Saturday, January 13, 2018

From Roger Fitch and our friends down under at Justinian

Trump's kleptocracy

Michael Wolff's book has deflected attention from Republicans' perverted tax law ... Roger Fitch in Washington takes us back to the main game - the destruction of the social safety net by diverting squillions to large corporations and real estate investors ... US remains in violation of the Convention Against Torture ... Gitmo - still looking for a war to fit the war crimes ... Trump: how will it all end? 
AMERICA'S large middle class - said to be the first - could be doomed by an oligarchic takeover of the Republican Party.
Oligarchy - and Social Darwinism - could be behind the Republicans' misleadingly-named Tax Cuts and Jobs Actpossibly the biggest tax increase in US history, directed almost exclusively at the poor and middle classes, whose temporary tax cuts are like teaser introductory rates offered on new credit cards.
As the Atlantic predicted, the legislation ...
"shower[s] enormous benefits on households at the top of the economic ladder ... Then it hands the bill for those benefits largely to younger generations, who will pay through more federal debt; less spending on programs that could benefit them; and, eventually, higher taxes."
The Times has the figures.
Republicans want to relieve the rich of burdensome civic responsibilities - taxes - while abolishing social support for the poor, such as it is.  At the same time, their legislation will bring long-term damage to the Democrat Party, with "tax reform" targeting "blue" states like California and NY. 
More here on legislation that does provide benefits for people without work - if they're already well-off.
As befits legislation passed under America's first property-developer president, the Act offers special treatment for real estate income - a late addition reportedly worth as much as $1.1 million to a wavering Republican senator, more here. Other members of congress also profit, and surprising "real estate investment trust" beneficiaries are emerging.  
"Corruption" and "kleptocracy" barely describe the legislation: Trump himself could gain as much as $15 million a year (or even more). 
An official, negative report on the supposed economic benefits of the tax plan was ignored by the Republicans who commissioned it. Most economists, including Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, opposed it, and Thomas Piketty warned of turbocharged inequality in the US. More here.
The ultimate goal seems to be cutting benefits on contrived grounds of financial exigency; it's Republican Party policy. Neal Gabler has more on the Republicans' long game to destroy the social safety net in America through plundering money needed to provide it. 
Trump and Republicans celebrate their windfall
The NY Times posed the question du jour: why do Republicans always support the measures most disliked by voters - and still get elected. 
The final proposal fixed some problems but included hundreds of billions given away in foregone tax collections on at least $2.6 trillion in profits squirreled away overseas in tax havens.  
The Act rewards America's largest corporations for gaming the tax system for years until a Congress could be arranged that would give them bargain repatriation rates of eight percent, and 15.5 percent, respectively, on foreign profits invested in hard and liquid assets; the corporate rate during the years of hoarding was 35 percent. 
It's a windfall for US companies hiding money overseas. They get to repatriate profits at fire sale rates, but historically, tax amnesties have gone towards share buy-backs, executive pay and boosted dividends, not employment or investment.  
A new report prepared for Senator Bernie Sanders shows that $236 billion of the taxes foregone in the repatriation of overseas funds would go to just 15 American corporations, who accepted $3.9 trillion of corporate welfare over the last 30 years in the form of government subsidies, tax credits, and bailouts.  
