Judge rules no copyright issue but fraud valid for extradition in Dotcom case

A judge has ruled in favour if Kim Dotcom on there being no equivalent “copyright” crime in New Zealand, but also ruled that Dotcom could be extradited on fraud charges.

NZH: Kim Dotcom legal saga: Extradition to US over Megaupload still on cards but he claims court ruling is a ‘major victory’

This latest legal milestone is this afternoon’s ruling from Justice Murray Gilbert who had been asked to overturn a decision that Dotcom was eligible for extradition to face criminal charges in the United States.

After five months of deliberation, Gilbert found that Dotcom remained eligible for extradition to the US – but not on copyright charges.

The judge found in favour of arguments put by Dotcom’s legal team, led by Ron Mansfield, that there was no equivalent “copyright” crime in New Zealand that would activate the extradition treaty.

However, the ruling also saw Justice Gilbert finding in favour of the US argument that Dotcom – and his three co-accused – could be extradited because it was at essence a “fraud” case and there was such a crime in the extradition treaty.

Dotcom, Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato face decades in a US prison after a 2012 raid brought down the Megaupload file-sharing super-site Megaupload they set up and ran.

In an interview with the Herald, Dotcom said the ruling was a “major victory” because it ruled that there was no New Zealand equivalent to the US criminal charges of copyright violation.

“The major part of this litigation has been won by this judgment – that copyright is not extraditable.

It may be a major battle win, but the war against extradition could still be lost.

The ruling today has created an unusual bureaucratic contradiction – the warrant which was served on Dotcom when he was arrested on January 20, 2012, stated he was being charged with “copyright” offences.

Likewise, the charges Dotcom will face in the US are founded in an alleged act of criminal copyright violation.

Mansfield also claimed victory, saying the case was no longer the “largest criminal copyright case”.

“As we have said all along, there is no such offence under our Copyright Act. We were right.

“To win the major plank of the case but to get that outcome is extremely disappointing. It is hard to accept the logic that, if the conduct that all accept at its heart relates to assertions of breach of copyright … how it can nonetheless be massaged into a general fraud offence.”

Lawyers acting for the US began referring to the case as one of “fraud” after months of hearings.

By the time of the extradition hearing in late 2015, it was a main plank of the case with the lawyer acting for the US, Christine Gordon QC, telling Judge Nevin Dawson: “When distractions are stripped away, the evidence boils down to a central scheme of fraud. The scale of that fraud and the way it was conducted might indeed be novel. This is mainly as a result of the reach of the internet and the behaviour of mass audiences.

“Yet the dishonesty at the core of Megaupload’s operation can be expressed in straight-forward terms. The basic features do not differ significantly from earlier cases of fraud against copyright owners.

“The respondents were part of a conspiracy. They deliberately attracted copyright infringing material to their website. They deliberately preserved it, deliberately took steps to profit from that material and made vast sums of money which they applied to various purposes knowing it had been unlawfully acquired.”

Both sides are expected to challenge aspects of the ruling before the Court of Appeal – and eventually the Supreme Court, if it accepts the case.

If the Supreme Court upholds the decisions of the District and High Court, the Minister of Justice is then able to sign the extradition order – which itself can be challenged in the courts.

On that basis, there are at least two years of Dotcom hearings yet to run.

It was five years ago, in 2012, that Dotcom and his associates were arrested in an over the top raid on his ‘mansion’.

 

USA gutting net neutrality

There is world wide concern over the potential effects of the 3-2 vote by the US Federal Communications Commission to overturn net-neutrality rules that have required Internet service providers to treat all online communications equally.

The Nation: Gutting Net Neutrality Is the Trump Administration’s Most Brutal Blow to Democracy Yet

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to eliminate “the First Amendment of the Internet,” and in so doing it delivered the Trump administration’s most brutal blow yet to democracy in America.

Despite overwhelming public support for a free and open Internet, the CFC’s Trump-aligned majority engineered a 3-2 vote to overturn net-neutrality rules that have required Internet service providers to treat all online communications equally—and, in a related move, the commission majority rejected the authority of the FCC to protect a free and open Internet. Commission chair Ajit Pai, the telecommunications-industry lawyer who has done Donald Trump’s bidding in debates on a host of media and democracy issues, has cleared the way for service providers to establish information superhighways for political and corporate elites, while consigning communications from grassroots activists to digital dirt roads.

Addressing the American people on the day when the FCC dismissed millions of appeals on behalf of net neutrality, dissenting Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said Thursday: “What saddens me is that the agency that is supposed to protect you is abandoning you.”

That’s the words of one of the Commissioners.

