an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Posts Tagged ‘Trump

Getting wee Donny 5

leave a comment »

DA Fanni Willis – going for it


Canto: so our last conversation on this topic was subtitled ‘the waiting game’. We’re still waiting.

Jacinta: Never fear, the arc of the universe bends slowly, but it bends towards getting wee Donny. 

Canto: Yeah well I want it to happen within his lifetime thanks. It seems the number of civil and possibly criminal cases keeps rising, but it’s like heaven, where nothing ever happens. 

Jacinta: Yes, we are not amused, but we are a bit. Wikipedia even has a page called ‘list of lawsuits involving Donald Trump’, but it’s probably well out of date. 

Canto: I suppose we need to divide them into civil cases – suits for damages – and criminal cases. We’re certainly not lawyers, though of course we’re super-smart, so we should be able to make sense of it all. 

Jacinta: Yes, well we’re not going to deal with them in order of importance, because there’s a certain degree of subjectivity in such ordering – many civil cases are of vital and immediate concern to some but not to others. For us non-United-Staters little of this is of direct concern, we’re just watching from the peanut gallery. 

Canto: Yes, so Trump v Vance – which has been rather long-running, but with important recent developments. It started with a subpoena by Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance in August 2019 to obtain multiple wee Donny documents from the Mazars accounting firm – though there’s been pressure on the wee one to present his tax returns ever since his infamous election. 

Jacinta: Yes, and it’s been resisted with BS like he’s perennially under audit, that nobody cares about his taxes, and that he’s the boss of everyone so nyanya. Anyway, on July 20 2020 the US Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, found that a sitting president wasn’t above having to comply with a state criminal subpoena. The case was sent back to do the rounds of the lower courts, on the basis that Donny and his wee minions might be able to find other reasons for not complying, and so it went – the lower courts dismissed claims that the subpoena was over-broad, and the case eventually arrived back at the Supreme Court, which sat on it from October 2020 to February this year, presumably because of the election, but eventually it denied the request to hear the case again, so Mazars has handed over the docs for review by a grand jury in Vance’s criminal case, which started with hush money payments to Stormy Daniels but has since clearly broadened. The House Oversight and Reform Committee, which issued a subpoena for the same Mazars records some years ago and was ignored, has now reissued that subpoena, which the wee one will no doubt fight. 

Canto: Expensive business. But the Vance case has generated much attention due to his hiring of forensic analysts and a highly-touted mob prosecutor recently. An interesting piece in the New Yorker last month, though, presents the case as running for at least the rest of this year, just in its investigative phase, which means Vance will have retired by the time we get to see any action. It’s still very much a waiting game. 

Jacinta: The other major case is out of Georgia, where they’re trying to rig elections beforehand, so that future trumpery types don’t have to get their hands dirty trying to throttle votes out of hapless officials next time around. Fulton County DA Fanni Willis, who’s pursuing wee Donny on illegal interference, including ‘solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies, conspiracy and racketeering’ in the 2020 election in Georgia, has hired one John Floyd, a lawyer who has written a book on prosecuting racketeering cases. I suspect, though that these possible charges will end up being watered down. 

Canto: Well it might be that Willis has a thing for racketeering, as she won a high-profile racketeering case, re cheating on school tests, but this one takes high-profile to a higher level, to put it mildly. 

Jacinta: Anyway Willis is being gutsy, in a traditionally Republican state (though it might well be changing, as witness the Ossoff and Warnock victories), taking on the Republican enfant terrible, wee Donny, when the Republican governor is doing his utmost to support the wee one by trying to make it impossible for Democrats to win there again. 

Canto: But I really think the Republicans are shooting themselves in the arse with all this voter suppression shite. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out over the next few months, with, it seems, the Democrats on the up and up re popular support. But I must say, I rather enjoy watching United Stater politics compared to the Australian version. I’m talking just as a spectator sport. There are just so many arseholes, lick-spittles, gold-diggers, out-and-out morons, and their counterparts, underdog heroes, justice warriors, passion-spun vloggers and the like – it all makes Australian politics look hopelessly staid. 

Jacinta: Well, having 14 times Australia’s population certainly helps, with the good, the bad and the ugly. But getting back to wee Donny, clearly his criminal activities over a lifetime should see him in jail for the rest of his hopefully long and painful life…

Canto: And may dogs have mercy on his bloated carcass. 

Jacinta: … but we’re talking about the USA here, so he won’t get much if anything in the way of jail time. For example, like Al Capone, he might get caught on his tax dodges, but not on fomenting insurrection or causing widespread death through covid disinformation and negligence. 

Canto: Hopefully all the lawsuits will lighten his wallet, but I have to concede that he’s an expert sponger and grifter, and I imagine that an ex-President’s emoluments would be eye watering from our modest perspective, never mind all the real estate he’s accumulated. 

Jacinta: Well let’s be optimistic, apart from the 29 lawsuits, most of which are undoubtedly of the sort any decent lawyer would love to act on, it really does look like the Manhattan case has legs. Everybody knows he’s a tax crook – he’s more or less admitted it himself. 

Canto: Interestingly, an Australian news piece agrees that he could see jail time, though they quote some of his associates saying he’s more likely to flee the country – something I’ve often thought myself. Vlad would welcome him – he’d get an erection at the very thought of harbouring wee Donny, and having him speak out endlessly against the US from his new home. 

Jacinta: Yes, Vlad would make him very comfy, that’s for sure. More fodder for the peanut gallery. It would be amusing if these turkeys didn’t do so much damage…

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lawsuits_involving_Donald_Trump

https://abcnews.go.com/US/fulton-county-da-opens-criminal-probe-trumps-efforts/story?id=75804119

https://www.news.com.au/world/north-america/us-politics/very-real-chance-donald-trump-will-go-to-jail-amid-escalating-legal-woes/news-story/a33a9fa9e9ecb5cbfbdb3bb174e1d10e

 

Written by stewart henderson

April 7, 2021 at 5:17 pm

getting wee Donny 4: the waiting game

leave a comment »

the USA’s massive incarceration system – and the details are much worse – but the worst get rewarded

Canto: So we’re sick of wee Donny, and more importantly there’s so much that’s more valuable to write about….

Jacinta: But to be fair, and to be positive, this is about justice and reform, so that nobody like that can ever be allowed such power in the future, in a country that claims ad nauseam that it’s a paragon of nations etc etc. 

Canto: Yes, reform of the political and the justice system – neither of which is likely to happen in the near future – is obviously required in the USA, and with their new, highly-regarded Attorney-General, not yet sworn in, hopefully some vital reforms can happen. 

Jacinta: So the US Supreme Court has finally decided not to take up the appeal by the trumpets regarding the handing over of financial documents to the Manhattan DA. And this is another area requiring reform – endless appeals processes which not only deliberately waste time but use up the resources of the justice system for no good reason. There need to be penalties for this, and restrictions on the appeals process, which obviously favours the wealthy. 

Canto: Though as to how wealthy this money-grubbing serial bankrupt is, that’s to be ascertained….

Jacinta: He seems to always have lawyers to pursue all these appeals, and they wouldn’t be stupid enough to do it gratis – or would they? I’ve never had the money to hire any lawyer, not that I’ve ever needed to. What a boring life I’ve led. Anyway, all these financial docs relating to wee Donny’s businesses for an eight-year period, 2011 to 2019, have been handed over to Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan DA, who has hired forensic tax and financial specialists and a crack lawyer, Mark Pomerantz, all of which indicates that this will be a Big Show, involving wee Donny’s wee kiddies and his long-time CFO, Allen Weiselberg, among others.