The actual total cost to the Treasury in lost revenue over ten years could amount to $2.2 trillion.  
*   *   *
A UN special rapporteur on torture recently found that, even now, Guantánamo is a nonconforming site, while the US remains in violation of the Convention Against Torturebecause of its policy of impunity for historic violations, e.g. the CIA's ghastly Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program.
Extrajudicial "renditions" are still with us, and Mr Trump is reportedly considering outsourcing overseas snatches to mercenaries, not unlike the corporate kidnappers who assisted George Bush's "national security" abductions.
The Bush bail-ups have recently been the subject of a Commission of Inquiry in North Carolina, and law profs from the University of North Carolina and Duke Universityparticipated in hearings on the role of a local CIA front company in the agency's torture program.  
Testimony was duly taken, but nothing seems likely to embarrass or shame Aero Contractors Ltd, an NC-based aviation firm that still harbours one of its "torture taxis" in a North Carolina hangar subsidised with public funds. 
A report will be forthcoming.
*   *   *
Flying high at Gitmo's Camp Justice
National Public Radio has gone to Gitmo to cover the "9/11" trial, while it still can: Republicans hope to abolish the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
In the 9/11 case, the military commission is still trying to decide when the war purporting to provide  jurisdiction for the "war crimes" prosecutions actually began. The Pentagon claims its so-called war with al-Qaeda began in the 1990s, based on a unilateral bin Laden fatwa; in fact, only states can declare wars.
In a new military commission, the Pentagon has brought "war crimes" charges against the "Bali bomber" Riduan Isamuddin, with "overt acts" of conspiracy alleged to have begun even earlier, "in the mid-1980s".  
Such arguments previously proved efficacious with chief judge James Pohl in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the severely-tortured man charged with "war crimes" that are unconnected to any war.  
Backdated wars are logically consistent with "retroactive re-characterization" , one of the feints the US tried in its failed attempt to convert civilian "material support for terrorism" into a war crime. It also fits in with the Pentagon's opportunistic re-designation of Guantánamo artworks as government property.
Other new 9/11 commission developments include the production of the document the CIA gave to FBI agents who conducted so-called "clean team" interrogations, more here. The memo was produced after motions by Mustafa al Hawsawi, whose (shudder) "rectal rehydration" by CIA medicos resulted in permanent injuries requiring surgery.
Meanwhile, Just Security has reviewed the case that broke the commissions: Nashiri's.  
*   *   *
Like Caligula, Trump may become a god
Donald Trump: it's hard to disagree with North Korea, where he's regarded as an "old lunatic, mean trickster and human reject".  
In the opinion of America's largest-selling newspaper, USA Today, he's "not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library".  
As the Times' Roger Cohen writes
"you feel the need to wash the ambient crassness and vulgarity from your skin, for they seep into you whatever protection you may wear, and you are aghast at how the GOP has morphed into palace courtiers outdoing each other in praise of their plutocratic reality-show prince."
How will it all end? Cornell law prof and legal writer Michael Dorf found rich pickings in Trumpian hypotheses for his first year Con Law exam; it's highly amusing. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

