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. 
*   *   *

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. 
*   *   *
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. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

From Our Friends Down Under at Justinian...

Our Man in Washington ... Republican anarchy ... The petulant presidency ... Wrecking ball through democratic institutions ... The conflicted cabinet ... Reinforcement from Fox News ... Foxes in the chook house ... Hanging Judge Gorsuch 
Fox and friend
"The [election] outcome placed total control of the government—executive, Congress, the Supreme Court—in the hands of the Republican Party… the most dangerous organization in world history" - Noam Chomsky 
"Anarchists don't work well together" - Neal Gabler.
SECURE in the knowledge they have a radical - if developmentally-arrested - president at the ready, Republican nihilists in the 115th biennial Congress have begun an ambitious project to dismantle the crumbling remains of the post-Bush v Gore, post-9/11 republic.  
According to Neal Gabler: "Republicans are really anarchists dedicated to undermining government in the furtherance of an economic state of nature where the rich rule... Republicans are great at opposing things, destroying things, obstructing things, undoing things [but] ... terrible at creating things because they have no desire to do so." 
Professor Gabler sees President Trump as more anarchist than incipient fascist. 
Der Spiegel ascribes his climate change denial to stupidity, while his personal values are seen as degenerate by the Times and deviant by Robert Reich.  
Some suggest Trump is an idiotes, in the original Greek sense, but for Michael Dorf, he's a "70-year-old infant" whose tweets are those of "an ignorant racist with no impulse control."
The New Yorker speaks of Trump Derangement Syndrome, and others suspect an obsession with undoing Obama's positive initiatives. In fact, some top psychiatrists see dangerous mental illness behind the "tin-pot despot" persona.
The LA Times had a whole series on the putative president, "a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation. His obsession with his own fame, wealth and success, his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation - these traits ... in a real presidency ... are nothing short of disastrous". 
As a New York Review of Books writer bluntly observed:
"Trump is doing nothing less than destroying American democratic institutions and principles by turning the presidency into a profit-making machine for his family, by poisoning political culture with hateful, mendacious, and subliterate rhetoric, by undermining the public sphere with attacks on the press and protesters, and by beginning the real work of dismantling every part of the federal government that exists for any purpose other than waging war." 
Coverage of Trump saturates the media (Chrome has a Trump Filter app), and is mostly negative, except for Murdoch's Fox Network, now in the spotlight with the death of its evil genius, Roger Ailes (more here and here on Ailes, who in 20 years did more than anyone else to white-ant US political discourse).   
Fox mostly supports America's naked new emperor. And why not? The president is said to spend five hours a day watching TV, mainly Fox. Add the time he spends tweeting and there's little time to govern.
*   *   *
Trump's top officials are worth a collective $12 billion, not including the cabinet (perhaps $14 billion), and temptation abounds. Many - especially lobbyists flagrantly acting in the interests of their former employers - have received aptly-named "ethics waivers" dispensed by Trump, waivers he tried to keep secret.   
Unpaid "advisers" like Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner have the most egregious conflicts of interest after Trump himself. Kushner has multiple ethics problems, more here and here.  