Canto: I just hope it happens soon and doesn’t drag on – justice delayed is justice denied. Pundits are talking about the ‘bad look’ of an ex-Prez perhaps being jailed, which infuriates me. World leaders are precisely those whose wrong-doings have the most profound consequences – in this case covid-19 fatalities, vulnerable kids permanently losing track of their parents, Kurds left high and dry in the Middle East, Saudi princes rewarded for murderous deeds, and the rise of hate crimes within the USA, all due to wee Donny’s soi-disant leadership. Not to mention all the victims of a fifty-year white-collar crime spree before that. 

Jacinta: Well, he’s still at large, and campaigning for his trumpets in Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere. Pundits are disputing whether or not he’s a spent political force. It’s astounding. The prospective A-G is promising to get to those behind the attack on the Capitol, and the stink leads directly to wee Donny. And there’s so much else. Where did all that 2016 campaign money go? What’s now to be uncovered from the Mueller enquiry? What dodgy material is there from his time in office? Dodgy deals with Saudi Arabia, inaction on the Khashoggi murder, and of course Russia and Putin. It goes on and on. What a nation.

Canto: People are claiming that the GOP is being destroyed by the continuing presence of this wee bloke. Poor GOP. Many of them are still talking of election fraud, though the result of the election was in line with every opinion poll, left-wing, right-wing, centrist and aggregated, over four years. Wee Donny was on the nose – something to do with his nappy – within a few weeks of being elected, and he stayed that way throughout. So his 2020 loss was as predicable as the sunrise. 

Jacinta: Well I draw some hope from Michael Cohen, who’s currently capitalising on his role as reformed trumpet. He claims that wee Donny hates being the defendant in court cases, because he always loses. So bring on the civil cases as well as the criminal ones. Cohen himself is suing Donny’s Disorganisation for $2 million in legal fees – proof that even bad lawyers don’t come cheap in the USA. 

Canto: Haha, actually they’re legal bills, incurred during the Mueller and congressional probes. The Donny Disorganisation promised to indemnify him for those costs, according to Cohen, who’s been assisting the legal authorities on all this stuff for some time. And wee Donny’s wetting himself about it all, of course. 

Jacinta: So – felony charges in Atlanta, Washington DC and New York, and civil cases all over the place, and yet we seem to be in a holding pattern, with as yet no A-G, no charges being laid, and with Donny’s supporters going crazy for him, imagining he’ll return to office on March 4, or that he’ll have a second coming in 2024. To do what?

Canto: What about the sexual allegations? Business Insider Australia did a report on this back in 2017.  Apparently some 26 women have accused Donny of sexual misconduct, but the E Jean Carroll sexual assault claim seems the stickiest.

Jacinta: Great choice of words mate. According to a recent David Pakman video, and a CNN political piece, another woman, Summer Zervos, also has a defamation suit against Donny, related to sexual assault allegations. That case was put on hold recently and will be argued before the Court of Appeals. If Donny loses these cases – and the Carroll case looks the more serious – I presume it will mean he’s been caught lying, and the women have been caught truth-telling, and then they could go on to criminal proceedings. Pakman, though, is doubtful, and talks of a two-tiered justice system, which I have to say, seems to exist everywhere. Most people who get caught up in the justice system can’t afford any lawyers, let alone those who’re adept at running out the system for their clients. 

Canto: Yes I don’t suppose it’s worthwhile to spend too much more time waiting on justice for someone who’s been so easily able to flout the law for so long. And yet…

Jacinta: There are so many victims, let’s not forget. 

References

https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/539979-the-memo-trump-faces-deepening-legal-troubles?rl=1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lawsuits_involving_Donald_Trump#Lawsuits_around_the_United_States_Constitution

https://www.businessinsider.com.au/women-accused-trump-sexual-misconduct-list-2017-12?r=US&IR=T

UH-OH: Trump May Have to Answer Rape Allegations…Under Oath (David Pakman video)

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/01/07/politics/summer-zervos-trump-lawsuit/index.html

Written by stewart henderson

March 1, 2021 at 1:08 pm

Posted in crime, law, Trump

Tagged with , , , , ,

getting wee Donny 3: Georgia on his mind

leave a comment »

this list is from 2019, and so the list goes on…

Canto: So several pundits are claiming that Donny’s Georgia antics may pose the most immediate of his problems.

Jacinta: ‘I jes wanna find 11,780 votes, which is more than we have..’ That’s from the January 2 call to Brad Raffensperger, to be used in evidence.

Canto: Yes, the Georgia Secretary of State, a Republican, released this recorded phone call to the public, and has become a hero, and a target, ever since. 

Jacinta: The key word here is ‘find’ – as well as the number, of course. He could no doubt claim that he feels certain some votes were ‘lost’, accidentally or deliberately, by the vote-counters, whom he’d like to claim are opposition plants, but he only wants to find, with the help of the Secretary of State, enough to win the election in Georgia – which still wouldn’t win him the presidency.

Canto: Which raises the question – so obvious to investigators – as to whether he leaned on other close jurisdictions (Arizona from memory was one) to find other votes, considering that his target wasn’t just Georgia.

Jacinta: Must be hard on wee Donny, having to think of more than one problem state at a time. 

Canto: Apparently a new Georgia DA, Fani Willis, is looking to make a name for herself – and all power to her – by launching an investigation into the nappy-clad buffoon that United Staters, in their infinite wisdom, chose – or actually didn’t choose by some 3 million votes – as their numero 45. 

Jacinta: She’s been in the job for six weeks, and is destined to become quite the historical figure. Already the case might involve Lindsey Graham, Joker Giuliani and other trumpets trying to carry out wee Donny’s agenda. The key statute is ‘criminal solicitation to commit election fraud’, a phrase that plays in my ears like the music of the spheres.

Canto: Mmmm, sounds a bit clunky to me. ‘Conspiracy to commit treason’ sounds sweeter. 

Jacinta: Come on, he doesn’t want to betray his nation, he just wants to own it. 

Canto: True enough.

Jacinta: So this is a felony requiring at least a year in prison, and it’s surely as strong a case as can be had, and there may be more, including racketeering and conspiracy charges. But according to the NYT, Willis is a centrist who feels she has an obligation to follow the law in these matters. 

Canto: Actually she’s the Fulton County DA. How many DAs do they have in that country? 

Jacinta: One for every district presumably. That’s 94, according to the DoJ. Almost two per state, but presumably a state like Alaska would have one, and California several. But I’m looking at these districts, and Fulton County isn’t on there, and Fani Willis isn’t mentioned. Georgia apparently has three districts – northern, middle and southern – but it also has county DAs, and dog knows how many of them there are throughout the country. Anyway, Fulton County covers much of Atlanta, the state’s capital, so it’s pretty central. 

Canto: So, in this infamous phone call, wee Donny also issued threats – first, that he’d refuse to support the Georgia candidates for the Senate, who both went on to lose their elections.

Jacinta: Though I wouldn’t blame wee Donny for that – great grassroots work by the Democrats was, I prefer to think, the principal reason for Warnock’s and Ossoff’s wins. 

Canto: And secondly, Donny actually threatened Raffensperger with criminal charges if he didn’t comply with his orders. I’m reading this Slate article, which says, inter alia:

As election law expert Rick Hasen noted at the time, there is no question that Trump was asking Raffensperger to manufacture enough votes to overturn the Georgia election on the basis of paranoid delusions.

But I’d object to the term ‘paranoid delusions’. Donny’s just a manipulating windbag, it’s his only way of being. That means never ever losing, as he’s not adult enough – to put it mildly – to take it. Anyway, the Slate article lays out the law:

Any person who “solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or otherwise attempts to cause the other person” to falsify voting records is guilty of “criminal solicitation to commit election fraud in the first degree.” The crime is a felony offense, punishable by up to three years in prison (and no less than one year). An individual is culpable even if they failed to induce fraud.

