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November, 2018

A unanimous verdict: US pollies can be bribed, if you play it right

Bob McDonnell, with his wife Maureen, left, celebrates his election as governor of Virginia in November 2009. The couple were indicted on corruption charges in January 2014. Photo: New York Times Bob McDonnell, centre, leaves the Supreme Court in April. Photo: New York Times
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Corridors of power: Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin, left, talks to Bob McDonnell during the National Governors Association’s winter meeting in Washington in 2013. Photo: New York Times

Bob McDonnell outside the US Supreme Court in April. He has been cleared by a unanimous verdict of eight justices. Photo: New York Times

Bob McDonnell (with papers) at a conference in Las Vegas in 2012. Photo: New York Times

The Virginia state Capitol in Richmond. There are no restrictions on what gifts family members of Virginia office-holders can accept. Photo: New York Times

Washington: The governor got to drive a Ferrari. He was at the beachside clambake – where they cracked a $US5000 ($6750) bottle of cognac and poured what was left into the fire. And after exclusive rounds of golf he was allowed to blitz the resort store – with his businessman host picking up the tab.

Throw in a Rolex for him; and for the missus, $US20,000 worth of designer dresses from Oscar de la Renta, Louis Vuitton and Bergdorf Goodman, and there’s more than a whiff of corruption – yes?

Hold on – not done yet … a couple of undocumented loans worth $US70,000 from the same businessman, to get the governor and his sister out of a hole on their real estate investments; and another $US50,000 for his wife to buy shares in the businessman’s company?

Do we have a case yet?

Ahem – a few more items.

The businessman pays $US15,000 for the catering at one of the governor’s daughters’ weddings; he ponies up $US10,000 as a wedding gift for a second daughter; and wouldn’t you know it – just as the girls are in a funk over how to get to a bachelorette party in Savannah, Georgia, up pops Mr Businessman with a couple of airline tickets.

There’s a weeklong stay for the whole family at a mountain resort in Virginia – with a $US2300 boat hire thrown in.

We’re talking about Bob McDonnell, the disgraced former Virginia governor, and his relationship with Jonnie Williams, a shyster businessman who wanted the state to wave through approval of a dodgy tobacco extract which he planned to market as an over-the-counter dietary supplement.

In return for gifts totalling $US175,000, McDonnell hosted a lunch at the governor’s mansion to promote the extract – allowing Williams to supply the guest list; in her role as Virginia first lady, his wife Maureen pitched the product at interstate functions; and the governor set up meetings with state officials for Williams.

Put all that before the US Supreme Court and you’d be wrong if you thought the governor and the first lady might soon be behind bars. Incredibly, in a unanimous decision, eight justices found the governor’s conduct to be distasteful – tawdry, even – but illegal? Get out of here!

It happened this week. On Monday, the court threw out McDonnell’s lower court convictions, for which he had been given a two-year jail term; and a lower court  is now expected to overturn the wife’s conviction and set aside her jail term of a year and a day.

Decoding the legal niceties of the ruling, former Obama White House counsel Robert Bauer explained what had just happened – the court was saying that it is not, repeat not, a crime for someone to pay for access to government decisionmakers; “That political favour-seeking fuelled by cash and gifts may well be repellent, but there was only so much the legal system can – or should – do about it.”

The judges’ bizarre logic triggered a wave of indignation – much of which revolved around a notion that it was hardly surprising that politicians and elites were on the nose in the US, if the judiciary was to cover such sleazy behaviour from those entrusted with high office.

Jeffrey Toobin, CNN legal commentator, sensing how the decision might go: “Citizens United let rich people buy candidates; now they may be able to purchase office-holders too.”

Petula Dvorak, in The Washington Post: “The ravenous way he devoured the shiny things dangled before him, the way he refused to acknowledge during the trial that his behaviour was distasteful and the way he publicly degraded his wife during the trial was enough to show he’s guilty, guilty, guilty of moral transgressions far more weighty than those we regulate with law.”

John Nichols, in The Nation: “The Supreme Court essentially just told elected officials that they are free to sell access to their office to the highest bidder – if you want the government to listen to you, you had better be prepared to pay up.” McDonnell ruling has opened up a can of worms that the court did not pay careful attention to. https://t.co/[email protected]— Democracy 21 (@FredWertheimer) June 28, 2016

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, an NGO that campaigns against the power of money in politics: “This ruling opens the door to a ‘pay to play’ culture in government, so long as the gift receiving official does not make a government decision or take an official government action.”

Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division: “The repercussions are massive – this case was a critical test and the court failed.”

