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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Editor's Blog


Kenneth W. Starr

Of all the lurid nonsense circulating among conspiracy-addled Republicans, none of their theories is viler than the libel of child sexual abuse that began under the rubric of "Pizzagate" and became the basis of the cult ideology of QAnon. So successful was the smear campaign begun by followers of Donald Trump that millions of deranged people now believe those gothic horror tales targeting the likes of Hillary Clinton, Chrissy Teigen, and Tom Hanks, with the connivance of Republican politicians in search of Jewish space lasers.

Then there's real life, in which actual, detestable pedophiles and other sex offenders can depend on their reliable defender Kenneth W. Starr to shield them from the punishment they deserve. Yes, it's that Ken Starr, the Savanarola of sexual propriety, who is the pedophiles' best friend.

What we have learned in recent days about the sanctimonious Starr, from his alleged sexual infidelities to his zealous defense of the late Jeffrey Epstein, not only strips away his pious pretensions as sheer hypocrisies but also raises serious questions about his conduct that must still be answered.

A former public relations executive named Judi Hershman opened the latest inquest into Starr's iniquities on July 13 when she published an essay on Medium titled "Ken Starr, Brett Kavanaugh, Jeffrey Epstein and Me" that detailed, among many other things, her own illicit affair with the former independent counsel. Her account of an episode with the borderline Kavanaugh and his uncontrollable temper when they both worked for Starr on the Clinton prosecution, as well as her disillusionment with the misogynistic Starr, is worth reading. Yes, that Ken Starr, who, she says, took her hand and "placed it on his crotch."

Hershman recalls Starr's attempt in 2010 to deceive her into "counseling" Epstein, whom he whitewashed as "a very wealthy, very smart businessman who got himself into trouble for getting involved with a couple of underage girls who lied about their ages." He explained that "everyone deserves representation" and that the very smart businessman had "promised to keep it above 18 from now on." By then Epstein had raped scores of underage girls, and thereafter continued to do so.

Hershman writes that at the time, it didn't occur to her that Starr himself would be lying about Epstein, or that he might have been involved in executing the "secret and egregious sweetheart deal" that allowed the very smart businessman to evade justice for so many years.

But according to a new book by Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown, who first blew the lid off that deal, Starr was zealously committed to the Epstein defense. Her earlier reporting led to the dismissal of Alex Azar, the U.S. Attorney in Florida who signed off on that agreement, from former President Donald Trump's cabinet.

In Perversion of Justice, Brown writes that Epstein brought on Starr and Jay Lefkowitz, his longtime associate and partner at Kirkland & Ellis, because of their connections in the Bush Justice Department. Starr's campaign on behalf of Epstein included a "brutal" smear of a female prosecutor and an insider lobbying effort at the department's Washington headquarters.

Apparently, Starr has a strangely protective attitude toward molesters and rapists, even when he isn't being paid big money to defend them. A few years after his crusade on Epstein's behalf, he and his wife sent a letter to a county judge urging leniency for Christopher Kloman, a retired school administrator and friend of the Starrs who pled guilty to molesting five girls at the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia. They thought he should be sentenced to community service, but the judge instead gave him 43 years in prison.

Americans first glimpsed the dark side of Starr's character when he published the salacious Starr Report (co-authored by Kavanaugh) that led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. They learned more about him when he was booted from the presidency of Baylor University for covering up the rampant sexual abuse of women on campus, including a gang rape by football players. With his partisan fanaticism and his bogus religiosity, he was a natural for Trump's impeachment defense.

Considering the smears perpetrated against Hillary Clinton in recent years, it is ironic indeed to review the unsavory conduct of a man who spent so much public time and money attempting to frame her for crimes she didn't commit as first lady. But these revelations about Starr should evoke more than bemused contempt.

