Saturday 30 January 2021

Moral Bankruptcy

Despite or because of the parallels, I'm still following US politics as welcome diversion from domestic matters post-Brexit, but am becoming increasingly astonished at how dysfunctional their supposedly democratic system of government actually is. Maybe it's always been like this and I've just never noticed. As much as Trump was an obscenity, isn't there something very alarming seeing nice-guy Biden issuing daily decrees with the stroke of a pen and at an increasing rate?  

Having 50-odd ways of holding elections strikes me as bonkers, as does a system that produces a Congress and balance of power that seems to bear little connection to the popular vote and delivers a completely constipated legislative structure. For good measure add-in a politicised Supreme Court and dare I suggest that the much-lauded checks and balances inherent in a written constitution begin to look decidedly problematic? This article from The Atlantic 'What's So Great About a Written Constitution?' confirms disillusionment has been growing:- 

Finally, single, written constitutions often stifle much-needed constitutional maintenance. The lack of formal constitutional change in the U.S. over the past few decades has produced a strong form of constitutional disillusionment, both with the written Constitution and with the Supreme Court. The main problem is that formal amendment procedures are so exceedingly difficult, but a 5–4 Supreme Court decision can produce significant constitutional change. Further, a focus on elusive constitutional moments—in which there must be intense and widespread constitutional discussion and debate among the citizenry—as opposed to constitutional maintenance, has obscured the need for regular constitutional change to take place.

In the U.K.’s unwritten system, however, virtually nothing is too sacred to be amended: The prescribed length of time between general elections has fluctuated; reform of the U.K.’s top court has taken place; historical government positions have been altered or eliminated; the role of the monarchy has changed significantly; and even major constitutional principles, such as parliamentary sovereignty, have shifted throughout the years as political and economic developments arose. Most of these have been responses to societal change, and did not require tidal-wave constitutional moments.

Although the longevity of America’s written Constitution remains impressive, many of its structures and operations have always been highly questionable. But recent events seem to have only exposed and exacerbated its flaws: A popularly elected leader should not be able to receive 3 million votes fewer than the challenger but still win the electoral contest; a system of checks and balances should ensure effective and responsible government, not sow political dysfunction; and generations of Americans should not have to live their life without a practical and reasonable opportunity to amend their Constitution. None of those outcomes advances “We the People.”

The U.K.’s unwritten constitution remains far from perfect; mistakes happen, much-needed reforms often stall, and reliance on politics can prove extremely frustrating. But when it comes to educating the citizenry, facilitating a focus on popular sovereignty, and providing a means of regularly updating the constitution, unwritten constitutions can go head to head with written documents any day.


Leaving aside constitutional matters, the state of the Republican Party in a post-Trump era continues to cause alarm and astonishment in equal measure as they indulge in the self-delusional belief that election success resides in remaining loyal to a disgraced sociopathic and narcissistic control freak. Despite being victims of an attempted coup, most have decided to indulge in what can only be described as moral bankruptcy and refuse to convict Trump of insurrection. 

Despite this they will clearly continue to carry the day in some States, but seem blissfully unaware that inexorable demographic changes will ensure other Georgia-style results, turbo-charged by increasingly bonkers conspiracy theorists within their ranks. To most of sound mind, if the GOP does not reform quickly, they are doomed. Again from The Atlantic, an article 'This Republican Party Is Not Worth Saving' from September 2020:-  

I was a Republican for most of my adult life. I came of political age in 1980, and although I grew up in a working-class Democratic stronghold in Massachusetts, I found a home in Ronald Reagan’s GOP. Back then, the Republicans were a confident “party of ideas” (a compliment bestowed on them by one of their foes, Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York), optimistic boosters of the American dream at home, and fierce opponents of the Soviet Union overseas. While the Democrats were the party of recrimination and retreat, the Republicans were the party of the future.

I understand the attachment to that GOP, even among those who have sworn to defeat Donald Trump, but the time for sentimentality is over. That party is long gone. Today the Republicans are the party of “American carnage” and Russian collusion, of scams, plots, and weapons-grade contempt for the rule of law. The only decent, sensible, and conservative position is to vote against this Republican Party at every level, and bring the sad final days of a once-great political institution to an end. Then build the party back up again—from scratch.

I’m not advocating for voting against the GOP merely to punish Republicans for Trump’s existence in their party. Rather, conservatives must finally accept that at this point Trump and the Republican Party are indistinguishable. Trump and his circle have gutted the old GOP and stuffed its empty husk with the Trump family’s paranoia and corruption.

Indeed, the transformation of the GOP into a cult of personality is so complete that the Republicans didn’t even bother presenting a platform at their own convention. Like a group of ciphers at a meeting of SPECTRE, they nodded at whatever Number One told them to do, each of them fearing an extended pinkie finger pressing the button that would electrocute them into political oblivion.

Some Republicans, even while they grant that Trump is a sociopath and an idiot—and how unsettling that so many of them will stipulate to that—are willing to continue voting for Republican candidates because the GOP is nominally pro-life or because the administration’s judicial appointments show that the people around the president are doing what conservatives should want done.

But Trump’s few conservative achievements are meaningless when compared with his war on American democracy, a rampage that few Republicans have lifted a finger to stop. Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr have turned the constitutional order and the rule of law into a joke. If you’re Roger Stone or Michael Flynn, the White House will arrange pardons, commutations, or even the outright betrayal of the Justice Department’s own lawyers. Felony convictions are for the little people. The Constitution is just busywork for chumps.


America needs two healthy political parties. So if the Republicans suffer a full-spectrum defeat in 2020, what comes next? At the least, a shattering loss should result in a wholesale purge of the Republican National Committee. Even donors who like what they got from Trump will not pour money into a losing proposition.

In the long term, sensible conservatives—who believe in limited government and the prudent, constitutional stewardship of national power and resources—might feel safe to run for national office as Republicans again. Those at the local level who were bullied into silence by their state organizations might be able to come out of hiding and challenge the people who led them to disaster.

Reconstructing the GOP—or any center-right party that might one day replace it—will take a long time, and the process will be painful. The remaining opportunists in the GOP will try to avert any kind of reform by making a last-ditch lunge to the right to fill the vacuum left by Trump’s culture warring and race-baiting. In the short term, the party might become smaller and more extreme, even as it loses seats. So be it. The hardening of the GOP into a toxic conglomeration of hucksters, quislings, racists, theocrats, and cultists is already happening. The party gladly accepted support from white supremacists and the Russian secret services, and now welcomes QAnon kooks into its caucus. Conservatives must learn that the only way out of “the wilderness” is first to vanquish those who led them there.

No person should ever get a second chance to destroy the Constitution. Trump has brought the United States to the brink of civil catastrophe, and the Republican Party has protected him from the consequences of all his immoral and illegal actions more ably than even Fred Trump did. Conservatives need to put the current Republican Party out of its—and our—misery.

Friday 29 January 2021

The In's and Out's of Prison

We haven't said much about prisons for some time, but I do recall the MoJ has an alarming track record of highlighting any new additions to the estate as being job creation schemes. Clearly this tendency hasn't been lost on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies who have been casting their expert eye over where prisons have been built over recent time, and it's of more than academic interest to me as it pretty much charts my own probation journey.  

Coal today, gone tomorrow: How jobs were replaced with prison places


In early March 2020, we held an event on the spatial history of British prisons. The event explored how decisions about the siting and development of new prisons were connected to underlying social, economic and political changes over the course of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. 

We planned to publish the main insights that emerged from that event shortly afterwards. Then the COVID-19 crisis intervened, disrupting the best-laid plans, and casting a long shadow over the lives of far too many. Nearly one year on from that event, I am delighted that we are now able to publish this important briefing. 

It is commonplace that prisons are created and maintained to hold those sentenced by the courts, and those remanded while awaiting trial. The geographical location of any given prison, whether it is newly-built, or adapted from existing buildings, is something far less frequently reflected upon. These are the questions explored by Phil Mike Jones, Emily Gray and Stephen Farrall in this briefing. 

