Banter M Issue 80: The Banter is Being Sued by a Rogue Australian Astrologer

In this issue of Banter M: 

The Banter is Being Sued by a Rogue Australian Astrologer (Pt 1) - Yes, you read that right. The Daily Banter is being sued by a "rogue" Australian astrologer/blogger. Get the inside scoop from Ben Cohen on what has to be the craziest story we've ever published. 

My Personal Cuckoo's Nest and the Trump Tapes - Bob Cesca found himself at breaking point this week over the president's antics. Trump's latest lies and idiotic behavior has reached new levels of absurdity and Bob proposes a series of new measures to keep him in check. 

A Feminist's Guide to a Meaningful Father's Day - Justin Rosario imagines a world where men wanted the best for their daughters instead of what's best for themselves.

The Banter is Being Sued by a Rogue Australian Astrologer (Pt 1)

by Ben Cohen

No, you did not misread the headline. The Daily Banter is apparently being sued for libel by a rogue astrologer/journalist in Australia by the name of Caitlin Johstone -- and we have emails from a (supposed) lawyer telling us we will be facing legal action should we not take down the allegedly libelous piece we wrote about her. 

If you haven't been following the back and forth we've had with Ms. Johnstone over the past few weeks, here's a quick recap. 

Banter writer Jeremy Fassler originally mentioned Johnstone as an example of the increasing insane Alt-Left community propagating provably false conspiracy theories about Russia's interference with the U.S election and the Seth Rich/DNC murder conspiracy. This resulted in a furious response from Johnstone who accused us of knowingly lying about her writing for Russian propaganda outlets. Johnstone claimed she had not written for these outlets knowingly, and stated that they had published her work without her consent. We conceded that she did not write for the outlets specifically, but knew full well they were republishing her work. She published an email clearly showing she knew, but then denied it outright accusing us of lying. 

We deal with this kind of nonsense on a pretty regular basis here at the Banter, a price we pay for shining a light on the dark underbelly of the web. Johnstone is a dedicated conspiracy theorist who believes 9/11 was an inside job, the DNC murdered Seth Rich, and centrist Democrats are trying to create World War III by fabricating the Russiagate scandal. It's routine fantasy world rantings of a clearly unwell woman who spends far too much time on the internet and far too little time going out and meeting people in real life. Johnstone is apparently so bored with her life that she is injecting herself into a debate thousands and thousands and miles away from where she lives in a completely different country. I do feel a degree of empathy for her, but you only need to read her writing to understand that she is an incredibly nasty piece of work with little regard for the damage she is causing. This was made even clearer when Johnstone threatened to sue us into bankruptcy and ruin my career -- a threat she is actually trying to make good on. This email was a preview for the onslaught that was about to go down: 

After I published a response to her on the Banter, Johnstone published an article to her site accusing me of libel. Her evidence? I claimed she wasn't a trained journalist. Johnstone published this in reponse: 

Hours later, Cohen’s “warning” came to fruition in the form of yet another unimpressive smear piece, this one directed at me and featuring an admittedly highly unflattering photo. I didn’t mind that (the article was basically just Cohen disagreeing with my take on things using a lot of hyperbole and snark), but I do take issue with the part where he told his publication’s readers that I don’t have a journalism degree:

I take issue with the highlighted portion of text because Cohen is lying. Again. I am actually a highly-trained journalist who graduated with distinction from the most esteemed journalism program in Australia. Which I mentioned in the Rantt News response I’d used to demonstrate that Jeremy Fassler was knowingly lying about me in my previous article.

She also provided photo evidence of her degree:

And then followed up with a pledge to pursue legal action against us: 

Media outlets are free to accuse me of all of the above, call me any name you like, insult me, deride my work; that’s all fine. If you want to harm my reputation there are many ways you can do that without lying. And as an added bonus, they won’t ruin your career with a massive lawsuit like the one the Daily Banter is about to get slapped with.