*   *   *
Yates: speaking out
Donald Trump has fired three government lawyers investigating his team's Russian connections, and sacked FBI director James Comey isn't the only one responding. The others, acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara, have also spoken out. More on Bharara here and here.
The Russian connection could implicate the White House (including Kushner) in other crimes, including colluding with a foreign government, obstructing justice, and bribery. Top law firms, however, are reluctant to represent Trump - he doesn't take advice and might not pay their bills - so he's turned to his personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, and the Justice Department.  
Trump's rumoured organised crime ties have meanwhile been investigated by Dutch TV. Videos here
If convicted of anything, or even charged, the irrepressible president may have a contingency plan: pardon himself
*   *   *
The latest foxes introduced into Farmer Trump's chook houses are beyond parody: a mega-merger advocate (Makan Delrahim) as antitrust chief, the head of an anti-immigration organisation (Julie Kirchner) to be Ombudsman for Citizenship and Immigration, and a lobbyist for big polluters (Susan Bodine) to take on enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency.
At the Federal Communications Commission, the boss fox (chairman Ajit Pai) has already overseen the elimination of the service requirement for the entire business data industry.
The Republican House lent a hand, stripping internet users of their privacy so that regulated companies - who spent millions on the members - can sell the data for a profit (The Intercept has more). There were only 15 apostates among the 230 Republicans who voted, proving the truth of the adage that an honest politician is one who, once bought, stays bought. 
The Verge produced a list of how much each Republican (including Senators) was paid; a new study quantifies the (relatively cheap) cost of buying members of America's spectacularly-corrupt Congress.
The FCC also redefined its rules, allowing a merger that gives Sinclair Broadcasting an overwhelming share of the nation's local television markets. The right-wing broadcasting group will rival Fox and provide another echo-chamber for Republicans, often in markets with few alternative sources of news and information.  
It's bad enough that Gina Haspel, ex-commandant of the CIA's Thai torture camp (see last Fitch), is the agency's new chief (although she is currently at risk of German arrest). Sadly, a leading member of the "dirty dozen" - the torture-counselling lawyers who greased the way for Gina's torture regime - will be general counsel at the Department of Transportation.  
Stephen Bradbury is arguably the most culpable of all George Bush's "torture memo" men.  
*   *   *
Gorsuch: the smiling executioner
The death penalty is a southern tradition: in the past 40 years there have been 1184 executions in the South, against four in the Northeast. The worst offender currently is Arkansas, which was execution-free since 2005. 
Scandalous experimental executions of four men, one with a credible claim of innocence, have been carried out, with predictable suffering by the guinea-pigs. 
New Justice Neil Gorsuch got his chance to "make a difference", providing the necessary fifth vote for one of the Arkansas executions to proceed; it perversely mirrored a 2016 supreme court ruling that spared another man, thanks to Nino Scalia's timely death (see Fitch). 
It was, as the NY Times sadly noted, Justice Gorsuch's very first vote upon joining the court.
Governor Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas's keen executioner-in-chief, is remembered by Democrats as the dour congressman who produced and "managed" the Republicans' 1998 Clinton impeachment spectacle. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

