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Supreme Court of Assholedom: Rahm Emanuel et al

Clockwise from top: Daniel Snyder, Elton John and Rahm Emanuel

Doug Pensinger/Getty(Snyder), George Pimentel/WireImage(John), Scott Olson/Getty(Emanuel)

Over the course of the last weeks the Supreme Court of Assholedom has considered several pressing cases, and the deliberations have been fierce. Responding among other things to popular demand that the Court consider routine behaviors as well as the characters of major public figures, we delved into a few routine matters intended to provide guidance to the difficult question of how all of us can avoid being assholes in our daily lives. But as Chief Justice of the Court I was surprised – one might almost say outraged – by the decision of my fellow Justices to unanimously shoot down the plaintiff’s argument in one such routine case, one I myself had proposed. More on that in a moment.

As an aside, I’ve decided that Supreme Court decisions will henceforth be published on Fridays. There may be weeks when there are no cases, but when there are cases, the results will be published here on Fridays. We won’t always have multiple cases to publish, either; our schedule will remain irregular and the bureaucratic logic of our organization must remain mysterious, among other things to keep terrorists and assassins from too keenly knowing our habits.

Without further ado, the results of this weeks cases:

THE PEOPLE VS. DANIEL SNYDER
Before any of our more intellectual readers here run away screaming for fear that this case brought against the Play-Doh-brained owner of the Washington Redskins is about sports, please hear us out, for this is not a sports case. Daniel Snyder drew the Supreme Court’s attention thanks to his decision to file a $2 million defamation lawsuit against the Washington alt-weekly City Paper and its reporter Dave McKenna, after McKenna wrote a hilarious and viciously accurate piece called “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Daniel Snyder.”

The issue here, as presented by Justice Drew Magary, is simple. What Daniel Snyder seemed to show in this case is that if you piss off a rich asshole, he can fight back by bankrupting you with a frivolous lawsuit, where he’ll win even if he loses, no matter how wrong he is. Thus the court was asked to consider the following question: Is any rich person who seeks revenge through frivolous-litigation-by-attrition automatically an asshole?

Here’s some background on this lawsuit. In it, Snyder alleged that McKenna published four material “misrepresentations” in his article. But all of these alleged “misrepresentations” seemed merely to be funny rhetorical takes on absolutely true facts.

An example: Snyder at one point apparently used his influence to get a National Park official to cut down 130 trees on a hillside between Snyder’s sweeping Potomac estate and the C&O canal. McKenna’s wry take on this was that Snyder “made a great view of the Potomac River for himself by going all Agent Orange on federally protected lands.” To which Snyder, in his lawsuit, responded by contending that McKenna had written “that Mr. Snyder caused Agent Orange to be used to destroy trees.”

The example I liked even better was this: Synder’s lawsuit complained that one of the misrepresentations in McKenna’s piece was that “Mr. Snyder bragged that his wealth came from diabetes and cancer victims.” But this appeared to be exactly what Snyder did. In a PBS program called CEO Exchange Snyder was shown with fellow sports owner Mark Cuban in a Q&A with Jeff Greenfield at Northwestern University in 2000. In that Q&A he talked about how at Snyder Communications, his marketing company, they huddled up to decide which demographics to target for marketing campaigns.

“We’d make jokes, each niche would be a $5 million niche, and we’d go after each one,” Snyder says in the program. Then, when asked for examples, he says this:

“We were looking at trend lines…We saw that the aging baby boomer demographics were coming on strong. That meant there’s going to be a lot more diabetic patients, a lot more cancer patients, etc. How do we capture those market segments?”

If anything, it seems to me that McKenna understated his rhetoric about Snyder here: While he only wrote that Snyder bragged about scoring big on cancer patients and diabetics, he could have written that Snyder joked about it, which is probably even worse.

