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    American rule of law is vanishing at the tips of Trump-appointed judges’ pens | Moira Donegan

    Donald Trump stole thousands of classified documents when he left the White House in 2021, according to prosecutors, and shoved them in unsecured areas around the tacky Florida golf club where he lives. He kept them in basements, bathrooms and ballrooms; they were often unlocked, accessible to anyone who happened to wander by, as dozens or hundreds of people do, every day, at Mar-a-Lago. Trump refused to return the documents when asked; he also lied about what he had.On at least one occasion in 2021, he was recorded showing off one of the classified documents to a visitor, apparently for the sake of his own aggrandizement. “It is like highly confidential. Secret,” Trump said to the man, who was not authorized to see the information. “See, as president, I could have declassified it. Now, I can’t, but this is still a secret.”Aileen Cannon, a US district court judge in Florida whom Donald Trump appointed during his last year in office, has done everything in her power to make sure Trump is never held accountable for the theft of the documents. Since the special counsel Jack Smith’s case – widely considered to be the most legally airtight of the several criminal prosecutions against the former president – was formally assigned to Cannon in June 2023, she has often acted as if she was a member of the defense team; denying routine motions from the prosecutors, antagonizing Smith and his team personally, and dragging on the proceedings in endless rounds of briefings and delays, all surely meant to postpone the case until after Trump retakes the White House.On Monday, she dismissed the case entirely, throwing out all the document-related charges against Trump. Her purported reasoning? That special counsels such as Jack Smith are unconstitutional. Smith signaled that he plans to appeal the decision.Cannon’s ruling flies in the face of decades of precedent, going back to the Watergate era, wherein courts, including the US supreme court, have repeatedly reaffirmed the constitutionality of special counsels and their appointments. But although Cannon wears a robe, she is not interested in the law, which is a mere pretext for her bald effort to advance and protect Trump’s interests. She is not a judge any more than the man who works at the mall every December is Santa Claus. She has the trappings and the power, but none of the expertise, none of the obligations and none of the shame.Cannon’s dismissal of the Trump documents case was predictable: the prosecution, widely considered to be doomed, came at the end of months of strategic moves on her part meant to provide Trump maximum leeway to message publicly about the case, and minimum threat to his electoral process. When Trump lied about the FBI raid on his home, saying that it was a plot on his life orchestrated by the Biden administration, Smith, fearing violence and public misperception, asked for a gag order. Both the sensitivity of the case and the egregious danger posed by Trump’s conduct should have made it an easy call; but Cannon denied it, allowing Trump to continue lying about the raid.At one point during preliminary proceedings, Cannon outright refused to let prosecutors see the documents that had been seized from Mar-a-Lago, a move that prompted a reversal and rare rebuke from the appeals court above her, Atlanta’s 11th circuit. That 11th circuit warning seems to have prompted the first instance in which another federal judge urged Cannon to recuse herself from the case. It would not be the last.Cannon’s single-handed nullification of the classified documents case demonstrates the core problem with what has been, until now, the dominant theory of how to hold Trump accountable for his crimes: with the law. Increasingly, it seems prosecutions in the federal courts are a futile exercise when it comes to the former president. And that’s because the courts are packed with Republican partisans, Trump appointees and personal Trump loyalists, and large numbers of other right-leaning judges who aim to use their seats to roll back the social progress of the past century, further Trump’s authoritarian agenda, and shield him permanently from consequence. To the extent that they are controlled by these actors, the federal courts will never provide a check to Trump’s power. They will only augment it.This reality was underscored on 1 July. The supreme court’s last decision of the term, Trump v United States, created, out of thin air, a vast and near-absolute immunity from criminal prosecution that the court’s conservative justices say applies to presidents – or, at least, applies to their favorite former president.That decision stemmed from another of Smith’s prosecutions, in the January 6 case; in his concurrence, Justice Clarence Thomas, writing alone, signaled that he thought that perhaps special counsels such as Smith might not be legal after all. It was less like a real, considered legal position than like a set of instructions for Cannon: throw the documents case out on these grounds. Her argument mirrors Thomas’s; she took her marching orders straight from the top.The 11th circuit is likely to reverse Cannon’s dismissal, and it’s possible that Smith will get a chance to re-file his charges – possibly in Washington, closer to the site of the original illegal conduct, which will have the benefit of permanently removing his case from Cannon’s court. But the case will not be heard before the election, and so it may never be heard at all.Even prosecuting Trump might turn out to offer little more than a delay of the inevitable: the complicity of the courts in Trump’s criminality reveals an institutional rot that even locking him up would not solve. If the courts cannot hold the president accountable – or rather, if they choose to exempt one man from their authority, and instead bend themselves to his will – what, exactly, is the check on the presidency? How can a powerful criminal be held to account? Where does the rule of law apply, and where does it vanish?We have at least one answer: the rule of law vanishes at the tip of a Trump judge’s pen.

