With ‘judges judging judges,’ rogues on the bench have little to fear

Confidential justice for judges is common in America. At least 38 states – Oklahoma among them – issue private sanctions when judges misbehave. The name of the judge remains secret, and most of these states keep from the public details of the transgression and the discipline. At a minimum, most states release summary statistics of how many judges are privately disciplined each year. Oklahoma doesn’t make that information public.

This practice – law professor Stephen Gillers calls it “judges judging judges” – undermines the system’s ability to prevent misconduct on the bench.

Source: With ‘judges judging judges,’ rogues on the bench have little to fear


The State of Argentina’s Debt Restructuring… | Council on Foreign Relations

Argentina pushed back the deadline for its restructuring to the end of July, after failing to reach agreement with a majority of its creditors on terms for the restructuring of Argentina’s $65 billion in bonded debt.

Differences have narrowed to the point—a few cents on the dollar—that it isn’t that difficult to see how a deal could be struck in July. But the narrowing of differences with some creditors (Argentina’s most recent offer was worth around 50 cents on the dollar at a ten percent discount rate on the new cash flow, with the high coupon “discount” bonds offered about five cents more) has made the gap between Argentina and the subset of creditors who want a richer deal much clearer.

Source: The State of Argentina’s Debt Restructuring… | Council on Foreign Relations

AMLO’s Strange Trip to Washington Baffles Mexicans but Thrills Trump

Dismissing his critics, the populist leader Tuesday took his seat in coach on a commercial flight to Atlanta, where he changed planes on the way to Washington, as critics cringed at the repercussions of his gamble. Only Trump is all but assured to benefit from the jaunt. Most everyone else has been left wondering why on Earth AMLO chose to meet with an American president who has made a political punching bag of Mexico, at this charged moment, with less than four months left until Election Day in the United States.

The last time a Mexican president took a similar gambit, it ended in disaster.

Source: AMLO’s Strange Trip to Washington Baffles Mexicans but Thrills Trump

Hong Kong’s top cop overshadows city leader Lam as Beijing cracks down

As Hong Kong fretted over tough new national security legislation Beijing was fashioning earlier this year, Chris Tang enthusiastically supported the move. It was needed, Hong Kong’s combative police chief said, to extinguish calls for the city’s independence and restore order.

Last week he got his wish. Just an hour before the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China on July 1, the ruling Communist Party imposed the law, in the process arming Tang with a range of powerful tools to quell popular dissent. The effect was immediate.

Within 24 hours, Tang’s officers had arrested 10 people under the new law along with about 360 others suspected of existing offenses as protests erupted over Beijing’s move. China’s most open and free-wheeling city began to clam up. Political groups disbanded. Activists fled overseas. Shops ripped down posters supporting the protests that convulsed the city last year. And public libraries pulled books written by some pro-democracy authors from their shelves.

Source: Hong Kong’s top cop overshadows city leader Lam as Beijing cracks down

MEPs ban nuclear from green transition fund, leave loophole for gas | EURACTIV.com

The European Union is split over which fuels deserve support from the bloc’s flagship green transition fund, after lawmakers on Monday (6 July) called for rules that could allow the money to be spent on some fossil gas projects.

The European Commission wants to launch a €40 billion Just Transition Fund using cash from the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund and its budget for 2021-27 to help carbon-intensive regions launch green industries and retrain workers currently in polluting sectors.

All EU member states agreed last week that the new fund should exclude all fossil fuels projects – including nuclear or natural gas – a position also shared by the EU Commission.

But on Monday a committee of lawmakers leading talks on the issue in the European Parliament broke ranks. They said that while nuclear energy projects should not be eligible, some fossil gas projects could get just transition funding.

Source: MEPs ban nuclear from green transition fund, leave loophole for gas – EURACTIV.com

FBI Opens a New China-Related Counterintelligence Investigation Every 10 Hours, Director Says – Nextgov

Of the FBI’s nearly 5,000 active counterintelligence investigations across the country, “almost half” are related to China, with the bureau opening a new China-related counterintelligence case every 10 hours, according to FBI Director Chris Wray.

Wray, speaking Tuesday at an event hosted by the Hudson Institute, said China is escalating improper and sometimes illegal activity in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, using a mix of sophisticated cyber-intrusion techniques and the corruption of “trusted insiders” to siphon America’s intellectual property.

Specifically, Wray said China is employing economic espionage to target American aviation, robotics, agriculture and health care sectors—part of a broader plan to subvert American economic dominance that has resulted in a 1,300% increase in economic espionage cases linked to China over the past decade. Already, Wray said the American people are victims “of what amounts to Chinese theft on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history” and poses a major national security threat.

Source: FBI Opens a New China-Related Counterintelligence Investigation Every 10 Hours, Director Says – Nextgov

Trump’s Gift to Putin | Foreign Affairs

The President’s Privatized Foreign Policy Is a Boon for Russia

For decades, if not centuries, scholars have debated which matters more in international affairs: structural forces, such as the relative power between states, or the ideas and decisions of individual leaders. But at least as far as the United States is concerned, President Donald Trump may put the debate to rest.