From Roger Fitch and our Friends Down Under at Justinian....

The unravelling of Trump's America

Tax cuts ... Russia's election in America ... Unqualified judicial appointments ... Contempt at Guantánamo ... Degenerate art ... Our Man in Washington reports 
BANKING on Americans' well-known aversion to paying taxes, congressional Republicans are pushing their misleadingly-named Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a Bill full of party fetishes, including ending the Obamacare mandate and recognising fetal tissue as a human being, even punishing California and graduate students, but mainly having as its purpose, comforting the rich while afflicting everyone else.  
To this end, the House Republicans defended their Bill as a tax cut for the middle class, by redefining low-and-middle income as up to $450,000 a year. 
This Bill passed the House, but it may face a far different fate in the Senate.
Some members of congress would benefit from the repeal of the estate tax, which already generously excludes the first $10.98 million for married decedents.
Extensive benefits are envisioned for Donald J Trump, and not just the estate and inheritance taxes saved. 
*   *   *
Mueller: in pursuit
Americans are still mulling how a mendacious, sub-literate cipher became their president.
Vote suppression was crucial, and there's emerging evidence that Russian-based Facebook advertising in working class states helped round up support by those who did manage to vote. New reports reveal massive funds transfers to Russian embassies during the election, purportedly for media buys, while WikiLeaks suspiciously plied the Jared Kushner-owned New York Observer with "Clinton dirt". 
Nevertheless, former FBI director James Comey remains the chief reason a deadbeat is president, and Trump's team concedes as much.
In her new book about the 2016 election, "What Happened", Hillary Clinton says she now regrets not striking back at Comey's meddling
Various proposals have been put forward meanwhile for dislodging Trump through such legal stratagems as the unindicted co-conspirator, bringing pardon-proof state charges, or a grand jury presentment.
Internal Revenue law seems like another good bet, and in a possible demarcation of a crime scene, the IRS is building a special safe at the tax agency's headquarters to hold Mr Trump's income tax returns.  
It won't stop Special Counsel Robert Mueller perusing them.
Beyond the president, the gormless Donald Trump Jnr is said to be a leading target for indictment. More here and here.
The Justice Department reportedly has ten lawyers and paralegals working on lawsuits related to the president's businesses; unlike Trump's private sector lawyers, they can count on being paid.
Less helpfully, the DoJ says Trump's tweets - presently being considered by the Special Counsel as possible evidence of witness-tampering - are official presidential statements, and interestingly, the International Criminal Court just issued its first arrest warrant gleaned from social media
Mr Trump may yet be "deposed": aggrieved female plaintiffs are suing him for defamatory responses to their accusations of sexual assault and harassment. He'll be encouraged by a leaked DOJ memorandum: it recommends reinstating the discredited practice of grilling rape victims about their sexual history.
Had these women not been manhandled before?  
*   *   *
Clovis: caught up in Russian scandals
Even without tax cuts, soon-to-be-deregulated miners, manufacturers, financial institutions and big polluters dream of a return to some Pre-Roosevelt paradise, and Trump is doing his best to oblige them.
At the Interior Department, needy coal entrepreneurs are being assisted as the National Academy of Sciences halts its profit-endangering coal-mining health studies, while at the Labor Department, the new chief of the Mine Health and Safety Administration is the former CEO of a coal company with a poor safety record.
One of Trump's worst anti-science nominees, Sam Clovis, has withdrawn, after being caught up in the Russian scandals. Clovis, a non-scientist with a public administration degree, had been appointed to the Agriculture Department's top science position, causing outrage
At the "dysfunctional" Environmental Protection Agency, administrator Scott Pruitt found an ingenious way to replace the respected academics advising his agency with more reliable industry "scientists", and to make matters worse, he did so quoting the bible
Banking regulation is meanwhile going backward in a gratifying manner. 
Finally, after a thorough search - or perhaps a Big Pharma auction - Mr Trump found a new Health and Human Services secretary who is arguably worse than his predecessor, the disgraced (Dr) Tom Price.
*   *   *
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recently attacked the federal courts (more here), even as the Trump administration rapidly reshapes the judiciary in Trump's image through nominees so mediocre - or ideological - that the American Bar Association rates them "not qualified".  
More on Trump's extremist judges here, including Thomas Farr, for whom the Republicans kept a seat open 12 years, and some with hardly any experience at all, e.g. the 36-year-old Brett Talley.
*   *   *
General Baker: released from confinement at Camp Justice
At Guantánamo, the Pentagon has completed the bizarre trial of Ahmed al-Darbi. He was convicted by guilty plea - the only sure way - in a military court, for what is essentially civilian piracy.  
The acts giving rise to the prosecution had nothing to do with war, or even the US, and they occurred in international waters far from the US. No American ships or citizens were involved.   
Mr Darbi will now be a witness against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in yet another, equally impossible, non-war case (so recognised since it began).  
Al-Nashiri's case was recently derailed by the resignation - for ethical reasons - of the defence team, just as the supreme court evaded Nashiri's very sound appeal
At that point, the Nashiri commission experiment blew up, with the Nashiri judge sensationally holding Chief Defence Counsel John Baker - a Brigadier General and the second ranking lawyer in the Marine Corps - in contempt, sentencing him to 21 days and a fine.   
Next, the general filed his own habeas action, but before DC judge Royce Lamberth could rule, the Pentagon's "Convening Authority" suspended the contempt order pending appeal, and Gen. Baker was released from confinement in his modest trailer behind "Camp Justice".
*   *   *
Entartete Kunst
The Bush administration showed its affection for Third Reich national security Kultur by adopting the unsettling Gestapo expression, Verschärfte Vernehmung: "Enhanced Interrogation".
While the Wehrmacht might have scrupled at the Plünderung of a prisoner, Obama's armed forces had no problem pillaging the life savings of Djamel Ameziane, a forcibly-repatriatedGuantanamero: he couldn't be trusted to use his funds responsibly.
Under Trump, the Pentagon has extended this principle to confiscate art by Guantánamo inmates, on the same theory: that money - e.g. proceeds from a New York exhibit of their art - could be put to nefarious purposes; tellingly, Ameziane is among the artists in the show.    
Clearly, it's Entartete Kunst.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