    Moira Donegan is a Guardian US columnist More

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    China suspends nuclear talks with US over arms sales to Taiwan

    China has suspended talks over arms control and nuclear proliferation with the US in protest against arms sales to Taiwan, the democratically governed island aligned with Washington that China claims as its own territory.The decision, announced by China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday, halts the early nuclear-arms talks in a period of growing tensions between China and the US, with both US presidential candidates calling for increased trade restrictions and efforts to contain Chinese influence in east Asia.The US is Taiwan’s main international partner and largest arms supplier. The House of Representatives in June approved $500m in foreign military financing for Taiwan to strengthen military deterrence against China, along with $2bn in loans and loan guarantees. The US also approved $300m in spare and repair parts for Taiwan’s F-16 fighter jets.China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said that the US had continued to sell arms to Taiwan despite “strong Chinese opposition and repeated negotiations”.He added: “Consequently, the Chinese side has decided to hold off discussion with the US on a new round of consultations on arms control and nonproliferation. The responsibility fully lies with the US.”Lin said China was willing to maintain communication on international arms control, but that the US “must respect China’s core interests and create necessary conditions for dialogue and exchange”.In response, the US state department spokesperson, Matthew Miller, accused China of “following Russia’s lead” by holding arms control negotiations hostage to other conflicts in the bilateral relationship.“We think this approach undermines strategic stability, it increases the risk of arms-race dynamics,” Miller told reporters.“Unfortunately, by suspending these consultations, China has chosen not to pursue efforts that would manage strategic risks and prevent costly arms races, but we, the United States, will remain open to developing and implementing concrete risk-reduction measures with China.”China is estimated to have 500 nuclear warheads, but the US department of defence expects Beijing to produce more than 1,000 by 2030. The US and China held arms talks in November for the first time in five years and discussed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and other nuclear security issues, as well as compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention, and outer space security and regular arms control, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.Donald Trump has signalled that US support for Taiwan may come with a higher price tag in the future, and has dodged questions on whether the US would defend Taiwan in the case of an invasion by China.“Taiwan should pay us for defence,” Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “You know we’re no different than an insurance company.”The Republican vice-presidential candidate, JD Vance, has signalled strong support for Taiwan, saying that US backing of Ukraine has diverted Washington’s attention from providing arms to Taiwan in case of a conflict. More

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    Yes, Joe Biden’s mind is a problem. So is his cold heart towards Palestinians | Ahmed Moor

