Later On

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Archive for January 29th, 2017

President Trump’s Immigration Order is a “Muslim Ban”

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Kevin Drum lays it out in detail. Worth reading. From the post:

Article 1:In late 2015, Trump explicitly called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Article 2: Trump subsequently tasked Rudy Giuliani with developing his immigration policy. On Saturday Giuliani told Fox News that “when he first announced it he said Muslim ban,” but Trump then called and said, “Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.” This strongly suggests that Giuliani’s job was to find something that was effectively a Muslim ban without explicitly mentioning Muslims.

Article 3: According to Giuliani, the “right way to do it legally” was to focus on “areas of the world that create danger for us.” There are several plausible possibilities here. The most obvious one is to ban entry from residents of countries that have been designated as state sponsors of terrorism. However, that includes only three countries (Iran, Sudan, Syria). Alternatively, the State Department has a list of terrorist safe havens. But this includes places like Egypt, Pakistan, the Philippines, Colombia, Malaysia, and Lebanon, which the Trump administration apparently didn’t want to include. Another possibility is countries that have been the site of major terrorist attacks. However, according to the Global Terrorism Database, in 2014-15 this included several majority-Christian countries (Nigeria, Ukraine, Kenya), several US allies (Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan) and excluded several countries that Trump has specifically called out (Iran, Libya).

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After exhausting these obvious possibilities, Giuliani’s team finally dug up the far-from-obvious list of places that have been designated as “countries of concern” under the Visa Waiver Act. Conveniently, this includes seven countries that are collectively 97 percent Muslim, but none of which are sensitive US allies.

Article 4: Nobody from the seven countries covered by the VWA has been responsible for any terrorist fatalities in the United States. Conversely, residents and former residents of several countries not on the list (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Russia) have been responsible for fatal terrorist attacks, yet they’re not included in the entry ban.

Article 5: According to news reports, the immigration order was written with no interagency review, and without the input of either counterterrorism officials or the Office of Legal Counsel. Administration officials couldn’t even agree on simple things like whether it applied to green card holders, and immigration officials around the country were left with almost no guidance about how to apply the order. All this suggests an effort to hastily produce a policy that reflected Trump’s wishes for a “Muslim ban” rather than something that makes sense.

Article 6: . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 January 2017 at 10:16 pm

Trump’s National Security Council will provide new confusion

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Those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder generate confusion around them, “gaslighting” their intimates and others to make them insecure and malleable/controllable. The resulting fog of confusion is, however, quite comfortable to the narcissist creating it because s/he has years of experience in operating in such a milieu, whereas the normal people enmeshed in the confusion are out of their depth, trying to deal with the unfamiliar using familiar approaches. That doesn’t work, and the confusion continues as the ground is constantly shifted.

David Rothkopf describes in the Washington Post how Trump has structure his National Security Council to continue the confusion.

David J. Rothkopf is chief executive and editor of the FP Group, which publishes Foreign Policy magazine. He has written two histories of the NSC, Running the World and last year’s National Insecurity.

Here’s his column:

While demonstrators poured into airports to protest the Trump administration’s draconian immigration policies, another presidential memorandum signed this weekend may have even more lasting, wide-ranging and dangerous consequences. The document sounds like a simple bureaucratic shuffle, outlining the shape the National Security Council will take under President Trump. Instead, it is deeply worrisome.

The idea of the National Security Council (NSC), established in 1947, is to ensure that the president has the best possible advice from his Cabinet, the military and the intelligence community before making consequential decisions, and to ensure that, once those decisions are made, a centralized mechanism exists to guarantee their effective implementation. The NSC is effectively the central nervous system of the U.S. foreign policy and national security apparatus.

Trump’s memorandum described the structure of his NSC — not unusual given that the exact composition shifts in modest ways from administration to administration. The problem lies in the changes that he made.

First, he essentially demoted the highest-ranking military officer in the United States, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the highest-ranking intelligence officer in the United States, the director of national intelligence. In previous administrations, those positions or their equivalent (before the creation of the director of national intelligence, the CIA director occupied that role) held permanent positions on the NSC.

