Why Robert Mueller probably won’t — and perhaps shouldn’t — indict Trump – The Washington Post

Doing so would be legally controversial and likely reduce the odds of peaceable resolution.

Source: Why Robert Mueller probably won’t — and perhaps shouldn’t — indict Trump – The Washington Post

A sensible case for why Trump should not be indicted whilst President. That does not mean he could not be indicted when he is no longer President. A pragmatic decision not to indict whist 44% of Americans think the Mueller inquiry is a witch hunt may change if the Mueller inquiry reports and presents evidence which starts to change the minds of the 44%. Not an easy task given they are not moved by what comes out of the Presidents mouth every time he opens it but if a smoking gun were found linking Trump to Russia patriotism may overcome loyalty to him.

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Managing the Party

No one can envy Theresa May the job of managing the Conservative Party at the moment. It is a thankless task and may ultimately be impossible. But her strength is in management. She is a highly competent manager who will work efficiently and quietly but forcefully to achieve whatever goal is set for her.

The Home Office, a well known graveyard for many a political career, which some argue is unmanageable and not fit for purpose was overseen by Mrs May for just short of 6 years. You have to go back to 1957 and RA Butler to find another politician who lasted more than a couple of years.

In her time at the Home Office she could not have been accused of being a reforming Minister.  Instead she ploughed a popular Tory agenda of cracking down on drugs and immigration. She managed very effectively to avoid PR disasters or faced them down such as the Abu Hamza saga which she deftly used as a stick to beat the European convention on human rights, again a popular move for the party faithful. 

When David Cameron resigned after his disastrous attempt to heal the divisions over Europe with a referendum Mrs May emerged as the “safe pair of hands” compromise. The Goldilocks candidate who was not very much in favour of leaving Europe and not very much in favour of staying inside.

Her initial foray into leadership as opposed to management was not particularly successful. Her commitment to the “just about managing” and addressing an increasingly unequal society with proposals about workers on company boards soon ran into opposition. The latter was just dropped and the members of the former group could be forgiven for wondering what her commitment meant in practice as the employed become the largest cohort of poor people.

If these early attempts at leadership collapsed or dribbled into the sand, the next, an election, ran into a brick wall. Having lead the country into believing now was not the time for an election she was persuaded an opportunistic grab for more seats was in fact precisely in the interests of the country. During the election she equated leadership with an oft repeated mantra of “strong and stable government”  and seemed to hope this would overcome the deficiencies of an ill thought through rag bag of a manifesto.

With a reduced majority and reliant on the votes of the DUP Mrs May was back in her comfort zone of managing competing interests. Clearly this is a real strength however success is not always possible. Over Europe, she took her vision from the electorate and transformed the yes/no result of the referendum into the more sophisticated statement of policy that “Brexit means Brexit”.

Unfortunately, her party has within it diametrically opposed views of what this means. On one side there are those who think leaving Europe will be an enormous mistake on the other those who believe departure will open up a new vista of opportunity to put the Great back into Britain. Phillip Hammond and Jacob Rees Mogg respectively.

If this were not bad enough, between the rock and the hard place circle the Gove/Johnson vultures in a principle free zone, occasionally swooping down to pick the flesh off the bones of any attempt to establish a coherent policy on Brexit. Guided by the moral compass of dedicated careerists they snipe and carp openly hoping to benefit from the political chaos which is inevitable whether we leave of remain.

As the awful car crash that is Britain’s exit from Europe becomes clearer the pressure for another referendum grows day by day. It is to Mrs May’s credit that she stands firm against this. Most Prime Ministers, with an eye to their place in history would be wanting to do a Pontius Pilate on this one. Who wants their name remembered in the history books as the Prime Minister that oversaw the decisive shift to accelerate the decline of the UK needlessly.

It is possible this has not yet occurred to Mrs May. She is focused 100% on making this work like the excellent manager she is. What she lacks is the vision and resolution a leader needs to identify that the goal set is now clearly wrong, even if it was right at some point in June 2016.

