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Ephemeral messages remove scrutiny from government

The writer is president of Digital Preservation Coalition and author of ‘Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack’

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library is a remarkable sheet of paper written in the 1660s. It contains an exchange of private messages between King Charles II and his chief minister, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon. The document contains the handwriting of the two men as they play out a tetchy exchange concerning the British monarch’s costs, which Clarendon was struggling to contain.

“I would willingly make a visit to my sister at Tonbridge for a night or two at farthest,” states the king, “when do you think I can I can best spare the time?” Clarendon, with an eye to the cost, replies with a suggestion, adding “I suppose you will go with a light trayne.” The king’s answer is simply that “I intend to take nothing but my night bag.” Clarendon is incensed by this provocative understatement: “God, you will not go without 40 or 50 horse.” The royal put down is epic in its haughty brevity: “I counte that parte of my night bag.”

Today’s private messages of those in the inner echelons of state affairs are vastly more ephemeral than those of their 17th-century predecessors. This sheet of paper found its way into the Bodleian where it can be studied alongside the other “state papers” collected by Clarendon, but it could easily have been lost or destroyed.

The advent across the world of encrypted communications that can be readily used via smartphones leaves the historians of tomorrow with a huge gap. Even more urgently, it leaves the work of officers of the state, whether ministers, senior civil servants or special advisers, unable to be scrutinised by the public who they are employed to serve.

In the UK, the Public Records Act of 1958 was intended to serve the people both now and in the future by preserving records that document the policies and actions of the central government, including those that illustrate the process of developing policy and legislation and the structures and decision-making processes in government.

The mode of communication in government has already shifted to the digital realm, and the use of such technologies should be a matter of concern for all members of the public whatever their political persuasion. They include services like Snapchat and Signal, where messages auto-erase, being designed originally for teenagers who did not wish to have their private messages hanging around on their phones to be discovered by parents.

Today, the systems of recalcitrant youths have been adopted by senior government officials and politicians. This trend was spotted by Dominic Grieve (then a Conservative MP), prompting him last year to table a motion before the House of Commons that the Queen be requested to direct ministers to disclose to the House all correspondence and other communications “to, from or within” the administration relating to the prorogation of parliament before the Brexit deadline.

Mr Grieve specified that this

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Can Pelosi Invoke 25th Amendment To Remove Trump From White House? What The Law States, How It’s Implemented

KEY POINTS

  • President Trump has been given two experimental treatments and a powerful steroid to treat COVID-19
  • Pelosi questioned Trump’s recent behavior, saying he appears to be in an “altered state”
  • Trump responded, calling Pelosi crazy

Democratic lawmakers say they are concerned about President Donald Trump’s mental state following treatment for COVID-19 and introduced legislation Friday to create a commission to determine if the president is fit for office under the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The discussion comes just 24 days before the Nov.3 election.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said there never has been a good time to set up the commission but the current situation has focused everyone’s attention.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denied this is just another attempt by Democrats to go around the voting process.

“This is not about President Trump. He will face the judgment of voters. But he shows the need to create a process for future presidents,” Pelosi said.

The 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967 to clarify the process, and though it calls for such a commission, one never was set up.

Historically, the practice has been for the vice president to succeed to the nation’s highest office, if the president was out of the picture.

George H.W. Bush became acting president in July 1985 while Ronald Reagan underwent a colonoscopy, but not when Reagan was shot in 1981. Richard Cheney became acting president in June 2002 and July 2007 while George W. Bush underwent colonoscopies. In all three cases, the president sent letters to the speaker of the House and president pro tem of the Senate, making the appointments. Subsequent letters then were submitted rescinding the appointments.

The last time a vice president succeeded to the presidency due to the death of a president was 1963 when Lyndon Johnson became president after John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

If the vice president and majority of the president’s cabinet determine the president is unable to perform the duties of office, they can issue a declaration and transfer power to the vice president.

Pelosi Thursday said the president appears to be “in an altered state right now,” citing the powerful steroid dexamethasone he was prescribed to treat COVID-19. The steroid is known for causing aggression, irritability and interference with thought processes. She also mentioned Trump bragging about the medications he was given, all of which still are undergoing evaluation.

Trump responded by calling Pelosi crazy.

Pelosi cited Trump’s tweet Tuesday ordering an end to stimulus negotiations while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted he had stopped going to the White House in August because he was dissatisfied with the precautions being taken against spread of the coronavirus.

This is not the first time invoking the 25th Amendment has come up during Trump’s presidency. The New York Times reported former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggested it two years ago during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The order of succession is laid out by the Presidential Succession Act of 1947:

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Indonesia’s civil society petitions to remove health minister Terawan over his handling of Covid-19 pandemic, SE Asia News & Top Stories

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – A coalition of civil society groups, academics and social organisations has started an online petition urging Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to fire Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto for his alleged incompetence in handling the worsening Covid-19 pandemic.

“We think that Terawan Agus Putranto has failed to carry out his duties in handling the pandemic as health minister,” the coalition wrote in a petition filed through change.org.

“Therefore, we demand that President Jokowi dismiss Terawan from his position as health minister and replace him with someone more competent.”

The petition was started on Wednesday (Oct 30) by the National Network on Domestic Worker Advocacy (Jala PRT), the head of students’ executive board of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN Jakarta) Sultan Rivandi, the head of the University of Indonesia’s Student Executive Body (BEM UI) Manik Marganamahendra, Irma Hidayana of Lapor Covid-19 (Report Covid-19) community and Supinah as a labour representative.

As of Monday, more than 6,000 people have signed the petition.

“From the beginning, the minister has taken the pandemic lightly. He has not been serious in handling (the pandemic). He is also unable to overcome issues such as protecting health workers and containing the spread of Covid-19,” the petition said. According to the World Health Organisation, as of Monday, Indonesia ranks 22nd among the countries with the highest rate of Covid-19 infections, only second to the Philippines in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia also has one of the highest death tolls in Asia, with 11,151 deaths.

The country recorded 303,498 Covid-19 cases as of Saturday.

In September, Amnesty International also listed Indonesia among the countries with the highest estimated numbers of health workers who have died from Covid-19.

Calls for Terawan’s removal have been made as early as March when another civil society coalition consisting of human rights watchdogs KontraS and Amnesty International Indonesia, among other groups, said he had “an arrogant and antiscience attitude”.

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