You know what it’s like to live in the Wild West

You must have seen enough Westerns to almost think your memories are real. You’ve seen many movies too where the elders in some tumbleweed town in Arizona hire a gunslinger to drive out the lawless cowboys and clean the place up. And you know how that usually works out. The gunslinger uses intimidation to swagger about and rule the town. He takes over the best room in the hotel, eats and drinks for free and helps himself to supplies from the general store. He appoints himself mayor, judge and sheriff. He chases the Mexicans out of town and abuses the women.

How do the hapless townsfolk react?

“He’s doing what we’re paying him to do,” they say, trying to reassure themselves it’s all going to plan.

And that’s exactly what Trump’s supporters say.

President Trump is doing precisely what they elected him to do.

Shake it up. Drain the swamp. Make America Great Again.

All those things that the lying mainstream media report about him matters not one jot to them because as far as they’re concerned, it really is all going according to plan. And the more the liberal left scream and shout the more they are convinced of that, it’s like you’re proving their point. The more distinguished public servants who speak out against him and the more Republican Grandees who condemn him, heck, that just cheers them up no end.

The truth is not your friend. The truth ain’t around no more. The truth is the first thing Trump kicked out of town. You are not going to win by using the truth. You are not going to win either by running Hilary Clinton against him which the Dems seem hell-bent on doing.

You know who I feel sorry for?

Queen Elizabeth.

She’s going to have to hang on for another six years or Donald Trump will be the President who flies over to prance around at her funeral. Because you know he will be re-elected.

And she’s 92 already.

You know how they say politics is show business for ugly people? Well …

Donald Trump is the show business crossover. He is not one of the ugly people, he is the ultimate showman. He’s the circus barker as well as the ringmaster, the lion tamer, and the trapeze artist. He loves the stunts where the crowd all goes “ooh!” and “aah!”

Donald Trump never wanted to be president. It’s his worst nightmare come true. But he’s going to make the most of it and fortunately for him his game plan is still in play. It’s the same game plan he had from the day he put himself forward as a candidate.

Donald Trump knows show business. His new show was to be the Republican Party. It was to be a reality tv show where he runs for president and makes himself the hero of the disillusioned masses by saying the most outrageous things about his opponents.

Donald Trump expected that he would not win the nomination. He did everything he could to lose it while at the same time playing to the crowd. Then, the establishment would take over and a traditional candidate would finally win just as he and everyone expected.

Donald Trump would be a martyr. He would do the circuit of late night tv shows giving his account of how the establishment robbed him of the nomination. There would be a lucrative book deal (he wouldn’t have to write it himself) and a new prime-time tv show.

Donald Trump was too good. One by one, his opponents fell by the wayside. The slightest verbal slip, the slightest blemish was enough to finish them off. Paradoxically he could make the most outrageous statements and his standing would only increase.

Donald Trump romped home to win the Republican nomination in a result that stunned the nation. It stunned the world. Which suited him fine. The game plan was still good, but his winnings would now be significantly higher. He was going to break the bank.

Donald Trump threw himself into the election. His “drain the swamp” and “lock her up” rhetoric energised the masses. The circus crowd was going wild with excitement, the ultimate showman knew when to crack the whip, and when to feign falling off the trapeze.

Donald Trump now dreamed not just of a prime-time tv show, but of having his very own network. He wouldn’t just break the bank, he would *own* the bank. And the better his numbers looked, the better his claim of being robbed of the presidency would look.

Donald Trump thought those hopes and dreams had vanished when he won the presidency. He might even have shared Melania’s tears. But he was quick to bounce back. His game plan was modified for the first time: he was going to play the long game.

Donald Trump was going to spend the next four years reshaping America. He knew he had the right instincts, he knew how to get results. America had taken the option on his pilot reality tv show and the first season was now in production. He was in his element.

Donald Trump surrounded himself with people he believed in. They had to be loyal to him, first and last, but he wanted to believe they would actually Make America Great Again. He appointed people who shared his love of the new business ideology: disruption.

Donald Trump has seen how the new wave of business ventures use disruption to build new markets and vast fortunes. He has been a disruptor in his own way throughout his own career and from now on he is going to disrupt every facet of American life.