It is impossible to rule out the possibility that no deal would be better than a bad deal. But it is increasingly clear David Davis and his team would have to have got us to the point of one spectacularly bad deal to make it worse than no deal.

The truth is “no deal” is not an option. The border between the North and South of Ireland alone prevents this. In most circumstances politicians can fall back on two staple ways of avoiding difficult choices. First, kicking the can down the road. Unfortunately this is precluded by the legislative timetable attached to withdrawal. Second, good old fudge. Sadly the choices are so stark and so highly politically contentious this is not on the menu either.

My money is on another referendum. As the awfulness of the alternatives becomes increasingly apparent no one will want to be left as the person responsible. Mrs May’s efforts are noble but as likely to be effective as those of King Canute.

 

 

 

A tale of two people.

The political turmoil in the States has thrown up the best of people and the worst of people. James Comey’s autobiographical reflection on leadership presents a picture of the both.

Obviously, autobiography is a partial view, which it would be foolish to accept uncritically. Reassuringly perhaps, the self Mr Comey is willing to reveal to us is not without fault. He confesses to weaknesses, sins of omission and commission including bullying a fellow student when at University and lying about playing basketball in high school.

He makes no claims to infallibility, indeed quite the contrary recognising that key decisions he has made in his career may have been wrong. He appreciates how difficult it is to understand how motives shape decisions consciously or unconsciously particularly his own. If there is one thing he is keen to convince the reader, it is that, in his professional career he has always tried to act in good faith according to the law and the Constitution of the United States. He presents himself as a fallible human being but a deeply patriotic person who aims high in his professional behaviour.

The book considers the events and people in his life he believes shaped him as a leader. Whether or not he genuinely absorbed those influences and lived up to the high standards he describes only those he led would be able to answer. However his descriptions of what good leadership looks like are compelling and worth reading.

Whilst the leadership style of President Trump is not addressed directly until the end of the book one cannot but feel the first 210 pages create, consciously or not, a sharp point of contrast. Its elements include the ability to listen actively, to seek out the opinions of others and see the value of those that contradict your own. It understands the difference between intelligence and judgement. Intelligence being the ability to “…master a set of facts.” Judgement on the other hand being the ability to “…say what those facts mean and what effects they will have on other audiences.”

Comey, a Republican voter, describes what he thinks are characteristics of good leaders but his examples  are absent of partisan bias. He describes characteristics and behaviours of President Obama he thinks are important including a good sense of humour which he believes to be a good indicator of a persons ego. The ability to laugh at someone else’s joke reveals a degree of self confidence in a willingness to look a little silly as you laugh and an appreciation of others.

Central to Comey’s view of a good leader is personal confidence. Being comfortable in your own skin, knowing yourself, including your weaknesses as well as your strengths. Such confidence facilitates the ability to be humble. To recognise that a good leader does not have to pretend infallibility, rather they recognise others may have more to offer on certain matters and indeed provide better insight into an issue. A good leader blends confidence and humility in a mutually reinforcing whole.

Comey is clear a leader cannot take respect it has to be earned. Earned through consistency of words and actions. Living the values you espouse. He understands that as a leader you are constantly under scrutiny. Some will be willing you to exhibit actions which contradict your words, the vast majority will be looking for examples of what you value. Your words and actions are signposts, you constantly have to take care are pointing in the right direction.

Access to truth, for Comey is seen as fundamental to good leadership. Loyalty of those around you means having people who will challenge you with vigour when they think you are making a mistake. Helping you discover the uncomfortable truth as opposed to reassuring your convenient prejudice.  Loyalty expressed through flattery magnifies errors when whatever “the boss” says is agreed to as right. This is the loyalty offered to  the Mafia boss.

There are lots of textbooks on leadership but if you want a passionate guide from someone who at the very least has occupied some very senior leadership positions you could do a lot worse than read this book. Comey sets the bar high and from his autobiography you do get the impression he measured himself against it. He clearly reflected a lot on leadership and thought deeply about it.

