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Is disunity in politics really death any more? I’m not so sure | Katharine Murphy | Australia news

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I’ll get to the divisions on coal and climate afflicting both of the major parties shortly, but before we arrive there I want to ask a bigger question about disunity, one I’ve been carrying around with me since election night last year. Forgive this indulgence, I need to get this off my chest.

Politics watchers will know that prime ministers and opposition leaders intone with all the sobriety of an undertaker that “disunity is death”. People in my line of work tend to amplify that line dutifully, not because we are ciphers, but because it appeared to be true – one of those truisms so true it required no rebuttal.

But now, I’m not so sure, because Australian voters last year re-elected a government that had burned through three prime ministers in only two terms. Rather than harbouring a grudge about political instability being out and proud, a majority of voters looked past the cycles of revenge tragedy perpetrated in full public view.

Now, perhaps the result last May isn’t any kind of step change in our country.

Voters did toss out the Rudd/Gillard Labor government, the folks who pioneered the art of civil war at taxpayer expense. There was punishment for that self-indulgent behaviour, only a few years back. So perhaps 2019 is just the conservative centre of gravity in Australian politics asserting itself.

But I do wonder whether that May result has revealed something other than the “come to Daddy because Labor will spend all your money” default in our polity. I wonder whether we are now so saturated in conflict that people in politics trying to take one another out just seems normal.

Technology has pushed us into tribes. Our shared reality, rather than being a commons, is increasingly animated by fealty rather than agreed facts and a spirit of inquiry. Conflict has become the pulse and the respiration of our harried and hyperconnected lives.

So perhaps, without us noticing, Australia, like some other democracies, has been picked up and set down in a different place, a place where disunity, rather than “death”, has become what is expected in public life.

I think it is at least possible that collective expectations have bent to that new normal.

Another quick observation before we move on. Disunity also furnishes spectacle, which is addictive. On the day Barnaby Joyce – with all the swaggering self-confidence a mediocre, middle-aged white bloke can deploy without having to be asked – attempted to unseat Michael McCormack on the first day of parliament for 2020, I was on a plane to Sydney.

I have to be honest with you: I struggle to be gripped by Joyce versus McCormack. This pitched battle of the under-performers feels entirely low stakes, and particularly nasty, shitty and petty. I’m impatient with it because there are so many important things drifting now, obscured in the cacophony of legends in their own lunchboxes asking radio hosts when was the last time they had a nookie.

But my fellow passengers were gripped. The moment the plane landed, everyone was on their phone and a person across the aisle reported reasonably loudly: “It’s McCormack!” in the expectation that other passengers would need to know the result of the leadership spill. Brief analytical murmuring ensued.

Now perhaps these were public servants dreading the return of Joyce, or hoping Joyce would rise from the ashes because they are frustrated with McCormack. Perhaps this wasn’t a representative sample. But if it was, it suggests our collective expectations are well on the way to being rewired.

So I’m just asking, because this is an itch I need to scratch. Is disunity in politics really death any more, or is it now the core of the enterprise?

Now, let’s drill down and look at climate and coal, where disunity and conflict is absolutely the core of the enterprise.

After Tony Abbott chose to weaponise climate change to win an election he would likely have won anyway, the whole debate has become toxic.

We are used to the Coalition and Labor slugging it out on the national stage, with the Coalition pretending nothing has to change, and Labor proposing a succession of policies and mechanisms to reduce emissions. But now the national schism, manufactured for partisan advantage, is creating subsidiary fractures.

There are faultlines destabilising the major parties. Obviously this phenomenon isn’t brand new. The Liberal party has nursed a rolling internal struggle for more than a decade, with the naysayers winning the majority of rounds, including the most recent battle over the national energy guarantee. Liberals, both inside and outside the cabinet, are beginning to test their voices post-election, but some Nationals will oppose progress to the death.

Labor, post-election, is wafting into this territory. The New South Wales rightwinger Joel Fitzgibbon wondered, out loud, earlier this year, how many more elections Labor was prepared to lose by arguing for ambitious climate action. “How many times are we going to let it kill us?” the shadow frontbencher mused. “Indeed, how many leaders do we want to lose to it?”

While a majority of Labor MPs believe the party should hold the line on climate action, some in the right faction are arguing the courtship of Labor’s traditional base by their political opponents, and by populist insurgents – the weaponisation of the climate debate in regional and outer suburban areas – is now so effective that it will require a defibrillator to break that cycle.

I think the “let’s step back from climate action” brigade is a minority group, but in the disunity complex we are mulling this weekend, small groups can wield disproportionate influence.