That particular example highlights why Snyder is such a good choice of defendant for this Court. The Redskins owner is one of the prototypical assholes of modern American capitalism – a completely bloodless, money-grubbing narcissist who will sink to any depths in search of a buck (he took expired peanuts bought off a defunct airline and sold them to fans at Redskins games; he also sold beer in the men’s bathrooms at the Redskins’ stadium), and constantly pushes regulatory and ethical boundaries to gouge customers (the company he owned before the Redskins was fined millions for switching phone customers’ service plans without authorization, a practice called “Slamming”). He also grossly insulted all real victims of anti-Semitism when he accused McKenna and the City Paper of targeting him for his Jewishness, claiming that its cover depiction of Snyder with horns growing out of his head was an anti-Semitic caricature. As numerous writers have pointed out, the notion of a guy who owns a team called the Redskins crying foul about ethnic slurs is beyond preposterous; from this Justice’s point of view the reflexive accusation of racism or anti-Semitism whenever one suffers criticism is also often an indication of assholeness, although the Court was no asked to consider that issue in this case.

I ruled Snyder an asshole and gave him 4,999 points, which I calculated as the highest score a non-violent asshole who is not George Will can receive. If in the future counsel can demonstrate to me that Snyder’s callous business practices somehow resulted in deaths and/or injury, Court will be moved to reconsider its judgment.

As to the question of whether or not a rich person who takes revenge by filing frivolous litigation with the intent to bankrupt his or her critics, I vote absolutely yes. This is an increasingly common practice and anyone who indulges in this activity is, to me, forever an asshole. This ruling would cover for instance Chabourne Park attorney John Squires, who a few years ago filed a cease and desist letter on behalf of Goldman Sachs against a blogger named Mike Morgan. Morgan had been blogging on a little-known site called GoldmanSachs666. Another characteristic of such lawsuits is that they almost always involve very small publications or websites without the legal means to right back effectively; since the actual damage that alt-weeklies and obscure websites can do to one’s reputation is negligible, one has to assume that the major motive behind such suits is prophylactic, i.e. scaring future critics at such outlets into thinking twice about risking their meager personal fortunes to say a word or two about the Dan Snyders and Lloyd Blankfeins of the world.

Justice Drew Magary first brought Synder to the Court’s attention and, voting to convict, summed up the situation thusly: “The reason the McKenna case is important is because it demonstrates that, if you piss off a rich asshole, he can use a friviolous lawsuit to bankrupt you.  You don’t have a choice.  You have to hire lawyers to defend yourself again and again until your resources have been exhausted.  You can be dragged into the legal system against your will by some fuckhead like Snyder and even if he loses, you’re still ruined for life.”  

THE RULING
Court ruled unanimously that Daniel Snyder is indeed an asshole. Vote is 8-0 (Schmid, Sirota, Kourkounis, Taibbi, Magary, Whitmer, Rees, Kreider). Justice Jenny Boylan recused herself on the grounds that she did not know who Daniel Snyder is.

Many Justices took pains to point out that Snyder’s assholedom has little or nothing to do with the fact of his having been one of the most incompetent owners in the history of modern professional sports, and I think many Justices showed great benevolence in not bringing up names like Albert Haynesworth, Donovan McNabb, and Vinny Cerrato. In fact, many Justices were anxious to point out that they did not even consider his sports history in their decision.

Some opinions:

Justice Timothy Kreider said Snyder is an asshole, but “primarily because of this lawsuit. His assholery in the field of sports is a more frivolous matter.”

Justice Jessica Kourkounis gave Synder 5000 points and said that “doing business with Tom Cruise is grounds for automatic assholedom in my book.”

Justice Adam Whitmer gave Synder 6800 points and chimed in on behalf of Redskins fans. “Someone who repeatedly shits on a fan base this loyal to their team and city is an asshole,” he wrote. “But the amount of ‘Scratch my Back, I’ll scratch yours’ that Dan Snyder has displayed just shows that he just doesn’t care about the game, only the money that comes with the game. People like that don’t deserve to own teams.”

Justice Mara Schmid was careful to point out other examples of this behavior, including the Pillsbury company suing a Salt Lake City bakery for use of a “My Dough Girl” campaign and the Monster Cable company for going after basically everyone who’s ever used the word “Monster,” including the TV show “Monster Garage” and the Boston Red Sox for their “Monster Seats” section above the Green Monster at Fenway.

Justice David Sirota was succinct in his summation: “As an NFL owner, he’s almost automatically an asshole. And on top of that, he’s an asshole among assholes.”