Now, those key officials will be invited only when their specific expertise is seen to be required. Hard as it is to imagine any situation in which their views would not add value, this demotion is even harder to countenance given the threats the United States currently faces and the frayed state of the president’s relations with the intelligence community. A president who has no national security experience and can use all the advice he can get has decided to limit the input he receives from two of the most important advisers any president could have.

The president compounded this error of structure with an error of judgment that should send shivers down the spine of every American and our allies worldwide. Even as he pushed away professional security advice, Trump decided to make his top political advisor, Stephen K. Bannon, a permanent member of the NSC. Although the White House chief of staff is typically a participant in NSC deliberations, I do not know of another situation in which a political adviser has been a formal permanent member of the council.

Further, Bannon is the precisely wrong person for this wrong role. His national security experience consists of a graduate degree and seven years in the Navy. More troubling, Bannon’s role as chairman of Breitbart.com, with its racist, misogynist and Islamophobic perspectives, and his avowed desire to blow up our system of government, suggests this is someone who not only has no business being a permanent member of the most powerful consultative body in the world — he has no business being in a position of responsibility in any government.

Worse still, it is a sign of other problems to come. Organizing the NSC this way does not reflect well on national security advisor Michael Flynn — whether the bad decision is a result of his lack of understanding of what the NSC should do or because he is giving in to pressure from his boss.

Moreover, elevating Bannon is a sign that there will be more than one senior official in Trump’s inner circle with top-level national security responsibility, an arrangement nearly certain to create confusion going forward.

Indeed, rumors are already circulating that Bannon and senior adviser Jared Kushner are the go-to people on national security issues for the administration, again despite the lack of experience, temperament or institutional support for either. Kushner has been given key roles on . . .

Continue reading.

And see also the column today by Ross Douthat, “The Fog of Trump.”

Written by LeisureGuy

29 January 2017 at 8:23 pm

Merkel ‘explains’ refugee convention to Trump in phone call

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Sam Jones and Philip Oltermann report in the Guardian:

Donald Trump’s executive order to halt travel from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia – has provoked a wave of concern and condemnation from international leaders and politicians.

A spokesman for Angela Merkel said the German chancellor regretted Trump’s decision to ban citizens of certain countries from entering the US, adding that she had “explained” the obligations of the Geneva refugee convention to the new president in a phone call on Saturday.

“The chancellor regrets the US government’s entry ban against refugees and the citizens of certain countries,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

“She is convinced that the necessary, decisive battle against terrorism does not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain origin or a certain religion.

“The Geneva refugee convention requires the international community to take in war refugees on humanitarian grounds. All signatory states are obligated to do. The German government explained this policy in their call yesterday.”

Seibert said the German government would examine what consequences the ban would have for German citizens with dual citizenship, and would “represent their interests, if necessary, before our American partners”.

A summary of the phone call between Merkel and Trump, jointly issued to the press on Saturday, had made no mention of the travel ban, emphasising merely the “fundamental significance” of Nato and the intention to “further deepen the already excellent bilateral relations in the coming years”.

The French president, François Hollande, said on Saturday that “when [Trump] rejects the arrival of refugees, while Europe has done its duty, we should respond to him”.

Hollande said that in an unstable and uncertain world, “withdrawal into oneself is a dead-end response”, adding that defending democratic principles required compliance with “the principles on which it is founded, in particular the acceptance of refugees”.

In a tweet, Italy’s prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, said his country was committed to the values that bind Europe: “Open society; plural identity; no discrimination.”

However, the leader of Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League party expressed admiration for Trump’s entry ban.

“What Trump’s doing on the other side of the ocean, I’d like it done here, too,” said Matteo Salvini. Referring to the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers and economic migrants brought to Italy in the last few years after being rescued in the Mediterranean, Salvini said there was “an invasion under way which needs to be blocked”.

Ireland’s foreign affairs minister, Charlie Flanagan, said that while US immigration policy was a matter for the US government, “it is clear that the most recent decisions could have far-reaching implications – both on humanitarian grounds and on relations between the US and the global Muslim community”.

The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, tweeted: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 January 2017 at 6:02 pm

The Data That Turned the World Upside Down

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Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus report at Motherboard:

Psychologist Michal Kosinski developed a method to analyze people in minute detail based on their Facebook activity. Did a similar tool help propel Donald Trump to victory? Two reporters from Zurich-based Das Magazin (where an earlier version of this story appeared in December in German) went data-gathering.

