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.