Taking in a sweep of time from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day, the authors identify some striking patterns. In the years following the Second World War, for instance, a number of prisons were opened on former military bases and in former country houses. Such redevelopments are rare today. 

Since the 1960s, a number of prisons have been built on former industrial sites, with most of them located in the former industrial heartlands of England and Scotland. In particular, the authors find a strong concentration of new prison capacity in former coal-mining areas, associated with the traumatic economic restructuring and deindustrialisation of the 1980s. 

“Regions where industrial employment was concentrated may expect to see economic restructuring”, the authors write, “but if economic recovery is weak, the prison complex may come to replace the industrial complex”. 

The claim that new prisons offer an economic bonanza to hard-pressed areas is a dubious claim at best. What this briefing points to is the interreleationship between governmental economic policies, and the decision to site prisons in the industrial wastelands left in their wake. 

Richard Garside Director


The reverberations of industrial closures and high levels of unemployment in the UK after 1979 have been charted by numerous scholars. Shipyards, steel and coal-mining industries and parts of the British automotive industry were heavily affected by deindustrialisation (measured as the relative decline of manufacturing or the decline of manufacturing employment). 

While this development began in many advanced economies during the 1960s, it accelerated rapidly in the UK following the pursuit of monetarist economic policies instigated by Margaret Thatcher’s administrations. These conditions hit the UK manufacturing sector particularly hard in the 1980s. High interest rates and an over-valued currency rendered UK manufacturing exports uncompetitive domestically and internationally. By 1995 nearly 90 per cent of the coal-mining workforce had been lost, and the impact of this unprecedented destruction of jobs was geographically concentrated. 

In areas of the English midlands, south Wales and central Scotland, mining had been the dominant source of employment for men for generations, so the consequences for these communities were especially pronounced. Indeed, Britain’s miners launched one of the longest and fiercest industrial disputes in modern times in the UK. At its peak, 142,000 miners went on strike over pit closures and pay and a violent conflict, dubbed the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ when a mass picket was charged by police, remains a controversial event some 35 years later. 

Deindustrialisation continued throughout the 1980s as the British economy shifted from manufacturing to services. Notably, such was the impact of this economic transformation that Beatty et al., (2007) found evidence that by 2004 (more than 20 years after the miners’ strike) former coal– mining areas had still not fully recovered. Substantial job losses in ‘heavy’ industries were not matched with new jobs, and many former miners registered as ‘inactive’ or ‘permanently sick’ (rather than unemployed), suggesting that official estimates of unemployment may have been significantly underestimated.

In this paper we explore what happened to those regions with regards to the location of prisons in the years since the 1980s. We look specifically at the places in those areas that were once economically dependent on coal-mining, assessing the extent to which prisons were located in them relative to non-coal-mining areas. We do this by examining the prison building programme that took place in England, Scotland, and Wales during the 1980s and in the period since. 

From the 1990s there was a substantial expansion of the prison population and the criminal justice system. Between June 1993 and June 2012 the prison population in England and Wales increased by 41,800 prisoners to over 86,000 as a result of new sentences and recalls to prison. During the Thatcher and Major administrations (1979-1997) 26 new prisons were built. Others were extended to manage the mounting pressure on inmate places as crime and punitive attitudes increased, resulting in a ‘tougher’ criminal justice system and ultimately more inmates. 

Older prisons also underwent refurbishment to improve conditions and security following disturbances, of which there were 46 in 1986, as well as a 25-day riot in HMP Strangeways in 1990. The privatisation of prisons also introduced an ‘enterprise culture’ into public services in the early-1990s. HMP Wolds was the first contracted-out prison in the UK, run by Group 4, in 1992. We assess if it is possible to detect a patterning in the location in time and space of new British prisons. Did they appear evenly spread across British counties, or did the building of such establishments mirror other trends that were taking place historically? 

We consider this hypothesis in two steps. First, we examine the number and former uses of the sites where prisons were built 1901-2017, categorising key developments. Second, we compare the number of prisons in former coalmining areas to non-mining areas (controlling for population change).


The Centre for Social Justice have been pondering what's going on inside our jails, or rather what isn't and just published a report strongly arguing for getting prisoners online:-


Unlocking relationships, learning and skills in UK prisons


The conditions imposed on prisoners as a result of the lockdown has exposed a pre-existing problem. Prisons in England and Wales are rooted in a pre-digital age. If this is allowed to continue, our prisons will serve not as places of reform, but as drivers of exclusion, systematically denying the prison population access to education and training, and leaving them unable to work. This report argues the time has come to modernise our system – and to redress the exclusion of prisoners from the world outside the prison walls – by installing controlled broadband facilities throughout the prison estate.

Executive summary 

Over the past ten years, UK society has become increasingly digitised. More and more, a significant proportion of our daily activities – including our personal relationships and our professional lives – are conducted online. This societal change has been accelerated rapidly due to the impact of Covid-19. 

And yet our prisons are almost entirely offline. The majority of prisons in England and Wales do not have the cabling or hardware to support broadband, with just 18 out of 117 prisons possessing in-cell cabling. Remarkably, even prison staff do not have access to the internet, such as video conferencing services. Some lower-risk prisoners in lower category prisoners may have highly restricted access via an internal system, principally for minimalist email services, but this is the exception, not the rule. Many older prisoners serving longer sentences have never held a digital device. 

The cost to the UK of prisoner reoffending is £18.1 billion per year. Employment prospects for released offenders are extremely bleak: 68 per cent were unemployed in the four weeks before custody (81 per cent for men), 47 per cent have no qualifications, and only 4 per cent of women and 11 per cent of men are in work six weeks after their release. Prisoners are often among the most digitally excluded in our society, yet nearly all jobs – from supermarket assistants to construction workers – require digital literacy of at least a basic level. 

Ever more educational courses are only available online, reducing prisoners’ opportunities to learn. The Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) has argued that digital “remains the essential ingredient that would revolutionise prison education. Without this, the digital divide will become a chasm, as prisoner learners miss out on developing digital literacy skills.” 

Because of the lockdown, almost all prisoners in England and Wales have been confined to their cells for up to 23.5 hours per day. A prisoner who successfully sustains a family relationship is 39 per cent less likely to reoffend than one who does not, yet prisoners have been barred from seeing their relatives, with family visits completely forbidden. Video calling has been installed across the prison estate, but prisoners are entitled to just one 30-minute call per month. As such, many family relationships have completely broken down. 

One prisoner’s partner said: “My three-year-old grandson hasn’t seen his dad for 11 weeks and yesterday he said, ‘Daddy has gone now’. The impact on the children (and the parents) is heart-breaking.”

One prisoner said: “If I don’t see my family I will lose them, if I lose them what have I got left?”
43 per cent of prisoners have a diagnosed mental illness, and one fifth of male prisoners have attempted suicide. Yet prisoners remain isolated from family, deprived of opportunities to learn or reform, without the psychological support they need, and confined to their cells in circumstances that produce enormous mental strain. 

While there is a perception that the British public are not supportive of giving digital access to prisoners, Dr. Victoria Knight has shown they are broadly supportive provided proper security can be guaranteed and that there are verifiable outcomes in terms of recidivism. Such security can be delivered, and the evidence for reducing the rate of reoffending is there. 

The conditions imposed on prisoners as a result of the lockdown has exposed a pre-existing problem. Prisons in England and Wales are rooted in a pre-digital age. If this is allowed to continue, our prisons will serve not as places of reform, but as drivers of exclusion, systematically denying the prison population access to education and training, and leaving them unable to work. This report argues the time has come to modernise our system – and to redress the exclusion of prisoners from the world outside the prison walls – by installing controlled broadband facilities throughout the prison estate.