From our Friends Down Under at Justinian....

A different swamp

The creepy march of "religious freedom" ... Sidelining anti-discrimination laws in the name of God ... Winding-back clean power and clean water protections ... Employee rights and voter entitlements under threat ... The Supreme Court is back in town ... Trump stock-take from Our Man in Washington, Roger Fitch 
IN the 2014 case of Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores, the US supreme court invented an astonishing new corporate freedom of religion, initially limited to closely-held corporations whose owners asserted religious scruples against particular government policies, e.g. the Affordable Care Act's requirement that contraception be included in health insurance policies.  
This first amendment "religious freedom" for godless legal entities was news to those who had always assumed corporations possessed only the rights and powers assigned them by their charters or legislation.  
Pushing this extraordinary notion of corporate religious liberty ever further, the Trump administration has now proposed that all corporations of any size or composition have "freedom" to e.g. drop federally-mandated contraception coverage from employee health insurance plans.
A policy of pandering to intolerance and chilling anti-discrimination law is now disingenuously wrapped in religion. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is busy re-framing the first amendment's freedom of religion to include "moral" scruples, to be extended to corporations; apparently, these claimed religious/moral objections may then be foisted upon suppliers, customers and employees.  
Corporations asserting "religious freedom" to resist compliance with anti-discrimination and EEO law? It would seem to impose subjective religious beliefs on secular society, and be a triumph of church over state, but Trump's proposed executive order on religion doesn't go far enough for the National Review.  More here
Treasury may also play a role; Trump is attempting to rescind the Johnson Amendment, legislation prohibiting IRS tax exemptions for religious organisations actively participating in partisan politics
*   *   *
"He's a f**king moron" - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
"Not only is that an insult, he gave away Trump's secret service codename" - Stephen Colbert.
It's been nine months, and a dangerously unstable demagogue, the inexpressibly rude and insulting simpleton Donald Trump, is still president of the US.  
Merciless attacks in the media and by some in his own party have not yet yielded his urgent removal through impeachment, criminal proceedings or (on psychiatric grounds) the 25th amendment.  
Bannon: deconstructionistEven so, the usurpateur's use-by date may be nigh: Republicans could remove him once he signs their proposed "tax reforms" for tax-dodging corporations, lightly-touched estates and sundry other needy rich.   
At nine months, it's time for a Trump stock-take. What has the putative president achieved from his oft-incoherent agenda to (as his former aide Steve Bannon put it) "deconstruct the administrative state"?  
So far, Mr Trump's sole organising principle - aside from attention-seeking and the personal enrichment of family and friends - seems to be the undoing of everything associated with Barack Obama.
On the immigration battlefield, Trump's latest Muslim ban could be more likely to succeed, after the judicious addition of a few Christians (e.g. the pointlessly-persecuted Venezuelans) and the placement of a reliable rightwing Republican, Neil Gorsuch, on the supreme court.  
Federal courts in Hawaii and Maryland, however, have already blocked Muslim Ban Three.  
At the Environmental Protection Agency, Administrator Scott Pruitt is on course to abolish Obama's Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule. Pruitt wants to wind back wind and solar power as well: they compete dreadfully with his first allegiance, the fossil fuel industry.  
There's also grave chemical industry mischief underway, centred around EPA's scientific personnel.  
Energy Secretary Rick Perry meanwhile wants the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to subsidise coal and nuclear plants, and the Interior Department has a secret plan to auction off America's vast public lands for oil and gas development
A Simon & Garfunkel parody says it all. 
At the Education Department, Betsy DeVos is in full flight. Perhaps no other cabinet secretary has had more success with a personal agenda.  
Treasury has done its part by meddling in worthy regulations of other agencies, e.g. the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's limitation on compulsory arbitration (now repealed by the Senate). 
Mr Trump's awful Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, has resigned in a travel-expense scandal. He's just the tip of a travel corruption iceberg; Dr Price also figures in a congressional insider trading scandal involving the Australian biotech Innate Immunotherapeutics. 
The Republican drive to destroy health insurance and underfund medical care may yet succeed, despite the president's cognitive dissonance. In the meantime, the Trump administration continues to undermine Obama's health insurance scheme, a dozen different ways.    
Even the subsidies that are the backbone of the legislation are to be cruelly and foolishly eliminated by Trump's new executive order, more here.  Eighteen states have sued to have the presidential order overturned, but law professor and gadfly Jonathan Turley reckons the order is valid and a good thing, constitutionally-speaking.  
With health insurance on life support, attention is turning to employment law, where the Republican revolution will be easier: the supreme court is back in town, and workers are on the menu.
Thanks to last year's Republican obstruction of Obama's nominee, and the packing of the court this year with the party loyalist Neil Gorsuch (who, early reports suggest, doesn't play well with others), it seems likely that the most profound changes to workers rights since the New Deal will be proclaimed judicially, along party lines, by a five-four majority of unelected justices. 
More here and here
The Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions is leading the charge to turn back the clock on workers' rights, filing briefs in support of corporations and against workers in employment litigation. 
The DoJ is opposing the government's own National Labor Relations Board in the important 2nd circuit case Zarda v Altitude Express, where the Trump DoJ has reversed Obama policy, and supports the right of employers to discriminate against LGBTIemployees, more here.
In rescinding an Obama reading of Title VII (Civil Rights Act 1964) that protected transgender workers from discrimination, the DoJ is also acting contrary to another federal agency: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is currently prosecuting a company for just such discrimination
*   *   *
Jackson: fallibilityThe Attorney General is also actively undermining voting rights, aiding and abetting the depredations on voting rights implemented in "red" states since the supreme court's deeply-flawed Shelby County v Holder(2013) - the case that struck out a key enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act 1965.  
Interestingly, the majority's reliance on mistaken data in Shelby County was recently cited as part of a supreme court problem in a Pro Publica report
Maybe the justices need technical advisers to guard against alternate facts and fake news. And help with innumeracy: an aversion to maths could complicate consensus in the pending partisan gerrymandering case, Gill v Whitford. More here
As Justice Robert Jackson famously wrote  - "We are not final because we are infallible but we are infallible only because we are final." 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