Justice Kreider summed things up for us. “Somewhere in an incredible string of invective unleashed against a foppish servant in King Lear, The Earl of Kent uses the epithet, ‘action-taking,’ meaning ‘litigious,’” he wrote. “Suing someone was then considered despicably craven and effete — what you were supposed to do, of course, if you were any kind of man, was kill them with your fucking sword…It’s still a pretty contemptible activity to involve oneself in litigation voluntarily unless it’s to redress some serious injustice or injury. This kind of behavior is just an abuse of litigation — the goal is not proving that you’re in the right but a victory through attrition due to an overwhelming advantage in resources. It’s also a defining asshole tactic, like a big drunk picking a fight with the littlest guy in the bar. 

THE SCORE
Interestingly, Synder’s aggregate asshole score was right around where I had it – the average of the seven justices who sent in scores was 4,697. This means, roughly, that it would take two Daniel Snyders to equal one Hosni Mubarak.

The court considered a number of other cases in the last week, and there were extended deliberations with some and little to no deliberations at all in others. The first:

AIRLINE TRAVELERS VS. LOBBYISTS TO THE TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
In Airline Travelers vs. Lobbyists to the Transportation Security Administration, the court was asked to consider the case of companies like L-3 communications and Rapiscan, two companies with former plugged-in government officials as lobbyists (Senator Alphonse D’Amato and congressional aide Susan Carr, respectively). In these cases, the two companies got their congressional vets to get congress to sign off on extremely expensive contracts to buy high-tech scanning equipment, so that all of us who fly now have to have our vaginas and testicles gaped at by angry, overweight TSA agents. D’Amato’s firm got a $165 million deal; Rapiscan got $173 million.

THE CASE
Court was asked:

1)      If you lobby the government to force taxpayers to buy a useless product at great expense, are you automatically an asshole?

2)      If you take advantage of and/or stoke widespread cultural fears to make money via government contracting, are you an asshole?

THE RULING
The court voted 7-2 in favor of assholedom on the first question. The dissenting votes were Sirota and myself. I was with David here, and we both bought the Lieutenant Calley/Nuremberg defense – see his dissenting opinion below.

On the second question, the court voted 8-1, with Sirota the only dissenter*. To me, stoking public fear to make money is inexcusable even in a “just-following-orders” situation.

Justice Whitmer, voting to convict on both questions, wrote: “As much as I love Thank You For Smoking for pushing the idea of the Lovable Lobbyist, I understand that Lobbyists are heartless individuals (I didn’t say people for a reason) who push their companies’ agenda knowing they are hurting people. If a company NEEDS lobbyists, it probably doesn’t deserve to be around.”

Justice Schmid, who forwarded the TSA case to the Court, voted to convict in both cases and added: “I think this is one of the highest-point asshole behaviors yet.  I’d give it 7500 points.  These people are propagating fear, ignorance, hatred and war in the name of making a dollar (or a billion).  They’re also encouraging an atmosphere of the people vs. the government, when we all know that the government should exist for, by, and of the people, duh.”

Justice Jenny Boylan voted yay on both counts: “Lobbyist is a synonym for asshole. Little known fact: assholes are called assholes because originally there was a room in the Willard Hotel called the asshole room. This is where all the lobbyists hung out. Hence the term. And also why people actually named Willard are usually assholes too.” On the fearmongering issue, Boylan wryly added:

“Most mongers, with the exception of the fishmonger, are assholes.  A warmonger is a bigger asshole than the whoremonger.  An ironmonger may well be an asshole, but not because of the monging of iron.  A fearmonger, on the other hand, has as his whole purpose, the monging of fear.  And thus, yes: asshole.  Mong peace, not war!” 

Sirota’s dissent went as follows: “Ruling these kind of people as all assholes is too broad a ruling, because the Assholeocracy legally forces private economic actors to think solely of their profits – and nothing more. That’s their legal and fiduciary responsibility, consequences be damned. Many of them might individually be assholes, but as a blanket rule, you can’t say they are all automatically assholes simply because they work within the ubiquitous Assholeocracy.”

* CORRECTION: I originally wrote that Sirota dissented on the issue of lobbyists stoking public fears to win contracts. I had that wrong — Justice Sirota voted with the rest of us. He writes: “I actually voted with the rest of the court. If you demagogically stoke substance-free cultural fears for profit, you are an asshole.”