We can’t go on with prisons in a pre-internet dark age: inefficient, wasteful and leaving prisoners woefully unprepared for the real world they will face on release. I have not met one prison professional who does not think drastic change is needed.

Nick Hardwick – former Chief Inspector of Prisons 

In this report the CSJ argues that the installation of broadband technology with limited, secure access to the internet for prisoners is both overdue and necessary, and that this pressing need is intensified by the specific pressures of the lockdown prison environment. As the use of digital platforms for personal communication, sustaining relationships, professional communication and education and learning becomes the norm, it is vital that prisoners are not deprived of the digital skills and facilities that will allow them to engage in meaningful, positive activity during their sentences. Moreover, it is essential that they are not left in a digitally illiterate and/or excluded state upon their release, or they will stand very little chance of navigating the world around them. 

With the government announcing in the 2020 Spending Review the implementation of a £5 billion UK Gigabit Broadband programme with the aim of levelling up connectivity, and a government drive to provide access to remote rural areas, the anomaly of the digital “black holes” that are the nation’s prisons seems ever harder to sustain. 

In particular, this paper will argue that online digital technology should be implemented for the purposes of: 
  • Improving and sustaining relationships with family 
  • Improving educational and employment opportunities 
  • Delivery of emotional and psychological support to address mental health, wellbeing and addiction support 
  • Improvements to prisoner and staff wellbeing and relationships by means of improvements in prisoner behaviour

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Here Come the Algorithms

Oh look! All that multiple data-inputting isn't a waste of time after all. That army of bureaucrats at MoJ/HMPPS HQ have a cunning plan to 'mine' the data according to this on the UK Authority website. From the people that gave us OASys and the 'create report' button, what could possibly go wrong? 

MoJ considers digital service for probation recalls

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is beginning to look at setting up a digital service to manage recalls of offenders on probation. It has gone public with plans for a discovery project, with a possible escalation to beta, publishing a market notice for support from the private sector.

The ministry is apparently leaving its options open, not specifying details of the length of the work or a projected budget and reserving the right to issue a separate tender for phases after the discovery.

It says the purpose of the work is to understand the needs of probation staff in making appropriate and timely recall decisions and whether a digital service could help. Staff to be able to see relevant information about parolee and understand the procedures and guidelines for making recall decisions.

The initiative has been prompted partly by the MoJ review into the case of Joseph McCann, who was given 33 life sentences at the Central Criminal Court in 2019 for a series of violent sexual attacks committed while he was supervised on licence by the National Probation Service, having been released from prison automatically earlier that year.


It's the inevitable development of all those electronic data mining tasks you perform each day, the birth of the algorithm to replace the incompetent humans who cast doubt upon & undermined her previous successful TR1 project: TR2: Romeo's Revenge - this time it's personal.

"MoJ says the purpose of the work is to understand the needs of probation staff in making appropriate and timely recall decisions and whether a digital service could help. Staff to be able to see relevant information about parolee and understand the procedures and guidelines for making recall decisions."

Monday 25 January 2021

Message to Management

Following on from yesterday's blog post entitled 'Emotional Toll' 

"And then supposedly you have to 'switch off' and go home"... except that at the moment much of this work is being done in our homes on the phone. 

The psychological impact of having the trauma in your home is significant. The journey from kitchen table to kettle by way of a commute is not enough of a transition from the day job to the evening off. I am now at the point where when our leadership pile on the praise, thanks us hidden heroes for what we are achieving, as they did in my area on a zoom "event" last week, I have to fight the impulse to throw my computer through the window. 

They bung out "well being" stuff, and talk about being kind and flexible, but I don't see any evidence whatsoever that in these circumstances workload relief would be in order. Staff who are minding young children at home are working as best they can amongst the demands and lego, and then slogging away in the evening. It isn't right and it is clearly not sustainable as evidenced by high levels of work related stress. 

Of course there are staff shortages, so there is nowhere to offload excessive workload to. Yes there is! Just take a big black felt pen and score out any number of processes and activities that don't have an immediate benefit. Get the courts to grant an amnesty by way of eg, taking all Unpaid Work orders who are more than half way through the hours, and say half way through the order, where there have been no further offences, and revoke them in favour of Conditional Discharges. 

In fact, take that approach across the piece in some form. Stop quality auditing for heavens sake. There is more scrutiny than before the pandemic. It's using up officer and manager time pointlessly. WTF is the new MAPPA Q review process about? Another humongous document completed entirely by copying and pasting entries from existing assessments and records, when in the main "NO CHANGE" would be a perfectly satisfactory entry.

Possibly the best & most important contribution of recent times. Unfortunately most of the perfectly reasonable, sensible & common-sensical points you make will carry no weight with those who define themselves as 'managers' or 'leaders'. A toxic combination of incompetence, insecurity & indifference renders them incapable of any chance of understanding what you have described because they think it doesn't affect 'them'. And on their salaries, with their mindset, it probably doesn't. For example, if anyone has bothered to read any of Romeo's tweets since she returned to the MoJ, it's all about her own career & achievements.

Sunday 24 January 2021

Emotional Toll

There was a line in Friday nights first episode of 'The Investigation' on BBC2 that immediately resonated with me. It's the beginning of a murder case and stress is already becoming apparent amongst the detectives involved. Before heading home in pensive mood, an experienced officer makes a revealing statement to a younger colleague along the lines of 'there hasn't been a homicide case I haven't taken home with me'. Oh boy, that resonated and got me reflecting. 

I think we're all familiar with the old probation mantra of 'advise, assist and befriend' and I know for a fact that this remains a fundamental element of practice amongst some officers and especially of a certain vintage. For those not 'in the know' it's hard to adequately explain the stress caused by having to try and help (supervise?) clients who are homeless, destitute, frightened and possibly suicidal. 

In addition to the person's situation assaulting your emotions and challenging your professional skills of advocacy, it can utterly disrupt your planned working day and 'essential' record-keeping. The advent of the computer has made things 100% worse. And then supposedly you have to 'switch off' and go home, hopefully to a contrasting world of calm, comfort and safety, but not always of course. 

The cumulative effect can be extremely serious and lead to what used to be termed 'burnout', long term sickness, depression and in some instances suicide. Sadly during my career I have known of two colleagues who took their own life and one who had to be 'sectioned' for their own safety. This sort of thing doesn't seem to be talked of nowadays and I wonder why? Can you do the job 'properly' any more, or just 'sign-post' everything off? 'Not my job guv'.  

But 'advise, assist and befriend' and social work was only ever part of the story because the job has always been concerned with justice, punishment and rehabilitation too. In order to be effective there is an inherent need to get to the truth, a task that can be extraordinarily difficult especially in relation to sex offenders and people convicted of murder. 

It can be incredibly stressful, particularly as parole dates approach and you become acutely aware of the importance that words can have in influencing key decisions. Did they really not do it? Has there been a miscarriage of justice? Is that really what happened? Will it happen again? In my experience these cases have not only 'come home' with me but continue to live with me years and decades later. 

The recent ITV drama-documentary about the notorious Pembrokeshire murders reminded me that, not withstanding a whole-life tariff, one or more probation officers will have that case, but unlike police officers will never talk about it publicly, write a book or sell a story to the media. It all means the public and politicians continue to remain blissfully ignorant as to what the job is all about. I sometimes reflect that even in my fairly pedestrian career, I carry around the baggage attached to more than a handful of stories, the telling of which would amount to much media interest and quite a pretty cash sum. It will never happen though, such is the distinctive probation ethos that still survives.

I'll end this meander with a final thought. Just imagine the emotional effect on probation officers prior to the 1965 abolition of the death penalty and their involvement with clients destined for the gallows. I've never heard any discussion at all of this, but wonder if this was the origin of the practice of 'pairing' in cases of murder right from first allocation. I know that when I joined in 1985 it was routine practice to have a colleague assigned as a 'pair' on all  murder cases for support, continuity and essentially another view.                