Current indications suggest Labor will be able to hold it together sufficiently to articulate broad climate policy principles without much of a bunfight, and some of those early principles are expected soon.

But there will be a bunfight once the party attempts to set a medium-term target for emissions reduction for this term. That’s where things are likely to get ugly. Some will want to avoid that fight by keeping Labor’s offering bigger picture.

If you were a political scientist, you might wonder, looking at all this, whether we are standing on the brink of a fundamental realignment. The vote of the major parties is declining, the governing class is stuck in a phase of rolling conflict rather than consensus building and, when it comes to climate, some of the internal differences within the major parties look irreconcilable. You might wonder how this holds together given the stress fractures are on full public display.

Scott Morrison is holding his fractious political Coalition together by trying to be all things to all people: a prime minister who is reducing emissions (even though emissions are flat because the Coalition dismantled policies that were reducing pollution), who loves solar panels (even though the Coalition went to war with renewables during its first term in office) and who isn’t scared to support coal plants and coal workers (even though Morrison is periodically scared enough to not be able to utter the word).

There will be pressure on Anthony Albanese to go Morrison-lite.

But outside the universe of endless psychodrama and dissembling stands an obvious pivot point: the commitments Australia intends to make to 2050.

Leadership would be Morrison telling the truth: that by signing up to the Paris agreement, a decision his government made, Australia has already signed on to a net zero objective. He could stop pretending, to George Christensen, and everybody else, that this is moot. Instead of giving coal workers false comfort, he could give them a plan for the future.

Instead of glowering across the dispatch box at Albanese, and pretending that only his opponent has a problem with climate action, Morrison could acknowledge that until the Coalition stops lying and starts leading, we all have a problem.



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Bernard Kerik Was Pardoned by President Trump. Who Is He?

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“With the exception of the birth of my children,” he added, “today is one of the greatest days of my life.”

Eventually, Mr. Giuliani named Mr. Kerik correction commissioner in 1997, and Mr. Kerik won praise for reducing violence in the city’s jails. As evidence of his clout, Mr. Kerik had a city jail in Lower Manhattan named after him. (The name was later changed.)

In 2000, Mr. Giuliani, having been re-elected to a second term, appointed Mr. Kerik as police commissioner. His role as the Police Department’s leader at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks raised Mr. Kerik’s national profile.

After Mr. Giuliani left office, Mr. Kerik joined the former mayor’s security consulting firm and earned millions of dollars over several years.

In December 2004, at Mr. Giuliani’s urging, President George W. Bush nominated Mr. Kerik to become homeland security secretary. But within a week, Mr. Kerik had withdrawn his name from consideration, citing what he said were questions about the immigration status of a nanny he had once employed.

The nomination’s collapse was the beginning of the end of Mr. Kerik’s career. It also raised questions about what Mr. Giuliani knew about Mr. Kerik’s background as he pushed him for the cabinet position — and when he named him police commissioner.

In June 2006, Mr. Kerik pleaded guilty in State Supreme Court in the Bronx to two misdemeanors tied to renovations done on his apartment in Riverdale by a New Jersey construction firm suspected of being linked to organized crime. He paid $221,000 in fines and penalties, but avoided jail time.

According to a grand jury transcript of Mr. Guiliani’s testimony in the case, he recalled that a prosecutor had told him that the city’s Investigation Department had compiled substantial evidence of Mr. Kerik’s ties to the firm before he was picked to lead the Police Department and that Mr. Giuliani had been briefed on the agency’s findings.



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Trump Admits He Makes Barr’s Job Tougher but Vows to Continue

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WASHINGTON — President Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr agree on one thing at least: The president is making the attorney general’s job much harder. What they don’t agree on: Mr. Trump sees no reason to stop.

Defying Mr. Barr’s pleas, Mr. Trump renewed his public attacks on law enforcement on Tuesday, denouncing the prosecutors, judge and jury forewoman in the case of his longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr. and defending his convicted former adviser Michael T. Flynn against Mr. Trump’s own Justice Department.

It was a day in which the president asserted his dominance over a justice system that has long sought to insulate itself from political pressures. Calling himself “the chief law enforcement officer of the country,” Mr. Trump demanded a new trial for Mr. Stone, urged federal judges to address the “tremendous” abuse of the special counsel investigation of his campaign and bypassed the traditional pardon process to grant clemency to celebrity convicts recommended by his friends, allies and political donors.

Mr. Trump insisted he had not directly interfered in the prosecution of advisers like Mr. Stone and Mr. Flynn, but declared again that he had the power to if he wanted and at the very least, he planned to speak out for them. “You take a look at what’s happening to these people,” he told reporters. “Somebody has to stick up for the people.”