CASE #3: THE PEOPLE V. RAHM EMANUEL
The Court considered the case of the former White House Chief of Staff, and really no background was submitted; the arguments on behalf of assholedom were apparently self-explanatory. Offenses included a failed carpetbagging attempt to seize the Mayor’s seat in Chicago, his strong-arming of the progressive opposition during the health-care debate (leading among other things to the death of the public option), the fact that his brother was the inspiration for Jeremy Piven’s giganto-asshole agent character in Entourage and, lastly, well, just look at him!

THE CASE
Court was asked to consider:

1)      Is Rahm Emanuel an asshole?

2)      Is there such a thing as looking like an asshole?

THE RULING
The court voted 8-1 that Rahm Emanuel is indeed an asshole, with only Justice Boylan dissenting.

Justice Sirota felt the most strongly about Barack Obama’s former top aide. “Rahm Emanuel is the standard by which every Asshole should be judged,” he wrote. “He is everything an Asshole is — corrupt, narcissistic, self-serving, haughty, selfish and megalomaniacal. Rating: 10,000.”

Justice Kreider calculated Rahm’s transgressions mathematically: “Rahm Emanuel was an investment banker, so automatically 1000, which we up to 1500 since he worked for Freddie Mac. He’s the recipient of big campaign donations from the hedge fund, private equity and securities and investment industries, so that’s another 750. He uses assholish locutions like ‘fucknutsville’ (to describe Washington, D.C. — not in itself inaccurate but crude in an unfunny way) and ‘fucking retarded’ (used to describe liberals who wanted to run attack ads against Democrats who  opposed health care, for which he apologized to the retarded but not, note, to liberals), and harassed Democrats over the same issue while naked in the House gym (is there a more defining dictionary-illustration asshole move than bullying people in the locker room?), for all of which we add on, let’s see, another 200 points. I’m going to go ahead and slap a 1000-point penalty on him for advocating such a timid and wussified health care plan.  However, the NRA gives him an F, for which we automatically deduct 100 points. In sum total, 3350, so yes he’s an asshole, but he’s of that genus generally referred to as ‘our asshole.’ Though I’m not sure I count myself among this ‘our,’ and feel like we might want to reconsider whether he’s doing ‘us’ all that much good. 

Justice Whitmer was careful in his judgement: “I don’t know a whole lot about Rahm Emanuel. I do know that his brother helped inspire the douchiest television show in history and his fake Twitter account was pretty funny. With that being said, 4000.”

Justice Kourkounis painted with a wide brush: “I really believe all politicians are assholes. I can’t help it.”

Justice Boylan, dissenting, wrote: “Emanuel has used his powers for good rather than evil.  As the saying goes, ‘Asshole like a fox!’”

On the question of whether or not a person can look like an asshole, the court was divided. In this case I think the final vote was something along the lines of 6.5-2.5, with Taibbi and Boylan dissenting and Schmid seeming to vote in both directions. I originally voted yes on this question, which I put to the court precisely because Rahm Emanuel to me has for a long time been the ultimate example of looking like an asshole. But then Justice Boylan noted: “I am a little nervous about deciding who is an asshole based on what they look like.  That feels like something an asshole would do.”

So I felt kind of gross after that. But it’s hard to argue with the yay votes, with Justice Magary being most vocal on the question of whether or not someone can look like an asshole.

“YES.  100% yes,” he wrote.  “Don’t go all soft and liberal on me and be like, ‘Hey, it’s not fair to judge someone like that!’  Bullshit.  Some people look like assholes.”

Justice Kreider added that some people do look like assholes, but “it often, but not always, correlates to being one. Sometimes, as with Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Jesse Helm, one’s hideous appearance reflects an inner spiritual putrescence (see Tracy vs. Pruneface, 1942). But it turns out if you stick an (R) after anyone’s name it lends their face sort of a hateful cast. And after all there are genial character actors who make careers out of looking like thugs or maniacs. In conclusion, not everyone who looks like an asshole necessarily is one. Rahm Emanuel is, though.”

Justice Rees, concurred with his fellow cartoonist: “Of course” someone can look like an asshole, he wrote. “But it doesn’t mean they’re an asshole.”

Justice Kourkounis, vacationing down in Miami during the vote, wrote in on the question of whether or not someone can look like an asshole. “Um, i just spent the day in South Beach, Miami,” she said. “I would have to say yes.”

Justice Schmid dissented, sort of. Yes, she said, people can “look” like assholes, but “just like ‘looking gay’ or ‘looking Irish’ it can easily be wrong and is best repressed, along with other profiling behaviors.”

