Archive for February 2nd, 2017
Congress clears measure scuttling Obama rule protecting streams from coal mining debris, sends it to President Trump
Everyone’s hoping to cash in during a time when regulations are thrown aside. Who benefits? Certainly not the public, whom the government’s duty is to protect (cf. preamble to the Constitution, a document currently in disfavor among Republicans).
Catherine Rampell writes in the Washington Post:
Much-dreaded “sharia law,” or something resembling it, may well be coming to the United States.
Just not in the form many Americans expected.
That is, the religiously motivated laws creeping into public policymaking aren’t based on the Koran, and they aren’t coming from mythical hard-line Islamists in, say, Dearborn, Mich. They’re coming from the White House, which wants to make it easier for hard-line Christians to impose their beliefs and practices on the rest of us.
A few days after declaring his intention to impose a religious test upon refugees so that Christians would be given priority, President Trump gave a bizarre speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. In between a plug for “The Apprentice” and boasts about his disastrous calls with heads of allied states, he made some less-noticed policy news.
He vowed to help blur the line between church and state by repealing the Johnson Amendment.
For those unfamiliar, this tax code provision bars tax-exempt entities such as churches and charitable organizations from participating in campaigns for or against political candidates. It dates to 1954, when it was signed by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was not terribly controversial at the time.
The provision basically says that if you want to be exempted from paying taxes — meaning you are effectively subsidized by other taxpayers, who pay for your access to emergency services, roads and other government functions — you can’t be involved in partisan politics. You can’t, among other things, take tax-deductible donations from your worshippers and turn around and spend them on political campaigns.
That’s just the trade-off you agree to make.
Certain religious organizations, in particular those from the evangelical Christian community, have opposed this law in recent years. And during the campaign, Trump indicated he’d do his darnedest to get them what they really want: not the ability to endorse candidates from the pulpit — a practice that the IRS has already been ignoring — but the ability to funnel taxpayer-subsidized funds into the political process.
The president can’t “totally destroy” the law unilaterally, despite Trump’s pledge to do so; he’ll need action from Congress, but that may not be hard to secure these days. Republicans control both houses of Congress, and the most recent Republican platform included a commitment to repeal the Johnson Amendment.
Also this week, the Nation’s Sarah Posner published a leaked draft of an executive order that would require federal agencies to look the other way when private organizations discriminate based on religious beliefs. Coincidentally, these seem to primarily be religious beliefs held by conservative Christians.
The effect of the order might be to create wholesale exemptions to anti-discrimination law for people, nonprofits and closely held for-profit corporations that claim religious objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion and transgender identity. It would also curb women’s access to contraception through the Affordable Care Act. (A White House official did not dispute the draft’s authenticity.)
This is, of course, all in the name of preserving religious freedom. Except that it allows some people to practice religious freedom by denying jobs, services and potentially public accommodation to those with differing beliefs. . .
Surely at this point it’s not necessary to scrape the bottom of the barrel? Or is the new CIA to be CIA Classic, complete with torture and murder of prisoners?
Matthew Rosenberg reports in the NY Times:
As a clandestine officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.
On Thursday, Ms. Haspel was named the deputy director of the C.I.A.
The elevation of Ms. Haspel, a veteran widely respected among her colleagues, to the No. 2 job at the C.I.A. was a rare public signal of how, under the Trump administration, the agency is being led by officials who appear to take a far kinder view of one of its darker chapters than their immediate predecessors.
Over the past eight years, C.I.A. leaders defended dozens of agency personnel who had taken part in the now-banned torture program, even as they vowed never to resume the same harsh interrogation methods. But President Trump has said repeatedly that he thinks torture works. And the new C.I.A. chief, Mike Pompeo, has said that waterboarding and other techniques do not even constitute torture, and praised as “patriots” those who used such methods in the early days of the fight against Al Qaeda.
Ms. Haspel, who has spent most of her career undercover, would certainly fall within Mr. Pompeo’s description. She played a direct role in the C.I.A.’s “extraordinary rendition program,” under which captured militants were handed to foreign governments and held at secret facilities, where they were tortured by agency personnel.
The C.I.A.’s first overseas detention site was in Thailand. It was run by Ms. Haspel, who oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Mr. Zubaydah alone was waterboarded 83 times in a single month, had his head repeatedly slammed into walls and endured other harsh methods before interrogators decided he had no useful information to provide.
The sessions were videotaped and the recordings stored in a safe at the C.I.A. station in Thailand until 2005, when they were ordered destroyed. By then, Ms. Haspel was serving at C.I.A. headquarters, and it was her name that was on the cable carrying the destruction orders.
The agency maintains that the decision to destroy the recordings was made by Ms. Haspel’s boss at the time, Jose Rodriguez, who was the head of the C.I.A.’s clandestine service.
But years later, when the C.I.A. wanted to name Ms. Haspel to run clandestine operations, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, then the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, blocked the promotion over Ms. Haspel’s role in the interrogation program and the destruction of the tapes.
On Thursday, critics of the C.I.A. questioned the choice of Ms. Haspel.
Mr. Pompeo “must explain to the American people how his promotion of someone allegedly involved in running a torture site squares with his own sworn promises to Congress that he will reject all forms of torture and abuse,” said Christopher Anders, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s office in Washington.
The conflicting views of Ms. Haspel were clear in the reactions to her promotion on Thursday from members of Congress. Democrats expressed concern about how she would approach the issue of torture, while Republicans were fulsome in their praise. . .