Pai and his associates have moved to create what former FCC commissioner Michael Copps refers to as “a gatekeeper’s paradise,” where “our civic dialogue—the news and information upon which a successful self-governing society depends upon—would be further eroded.”

“Telecom and media consolidation have wreaked havoc with investigative journalism and turned political campaigns into a crass reality show and our ‘news’ into bottom-feeding infotainment,” warns Copps, who now works with Common Cause on media and democracy issues.

I don’t believe democracy can survive on such thin gruel. Throw in [the fact] that we, the people, will be paying ever-more exorbitant prices for this constricted future and you will understand why so many millions of people all across the land have contacted the FCC and Congress telling them to preserve our current net-neutrality rules.

I don’t know whether this will affect us here in New Zealand – it must to an extent. We are already suffering from a media rush to bland, populist click bait trivia.

Much of the debate about overturning net neutrality has been focused on the damage the move will do to consumers, and there can be no question that clearing the way for unprecedented profiteering by telecommunications corporations barters off our digital future to the same grifters who have turned broadcast- and cable-media platforms into vast wastelands of commercial excess.

But the biggest cost of eliminating net neutrality will be to the American experiment in citizen-driven dialogue, discourse, and decision making. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says:

The internet makes it easier for people to get organized and amplify their voices. Ending Net Neutrality will make it harder for the people to fight powerful interests.

That assessment was confirmed by activists who rallied outside the FCC headquarters Thursday. “You don’t have the modern day anti-police violence movement without the open Internet,” said editor and cultural critic Jamilah Lemieux.

“Saving the Net is a civil rights issue that effects Asian Americans across the US,” said Deepa Iyer, a senior fellow with the Center for Social Inclusion.

Symone Sanders, who served as press secretary for the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and is now a CNN commentator, said: “There is no resistance without a free and open Internet.”

Big business and profit motives are essential parts of modern society, but they need to have controls and limitations or they will have too much control and influence over our society.

Somewhat ironically Trump uses Twitter to bypass big media companies and speak straight to the people.

Both dissenting FCC commissioners, Clyburn and Rosenworcel, used their statements prior to Thursday’s vote to encourage resistance.

“I’m not going to give up—and neither should you,” says Rosenworcel.

If the arc of history is long, we are going to bend this toward a more just outcome. In the courts. In Congress. Wherever we need to go to ensure that Net Neutrality stays the law of the land. Because if you are conservative or progressive, you benefit from internet openness. If you come from a small town or big city, you benefit from Internet openness. If you are a company or non-profit, you benefit from Internet openness. If you are a start-up or an established business, you benefit from Internet openness. If you are a consumer or a creator, you benefit from Internet openness. If you believe in democracy, you benefit from Internet openness.

On a disappointing day for the defenders of democracy, the commissioner concluded by assuring them that this struggle is far from finished.

“So let’s persist. Let’s fight. Let’s not stop here or now,” declared Rosenworcel. “It’s too important. The future depends on it.”

The fight for freedom and neutrality on the Internet is not over, but it will be difficult.

There was some merit in ‘draining the swamp’ of bureaucratic control, but handing control over to big business may be a frying pan to fire sort of movement.

More views:

Alabama Senate election

It’s interesting to see so much interest in a US senate election here in New Zealand.

Alabama would normally be expected to be a safe Republican seat, but a controversial conservative candidate with a raft of sexual misconducts thrown into the campaign, sever splits in the GOP with some Senators openly saying they would vote against their own party candidate and if he won would seek to have him dumped from the Senate./

And then President Trump stirred up his own alleged sexual misconduct while endorsing and campaigning for the GOP candidate added more interest.

Especially now the results are in and he lost, and the Republican Senate majority is down to a bare 51, which make it even hard for Trump to progress his policies.

What are their names? Moore and Jones (the winner) I think from memory, but that doesn’t matter much here.

The Republicans have had a reality check, especially Trump and Steve Bannon of helped run the losing campaign.

But this is unlikely to do much to address the dysfunction in US politics.

Stream of revelations of abuse of power and women

The floodgates may not have opened fully on revelations of sexual harassment and misconduct of prominent men in the US, but a trickle seems to have become a stream.

On the current RealClear Politics front page there are numerous stories about men abusing power and abusing women.

The trickle started with Harvey Weinstein: After Weinstein, a Cultural Revolution (National Review):

It’s been nearly two months, and a geologic age, since the New York Times ran its initial report on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation.

It’s difficult to think of any piece of journalism that has ever wrought such an instant change in American life.

First, more allegations against Weinstein flooded in, and then against other Hollywood, media, and political figures, many of them rapidly defenestrated upon credible allegations of sexual misconduct.

A heightened awareness around sexual harassment is roiling multiple industries in what is a low-grade cultural revolution.