Donald Trump loved to give two people the same job. He would watch them fight it out, competing with each other to succeed. This disruption was good in his view, and the White House was set up that way. New business was the game now, not old politics.

Donald Trump applied the same methodology to the great offices of America. He appointed people who had been the fiercest critics of a department to run it, to fight against their own department from the inside, to challenge head-on the people and their policies.

Donald Trump believes passionately in America. He also believes passionately in being wealthy. Very, very wealthy. And while he may, for the time being, listen to advice that he cannot personally engage in business he sees no reason why his family shouldn’t.

Donald Trump believes he is doing a fantastic job for America. So fantastic he believes he could win re-election if enough voters also believe it. And he knows full well, while the rest of us are still in denial about it, that facts don’t matter. It’s all about perception.

Donald Trump will continue with his game plan which has worked well so far. He will carry on with his stunts, he will keep making the crowd go “ooh!” and “aah!”. He will carry on disrupting the way politics and business is conducted, in America and worldwide.

Donald Trump has just one potential problem: impeachment by those pesky people who still believe facts matter. That would be bad for him, but it would be far worse for America because if you think things are bad now, just wait and see how bad they become.

Donald Trump is all that stands between America and the lunatics who stand behind him, waiting for him to fall, willing him to fall. Plotting his fall. All the good men (and women) in American politics on the Republican side have gone or are on their way out.

Donald Trump may soon be the last sane Republican in Washington. That thought should frighten every American. So how much do you want that impeachment now? How much do you want to replace the ultimate showman with unconstrained ideologues?

Donald Trump. God bless the President. God save America.

The Legacy of the Neocons on 9/11

Saddam Hussein brutalised his country and ruled it by fear. He was without question an evil man responsible for the deaths of countless thousands of Iraqis. But he posed no threat to the West in general or the United States of America in particular. No threat whatsoever. Osama bin Laden on the other hand was a major proven threat. He had orchestrated numerous attacks against American lives and interests culminating in the 9/11 attacks when hijacked airlines, packed with passengers, were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Another plane was brought down in open fields by a brave but ultimately fatal passenger rebellion. Three thousand innocent people were killed that day.

Yet the Neoconservatives, the lunatic right wing of the Republican Party in power in the Pentagon and the White House at the time, still saw Saddam as the main enemy instead of bin Laden. After 9/11 they launched a justified invasion of Afghanistan where bin Laden had a safe haven and they came close to wiping him out along with his entire organisation. Holed-up in Tora Bora, with no possibility of escape, and with American bombers pounding the mountains with fuel-air bombs of devastating power, bin Laden wrote out his last will and testament. Then a miracle happened. The Americans scaled down their operations and left a route open for bin Laden to escape into Pakistan. He would live to spread terrorism for another decade.

In “Deafness Before the Storm” Kurt Eichenwald explains how the Neocons briefed against the CIA who in the days leading up to 11th September 2001 were frantically trying to alert the White House to the threat posed by al-Qaeda. Acknowledging bin Laden as the principal threat did not fit with Neocon priorities so they did everything they could to discredit the CIA warnings. You can read the full article here. Outright lies and denying facts was stock-in-trade to them, indeed Karl Rove is attributed with saying they made their own reality.

Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defence during George H W Bush’s Presidency, and Vice President to George W Bush. Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defence to President George W Bush. Together, they regarded deposing Saddam during Bush 43 as unfinished business from Bush 41. The idea that after 9/11 they could still regard Saddam as a greater threat to America than bin Laden is extraordinary, but clearly they did. They diverted vital resources away from Afghanistan when US and allied forces were on the cusp of finally eradicating al Qaeda and they threw everything into a war against Saddam. A war predicated on the lie that Saddam was a threat to the West and to America when he was no such thing.

So that, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, is the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld legacy to America. They could not have prevented it, let’s be realistic, the CIA did not have sufficient evidence of the exact nature and timing of the attack. But they could have snuffed out al Qaeda in December 2001. Instead, they let bin Laden off the hook. They let him get away. They let him plot terror against America and her allies for another ten years. And even though bin Laden is now dead, no thanks to them, al Qaeda has grown stronger and more dangerous with semi-autonomous organisations in several regions of the world. Thanks to Neocon stupidity we are all at greater risk than ever before and another 9/11 scale atrocity has a frightening inevitability about it.

