Friday, February 17, 2012

Excerpts of Glenn Greenwald's Column on Frank VanderSloot -OR- Taking a Wide Stance for Free Speech

A nice image of Shoshone Falls, Idaho, taken in March 2011. Source of image here.

I'm posting Idaho -- NO, YOU DA HO! -- images in this entry for reason that will become very clear.

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This is not my regularly planned update. Instead, I feel compelled to dedicate a special entry that calls attention to Glenn Greenwald's magnificent piece about Frank VanderSloot Billionaire Romney donor uses threats to silence critics that appeared in Salon.com. I had wanted to post the entire piece but for a couple of reasons I have opted not to do that including its length and some of the topics it covers.


Meet Frank VanderSloot (pictured above, left side), a man described in the Greenwald article and elsewhere as an anti-gay ultra-conservative Mormon billionaire and dealer in questionable corporate practices involving accusations that his company runs an Amway-like pyramid scheme. 

More importantly in the article, though, he is someone who uses his fortune to launch frivolous but effective lawsuits against his critics (esp. in his home state of Idaho) in a way that (where they exist) state-level anti-"SLAPP" statutes are intended to counter (see excerpt below), even while he freely spends his vast wealth to influence the political process, esp. on hot-button social issues.

Related to the above point, VanderSloot is also a good friend and big supporter of Mit Romney. Indeed, in the post-Citizens United George F. Will demi-paradisaical world in which the more money you have, the freer and more guaranteed is your political speech, he is also a major (Super PAC) Romney benefactor (as if one billionaire needed the help of another billionaire).

Now VanderSloot may go after Glenn Greenwald and Salon ...

... but it should be pointed out that Glenn Greenwald -- pictured at left in an image that is probably about 10 years old -- is an openly gay constitutional lawyer, who prolifically pens jeremiads against the propaganda of the corporate media, and who has made Bradley Manning's plight his personal life's mission.

Glenn Greenwald is a kind of gay pit bull, or maybe even like that honey badger, and if this VanderSloot fellow thinks he is going to silence him, well, I just don't see that happening.

In short, much like the honey badger, Glenn Greenwald don't give a shit.

Here are some excerpts of the piece including this first one in which Greenwald lays out his motivations. The images are mostly ones I found and are intended to break up the text. 

Anyway, here are the excerpts (I did not use quotation marks but instead italicized the excerpted text):

Numerous journalists and bloggers in Idaho -- who want to write critically about VanderSloot's vast funding of right-wing political causes -- are petrified even to mention his name for fear of these threats. As his work on the Romney campaign brings him national notoriety, he is now aiming these tactics beyond Idaho. To allow this scheme to continue -- whereby billionaires can use their bottomless wealth to intimidate ordinary citizens and media outlets out of writing about them -- is to permit the wealthiest in America to thuggishly shield themselves from legitimate criticism and scrutiny.

In terms of the use of frivolous lawsuits, the following paragraph is worth quoting at length:

Threatening journalists and bloggers with baseless lawsuits and trying to suppress free debate is a recognized menace. Close to 30 states in the U.S. have adopted so-called anti-SLAPP statutes -- designed to punish "strategic lawsuits against public participation" (SLAPP). Those statutes create causes of action against those who abuse the legal system not to vindicate legal rights, but to intimidate and silence critics.

Organizations such as The Public Participation Project now exist exclusively to defend those victimized by SLAPP suits or the threat of them. Those anti-SLAPP statutes have repeatedly been used to defeat abusive lawsuits brought to stifle legitimate speech by media outlets and bloggers.

As the Project explains: "such lawsuits turn the justice system into a weapon, and have a serious chilling effect on the free speech that is so vital to the public interest. The lawsuits also cost media organizations thousands of dollars. Even a meritless suit can drag on for months – sometimes even years – and tactics such as aggressive discovery can pile on the costs." And lawyers -- whether working in-house for a corporation or a private law firm -- have an independent duty not to threaten frivolous lawsuits for improper ends (Melaleuca did not respond to a message left yesterday for its General Counsel, Ryan Nelson, seeking comment for this article).


And the concluding paragraphs (which I've further broken up for readability) are worth quoting since Greenwald is essentially daring VanderSloot to try the defamation of character lawsuit approach.

The reality is that most people who threaten to bring defamation lawsuits rarely do so. There are few things more invasive than being a defamation plaintiff. Because one must prove reputational injury, and in most cases must prove that one’s business or financial interests have been harmed by the allegedly defamatory statements, virtually every aspect of a person’s private and business life -- anything relating to their reputation and financial activities -- is subject to discovery and investigation.

Say, look, it's former Idaho Senator Larry "Bathroom Stall Wide Stance" Craig. He knows a thing or two about being a public figure. What a buffoon.

That "truth is a defense" allows sweeping discovery into the allegedly defamatory statements. Beyond that, those like VanderSloot who are public figures, suing over articles clearly about matters of public interest, have a very high burden to meet in order to prevail, and proving actual damages is difficult in the extreme.

But many people who threaten to bring such suits -- especially those with deep pockets making threats against those who cannot afford to defend themselves -- know full well that it will never get that far because the threats themselves will suffice. That's the dynamic that has to change, and (this is addressed to any lawyers for VanderSloot and Melaleuca reading this) this is the dynamic that will change if someone stands up to these pernicious tactics.

Anyone who is the national finance co-chair of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign deserves probing, substantial scrutiny. That's equally true of someone who continues to use their vast wealth to influence the outcome of our elections and our most inflammatory political debates. And it's certainly true of someone who has made it a regular practice of threatening journalists, bloggers and activists who shine light on his political and business practices. Journalists like Jody May-Chang who focus their journalistic light on people like Frank VanderSloot provide all of us with a vital public service, and deserve our full-fledged support when they are targeted with threats and retribution.

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OK, that's all for now. I plan to post a regular update tomorrow in which I discuss, among other topics,our ever-less-impressive-looking forecasted snow event on Sunday.

Indeed, if the new 0Z NAM verifies, we aren't going to get shit here and all this build up was for naught. Everything lurches by to our south. This would be flurries at most. This shows the mean sea level (surface) pressure, 850mb temps, and 3-hour precip for 0Z 20 Feb. 2012 (7PM EST Sunday night, Feb. 19, 2012 Sunday). 

WOODY! and the Sue Palka - Cabra creature are happy indeed. 

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OK, that really is all for now. Tonight, I'm planning on going to Nellie's solo.

--Regulus

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