, this is misconduct, this was legally wrong," then you say it's okay, it's sanctioned, and the next time a Republican comes in office or maybe a Democrat, they're gonna turn back and say, well, it was a matter of disagreement. It's not really illegal, it's not really misconduct. It's just a matter of disagreement. So now we go back to torturing and killing, and that is more dangerous than anything else.
Obama here with, honestly, in my opinion, his cowardice in not pursuing [00:40:00] what the real Justice Department findings were, in burying them, has set a terrible and grave precedent. Torture is no longer illegal, it's just a matter of opinion. And it's hard to do more damage to the country than by setting that precedent.
The Central Cause of January 6th Was One Man: House Panel Urges Trump Be Banned from Public Office - Democracy Now! - Air Date 12-23-22
JOHN NICHOLS: What I was saying is that the report focuses primarily on the personalities, on Donald Trump and the other people we’ve heard mentioned a lot. But as you get toward the end of the report, on, I think, page 689, they have their recommendations. And their recommendations are important, because it’s really the policies that come out of this that ultimately will protect us from future incidents like January 6, 2021.
And what they propose is a reform of the [inaudible], which is moving through Congress now. It looks like that may actually happen. They also propose taking steps that will allow [00:41:00] to have much more clarity as regards Article 14, Section 3, of the Constitution, which says that an officeholder who supports an insurrection or gives aid and comfort to an insurrection, participates in an insurrection, can be barred from office. And so they want to give clarity to that so that Congress can act on that issue in the future.
Now, all of this takes us back, Amy, to the reality that this Congress, particularly this Senate, failed back in February of 2021 in the impeachment process. Had Donald Trump been convicted by the Senate, then we would have had clarity on these issues at that point. Because that didn’t happen, now we have a series of recommendations, which in some ways are an admission that Congress doesn’t think that the impeachment process probably will ever work, so they want to have another vehicle to bar those who participate in insurrections.
The final thing I’ll mention as regards the recommendations, [00:42:00] and it’s a disappointment on my part, is that the committee did not make a clear statement that the Electoral College should be abolished, because the fact of the matter is that the Electoral College is the root of a lot of these problems. This convoluted mess of a system, which has the votes being counted at certain points and then transferred to Congress and all that, created the real opening for Donald Trump and his allies to do the things that they did. And I think that while abolishing the Electoral College would be difficult, it’s something that clearly the committee should have recommended.
AMY GOODMAN: They did make recommendations but did not go that far, John. Can you explain what those recommendations are?
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, as regards the Electoral Count Act, as regards the clarity on 14.3, and then there’s a number of other recommendations, Amy, within this list for just simply making the processes of [00:43:00] Congress work more effectively as regards oversight. And so, they’re a solid set of recommendations, but not a bold set of recommendations, to my view.
AMY GOODMAN: They also dealt with a number of issues. For example, they said that the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley said, “Why are we allowing the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers to be there?” This was days before the January 6th protest. But he did not get support in what he had to say. You have Cassidy Hutchinson and her lawyer — Cassidy Hutchinson was then out of work. She was asked to speak before the committee. And her lawyer was given to her by, as she put it, “Trump world,” Stefan Passantino. And he told her that she should simply say, “I don’t recall.” She did that, apparently, the [00:44:00] first time around, and she testified before the staff several times she was questioned, and then came out and said, “I feel like I am lying.”
Actually, it’s interesting, the latest news is that Stefan Passantino is on leave from his law firm. And many legal experts are saying, as a message to other lawyers, like Passantino, is that if you interfere in this way, this is literally witness tampering, and that you can go to jail.
JOHN NICHOLS: Right. Look, this report is incredibly detailed, and it does, in fact, look at a lot of the issues as regards the attempts by former President Trump and his allies to thwart this investigation. And you can understand why. At the heart of this report, and at the heart of what the committee has done, are recommendations that Trump be prosecuted and that some of his closest [00:45:00] allies be prosecuted. So, I think they knew from the start that this was where the whole process was headed, and they wanted to undermine and weaken that process. And so, the report goes into a lot of detail on that, and some of that may well turn out to be significant as regards future prosecutions and future action by the Justice Department.