Jacinta: So that seems pretty straightforward, but what with the role of money and dodgy lawyers and such, it doesn’t seem that anything to do with crime is straightforward in that country. Anyway, as mentioned, there’s a possibility that Lindsey Graham might be in trouble too, due to his ‘enquiries’ about maybe tossing out some mail-in ballots, and Joker Giuliani for promoting conspiracies about the election. 

Canto: But the Georgia republicans are making a desperate attempt to change the rules so that a ‘grand jury’ (United Staters love their ‘grand’ shite) would have to be drawn from the whole state rather than Fulton County, which is a Democrat stronghold. But they don’t have the numbers, apparently. But it’s an indication that republicans are still keen to go along with wee Donny and his government-stuffing ways to hell and back.  

Jacinta: So, lots to look forward to. We might turn our attention to the new administration’s Department of Justice next. Merrick Garland has a senate confirmation hearing on February 21, and no doubt republicans will throw dumb partisan questions at him, but he’ll be confirmed, and I don’t think he’ll be able to avoid all the corruption that clearly went on at the behest of wee Donny. 

Canto: I’ve heard he’s also going to make domestic terrorism a major focus – so look out Antifa, or something…

Jacinta: Yes, on that matter, I’m wondering if wee Donny will actually get caught up in all the charges resulting from the January 6 events, since so many seem to be now saying Donny made us do it, if it weren’t for wee Donny, etc etc. 

Canto: Oh let me count the many many ways to get wee Donny…

References

Donald Trump may be charged in Georgia court for election fraud, conspiracy (video)

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/02/trump-raffensperger-election-fraud-criminal-charges.html

Georgia Republicans Are Trying to Change the Rules for Fani Willis’s Prosecution of Donald Trump for Election Crimes

 

 

Written by stewart henderson

February 20, 2021 at 12:13 am

getting wee Donny 2: tax stuff etc

leave a comment »

this goes back to 2016, but still no sign of justice

Canto: So there’s the more general matter of tax evasion, tax fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud and so forth – we’re no tax or finance experts, but we’re prepared to learn, for the fun of finding out how bad things might be for wee Donny.

Jacinta: Or should be, given effective white-collar crime legislation, and limitations to these endless appeals processes. By the way, I heard there was more news on the attempt, or desire, to evict him from Mar-a-Largo. Can that be included as a legal problem?

Canto: Why not? And what is this ‘largo’ thing? I’ve seen Key Largo – some thing to to with the Florida Keys…

Jacinta: That’s an archipelago, nothing to do with the keys to Mar-a-Lago (spelt without the ‘r’). Largo’s a coastal town in Florida, so I don’t know if it’s worth connecting the dots. As to tax matters, I heard a while back that ‘forensic accounting experts’ have been hired re investigations into wee Donny’s taxes, which reporters say is a big deal.

Canto: Okay so we’re leaving Mar-a-Lago for now (unlike Donny). Yes The Washington Post reported on this in late December. It concerns the DA’s office for Manhattan, headed by Cyrus Vance. They’ve been investigating Donny since 2018, initially in regard to alleged hush money payments made in 2016. But the investigation has since expanded to include insurance fraud as well as bank and tax fraud.

Jacinta: Stuff that appears to have been overlooked for decades. In fact they admit as much, since ‘the probe is believed to encompass transactions spanning several years’, according to the paper. All of this comes ‘from sources close to the case’  – Vance and his hirelings are naturally keeping mum about it all.

Canto: It’s explosive stuff, but heartening. Anyway, the forensics company they’ve allegedly hired is FTC consulting, and it’s a bonafide ‘global business advisory firm’. The paper mentions an ‘ongoing grand jury investigation’, so that’s a thing. We don’t do grand juries in Australia, so we might have to learn about that. 

Jacinta: Vance’s office is battling to obtain years of tax returns and such from Mazars USA, the accounting firm Donny uses. It’s described as ‘an independent member firm of Mazars Group, an international audit, tax and advisory organization with operations in over 90 countries’. It sounds legit – but everything wee Donny touches dies, according to Rick Wilson – so I suspect Mazars USA is feeling the breath of death on its nape right now. The tax records are described as the final piece in an already well-advanced investigation. We shall see. 

Canto: So this is a big one. Donny’s lawyers, such as they are, have been fighting all this, and the Supreme Court has already rejected the idea that he was immune from state court proceedings as Prez, which he ain’t no more. But of course the litigation has continued, with Donny’s lawyers claiming the subpoena for this financial stuff was ‘overbroad’ and issued ‘in bad faith’, and now it’s before the Supreme Court again, though Donny is no longer able to hide behind the presidency – which of course he should never be able to do. But in a banana republic…

Jacinta: Apparently he’s been granted a stay by the Supreme Court, and the technicalities of this are unclear to me, and I’ve been finding it hard to get free info about the length of this stay, so it’s frustrating. 

Canto: It’s a ridiculous ongoing situation, hopefully an only in the USA situation – I pity any other country that allows such legal horrors. But with Donny now being unemployed, there should be an easier path to justice – it’s much easier to charge unemployed people there than anyone else. 

Jacinta: Hmmm. I found reporting from early October that a federal appeals court then ruled against Donny’s lawyers, who tried to block the handover of tax documents to the Manhattan DA. Presumably that’s when the lawyers took it to the Supreme Court, and they granted a stay, presumably in mid-October. 

Canto: Mein gott, so what exactly is a stay, for what reasons can it be given, and surely there’s a time limit on them?

Jacinta: Good questions, but I’ve found a very interesting article by Richard Lempert on the Brookings Institution website from October 19, when an appeal was on its way to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Supreme Court should end things now – meaning then. In its first para, I learn that the New York Times already has Donny’s tax returns – the stuff Vance is filing for – and is sharing them with the public. Whether that’s the whole kit and caboodle, I don’t know. And of course Donny claims the docs are false. Anyway the article points out that Vance is asking for more than tax returns – supporting docs are needed to prove criminality. The article then goes into a lot of legal detail about subpoenas, Article 2 powers, precedent and how courts deliver their rulings, but Lempert’s essential view is that Donny’s legal arguments in the initial case were weak, and they’ve come up with nothing new in the interim. So the Supreme Court shouldn’t take up the case. 

Canto: But they have taken it up?

Jacinta: It does seem as if they have. Or maybe not. An article from Bloomberg, dated January 20, so quite recently, said the case was ‘now before the Supreme Court’, but that they hadn’t acted on it for three months, without providing reasons. The pay wall descended before I could work out whether that meant they’d deferred looking at the case or they’d deferred a decision to look at the case. But their decision may not matter, as apparently Vance may have sufficient material for his case already. I suppose only he and his legal team would know. 

Canto: Michael Cohen was on cable news recently, arguing for SDNY to swiftly move on the matter of campaign finance violations, for which he was jailed, and also expressing an expectation that the new head of the DOJ, Merrick Garland, once approved – which may ultimately take another month – would look into Donny’s financial affairs as president,  which will be interesting. Biden seems to want the DOJ to keep out of politics, but have Donny’s financial shenanigans ever really been political?