On November 9 at around 8.30 AM., Michal Kosinski woke up in the Hotel Sunnehus in Zurich. The 34-year-old researcher had come to give a lecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) about the dangers of Big Data and the digital revolution. Kosinski gives regular lectures on this topic all over the world. He is a leading expert in psychometrics, a data-driven sub-branch of psychology. When he turned on the TV that morning, he saw that the bombshell had exploded: contrary to forecasts by all leading statisticians, Donald J. Trump had been elected president of the United States.

For a long time, Kosinski watched the Trump victory celebrations and the results coming in from each state. He had a hunch that the outcome of the election might have something to do with his research. Finally, he took a deep breath and turned off the TV.

On the same day, a then little-known British company based in London sent out a press release: “We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communication has played such an integral part in President-elect Trump’s extraordinary win,” Alexander James Ashburner Nix was quoted as saying. Nix is British, 41 years old, and CEO of Cambridge Analytica. He is always immaculately turned out in tailor-made suits and designer glasses, with his wavy blonde hair combed back from his forehead. His company wasn’t just integral to Trump’s online campaign, but to the UK’s Brexit campaign as well.

Of these three players—reflective Kosinski, carefully groomed Nix and grinning Trump—one of them enabled the digital revolution, one of them executed it and one of them benefited from it.

How dangerous is big data?

Anyone who has not spent the last five years living on another planet will be familiar with the term Big Data. Big Data means, in essence, that everything we do, both on and offline, leaves digital traces. Every purchase we make with our cards, every search we type into Google, every movement we make when our mobile phone is in our pocket, every “like” is stored. Especially every “like.” For a long time, it was not entirely clear what use this data could have—except, perhaps, that we might find ads for high blood pressure remedies just after we’ve Googled “reduce blood pressure.”

On November 9, it became clear that maybe much more is possible. The company behind Trump’s online campaign—the same company that had worked for Leave.EU in the very early stages of its “Brexit” campaign—was a Big Data company: Cambridge Analytica.

To understand the outcome of the election—and how political communication might work in the future—we need to begin with a strange incident at Cambridge University in 2014, at Kosinski’s Psychometrics Center.

Psychometrics, sometimes also called psychographics, focuses on measuring psychological traits, such as personality. In the 1980s, two teams of psychologists developed a model that sought to assess human beings based on five personality traits, known as the “Big Five.” These are: openness (how open you are to new experiences?), conscientiousness (how much of a perfectionist are you?), extroversion (how sociable are you?), agreeableness (how considerate and cooperative you are?) and neuroticism (are you easily upset?). Based on these dimensions—they are also known as OCEAN, an acronym for openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism—we can make a relatively accurate assessment of the kind of person in front of us. This includes their needs and fears, and how they is likely to behave. The ”Big Five” has become the standard technique of psychometrics. But for a long time, the problem with this approach was data collection, because it involved filling out a complicated, highly personal questionnaire. Then came the Internet. And Facebook. And Kosinski.

Michal Kosinski was a student in Warsaw when his life took a new direction in 2008. He was accepted by Cambridge University to do his PhD at the Psychometrics Centre, one of the oldest institutions of this kind worldwide. Kosinski joined fellow student David Stillwell (now a lecturer at Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge) about a year after Stillwell had launched a little Facebook application in the days when the platform had not yet become the behemoth it is today. Their MyPersonality app enabled users to fill out different psychometric questionnaires, including a handful of psychological questions from the Big Five personality questionnaire (“I panic easily,“ “I contradict others”). Based on the evaluation, users received a “personality profile”—individual Big Five values—and could opt-in to share their Facebook profile data with the researchers.

Kosinski had expected a few dozen college friends to fill in the questionnaire, but before long, hundreds, thousands, then millions of people had revealed their innermost convictions. Suddenly, the two doctoral candidates owned the largest dataset combining psychometric scores with Facebook profiles ever to be collected.

The approach that Kosinski and his colleagues developed over the next few years was actually quite simple. First, they provided test subjects with a questionnaire in the form of an online quiz. From their responses, the psychologists calculated the personal Big Five values of respondents. Kosinski’s team then compared the results with all sorts of other online data from the subjects: what they “liked,” shared or posted on Facebook, or what gender, age, place of residence they specified, for example. This enabled the researchers to connect the dots and make correlations.