THE SCORE
Rahm Emanuel scored a 5,103 on the asshole scale.

ADDITIONAL CASES
The court considered some smaller cases.

By a vote of 8-1, we concluded that anyone who rents a stretch Hummer limousine is an asshole. The vote was more divided on ordinary Hummers, and we exempted the drivers of stretch Hummers, as they’re just doing their jobs.

Also, by a vote of 7-2, the Court in Disappointed Music Fans v. Elton John ruled that Elton John is an asshole, primarily for playing Rush Limbaugh’s wedding and for criticizing musicians who boycotted  Arizona because of its anti-immigration law. Justice Rees put the verdict in harsh terms.

“His playing Rush Limbaugh’s wedding was gross,” Rees wrote. “I don’t buy his argument that it’s gonna somehow trick Rush Limbaugh into supporting gay marriage. (Rush Limbaugh is savvier than Elton John.) That sounds like an argument Elton John made up to reduce cognitive dissonance. This isn’t like when he joined Eminem onstage to perform “Stan.” Verdict: ASSHOLE.”

Justice Whitmer concurred: “I love his music and grew up listening to it, but he played Rush Limbaugh’s wedding. That’s bullshit. Also, it’s not just Elton John who is an asshole for supporting the Arizona Anti-Immigration Laws, just about anyone who supports that is a major asshole. Elton John – 3500.

Justice Schmid had this to say: “In 2008, right after Prop 8 passed in California, Elton John said, ‘I don’t want to be married.  I’m very happy with a civil partnership.  If gay people want to get married, or get together, they should have a civil partnership…. Heterosexual people get married.  We can have civil partnerships.’ Now, two years later, he’s pissed off at Prop 8 and saying he’s “fed up” with being treated like a “second-class citizen.”

I was involved in the anti-Prop 8 campaign in LA, and I remember when you made those remarks.  So many of us worked so hard, and here you come blithely along, saying our battle was meaningless and misguided and oh by the way you, a gay man, don’t really want to get married, so no other gay people should either.  You’re a real asshole: and more than that, a hypocritical asshole.”

Boylan’s yay vote: “Elton John, you are charged with wasting your creative powers on Donald Duck suits and giant glasses instead of on your God-given talent, which at one point made you the most important rock and roll piano player in history.  How can you not know that no one ever liked your stupid costumes, ever…? Your focus on style over substance single-handedly wrecked rock and roll music forever… The damage you did goes beyond the waste of your own talent.  As this Justice’s mother used to say, ‘Well, I hope you’re happy.’  Now you’ve wrecked it for everyone.”

Justices Kourkounis and Magary dissented, with Magary saying John was not an asshole but a diva. Kourkounis added that John seemed like a charitable guy and seemed to have an angle in attending the Limbaugh wedding (i.e. to change Rush’s mind on gay rights), but “if that is not the case well then let’s just hope you took [Limbaugh’s] one million bucks and bought something really gay with it.”

I struggled with the Elton John vote, mainly because worrying about what a pop star does reminds me of that Kurt Vonnegut line about getting angry over bad fiction being like “dressing up in a suit of armor to attack a hot fudge sundae.” But given his prominence in the gay community, cozying up to Rush does suck pretty badly, so I voted yay, but gave him just 400 points. Averaging in the two zero votes, Elton’s asshole score came out to 1,720.

Last but not least… I was in the subway last week and was continually whacked by a guy wearing a huge backpack who kept moving side to side without bothering to look behind him. I fucking hate it when people in New York wear backpacks on the subway, for two reasons. One, they can’t see behind them and they’re always whacking old ladies and kids and balding magazine journalists with their bags while they stand there yapping obliviously with their asshole yuppie friends. And two, in a crowded subway car, you should be trying to minimize the space you take up, and wearing a backpack instead of taking it off and putting it at your feet takes up the space for two people instead of one.

But when I asked the court to consider this issue in Considerate Urban Commuters vs. People Wearing Gigantic Backpacks on the New York City Subway, the court unanimously disagreed with me. By a vote of 8-1 against, the court refused to call people who wear backpacks on the subway assholes. So I guess they aren’t!

We have some other votes that will be coming out in the wash soon. Reader input, as always, is welcomed.

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