But I would counsel, Amy, there’s a significant aspect of this that we should be conscious of. This report is really a roadmap. It is a roadmap as regards what the Justice Department might do. It is also a roadmap as to what Congress might do. It is not a certainty by any means. There are still a lot of open areas and open questions within the report that, effectively, the committee says, “Well, the Department of Justice is going to have to go deeper on this. They’re going to have to explore this more thoroughly. They’re going to have to ask more questions.” And so I think people should be very cautious about assuming that simply because this report [00:46:00] has been released with its recommendations to the Department of Justice and to Congress, that we are necessarily going to have a true moment of accountability.
Again, I keep coming back to this point. The moment of accountability should have been back with impeachment in February of 2021. And you and I talked a lot about impeachment before that. And I remember I was in Madison on January 6th, when things occurred, and because I had written so much about impeachment, my phone started ringing off the hook. And I really did, I think, believe for a few days there that it was possible we’d have the accountability moment as it was intended. Instead, what we ended up with is this long, very slow process of trying to find a route to accountability. And, I would emphasize, we’re still not there.
Ginni Thomas not mentioned in Jan. 6 Committee report - The Mehdi Hasan Show - Air Date 1-3-23
MEHDI HASAN - HOST, THE MEHDI HASAN SHOW: We begin the new calendar with a topic we covered heavily throughout 2022: the [00:47:00] January 6th investigation, and more specifically, the role of Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, better known as Ginny. We learned in 2022 that Mrs. Thomas texted state lawmakers and even Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, urging them all to overturn the election and keep Trump in office. But don't let the bland headlines downplay or even normalize what those texts represent. Those texts weren't the reasonable asks of a concerned citizen. Ginny Thomas's texts were unhinged, full of far-right conspiracy theories, like this message she sent to Meadows in November 2020, first obtained by the Washington Post, claiming the "Biden crime family would be arrested and living in barges off Gitmo to face military tribunals for sedition". She also referred to watermarked ballots and a military white hat sting operation, both phrases often pushed by QAnon types. Later in the month, when Meadows tried to ease her concerns about the [00:48:00] election results, Thomas replied, "Thank you. Needed that. This plus a conversation with my best friend just now".
We and others in the media speculated who that best friend could be. But now we can finally put all that speculation aside, thanks to the transcripts released by the January 6th committee over the holiday week, where Ginny confirms that her best friend is exactly who we thought it was all along: her husband, Justice Clarence Thomas. Surprise. See, Ginny Thomas did a voluntary sitdown with the committee in September. She wasn't subpoenaed. She wasn't under oath.
COMMITTEE STAFF: Did you speak with your husband about your belief in the election being stolen?
MEHDI HASAN - HOST, THE MEHDI HASAN SHOW: Ha ha. In the transcript of that interview, we see that Ginny Thomas was asked, "Do you recall who you were referring to when you said you had just had a conversation with your best friend?" "It looks like it was my husband", she says. The committee continues, "Do you remember [00:49:00] what you talked to Justice Thomas about that made you feel better and allowed you to say, 'Keep holding on'?" "I wish I could remember she response, but I have no memory of the specifics". Later, the question, "Do you recall having any conversations with your husband about the fact that you were in contact with Mr. Meadows in this post-election timeframe?" "Absolutely not", she says. "He found out in March of this year when it hit the newspapers. He had no idea that I was texting Mark Meadows about the election".