Remarkably reliable deductions could be drawn from simple online actions. For example, men who “liked” the cosmetics brand MAC were slightly more likely to be gay; one of the best indicators for heterosexuality was “liking” Wu-Tang Clan. Followers of Lady Gaga were most probably extroverts, while those who “liked” philosophy tended to be introverts. While each piece of such information is too weak to produce a reliable prediction, when tens, hundreds, or thousands of individual data points are combined, the resulting predictions become really accurate.

Kosinski and his team tirelessly refined their models. In 2012, Kosinski proved that on the basis of an average of 68 Facebook “likes” by a user, it was possible to predict their skin color (with 95 percent accuracy), their sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy), and their affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent). But it didn’t stop there. Intelligence, religious affiliation, as well as alcohol, cigarette and drug use, could all be determined. From the data it was even possible to deduce whether deduce whether someone’s parents were divorced.

The strength of their modeling was illustrated by how well it could predict a subject’s answers. Kosinski continued to work on the models incessantly: before long, he was able to evaluate a person better than the average work colleague, merely on the basis of ten Facebook “likes.” Seventy “likes” were enough to outdo what a person’s friends knew, 150 what their parents knew, and 300 “likes” what their partner knew. More “likes” could even surpass what a person thought they knew about themselves. On the day that Kosinski published these findings, he received two phone calls. The threat of a lawsuit and a job offer. Both from Facebook. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 January 2017 at 6:00 pm

The Goldman Sachs Effect: How a Bank Conquered Washington

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Tom Englehardt introduces Naomi Prins’s article at TomDispatch:

We now find ourselves in Donald Trump’s back-to-the-future world. And why should we be surprised?  His whole campaign pitch was to do it “again” — to return to his dream of past American greatness, which seems mired in a 1950s America of burning fossil fuels and urban smog.  In his very first days in office, through executive orders he’s already moved to revive two pipeline projects: the building of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast, cancelled by the Obama administration in 2015 after years of massive environmental protests, and the Dakota Access Pipeline, halted by the Obama administration late last year after fierce and effective protests by Native American tribes and others.  At the same time, his administration has “frozen” all grants and contracts at the Environmental Protection Agency, a first step toward what will undoubtedly be an attempt to drag us back into an American past that lacked serious environmental protections.  The president also took the first step — another executive order — toward rolling back (or simply rolling up) the Affordable Care Act.  This was part of what will clearly be an attempt to quite literally roll back history by obliterating the “legacy” of the country’s first black president, including possibly bringing back CIA “black sites” and “enhanced interrogation techniques,” both banned by Obama on entering the Oval Office.  (Again, none of this should be surprising since Trump began his political career as the chief spokesman for birtherism, the initial attempt to delegitimize Obama’s presidency.) And we await the new president’s announcement of his Supreme Court nominee to fill the empty seat of Antonin Scalia, knowing that at least one of his leading choices, a fierce opponent of both abortion and gay rights, would be ready to roll the clock back, in the case of Roe v. Wade, to the years before 1973, if not to the 1950s.  Clearly, these are just initial steps on the road not to a genuine future but to what, by now, has become a kind of fantasy past.

And speaking of “again,” as TomDispatch regular Nomi Prins, author of All the Presidents’ Bankers, points out today, there’s always Goldman Sachs, which is really a case of again and again and again.  Who even remembers the campaign moments when Trump claimed that “the guys at Goldman Sachs… have total control over Hillary Clinton” and tweeted that she was “owned by Wall Street”?  Now, The Donald has smashed all past records by appointing six Goldman Sachs alumni to posts in his administration.  Think of that as again with a couple of exclamation points attached to it, a coup for an investment bank that has been a government powerhouse, as Prins makes so clear, since the 1930s.  So buckle up, settle into that time machine, and head back to the future in an unprecedented way. Tom

The Goldman Sachs Effect
How a Bank Conquered Washington
By Nomi Prins

Irony isn’t a concept with which President Donald J. Trump is familiar. In his Inaugural Address, having nominated the wealthiest cabinet in American history, he proclaimed, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth.”  Under Trump, an even smaller group will flourish — in particular, a cadre of former Goldman Sachs executives. To put the matter bluntly, two of them (along with the Federal Reserve) are likely to control our economy and financial system in the years to come.