What Julie Brown's book demands is a full investigation of an authentic conspiracy to pervert justice by Republican prosecutors and lawyers, including Starr. The Justice Department and the House and Senate judiciary committees must not let them get away with it.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

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Former President Trump outside of Walter Reed Medical Center after contracting Covid-19.

Photo by The White House

The childish narcissism and prideful ignorance of the American right — as personified in its idol, former President Donald Trump — have transformed "conservatism" into a public health menace. Republicans in office and their media echoes are the principal obstacles to vaccinating enough Americans to achieve herd immunity from COVID-19, which would be awful even if their gullible audiences were the only potential victims.

But the rapid spread of the highly contagious and harmful delta variant is a warning that large pools of unvaccinated human hosts create the perfect environment for further mutations that may overcome vaccines and kill more efficiently. This means, in short, that the Republicans resisting vaccination and encouraging others to resist are a danger to all. After whining bitterly for the past year about masks and shutdowns, these same complainers may now make a safe reopening impossible.

The campaign to thwart vaccination grows more intense on the right as the Biden administration seeks desperately to prevent a viral catastrophe. It is a campaign of fear and lies, seemingly designed to ensure that the maximum number of Americans will succumb to the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 99 percent of those Americans now dying from coronavirus infection are unvaccinated. The Republicans urging their constituents to reject the vaccine appear determined to massacre them in a terrible parody of the Darwinian theory of natural selection.

What's so strange about this strategy is that its only possible result will be to cull the gullible who make such easy marks for every "conservative" crusade, con and scam. Perhaps the point is to block President Joe Biden's vaccination campaign from ultimate success, even if such partisan recalcitrance mostly kills their own.

Equally sinister is the fact that many of the loudest voices hindering universal inoculation belong to hucksters who are already vaccinated themselves. Consider the Fox News Network, where hysterical anti-vaccine messages are broadcast every day and night, most prominently by Tucker Carlson — who refuses to disclose whether he (and his family) have been vaccinated.

Sean Hannity at first refused to say whether he got the shot, but then admitted that he had. With his usual intellectual consistency, Hannity continued to discourage vaccination anyway. Jesse Watters, Brit Hume, Harris Faulkner, the hosts of "The Five" and "Fox & Friends," and nearly every other on-air personality are all inoculated. We can be confident that the studio personnel, camera crews and all the office staff who work for the network are vaccinated too.

We know for certain, too, that Rupert Murdoch is not only vaccinated but went to London last December so he could jump the line for a jab. The marauding billionaire Fox News boss clearly knows how to keep himself safe but doesn't care if hundreds of thousands of his network's viewers are imperiled. The profits from stoking stupidity have always been irresistible to him.

Why Republicans have decided to pursue this destructive obsession to the point where it specifically threatens their voters and donors is difficult to comprehend. After all, they spent months insisting that the Trump administration deserved all the credit for the development of the COVID-19 vaccines, a gross exaggeration of a scientific process that occurred over many years and outside the framework of Operation Warp Speed. Trump got the shot and has declared vaccines to be "safe and effective" and "a miracle."

Yet almost every day, Trump's lackeys ratchet up the anti-vaccine melodrama to new and highly fictionalized extremes. Crazed members of Congress declare that the nation faces a "Marxist" conspiracy to force everyone to get a shot. Their foam-flecked rhetoric threatens the safety of health care workers who will soon be visiting households to inform the unvaccinated about the shot and where to get one. For trying to save lives, those workers will encounter scorn and perhaps violence.

The Republican loudmouths must be unaware that mandatory vaccinations have been a reality in this country for decades — and of course have saved millions of lives. Today, according to the CDC, every single state, red or blue, mandates various vaccinations for staff and students in public schools. Thousands of businesses, large and small — and probably not operated by Marxists — are requiring employee vaccination now.

Does freedom require us to allow stupid people to endanger everyone else and the future of society? Or should we be seeking to free ourselves from the ravages of a disease that has killed 600,000 of our people and millions around the world?

It isn't a hard question. Get vaccinated.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.