Jacinta: We can only await events. Meanwhile, there seems to be a real concern about the dangers of neo-fascism in the country. Those right-wingers who’ve gone against wee Donny recently seem to be running scared. Could the fear of reprisals be inhibiting legal action against wee Donny? That’s another thing to look into, as well as the situation in Georgia, where they have pretty strong evidence of serious attempts to overturn a fair election. Still a lot to get to…

References

https://www.law.com/newyorklawjournal/2020/10/13/trump-asks-supreme-court-for-stay-of-manhattan-das-subpoena-for-tax-returns-arguing-2nd-circuit-ruling-showed-confusion/?slreturn=20210113233030

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/trump-tax-returns-new-york-investigation/2020/12/29/11c43a38-43c8-11eb-b0e4-0f182923a025_story.html

Trump’s tax returns: Why the Supreme Court should end things now

Written by stewart henderson

February 15, 2021 at 2:08 pm

getting wee Donny 1: 2016 campaign finance violations

leave a comment »

one of wee Donny’s ‘reimbursement’ cheques – a smoking gun?

Canto: So we both agree that free will is a myth, and that this has major implications for crime and punishment, but we’re also both human – at least I am – and we want to see nasties being punished, and in fact we delight in it. As a person with a lifelong loathing of bullies, I’ve too often fantasised about bullying those bullies, even torturing them endlessly. And I do wonder if my sudden interest in US politics from the time wee Donny looked like he might bullshit his way into their presidency has more to do with gunning for his downfall than anything else.

Jacinta: Yes we think similarly but we have the capacity also to step back and be more analytical and curious about a system that allows such an obvious scammer to take up the very top position in what so many ‘Americans’ – and I put that in quotes coz I’ve heard quite a few inhabitants of that double continent getting annoyed that these ‘Americans’ refer to themselves in that exclusivist way…

Canto: But what should we call them? Yanks? Uessians? United Staters?

Jacinta: Yeah, good, let’s call them United Staters from now on. So many United Staters think they have the world’s greatest nation…

Canto: As the Brits did in their days of glory in the 19th century…

Jacinta: True, the myth of economic power entailing moral superiority dies hard, and jingoism is a major barrier to national self-analysis. So we, as outsiders and non-nationalists might be better equipped to examine why it is that wee Donny, with his so obvious incompetencies, manipulations and deceptions, has gotten so far and damaged so much, with so few consequences. What does it say about the USA, are these deficiencies shared by other nations (leaving aside the out-and-out dictatorships and undemocratic oligarchies), and can the USA redeem itself by imposing some sort of justice on this character, for the first time in a long lifetime?

Canto: Yes, so this series, ‘getting wee Donny’ will look at his crimes, at the system that allowed them, and how the system might reform itself, or transform itself into something more respectable, so that nothing like wee Donny can arise again. And this means not only looking at their criminal justice system, but the anti-government ideologies that have supported wee Donny’s destruction of responsible and effective government. There’s a malaise in that country, which might prevent wee Donny from facing justice, for fear that the malaise turn into a pandemic of self-slaughter. Are we facing the downfall of the USA?

Jacinta: Unlikely. Too many WMD for a start. And the nation has a lot of smarts, in spite of all the morons.

Canto: Morons with guns, and lots of them. And enough brains to make plans…

Jacinta: Yes, there are a lot of obstacles to getting wee Donny, but first I want to look at the plans to get him, now he’s unprotected by infamous and absurd claims to presidential immunity, unworthy of any decent nation.

Canto: Actually, I’d like to look at how Australia and other Westminster-based nations, and other democracies in general, deal with crimes committed by political leaders while in office. I agree with you that immunity for those in the highest political office is absurd, they’re the last people to be given immunity, and should have a whole panoply of laws applied to them, but look at Israel, where Netanyahu appears to be getting away with all sorts of dodgy behaviour. We can’t go blaming the US without checking out any possible beams in the eyes of others, including ourselves.

Jacinta: Haha well I wouldn’t describe the USA as having nothing more than a mote in its political eye, but point taken. We’ll look at the legal accountability for Australian and other political leaders as we go along, but wee Donny is now a private citizen, and I recall that one of his first crimes in relation to the whole presidency thing occurred when he was a candidate, and he paid off a couple of women to remain silent during his campaign. His then lawyer and ‘fixer’ Michael Cohen was sentenced and imprisoned for a range of crimes, including campaign finance violations at the behest of ‘individual one’, known to be wee Donny. This was confirmed by Cohen in congressional testimony, and two cheques signed by Donny, reimbursing Cohen, were presented as part of that testimony. Six other reimbursement cheques were shown to the New York Times, but it seems none of these cheques provide details of what these reimbursement were for, if indeed they were reimbursements at all.

Canto: Mmm, so far, so weak. It would be worth having a closer look at that part of Cohen’s charge sheet that includes, from memory, two charges of campaign finance violations. Also, did his sentencing go into detail about what part of it was specifically for those violations? Clearly the fact that he was convicted of of campaign finance violations makes some sort of evidence in itself. Cohen wasn’t the one running for office, he did it for Donny, as the charge sheet presumably states…

Jacinta: There’s a press release from the Southern District of New York from August 2018 stating that Cohen pleaded guilty to, among other things, one count of ‘Causing an unlawful corporate contribution’ and one count of ‘Making an excessive campaign contribution’, each of which could incur a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. But here’s the thing – Cohen pleaded guilty, and wee Donny would never do that. And another problem is that, according to Stephen Weissman, writing in the Washington Post, there’s a legal requirement for campaign finance violations to be ‘wilful’, that is, done with knowledge that they’re illegal.

Canto: So in some cases, ignorance of the law is an excuse.

Jacinta: Well, yes, perhaps because some kinds of law, like these, are intricate and complex, and it might be easy to break them in all innocence.

Canto: Innocent wee Donny, sure. I think you could make a case stick here.

Jacinta: Hmmm. We’ll have to wait and see – until after this empêchement shite has failed – if SDNY goes ahead on this front. Meanwhile there are many other trails – and possible trials – to follow.

References

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/how-michael-cohen-broke-campaign-finance-law

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/03/07/why-trump-probably-wont-get-trouble-campaign-finance-violations/

https://www.vox.com/2019/2/27/18243038/individual-1-cohen-trump-mueller

https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/michael-cohen-pleads-guilty-manhattan-federal-court-eight-counts-including-criminal-tax

Written by stewart henderson

February 12, 2021 at 11:09 am

stuff on covid19 and immunology

leave a comment »

 

Canto: Well it’s a great time to be living in quiet South Australia, with a global pandemic raging in many places elsewhere..

Jacinta: Particularly the US, which we’ve long been focussing on, maybe in a schadenfreude kind of way.

Canto: Yes or maybe in a lazy way, because we’re so inundated by American media, social media, cable news, the NYT, the WaPo, the Atlantic, Politico, the Medcram lecture series, it just seems easier to plug into US info these days. Which makes me wonder…

Jacinta: And all hell’s breaking loose with Trump having come down with covid19 and the misinformation machine starting to overheat. Currently – October 5 – according to the Worldometer figures, which we’ve been using since the start of the pandemic – the USA has suffered 214,611 deaths, more than a fifth of the world’s deaths by that database’s figures. 

Canto: Yes, we’ve noticed that the US media always has figures a little below ours – I presume because they’re using the Johns Hopkins figures, which seem to have a time lag. We can’t say which is more reliable of course. Complete reliability for all sources is unlikely. 

Jacinta: In any case the USA has spectacularly failed to get on top of this virus, and is still experiencing high case-rates and death-rates, though the variations between states are constantly changing, and tell their own complex story. Overall, though, unless something drastic happens, the US is on track to have suffered 250,000 to 300,000 deaths by the end of the year – and I haven’t accounted for the winter season. 

Canto: Yes and that’s no outlier prediction, that’s just a very simple forward projection. 