From Our Friends Down Under at Justinian

One crusty judge

Trump's lootin' and pollutin' ... CIA torture - settlement prospects open up ... Farcical military commissions ... Roger Fitch reports from Washington 
IN addition to record showers of Trumpian lies and floods in Houston, the Americans just experienced a total solar eclipse, and the occasion provided a brief insight into the disordered mind of Donald Trump.  
The president triumphantly posted a series of photoson Twitter in which his colourful visage slowly eclipsed the black-and-white image of his predecessor, unconsciously acknowledging he's but a moon - or a rock - to Barack Obama's sun.
Despite this unexpected presidential self-effacement, the state of affairs in Washington remains dire.
The tatty, malformed receptacle that is Donald Trump, though cracked and leaking, has become a bottomless vessel for the special needs of family businesses, rapacious corporations (mostly miners), religious zealots, the far right and surviving members of the president's greedy entourage: it's all about looting and polluting, and foreign pillage is under consideration.
People are baling out, and the president's former associates Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka have retired to the far-right website Breitbart News, intent on refreshing the badly-crazed pot from outside. 
After initial interest in Donald Jnr, special counsel Robert Mueller and his dream team are considering bringing some kind of charge against the elder Trump, who is meanwhile facing multiple emoluments cases with one scheduled for argument in October
The possibility of a President Michael Pence, however, is little comfort, and those who abhor Trump should be wary of Vice-President Pence, also unqualified, but in some ways more dangerous.
*   *   *
The CIA's rendition plane. Yours for $27.5m
For those wanting to own a piece of history, the infamous aircraft N313P, one of the planes used for CIA torture renditions, was recently put on sale for $27.5 million. N313P ferried torture victims to US vassal states such as Poland and human rights violators like Uzbekistan, Egypt and Libya.
Neither the US government nor American courts have provided any civil remedy for the victims of such CIA operations, and both the Bush and Obama administrations invoked the state secrets doctrine - along with other shameful ruses - to block any recovery of damages by those affected.
Except for a settlement some Abu Ghraib abuse victims obtained from the US government contractor L-3 Services (and others may possibly achieve in a pending suit against the contractor CACI International), victims of US abduction and torture have only received compensation from a few of the accomplices such as Macedonia and Poland, through claims in the European Court of Human Rights.
A new avenue has now opened up, however, through which the CIA could be indirectly obliged to pay compensation, even though the former head of the CIA's Thai torture camp, Gina Haspel, is now the top official at the agency. 
CIA torture gurus: Jessen & Mitchell
When we last visited Ms Haspel (see March Fitch), she'd been evading a deposition in Salim v Mitchell, the lawsuit brought by two CIA-tortured men and the family of a third who was tortured to death (the depositions of other CIA identities were successfully taken).  
Venue for the civil damages suit lay in the progressive enclave of Washington state, due to the Spokane residency of the defendants, the CIA's contract "psychologists" James Mitchelland Bruce Jessen, who designed and implemented the (shudder) "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" used by the CIA.
While these plaintiffs were tortured at Bagram, in Afghanistan, Mitchell and Jessen began their highly unethical experiments on Gina Haspel's turf in Thailand, with the very first man tortured by the CIA, Abu Zubaydah, as their guinea pig.  
The psychologists relied on worthless "legal" authorisations they received, some from the odious Stephen Bradbury, now Trump's General Counsel at the Transportation Department (see June Fitch). 
Thanks in part to the stubborn persistence of a long-serving federal judge, the crusty 88-year-old Justin Quackenbush, the case of Salim v Mitchell was set for trial in September, after the judge refused the defendants' motions for summary judgment.
Unmoved by the defendants' startling reliance on the Nazi-era acquittal of a gas technician for Zyklon-B, the judge ruled that the Alien Tort Statute was applicable to the charges, including torture, involuntary human experimentation and war crimes.  
The psychologists quickly settled, more here and here.  