From our Friends Down Under at Justinian

Trumpian fantasies

A wrap of where we are now with the Trumpian ascendency ... Already talk about presidential replacement as evidence of mental instability emerges ... The administration's "corruption premium" ... 41 prisoners left at Guantánamo, costing $10.85 million each per year ... Roger Fitch files from an anguished Washington 
Caesarian democracy [is typified by] its direct appeal to the masses: demagogical slogans; disregard of legality despite a professed guardianship of law and order; contempt of political parties and the parliamentary system, of the educated classes and their values; blandishments and vague, contradictory promises to all and sundry; militarism; gigantic blatant displays and shady corruption. Panem et circenses once more – and at the end of the road, disaster  – Sir Lewis Namier, "Vanished Supremacies” 
It is generally easy to identify which of Trump's assertions are, in one way or another, unworthy of belief. What is somewhat more difficult to establish is whether his unmistakably dubious statements are deliberate lies or whether they are just bullshit - Harry Frankfurter, Princeton philosopher
In the US presidential election just ended, Donald Trump lost the popular vote by about three million votes, even after his party suppressed another 7 million.  
His 46.1 percent support on election day was at 40 percent (Obama's: 84 percent) by the time he took office.
Even so, on January 20th, as George HW Bush - the last Republican elected president without cheating - lay in intensive care, Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States.
He promptly delivered an inauguration speech whose crude nationalist tone harkened back to European rallies of the 1930s, a resonance others found as well.
Erratic rants tumbled out in the days that followed, and within a week, there was talk about presidential replacement under the disability provisions of the 25th Amendment, more here and here
Early evidence of a disturbing mental instability could be found in his delusional and demonstrably untrue claims that the audience who attended his inauguration was the largest in history; soon thereafter, the new president's press flacks were reporting a rapturous reception for the Great Leader at the CIA, of all places. 
The president made an embarrassing appeal to the assembled CIA officers, assuming they'd voted for him and were partisan allies; this, also, was a Trumpian fantasy. More here on Trump's alarming CIA visit.
The new chief's imaginary triumph at Langley was yet another case of "alternative facts", as presidential counsellor Kellyanne Conway called them, an expression quickly seized upon as Orwellian by Eric Blair scholars. 
Conway: comments examined by Eric Blair scholars
The Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt - author of On Truth and the influential 1986 essay On Bullshit - was the first to identify the essential nature of Trump's disconnect with truth. A number of writers (here and here) have cited "bullshitting" to explain Trump's fantastic lies, but as Lawfare's Quinta Jurecic notes, disregard for truth "could easily become disregard for democratic norms and the rule of law". 
For some, the Trump transition conjured up images of the fall of the Roman republic and its aftermath, and the man himself was compared to assorted authoritarian leaders in history, eg Augustus, Napoleon III, Mussolini, Hitler and even Erdogan, though George III seems more apt. 
It's true that Trump has an affinity for tasteless Louis XIV knock-offs, consistent with his not-so-elegant heritage.
As for the rise of America's very own authoritarian figure, the Atlantic blamed Trump's ascent and Clinton's fall on movies, TV and pop culture, while a Salon writer credited reality TV for liberating Americans from a "hobble of shame" that had heretofore hindered the elevation of Trump-like beings to leadership positions.
The Guardian's Polly Toynbee meanwhile provided historical context, dusting off her 1988 interview with a man who appeared pathological even then.
*   *   *
Kushner: nepotism
Cabinet appointments are proceeding. The Republicans insisted that Senate confirmation hearings be carried on before the government's Office of Ethics had completed its review of the mostly-dodgy nominees.
When the government's Chief Ethics Officer spoke up on Trump's own derisory ethics compliance efforts, calling them meaningless, he received a threatening summons from the House Republican leadership, reminding him that his term was up for renewal. The Post commented here.  
Ethics officials from both the Bush and Obama administrations professed themselves shocked by Trump's conflicts. More here on ethics. 
The House, perhaps anticipating its representatives' crimes, tried to bring its own Ethics Office under partisan Republican control, but backed off after public outrage. They still managed to move government records useful for ethics investigations from executive control to (privileged) Congressional custody, thus defeating future subpoenas. 
Michael Dorf has described a "corruption premium" in the Trump administration. 
Tweets aside, Mr Trump is holding highly improper private meetings with heads of companies that are contemplating mergers - a great opportunity for pay-to-play and personal enrichment, not to mention insider trading.
If hackers can make millions on inside trades by stealing inside information from merger and acquisition legal firms, what's to stop friends and cronies of Trump family members who know in advance of their leader's next bizarre tweets
Happily for Trump, the very first legal opinion issued by the Department of Justice under the new regime has given its blessing to Trump's appointment of his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a senior adviser, anti-nepotism laws notwithstanding. 
Trump's unresolved emoluments problems have meanwhile resulted in a lawsuit by CREW regarding his foreign investments, more here.
*   *   *
Gitmo: 41 left
January 11th marked the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo Bay prison and, in the parallel universe that is Gitmo, it seemed perfectly natural that two men held in mistaken identity were among the last of the men released by the Obama administration. One of these was the only one still held who had been captured by Americans on a battlefield.
The final Gitmo transfers began in late December and continued right up to Obama's last day in office
The final count as the clock ran out on 20 January was 41 prisoners; the cost of maintaining them now works out to $US 10.85 million each per year.  
The Post reported on the five men cleared for release who were still at Guantánamo when the Obama administration expired. There were last minute court challenges in Washington on behalf of two of those stranded, but both (here and here) were unsuccessful.    
Among those released on the last day was the only remaining European prisoner, Ravil Mingazov.  
Mingazov is the former Russian ballet dancer-soldier that Fitch once paired for exchange with the US ballet-dancing soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Rejecting Fitch's advice, the Pentagon exchanged five other Guantanameros for Bergdahl, who now faces a court martial for desertion in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl is currently seeking dismissal of the charges in light of the highly prejudicial comments on his case made by the new commander-in-chief - unless the 25th Amendment facilitates another person playing that role.