Infusing Washington with Goldman alums isn’t exactly an original idea. Three of the last four presidents, including The Donald, have handed the wheel of the U.S. economy to ex-Goldmanites. But in true Trumpian style, after attacking Hillary Clinton for her Goldman ties, he wasn’t satisfied to do just that.  He had to do it bigger and better.  Unlike Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, just a sole Goldman figure lording it over economic policy wasn’t enough for him. Only two would do.

The Great Vampire Squid Revisited

Whether you voted for or against Donald Trump, whether you’re gearing up for the revolution or waiting for his next tweet to drop, rest assured that, in the years to come, the ideology that matters most won’t be that of the “forgotten” Americans of his Inaugural Address. It will be that of Goldman Sachs and it will dominate the domestic economy and, by extension, the global one.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, when President Teddy Roosevelt governed the country on a platform of trust busting aimed at reducing corporate power, even he could not bring himself to bust up the banks.  That was a mistake born of his collaboration with the financier J.P. Morgan to mitigate the effects of the Bank Panic of 1907. Roosevelt feared that if he didn’t enlist the influence of the country’s major banker, the crisis would be even longer and more disastrous.  It’s an error he might not have made had he foreseen the effect that one particular investment bank would have on America’s economy and political system.

There have been hundreds of articles written about the “world’s most powerful investment bank,” or as journalist Matt Taibbi famously called it back in 2010, the “great vampire squid.” That squid is now about to wrap its tentacles around our world in a way previously not imagined by Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.

No less than six Trump administration appointments already hail from that single banking outfit. Of those, two will impact your life strikingly: former Goldman partner and soon-to-be Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and incoming top economic adviser and National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn, former president and “number two” at Goldman.  (The Council he will head has been responsible for “policy-making for domestic and international economic issues.”)

Now, let’s take a step into history to get the full Monty on why this matters more than you might imagine.  In New York, circa 1932, then-Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced his bid for the presidency. At the time, our nation was in the throes of the Great Depression.  Goldman Sachs had, in fact, been one of the banks at the core of the infamous crash of 1929 that crippled the financial system and nearly destroyed the economy. It was then run by a dynamic figure, Sidney Weinberg, dubbed “the Politician” by Roosevelt because of his smooth tongue and “Mr. Wall Street” by the New York Times because of his range of connections there. Weinberg quickly grasped that, to have a chance of redeeming his firm’s reputation from the ashes of public opinion, he would need to aim high indeed. So he made himself indispensable to Roosevelt’s campaign for the presidency, soon embedding himself on the Democratic National Campaign Executive Committee.

After victory, he was not forgotten. FDR named him to the Business Advisory Council of the Department of Commerce, even as he continued to run Goldman Sachs. He would, in fact, go on to serve as an advisor to five more presidents, while Goldman would be transformed from a boutique banking operation into a global leviathan with a direct phone line to whichever president held office and a permanent seat at the table in political and financial Washington.

Now, let’s jump forward to the 1990s when Robert Rubin, co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, took a page from Weinberg’s playbook.  He recognized the potential in a young, charismatic governor from Arkansas with a favorable attitude toward banks. Since Bill Clinton was far less well known than FDR had been, Rubin didn’t actually cozy up to him from the get-go. It was another Goldman Sachs executive, Ken Brody, who introduced them, but Rubin would eventually help Clinton gain Wall Street cred and the kind of funding that would make his successful 1992 run for the presidency possible.  Those were favors that the new president wouldn’t forget. As a reward, and because he felt comfortable with Rubin’s economic philosophy, Clinton created a special post just for him: first chair of the new National Economic Council.

It was then only a matter of time until he was elevated to Treasury Secretary. In that position, he would accomplish something Ronald Reagan — the first president to appoint a Treasury Secretary directly from Wall Street (former CEO of Merrill Lynch Donald Regan) — and George H.W. Bush failed to do.  He would get the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 repealed by hustling President Clinton into backing such a move. FDR had signed the act in order to separate investment banks from commercial banks, ensuring that risky and speculative banking practices would not be funded with the deposits of hard-working Americans. The act did what it was intended to do.  It inoculated the nation against the previously reckless behavior of its biggest banks.