In doing so, Mr. Trump acknowledged that Mr. Barr was right last week when he said that the president was making it “impossible” for him to do his work. “I do make his job harder,” Mr. Trump said. “I do agree with that. I think that’s true.”

But while he praised Mr. Barr’s “incredible integrity” and avowed “total confidence” in him, Mr. Trump dismissed the suggestion that he stop weighing in on individual cases. “Social media for me has been very important because it gives me a voice, because I don’t get that voice in the press,” he said. “In the media, I don’t get that voice. So I’m allowed to have a voice.”

The president’s latest public comments increased the pressure on Mr. Barr, who has taken heat from critics both inside and outside his department over what they see as the politicization of the law enforcement system. More than 1,100 former Justice Department officials have called for Mr. Barr’s resignation, and a group representing the nation’s federal judges scheduled an emergency telephone conference to address the president’s attacks on one of their own.

The continued attacks raised the question of how Mr. Barr proceeds if indeed he finds it not just harder but “impossible” to do his job amid the president’s running commentary on the department’s criminal cases, as he told ABC News last week. Just hours after Mr. Trump publicly demanded a new trial for Mr. Stone on Tuesday morning, the Justice Department, with Mr. Barr’s approval, announced that it would oppose such a retrial.

Even as he refused to take Mr. Barr’s advice, Mr. Trump expressed no anger toward his attorney general on Tuesday and some officials said the president understood why Mr. Barr believed he had to say what he did last week. But Mr. Trump has seethed with anger that the Justice Department has failed to prosecute his enemies while going after his friends.

As he granted clemency on Tuesday to figures like Rod R. Blagojevich, a former governor of Illinois, the junk bond king Michael R. Milken and the former New York City police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik, the president made clear how much he sympathized with them in what he characterized as overzealous prosecutions.

Asked whether he was likewise considering pardons for Mr. Stone, Mr. Flynn or Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman convicted on tax and other financial fraud charges, Mr. Trump said, “I’m not even thinking about that.” But aides said he had broached the idea and critics said Tuesday’s pardons sent a clear message to his associates that he may yet clear them.

“The real test will be, what does this president do with Stone, Manafort and others who are directly connected to him and who have the ability to provide information that is harmful to him?” said Eric H. Holder Jr., who served as attorney general under President Barack Obama.

The president told reporters on Tuesday that Mr. Stone, a longtime friend and off-and-on adviser, and Mr. Flynn, a campaign adviser before serving briefly as his national security adviser, were both “treated very unfairly.” He called Mr. Stone’s conviction “a very, very rough thing” and said that Mr. Flynn’s “life has been destroyed.”

Mr. Stone, who was convicted in November of seven felonies for obstructing a congressional inquiry into the Trump campaign’s ties to WikiLeaks, which disseminated Democratic emails stolen by Russian agents, is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday. Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about his dealings with Russian officials but wants to withdraw his plea.

On Twitter, Mr. Trump cited a “Fox & Friends” legal analyst, Andrew Napolitano, who has insisted that the president “has every right” to intervene in a criminal case. He quoted Mr. Napolitano’s calls for Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to reconsider Mr. Stone’s case.

Judge Jackson ruled Tuesday morning that Mr. Stone’s sentencing would go forward as planned on Thursday despite last-ditch motions by his defense lawyers. She said she would allow the defense to file an amended motion for a new trial, give the government a chance to respond with its own filing and schedule a hearing if warranted. Defense lawyers are trying to argue that juror misconduct led to an unfair trial.

The handling of Mr. Stone’s case has generated tumult throughout the Justice Department and grabbed the attention of Washington’s broader legal establishment. After Mr. Barr scrapped the original sentencing recommendation in favor of a lighter one, the four career prosecutors handling the matter withdrew from the case and one resigned from the department entirely.

As the president has repeatedly pointed out, two of the four prosecutors had worked for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, whose investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election dogged Mr. Trump for two years. The president attacked Mr. Mueller’s team anew on Tuesday, saying if he were not president, he would sue it.

Mr. Trump tried to distance himself from Mr. Stone, saying he only worked for his presidential campaign briefly in 2015, before it gained momentum. Witnesses in Mr. Stone’s trial, however, testified that throughout the presidential race, he remained in contact with Mr. Trump and top campaign officials as an unofficial political adviser.

The president said he had not intervened in Mr. Stone’s case, evidently making a distinction between his public commentaries and explicit orders, but added that he had the power to do so if he wanted. “Just so you understand, I chose not to be involved,” he said. “I’m allowed to be totally involved. I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country.”





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U.S. NEWS || Texas man close to exoneration after computer algorithm leads to new suspect

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