In fairness to Johnstone, her degree is most likely legitimate. Like every other responsible media outlet, we published an update to the piece stating that she provided evidence of her diploma and that we would take it at face value. However, we did not acknowledge lying about it given Johnstone had never published her credentials on any of her online profiles (Johnstone claimed she had written about it, but given her extraordinarily sloppy journalism, mining through her work to find evidence of her education isn't exactly high on my priority list). The comment I made was a throwaway remark aimed at highlighting just how atrocious she is as a "rogue reporter", but Johnstone seized on this as a libelous comment that she could "ruin" us with via a "massive lawsuit".  Never mind the fact that her journalistic credentials makes her writing all the more troubling, Johnstone's knowledge of what constitutes libel in America is further proof of how completely deranged she is. 

Broadly speaking, it is incredibly difficult to win libel cases in America due to very strong rights granted by the First Amendment. It also has to be proven that the statements were knowingly false and have created provable damage to the claimant. While Johnstone no doubt believes herself to be in the middle of a planetary war between good (the hardcore American left) and evil (Hillary Clinton Democrats), she is in reality an unknown internet writer blogging from her bedroom in Australia. She might believe she is in grave danger from the McCarthyite Neo Liberalists Clintonites plotting to start nuclear war for no good reason, but her evidence would be laughed out of court faster than Donald Trump can fire off a lie on Twitter. 

I didn't pay Johnstone's threats any attention whatsoever and had a good time laughing about it with the Banter staff. Fringe conspiracy theorist thrive off of any coverage they get from legitimate publications and use it to whip up their impressionable audience with yet more fear mongering and tales of nefarious forces working to get them killed etc etc. I promised not to write anything else about Johnstone, not wanting to give her any more attention than she already had, despite her publishing our email interactions and attempts to crowd source a Californian lawyer on Twitter (the Banter is a California based company). 

But then the phone rang late at night from a California number, and the story took a completely different turn -- one crazier than anything we've dealt with on the Banter before. 

Stay tuned for part 2 next week!


My Personal Cuckoo's Nest and the Trump Tapes

by Bob Cesca

There are days when I feel a little bit like R.P. McMurphy, Jack Nicholson's character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. I can clearly see the malevolence of Nurse Ratched, but why are so many others completely -- indeed, willfully blind to it? Sure, I get it. Trump's been president for 154 days, as of this reporting, and I should be used to his cruelty, his vulgarity, his rank stupidity, his obvious criminal enterprises, his traitorous collusion with Russia... all of it. 

But last night as I watched his rally in Iowa, I found myself channeling my friend, the late Chez Pazienza who often repeated that he'd like to "punch Trump's voice." One of the reasons why I do what I do for a living is so that I don't sit around all day screaming obscenities at the political coverage on cable news. I have a more productive, lucrative outlet for that. Yet despite my wall-to-wall efforts to both write and speak about Trump -- efforts that ought to ameliorate any need to scream obscenities at cable news -- I found myself doing just that.

As this wickedly embarrassing cartoon villain hurled his usual catchphrases and myopic gibberish at his throng of loyalists, I compulsively stomped around my house, blurting the most vile language I could come up with in the name of cursing this malevolent circus peanut. 

There he was, talking about The Wall again, telling his easily-led disciples that he plans to make The Wall a "solar wall." Specifically, he plans to put solar panels on the wall, thus significantly reducing what Mexico will have to pay, he said. So, not only was he returning to the never-going-to-happen promise that Mexico will somehow finance The Wall, but he also stupidly made a case for solar energy and how it reduces the cost of infrastructure projects. Besides, I thought Trump was the King of Coal. Why would he suggest that solar is tantamount to cost savings? Shouldn't he be pushing for a wall made of coal, then?

However, the substance of his rally was only half of what was infuriating me. As a man whose spent countless years, including a college education, studying the American presidency, Trump's inability to be even slightly presidential continues to confound me. He's actively defying everything we've come to know about how, not just presidents, but anyone in a positive leadership role is supposed to comport themselves in public. I expect our presidents, even this one, to be even-keeled, sensible, rational, well-spoken, gregarious and, most of all, civil. Trump is none of these things. He's erratic, rude and often silly, he brags about himself like a mop-topped teen villain in an '80s rom-com and generally acts out like Rush Limbaugh if Rush Limbaugh was merely a comment troll with access to immense power.