Now, we can all choose whether or not to believe Ginny Thomas when she says her husband didn't know about her texts. She claims she doesn't discuss her day-to-day work in politics with him, as he's apparently uninterested in politics. I choose to say, Yeah, right. But even if you take her testimony at face value, the fact that she had a discussion with her husband, whom she calls her best friend, someone who helped her feel better, all while she was plotting behind the scenes to overturn a presidential election, it calls into serious question why Justice Clarence Thomas, the lone dissenter, you'll recall, when the Supreme Court [00:50:00] allowed Trump's documents to be released to the one 1/6 Committee in an 8 to 1 vote, why Justice Thomas was, and could still be, hearing any cases related to Donald Trump or the 2020 election at all.
Democrats should have acted on this months ago. Again, on this show, we pointed out that impeachment is an option. So, what are Democrats doing about it now? Well, here's 1/6 Committee member Zoe Lofgren.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Well, it did strike me as, uh, as a wrong behavior. I think, based on this, that Justice Thomas would be well advised to recuse himself, uh, from, from participating in matters that relate, uh, to this.
MEHDI HASAN - HOST, THE MEHDI HASAN SHOW: Ah, yes. Simply calling for him to recuse himself. Again. Something he's refused to do so far and there's no reason to think he'll change his mind on that. Democrats have squandered an opportunity, an opportunity they had to impeach him when they [00:51:00] controlled the House. They no longer have a majority in the House. That's now a non-starter. Good job, Dems.
Now there are some other interesting and important revelations from the Ginny Thomas transcript. She still believes there was fraud in the 2020 election. Still believes it. When told by Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, that people like Attorney General Bill Barr and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told Trump there was no evidence of widespread fraud, Thomas doubles down on her election denialism, saying it wouldn't change her mind if she knew of those statements at the time: "There's a lot of people uncomfortable with the 2020 election despite what this Committee is pushing. Okay?", she tells Cheney. "I just think there's still concern". She later adds, "I just think there's still a lot of things that are still being uncovered, and so I believe there was fraud and irregularity contrary to, clearly, what you believe". Betcha can't guess what she says when asked what her evidence for this fraud and irregularity was: "I can't say that I was familiar at that time with any specific evidence", she tells Committee member Jamie Raskin, who asked what the most significant [00:52:00] case of voter fraud she was concerned about. When pressed later on, she repeats, she repeats: "I don't have specific evidence of fraud. It was just a general belief that was motivating me at the time". In other words, I believe it. Therefore it must be true. Facts be damned. But make sure the Biden crime family are locked up at Guantanamo, nevertheless. Ginny Thomas does have one regret though when asked if she regrets her texts to Mark Meadows or if she regrets that they became public, Thomas says, "I regret the tone and content of these texts. I wish I could have rewritten them. I wish I didn't send them. It was just an emotional time". Yeah.
Despite everything Ginny Thomas told the Committee in four hours of questioning, it wasn't testimony. Despite everything we've seen in these texts, Ginny Thomas' name appears in the January 6th Committee's final report exactly, let me see, 1, 2, 3... 0 times! No mention at all In over 800 pages. [00:53:00] Somehow the wife of a sitting Supreme Court Justice being involved in an attempt to undo a free and fair election, an attempt that resulted in the deadly attack on the Capitol, somehow that doesn't merit a spot in the final report.
In the meantime, her husband remains on the highest court in the nation, ruling on cases, not just related to the 2020 election, but cases that could change how our elections are conducted going forward. Full stop. And that... that should be a national scandal.
Joining me now is Slate staff writer Mark Joseph Stern, who covers the courts and the law, and former Republican Congressional aid and never-Trumper Rina Shah, founder of the firm Relax Strategies, and of Republican Women for Biden. Thank you both for joining me on the show. Happy New Year to you both.
Rina, let me start with you. What is your biggest takeaway from Ginny Thomas's testimony that we got hold of over the break, and where do we go from here in terms of accountability for her role in all of this? As I said earlier, [00:54:00] she's not mentioned at all in the final 1/6 Committee report.