As the IRA used to say, “We only have to be lucky once; you have to be lucky every time.”

In defence of the Republicans. Well, up to a point.

I know where they’re coming from. Small government is good; big government is bad. I’m totally signed-up to that, and compared with most of the free world, America has one of the smallest governments in terms of how much of the nation’s wealth they tax and spend. At around 27% it compares very well with ours at around 41% in the UK and especially well with an eye-watering 55% in Sweden. At American levels, we in the UK would not have to pay any income tax, and no fuel duty, and no tax on beer, wine and spirits. Joy!

But this isn’t the complete picture. The problem is masked by the size of the American workforce and how productive they are. Here are some figures assembled from different sources, CIA World Fact Book [cols 1,2 & 4 below], Wikipedia Tax Freedom Day data [col 3 below], Adam Smith Institute [tax levels, above].

America has a workforce of almost 155 million people, generating a national income of $15 trillion. The US government spends 27% of it, which works out to be a little under $13,000 per man woman and child of 313 million in the country. I’ve counted the whole population because expenditure covers their needs such as health and education etc whereas the income is generated only by the workforce.

For reference, here’s what the table looks like:

workforce

>

GDP

x

gov’t share

/

population

=

government expenditure per person

USA

154.9m

T$14.66

27%

313.2m

$12,590 pp

UK

31.4m

T$2.17

41%

62.7m

$14,175 pp

Sweden

4.9m

T$0.35

55%

9.1m

$21,155 pp

The comparable story for the UK would be that our workforce, which is about one fifth of America’s in size, generates only about 70% as much national income per worker as their American counterparts. Our government spends a much higher proportion of this smaller amount and this works out to be a little over $14,000 per head of population.

The difference between how much the American government spends and how much the UK government spends is almost $1,600 per head of population. This doesn’t seem to square with the dramatic difference between government expenditure as a proportion of national income and the respective dates for Tax Freedom Day. The reason is as I have already stated, that the American worker is far more productive. His or her productivity makes the American government look practically parsimonious, whereas in reality it’s very nearly as profligate as ours.

So I believe the Republicans have a point when they complain about the level of US government expenditure. It is unacceptably high. High productivity shouldn’t be an excuse for the government to spend more. It is money they haven’t earned.

Where I disagree with the Republican leadership is their approach to dealing with the problem. They want more of the burden to fall on low-income families; they want to protect some tax concessions for the super-rich; and they want to maintain taxes on jobs. And they are using the debt-ceiling crisis as a lever to further their agenda, at whatever cost to the country. Maybe it’s all a big bluff, we will know in a few days time. In the meantime, President Obama has offered some huge concessions on his side that have alarmed and dismayed many of his own supporters, going further in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid than even some Republicans feel comfortable with.

The fact there is a debt ceiling at all and the fact America is in this crisis is a self inflicted injury. But it seems that having shot America in the foot, the Republican leadership want to finish the job and kill the patient.

Their conduct is indefensible.

The US Supreme Court rules that ignorance of the law is an excuse

Nearly fifty years ago the US Supreme Court ruled in Brady v Maryland that prosecutors were required to turn over to the defense any evidence favourable to the accused and material to his guilt or punishment. The so-called Brady requirements. The Court has now undermined those requirements in Connick v Thompson by finding that a District Attorney’s office was not liable for failing to train its lawyers about this duty. In other words, inexperienced lawyers recruited into the DA’s office straight from law school were able to suppress evidence that would have proved the innocence of an accused man and the DA, who himself didn’t understand what Brady required, and others on his staff who didn’t know or didn’t care about it either, have been exonerated by the Supreme Court.

It means that an important protection against injustice has been removed because while the law stipulates the Brady requirements, it doesn’t seem to matter if lawyers don’t know about them or their scope and nobody makes any effort to train them about what they need to know.

It’s not a purely academic matter as the astonishing details of the case reveal.

Thompson was arrested for a murder he did not commit, despite bearing no resemblance to the eyewitness description of the killer. When his photo appeared in the newspapers after the arrest, the father of three siblings who had been the victims of an armed robbery showed the photo to his children who identified him as their attacker. They then went to the police station where the children picked out an identical photo of Thompson in a “photographic lineup”.