Thursday 21 January 2021


What a Day. What a speech. What a relief. The world needed good news and yesterday we got it. I think I might start sleeping better, now safe in the knowledge that at least one horror is over. 

I've really enjoyed my deep dive into US politics as a diversion from domestic horrors and learnt an awful lot along the way. What's been my take from it all? Just imagine if Trump really had won. Authoritarian dictators have a habit of moulding history in furtherance of their political aims and Trump had only just started. 

I couldn't help but notice that amongst the slew of 17 Executive Orders Joe Biden signed within hours of taking office concerned 'termination of the 1776 Commission'. The what? This from Wikipedia:-  

1776 Commission

The 1776 Commission was an advisory committee established in September 2020 by then-U.S. President Donald Trump to support his view of "patriotic education." The commission, which included no professional specialists in United States history, released The 1776 Report on Martin Luther King Day, January 18, 2021, two days before the end of Trump's term. The report was strongly criticized by historians, who described the report as pseudohistory. The commission was terminated by President Joe Biden on January 20, 2021.


Trump first spoke of giving students a "patriotic education" on September 2, 2020. He reiterated his intention to establish the commission in a proclamation on October 6, 2020. The commission was conceived partly as a response to The New York Times' 1619 Project, which explores American history through an African-American framing. Various federal laws prohibit the federal government from regulating school curricula, which are determined by school districts under rules established by state governments. However, the federal government influences state and local decisions through funding.


Trump announced the new commission in a speech on September 17, 2020, in which he contended that a "twisted web of lies" regarding systemic racism was currently being taught in U.S. schools, calling it "a form of child abuse." On November 2, the day before the 2020 elections, Trump officially established the commission by executive order. Trump appointed the commission's members on December 18, 2020. The commission held its first meeting on January 5, 2021.

Under the executive order, Trump established an 18-member group serving a two-year term appointed by the president, which is to write a report on “core principles of the American founding and how these principles may be understood to further enjoyment of ‘the blessings of liberty’.


According to the executive order establishing the commission, the commission's goal is to end what it calls the "radicalized view of American history" which has "vilified [the United States'] Founders and [its] founding". In response to the work of figures like Howard Zinn and groups like the 1619 Project, the 1776 Commission seeks to increase "patriotic education" via a centralized approach to nationalist curriculum. This effort is linked to Trump's wider attacks on critical race theory.

The commission also focuses on bringing these educational values to national parks, landmarks, and monuments among other federal properties; federal agencies are instructed to provide grants and initiatives in a way that prioritizes those supporting "the American Founding".


The commission released the 41-page "The 1776 Report" on Martin Luther King Day, January 18, 2021, two days before the end of Trump's term and the inauguration of Joe Biden. Among other things, the document identifies "progressivism" and "racism and identity politics" as "challenges to American principles" and likens them to communism, slavery, and fascism. It refers to John C. Calhoun as "the leading forerunner of identity politics" and criticizes some aspects of the civil rights movement. The document also describes American universities as "hotbeds of anti-Americanism, libel, and censorship" and criticizes feminist movements. It concludes with recommendations to promote positive stories and images of the country's founders at home, in schools, and in the arts, among other things. The report does not include citations or footnotes, and does not identify its main authors.


On January 20, 2021, hours after he was inaugurated as Trump's successor, President Joe Biden issued an executive order dissolving the 1776 Commission. The move was explained as a fulfillment of Biden's agenda, which included "advancing racial justice and building back better for communities who have been underserved, including people of color and Americans with disabilities, LGBTQ+ Americans, religious minorities, and rural and urban communities facing persistent poverty." The order was part of Biden's stated intent to address racial inequality as part of his presidency, as was a separate order to revoke Trump's September 4, 2020 executive order purging the federal government of racial sensitivity training programs, which Trump had called "divisive, anti-American propaganda."

Tuesday 19 January 2021

Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day

Thank goodness. In just a few hours the world will not have to endure the obscenity called Trump and something resembling normality will soon return. Regular readers will be aware that the on-going US morality tale has been an important personal escape and refuge from domestic politics and pandemic concerns. It continues to be a source of hope amongst so much terrible news, but most importantly reaffirmation that good must and will triumph over evil.

So much has been staggering it's genuinely hard to know where to start, but news regarding the quantum of lies, mistruths, alternative facts, bull shit and bat crazy b*llocks is simply hard to comprehend. In four years the Washington Post reckons Trump has been responsible for over 30,000 lies, trumped of course by the Big Lie that the election was a fraud and he 'won big'. Interestingly it's been shown that since he was booted off Twitter internet references to election fraud have reduced by 73%.

Of course the dark secret behind all the rhetoric is that he did of course win if you discount the black vote and therein lies the tragic truth of the matter. Trump and the bulk of the Republican Party are racist to the core and it's something the US has been pretending isn't so for years. In the recent CNN documentary about Vice President Kamala Harris she confirmed that the lid has finally been lifted on a very dark truth about racism that's simply got to be addressed and it's not going to be easy or pretty.

At the weekend there was a CNN interview with Tim Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University and author of 'On Tyranny - Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century' and he spelt out a pretty simple message, 'post truth is pre fascism'. There was a real danger in discarding truth and only accepting opinion. Under Trump sources of truth had gone away and people had returned to beliefs. In such circumstances it was not enough for the passive position of relying on institutions to hold, it was necessary for everyone to affirm what democracy looks like and become actively engaged in its support. 

I found this interview spoke directly to me as a reminder of the importance in every citizen playing their part through personal, civic and professional actions - very relevant I thought during recent discussion regarding probation's core beliefs, ethics and values. 

The good news is that the GOP are going to be convulsed by division which should buy time for the Democrats to repair much of the Trump damage and push forward with reforms. They have their own divisions of course, but Biden is a seasoned and skilled operator most importantly trusted by many even of opposing political viewpoints. If anyone can build consensus it seems he can and having control of Congress, albeit by the narrowness of margins, should mean the obstructiveness by the likes of Mitch McConnell is history. 

Readers will be aware of the particular disdain I have for the former Majority Leader, more than borne out in my view by him sitting on his hands regarding Trump's impeachment. Once I eventually got over my anger and disbelief that Republicans had difficulty in just 'doing the right thing', I've taken some delight regarding their position being between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Dump trump and they would surely be 'primaried'- do the right thing and they'd probably lose any election such is the current negative feeling towards the GOP thanks to Trump.

It will be fascinating to watch the inevitable internal battle play out over the coming months and how they can reinvent themselves post-Trump. It all depends on a political calculation over impeachment - daddy or chips? Doing the right thing is not an option it would seem, which brings me neatly to the subject of the media in all this. CNN have recently reported a surge in viewing figures and remain extremely profitable in a field not well known for combining integrity with money-making, as Rupert Murdoch and Fox News have discovered. Hitching their waggon to Trump has landed them in a very tough spot with loyal Trumpers deserting for even more right-wing sites! The loathsome Murdoch has been forced to attempt a bit of rebranding and earnt a stern rebuke from at least one of his children for the media's role in the Big Lie.  

Still on the subject of the media, it was noteworthy that Andrew Marr interviewed CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger on Sunday and cheekily posed the question of the US news media being 'broken'. In response she outlined the initial difficulty of having to call out the lies of a President, but that essentially it was very necessary in terms of integrity. Was it a set-up message to BBC management and the inherent problem posed by a 'balanced' approach in dealing with lying bastards? It was this ongoing feeble BBC insistence on 'equivalence' that drove me off into the arms of CNN essentially in order to maintain sanity. Is Marr unhappy too?

As an aside, I was intrigued to read at the weekend that much of CNN's success has been due to a former BBC veteran who recently passed away. Chris Cramer had been Head of Newsgathering and was recruited in 1996 to run and essentially design CNN International and I suspect much of his ethos of integrity lives on. Continuing the theme, Piers Morgan at GMB continues to wind up government ministers. I notice the video clip of him trying unsuccessfully to get Matt Hancock to say he regrets voting against the extension of free school meals during half term is the most viewed ever at over 30 million!  