RINA SHAH: The biggest takeaway for me is power protects power. And for Liz Cheney, who by so many of us has been seen as this great patriot, somebody who really stood up and faced down some ugly, ugliness of her own party, and refuses to leave the party, why couldn't she go all the way? Why did it have to stop at Ginny Thomas? And to me, this is the real stark reality of our politics, is that nobody is really willing to go all the way anymore. There always has to be this caveat. It seems like, again, even with the people who we see as the loudest and the messengers who have the best things to say, like Liz Cheney, even they are sometimes not willing to put country over party, and that's the only takeaway I can take, I can glean from this, because Ginny Thomas, to me, deserves to be behind bars.
MEHDI HASAN - HOST, THE MEHDI HASAN SHOW: There was reporting, uh, from last year [00:55:00] that Liz Cheney, uh, has a relationship with the Thomas's and didn't want the Committee to go too aggressively after Ginny Thomas. Uh, Thomas, who of course denies any role in any kind of coup, denies that she's committed any kind of crimes.
I was talking to some friends over Christmas and I was making this point that in the old days, you know, anyone who knows me knows I'm a critic of conservatism, critic of the Republican Party, but in the old days, you could have a legitimate debate over, Should the tax rate be higher or should the tax rate be lower. Today, the political debate is, do you believe Hillary Clinton was operating a pedophile cabal in a pizza restaurant basement, or do you believe Joe Biden's family should be locked up at Guantanamo Bay? That is not normal political debate. And to know that the wife of a Supreme Court Justice is pedaling this stuff at the highest levels of government, Mark, how is it that Justice Clarence Thomas isn't under any real pressure to recuse himself? We played Zoe Lofgren a moment ago, uh, saying he should recuse himself. A few Democrats here and there have said that. None as far as I'm aware of, maybe [00:56:00] AOC, off the top of my head, have called for his impeachment back in the day. Obviously the House is now controlled by the Republicans. That's not happening. But where is the outcry from the Democratic Party, from sections of the "liberal media", that Justice Thomas is ruling on cases involving Trump, involving the election, involving future elections?
MARK JOSEPH STERN: Well, you know, I think partly this is a fundamental flaw in the American democratic system. We love to praise the Constitution as divinely inspired, but the reality is that the men who wrote it were mortals who simply did not envision that someone as corrupt as Clarence Thomas would ever sit on the Supreme Court and refuse to recuse himself from cases in which his own wife tried to overturn the election and nullify millions of votes. And because there's no real chance of him being removed, I mean, he'd have to be impeached and then voted by two thirds of the Senate to remove, I think Democrats have decided to just save their energy, save their breath, and outside of a few who are very activated on the courts, like, uh, Ocasio-Cortez, they don't think this is a battle [00:57:00] worth fighting. They think they should keep their powder dry for other areas where they're willing to really leave it all on the field.
But I will tell you that Nancy Pelosi, for all of her wonderful attributes, she really put on kid gloves when it came to the courts. Yes, she was not willing to go all in on dealing with the conservative Republican takeover of the courts. Hakeem Jeffries is different. He is of a different generation. He is of course the new Democratic leader in the House, and he has spoken eloquently and fiercely about Justice Clarence Thomas' corruption and about his desire to root out broader corruption and partisanship in the judiciary. So I think Democrats are waking up to the fact that they need to talk about this and address it directly, but they're still stumped by the lack of options for direct action, and they're feeling their way towards some kind of consensus that'll let them move next time they regain power in the House and the Senate.
MEHDI HASAN - HOST, THE MEHDI HASAN SHOW: We know that Nancy Pelosi almost mocks the idea of expanding or rebalancing the court. We know that Joe Biden set up a commission on the court and then kicked it, you know, kicked the can down the road when some members of that commission were saying, Well, let's talk about [00:58:00] expanding the court. Although the majority, uh, didn't say that. It's a real problem. I should remind our viewers at home that the Supreme Court, Mark, correct me if I'm wrong, is the only court in the country that doesn't have to abide by any kind of external ethics code. They're self-regulating and that's worked out wonderfully.