Quackenbush: opened up settlements against the CIA
The settlement against Mitchell and Jessen suggests that other men (the Feinstein Report lists over 100),  tortured by the CIA under the psychologists' protocols, could receive compensation at the expense of the agency.  
How? The psychologists wisely obtained an indemnity from the CIA, now activated by settlement of the initial case against them.
As promised, the Trump administration has now returned all copies of the Senate's full 6,700-page Feinstein Report to the Senate in the hope that the "torture report" will be undiscoverable in civil or criminal litigation. 
*   *   *
In June, the five defendants in the Guantánamo "9/ll" military commission appealed a decision of the Court of Military Commission Review that had reinstated dismissed chargesfor which limitations had run. Lawfare had more on this order and the al Qosi order, below.
The 9/11 men appealed on grounds that included a claim that one of the CMCR judges should have recused himself, and the DC court of appeals, agreeing, reversed. More here from Steve Vladeck
In the other order, the renegade CMCR remanded the al Qosi appeal to the commission with an odd sua sponte direction to determine whether the now freed "convict" might have since re-offended (i.e. become an "enemy combatant"), as indeed it appears he has, and implied his post-release conduct might affect his appeal. There was no statutory basis for the direction, and surely, post-conviction behaviour is irrelevant. 
At the pretrial hearings at another of Guantanamo's farcical military commissions - that of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the government's own witness, Ahmed al Darbi, has been testifying about the depraved treatment he received at the hands of his US interrogators. 
The prosecution must have reasoned this would lessen the effect such damning testimony would have if obtained in cross-examination. Al-Nashiri, it will be recalled, is on trial for sundry fake "war crimes" - offences not committed in a time, or a place, of war - trivial matters to the Pentagon. 
Judge Pohl: allowed prosecution to destroy protected evidence
The 9/11 defence lawyers are asking that the presiding judge, Col James L Pohl withdraw from the case, based on the secret, ex parte permission he gave to the prosecution to destroy evidence that was under a protective court order. 
In the meantime, the 9/11 prosecutors are diabolically claiming that Judge Pohl can't read the defence brief, for "security" reasons.  
The lead defendant, Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, responded:
"I'm used to the idea that they can kill me based on things I can't see. But now it seems they want to kill me based on things the judge can't see."  
Franz Kafka was, after all, a lawyer. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

From Our Friends Down Under at Justinian....