Back to my R.P. McMurphy complex.

By now you already know that Trump "officially" (via Twitter) denied that he has any tapes of Comey or anyone else. So, his threat about secret "tapes" from back in May soon after he fired FBI Director James Comey might be bullshit. But Bob, you might ask, how is it bullshit if he confessed there aren't tapes? We'll get to that. In the meantime, I'm absolutely gobsmacked that so many people who I know and respect on social media and elsewhere are taking his word for it that there aren't any tapes after all. Even the great Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA33) tweeted that it's a "fact" that tapes don't exist now. 

Is it really?

Allow me to emphasize that I absolutely believe Trump was lying when he initially mentioned tapes. It was just another stupid, silly Trump attempt at mob-style intimidation. But whether we believe the tapes are real or not is irrelevant. The president said there are tapes and he said it in print, using words. Given the severe, deadly serious nature of the Trump-Russia attack and the investigations being conducted currently, especially the ones about Trump's alleged obstruction of justice, wouldn't it make sense to take Trump at his earlier word? Denying it now could merely be a smoke-screen to cover up the fact that he might've destroyed or deleted the audio files. 

If the cops are beating down your door and you're holding a mirror covered in cocaine, you quickly flush the powder, right? That's what Karen Hill did in Goodfellas. And if you destroyed evidence and the authorities ask you for it, isn't your first excuse that it never existed in the first place? Why, then, should we take Trump at his word that tapes never existed? 

It's more than possible that Trump deleted whatever audio files he had -- if he had any. Don't forget, this is the same human who masqueraded as his own publicist, "John Miller," in order to brag to reporters about his sexual conquests and so on. He's not above making shit up, and so everything he says has to be questioned. 

A prosecutor and a grand jury, not to mention congressional investigators, have to be tenacious on this front. At the very least, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as well as the appropriate investigators at both the FBI and various congressional committees should immediately (if they haven't already) subpoena all of Trump's electronic devices, including his Android phone. There's also a photo of Trump sitting in the Oval Office with a digital recording device sitting right there on the Resolute Desk. What about that device? Subpoena that, too. If Trump refuses, he's committing further obstruction of justice. If he relents, the hard drives on the devices could have traces of deleted files that might be recovered, both proving that Trump destroyed evidence as well as proof that, among other things, Comey told the truth in Congress.

If none of this happens, we need to demand of everyone who matters a full explanation as to why we're suddenly taking Trump's word for it when he's repeatedly on record lying about very serious matters.

He can't be allowed to get away with this. Any of it.


Justin and Anastasia

Justin and Anastasia

A Feminist's Guide to a Meaningful Father's Day

by Justin Rosario

I spent this Father's Day having breakfast in bed before taking my 7-year-old neurotypical daughter Anastasia to see Wonder Woman. After that, I played with her and her 9-year-old autistic brother in the pool and then made the whole family a delicious dinner (I'm the chef in the house). It was all very Norman Rockwell and I had a wonderful day. But it got me thinking about what Father's Day is like in deeply religious and/or deeply conservative households. I'm sure they appear the same on the surface (possibly minus the feminist Wonder Woman) but the underlying meaning is quite different.

There are as many ways to raise a daughter as there are daughters. She can be raised to be a doctor, a police officer, a politician, a secretary, a home-maker or a professional wrestler. The paths are endless but they do tend to fall into two general categories. The first is raise her to value herself as a person (business owner, teacher, equal partner in a relationship). The second is to teach her that she is worthless (arm candy, trophy wife, submissive sammich and baby-making machine).

Everyone will tell you that they want their daughter to grow up to be happy but I've learned to stop listening to what people say they want and look at what they do to make it happen. For instance, a parent who is serious about raising a daughter to be happy will encourage her to speak her mind, stand up for herself and not allow others to dictate how she should live her life. A parent more interested in their own needs will create an environment where their daughter obeys, does not question and considers herself less than.