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today starting with Democracy, Now!, laying out the charges against Trump being recommended to the DOJ. The Brian Lehrer Show, in two parts, discussed the legacy of deciding not to prosecute Richard Nixon. CounterSpin looked beyond the criminal charges recommended to the structural changes that are needed. Democracy, Now! talked with David Cay Johnston about Trump's tax fraud. A classic This Week, from 2009, featured president-elect Barack Obama explaining why his focus was going to be on looking forward to avoiding committing crimes, rather than backward on prosecuting the ones that had already been committed. And The Young Turks from 2010 described the action taken to help writers of the Bush-era torture [00:59:00] memo avoid any punishment for their misconduct. And finally, Democracy, Now! looked at more structural changes we need to the system and how we keep missing the opportunities to hold the former president accountable. No kidding. In fact, you're gonna have to be more specific.
That's what everybody heard, but members also heard a bonus clip from the Mehdi Hasan Show, focusing in on the role of Ginny Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justie Clarence Thomas in the insurrection, and what that should mean for the court. To hear that and have all of our bonus contents delivered seamlessly to the new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information. And now we'll hear from you.
The upside of TikTok - James
VOICEDMAILER: JAMES: Hi Jay, this is James.
I take issue with the small segment about TikTok in your latest episode. While I agree that it is scary that the [01:00:00] Chinese government has the potential to gain access to American's data and information, the platform has also allowed people to share their lived experiences, thoughts, and opinions to a wide audience in a way that is unprecedented to human history, even more so than Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter ever could. It is my belief that this level of exposure, that's presented in a sort of face-to-face way, has led to a great deal of leftward momentum in the American populace over the last 3 to 4 years as a result of increased empathy and people sharing leftist ideologies. There's a few reasons why the younger generations are some of the most left-leaning in recent history and I think TikTok plays a big role in why that is.
I can't think of any other way that I would have been able to be put into direct contact and hear the personal stories and see the daily lives of the people of Ukraine, Iran, Russia, and many other places all over the world. No other aspect of my life has inspired me to move farther left or take action for leftist causes than being able to watch short videos made [01:01:00] directly by young leftist thinkers spread all over the country or witness in real time the daily struggles of average Americans as we have all navigated the troubles of the last few years.
In conclusion, I agree that it is definitely problematic that the Chinese government potentially has the ability to inject their propaganda directly into our phones to serve pro-Chinese agendas, but that just isn't what I've seen happening on the app. I think it's far more beneficial to have a media source that is outside of our own American propaganda machine that has been shown again and again to manipulate what the population sees, to sometimes disastrous ends.
Anyway, sorry for the essay, I love the show and have been a long time listener.
Final comments on the good and bad of tech and the structural nature of media
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Thanks to all those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record or text us a message at 202-999-3991 or send an email to [email protected]
First, a quick reminder about recent [01:02:00] changes to the show. We now have a new ad system in the hopes of generating some much needed funds, so you may be hearing those in the show now. I explained in detail at the end of episode 1534, so you can hear that if you missed it. The highlights were that the system manages to respect your privacy by barring the advertisers from accessing your IP address. So, yay for that. And secondly, that system does not play well with my chapter markers, which means that those are now a members only. Boo to that. So if you love chapter markers, and I know I do, then now may be a good time to sign up for that membership you've been meaning to get.