And then of course there is President Trump. Clearly, the fact that President Trump sacked him will have shaped Mr Comey’s views about the man. However, the manner of his sacking, reported live on TV speaks volumes to the leadership style of the man who now ‘leads the free world”.

In summary, Comey was in the FBI’s Los Angeles field office speaking to a room full of staff when he saw the news of his sacking being reported on the TV screen running across the back of the room. Once it had sunk in that this was not a joke he got onto his assistant back in Washington who had been given a letter which she scanned and emailed to Comey which fired him with “immediate effect”.

If Comey had been guilty of some act of gross misconduct this would have been a shocking and deplorable way to handle his dismissal. The ostensible reasons in the advice given by the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were, ironically, about his handling of the Hilary Clinton email investigation which had been conducted 6 months previously, before Trump had been elected to the Presidency.

Whilst this manner of sacking might seem unprofessional it does not plumb the depths of the sacker. The issue of how Comey would get home arose. The Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, who had suddenly become the Acting Director of the agency, decided it was appropriate to return Mr Comey to Washington in the official plane with his security detail.

Millions saw the return of the sacked Director live on TV, including, it seems, the President. Many would have thought this national coverage of his return a public humiliation. It was, but seemingly not enough for the President. The next day Trump rang the new Acting Director and asked how Comey had been allowed to use the official plane to get back to Washington. When McCabe explained he had authorised it, “The President exploded.” He ordered that Comey should never again be allowed into any FBI property anywhere. This meant his staff had to box up his personal effects and take them to his home.

Are we at the bottom yet? No. The Deputy Director’s wife had once run unsuccessfully as a democrat for the Virginia state legislature. Apparently in his fury with McCabe Trump asked “Your wife lost her election in Virginia, didn’t she?” When McCabe replied “Yes, she did.” Trump said “Ask her how it feels to be a loser.”

Confidence, humility, judgement? No. Petty, spiteful, vindictive? Yes.

In the epilogue Comey manages to maintain a sense of optimism. Whilst he deplores those who stand silent and provide tacit assent to Trump’s outrageous behaviour, he believes after the forest fire which is the Trump presidency the United States will refocus and restore the balance between the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government. We can only hope his optimism is well founded.

Having read this book I think about the lift test. Would I want to be stuck in a lift with Comey. He sounds genuine and interesting so the answer is yes. If it were Trump? I’d jump.

 

A Higher Loyalty: Truth Lies and Leadership. James Comey. Flatiron Books 2018

McMafia strike in Washington?

In the wake of what appears to be an assassination attempt on Sergei Skripal sponsored by Russia there is renewed interest in the death of other Russian exiles, including that of one Mikhail Lesin found dead in his hotel room in Washington in November 2015.

Mikhail Lesin had been a very prominent Russian figure with close links to Putin having been responsible for setting up Russia Today (RT) the international television station funded by the Russian government aiming to provide a Russian viewpoint on major global events. He went on from there to head up Gazprom Media the largest Russia media holding company which, in 2000, controversially acquired the last nationwide independent television network.

In 2014, quite suddenly and without explanation, Lesin resigned from Gazprom Media and left Russia for a home he had set up in the United States. What happened after that is not all that clear.

Following his death, in March 2016 it was concluded the cause of his death was “blunt force injuries to the head”. However other “blunt force injuries” were also identified on his neck, torso, upper extremities and lower extremities. This sounds like he had “blunt force injuries” all over his body.

There followed a 12 month period of investigation to determine the manner of his death. This included a Grand Jury investigation local police and the FBI. The Department of Justice concluded that his death was “accidental” following heavy drinking. He had apparently got so drunk he kept falling down until he killed himself. Not a common cause of death even in Glasgow.

The plot thickens when you discover that the hotel room in which Lesin was staying was paid for by the US Department of Justice. The reason for this being he was due to meet with the officers from the Department of Justice the following day to be interviewed about the operation of RT.