But the stage was set last year: Congress Should Investigate Trump’s Alleged Sexual Misconduct (RCP):

Powerful men with long histories of alleged sexual harassment or assault are finally being held accountable — except one. That would be President Trump.

“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her,” Trump said on the “Access Hollywood” tape, referring to a woman he had just spotted. “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. … Grab ’em by the [vagina]. You can do anything.”

Thirteen women have gone on the record to say that is how Trump operated, according to a tally by The Washington Post. Eight of them — who say that Trump kissed them, groped them or both, without invitation or permission — have corroboration, meaning they told other people about the incidents before going public. Similar stories told by the other five accusers are not corroborated.

Trump won election despite the allegations, but his victory did not erase his history. Now, virtually overnight, the paradigm for thinking about and dealing with sexual harassment has changed. A kind of Judgment Day has arrived for men who thought they had gotten away with their misdeeds.

And there’s ample history: Al Gore’s dark past is an inconvenient truth (The OCR):

It seems like every time you open the morning paper, more powerful men are being accused of groping, raping and generally treating their female colleagues in inappropriate and degrading ways.

You don’t have to look any farther than the pages of the New York Times or the airwaves of MSNBC to hear liberal voices openly opining that they blew it in the 1990s by not calling on former President Bill Clinton to step down after he admitted to an ongoing sexual relationship with a much younger intern.

However, one prominent name has managed to stay off of our radar, and I don’t know why. I am, of course, speaking of former Vice President Al Gore.

Back in October of 2006, a Portland, Ore. masseuse accused the former vice president of “unwanted sexual contact” while performing a massage on him in a hotel room.

Students: There Are No Safe Spaces (NewRepublic):

If we have learned anything from the ongoing, seemingly endless tide of sexual harassment allegations against famous, powerful men, it is that there is no space that is truly safe.

It is not a coincidence that this flood has come now, not just with Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump in the White House, but after years of public denunciations of the very idea of safe spaces. Liberal and conservative commentators alike have written reams of nearly identical columns lamenting the desire, on the part of today’s young people, for a place they might be safe from sexism, racism, and harassment.

A journalist: Charlie Rose, before and after the fall (News Observer):

North Carolina was proud of Charlie Rose. A native, a graduate of Duke University and the Duke law school, and someone who for a substantial two decades conducted perhaps the most thoughtful interview show on television through his own company.

Now, of course, Rose’s career has ended in flames after sexual harassment allegations from several women. It’s hard to imagine the 75-year-old New York-based media and social star will be able to restore his public image.

A Senator:  Al Franken vows to regain Minnesota’s trust after harassment allegations (Star Tribune):

Another politician: Capitol Police investigating whether nude photo of House Republican was a crime (The Hill):

The Capitol Police are investigating whether the unauthorized release of a nude photo of Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) online was a crime.

A nude photo of Barton appeared on social media anonymously earlier in the week. Barton on Wednesday acknowledged that the photo was of him but said he did not release the photo and the person who did not only violated his privacy but may have committed “a potential crime against me.”

Barton emphasized that the women he was involved with in the past, one of whom may have shared the photo, were above the age of consent and willing participants.

“While separated from my second wife, prior to the divorce, I had sexual relationships with other mature adult women,” Barton said in a statement.

That may be just embarrassing rather than criminal.

And a candidate:  U.S. Senate candidate Moore’s spokesman resigns as allegations roil campaign (Reuters):

The communications director for U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore has resigned amid the Alabama Republican’s efforts to combat allegations of sexual misconduct that have roiled his campaign.
News of the departure of John Rogers came a day after U.S. President Donald Trump defended Moore from accusations by multiple women that Moore pursued them as teenagers when he was in his 30s, including one who has said he initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14.

Moore has denied any wrongdoing and has accused the women of conspiring with Democrats, media outlets and establishment Republicans in an effort to tarnish his reputation. Reuters has not independently confirmed any of the accusations.

Trump told reporters on Tuesday, however, that he might yet campaign for Moore, who he said “totally denies” the misconduct allegations, and that Democratic nominee Doug Jones was a liberal who should not be elected.

The president’s stance stood in contrast to the reactions from most Republicans in Washington, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who have called on Moore to step aside.

Blaming the media and their opponents may be wearing a bit thin, especially when allegations of abuses are spread across the spectrum.

When the rot is defended from the top, and the top may be rotten as well, there is some way to go but the stream may become a floodgate that can’t be held back, even by Trump.

Back to Rich Lowry at National Review:

Now, it is the predators — no matter how entrenched and successful — who are in a precarious position. They can fall from grace within hours of credible accounts of wrongdoing. It doesn’t matter how abjectly they apologize or promise to get therapy and engage in self-reflection. They are powerless before their accusers.