After a slow start, Trump has affected almost every facet of U.S. foreign policy. And the story to date is not an inspiring one. Trump has personalized, privatized, and deinstitutionalized foreign policy to the detriment of the national interest. That trend has accelerated in recent months, culminating in two disastrous missteps vis-à-vis Ukraine and Syria. In the process, the American public has suffered, U.S. allies have lost, and U.S. adversaries have gained—none more so than Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Three years ago, the United States was the world’s most powerful state, capable of influencing outcomes on every continent and every issue area. But from the beginning of his presidency, Trump chose to pull back. He pursued his withdrawal doctrine with vigor, exiting the 12-nation trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership within days of taking office, then going on to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement, the Paris climate accord, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. He has since threatened to leave multiple other multilateral organizations and treaties.

And yet there were hints of continuity with previous administrations, at least in the first year of the Trump presidency. Trump’s senior national security officials resembled those of past administrations in their credentials and experience, especially once H. R. McMaster took over as national security advisor in February 2017. And, like his predecessors, Trump did not dismiss the thousands—maybe tens of thousands—of nonpartisan career professionals in the two dozen departments and agencies involved in making and implementing U.S. foreign policy.

These forces for continuity—along with the U.S. Congress, independent media, business groups, and nongovernmental organizations—shaped and constrained the administration’s foreign policy for a time. Trump’s complaints about “endless wars” did not initially translate into the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria. In Asia, his administration was more systematic in diagnosing the economic and security threats posed by China, but that shift was already underway before he took office and reflected an emerging bipartisan consensus. Trump berated NATO, but the United States did not withdraw from the alliance.

Even Trump’s Russia policy initially differed little from President Barack Obama’s approach after 2014. Although candidate Trump had considered lifting sanctions on Russia and recognizing its land grab in Crimea as legitimate, the Trump administration increased those sanctions, never recognized Crimea’s annexation, bolstered support for NATO, and even went further than Obama in providing lethal military assistance to Ukraine. Trump did deliver one welcome change in U.S. policy to the Kremlin by no longer discussing democratic reforms or human rights abuses, but that was about it.

For Moscow, this policy continuity was a disappointment. Putin’s surrogates on Russian television lamented Trump’s weakness, which they blamed on the U.S. “deep state”—Trump wanted to do the “right thing,” they claimed, but he was constrained by the conventional foreign policy elites running his national security departments; the professional bureaucrats at the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the CIA; and the Russophobes in U.S. “mainstream” media and the Democratic Party.

Putin himself identified domestic politics in the United States as the main obstacle preventing Trump from pursuing a thaw with Russia. He was not wrong. But instead of a sinister deep state working against the U.S. president, it was the national security professionals within his own administration, including his political appointees, who were moderating some of Trump’s most extreme pro-Putin proclivities.

The Kremlin may, at long last, be getting what it wants. Gradually, but especially in the last year, Trump has eroded the normal national security decision-making process, marginalized the professionals who usually shape and execute U.S. foreign policy, and placed his private interests and ill-informed personal theories—often shaped by disinformation and conspiracy yarns—above all else. The result has been a disaster for U.S. national interests and a boon for Russia.

Since McMaster’s exit from the administration in April 2018, standard procedures for making national security decisions have been abandoned. Trump rarely attends National Security Council (NSC) meetings. He prefers to make his own decisions, based on intuition and personal preferences and without expert advice. Earlier this month, his new national security advisor, Robert O’Brien, announced plans to significantly cut the NSC staff and replace many of its career officials with political appointees.

Trump’s now infamous phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July revealed just how dysfunctional procedures in the White House have become. There appears to have been no prior discussion of the national security objectives to be pursued on the call. Trump did not read NSC-vetted talking points. Shockingly, then National Security Advisor John Bolton did not brief the president before the call and did not even listen to the conversation. Equally unorthodox, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on the line.

Trump’s call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in early October, after which the U.S. president greenlighted a Turkish military incursion into Syria, seems to have followed a similar pattern: no prior NSC meeting to interrogate the wisdom of acquiescing to Erdogan, no briefing before the call, and no talking points prepared by NSC staff. Trump’s strange, unprofessional, and ultimately ineffective letter threatening Erdogan was clearly not a product of normal NSC drafting and clearance procedures, either.

Other departments and agencies have seen their norms and procedures—not to mention their integrity—come under presidential attack as well. Trump’s first target, even before his inauguration, was the CIA, followed by the FBI and the intelligence community at large. In July 2018, Trump stood next to Putin at a summit in Helsinki and publicly rejected the findings of the U.S. intelligence community regarding Russia’s campaign of interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Likewise, Trump has severely damaged the credibility and competency of the State Department, blithely assuming that he can do the hard job of diplomacy by himself. This approach has yet to deliver clear successes in Afghanistan, China, Iran, or North Korea. But it has damaged the president’s relations with career foreign service officers, relations that were further strained by his decision to fire the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, on the basis of unfounded rumors from a private citizen—most likely Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria—another decision taken, by all appearances, in isolation and on a whim—similarly undermined the standing of the Department of Defense and the reputation of U.S. soldiers fighting in Syria, some of whom have expressed humiliation and embarrassment at having abandoned their Kurdish allies. Three institutions critical for U.S. foreign policy—the intelligence community, the State Department, and the Pentagon—now have deeply damaged relations with the president.