The initial McDonnell trial was spectacular on two counts – the un-heroic ease with which the governor threw his wife under the bus, blaming her for much of what befell them; and his insistence that he had done nothing wrong because he enjoyed the same First Amendment protection as did politicians receiving donations, for which their donors expected them to make calls and set up meetings. It followed that if McDonnell was to go down, many, many others would have to go down with him. Our take on the #SCOTUS#McDonnell ruling (we filed an amicus): Disappointing but it has a silver lining. https://t.co/utJvgXEXrN— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) June 27, 2016

Seriously disturbing was a reference in the decision, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, that seemed to accept that many public officials were on the take – and that there was not a lot wrong with this.

He writes: “Conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf, and include them in events all the time” and if the McDonnell conviction was to stand, it would “cast a pall of potential prosecution over these relationships.”

The pivot point in Justice Roberts’ decision was the definition of an “official act”.

Seeming to ignore the power of a governor’s referral within the bureaucracy and an implicit message that whoever he referred should get what they wanted, the chief justice argued that in terms of the gifts being the “quid” part of a quid pro quo, the “quo” had to be a formal official act, which he described in these convoluted terms – “a formal exercise of governmental power that is similar in nature to a lawsuit before a court, a determination before an agency, or a hearing before a committee”.

Invoking the frequent movie scene of the smack of a gavel confirming a decision made, The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson attempted a translation: “In other words, if no gavel is involved, it will probably be hard to prove bribery after this ruling.”

Elaborating on the role of the “conscientious public official”, Justice Roberts explains: “The basic compact underlying representative government assumes that public officials will hear from their constituents and act appropriately on their concerns.”

But who’d have thunk that “acting appropriately” would include the Ferrari ride, glugging $US5000 cognac, the missus getting dolled up in Oscar de la Renta and Louis Vuitton and all those wedding indulgences?

Similarly, who knew that in calling officials in the bureaucracy and giving over the governor’s mansion for a gig that obviously had a commercial purpose, that the governor somehow could be acting officially, in some kind of unofficial way?

And if the bureaucrat to whom McDonnell had referred Williams could promptly dismiss Williams as a quack, why did McDonnell not pause to wonder about the purpose of that avalanche of gifts? And why the couple’s efforts to avoid disclosing them?

DC lobbyist Paul Miller had a bet each way on the court’s ruling – it was the right decision because the McDonnell trials had been a “political witch hunt”; but on the other hand “too many lobbyists and donors are now playing loosey-goosey with things. Bob McDonnell is a smart man – he should have known you don’t take gifts like a Rolex.”

The punchline in all of this is that under Virginia law the governor’s acceptance of the gifts was perfectly legal; less so under federal law – unless, that is, you can convince eight of the brightest legal minds in the country that repeatedly putting your hand in someone else’s pocket is not a crime.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Thon in his side? What do you Maker this new Perth NBA star’s age conundrum?

The yearbook photo purporting to show Thon Maker (bottom right), graduating from the class of 2010.One-time Perth resident Thon Maker had to battle questions over his purported age before he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks last week.
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But the controversy over when the aspiring NBA star was born just won’t seem to go away.

It was reported that several teams passed over Maker in the draft because of age queries – with some believing he may have been as old as 23, rather than 19.

And now new information has surfaced suggesting that speculation might have some truth to it. Photographs have emerged on a reddit thread placing Maker in Aranmore College’s “class of 2010.”

If that was the case and Maker graduated from year 12 in Perth at that time, he would be pushing 23 at the moment. At least one of the fellow students in the profile photographs surrounding Maker is now 23, according to Facebook.

Even if you took a conservative approach and tabbed Maker as graduating in a Year 10 class, that would make him 21.

Maker is considered a raw talent who needs to put on significant bulk to play in the keyway in the NBA and would be an enticing prospect at 19; but perhaps less so if four years older.

Video showing someone leafing through the yearbook would seem to suggest it has not been photographically manipulated.

Aranmore College was unable to shed any light on the situation due to privacy reasons, saying it would not confirm – or deny – the authenticity of the photograph without the “express consent of Thon Maker.”

Maker, who came to Perth as a refugee from Sudan, later moved to Sydney and then the US, where he became an overnight sensation because of a mixtape of the seven-footer showcasing seemingly guard-like skills went viral.

He later moved from the US to Canada, where he was able to prove to the NBA that he had graduated from the Canadian high school system in 2015 – and that he had attended school as a post-graduate student in 2016, by his own choice.

This allowed Maker to become effectively the first high school student to be taken in the first round of the NBA draft since a 2005 change to the league’s collective bargaining agreement placed a ban on prep-to-pro players.

Maker was taken by the Bucks with the 10th pick.

He is not the first sporting star to face questions about his age. Another Canadian “high schooler” Jonathon Nicola was recently found to be 30 rather than 17, while there was speculation in 2014 that Lazio youth soccer player Joseph Minola was 41 and not 17.