Right about now is when the subjective nature of "what's best" comes into play. Is there an objective morality to raising children? Possibly, possibly not. That's for much smarter people than me to ponder. I can say, however, that training your daughter to subjugate herself is objectively immoral. It doesn't matter what the rational is, religion, "tradition", sexism or misogyny, imposing an oppressive and restrictive framework on women to "keep them in their place" is not about doing what's best for them, it's about doing what's best for you.

Take reproductive rights, for example. You may not like abortion. You may hate casual sex. You may find hook up culture to be dangerous. These opinions may lead you to teach your daughter to never consider abortion to be a viable option and to save herself for marriage. That is perfectly fine. Your daughter can follow that path and there's nothing wrong with it because she's free to make that decision. In its own way, teaching a girl that her body is not to be given lightly and that her capacity to give birth is the highest expression of her womanhood is empowering. 

On the other hand, when you vote to make abortion illegal and oppose contraception because it allows women sexual freedom you disapprove of, empowering women is the furthest thing from your mind. Rather, imposing your morality is first and foremost. We see this disregard for the well-being of women wherever people call them sluts and whores for daring to enjoy sexual pleasure outside of marriage, or even in it! Such language is never used for men, only for women. Funny how that always seems to be the case.

Another example would be gender roles. Anastasia is very "girly" because that's what she sees on TV. She loves dresses and unicorns and all things frilly and lacy and pink. But at the same time, she also loves Batman and Superman, Dragonball Z and One-Punch Man. She likes to play in the dirt (as long as it's not her nice clothes, you see) and thinks science is cool. Barbie dolls are awesome but so are Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Wars.

Keeping her horizons open has been a constant battle against what popular culture dictates. My wife and I regularly remind her that she can be any damn thing she wants when she grows up if she works for it. But that's not really the case for deeply "traditional" homes that teach "traditional" or "Christian" family values. There, girls aren't supposed to play with toys or watch cartoons "meant for boys." They aren't supposed to want to be scientists or engineers or leaders. The more religious and conservative the home, the more egregious the limitations imposed on girls in the name of "what's natural."  

Again, this is not in the best interest of your daughter, this is in the best interest of maintaining a status quo that steals away possible futures for little girls. Just because it makes you happy doesn't mean it makes her happy.

The more extreme versions of this result in what any rational person would consider child abuse:

Women in this world were treated much like those in The Handmaid’s Tale — most, like my mom, didn’t have their own bank accounts, didn’t have their own email addresses, and couldn’t leave the home without permission from their husbands. They were called helpmeets, a word taken from the King James Version of the Bible, which refers to wives as created to meet the needs of their husbands and be helpers to them.

Just like Offred, women existed within the community to serve higher purposes than our own desires. Young girls who led the congregation wore white dresses and were stripped of identifying features — no jewelry, no nail polish, hair tied back and not in the face — while wives were submissive helpers to their husbands, with my mother used as the fertile ground for my father to breed a quiver full of Christian culture warriors.

There are women who are actually happy living like this (or are at least very good at faking it) but one is forced to wonder if they'd feel that way if they'd been raised in a less oppressive environment before becoming a virtual slave. 

The good news is that the genie is out of the bottle and dystopian cautionary tales aside, women are not taking their shoes off and going back into the kitchen to make babies for their lord husbands. Those days are gone and they're not coming back. Women currently make up over 55% of college students, a trend that has been increasing for the last 40 years with no signs of slowing. Thousands of women are running for office all over the country at every level of government to fight back against the rampant misogyny of Donald Trump and his Republican enablers. These two facts alone promise to upend our male-oriented society, making the kind of repressive parenting practiced by "traditional" households become ever less sustainable. Freedom of religion arguments only get you so far where child abuse is concerned.

Perhaps someday, we as a society will look back at the unchecked sexism and misogyny of today the same way we look back at chastity belts and witch trials and even the phrase "Daddy's little girl" will seem quaint and vaguely demeaning. That's the kind of future I want my for my daughter and anyone who truly cares about their own little girl would want the same.