This dynamic can go too far. It is important that accusations always are evaluated for credibility, and the accused get their hearing.

But the model, a disgraceful abuse of power too long tolerated, is ending. Good riddance.

The abuse of power bubble may at last be bursting.

While there are a growing number of accusations those in the firing line are only a small minority of politicians, journalists and movie moguls. The majority, possibly the vast majority, are innocent of abusing their power or abusing women.

But there must be a few others who are waiting, wondering if they will become the next headline.

USA: Russian collusion probe

Investigations continue into possible Russian collusion by both Democrats and republicans in last year’s US election.

Washington Examiner: Fusion GPS paid journalists, court papers confirm

Newly filed court documents confirm that Fusion GPS, the company mostly responsible for the controversial “Trump dossier” on presidential candidate Donald Trump, made payments to three journalists between June 2016 until February 2017.

The revelation could be a breakthrough for House Republicans, who are exploring whether Fusion GPS used the dossier, which was later criticized for having inaccurate information on Trump, to feed anti-Trump stories to the press during and after the presidential campaign.

The three journalists who were paid by Fusion GPS are known to have reported on “Russia issues relevant to [the committee’s] investigation,” the House Intelligence Committee said in a court filing.

“Fusion GPS is a research firm set up by former investigative journalists,” Fusion GPS’s lawyer, Josh Levy, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.

“As such, it sometimes works with contractors that have specialized skills seeking public information. Contractors are not permitted to publish any articles based on that work, and Fusion GPS does not pay journalists to write stories.”

Levy also dismissed the Republican idea that these payments were somehow aimed at or otherwise used to help get anti-Trump stories written by the press.

“This is simply another desperate attempt by the president’s political allies to discredit Fusion GPS’s work and divert attention from the question these committees are supposed to be investigating: the Trump campaign’s knowledge of Russian interference in the election,” Levy said.

But House Republicans still have their doubts. One of the documents filed by lawyers for the House Intelligence Committee said each of the three reporters who received payments had written about the Russia probe, which could indicate that reporters were using Fusion GPS’s work to write their stories.

The dossier has become one of the central components of the investigations being carried out by the House and Senate Intelligence committees, as well as the Senate Judiciary Committee. Investigators are trying to determine how the dossier may have influence the intelligence agencies during the 2016 election.

The Washington Examinerreported that “FBI and Justice Department officials have told congressional investigators in recent days that they have not been able to verify or corroborate the substantive allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign outlined in the Trump dossier.”

And more on that from The Hill: Mueller investigating Kushner’s communication with foreign leaders

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators are looking into White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his contact with foreign leaders, according to a new report.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Mueller’s team is probing Kushner’s involvement in the controversy surrounding a United Nations resolution passed in December 2016 that condemned Israeli settlement construction.

Trump, who was president-elect at the time, called for the U.S. to veto the resolution, saying it was “extremely unfair to all Israelis.”

The U.N. Security Council passed the resolution days later as the U.S. abstained from vetoing it.

The newspaper reports that Israeli officials reached out to several top officials involved in Trump’s transition, including Kushner and former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, and that Mueller’s probe is asking questions about those overtures.

Mueller’s investigators are also looking into Kushner’s role in setting up meetings and communication with foreign leaders during Trump’s transition, according to the newspaper.

Investigations into possible collusion seem likely to take some time.

The end result may be that Russia tried to influence the election, but both Republicans and Democrats were trying to use Russian resources to gain an advantage.

US politics looks like a dirty business all round.

 

 

Erosion of American Greatness

American greatness has certainly been eroded.

Last year’s presidential election drag US democracy down further, with accusations and claims still hanging over both Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns. The integrity of the US political system, especially in relation to alleged Russian interference, is dependent on the outcome of ongoing inquiries and investigations.

Trump holds on to minority base support who still have faith in Trump shaking up the US political system and the world without creating too much mayhem and incurring too much collateral damage.

American greatness in the world is under real threat due to the uncertainties surrounding President Trump’s many proclamations and threats versus the actions of his top officials who seem to be working for good despite their leader.

We won’t know how much further American greatness has been eroded by the Trump presidency for a year or two, unless one event precipitates a dive, like an outbreak of nuclear war. Trump is currently in Korea trying to dampen down the threats there.

Roger Cohen via Der Spiegel: Donald Trump and the Erosion of American Greatness

Ten months into the Trump presidency, the world has not gone over a cliff. Nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea has not produced Armageddon. That this must be considered an achievement is testimony to how alarming Donald Trump’s erratic belligerence has been.