Trump’s assault on conventional decision-making processes has allowed him to personalize and privatize U.S. foreign policy, often in ways that benefit the Kremlin more than the White House. That fact was most glaringly and disturbingly on display during the president’s call with Zelensky in July, during which Trump offered to lift the freeze on military assistance to Ukraine and meet the newly elected Zelensky in the Oval Office. In return, Trump asked that Zelensky open new investigations into unsubstantiated allegations of corruption by Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, and purported Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (That account, originally based on a reconstructed transcript of the call, has since been bolstered by further evidence in text messages between State Department diplomats and Ukrainian officials and testimony from U.S. officials involved in U.S.-Ukrainian relations.)

By not even mentioning Russia’s military interventions in Crimea and the Donbas during his call with Zelensky, Trump made clear his indifference to Ukraine’s sovereignty and democratic consolidation. That’s a win for Putin. Trump’s politicization of military assistance weakened the United States’ previously rock-solid commitment to Ukraine’s defense—another gift to Putin. By recording and publishing Zelensky’s obsequiousness and flattery of Trump in the call memo, he made the new Ukrainian leader look weak—yet another deliverable for Putin. Trump’s subsequent repeated references to Ukraine as corrupt have likewise damaged the country’s reputation precisely at the moment when a newly elected president and parliament have an opportunity to break with the corruption of the past. Score one more victory for Putin.

And this list doesn’t include the damage to the United States itself: Trump’s attempt to use taxpayer money in pursuit of private goals tarnishes the United States’ reputation as the leader of the free world. Impeachment proceedings set off by the call will distract his administration from engaging in critical foreign policy issues involving China, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela.

Trump’s misguided unilateral decisions in Syria also have played into Putin’s hands: Moscow benefits from the tensions that the Turkish offensive against the Kurds has caused within NATO. The Kurds, for their part, are turning to Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad and Putin in their desperate search for a new protector. More generally, the U.S. retreat in Syria has strengthened other U.S. foes—Assad, Hezbollah, Iran, and the Islamic State (or ISIS)—and unnerved the United States’ closest allies in the region. Washington now looks unreliable at a time when Moscow is positioning itself as an alternative power broker in the region—not only to the Kurds but to the Saudis, the Turks, and the Israelis.

A standard process for formulating and executing U.S. foreign policy would have foreseen these dangers and worked to counteract them. Such a process no longer exists, allowing one individual to let his personal interests and misguided intuitions radically reshape U.S. foreign policy. In the two biggest arenas of U.S.-Russian conflict over the last decade—Ukraine and Syria—Trump has just handed Putin and his allies major victories, without a fight and without receiving anything in return.

Source: Trump’s Gift to Putin | Foreign Affairs

France to encourage telecom groups to avoid Huawei products, but not ban company | TheHill

Guillaume Poupard, the head of French cybersecurity agency ANSSI, told the newspaper that the government planned to advise French companies to avoid using Huawei equipment in the rollout of 5G networks, but would not place a complete ban on Huawei.

“What I can say is that there won’t be a total ban,” Guillaume Poupard told Les Echos, according to a Reuters report.

“For operators that are not currently using Huawei, we are inciting them not to go for it.”

Source: France to encourage telecom groups to avoid Huawei products, but not ban company: report | TheHill

Lobbying groups received millions in PPP loans | TheHill

The Trump administration released data on Monday about the recipients of the small-business loans, which are forgivable if the money is used for payroll, mortgage, rent and utilities and the recipient maintains employee and compensation levels.

Trade associations, professional societies and local chambers of commerce — all of which are classified as 501(c)(6) organizations — are not eligible for the program. But many groups that conduct lobbying are classified as nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations and were allowed to apply.

Source: Lobbying groups received millions in PPP loans | TheHill

Trying to loosen the linchpin: China’s approach to South Korea

China sees South Korea as a critical part of its effort to establish its preeminence in Northeast Asia. South Korea’s status in the U.S. alliance architecture as the “linchpin” and its central role regarding North Korea issues, as well as its geographic proximity and economic dynamism, have underscored the country’s importance to China’s regional strategy.

This strategy is driven by a desire to weaken Washington’s alliance relationships, increase Beijing’s influence on Korean Peninsula affairs, including North Korea denuclearization, and shape the region to be more amenable to supporting its preferences.

Beijing perceives Seoul as the weakest link in the U.S. alliance network, given its perception of South Korea’s deference and history of accommodating China’s rise relative to other regional players, such as Japan, which considers China a long-term security threat.

Source: Trying to loosen the linchpin: China’s approach to South Korea