In the scuffle that took place during the robbery, some blood from the attacker stained the trouser leg of one of the victims. This stain was found to be blood type “B”. Thompson was type “O”.

The date for Thompson’s murder trial had already been set, but the DA’s office switched the order because they had a plan. He was to be tried for the robbery first with the deliberate intention that his conviction would prevent him from taking the stand in his own defence at the murder trial. Furthermore, a lengthy prison sentence for a robbery conviction would be used as grounds to demand the death penalty for the murder. This strategy worked. And as Justice Ginsburg wrote in dissenting:

During jury deliberations in the armed robbery case, Williams, the only Orleans Parish trial attorney common to the two prosecutions, told Thompson of his objective in no uncertain terms: “I’m going to fry you. You will die in the electric chair.”

Thompson spent 18 years in prison, 14 of them in an isolation cell on death row, and came within a month of his execution before a private detective found the first piece of missing evidence, the results of the blood test. Not only had the DA’s attorneys failed to notify the defense of the blood test, but they removed the sample and later destroyed it. That would have cleared him of the robbery charge.

In the murder trial that followed, they withheld the eyewitness statement which described a different man as well as tape recordings of another witness negotiating with the family of the murder victim who had offered a reward, and evidence that the other key prosecution witness (who was most likely the real killer) had given contradictory statements to the police. Thompson was never able to challenge any of that because he didn’t know about it despite the Brady rules requiring that his defense attorney must be told. He was stitched up.

He was sentenced to 49.5 years without parole for the robbery, and as a result the DA was able to urge that with a near-life sentence already, the only way to punish him for the murder was with the death penalty. The DA and his trial attorneys had every reason to believe that Thompson was innocent on both counts.

Despite a catalogue of Brady violations over a twenty year period, the Supreme Court has ruled that this was a one-off, not a routine practise. The vote was 5-4 that the DA was not liable for failing to train his lawyers.

The DA’s ignorance of the law apparently excuses his attorneys’ ignorance of the law. The Supreme Court says so.

The Majority finding can be read here.

The Dissent opinion can be read here.

Dare I say the US Supreme Court is bad for America?

I must confess to having some trouble understanding “free speech” as it applies in America. I know most Americans see it as a fundamental right, it’s in the Constitution after all, albeit as an afterthought. It’s as zealously defended by its supporters as those who zealously defend the right to bear arms. It’s an absolute with no exceptions. So it’s deemed an infringement on free speech to stop protesters picketing at funerals for military personnel and causing deep upset to those mourning their loss. It’s also an infringement on free speech to stop drug manufacturers buying patient records to use in sales and marketing campaigns without the consent of the patients. And it’s an infringement on free speech to prevent a corporation spending as much money as it likes to influence the outcome of an election.

The US Supreme Court has in the past year ruled all of those things and more besides. It has seized the free speech agenda with a vengeance and ridden rough-shod over any other right whenever they come in conflict. I think these rulings are ill-founded and are doing great harm to America. I know from my experience debating on forums that free speech does not extend to criticising free speech. If I imply that free speech should be used responsibly in the same way that guns or alcohol should be used responsibly, my right to free speech is curtailed. It seems that urging responsibility is irresponsible. I don’t believe there is a right to incite racial hatred, or for paedophiles to groom children, or to tell barefaced lies. But to say so seems to be denying the right of free speech to others.

The problem, it seems to me, is that while the US Constitution created three distinct branches of government – the legislature, executive, and judiciary – the judiciary has strayed too far into creating law instead of interpreting and applying it. Thus the Supreme Court makes rulings that are apparently contrary to what the people wish for, it grants rights where the Constitution never intended a right to be granted, and it removes rights which the Constitution intended should be protected. The most abstruse definitions of “free speech” are employed to trump all other rights and privileges. Take for example, the decision to invalidate a California law intended to regulate the sale of violent video games to children. Where does protecting children come in the Constitution? Nowhere, according to the Supreme Court, and doing so infringes on children’s right to free speech.

I’m not making it up, that’s the reason they gave.

One Swallow Does Not An [Arab] Spring Make

Forgive me for injecting a note of realism, but as much as Western leaders seem in thrall to the prospect of democracy sweeping the Arab world, I am filled with dread at what the future holds. There is much heady talk of the benefits of the Arab Spring, from drastically reduced numbers of refugees fleeing repressive regimes, to a welcome boost to global trade as free enterprise takes off across the region, as well as genuine pleasure on behalf of the soon-to-be-liberated masses and the happiness in store for them. If only.