While things may look bad the problems are still mostly potential rather than real, but other countries are adjusting their global stance in light of the uncertainties over trump.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has concluded that Europeans must now take “our destiny into our own hands.” Dismay is widespread. The post-war order, stripped of its American point of reference, is frayed to the breaking point.

Trump’s election, like Britain’s perverse flight from the European Union, reflected a blow-up-the-system mood.

The US isn’t the only weakened link. Close ally Britain has been rocked by the Brexit vote and political power was then eroded by an ill conceived election, severely weakening Prime Minister Theresa May and her government.

The tens of millions of Americans who elected Trump had few illusions about his irascibility but were ready to roll the dice in the name of disruption at any cost.

The president, who continues to act principally as the rabble-rousing leader of a mass movement, is the ultimate provocateur. He jolts the facile assumptions of a globalized liberal elite. Rising inequality and rampant impunity for the powerful certainly demanded such a jolt.

Some sort of jolt certainly looked deserved, but a series of jarring statements along with a lack of real action currently suggests more dolt than jolt.

But the question remains: How dangerous is Trump to the world and the American Republic?

One school of thought argues: Not very. For all the presidential mouthing and angry ALL-CAPS dawn tweeting, there’s no sign of the wall on the Mexican border; and NATO is no longer “obsolete” (at least some days of the week); and the “One China” policy has not been scrapped; and the Iran nuclear agreement endures for now, despite Trump’s outrageous refusal to recertify it; and the United States embassy is still in Tel Aviv; and the North American Free Trade Agreement hangs on. Even Trump’s decision to quit the Paris climate accord has not yet been made effective.

Political reality and an entrenched system is a moderating influence on major changes. Division in the Republican Party over Trump’s leadership and aims also has also limited change.

So perhaps Defense Secretary James Mattis and H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, have ring-fenced Trump’s recklessness. Perhaps they have neutralized his ahistorical ignorance. Trump’s “America First” may be a slogan of impeccable fascist pedigree, but it will not upend the world.

It has unsettled the world but hasn’t upended it – yet.

But…

A disaster is unfolding whose consequences for humanity and decency will be substantial. America’s word, which has constituted the undergirding of global security for more than seven decades, is a fast-devaluing currency. Trump is likely to become more capricious in the coming months.

Trump has a record of reacting badly to criticism and failure. If major successes continue to elude him or if the custard gets lumpier then who knows how he will act.

Already, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping of China are stepping into the void. This is inevitable. The message from the Trump White House is one of withdrawal – from global responsibility above all, be it for the environment, European stability or the fate of the Middle East.

If the Iran nuclear deal is working but Trump chooses to trash it because the Islamic Republic did not become a benign power overnight – the deal was about centrifuges not Iranian support for Bashar al-Assad’s butchery in Syria – then why on earth should any other nation conclude a treaty with bait-and-switch America?

The most terrifying thing to me about the insults hurled in recent weeks between Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, was that it was impossible to distinguish between them. The American president had descended to the level of a tantrum-prone totalitarian despot.

Trump vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea and called Kim “Rocket Man on a suicide mission.” The United States, he proclaimed, was “locked and loaded.” Kim, in return, called Trump “a rogue,” a “gangster,” and a “dotard,” the last a word not much in vogue since the 17th century. Americans scurried for their dictionaries to discover that a dotard was a senile fool.

The unfunny thing is that when two thin-skinned men with nukes, grudges and mysterious hair hurl insults at each other, and one of them is the American president, there is no cause for comfort. Wars begin in unforeseeable ways; with nuclear brinkmanship, accidents happen.

I have just heard reports of Trump again stating that all of the United States’ military options remain on the table. Of course they do, but threatening another egotistical and unpredictable leader who may also have a nuclear arsenal is a high risk game of  chance.

Call all this a disturbing Asian flurry if you like. But something deeper is going on. The United States has often fallen short. Ken Burns’ remarkable documentary on the Vietnam War has been a recent reminder of this. So, of course, were Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

Yet, over time, American reinvention does its work and the idea flickers to life again: that we are a nation of laws; that all Americans, whatever their beliefs or faiths, have rights and responsibilities under the law; and that this law establishes checks and balances designed to safeguard our freedom and our democracy and our decency, the values we carry out into the world in the belief that if they cannot always deliver the best, they may at least avert the worst.

Already shaky, that all certainly now looks at greater risk.

President Trump has yet to meet a strongman who does not elicit his sympathy or a multilateral organization that does not prompt his disdain. The Saudi King, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Vladimir Putin are fine. Merkel in “bad, bad Germany” is not. I hear that Merkel and Trump scarcely speak to each other. This is worrying. Germany is the most important country in Europe and a core American ally.