In summer 2017 three FBI agents spoke to BuzzFeed claiming Lesin was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat. Perhaps it could be argued that, in his drunken stupor, he had beaten himself to death with a baseball bat. Not a view the FBI agents favoured saying no one in the FBI thought this was anything other than murder. This generated a fair amount of interest at the time although no change in the official conclusion about the manner of death being accidental.

Then late last week BuzzFeed revealed a secret report had been produced in 2016 which had indicated that Lesin had fallen out with a Russian oligarch. The oligarch, who had close links to Putin, had then commissioned the Russian secret service to frighten Lesin. Whether they had been over enthusiastic in their work or the mission had been changed in the light of his impending discussions with the FBI is unknown.

Interestingly the author of that report was Christopher Steele. The same Christopher Steele that produced the report on Russian attempts to influence the US election in Trumps favour. Incidentally, the Same Christopher Steele who is now alleged to be on a Kremlin hit list according to ex KGB spy Boris Karpichkov who is now in hiding in the UK. All of this may have sounded like conspiracy theory 10 years ago but now it is difficult to see as anything other than an extra-judicial state killing.

For me there are two interesting questions if the stories about Lesin are true. Firstly, how on earth did the Department of Justice come to the conclusion that it did about the death? Even if you rule our Russian involvement Lesin would have had to have been one of the most accident prone people in the world to keep falling down until he killed himself, however drunk he was.

The second question is about the Steele claim that Lesin fell out with an oligarch who then used the forces of the Russian state to deal with the matter. If true this betrays an integration of personal, criminal and state power which reinforces a picture of the world where crime and politics are increasingly interlinked. Where the economic resources of the state are plundered by rapacious politicians and state power is used to protect and sustain outright criminal behaviour.

The evidence against Mr Putin mounts every day. He is clearly no friend of democracy, doing what he can to undermine the process in the west as he subverts it at home. The latest diplomatic response to the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal has been impressive. It must however be followed up by actions on the finances of Russian oligarchs with links to the Kremlin. For some time now there have been calls for the City of London to look much more closely at the sources of money flowing through the capital from Russia and a range of other locations. These must not be seen as alarmist propaganda threatening the global finance centre’s future. On the contrary failure to take urgent and substantial action will put at risk the long term credibility of the City. Ultimately losing that credibility will cost dearly.

Consuming Consumers

Some time ago I received an email from PayPal which informed me that they were going to update their User Agreement, Acceptable Use Policy and Privacy Policy. Furthermore they told me that these updates would automatically apply to me on the dates set out in the policies. I was asked to go to the Policy Update page where I could review the proposals and if I did not want to accept them I should follow the instructions about what to do.

On the policy review page there were 15 clauses of changes to the User Agreement, 5 clauses on the Privacy Agreement, and 5 clauses on the Acceptable Use Agreement. These covered several pages and displayed the limpid clarity which characterises all legal documents translated from American via Mandarin into English.

This got me to thinking about all those little boxes we tick covering “terms and conditions”. I might be the only person that fails to study the contractual details that accompany every commercial website but I suspect there might be a few others that display the same rash abandon to contractual detail.

The fact that many contracts are observed in the absence of a precise understanding of their terms is, I think, not a new phenomenon. When you buy a ticket for a railway journey  for example you rarely look up the “National Rail Conditions of Carriage”. On the other hand I don’t ever remember being asked to sign up to those terms either. I guess there is an implied acceptance of the terms in the purchase of the ticket.

Somehow however, the rail ticket issue feels different and probably for two reasons. One is that over many years there will have been litigation in relation to the terms that applied to the small piece of paper. This litigation will have articulated the interests of the consumer. Naively, no doubt, I think a compromise position will have been arrived at where the consumers interests have been accepted.

Secondly, of course, there is the whole issue of legislation to strike down unfair terms in contracts which means that if someone does something beyond the pale then it can be struck down later. This might have cost attached to it and delay, but it is a defence for the consumer.

With online purchasing however you are constantly agreeing to terms and conditions by a positive action of agreement. Those terms and conditions may not be unfair but they might be significant if for example they change the privacy settings on some social media product. Because they are so new and also because some of the products are constantly changing there is no opportunity for litigation to build in the interest of the consumer.