    Attention has rightly been focused on Biden’s cognitive lapses – the incomplete sentences, the trailing thoughts, the obvious gaps in coherence. The spectacle, which has been obvious to anyone who isn’t a Democratic party surrogate or a diehard party member, has been astonishing to witness. The images of Giorgia Meloni seemingly redirecting Biden at the meeting of the G7, or his frozen visage as Jill Biden sought to drum up enthusiasm for his candidacy, or Barack Obama guiding him off a stage, or his rigid dancing during a Juneteenth celebration have caused many to ask about Joe Biden’s physical fitness and ability to hold the highest office in the land.Yet, in calling for Biden to step back from running a second time, some Democrats have described the president as “decent” and “a good man”. The opposite is true.Biden has enabled a ghastly genocide, the starvation of children in Palestine, and his legacy is defined by it. Unfortunately, his record before Palestine also puts the lie to the “decency” myth. His enthusiasm for the Iraq war and the savage destruction of Lebanon in 1982 illustrate his poor judgment and ethical lapses on foreign policy. His opposition to federally mandated desegregation busing, his lazy plagiarism, and his sexist treatment of Anita Hill, a Black woman who was allegedly sexually harassed by the supreme court justice Clarence Thomas, do not comprise a record of decency either.Donald Trump is a dangerous man. In his first term he employed cartoonishly bad people. Steve Bannon, a criminal and an Islamophobe; Jared Kushner, whose primary achievement appears to have been transmuting an inscrutable role in the White House into a $2bn investment from the Saudis in 2021 and John Bolton, who lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to propel this country into war, all “served” him as president. This time around, we should reasonably expect more of the same. Or maybe worse.Democrats are right to fret – and, to use the illustrative if childish metaphor favored by the Biden campaign – to wet their beds at the prospect of another meeting between Trump and Biden. The president’s decline is alarming many Democrats. Trump, by contrast, presents as someone who is a little more alert, but is self-indulgent and undisciplined. He comes across as a peevish, unimaginably rich man, who has been so wealthy for so long, whose money has insulated him from the consequences of his actions for so long, whose primary company is sycophantic, that he chooses to rant incoherently. If there is something wrong with his brain, it may be attributable to the long-term effects of money on cognition.Another Trump-Biden debate is scheduled for 10 September, and, if he remains the Democratic candidate, there is no reason to believe that Biden will fare any better. While cognitive decline is highly mediated by personal characteristics, it does not get better with time; age is age. Today, Biden is unable to meet the challenge posed by Trump – not cognitively, and not ethically.The argument for replacing Biden was strong as soon as his first “bear hug” embrace” of the “insufferably arrogant” war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu caused him to lose voters in Michigan, an indispensable swing state. And it has grown stronger in the wake of the disastrous July debate. It seems reasonable to believe the polls: Americans will not vote for someone who cannot plausibly hold a regular job to the office of the presidency.Before the debate, it seemed likely that enough Americans would not vote for someone who actively abetted a genocide, who openly regarded Palestinian lives with contempt, and who cast an entire generation of college students and young people as antisemites and miscreants, to produce a Trump presidency. But politics is dynamic – and presaged does not mean prescribed.Biden’s poor performance during the debate with Trump may act as an unexpected opportunity for Democrats. Because far from being “a good man” – as Nicholas Kristof, who has spent time documenting aspects of the Israeli genocide, has nonetheless called Biden – Biden’s ethical failures have always been an albatross. He was poised to lose the election even before the debate – an argument that his supporters were able to successfully withstand, primarily by browbeating the realists in the party. But now, with his mental decline so evident, those who seek a different candidate can argue forcefully that he is unfit.The Democrats do not have to lose this election to Donald Trump. The country, and the world, does not have to contend with another four years of incoherence and ineptitude. As the French election – which saw the Palestine-supporting New Popular Front win a shock victory – shows: the best way to beat the far-right is a strong and principled left.This race is salvageable. To win, the Democrats must jettison one bad, ailing man. And find someone decent to take his place.

    Ahmed Moor is a writer, activist and co-editor of After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine More

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    Ohio voters hope son of soil JD Vance will ‘do something good for us’