Under Trump, the State Department has been eviscerated: a proposed 30 percent budget cut, countless critical posts unfilled, a secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who has contrived to be ineffective and demoralize his staff. At the same time, military budgets have soared. Trump loves soldiers and has little time for diplomats. When all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

Trump seems poorly suited to and too impatient for diplomacy, and yes, seems to like swaggering about the military might he is in command of.

The reality of Trump’s autocratic tendencies should not be waved away. He is not harmless. Liberals paid a heavy price for failing to look facts in the eye at the last election. The Trump phenomenon – his appeal to millions of Americans – endures.

Helped to a large extent by how poor the Democrats and Hillary Clinton have been, they have been a major factor in enabling the rise of Trump.

Here’s a voice from Trump country:

People have to choose between heating their homes, buying food or buying health care and you want them to worry about the survival of the planet or transgender stuff?

I respect business and I distrust government. I don’t want illegal immigrants taking our jobs.

I don’t like liberals who shop at Whole Foods talking down their noses at me because I shop at WalMart.

I don’t want God and guns chased out of the country.

White lives matter, too, you know.

That Hillary forgot that – and was punished. We lost our discipline and our moral code in this country. So we need honest Trump to shake things up and get our country back.

“I want my country back!” This is the universal cry of the global wave of rightist reaction. It’s Trump’s “America First.” It’s Brexit. It’s Marine Le Pen’s nationalists against the globalists. It’s Germany’s nationalist AfD grabbing nearly 100 seats in the Bundestag. It explains the vogue word of the moment: sovereignty. Trump used it more than 20 times in his United Nations speech in September.

Behind all this lies a potent emotion: fear. This was Trump’s great intuition – and he has formidable, feral intuitions allied to a fiendish energy.

  • Demographic fear (the end within the next couple of decades of America’s white majority);
  • economic fear (the dislocations of globalization);
  • cultural fear (of the urban elite who want to chase guns and God out of the country);
  • primal fear (the white flip-out over having a black president);
  • fear of the stranger (the immigrant hordes);
  • fear of national decline (Chinese power rising and those endless post 9/11 wars without victory);
  • fear of the future (automation and the end of work);
  • fear of terrorism (the Muslim jihadi among us);
  • fear of speaking your mind (the liberal tyranny of the politically correct).

Take all this, inject the potent galvanizing force of Fox News and Breitbart (with their dime-a-dozen scapegoats), wrap it in a heavy dose of angry nationalism and drain-the-swamp elite-bashing, and a winning guerrilla offensive was there to be mounted.

Liberals in their arrogance didn’t – until it was too late.

Trump didn’t rise to fill a vacuum, but his success was helped substantially by the lack of a strong alternative. Clinton was seen as too much old school politics, the same old that was failing many people.

So Trump had an opportunity to make a real mark on the US. Unfortunately so far he has failed to make much impression, apart from giving bad impressions.

Yet, he is dangerous. Trump has already blurred the line between truth and falsehood. He has attacked the judiciary and a free press.

I had an alarming experience recently. Trump had lied, as he routinely does, about two phone calls, one from the president of Mexico and one from the head of the Boy Scouts. The calls, supposedly to congratulate him, did not exist. They were pure inventions.

Asked if Trump had lied, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I wouldn’t say it was a lie.”

I actually remember shrugging. And it was the shrug that was terrifying. This is how autocrats – or would-be autocrats – cement their power. They wear you down.

Recently, the president tweeted: “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

This is Putin territory. This is Erdogan territory. We don’t know yet how far the president is prepared to go in silencing critics who do not meet his test of patriotism, while inviting his supporters to give free rein to their inner bigot.

At what point is it appropriate to challenge Trump’s licence? That has already been asked, but political attempts to impeach opponents is not new in the dysfunctional US political system.

The reality is that Trump probably has to actually do something bad to get to that. He may be smart enough to remain on the brink without tipping over.

Perhaps Senator John McCain has offered the best rebuke to Trump:

“To refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did.

“We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”

Trump and his supporters may be happy to withdraw from the world, apart from occasional threats and perhaps attacks. That would be an erosion of greatness, as flawed as much of that greatness was.

It’s not just a US withdrawal from the world that has the potential for problems and possibly disaster. Power vacuums tend to be filled by others.

 

Trump campaign officials charged, Trump protests

The first indictments in the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the US election reveal charges have been laid against three people who worked on the Trump campaign, but Trump insists there was ‘NO COLLUSION!’

Fox News leads with Trump denials: Trump, GOP lawmakers slam Manafort indictment as irrelevant to Russia-collusion probe

The president fired back on Monday in an attempt to distance his White House from the Manafort and Gates indictments, noting their crimes were committed “years” before they worked on the campaign.