Republicans besieging the republic

Trumpcare - skinny repeal dies of starvation ... Pardons and impeachments ... The voter purge movement ... Ersatz war crime sees compensation for Mr Khadr ... Democrats need to get a grip ... From Our Man in Washington   
THE Republicans' obsessive quest to blow up Obama's health insurance reforms seemed to crumble, before any Senate hearings or debate. Then, at the last hour, using the vote of the vice-president and a dying senator, Republicans proceeded to debate three discrete demolition proposals: "repeal-and-replace", straight-out repeal (more here) and the terrible idea of a "skinny repeal". 
The sinister purpose was to produce a Senate Bill - any Bill - to send to the House for "reconciliation" with a truly horrible Bill. Gratifyingly, with the final - "skinny" - defeat, the whole project collapsed.
Repeal had been fiercely attacked in the media, who rightly saw it as about much more than government-mandated and subsidised private health insurance. 
Through cruel cuts to Medicaid, "Health Care" Bills of Republicans would have destroyed health care in the very states where Republican legislators' constituents live (more here), defunding along the way rural hospitals, 62 percent of elderly nursing home patients, and essential home careservices. More here.
Republicans were also bent on stripping pre-existing conditions from insurance policies, a cruelty with no plausible explanation - except, perhaps, as payback for handsome corporate contributions (more here). 
The worst proposal would have deprived 32 million Americans of their health insurance(more here), and could have resulted in 208,500 more deaths over ten years. 
From the start, Republican schemes were about abolishing programs for the poor - the House Bill could have destroyed Medicaid, which Republican states also rely upon - in order to fund tax cuts for the rich.   
When previous repeal attempts failed in the Senate, Mr Trump announced he would let "Obamacare" die, and his health secretary is already using money set aside to promoteObamacare to produce videos and other propaganda attacking it. 
Government subversion could still cripple the program, even if it survives the predations of Republicans in Congress. 
*   *   *
The Bush Gang operated largely under cover of night; the Trump Team is a case of daylight robbery, playing out on TV before millions of witnesses.  
With so many crimes, it's possible that (unlike Bush conspirators) some Trump villains could go to jail, unless pardoned by Mr Trump, who's presently considering pardoning himself. Pardons could, however, help the prosecution, be an obstruction of justice (more here), and even precipitate a constitutional crisis.
As talk grows of mass pardonsLawfare has produced a long read on what constitutes an impeachable offence, and the Times has a newly-disclosed memo from the office of special counsel (and Bill Clinton nemesis) Kenneth Starr opining that presidents are indictable.  
*   *   * 
Voter suppression is running riot in the US
Changing demographics are making Republicans a permanent minority in the US, and something must be done. The most obvious way is by obstructing potential Democrat votes, and a creative new way to do that is by unnecessarily or fraudulently cancelling voter registrations. 
Aided and abetted by the Justice Department's Voting Rights division, three Republicans are leading a voter purge movement. One of them has been appointed to Donald Trump's "Election Integrity" commission. 
With Vice President Pence as chair and Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach as his deputy, the bogus body was ostensibly set up to investigate (virtually non-existent) voter fraud, but at its first meeting, Trump demanded it find him "something".  