Rubin, who had left government service six months earlier, wasn’t even in Washington when, on November 12, 1999, Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that repealed Glass-Steagall. He had, however, become a board member of Citigroup, one of the key beneficiaries of that repeal, about two weeks earlier.

As Treasury Secretary, Rubin also . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 January 2017 at 4:10 pm

NY Times: “Who Hasn’t Trump Banned? People From Places Where He’s Done Business.”

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Kevin Drum has noted the same thing, as I blogged earlier. Richard Painter and Norman Eisen write in the NY Times:

President Trump’s executive order banning travel to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries is being rightly challenged in the courts for, among other things, its unconstitutional interference with free exercise of religion and denial of due process. Overlooked in the furor is another troubling aspect of the situation: President Trump omitted from his ban a number of other predominantly Muslim nations where his company has done business. This adds further illegitimacy to one of the most arbitrary executive actions in our recent history, and raises significant constitutional questions.

The seven countries whose citizens are subject to the ban are relatively poor. Some, such as Syria, are torn by civil war; others are only now emerging from war. One thing these countries have in common is that they are places where the Trump organization does little to no business.

By contrast, other neighboring Muslim countries are not on the list, even though some of their citizens pose just as great a risk — if not greater — of exporting terrorism to the United States. Among them are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. A vast majority of people living in these countries, like the people living in the seven subject to the immigration ban, are peaceful and law abiding. But these three countries have exported terror to the United States in the past. They accounted for 18 of the 19 terrorists who perpetrated the Sept. 11 attack on American soil (an attack which was directed by another Saudi, Osama Bin Laden, with the assistance of an Egyptian, Ayman al-Zawahri).

A look at other nations with large Muslim populations only reinforces this troubling pattern. Turkey, India and the Philippines could all pose similar risks as the banned countries of origin that concern the president. Yet Mr. Trump has done business in all three places. They, too, are omitted from his list.

Our point is not, of course, that any of these other countries should be added. A country-specific ban, which experts say is an ineffective way to combat terrorism, should not exist. Our government should instead screen all immigrants for potential links to crime or terrorism, as it has long done. Discrimination based on national origin is a thinly veiled attempt to discriminate on the basis of religion. And indeed, President Trump has admitted that he wants to prioritize the settling of Christian refugees.

The arbitrary and discriminatory nature of this order is bad enough; but if the president is also considering payoffs to the Trump organization, it’s much worse.

As we have pointed out in a lawsuit we have filed against the president in his official capacity, payments to the president are not only unethical but unconstitutional if they come from foreign governments or entities controlled by foreign governments, such as sovereign wealth funds and state owned banks. The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution prohibits anybody holding a position of trust with the United States government, including the president, from receiving economic benefits from business dealings with foreign governments.

Without President Trump’s tax returns and other information about his privately held businesses, we do not know the extent of the economic benefits he receives from governments of countries that pose a terrorism risk but are not on his immigration ban list. What we do know is that President Trump has generally refused to divest himself of his businesses, to disclose foreign government benefits coming into those businesses and to release his tax returns, and has insisted that simply because he is president, as opposed to some lower official, he “has no conflict of interest.”

And now, only a week into President Trump’s term, we see the devastating consequences of this conflict of interest. It appears that immigrants from countries that can afford to do business with the Trump organization are free to come and go from the United States. Immigrants from countries that cannot afford such transactions may very well be detained at the airport and sent home, where some may perish. . .

Continue reading.

Kevin Drum’s earlier post included:

Not a single Muslim extremist from any of the seven designated countries has ever committed an act of terrorism on American soil.

But residents of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and other US “allies” are exempt, even though their citizens have committed acts of terrorism here. By coincidence, these are also countries where Trump has commercial interests.

The executive order mis-cites the relevant immigration statute. Ed Whelan wonders if this means the Office of Legal Counsel is out of the loop:

The refugee ban is heartbreaking, especially for folks who have sold everything and were literally in the airport waiting to board a plane when they were turned back. But the order also applies to green card holders. These are legal residents. If they were overseas at the time the ban went into effect, they can’t return home.