Jacinta: I’m half-wondering when the Trump administration will try to throw cold water – or bleach perhaps – at the covid figures, as they’ve tried to misinform with everything else to do with the virus, including Trump’s condition and the timeline of his infection. But I want to look at what we’re hearing from the Walter Reed medicos about his treatment, and more generally about immunology and the virus’ progress. From the figures, it doesn’t seem as if anything is working very effectively, but Trump will be getting treatment that isn’t widely available to anyone else in that country, and we’re getting no clear answers as to how he’s faring. 

Canto: The treatment everyone’s reporting on currently is the ‘antibody cocktail’ produced by the drug company Regeneron. This was made available through an emergency use authorisation, and unsurprisingly there’s now demand pressure on the product. He’s also on the antiviral remdesivir, and the steroid dexamethasone, and it seems he’s been given oxygen, though medical and other experts have had to read between the lines of public announcements to work out what exactly is going on. 

Jacinta: Yes, many experts suspect he’s been sicker than he’s been prepared to admit, and of course the Democrats and health officials are all wishing him well and ‘praying for him’ in their American way. Frankly, I hope he dies, for the simple reason that his death will likely save thousands of lives, as it will stem the flow of misinformation, and scare even his dumbest followers into wearing masks, physically distancing and generally starting to act sensibly and humanely. It will have been the best thing he’s ever done with his life. But enough controversy, let’s look at immunology and treatment. According to the NYT, Trump has also been taking Vitamin D, zinc, the hormone melatonin, and famotidine, an anti-heartburn medication. 

Canto: So he’s fit as a fiddle, then? 

Jacinta: Hmm. As we know, Dr Seheult on Medcram has spoken of the benefits of zinc and vitamin D, as well as remdesivir and dexamethasone, but none of these treatments have been subjected to rigorous clinical trials in relation to SARS-CoV2 as yet. It’s my guess that Trump himself is pushing the envelope to be treated with these drugs, though it could also be that he’s actually quite sick, as I’ve said. And unless he actually dies, it could be that we’ll never know. 

Canto: He won’t die. Anyway, what about Regeneron, and these monoclonal antibodies? 

Jacinta: Well we’ve talked about them before, but they’ve been mostly used in the past against cancer cells. In fact they’re finding uses in many medical fields but they’re tricky to manufacture, and would be expensive to roll out…

Canto: Actually I’ve heard some reports that it’s polyclonal antibodies they’re giving him. Is there a difference? I thought maybe because they were giving him a ‘cocktail’ of monoclonal antibodies, this amounted to polyclonal…?

Jacinta: Well, who knows what they’re actually giving him, but according to my reading, researchers have engineered (cloned) immune cells that produce specific antibodies – antibodies to a specific antigen, or more accurately, to the epitope, or binding site, of that antigen. That’s monoclonal antibodies. Polyclonal antibodies can bind to multiple epitopes, which sounds better but maybe they’re harder to manufacture in an effective form. 

Canto: So these monoclonal or polyclonal antibodies are proteins, synthesised versions of proteins produced by the immune system. Is it that, due to the virus, the body is prevented from producing these antibody proteins naturally, or can’t produce enough of them, or what? 

Jacinta: What I gather is that the response to the virus varies – some are producing antibodies, some aren’t. A report came out last week about Regeneron’s treatment, this ‘cocktail of two monoclonal antibodies’:

The company showed slides with detailed data from 275 infected people in a placebo-controlled trial that ultimately plans to enrol 2100 individuals who are asymptomatic or, at worst, moderately ill. The analysis divides patients into two groups: those who had detectable antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 at the trial’s start and those who did not, a so-called seronegative group. The monoclonal cocktail showed little effect on people who already had antibodies against the virus. But it appeared to help the seronegative patients, powerfully reducing the amount of virus found in nasopharyngeal swabs and alleviating symptoms more quickly. 

So it appears to boost the immune system of those who haven’t, or haven’t yet produced antibodies to the virus. So, useful for those in the earliest phase of having contracted covid19. But all of this has to be more thoroughly tested – for example, would the treatment work as a general preventive? 

Canto: There’s another company, Eli Lilly, which has been trialling a single monoclonal antibody treatment, with slightly different results – both companies have given low-dose and high-dose treatments, and Regeneron found no statistically significant difference, whereas Lilly found the high dose ineffective – which is good news as the lower dose will presumably be cheaper to manufacture, with fewer adverse effects, if any. The two companies have a slightly different approach to using their medications – though this might change in such a fluid situation. Regeneron is thinking of developing diagnostic tools to identify those most in need of the treatment, e.g those with the highest viral load, and those with low antibody levels (serology). Lily, on the other hand, are thinking that any covid19-positive people at higher risk – diabetics, overweight, or simply elderly – should be given the treatment, if possible. 

Jacinta: In the meantime, the dangers of this virus are constantly being underplayed by this administration under pressure, clearly, from the Boy-King, while a large cluster of people who’ve had contact with him, either at the White House or on any of his jaunts around the country. Exactly who set off the cluster will probably never be known, because it sounds like they’re refusing, again under the orders of a clearly incompetent wee boy, to engage in contact tracing!

Canto: It’s a SNAFU to be sure. Apparently one of this number – 34 at last count –  is gravely ill in hospital. It’s like we’re watching an episode of ‘Horrible Histories’ in real time. It’s good to see that the polls are predicting a landslide. That means if the actual numbers come in and it’s close, it may be to do with the dirty business Trump and the Republican ‘leadership’ appear to be trying on vis-à-vis voter suppression. And then all hell will break loose.

Jacinta: Hell will break loose no matter what happens. This next month or two will be a cracker for us non-Americans. We’re certainly living in interesting times. But seriously, my condolences to the American people. 

References

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/09/provocative-results-boost-hopes-antibody-treatment-covid-19

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/

Coronavirus Pandemic Update 97: Vitamin D & COVID-19 Immunity, The Endothelium, & Deficiencies

Coronavirus Pandemic Update 77: Remdesivir Update; COVID-19 in Mexico

Coronavirus Pandemic Update 88: Dexamethasone History & Mortality Benefit Data Released from UK

covid19: monoclonal antibodies, symptomatic v asymptomatic, corticosteroids, comorbidities

Written by stewart henderson

October 8, 2020 at 11:55 pm

Americans need to stop blaming Trump, and take responsibility for their broken system

leave a comment »

So there was a Presidential debate the other day, and it went as expected, by all accounts. I didn’t watch it, and never had any intention to. I’ve taken a strong interest in US federal politics in the past 4-5 years or so, with the advent of Trump, but in watching cable news I’ve always had the remote handy so as not to have to hear anything coming out of Trump’s mouth, or the mouth of some of his acolytes. Trump’s presence and position makes me feel enraged, a feeling of actual violent loathing which has always come over me when I encounter bullies. This has nothing to do with politics, or at least political ideology. Of course bullying is a feature of politics. The term ‘authoritarian leader’ is generally a euphemism for a bully, and we all know who the current ones are. 

However, as a person who, if not philosophical, has read a fair amount on philosophy and psychology over the years, I try to use those insights to calm and divert. For example, there’s the issue of free will, which I won’t go into in detail here, but we’ve learned – from the Dunedin longitudinal study, for example – that early childhood shapes our character far more than most of us are willing to admit. This often goes unnoticed because most of us have had relatively normal childhoods within the broader social milieu, which also shapes us to a large degree. However, as a person who has been in fairly close contact with highly dysfunctional families and the children born of them, the long-term or permanent effects are clear enough. In the case of Trump I don’t want to speculate too much, but it’s clear from family members, long-term witnesses, and psychological and neurological professionals, that Trump’s seriously damaged persona was in place from a very early age. Many of those who’ve known him longest say things to the effect that you have to think of him as an eight-year-old, or ten-year-old, or pre-adolescent, and it would indeed be worthwhile if neurologists could gain access to his pre-frontal cortex, which of course will never happen now. Some argue that he has deteriorated in recent years, and of course I can’t respond to that in any professional way, but I’m certainly skeptical. The bluster, the attention-seeking, the endless repetitions, the perverse doubling down, and the complete inability to say anything insightful or thought-provoking, these all represent a pattern of speech and behaviour that hasn’t changed in the couple of decades since I first encountered him. Of course this behaviour is exacerbated when he’s under pressure, and it’s this pressure and scrutiny, rather than his age, that gives the impression of deterioration, IMHO. 

