Victim-in-chief has some worthwhile achievements

President Donald Trump is claiming to be the victim in advance of the Democrats taking control of the US Congress.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Democratic attempts at oversight in the coming Congress could amount to “presidential harassment.”

Speaking from the Oval Office, Trump again denied any collusion between his team and Russia when he was questioned about the investigative powers Democrats will assume come January.

“It’s probably presidential harassment and we know how to handle that. I know how to handle that better than anybody,” Trump said.

“You’re talking about millions and millions and millions of dollars of wasted money,” Trump said. “There’s been absolutely no collusion. But there has been a lot of collusion by the Democrats, with Russia and a lot of other people that maybe they shouldn’t have been dealing with, including very dishonest people.”

He has a record of blaming others for what he has done.

It’s a bit ironic Trump accusing others of harassment – or in this case possible harassment in the future. This could be seen as him harassing the Democrats to try to avoid being held to account.

“It’s a disgrace, what’s happening in our country,” Trump fumed, seated behind the Resolute Desk. “But other than that, I wish everybody a very merry Christmas.”

I just can’t help laughing at that. Time and again he comes across as a fool out of his depth.

But there has been some achievements in the two years he has been President (Barack Obama achieved some things too, al presidents do).

CNN: Five things even Trump critics can give him credit for this Christmas

President Donald Trump ends his second year in office isolated and under siege. A self-inflicted government shutdown is happening over Christmas, the stock market is suffering its worst month in a decade (compounded by his talk of sacking the Fed chair) and the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis is sending shudders through America’s military and allies.

But these criticisms are for another day — pretty much any other day.

Today is Christmas. And in a spirit of finding the best in people, I promised myself I’d look for a few areas of agreement with a President with whom I disagree quite a lot.

After all, if you view politics through a historical lens, you’ll see that even our worst Presidents have some redeeming qualities. And if those can’t be found personally, they can be found in policy.

Criminal justice reform

President Trump got it done after decades of talk. He cobbled together a bipartisan coalition to pass the First Step Act and used his bully pulpit to push past a reluctant Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had pronounced the legislation “divisive” just weeks before. As a measure of that alleged divisiveness, the legislation passed by an overwhelming 87-12 margin.

The law blends common sense and compassion, redeeming reformed lives while saving money in the process. It promises to lessen the sentences of nonviolent criminals and reduce frankly racist sentencing disparities. And it’s the kind of bill that could only command Republican support if it were backed by a law-and-order candidate, which itself speaks to the stupid partisanship that usually outweighs policy.

Getting tough on China

…he’s been clear-eyed and mostly consistent when it comes to standing up to China’s exploitation of international systems to fuel its expansion while creating a technological surveillance state.

Team Trump has realized that time is running out to have any leverage on China in the effort to get it to act like a responsible global power. And while I don’t support Trump’s trade war tactics — mostly because they have lumped in allies like Canada with China — the President has been right to call out abuse of trade treaties by China that have created an unequal playing field on issues from manufacturing to intellectual property to massive state sponsored cyber theft.

Economic opportunity zones

The tax cut bill most often trumpeted as the prime achievement of the Trump era was actually a disaster. It stimulated an economy that was already overheated, promises to exacerbate the growing gap between the rich and poor (as well as the super-rich and middle class) and its failure to close corporate loopholes is already exploding our deficit and debt, reducing tax receipts in a booming economy.

That said, there is an excellent and overdue provision in the otherwise lousy tax bill — economic opportunity zones. Consider this the belated love child of Jack Kemp’s dwindling influence in the Republican Party, incentivizing investment in poverty-stricken neighborhoods through tax breaks on capital gains. It’s exactly the sort of smart, targeted government action that may finally spur development in our atrophied regional economies.

‘Right-to-try’ legislation

This is a comparatively small step, but it radiates common sense and actually shows a rare libertarian streak. The “right-to-try” legislation had been embraced by a number of states, but the federal government had been opposed until Trump pushed the bill into enactment.

Basically, it allows terminally ill patients to have access to experimental drugs. The logic is simple: what do they have to lose? Why not give patients and their families access to whatever experimental drug they want if it might be able to save or prolong their life?

The Music Modernization Act

… Orrin Hatch sponsored, and Trump signed, a worthwhile and overdue piece of legislation that stops musicians from getting screwed by streaming services and cuts down on the power of predatory middle men.