Washington Post leads with Three former Trump campaign officials charged in Russia probe

George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty earlier this month to making a false statement to FBI investigators who asked about his contacts with a foreigner who claimed to have high-level Russian connection. The agreement was unsealed Monday.

News of the plea came as Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates were charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiracy to launder money, making false statements and other charges related to their work advising a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.

Fox News continues with diversion and downplaying Trump:

And also details of the charges:

EXPLAINED: How Paul Manafort is connected to the Trump, Russia investigation

It’s been more than a year since Paul Manafort briefly led President Trump’s quest for the White House and even longer since he worked for a controversial Ukrainian politician.

The opening paragraph downplays the Trump connection.

Manafort and his former business partner Richard Gates, 45, were told to turn themselves into federal authorities Monday morning. First reported by the New York Times, these are reportedly the first charges filed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 president election.

Manafort and Gates were indicted by a federal grand jury that contains 12 counts: conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading [Foreign Agents Registration Act] statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, a spokesperson for the Special Counsel’s Office told Fox News.

Manafort, 68, has been the subject of a longstanding investigation due to his past dealings in Ukraine several years ago – for which he didn’t file as a foreign agent until June 2017. But Mueller has incorporated that investigation into his own probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump associates.

Eventually, Manafort was hired by controversial former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russia politician who was ousted from power twice. After Yanukovych was eventually elected president in 2010, Manafort reportedly stayed on as an adviser and worked with other projects in Eastern Europe, including the Party of Regions political party.

Manafort also worked for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. In 2005, Manafort came up with a plan to influence U.S. politics, business dealings and the media in order to “greatly benefit the Putin Government,” according to the Associated Press.

Deripaska, 49, is a close Putin ally and signed a $10 million annual contract with Manafort in 2006. They maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, the Associated Press reported.

Financial records obtained by the New York Times indicated that Manafort was in debt to pro-Russian interests by up to $17 million prior to joining Trump’s campaign.

Along with Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s eldest son, Manafort met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskay in June 2016. She was said to have damaging information on Trump’s campaign rival, Hillary Clinton, which was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Mueller took over the criminal investigation into Manafort’s financial dealings as he looks into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the White House.

Trump and the Russia investigation: What to know

Before he handed over the White House to Trump, former President Barack Obama sanctioned Russia for its alleged involvement in the election – a move that would eventually come back to dismantle one of Trump’s senior aides.

Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., also got the administration into hot water for his own actions during the campaign. Trump Jr. confirmed in July 2017 that he took a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign as she was supposed to have damaging information about Clinton.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, were at the meeting as well. The two are also being investigated.

Michael Flynn’s tenure as Trump’s national security adviser was short but rife with controversy that still bedevils the administration. But Flynn didn’t come without a warning.

Only a few days after the November election, Obama met with Trump to share his concerns about Flynn, a retired lieutenant general. Flynn had served under Obama as head of military intelligence until he was fired in 2014 following reports of insubordination and questionable management style.

As Obama issued the sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the election, Flynn reportedly called the Russian ambassador to discuss the move. Flynn initially denied speaking to the ambassador, but when intelligence officials revealed proof, he said he just didn’t remember speaking on that topic.

Flynn resigned under harsh scrutiny for misleading the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his ties to and conversations with Russian officials.

He remains under multiple investigations by congressional committees and the Pentagon’s inspector general. Mueller has included Flynn in his probe, and his investigators are reportedly trying to determine if he was secretly paid by the Turkish government during the campaign, the New York Times reported in August.

So this is likely just the first shots fired by the Mueller investigation.

Last word from Trump, in typical trump fashion:

The president led a chorus of critics of the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, noting that the crimes for which Manafort and his aide, Rick Gates, are charged appear to predate the presidential campaign by years.

“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????” Trump tweeted Monday. “….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”

Perhaps the President doth protest too much.

US politics “has reached a dangerous low point”

A Washington Post/University of Maryland poll indicates that confidence in the US about their democracy is dropping, with many thinking politics has reached a dangerous low point.

Do you think problems in America’s politics right now are similar to most periods of partisan disagreement, or do you think problems have reached a dangerous low point?

  • Have reached a dangerous low point 71%
    (Temporary 31%, the ‘new normal’ 39%)
  • Similar to most periods of disagreement 29%

ShiningCityFlag

Do you think divisions today are at least as big as during the Vietnam War?

  • At least as big as during the Vietnam War 70%
    (ages 65 and over 77%, 18-29 65%)
  • Smaller 27%
    (ages 65 and over 18%, 18-29 34%)

How proud are you of the way democracy works in America?