I’ve described Trump, only half-jokingly, as a pre-teen spoilt brat turned crime machine, but whatever descriptor you choose to use, it should be clear to any reasonably sane and insightful observer that he’s not normal – and that this abnormality has entirely negative features, such as extreme selfishness, vanity, incuriosity, vindictiveness, blame-shifting and solipsism, which tend to damage others far more than himself, and which explains the title of Republican strategist Rick Wilson’s book Everything Trump touches dies. But of course Trump himself bustles and blunders on, and on. Indeed in some business and political environments, these ‘qualities’ can be very beneficial to the individual endowed with them, as Trump’s business career, however ‘fake’, has shown. 

 It’s this environment that needs to be analysed with a view to cleaning it up, so that those people like Trump, and the greatest influence on his life, his father, are unable to thrive. Think of Vibrio cholerae in faecally contaminated water. Draining the swamp indeed. 

I have written before about the political reforms that are urgently required, though I recognise that many of them will never be instituted, until it’s too late. Business and judicial reform are also urgently required, and perhaps the silver lining to the Trump debacle will be some long overdue attention to these areas, when and if the nation survives this crisis. I’m reluctant to make suggestions in fields in which I have little or no expertise, but I’ll make some anyway. In doing so, I’ll claim the benefit of being an outsider, as I note that very few American pundits, in spite of their obvious intelligence and wealth of knowledge, make mention of them.

  1. Vetting

Americans love to boast that, in the land of opportunity, anyone can become the nation’s President. It’s great for inspiring schoolkids, but have they really thought this idea through? The USA, as many of its inhabitants love to tell us, is the most powerful country, militarily and economically, in the world. It surely follows that any candidate for the highest office in that exalted nation, that of actually leading it, in the manner of a CEO,  should be fully versed in its operations, alliances, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – as would be expected of any other potential CEO. Herein lies a major problem of democracy – populist demagoguery. Because of America’s direct election system, Trump could bring his circus cavalcade directly to the people, in the teeth of scorn from Republican stalwarts, most of whom fell in line with him over time. Trump had had no experience in any form of government, and the business cognoscenti knew very that Trump’s businesses were shambolic. So the warning signs were clear and obvious from the beginning of his candidacy.

Under variants of the Westminster system, used in every other English-speaking democracy, there’s an informal vetting system that, in a sense, flies below the radar. To become Prime Minister (primum inter pares – first among equals) you need to have already won a local election, and to have impressed your parliamentary colleagues as a worthy, articulate, responsible, collegial leader. It’s not a foolproof system of course, but by its nature it emphasises the team as much as its leader. As with a soccer team, the Prime Minister, the Captain, is just perhaps the most prominent member, and if she loses form, or ‘goes rogue’, she can be replaced without too much fuss. The team may be affected, but not massively disrupted. But consider the US situation, where the presidential candidate, or candidate for Captain of the soccer team, gets elected by the people because of all that she promises, in spite of never having played soccer in her life, knowing nothing of the rules, and after being elected, gets to choose her own team all of whom are just as clueless about soccer as she is. That isn’t far from the current American situation. The President, or Captain, needn’t worry about a revolt from within, no matter how poorly the team is performing, because they owe the captain their highly lucrative jobs, which they would never have gotten without her. 

After the failed impeachment process earlier this year, the American pundit Chuck Rosenberg said something that made my jaw drop. He said that removing a President from office is and should be very difficult. That the US is, fortunately, not like Britain, where the PM can be removed by a simple vote of no confidence by his party. I believe the exact opposite to be true. Of course, there’s a sense in which Rosenberg is right. Under the highly problematic US federal system, removing a President creates a crisis unlike anything created by the removal of a Prime Minister under the Westminster system. Under the US system, this completely unvetted President gets to choose his own running mate, who is likely to be no more competent than the President, a very low bar in Trump’s case. Indeed the President gets to choose a whole team of sycophants to ‘run’ his administration, none of them elected by the people. So, yes, given this autocratic system, dumping the President is indeed a dangerous event. The  Vice-President, barring illness, must take over, in spite of never having been independently elected. Under the Westminster system, however, dumping the Captain allows other elected team members to put their candidacy forward, and the team, the whole membership of the right or left wing party that’s in power, gets to choose a new Prime Minister – again based on the qualities described above.

   2. Power 

Special executive powers, veto powers, power to shut down the government, power to select a team of unelected Secretaries (State, Defence, Treasury etc) – performing the role that previously elected Ministers perform under the Westminster system, as well as extraordinary power over the judiciary, including personally selecting an unelected Attorney-General with apparently unlimited power to over-ride judicial decisions as well as to personally determine the legal liability of the President while in office. These are the gifts bestowed upon the person of the incoming President by virtue of his winning a majority of Electoral College seats. Compare Prime Ministers, who must go to work within the parliament, leading the debates, under the constant scrutiny of his fellow ministers and colleagues, and within spitting distance of the opposing elected representatives. 

It seems obvious to me that an American President’s position, between elections, more closely resembles that of a monarch, only slightly hindered by a sometimes oppositional Congress/Parliament, than does the position of a Prime Minister under the Westminster system. And now we see that the ‘monarch’ can even go a long way to manipulate the forthcoming election in his favour. As many American pundits are finally noticing, a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ Constitution is wholly inadequate for reining in a President who is not in any sense a gentleman, but will Americans ever be self-critical enough to enact clear-cut laws limiting Presidential power, forcing tax disclosure, setting clear and enforceable guidelines on emoluments, and ensuring a uniformly free and fair federal electoral system? Time will tell, but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it. 

3 Hero worship 

Sections 3 and 4 are less about the USA’s political system and more about its political culture, so will I suspect be much more difficult to change. 
Contrary to popular belief, Superman wasn’t born on the planet Krypton, but in Cleveland Ohio. Batman and his boyfriend Robin were born in New York, not Gotham City. Spider-Man, Wonder-woman as well as mere mortal heroes such as Rambo, Indiana Jones and John McClane were all typically American do-goodnicks and swamp-drainers, and no doubt classic presidential material. They seem to me to testify to a somewhat naive national tendency of Americans, a desire to place their trust in heroic individuals rather than teams, programs, policies and processes. Presidents are recalled by their numbers, worshipped by their admirers and reviled by their detractors, whereas in most other democracies, leaders evoke much milder emotions and are soon forgotten once replaced. Presidential elections are hyped to a mind-numbing degree, involving grotesque expenditures and apparently mandatory gladiatorial debates. All of this OTT razzle-dazzle seems almost designed for self-aggrandising con-artists like Trump, and it’s clear that he revels in the circus and the adulation. Much of his Presidency has been nothing more than a punctuated campaign rally. How to dial the nation down from all this hyperventilating claptrap? Possibly the Trump overdose might actually help. Once Trump’s dumped, a look around at how so much of the world is faring very well without American exceptionalism may lead to an extended period of good sense and sobriety – and a unity never before experienced, but which will be necessary to save the country’s reputation. 