There will always be positives if you look for them. The hope has to be that they are not overwhelmed by negatives – and that the President is not overly distracted or even overwhelmed by negatives.

Oversight of the president, especially this president, is as important as ever, no matter how much Trump complains about it.

 

 

 

GCSB bill – appointments and oversight panel

Concerns have been expressed that the GCSB advisory (oversight) panel, as well as the Inspector General, will be appointed by the Prime Minister, meaning he will have control over all people involved in the warrant issuing and oversight process.

This isn’t supported by the facts.

 

First, the appointment of the Director of the Bureau. From the committee report:

9 Appointment of Director

(1) The Director of the Bureau is appointed by the Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, for a term not exceeding 5 years, and may from time to time be reappointed.

9A Appointment process

The State Services Commissioner—
“(a) is responsible for managing the process for the appointment of the Director; and
“(b) must provide advice on the nominations for Director to the Prime Minister.

9C Removal from office

(1) The Governor-General may at any time for just cause, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, remove the Director from office

So that process involves the Governor General, the State Services Commissioner and the Prime Minister.

And a recommendation from the Intelligence and Security Committee on the advisory panel:

Establishment of an advisory panel

We recommend amending the bill (inserting new sections 15A, 15B, 15C, and 15D (new clause 33A)) to establish an advisory panel to provide advice to the Inspector-General.

The bill aims to build on and further strengthen the oversight arrangements of New Zealand’s security and intelligence agencies. We believe the establishment of an advisory panel to provide advice to the Inspector-General would contribute significantly to strengthening the oversight arrangements.

The amendments we propose also provide for the advisory panel to report to the Prime Minister on any matter relating to intelligence and security, if the panel considers it necessary to do so.

We recommend in new section 15C that the panel consist of 2 members and the Inspector-General. Members would be appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister after consulting the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The proposed amendment:

15A Advisory panel established

This section establishes an advisory panel.

15B Function of advisory panel

(1) The function of the advisory panel is to provide advice to the Inspector-General.

(2) The advisory panel may provide advice—
(a) on request from the Inspector-General; or
(b) on its own initiative.

(3) To assist the advisory panel to perform its function,—
(a) the advisory panel may ask the Inspector-General to provide information; and
(b) the Inspector-General may provide information to the advisory panel, whether in response to a request under paragraph (a) or on his or her own initiative.
(4) The advisory panel may make a report to the Prime Minister on any matter relating to intelligence and security, if the advisory panel considers that the matter should be drawn to the attention of the Prime Minister.

15C Membership of advisory panel

(1) The advisory panel consists of—
(a) 2 members appointed under subsection (2), 1 of whom must also be appointed as the chairperson of the panel; and
(b) the Inspector-General.

(2) The members and chairperson appointed under this subsection are appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister after consulting the Intelligence and Security Committee.

(3) One of the members appointed under subsection (2) must be a lawyer within the meaning of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 who has held a practising certificate as a barrister or barrister and solicitor for not less than 7 years.

(4) Both of the members appointed under subsection (2) must have an appropriate security clearance.

(5) A member appointed under subsection (2)—
(a) holds office for a term not exceeding 5 years; and
(b) may from time to time be reappointed; and
(c) may at any time resign office by notice in writing to the Prime Minister; and
(d) may be removed from office by notice in writing from the Prime Minister for misconduct, inability to perform the functions of office, or neglect of duty.

This addresses two common criticisms.

The Governor General and the Prime Minister are involved in the appointment of the panel, in consultation with the Intelligence and Security Committee. The committee currently comprises John Key, John Banks, David Shearer, Russel Norman and Tony Ryall (who recently replaced Peter Dunne).

This provides cross-party oversight of the appointments. I don’t think an appointment would be made that is strongly objected to by any members of the committee.

And at least one of the two members must be a lawyer. This further reduces the chances of any possibility of cronyism, which is the fear of some.

The advisory panel substantially improves oversight of the processes and practices of the GCSB being used as an agent of the NZSIS, Police and Defence Force.

About the NZSIS – how secret?

I did a search on Google and this was the first hit:

NZSIS - About

And when I clicked on the link:

NZSIS - About link

Very funny.

However they aren’t as secret as that might suggest because this link works : http://nzsis.govt.nz/about-us/oversight/

(I went to the home page of their website, clicked in About and clicked on Oversight).