    For many in Middletown, Ohio, JD Vance is better-known as a bestselling author and hit Hollywood movie subject than a politician who on Monday was propelled into the political big time as Donald Trump’s vice-presidential pick.Amanda Bailey moved into Vance’s grandmother’s house, the home in which Vance was mostly raised, 18 months ago. Since then, she’s been dealing with a steady stream of curious passersby inspired by Vance’s 2016 autobiography, Hillbilly Elegy, and the 2020 film of the same name, driving by and taking photos of the house.Bailey, who works at a local hardware store, admits she’s not entirely up to speed with Vance’s policy positions.“I hope he’ll do something good for us, and I think he will,” she says.Her thoughts are echoed by Jerry Dobbins, who has lived three doors down the street for the past 31 years. Dobbins says his memories of Vance’s family are mainly of the vice-presidential candidate’s grandmother, Bonnie, who mostly raised JD and his sister, Lindsay.“Bonnie was a tough bird. She was just a strong woman from Kentucky,” he says.But there’s a reason Bailey, Dobbins and a number of other Middletown residents say they are not especially concerned by Vance being rocketed into the political mainstream without much in the way of experience – it’s because they have complete faith in the person who picked him: Donald Trump.“I like Trump,” says Bailey. “And I think they’ll do a lot of good work together.”“Trump’s not a politician. He’s a businessman,” says Dobbins, who worked as a fabricator at a nearby aerospace company before retiring. “When Trump got in [in 2016], things started looking better economy-wise, business-wise. I don’t think he can be beat [in November].”The Middletown Vance was raised in is not unlike the dozens of other left-behind communities in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and beyond, where Trump’s particular brand of politics and rhetoric has found favor. In Butler county, which encompasses most of Middletown and several satellite towns of Cincinnati, Trump beat Biden by 24 points in the 2020 election.Like thousands of others, Vance’s family were lured from Appalachia to Ohio by the promise of work at Middletown’s many paper and steel mills that for much of the 20th century dominated the region’s economy.And as with dozens of other rust belt towns, Middletown’s economy shrank due to industrial offshoring that began in the 1970s, giving rise to job losses and the ravages of the opioid epidemic that endure today.It’s these ills, which the 39-year-old Vance has blamed on Joe Biden, immigrants and China, that he has used to craft a so-far successful political career. Despite these claims, the Biden administration has invested billions of dollars in the midwest, while immigrants have helped stem population decline in many towns and cities.For longtime Middletown residents Bev and Tom Pressler, Vance’s lack of political experience may even be an advantage.“I think the young blood is good. We need some younger politicians running the country,” says Tom. “Obama got in and he wasn’t all that old, and he didn’t have all that experience. Trump didn’t have all that experience and I think he did excellent.”For Bev Pressler, a 62-year-old resident, Vance has worked hard to get where he is today.“If you saw the movie and read the book, he was trying to get into these schools, he was trying to pull his mom out of drug addiction, his family depended on him,” she says.But not everyone in Middletown thinks Vance’s meteoric rise to the forefront of US politics is a good thing.“He has a legislative legacy of zero achievements, especially lacking any meaningful support for Ohioans,” says Kathy Wyenandt, the chair of the Butler county Democratic party.“Vance is willing to change his beliefs at any time for the sake of amassing power … he is an out-of-touch millionaire and political shapeshifter who is wrong for Ohio, and wrong for our country.”Although Vance launched his political career in the US Senate with a campaign rally at a steel manufacturer in Middletown in July 2021, locals say they haven’t seen much of him since then.“What concerns me more than anything is that, at Senator Vance’s age, he is able to take the Maga agenda and to see it out far beyond even Trump’s time, if he were to get re-elected,” says Scotty Robertson, a pastor who has lived in Middletown for seven years.“Those policies are so destructive to our country and to Middletown. We’re talking about potentially ending social security and Medicare as we know it, continuing to roll back voting rights and ensuring that large segments of our population find it extremely hard to even vote. We’re talking about supporting policy that allows the president to essentially do whatever he or she chooses without any kind of accountability.”Still, for Debbie Dranschak, who with her husband runs the White Dog Distilling Company on Middletown’s Central Avenue, that’s not enough of a reason not to vote for his running mate in November.“I don’t know him, I don’t know his politics, but I’m glad Trump picked him,” she says. “Biden is just too old. He needs to get out. I grew up Democrat, but it’s about who is going to do the best for the country.”For Chad Sebald, an audio engineer, Vance has been unfairly labeled by some locally as a “class traitor” – someone who leaves behind the people they grew up with in search of better opportunities elsewhere.“Knowing his history, he came from nothing. He did what just about anybody in Middletown would do – he got out. I can’t blame the guy for getting out of here,” says Sebald, who also plans to vote for Trump in November.However, for a few minutes on the same street Vance was raised, the kind of dangerous, racist rhetoric that many say Trump has fueled over the years was in full view on Monday afternoon.As a local TV news car pulled up to interview residents, a man wearing a T-shirt with the word “freedom” written on it emerged from a nearby home angrily asking the car and its occupants to leave.“JD Vance is a race traitor,” he yells. Vance’s wife, Usha, is the daughter of immigrants from India. “Fuck that motherfucker.” More

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    Biden touts record in NBC interview – but the doubts won’t go away