4 Partisanship and Tribalism 

This, admittedly, is now a global problem. Social media, much of it headquartered in the USA, has led to huge increases in conspiracy theories, vaccine ‘hesitation’ groups, flat-earthers and other mind-numbing activities and belief systems. It’s becoming rare to find people reading old-fashioned newspapers with their diversity of takes on current affairs. The viciousness of Youtube political commentary is there for all to witness. People are throwing verbal bombs at people they’ll never meet, whose human lives of friendship, humiliation, suffering, struggle, anxiety and achievement they seem not even to know how to care about. We tend to see this trend as predominantly American, perhaps because we’re inundated by American media here in Australia and most other far-flung English-speaking countries. We constantly see videos of “ordinary Americans” apparently beset with certainty and contempt, however mask-like and brittle. It does seem like Trump has set this agenda, but many pundits also argue that the country has been polarised in this way for generations. The tragedy for Trump supporters is that they get so little in return for their adulation, and it seems the most disadvantaged and desperate are the most deluded. As I’ve argued from the beginning of this presidency, it’s highly unlikely to end with a whimper. The worst is surely yet to come. I’m certainly not wishing for it, but it may be the only outcome that can shake the country out of its ‘exceptionalism’, and towards a more realistic program of political (and media) reform and cultural healing. 

 

Written by stewart henderson

October 4, 2020 at 11:27 pm

what do we do with a problem like the US?

leave a comment »

Canto: So with covid19 continuing its destruction throughout the USA, abetted by blundering blustering bragging bully-boy in a china-shop, what do you think will happen next year, and what do you think should happen?

Jacinta: Well, that’s a huge question, or pair of questions. I think our interest in science, and all the smart people who do science, has made us, or me, tend to think in rather elite terms, for better or worse. For example, my very first impressions of Trump made me think, or be aware, that there was something very wrong with him. And I mean very wrong. And everything I’ve observed since has confirmed this. 

Canto: Yes, and this sciencey bent has made us particularly alert to what the relevant scientists, i.e. neurologists, might have to say about him. 

Jacinta: Exactly – though what science would have to say about such a neurologically damaged and deficient person managing to become the most powerful person in a country that prides itself on being the most advanced, sophisticated country on the planet – well, I would love to know.

Canto: Of course, the claim to great sophistication is worth contesting – it’s a nation full of the crooked timber of humanity, like any other – but my initial questions are, I suppose, based on the assumption that Trump, at some time or other in the next few months, will admit electoral defeat.

Jacinta: I’m not sure even of that. I don’t think he has any real chance of winning the election fairly and squarely, but, I suspect like most onlookers, I have no idea how far he will go to cling to power. It will probably depend on how much he thinks he has to lose by having submitted his lifetime of corrupt dealings to public and legal scrutiny. I think he knows the danger he’s in, and will be working behind the scenes to build a shield against taking responsibility for his crimes, while still hoping to bluster his way to victory, by any means available. That includes fomenting violence while denying responsibility for it. So I think the next few months will be fascinating, in a ghoulish way, and well worth watching from a very safe distance. But as to the questions, once the dust has settled, I doubt very much that the things that need to happen will happen. Nobody’s talking much over there about the reforms required to stop a phenomenon like Trump ever happening again.

Canto: Such as brain scans for presidential candidates? 

Jacinta: Seriously, yes of course. There has to be something more than voting for one person or another based on whatever bullshit they decide to promulgate. Trump’s accession is an indication of the poor judgment of millions of people, and it could happen everywhere, and already has. In Brazil, in Italy, in many places. An effective democracy depends on an informed, educated electorate. Desperate, angry people who feel deprived of hope, and who’ve lacked enrichment in many more ways than one, will follow anyone who offers them a way out. Or maybe I’m getting it wrong. I honestly don’t know why people would follow Trump – apart from anti-state anarchists and some of the super-rich, and they’re hardly a majority, or even a substantial minority. 

Canto: Well, as we speak, this is becoming even more topical, as Trump is telegraphing that he won’t go quietly, and I’ve just read Barton Gellman’s article ‘the election that could break America’, in The Atlantic, which is a useful companion to the recently read book Will he go? by Lawrence Douglas. Again, much is made of the Electoral College, an absurd institution that I’ve given up trying to comprehend. Quantum chromodynamics is a cinch by comparison. 

Jacinta: I’m sure most Americans are in that boat, but yes, it’s going to be messy, and bloody, at the end of the year, something we’ve been forecasting for a long time, but I’m looking to the period after the bloodshed. Will the country have the gumption, and the self-critical capacity, to institute root and branch reform to its disastrous federal system? Again I hear Pelosi and others utter almost teary-eyed, and certainly bleary-eyed, devotion to their clearly outmoded and inadequate constitution, and castigating those that don’t recognise and follow its ‘spirit’. 

Canto: Yes, typical response from such a ‘spiritual’ country I suppose, but they need far more than vague, well-meaning wording, they need L-A-W. They need laws about emoluments. They need laws about presidential accountability. They need laws limiting political interference in the judiciary. They need tighter laws around tax evasion. They need laws that more clearly define the separation of powers and the specific branches of government. But laws aren’t really enough. I would scrap the superhero-worshipping presidential system entirely. They even remember their Presidents by numbers, it’s just so childish. They’re so keen to have a Big Daddy looking after them. And the money they waste on electioneering, not to mention the corrupt lobbying….

Jacinta: Well there’s no sense getting het up, they’re never going to listen to us. We could go into detail about the failings of our Australian system, after all. But I think it’s true that outsiders can see more clearly what many insiders are blind to, which makes watching all this so frustrating, as well as giving us that lovely smug feeling. 

Canto: So let’s get back to my question – assuming that the Democrats have a decisive victory in the polls, what do you think will and should happen? 

Jacinta: Well there’s a fair chance that they’ll gain control of both houses, but they’ll be inheriting a mess, and the pandemic will still be raging, perhaps worse than it is now, though there’s a good chance of a vaccine early in the year. They may try to do something about the Supreme Court, but that’s all up in the air at the moment. There will undoubtedly be a lot of turmoil, or much worse, having been stirred up by Trump’s antics, and I really think that quelling civil unrest will be a time- and energy-consuming task, what with the madness of their second amendment. So I think the Democrats are likely to go softly softly for a while, trying to heal the country, with good old ‘Uncle Joe’ being as placatory as possible. That’s on the domestic front. Internationally, I think they’ll move swiftly to repair Trump’s damage, fixing alliances, reconnecting with international bodies and so forth.

Canto: Well I’ve heard that there’s an article out in the Guardian – I’ve not read it – arguing that this might be the end of the US. Talk of California seceding, and such things. 

Jacinta: Haha – it’s an understandable reaction. In fact I had that kind of thought-bubble years ago, before Trump slimed to the top. It was probably during the ‘tea party’ years, early in the Obama administration. It seemed to me that the country was so rabidly partisan, and so uncompromising was the air of certitude on both sides, that they would be best to split in two on something like civil war lines – the states could decide which nation to be a part of, and see where that leads the states that chose to turn their backs on the east and west coasts, which had all the money and most of the smarts – but then how could such a division work? There’d be plenty of states stuck in the middle, what they now call the purple or swing states, and how could you create a nation out of the east and west coast states, with all that territory between? 

Canto: Not to worry, it’ll never happen, it’s too much like hard work. And that’s not an anti-American remark, it’s just a human observation. Starting more or less from scratch after all that work trying to create a united states, it would be an admission of failure – think of the sunken cost fallacy…

Jacinta: You’re right, they have too much pride to admit such failure to the world. But it’s an interesting thought, they could at last ditch their super-brilliant eighteenth century constitution with a couple of shiny 21st century versions, and whole batches of new laws for the digital and post-digital age. They could make the Americas great again. 