It makes one wonder whether there is a qualitative difference in the consumer transaction brought about by the internet which requires a radical development of the, essentially 19th Century, contract form.

One way to do this would be to have all contract forms and amendments reviewed by lawyers with the consumers interest in mind. Clearly they are not negotiating a contract for any single individual, rather they are checking to see that the balance of interests between seller and buyer are fair. Identifying unfair contract terms in advance.

Contracts that have been reviewed in such a way could have a kite mark which would provide consumers with some confidence that the terms were reasonable. Over time bad practice terms would be excluded. A plain English summary of what the contract meant could also be provided for those who wanted to go beyond simply accepting the kite mark. If items were not against the interest of the consumer but were potentially contentious they would be picked out from all the guff that is procedural and non-contentious.

Who should pay for this? The people who want you to sign the contract. Yes it will add to their costs and let us assume that a consumer review will cost as much as the cost of writing the contract. Indeed let us assume it is double the cost. If this is the anything other than an insignificant fraction of the cost of sales then it is probably not worth the bother writing the contract in the first place.

I think there is a similar argument to be made about corporate structures but that is for another day.

Yes, John Bolton Really Is That Dangerous – The New York Times

The good thing about John Bolton, President Trump’s new national security adviser, is that he says what he thinks.

The bad thing is what he thinks.

There are few people more likely than Mr. Bolton is to lead the country into war. His selection is a decision that is as alarming as any Mr. Trump has made. His selection, along with the nomination of the hard-line C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, as secretary of state, shows the degree to which Mr. Trump is indulging his worst nationalistic instincts.

 

Just when you think it can’t get any worse President Trump shows he can still shock. The only hope is that his latest appointment will last as long as the two previous ones although sadly that is plenty of time for him to engage the US in a conflict with North Korea or Iran or both.

Fire and Fury

The maelstrom of comment around the new book by Michael Wolf is interesting for two reasons.

Firstly, the apparent amazement surrounding what it says about President Trump and those around him. What in the book is a surprise? Anyone who has followed Mr Trump’s presidency with half an eye or indeed his election campaign can hardly be surprised with the picture that emerges from the book. A boorish narcissist with the attention span of a gnat, wholly incapable of high office.

A child for whom the word “no” has not occurred sufficiently often in his life. Someone for whom instant gratification is the norm, more, a basic requirement, as, if it is not achieved, he simply moves on without a backward glance to the next demand. Someone who wakes anew every day, his mind a tabula rasa for Fox news and innate prejudice to write upon.

The best that you can say is that it is a testament to the respect in which the democratic process is held that many people continue to try and translate his actions and comments into something coherent and sensible. Whilst he promotes a neoliberal agenda there are those who will have an interest in pretending he is something he is not. However, there are probably still some who cling to the hope that democracy cannot have gone so badly wrong.

As to the views of those working for President Trump about their boss these have been leaked frequently over the past 12 months. Back in October comments by Rex Tillerson about him being a moron were widely reported.

The second interesting thing about the book is how it got written. Mr Wolf is a well known journalist in the States’ whose metier is not journalism of the sober pedantic type. He is to political journalism what the bodice bodice ripper is to novels. President Trump now says he was was never interviewed by him and denigrates the man as a gutter scandal monger.

That may all be true but you have to wonder on what basis this man manages to secure access to the West Wing of the White House,… for a year? You would have thought any journalist given such privileged access for such a long period of time would a) have been thoroughly vetted and b) chaperoned 24/7.

The fact that this man was allowed to wonder around, at will, in what should be one of the most secure locations on the planet says something about President Trump but also those around him. It is a failure of security and judgement which would be inexcusable in any corporate entity but in the White House it is almost unbelievable.

Is Mr Wolf’s account accurate? As to detail, who knows. As to tone and substance it rings awfully true. In “Fire and Fury” President Trump’s first year in office seems to have secured the account it deserves.