Minola later proved his younger age and threatened to sue publications suggesting otherwise.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Sydney Roosters fullback Latrell Mitchell eyes off rare NRL feat for teenagers

Games spree: Latrell Mitchell. Photo: Getty Images Round 17: How the teams match upPhil Gould: Why Blues must win Origin IIIAndrew Webster: Gallen’s true importance to the NRL
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Teenage prodigy Latrell Mitchell will resist any urgings from coach Trent Robinson to be rested even if the Roosters’ faint finals hopes are extinguished, pledging to play every game in his maiden NRL season despite admitting his body is “feeling it”.

Mitchell would have only just scraped past an eligibility clause under former NRL head of strategy Shane Richardson’s blueprint for the future – which recommends that teenagers be prevented from graduating to the top grade until the year they turn 19 – but it hasn’t stopped the Roosters No.1 setting an ambitious goal for the rest of the season.

A rare shining light in an otherwise dismal year for the club, Mitchell said he would convey a desire to play all 24 games in his maiden year after being thrown in the deep end as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s successor. “I was meant to have a week off with my ankle [against the Storm], but I thought, ‘nah, I want to play every game and try to push through it’,” he said. “I made a goal to play every game this year.

“It hasn’t even been a full season and I’m feeling it. It’s tough on the body – and mentally as well. You’re constantly thinking about what your job is and what you need to do for the boys. It’s hard, but good at the same time. And it’s what you work hard for. When I started I jumped straight into fullback and didn’t know what I was doing. It was a massive step from being a 20s fullback and then straight into first grade.

“I’ve learnt a lot each week – just sitting down with [Anthony] Minichiello and Robbo – it’s about the little details. Every week I’m getting better and better at what I want to do and my job as well.”

The 19-year-old made use of the Roosters’ bye week to return to Taree and the school where his father Matt works, visiting old schoolmates who were in grades below him before he headed to Sydney. “Hopefully it puts a little goal in their head and shows what you can achieve in life,” Mitchell said. “Going back it keeps me grounded. My mother and father [keep me in check].”

NSW winger Blake Ferguson will return to the Roosters fold on the wing after State of Origin duties, but the hosts are not expecting Boyd Cordner to recover for the clash with the in-form Bulldogs at Allianz Stadium on Thursday night.

The Roosters need to win nine of their last 10 matches to even harbour a slight hope of reaching the finals and will welcome back Mitchell Pearce. “With Mitchell back, this is probably one of the strongest sides they have fielded this year – all bar Boyd Cordner – they are coming off the bye and they should be pretty fired up,” Hasler said.

“I imagine Mitchell will want to play as much football as he can. Any rugby league player is at their happiest when they are playing footy and he will want to get out there and make every minute count.”​

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Mayso’s on top with tight win

Mayso’s Pro Shop have gone to the head of the men’s basketball competition after beating Lawson Park 56-53 in the top of the table clash last week at the PCYC.
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It was a tight contest from the opening tip off until the final sirenwith neither able to dominate at any time during the match.

Six triples highlighted the first period, three from Jordan Woolmer and one to Chris Spinner for Lawson Park, Peter Mayson hitting one for Mayso’s Pro Shop.

Despite this, only three points separated themat the end of the first three quarters, Lawson Park taking the first 21-18, Mayso’s the second14-11, Lawson Park the third 13-11.

The decisive final quarter began with Mayso’s down by three points, but, slowly, inexorably, theytook control, and it was at this period of the match that Lawson Park lost the battle for the boards with their two big men, Clinton Wilkie and Matt Purtell missing.

For most of the match, Spinner, Woolmer, Justin Howden and Graham Gee had shared the honours with the pro Shop quartet of Peter Mayson, Dave Jessiman, Adam Keightley and Dean Saxby, but as the final quarter unfolded, Mayso’sdominatedthe reboundsto finally share the lead.

A Justin Howden triple gave Lawson Park breathing space, but two free shots from Keightley quickly erased the lead, and once again the game was in the balance.

A triple play from Keightley eased Mayso’s ahead, but this was quickly wiped out by a three pointer from Woolmer.

Three bonus shots from Mayson hit the markand with just seconds remaining, Lawson Park could not find a triple to tie, Mayso’s Pro Shop edging to a hard fought win by three points.

Country Physio were given a fright by the improving Purple Cobra before holding on to win 49-41.

Country Physio held a comfortable 28-17 lead at half time, and looked to be cruising to victory.

Purple Cobra struck back in the third quarter and shared the points 9 all, but were still trailing by eleven points.

Cobras kept hacking away at their opponents lead in the final periodbut their slow start proved their undoing with Country Physio holding their nerve to take the match by eight points.

Desperados had no trouble with a four man Ghost Squad line up to win 63-47.

With a 31-15 advantage at half time, Desperados were in the box seat, and although Ghost Squad outscored them 17-10 in the third quarter, Desperados put their foot downagain in the finalperiodfor a 16point victory.

Crystal Clear Rams had no problems with a four man Eltons Hairy Globetrotters winning easily 60-32.

The Rams led 19-9 at quarter time, 31-17 at half time and 47-21 at the final break.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.