Piers took on the Northern Ireland Minister this morning for having no explanation for the UK's largest Covid death rate of any nation. The minister was roundly lambasted for wanting to take credit for favourable world comparisons in relation to vaccinations, but dismissed those for deaths as not being valid. Piers Morgan continues to not let government ministers get away with obfuscation and dissembling each weekday morning Monday to Wednesday and the share of viewing audience is steadily climbing as a direct result.                     

Sunday 17 January 2021

Food For Thought


A colleague I haven't spoken to for some time rang me the other day and we were musing on what the future might have in store for probation in a post-Covid world. Our discussion very much reflected a similar conversation with another colleague of even greater experience. The view was that probation is becoming increasingly irrelevant, a situation hastened by civil service bureaucratic control and the de-personalised effect of Covid operation. Effectively its no longer serving any meaningful and useful purpose and in a post-Covid world of inevitable government spending cuts, its further decline in relevance, begun with separation from a social work base, would see its effective disappearance. 


I now have two friends who have contracted Covid and both became extremely ill, despite both being generally health conscious and neither having underlying health conditions, neither required hospitalization, but both suffered ongoing health ramifications, with one requiring a recent admission to hospital and further tests. The London directors messaging was totally out of kilter with the lived experience of practitioners and the focus on business as usual matters was patronising...the reference to staff expressing "indifference" in the staff survey for simply entering "neither agree or disagree" seemed to discount what a large proportion of staff meant when they entered their answers, and the focus on "recording in delius, reviewing risk registers, updating OASYS" failed to grasp the reality of the lived experience of most practitioners.

I have just found out that my colleague who sits within two meters of me tested positive for coronavirus on the weekend. No one from management informed me or the rest of the team of the potential increased risks. No increased cleaning. Hot desking is a daily occurrence. I have no faith in my employer protecting me. As a result I have had to stop providing care for a relative whom is shielding. There is a perception that as prisons provide opportunities for testing that no other precautions are now needed. I fear raising this issue and being redeployed.

Oh I'm so, so, sorry to hear stressful for you and others involved no doubt. Yes, the fear we all feel raising legitimate concerns is extremely sad and very worrying...why else do we all ensure our comments are anonymous on these blogs? The fear engendered comes from those at the top, who constantly scratch their heads wondering why their staff are so disenchanted, while issuing diktats about recording, CRISSA, OASYS reviews, risk registers, HETE data, with seemingly little care for the people involved, both staff and service users alike.

I am - if I survive it - going to wait till the pandemic is at least on the wane before I make any decision about my future in the Probation Service. I realise that the anxiety and, frankly, despair at what my job has become, might be amplified by Covid anxiety and gloom. All the probation officers in the room I work in are at various stages in this: one has got his early retirement pension forecast, I am asking for mine, and another is actively looking for alternative work. That is over a century of experience looking to walk out of the door at first opportunity. The micromanagement and the utter failure of policy makers to recognise the pragmatic reality of our work is soul destroying. Telling me that the increasing layers of recording and scrutiny are "for my protection if anything - SFO - happens" is so not reassuring.

Your so right so must be nearly 60 to recall those days as I do. Working with modern qualified staff who are POs but really they are nothing much more than over paid typist clerks. Talking to them in supervision they type into the PC while still talking at you. It is not what we know which is why they could never picture returning [to] professional practice. Old lot out soon as.

I'm with you, a post degree CQSW was always, and a 12 month probationary period, a good foundation for learning - oh how this has been diluted. I so remember the broad church of colleagues, some of whom I disagreed with politically but never doubted their integrity, the fountains of knowledge of many SPO's (granted not all) and CPO's willing to challenge govt policy even under Thatcher. I used to respect my management because they welcomed challenge and wanted POs to think outside the box. I am also tired of this but it is not Covid, which I can rationalise but the shit from above 6th.

We are cannon fodder. Frontline so needed at work, "hidden heroes" - thanks for the management clap. But not worthy of a priority jab or a pay rise. Probation in a parlous state: Graylings omnishambles has meant we have attention of policy makers, when actually the mission is much best served when it is off grid. So now we have fuck all resources, and running interference from ambitious fast track numpties in the civil service whose ignorance and ambition will quite possibly snuff out the glimmering embers of what was a valuable service and a joyful place to work.

Why is CRISS crap? Seems reasonable outline for a meeting (Check in, Review, Intervention / Issue, Summarise, Set task). I don't use the same myself in my profession but similar and pursue a collaborative agenda with my clients. It allows for an efficient and focussed use of time.

Great question, but you have to understand the background and context. In principle, the idea of a more structured and focussed way of engagement is not what staff resist....CRISS was initially rolled out via a 3 day training programme, SEEDS, which allowed the time for staff to engage with the material and its rationale.

However, this "way of engagement" quickly got replaced by a "recording convention" - so staff recording exactly what they did and what was said under the various "headings" of check-in, review, implement and so on with prescribed guidance re-designing what CRISS actually means to fit the process of recording. The mantra became "did you record using CRISS" format, "has CRISS been used?", "let's do audits of staff to check if they are recording correctly", irrespective of whether the sessions themselves used that format or how well a session was or was not performed. Staff soon realised they were spending double the amount of time transcribing out their appointments, coupled with organisational diktats from senior managers which essentially said "you MUST use CRISSA in your case recording - it's MANDATORY - we will monitor its use".

Somewhere along the line, the "I" (which was initially "implement the sentence plan"), became "intervention", with managers chucking bundles of 121 worksheets and exercises onto the intranet. The mantra now seems to be "deliver some form of exercise, print out a worksheet, we don't particularly care what it is and for god's sake just, record, record, record".

When you couple the above with other layers of "recording" which have come about over the past few years, you'll get a sense of the hostility CRISS operates within: HETE data, personal circumstances data, professional judgement entries, NSI updating, risk registers, officer diary, OASYS QA standards....all of these require entirely separate processes, within a "case recording system" that is not intuitive, with each entry being in disparate parts of the system, with meaningless "check boxes" which must be filled out each time, otherwise your entry gets rejected. Then of course, couple this with manager's favourite mantra: If you didn't record it, it didn't happen!

You'll see in various posts recently staff referring to themselves as "typist clerks". I see myself as a data entry officiant. The pandemic has brought in this idea that "supervision sessions can only be 15 minutes long", with people scratching their heads as to how that can possibly be meaningful and the organisational response is "we are delivering vital public protection work" which pays no attention to people's lived reality. Lo and behold loads of staff are currently saying "actually, I've noticed some of my people engaging MUCH better on the phone rather than in the office" - no shit sherlock, because you are actually listening to the person and meaningfully responding, one of the most powerful "interventions" known to man, rather than chucking exercise 6.2.9 from "targets for change" in their face.

So please appreciate that staff feel overwhelmed with data entry and data recording, and managers push the data recording agenda aggressively, pandemic or not. Staff's fingers worn to the bone, and meanwhile people have lost a sense of whether any of this has any meaning - does any of this have any impact onto the re-offending rates of the people we are working for.....?

Thank you. That explains the hostility. It must be demoralising. What you describe sounds like you are all very busy achieving very little other than producing a record to be audited.

Well it's not been a real job since we lost social work it's all admin and order now.

I know many social work qualified officers believe DipPs and PQUIP qualified staff have little understanding of 'the real job' but that's simply untrue. I'm DipPs qualified but it was by working with social work trained colleagues that I was inspired to become a PO in the first place. I had then - and retain now - many of the same values as earlier qualified officers, and the notion that I don't do a 'real job', or only do admin tasks is frankly insulting. And it's getting tired. There is much valid discussion of the deskilling of officers but please don't assume that there aren't still staff out here doing the best we can for our clients. It's demoralising to hear those with more experience belittle a job into which many still put a huge amount of work and commitment.