Kris Kobach is the man behind Trump's voter fraud obsession. A notorious vote-suppressorand scourge of immigrants, Kobach will be top fox in the henhouse, simultaneously running an election fraud investigation and standing for Kansas governor (legal challenges are underway).
Joining Kobach will be Republican thugs of yesteryear such as former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell - the man who set up and shepherded George Bush's Ohio-based theft of the 2004 election - and the infamous Bush Justice vote-annihilator, Hans von Spakovsky. More here on Horrible Hans.  
The Fourth Horseman investigating "voter fraud" is Christian Adams, general counsel of an organisation that aggressively purges voters.
The Nation has more on the Kobach conspiracy, now beginning to backfire, even in Republican states, although Dahlia Lithwick thinks the chaos is intended and its own reward. 
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Khadr: 10 years at Guantanamo on a bizarre murder charge
The Canadian government has paid former Guantanamero Omar Khadr compensation of $10.5 million for its violation of his rights, and apologised
Some media were mystified by the mean-spirited reaction of Canadian citizens to the Khadr payout and apology. It was hardly unprecedented: a Toronto paper cited Australia's (apology-free)  settlement with Mamdouh Habib.
The best exposition of Khadr's case can be found in a 2013 video presentation by his Pentagon-appointed appellate counsel, Sam Morison. In 2017, Fitch found only one Canadian report that acknowledged the elephant in the room, the bizarre murder charge against a combatant legally responding to an attack: 
"Under the laws of war, a combatant who kills another combatant cannot be charged with murder. That's called combatant immunity. Non-combatants who kill a combatant can be charged with murder, and they are entitled to the procedural protections owed to a criminal accused. Mr Khadr was treated neither as a combatant nor as an accused criminal. Instead, the United States invented a new war crime called "murder by an unlawful alien enemy combatant". 
The new offence made it lawful for US soldiers to kill Mr Khadr, but made it a war crime if he killed a US soldier. This ersatz war crime was invented by the United States after his capture and then applied to his actions retroactively. No system governed by the rule of law does this." 
The widow of the US soldier who, even if Omar Khadr threw the grenade, was legally killed, has lost her suit to freeze the compensation payout pending a proceeding to enforce a default Utah judgment for $US 134 million. 
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Brooks Bros rioters in Miami-Dade: paid by George W. Bush's recount committee
Democrats are soft, and slow to react. They never expect Republicans to behave as badly as they do, or anticipate the particular path their treachery will take. 
Fitch has always wondered why, in November 2000, Bill Clinton, a sitting president in full control of the government, did not send the National Guard or FBI to break up the Republican-engineered "Brooks Brothers Riot" in Miami, thus allowing Dade County election officials to complete their lawful recount of the Bush-Gore presidential ballots. 
You'd think that, following an election with such a multifaceted - and successful - Republican theft strategy, Democrats would be prepared for the next Republican perfidy, and indeed, Obama seems to have learned from Clinton's inaction, though his efforts in 2016 proved ineffectual.
TIME has a document that shows the Obama administration was fully aware of the possible (cyber-hacking) quid pro quo that Donald Trump might receive from Russians on election day 2016, and had an FBI-military contingency plan in place for dealing with it.