    In the shadow of the Republican national convention in Milwaukee, where Donald Trump officially became the party’s nominee, days after surviving an attempt on his life, Joe Biden was still confronting a question he thought he’d answered: will he be the Democratic nominee in November?“1,000%” the president said in an interview with Complex’s Chris “Speedy” Morman, which aired on Monday. So the president would remain the party’s standard-bearer, Morman asked? “Unless I get hit by a train, yeah,” Biden replied.The interview was recorded before a would-be assassin shot at Trump during a rally in western Pennsylvania on Saturday, bloodying his ear and killing one spectator. In the roughly 36 hours that followed, the presidential contest was suspended, as Biden returned to the White House to lead a nation rattled by the shocking act – the latest ugly episode in a rising tide of political violence.Biden condemned the attack as “sick”. He called Trump to check in on him and let him know he and the first lady were praying for him. Then, on Sunday, Biden addressed the nation from the Oval Office, pleading with Americans in a heartfelt speech to “lower the temperature”.The moment played to Biden’s strengths – the healer-in-chief, offering himself once again, as he did four years ago, as a compassionate leader determined to overcome political tribalism. But on Monday, as Biden returned to a campaign trail transformed by the attack, he faced many of the same doubts and weaknesses that have dogged his re-election campaign since the start.“I’m old,” Biden conceded in an interview with NBC News’s Lester Holt, that took place and aired on Monday. “But I’m only three years older than Trump, number one. And number two, my mental acuity has been pretty damn good. I’ve gotten more done than any president has in a long, long time in three and a half years. I’m willing to be judged on that.”Though the dramatic turn of events appeared to have momentarily quieted calls for Biden to step aside, Democrats still harbored deep reservations about their nominee’s viability. Since his disastrous debate performance against Trump last month, Biden, asked by Holt if he was ready to “get back on the horse, insisted he was already “on the horse,” having held nearly two dozen campaign events as well as an hour-long press conference at the conclusion of the Nato summit, where he held forth on foreign policy.But many of the verbal miscues and stumbles remain, only now they are scrutinized and amplified as observers search for evidence of decline. Yet the president has remained steadfast. Asked what he would do if he had another poor performance, the president insisted it wouldn’t happen again. And when pressed on who was helping him make the decision about whether to stay in the race, Biden replied: “Me.”The interview aired as prominent Republicans took the stage in Milwaukee, exuding a sense of confidence and resolve to win in November. The attempt on Trump’s life, and his preternatural instinct to raise a fist and shout “Fight!” to his supporters as Secret Service agents rushed him offstage, appeared to have unified and energized the Republican rank and file in attendance. Further exciting Republicans, Trump revealed his choice of running mate – the Ohio senator JD Vance – on Monday, hours after a judge he appointed during his presidency dismissed the classified documents case against him.In the evening, Trump made his first public appearance since Saturday’s attack, drawing thunderous applause when he arrived at the convention hall with a bandage on his ear. The former reality TV star-turned-president pumped his fist, as country singer Lee Greenwood sang God Bless the USA from the main stage.Polls show a close race – “essentially a toss-up” Biden said in his interview. But voters say they trust Trump more on the economy and immigration, two top issues. Biden holds the advantage on reproductives rights, and his campaign on Monday said it plans to make Vance’s support for abortion bans a central theme.Asked how the attempted assassination changed the race, the president told Holt: “I don’t know. And you don’t know either.”The president on Monday departed for Nevada, a battleground state he won in 2020, that appears to be slipping out of reach. There he will hold events in Las Vegas aimed at mobilize Black and Latino voters who are critical to his electoral coalition. On Tuesday he will deliver remarks at the 115th NAACP national convention, followed on Wednesday by remarks at the UnidosUS Annual Conference. He will also sit for two more national interviews with Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Univision radio.Biden has also faced heavy criticisms from Palestinian and Arab Americans who say his unyielding support for Israel enabled its 10-month war in Gaza, which has killed more than 37,000 people. His interview with Morman, recorded last week in Detroit, home to a large, diverse Arab American community, likely did little to address their concerns. In it, Biden claimed that he was “the guy that did more for the Palestinian community than anybody,” pointing to his administration’s efforts to secure more humanitarian aid into Gaza.Reassembling the diverse coalition that helped elect him in 2020 rests in part on reminding Americans why they voted Trump out of office in the first place.“I’m not the guy that said, ‘I want to be a dictator on day one.’ I’m not the guy who refused to accept the outcome of the election,” Biden told Holt, who pressed the president on whether he regretted casting Trump as “an existential threat” to American democracy in light of Saturday’s attack. Biden was again defiant, vowing not to shy away from delivering sharp critiques of his rival.“How do you talk about the threat to democracy, which is real, when he says things like he says?” he said, referring to Trump. “Do you just not say something because it may incite somebody?”Biden has said the contest was a choice between two starkly different visions of America and its future. But many Democrats remain still torn over whether he is the best messenger to lay out that contrast.In his interview with Morman, the president attempted to do just that. After touting his own record of bipartisan accomplishments, he was asked to name one thing he thought Trump would succeed at should his opponent win a second term.“I’m not being facetious,” Biden said. “I can’t think of a single thing.” More