Canto: Right, but which America gets the nuclear weaponry? A minor issue no doubt. Anyway, no succeeding with the seceding, but whatever happens we have the best seats on the planet for viewing – on the other side of the world, not too pandemic-damaged, and neither Trump nor his allies – or his enemies – are blaming us for anything, yet. Australians, let us all rejoice – we’re almost dipshit free!

 

Written by stewart henderson

September 26, 2020 at 6:05 pm

some thoughts on fascism and American exceptionalism

leave a comment »

Fascism isn’t compatible with democracy, that’s the common view. Yet we know that fascism can utilise democracy to get started, and then toss it aside, when it, fascism, gets itself sufficiently established. It happened in Germany, of course, and in modern Russia Putin has trampled upon the seeds of democracy that were just starting to take root after the fall of the Soviet Union. Now his brand of fascism has managed to prevail for the foreseeable.

Also, fascism, though somewhat limited, can occur between democratic elections, if the elected person or party is given too much power, or leeway to increase his power, by a particular political system.

Fascism is a particular type of popularism, generally based on the leadership rhetoric of particular, highly egotistical individuals, almost always male. Other current examples include Bolsonaro in Brazil, Duterte in the Phillippines, Erdogan in Turkey, Kadyrov in Chechnya, Kim Jong-Un in North Korea and Orban in Hungary. There are certain features of this political brand. Ultra-nationalism, militarism, ‘law and order’, control of the media and persecution of opposition are all essential elements.

I note that historians would mostly disagree with the ‘fascist’ moniker being used today – they like to restrict it to the early-to-mid 20th century, generally being quashed as a ‘coherent’ political movement by the second world war. Even the term ‘neo-fascist’ is generally grumbled about. I think this is false and ridiculously so. The elements of fascism described above have been used by states not only in the 21st century but since the origins of the state thousands of years ago, though of course no two fascist states are identical, any more than their leaders have been.

Every state, even the most democratic, is susceptible to fascism. The USA’s susceptibility is worth noting. To me, its ‘soft underbelly’ is its obsession with the individual. Perhaps also an obsession with worship, saviours and superheroes. Of course, Americans like to describe themselves as the most democratic people on earth, and the world’s greatest democracy. In fact, having listened to more US cable news shows since 2016 than is good for my health, I find this declaration of America’s top-class status by news anchors, political pundits, lawyers and public intellectuals to be both nauseating and alarming. It betokens a lack of a self-critical attitude towards the USA’s political system, which lends itself to populist fascism more than most other democratic systems. Few other such nations directly elect their leaders, pitching one heroic individual against another in a kind of gladiatorial contest, two Don Quixotes accompanied by their Sancho Panzas. Their parliament, too – which they refuse to call a parliament – has become very much a two-sided partisan affair, unlike many European parliaments, which feature a variety of parties jostling for popularity, leading to coalitions and compromise – which to be fair also has its problems, such as centrist stagnation and half-arsed mediocrity. There are no perfect or even ‘best’ political systems, IMHO – they change with the personnel at the controls.

It’s unarguable that the current administration which supposedly governs the USA is extremely corrupt, venal and incompetent. It is headed by a pre-teen spoilt brat with an abysmal family history, who has managed to succeed in a 50-odd year life of white-collar crime, due to extraordinarily lax laws pertaining to such crime (the USA is far from being alone amongst first-world nations in that regard), and to be rewarded for that life, and for the mountain of lies he has told about it, by becoming the president of the world’s most economically and militarily powerful country. Unfortunately for him, the extremely high-profile status he now has, and which he revels in, being a lifelong, obsessional attention-seeker, has resulted in detailed scrutiny and exposure. Now, it may be that, even with the laying bare of all the criminality he has dealt in – and no doubt more will be laid bare in the future – the USA’s justice system will still fail the simple test of bringing this crime machine to book after he is thrown out of office. Then again, maybe it will be successful, albeit partially. And the crime machine is well aware of this. And time is running out.

The USA is in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, and suffering terribly. On this day, July 24 2020, the country suffered over a thousand Covid-19 deaths in the past 24 hours. The USA has approximately 14 times the population of Australia, where I live, but has suffered more than 1000 times the number of Covid-19 deaths. It is a monumental tragedy, with hubris, indifference, blame-shifting and deceit at the highest government level, and heroism, frustration, exhaustion and determination at many state levels and especially at the level of critical and general healthcare. And there’s a presidential election in the offing, an election that the current incumbent is bound to lose. He hates losing and will never admit to losing, but there is more at stake for him now than for any other previous loss, and he knows this well.

Which brings us back to fascism. It has recently been tested, on a small scale, in Portland, and it’s being threatened elsewhere, but to be fair to the people of the USA, their civil disobedience, so disastrous for getting on top of Covid-19, is a very powerful weapon against fascism. It remains to be seen whether it will be powerful enough. The next few months will certainly absorb my attention, happily from a far-away place. I’m sure it’s going to be very very messy, but I’m also interested in 2021 in that country. How will it ensure that this never happens again? Serious reform needs to occur. Greater restrictions on presidential candidature must be applied. Not financial restrictions – wealth being apparently the only vetting criterion Americans seem to recognise. How is it that a person is allowed to become the leader of such a powerful and dominant country on the world stage without any of the kind of vetting that would be the sine qua non for the position of any mid-level CEO? Without any knowledge of the country’s history, its alliances, its laws, its domestic infrastructure and so forth? To rely entirely on the popular mandate for the filling of such a position is disastrous. This sounds like an anti-democratic statement, and to some extent it is. We don’t decide on our science by popular mandate, nor our judiciary, nor our fourth estate. We have different ways of assessing the value of these essential elements of our society, and necessarily so. The USA now suffers, via this presidency, for many failures. It fails to vet candidates for the highest office. It fails to provide any system of accountability for criminality while in office. It fails to ensure that the candidate with the greatest number of votes wins office. It fails to ensure its electoral system is secure from foreign and/or criminal interference. It permits its elected leader to select a swathe of unelected cronies without relevant experience to positions of high domestic and international significance. It permits its leader to engage in extreme nepotism. It fails in dealing with presidential emoluments. The current incumbent in the ‘white palace’ may not be able to spell fascism, but his instincts are fascist, as shown by his absolutist language, not necessarily the language of an adult, but neither is the language of most fascist leaders, who share the same brattish love of insult, thin-skinned intolerance of opposition, and lack of common humanity. These are precisely the psychological types who need to be vetted out of all political systems. This isn’t 20-20 hindsight. Vast numbers of people, in the USA and around the world, saw Trump as the mentally deficient liar and con-man he’s always been. It’s up to the USA to ensure that such a type can never rise to anything like this position of power and influence again. It requires far more than soul-searching.

Written by stewart henderson

July 25, 2020 at 11:53 am

reading matters 3

leave a comment »

Will he go? Trump and the looming election meltdown, by Lawrence Douglas, Professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought, Amherst College

Content hints

  • failure of impeachment, high crimes and misdemenours, rigged voting, media scum, sleepy Joe, election hoax, treason, fraud, shades of 2016, tweetstorms, dictator worship, Putin, Erdoğan, Orbán, the USA’s quaint constitution, pathological lying, Presidential authority to ban media, Trump as weak authoritarian, foreign interference, catastrophic scenarios 1,2,3, the unforeseeable, the electoral college and faithless electors, uniquely awful system, hacked elections, profoundly antidemocratic outcomes, gerrymandering, swing states, 12th amendment, enemies of the people, problems of peaceful succession, civil war, hang on, bumpy ride.

Written by stewart henderson

June 28, 2020 at 3:01 pm