There’s no excuse for this. The EO could have exempted green card holders. At the very least, it could have gone into effect for them after a warning period. But nobody in the White House gave a damn. So now airports are jammed with legal residents who are trying to return home to their families but are being denied entry.

The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security are allowed to issue exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Does this mean either of them can, or that both have to sign off? Because there is no Secretary of State right now.

Republicans are mostly too callous, or too craven, to speak up about this debacle. I don’t need to bother checking to see what Breitbart and Ann Coulter think. I’m sure they’re thrilled. But even mainstream conservatives are largely unwilling to speak up about this. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has been unable to rouse itself so far to express an opinion. Ditto for the Weekly Standard. I thought the same was true of National Review, but no: they roused themselves to mostly approve of what Trump is doing. Paul Ryan, who once thought this kind of thing was terrible, is also on board. So is Mitch McConnell. And Mike Lee. And most of the rest of the GOP caucus. This is how we got Trump in the first place. Is it really worth it just for another tax cut?

Written by LeisureGuy

29 January 2017 at 4:05 pm

Eliot Cohen speaks out forcefully

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The Atlantic has a piece by Eliot Cohen that is worth reading. They note:

Eliot A. Cohen is the director of the Strategic Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. From 2007 to 2009, he served as counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He is the author of The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force.

He writes:

I am not surprised by President Donald Trump’s antics this week. Not by the big splashy pronouncements such as announcing a wall that he would force Mexico to pay for, even as the Mexican foreign minister held talks with American officials in Washington. Not by the quiet, but no less dangerous bureaucratic orders, such as kicking the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff out of meetings of the Principals’ Committee, the senior foreign-policy decision-making group below the president, while inserting his chief ideologist, Steve Bannon, into them. Many conservative foreign-policy and national-security experts saw the dangers last spring and summer, which is why we signed letters denouncing not Trump’s policies but his temperament; not his program but his character.

We were right. And friends who urged us to tone it down, to make our peace with him, to stop saying as loudly as we could “this is abnormal,” to accommodate him, to show loyalty to the Republican Party, to think that he and his advisers could be tamed, were wrong. In an epic week beginning with a dark and divisive inaugural speech, extraordinary attacks on a free press, a visit to the CIA that dishonored a monument to anonymous heroes who paid the ultimate price, and now an attempt to ban selected groups of Muslims (including interpreters who served with our forces in Iraq and those with green cards, though not those from countries with Trump hotels, or from really indispensable states like Saudi Arabia), he has lived down to expectations.

Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. The sooner Americans get used to these likelihoods, the better.

The question is, what should Americans do about it? To friends still thinking of serving as political appointees in this administration, beware: When you sell your soul to the Devil, he prefers to collect his purchase on the installment plan. Trump’s disregard for either Secretary of Defense Mattis or Secretary-designate Tillerson in his disastrous policy salvos this week, in favor of his White House advisers, tells you all you need to know about who is really in charge. To be associated with these people is going to be, for all but the strongest characters, an exercise in moral self-destruction.

For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time. Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.

Rifts are opening up among friends that will not be healed. The conservative movement of Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, of William F. Buckley and Irving Kristol, was always heterogeneous, but it more or less hung together. No more. New currents of thought, new alliances, new political configurations will emerge. The biggest split will be between those who draw a line and the power-sick—whose longing to have access to power, or influence it, or indeed to wield it themselves—causes them to fatally compromise their values. For many more it will be a split between those obsessed with anxiety, hatred, and resentment, and those who can hear Lincoln’s call to the better angels of our nature, whose America is not replete with carnage, but a city on a hill.

This is one of those clarifying moments in American history, and like most such, it came upon us unawares, although historians in later years will be able to trace the deep and the contingent causes that brought us to this day. There is nothing to fear in this fact; rather, patriots should embrace it. The story of the United States is, as Lincoln put it, a perpetual story of “a rebirth of freedom” and not just its inheritance from the founding generation.

Some Americans can fight abuses of power and disastrous policies directly—in courts, in congressional offices, in the press. But all can dedicate themselves to restoring the qualities upon which this republic, like all republics depends: on reverence for the truth; on a sober patriotism grounded in duty, moderation, respect for law, commitment to tradition, knowledge of our history, and open-mindedness. These are all the opposites of the qualities exhibited by this president and his advisers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 January 2017 at 4:00 pm

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