Hello Xxxxx and others....I'm so relieved to hear you have the values and ethics which matter, and hope you are surrounded by trainees who have the same - that is not, however, my experience. I also trained via the DIPS route; as I recall it we (or at least in my area) did training on skills like CBT, solution focussed work, Trotter's working with involuntary relationships, pro-social modelling and the famous "motivational interviewing" - the involvement of the service user in their own "journey" via meaningful sentence plan goals became the bedrock of my day to day sessions; at that time I felt I had a good grounding in skills, with academic background, coupled with 1-2-1 support via a PTA who really encouraged/discussed both my ethos, attitude, skills and I was able to work with a relatively small group of service users whose offence/risk profiles were on the "lower" end of the risk scale...not to mention of course we would write regular PSRs, and built up to more complicated matters towards the end of our 2 year period.

What I find now is that within weeks PQUIPS are suddenly dealing with DV, sex offences, and gangs, with little support and lots of ego.... Sentence plans have become little more than stock phrases about "addressing my drugs use" or "managing my risk", and one to one appointments deliver little meaning other than "monitoring", "interrogating" and "questioning", "checking" they have done certain things, or "referring" them off elsewhere. Is it me, or has probation become little more than a referral and triage service, pushing the person's issues off to another organisation "with more expertise". The ethos of probation training has become about completing wonderfully well written OASYS, marking CRISSA entries, and ensuring "risk is managed"....god forbid that people are encouraged to get to know the wider family unit, involving those individuals in the sentence plan or the person's "journey", or involving the person as their own agent of change.

Please people tell me if I'm wrong, but that's how I see it. Just take a look at the "mandatory" training we are all threatened with sacking if we don't do - what a pile of shite! Did any of the modules on DV, child and adult safeguarding encourage any meaningful supervision sessions, or any of the social work ethos and skills which many of us lament the loss of. Nope! It was all "soundbites" and "acronyms" - we all knew we could pass the test at the end without wasting our time reading the shite which preceded it, and it's this kind of thing (in my view) that angers and belittles the workforce and creates the resentment so palpable on this blog.

The competency of the people is not the issue, but the training ethos very much creates the officers values and ethics.

Saturday 16 January 2021

Voter Fraud

Continuing my 'deep dive' into US politics mostly via brilliant CNN coverage, I was particularly struck by something a Republican said during his recent two minute rant against Trump's impeachment in the House. 

As a long-term veteran of helping to administer Polling Stations here in the UK, my ears pricked-up at hearing an allegation of there being "200 illegal Polling Stations" in one State apparently. That's crazy I initially thought, but then I remembered two things. Firstly, elections are run by each State, so there's 50-odd different sets of procedures. Secondly, I recalled a Ch 4 scoop and investigation last year regarding a most distasteful Republican initiative called 'voter suppression'. Basically, if you can't win the political argument, just find as many ways as you can to stop your opponents from voting. This from the FT last September explains:-      

Voter suppression: America must end this shame

Decentralisation in the federal system plays a key part in preventing certain people from casting their ballots

With this year’s US presidential race entering its final leg, a formidable obstacle to the revolutionary idea of self-governance is rearing its ugly head: voter suppression. 
As current polls suggest a tight contest between incumbent Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden in many swing states, this shameful practice could determine the outcome of the election. 

The decentralisation inherent in the federal system plays a key part in the persistence of efforts to prevent certain people from casting their ballots. The US constitution grants states the responsibility to administer elections. Local jurisdictions take over from there to manage the nuts and bolts of executing an election. 

The scale of decentralisation has created more than 10,000 voting jurisdictions of varying sizes, shapes, and styles. If that sounds overwhelming, it’s because it is. And it’s partly why US policy leaders have, over the years, amended the 233-year-old constitution to provide a handful of federal standards on voting processes. The 15th amendment, for instance, prohibits federal and state governments from denying citizens the right to vote based on race and colour. The 19th amendment does the same thing on the basis of gender. 

But despite these attempts to foster free and fair elections, turnout at US presidential elections is low for a western democracy — 56 per cent in 2016, compared with 87 per cent in Sweden’s 2018 general election and 76 per cent in Germany in 2017. Indeed, the US political system has over time invented alternative measures — such as literacy tests and poll taxes — to disenfranchise “undesirable” (mainly non-white) voters. 

The 1965 Voting Rights Act sought to end such backdoor discrimination practices by mandating federal oversight of electoral processes in jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices. And it succeeded mightily. Between 1964 and 1969, black voter turnout rose from 6 per cent to 59 per cent in the state of Mississippi alone. 

This act was so successful that in 2013 the US Supreme Court decided it was no longer necessary to enforce it, so they gutted it. The ruling in Shelby County vs Holder, rendered the “most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress”, toothless. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — who died this month — described the decision as “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet”.

Her imagery was spot on. Hours after the ruling was finalised, a fresh wave of voter suppression tactics began sweeping the US. Four years after the ruling, black Americans were four times as likely as white Americans to report facing racial discrimination during the electoral process. Latinos were three times as likely and Native Americans twice as likely to report the same. 

Among the most detrimental suppression measures are voter purging, strict identification requirements, and felony disenfranchisement. Some jurisdictions remove people from voter registration lists in the name of “list hygiene”: between 2014 and 2016, more than 17m voters were deleted from registration lists because they had not voted for several years or their names did not exactly match other government records. 

Then there are strict ID requirements, enforced by 36 per cent of states. These sound reasonable to prevent voter fraud, but fail to take account of the 25 per cent of black citizens (against 8 per cent of whites) who don’t have a government-issued photo ID.

Black people also disproportionately lose their right to vote because they are more likely to be arrested and jailed, and more than 95 per cent of states restrict the right to vote for convicted felons. As a result, 7.7 per cent of black Americans against 1.8 per cent of non-blacks have lost their vote. 

While these tactics give the impression of electoral integrity, that is all they provide: a veneer of decency over a racially divided democracy. The great experiment of American democracy, once a glimmer of hope in a world of authoritarian states, is veering towards tyranny. Today, the land of the free ranks 25 out of 165 on the global Democracy Index — a ranking that feeds into a larger global trend. In 2019, the Democracy Index recorded the lowest aggregate score since its inception in 2006. 

The US is 35 days away from a historic presidential election. It has faced trials before and risen to the occasion. Now is the moment for Americans to call on their better angels to bend the arc of history towards inclusion. The world is watching.


Of course we know what happened. Turnout was at an historic high, probably due to Covid related measures being introduced that encouraged 'early' voting and postal ballots. In the case of Georgia and that State's historic 'flip' it was also a result of a long campaign of voter enrolment by the black community thus confirming nation-wide demographic changes. Essentially the Republican Party that mostly represents the white rural population is under increasing pressure from a growing and ethnically diverse urban population. If you can't win the political argument, you either find as many ways as possible to stop them voting, or de-legitimise the whole process and energise a white supremacist mob. 

As a footnote and for those who recall our own difficulties regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the BBC have just concluded serialising extracts from a fascinating book 'How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future' about the history of trying to manipulate elections by using data and it goes back further than you might think. There's a long article by the author Jill Lepore published in the New Yorker last August.   

Friday 15 January 2021

Unrest Within the Ranks

From these contributions late yesterday, I sense feelings are running high within the command and control NPS with London seemingly leading the way:- 

Sorry for any non-NPS London members of staff, but I just had to have a rant about our all staff conference it just me, or was it totally and utterly mis-judged? 

So we had a few soundbites about why we are "Amber" and how we are an essential public service (which I don't disagree with personally); but this was quickly replaced by a commentary about the (very poor) staff survey results which was basically "well X percent says X or Y is positive, everyone else was "indifferent" so they didn't really express an opinion so don't count, and then X percent are really unhappy, so it's all looking good!" 