  • 1996 (GSS) 16%
  • 2002 (Post) 9%
  • 2004 (GSS) 10%
  • 2014 (GSS) 18%
  • 2017 (Post/U-Md) 36%

How much, if at all, do you blame each of the following for causing dysfunction in the U.S. political system?

USPollDysfunction

Ordered by ‘A lot or some’/’Not at all’

Money is clearly seen as the biggest cause of dysfunction in US politics, but there are other contributing factors.

While Trump is well down that list he is the fourth highest ‘A lot’ at 51%.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/national/democracy-poll/

 

 

“Trump is becoming a failed president”

Donald Trump has been struggling to score any significant policy wins, he gets bogged down with petty squabbles, and there seems to be growing disagreements and splits amongst the Republican Party.

I think it’s too soon to judge his presidency, a major policy win or a war could turn things around quite quickly, but in the absence of substance beyond his at times extreme rhetoric there is growing commentary about his failures, and speculation about his failure as a president.

Juan Williams: Trump is becoming a failed president

 

A Morning Consult poll released last week found Trump losing support in states he easily carried last year. He is down 23 points in Tennessee since his inauguration in January, down 21 points in Mississippi, down 20 in Kentucky, down 19 in Kansas and down 17 in Indiana.

Overall, 55 percent of the country disapproves of the job he is doing as president, according the most recent RealClearPolitics average. At the three-quarter mark of his first year in office, Trump is the least popular new president in history.

On Capitol Hill, House and Senate Republicans are also walking away from Trump.

In part, this is due to his attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Then there are the threats to incumbent Republicans from Stephen Bannon, formerly Trump’s chief strategist.

Bannon said last week he plans to challenge incumbent Republican senators in seven states, including Arizona’s Jeff Flake, Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, Nebraska’s Deb Fischer, Nevada’s Dean Heller and Wyoming’s John Barrasso.

“Creating a civil war inside the Republican Party may feel good, but I think as a strategy, it is stunningly stupid,” former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said of Bannon’s plan.

That looks like team Trump in disarray.

One Republican who has always doubted Trump’s credentials (and has been attacked by Trump) is Senator John McCain.

McCain, in speech, denounces ‘spurious nationalism’

…his speech was one of warning, and seemed very much directed at the leadership approach of President Donald Trump and his supporters.

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”

Trump has been having spats with various sports people. One respected coach has responded.

The Nation:  ‘A Soulless Coward’: Coach Gregg Popovich Responds to Trump

We’ve all seen the San Antonio Spurs’ future Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich in a state of exasperation on the sidelines, or in postgame news conferences. Many of us have also heard him speak with great vexation and clarity about the direction of this country and the actions of Donald Trump, particularly on Trump’s “disgusting tenor and tone and all the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.” But I have never heard this man more frustrated, more fed up, and more tense with anger than he was today.

Coach Pop called me up after hearing the president’s remarks explaining why he hadn’t mentioned the four US soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger. Trump said, “President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”

Maybe it was the bald-faced nature of this lie, maybe it was Pop’s own history in the military, but the coach clearly had to vent. He said, “I want to say something, and please just let me talk, and please make sure this is on the record.”

This is Popovich  on the record.

“I’ve been amazed and disappointed by so much of what this president had said, and his approach to running this country, which seems to be one of just a never ending divisiveness. But his comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families are so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words.”

“This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner—and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets.

“We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day.

“The people who work with this president should be ashamed, because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”

I think that the last comment about those who work with the president is in part at least unfair. I think that some of those working with and for Trump have the interests of the country at heart and are trying their best to cover for the inadequacies and irrationality of Trump.

They are trying to control Trump and limit the damage he does – and especially, they will be aware of the damage trump could do if he runs amok with the US nuclear arsenal (I think they have about 9,000 nukes).

But outside the White House Trump remains unpopular, and there are growing concerns being expressed about his fitness to remain as president.

Unfortunately Trump has said a lot of stupid and unhelpful and unpresidential things, but he hasn’t done anything (that we know of) that is troubling enough to demand he steps down.

It’s possible Trump may get what is required of being president, but there is little sign of his current obnoxiousness and incompetence being turned around.

We – not just the US but the world – may have to wait until Trump does something bad enough to step him over the line, and others step in to put a stop to him.

That is if the US or the world is in a state to do anything then.

 

‘Equal TV time’ for Trump?

I think that Trump gets a lot of media coverage. The President of the US will naturally get disproportionately more media attention than non-presidents.

What I think he may be angling at here is he wants positive coverage. Perhaps he could stop being such a media obsessed whinging bozo and earn some positive coverage.