History tells us it will be different. In too many cases, sweeping away a despotic regime has resulted in a long period of turmoil at least, and bitter civil war at worst. The stages are clearly defined: a population lives under the thumb of a ruthless regime; the regime is removed, peacefully or otherwise, with or without external help; then after a brief honeymoon period they descend into factional fighting over the future of their newly liberated country. It is sometimes a long and painful period before peace arrives.

The scars have barely started to heal in the Balkans after Marshal Tito died and Yugoslavia fell apart, giving us the most graphic example of this process from recent times. Within a decade of his demise, we saw vicious intercommunal wars and the spectre of ethnic cleansing, leading to the fracturing of the country into smaller independent states. So bad were the atrocities, there and in Rwanda, that the international community was moved to establish a criminal court to pursue justice for those who suffered. (Update: Ratko Mladic, accused of orchestrating the Siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre, has just been arrested. Daily Telegraph, May 26, 2011)

We saw the same pattern in Iraq. Bush and Blair led us into war to remove Saddam Hussein and liberate the Iraqi people. Once liberated, Iraq descended into bitter sectarian conflict stoked by al-Qaeda and Iran. Only now is a truly democratic government beginning to take shape, after countless billions of US dollars expended, thousands of US and allied lives lost, and untold thousands of civilian deaths. Bush was blamed for not having a post-Saddam strategy, we must not make the same mistake again.

But it looks like we are making the same mistake again.

The Egyptian people threw President Mubarek out of office in an amazingly peaceful revolution, however, the cracks are already showing and sectarian violence is rearing its head. What can the West do to prevent an all-out civil war? We already have a particularly bloody civil war taking place in Libya where Colonel Gaddafi is clinging to power by turning his heavily-armed army against what at first was an unarmed civilian population. Charges of war crimes have been filed against him at the International Criminal Court, as they have also against President Assad of Syria who has turned his security forces against his own population. Similar upheavals are taking place elsewhere, in Yemen, and in Iran where the Green Revolution was ruthlessly crushed. Some of the Gulf states too are simmering with discontent.

When you look across the region as a whole, calling it an “Arab Spring” is perhaps naive.

Instead of patronising words, the West needs a strategy for helping the Arab world transition from dictatorship to democracy and fending off those forces that would destabilise it. In other words, we need a Marshall Plan for the Arab world. We need clear goals, and a clear process for achieving those goals.

What we don’t need is to clumsily stitch this together with the Israeli/Palestinian problem and I believe that President Obama is seriously mistaken in trying to do that. The problem, the imperative and the solution are entirely different. Leaving aside Gaza which has its own added complications, both sides already have functioning democracies; both sides are – off and on – engaging in peaceful discussion; neither side is ruled by a dictatorship. The occasional outbreaks of violence are triggered more by outside agents and causes than from within the two sides. Any updated Marshall Plan for the Arab world which aims to facilitate peaceful change, promote democracy and encourage free enterprise is not going to be relevant to Israel and the Palestinians, and including them will simply complicate the matter and alienate the rest of the Middle East.

Stars and Strops

Somebody needs to remind that arrogant and useless talking shop that is the US Senate that we achieved independence from the United States back in 1776. On July 4th to be exact. And while David Cameron may be keen to point out that we are the junior partner in the “Special Relationship” it is nonetheless that: we are a partner not a colony.

So if the Senators think our contribution would help their enquiries and they wish to have input from British and Scottish ministers, they should get off their backsides and come over here. Throwing their toys out of the pram isn’t going to get them anywhere and nor should it.

UPDATE 30 July

Seems Sentor Menendez is now considering sending someone over here to conduct interviews. I think that’s the right thing to do, and I hope the government might extend the courtesy of offering the use of a committee room in Westminster. That would avoid the obviously awkward symbolism of witnesses having to turn up at the American Embassy.

And on a related note, the same “We are now independent of you” message needs to be sent to Alex Salmond who is quoted as saying there’s no way on Earth the senate committee is going to hold a hearing in London or Scotland. You can say that about Scotland, Mr Salmond, but not about London.