We then had soundbites about a wonderful "youth to adult transition" service (new??? as someone correctly pointed out this was always the status quo until a few years ago), something about yoga and trauma, something about an office raising money for a foodbank because we have come to expect so little else from our actual government, then a panicky ten minute rant about us delivering "purposeful" supervision sessions, then of course the usual crap about the transition going extremely well, but an acknowledgement that many offices are rat infested flea pits, but we have a business and strategy office, so all will be fine.

Meanwhile the comments section was ON FIRE with staff evidently feeling demoralised, misunderstood and mis heard. The lack of employer care, the vulnerability staff feel within a pandemic, was palpable (and understandable).

I was there too. Misjudged and badly misinformed. London director telling people that staff should not be worried by the "scaremongering of the media". The new variant was just normal behaviour for a virus "like any annual flu". Her incredible interpretation of "the science" was totally at odds with Downing St, BBC, and Chief Medical and Scientific Officers. Really irresponsible to push Business as Usual message without a care for staff. Talk about misreading the room..

Anyone record it? Report it to H&S Exec. Report it to union reps. Let the press get to hear about it, those 'scaremongering media types' would probably enjoy door stepping a pandemic-denier.


This from a recent private communication - not London:- 

"The onslaught of requirements on OMs to jump through management/micro management hoops is staggering. Exhausting and unrealistic. Yesterday saw MORE which looks to supercede or overlay the CRISS crap, with even more work much of which is to do with recording on delius. Plus the backlog of programmes due to Covid is to be solved by OMs doing the work individually on the phone. Not evidence based, not realistic."

Wednesday 13 January 2021

Brand Liability

Before we get back to normal service, I'm not quite done with US politics and particularly upon news that the odious Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConell has apparently decided to belatedly throw Trump under the bus. As his chief enabler for the last five or more years, we're told he's furious, not just for losing him control of the Senate, but for tarnishing his legacy.

With impeccable timing, BBC 2 is currently repeating their excellent four-part documentary series 'Inside Obama's White House' and I have to admit it brings a tear to my eye as I re-live the excitement and hope his election ushered-in. But it also serves to highlight what a shit McConnell is and he must not be allowed to avoid the well-deserved opprobrium coming his way despite his eleventh hour Trump epiphany. This from Robert Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center:-

Who is Worse: Donald Trump or Mitch McConnell?

He’s maybe the most dangerous politician of my lifetime. He’s helped transform the Republican Party into a cult, worshiping at the altar of authoritarianism. He’s damaged our country in ways that may take a generation to undo. The politician I’m talking about, of course, is Mitch McConnell.

Two goals for November 3, 2020: The first and most obvious is to get the worst president in history out of the White House. That’s necessary but not sufficient. We also have to flip the Senate and remove the worst Senate Majority Leader in history.

Like Trump, Mitch McConnell is no garden-variety bad public official. McConnell puts party above America, and Trump above party. Even if Trump is gone, if the Senate remains in Republican hands and McConnell is re-elected, America loses because McConnell will still have a chokehold on our democracy.

This is the man who refused for almost a year to allow the Senate to consider President Obama’s moderate Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland.

And then, when Trump became president, this is the man who got rid of the age-old Senate rule requiring 60 Senators to agree on a Supreme Court nomination so he could ram through not one but two Supreme Court justices, including one with a likely history of sexual assault.

This is the man who rushed through the Senate, without a single hearing, a $2 trillion tax cut for big corporations and wealthy Americans – a tax cut that raised the government debt by almost the same amount, generated no new investment, failed to raise wages, but gave the stock market a temporary sugar high because most corporations used the tax savings to buy back their own shares of stock.

Meanwhile we continue to learn more disturbing aspects of last weeks insurrection and particularly the active involvement of former and serving police and military, together even with Republican representatives! It turns out some have been in the habit of routinely entering Congress with firearms, contrary to Rules (and common sense) but ones never enforced by searches or metal detectors! This situation has been rectified and it's to be hoped the Republican Covid sceptics can be forced to wear masks as well. 

The good news appears to be that 'Big Tech' continues to de-platform the President with YouTube suspending his account, but even more significantly the money is drying up with a rush by corporate America cancelling Republican donations in a spate of shared but late epiphany moments. Trump has even lost his bank of last resort with Deutsche Bank cutting its ties and presumably calling-in its $350million+ loan? 

The Trump brand now looks like it's at last become a liability with his golf clubs losing prestigious tournaments and this is going to hurt him financially. Oh, and then there's the prospect of civil litigation by injured parties affected by the insurrection. The situation is undoubtedly serious, but it's hard not to be in awe of the speed with which Mr Trump, former disgraced President, will face justice and retribution. Apparently he's so angry about not being able to pardon himself, there's not going to be any for his mates either! It would seem Giuliani is going to need a good lawyer after all.      

Monday 11 January 2021

Fight and Flight?

We simply have to talk about this. I don't know that much about Joe Biden, but enough to conclude he's clearly a 'good' guy and it's rapidly becoming very apparent he's going to need every ounce of skill and judgement over the coming months in order to deal with the extremely dangerous aftermath of Trump. Having spent hours glued to CNN over the weekend it's pretty clear Wednesday's assault on Congress with shouts of 'hang Mike Pence', a blood bath was in chilling prospect. 

We learn from the Maryland Governor that right at the outset and urgent appeal for assistance by the Capitol Police, he had mobilised 200 specially-trained and equipped riot teams, together with National Guard units ready for deployment. The trouble was authorisation from the Pentagon was inexplicably delayed for hours whilst Trump watched events unfold on TV. 

There is suspicion that Majority House Whip Jim Clyburn had his anonymous-looking office on the upper levels specifically identified to attackers, thus raising very dark suspicions of where at least some police officers' loyalties really lie. It also seems other public bodies such as the FDNY have already started sharing information with the FBI regarding some of their employees being present at the insurrection. 

All these disturbing revelations simply serve to confirm how deep-rooted racism and fascism has become within American society and hence provided the perfect recruiting ground for Trump. His take-over of the Republican Party, ably assisted by the now suddenly 'woken' big tech, has been a disgrace, but one considerably compounded by a staggering number of lawmakers who still voted against Joe Biden's confirmation, despite many being in a state of shock from the attack. All will now have to face possible House and Senate disciplinary action together with open repugnance from colleagues on both sides of the political divide. Some like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, possibly being held to account under the 14th Amendment Sect 3

Together with the problem of 75 million very disappointed Trump supporters, many of whom are armed to the teeth and have always regarded Washington and Federal Agencies as the enemy, Biden's wish to unite the country is now made significantly more difficult by the urgent and necessary imperative of holding Trump to account. It is said that Vice President Pence is holding the threat of the 25th Amendment in abeyance in order to restrain Trump, whilst Impeachment moves rapidly through the House and if necessary voted upon by Wednesday. 

We are led to believe that passage through the Senate to conviction is much more difficult, but GOP soon-to-be minority Leader Mitch McConell could do the decent thing and expedite the process before January 20th couldn't he? He's been conspicuously quiet since Wednesday though. If not, then the process could be postponed for trial, possibly until after the traditional 100 day milestone thus not hindering the Democrats and Biden from getting to work. Despite Trump having left office it's still necessary of course for many reasons including that of preventing Trump from ever standing for senior public office again. It could also affect his pension entitlement, title and most significantly his place in history as the first President to have been impeached twice and the first to conviction.

Of course now robbed of all access to his social media platforms we don't know for sure what his mood and state of mind actually is right now. It is said he went 'ballistic' when banned permanently by Twitter and that he bitterly regrets making the two 'hostage' videos following events on Wednesday, seemingly under threat of the 25th Amendment being invoked by Pence and a majority of his Cabinet. Apparently Pence and Trump haven't spoken since Wednesday. Decamping to Parlar is getting ever-more difficult and the money is drying up with corporations distancing themselves from Republican donations and payment platforms refusing to facilitate Trump donations. 