Now, thanks to James for that message we just heard. Though he started by saying that he wanted to take issue with our framing of the TikTok topic. And I'll start by saying that I take issue with James taking issue. Because to take issue is just a way of saying that you disagree or you wanna [01:03:00] challenge something. And look, maybe James did want to challenge our coverage of TikTok as ignoring the benefits while focusing too much on the downsides. But I take issue with him taking issue because that makes it sound like there are two sides of a debate here about whether TikTok is good or bad, and then I gave like an unfair report to skew the debate in my direction. The issue I'm taking is that there is no debate. Tech, like TikTok, isn't either good or bad. It's almost always both. And in fact, the bothness of this good and bad is actually intrinsic to how the tech functions. Tristan Harris of the Center for Humane Technology calls this phenomenon the simultaneous utopia and dystopia of technology. Uber is one of his classic examples, and he talks about how being able to push a button on your phone and have a car arrive in [01:04:00] front of you and take you to your destination is basically magic. But the flip side of that is labor exploitation, flouting regulation, and undermining established taxi cab unions. But if there weren't the utopia side of the scale, then the dystopian elements would never gain any traction. Same goes for all the social media networks. Of course, there are huge upsides to those platforms of being able to connect all around the world. If they were nothing but Nazi and anti-vaxxer propaganda machines, then they wouldn't be nearly as enticing to people. If TikTok weren't good in any number of ways, including all the ways that James was describing, then we wouldn't have to worry about the bad side of it. It's the fact that the bad comes with the good that is precisely the problem.
So, you know, I'm poking very gentle fun at James, but really I am happy to hear his perspective on the benefits that [01:05:00] he's experienced with TikTok. However, the existence of upsides about TikTok or anything else doesn't soften my perspective on the downsides at all. This is not, like, a thing where I weigh like, Well, okay, but there are some good sides too, so I guess it's not so bad. No, that'd be like a fish on a hook saying, Hey, don't leave out the part about how big and fat the worm was. Yeah, I know: the bait is delicious and nutritious. That's how it's designed to work. But that's not the thing we need to be most concerned about right now. And just in case that sounds conspiratorial, you know, like the people who created TikTok we're just trying to lure you in to, you know, be able to manipulate you, I love taking any opportunity to clarify this point, and I urge anyone to go back and listen to any of our episodes about all the problems with modern tech. The bad sides are not created out of a nefarious desire by the designers to do harm. [01:06:00] Almost universally their goal is to create wonderful things that people love, and then the bad sides emerge later, usually out of the profit motive, the free to use business model, the capitalist drive for infinite growth, or all three. And it's not a conspiracy. It's structural. James also mentioned the American propaganda machine, uh, that so regularly misleads people, and that's another structural rather than conspiratorial problem, which I also love to talk about.
There's this right wing meme that I came across recently about the media and it reads "Whenever there's a big story in the media, look for the story they're trying to distract you from". And I love that because it's so emblematic of conservative thinking and it's so close, it's so close to being worthwhile, but it's conspiratorial framing. It's the idea like, there are people [01:07:00] trying to distract you, like consciously, right? The left wing also distrust the media, but the left wing non-conspiratorial, structural framing equivalent of that meme would be something like "The corporate media maximizes profits by focusing on the stories that attract the most attention and don't upset their advertisers. So it's worth looking for the stories that are underserved and/or challenge the corporate power structure." Same distrust, same concern that important stories are not being shown, but a much different framing and frankly, a far more accurate understanding of what's happening. But of course, it's not nearly as exciting as imagining that there's a cabal of, look, probably Jewish, right?, power brokers secretly manipulating the media for ideological rather than financial reasons. I mean, one only need go back a few [01:08:00] years to when the head of CBS said that Trump was bad for the country, but good for CBS, to understand how most of the media works.
Anyway, to James and anyone else using TikTok, I hope you're having a fun time and I genuinely hope that you're right, that it is encouraging more empathy through shared pseudo face-to-face exchanges. Genuinely. I mean, the bad sides are there. Hopefully we can maximize the upside as much as possible.
As always, keep the comments coming in and remember that our old number is now not just a voicemail line, but also can receive text messages. So you can leave us a voicemail as always, or you can now text us through, you know, regular texting or on WhatsApp or on the Signal messaging app, all with the same number, 202-999-3991, or keep it entirely old school by emailing me to [email protected]
Thanks to everyone for [01:09:00] listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show, and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken, and Brian, for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segment, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player.
So, coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.
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