So, what will Trump do next? His behaviour so far should have come as no surprise at all because he's signalled it consistently for months and that's going to be very difficult for law enforcement agencies to explain in terms of leaving the Capitol exposed to attack. Trump was desperate to win the election and was never going to admit defeat. He knows his Presidential immunity runs out as soon as he is evicted from the White House and he faces numerous sexual assault allegations, law suits, tax evasion issues, loan repayment demands and now possible criminal investigation and charges for Incitement to Insurrection. The rap sheet is extensive and none of this can be avoided by the unprecedented self-granting of a Pardon, so effectively he's up the proverbial polluted creek with no paddle being obvious. 

The other day I was rash enough to suggest Trump would go to jail. Today I'm going to suggest something even more extraordinary - he's going to flee justice and go into exile. But we know the arms of US justice are long, where could he go both for maximum distance and scope for mischief? Why Russia of course, under Putin's protection and where he would be actively facilitated to continue his promulgation of baseless lies and falsehoods as a de facto President in Exile. Treason? Whatever, clearly an even more dangerous situation not only for domestic security but also world peace and stability involving as it does a disgraced former President in possession of highly classified intelligence. 

Far fetched? No, in fact largely signalled and predicted. The following are extracts from a lengthy article 'Why Trump Can't Afford to Lose' in the New Yorker magazine last November:-  

No American President has ever been charged with a criminal offense. But, as Donald Trump fights to hold on to the White House, he and those around him surely know that if he loses—an outcome that nobody should count on—the presumption of immunity that attends the Presidency will vanish. Given that more than a dozen investigations and civil suits involving Trump are currently under way, he could be looking at an endgame even more perilous than the one confronted by Nixon. The Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said of Trump, “If he loses, you have a situation that’s not dissimilar to that of Nixon when he resigned. Nixon spoke of the cell door clanging shut.” Trump has famously survived one impeachment, two divorces, six bankruptcies, twenty-six accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated four thousand lawsuits. Few people have evaded consequences more cunningly. That run of good luck may well end, perhaps brutally, if he loses to Joe Biden. Even if Trump wins, grave legal and financial threats will loom over his second term. 

Barbara Res, whose new book, “Tower of Lies,” draws on the eighteen years that she spent, off and on, developing and managing construction projects for Trump, also thinks that the President is not just running for a second term—he is running from the law. “One of the reasons he’s so crazily intent on winning is all the speculation that prosecutors will go after him,” she said. “It would be a very scary spectre.” She calculated that, if Trump loses, “he’ll never, ever acknowledge it—he’ll leave the country.” Res noted that, at a recent rally, Trump mused to the crowd about fleeing, ad-libbing, “Could you imagine if I lose? I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country—I don’t know.” It’s questionable how realistic such talk is, but Res pointed out that Trump could go “live in one of his buildings in another country,” adding, “He can do business from anywhere.”

"Mary Trump, like Res, suspects that her uncle is considering leaving the U.S. if he loses the election (a result that she regards as far from assured). If Biden wins, she suggested, Trump will “describe himself as the best thing that ever happened to this country and say, ‘It doesn’t deserve me—I’m going to do something really important, like build the Trump Tower in Moscow.’ ”

The notion that a former American President would go into exile—like a disgraced king or a deposed despot—sounds almost absurd, even in this heightened moment, and many close observers of the President, including Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of Trump’s first best-seller, “The Art of the Deal,” dismiss the idea. “I’m sure he’s terrified,” Schwartz told me. “But I don’t think he’ll leave the country. Where the hell would he go?” However, Snyder, the Yale professor, whose specialty is antidemocratic regimes in Eastern Europe, believes that Trump might well abscond to a foreign country that has no extradition treaty with the U.S. “Unless you’re an idiot, you have that flight plan ready,” Snyder said. “Everyone’s telling me he’ll have a show on Fox News. I think he’ll have a show on RT”—the Russian state television network.

On Election Day, the margin of victory may be crucial in determining Trump’s future. If the winner’s advantage in the Electoral College is decisive, neither side will be able to easily dispute the result. But several of Trump’s former associates told me that if there is any doubt at all—no matter how questionable—the President will insist that he has won. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, told me, “He will not concede. Never, ever, ever.” He went on, “I believe he’s going to challenge the validity of the vote in each and every state he loses—claiming ballot fraud, seeking to undermine the process and invalidate it.” Cohen thinks that the recent rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court was motivated in part by Trump’s hope that a majority of Justices would take his side in a disputed election.

Lawrence Douglas, a professor of law at Amherst College and the author of a recent book on the President, “Will He Go?,” predicted that Trump—whether inside the White House or out—will “continue to be a source of chaos and division in the nation.” Douglas, who is co-editing a textbook on transitional justice, told me that he’s uncomfortable with the notion of an incoming Administration prosecuting an outgoing head of state. “That really looks like a tin-pot dictatorship,” he said. He also warned that such a move could be inflammatory because, “to tens of millions of Americans, Trump will continue to be a heroic figure.” Whatever the future holds, Douglas doubts whether Trump could ever fade away contentedly, as many other Presidents have done: “He craves the spotlight, both because it satisfies his narcissism and because he’s been very successful at merchandising it.” Peaceful pursuits might have worked for George W. Bush, but Douglas is certain of one thing about Trump’s future: “This guy is not going to take up painting his feet in the bathtub.”

The matter was further discussed in this article 'Is President Donald Trump a Flight Risk?' on the Politico website last October 28th and authored by a retired Brigadier General. These are extracts:- 

If Trump loses badly, it is conceivable he could plan a stealth departure sometime during the 11-week period before Inauguration Day, while he still has the protection of legal immunity as a sitting president. Leaving U.S. airspace before he resumes the status of private citizen at noon on January 20 would allow him to escape—or at least delay—dealing face-to-face with many creditors and lawsuits. Classic indicators of preparation for such a move would include fast sales of domestic properties and investments, and a quiet amassing of wealth offshore, out of reach of U.S. authorities. Trump’s family members and trusted corporate staff would likely be heavily involved in orchestrating the relocation.

A chilling alternative, however fanciful, could arise if Trump flees abroad after losing a close, viciously contested election. Hunkered down in a foreign country willing to provide sanctuary, he could conceivably style himself a “president in exile” and incite his die-hard American followers to resist the election results. A degree of domestic upheaval and dangerous division would linger for an extended period until the new administration is able to foster calm and unity.

How might this happen? What methods might a sitting U.S. president use to leave the country on a one-way journey? The choice could be as brazen as not reboarding Air Force One while out of the country at a conference or summit. Cases abound of athletes and artists escaping repressive regimes by refusing to reboard official aircraft and instead negotiating asylum. While on U.S. shores, Trump could find a creative way to slip his Secret Service detail and fly away in a friend’s private jet or foreign aircraft. Sailing away into international waters would also be a plausible option. In 2019, fugitive U.S. computer-security software magnate John McAfee used his yacht to elude the IRS and Securities and Exchange Commission for months until he was arrested in Spain on October 6, 2020. Steve Bannon made news last August when the Coast Guard arrested him while on a foreign yacht off Connecticut.

If all this sounds like a B-grade spy novel, it should. The flight of a U.S. president would be unprecedented, unsettling and profoundly disappointing. As a minimum, a presidential defection would temporarily absorb the resources and attention of a wide range of U.S. defense, intelligence and law enforcement agencies. In more than two centuries of peaceful transfers of presidential power, nothing remotely conceivable like it has ever happened.

I fervently hope we won’t face such a disturbing turn of events. But if there is anything to learn with this president, it is to expect the unexpected. As his unabashed admiration of authoritarian world leaders has shown us these past four chaotic years, Donald Trump values autocrats over democratic government, and places his self-interest well above the sacred trust he was elected to protect and uphold four years ago.

Alarming all this undoubtedly is, at least it should mean Impeachment will proceed to conviction in the Senate, thus affording errant Republican Senators time to repent, albeit at the eleventh hour.