So we’re now putting war criminals in positions of responsibility. This reminds me of an earlier situation…
Totally worth reading. From the column:
Steve Bannon got his Time magazine cover Thursday, and the accompanying piece offers an account of his astonishingly rapid consolidation of power inside the Trump White House. As the article details, Bannon’s fingerprints are all over Trump’s new immigration ban, making this a test case of sorts as to what the disruptions that Bannon and President Trump promised will produce in the real world.
Bannon, Time reports, continues to relish the massive blowback unleashed by Trump’s executive order — which bans refugees and migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries — as proof that he is doing something right. He’s shaking the elites to their core (he didn’t even attend the exclusive Alfalfa Club dinner!!!), which, he crows, heralds the birth of a “new political order.” But, for all of Bannon’s bravado, the better interpretation of what’s going on is that Bannon’s first major effort to translate Trumpism into policy reality is a full-blown disaster:
1) A federal judge in California has just issued a sweeping ruling that puts a stayon key aspects of Trump’s executive order: His ruling holds that the government must now let into the country people with valid visas who are coming from the seven targeted countries and are looking to live here permanently.
2) The underlying legality of the executive order is now in serious doubt. As the judge’s ruling notes, this stay was issued because the underlying legal challenge to it is “likely to succeed on the merits.” Similarly, another federal judge who blocked the removal of detainees at an airport did so out of the belief that those detained and others like them have a “strong likelihood of success” in showing that their constitutional rights had been violated. As one ACLU lawyer put it: “Every court that has ruled on this has seen it as unconstitutional, so that is a strong sign that this is blatantly illegal.”
3) The executive order’s legal vulnerability, as well as widespread confusion about its legal application, may be traceable directly to the process overseen by Bannon and the White House team. Multiplereports have indicated that the Office of Legal Counsel may not have reviewed the executive order (which Bannon mostly wrote) before its release, leading legal observer Benjamin Wittes to remark that it reads as if “it wasn’t reviewed by competent counsel at all.” Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security initially determined that the order should not legally apply to green-card holders, but was overruled by Bannon — yet the White House subsequently reversed in part on that point.
4) In the face of widespread chaos created by the executive order’s lack of procedural clarity and confused implementation, Bannon has sought to convert the resulting outrage into proof that he is doing something right, reducing it to nothing more than frantic whining by media elites terrified of the rise of Bannon’s “new political order.” In other words, the Bannonite belief in disruption as an end in itself renders impossible any self-scrutiny or acknowledgment of error, in a kind of endless feedback loop (the consequences of which could become much more dire over time). And it is precisely the Bannonite contempt for procedural and institutional knowledge that is partly responsible for creating all of the logistical and legal problems to begin with.
5) The resulting mess and intensified media scrutiny of Bannon’s role has ripped the lid off the teeming, ugly reality of Trumpism. The White House has sought to employ comically contorted euphemisms to mask the reality of this executive order. The nonstop claims that this isn’t a ban meant to target Muslims is belied by the history of this proposal and by Trump’s own words about it, which leave little doubt that its intent is discriminatory. And White House press secretary Sean Spicer has taken to insisting that the order isn’t even a ban at all — arguing instead that it’s solely about improving vetting procedures — even though a ban is exactly what it is, and Trump himself described it in those terms.
Meanwhile, the White House’s efforts to recast this proposal as nondiscriminatory in intent — and only about improving vetting procedures — is undercut by new and intense media scrutiny of Bannon’s worldview. A Post report demonstrates that this worldview is driven primarily by a desire to dramatically restrict legal and illegal immigration and by the belief that the west is embroiled in a global war with “an expansionist Islamic ideology.” This has led Bannon to suggest about refugees: “Why even let ’em in?”
6) Even Republicans . . .
And keep reading: the column consists of a sequence of stories. Further down in the sequence:
* MILITARY PROBES MORE POSSIBLE DEATHS IN RAID: Reuters reports that U.S. military officials are investigating the possibility that more civilians were killed in a raid in Yemen in which one Navy SEAL died. But note this:
U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations. As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.
The White House responds that the raid was preapproved under Obama. Surely this is the sort of thing that congressional Republicans might want to investigate.
* REPUBLICANS GETTING INCREASINGLY ANTSY OVER REPEAL: CNN reports that more and more Republicans are being open about the possibilitythat some parts of Obamacare will remain: . . .
Consider two headlines on the front page of the online Washington Post right now:
Problem solved: Austin claims religious freedom rights to allow sanctuary for those targeted by ICE—not by interfering with ICE, just not doing the job ICE is paid to do. They have a strong claim that this is in exact accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ, and thus definitely a religious-freedom case. Jesus in general seemed in favor of taking care of the poor and the homeless and the downtrodden, which is exactly why the Romans (that would be Trump) eliminated Him.
So Austin is free to be a sanctuary city, so long as it is viewed as a religious response, based on the teachings of Jesus Christ (i.e., the Christian religion).
But not yet clear what exactly the fact of the leaks reveals. Chris Cillizza writes in the Washington Post:
Here are a few leaks that have come out of the Trump administration in just the last 24 hours:
* President Trump abruptly ended a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after condemning a refugee deal with the country and telling Turnbull “this was the worst call by far” he has had with a world leader.
* Trump threatened — his administration insisted it was “light-hearted” — Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto with sending American troops into his country.
* The White House asked Judge Thomas Hardiman to drive toward D.C. to amp up the drama in advance of Trump’s Supreme Court pick on Tuesday night. (Hardiman was passed over in favor of Colorado federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch.)
I wrote recently that not only was this the leakiest White House I’d ever seen but also that the leaks — whether purposely or not — seemed to cast the president as a child who badly needs to be managed. What’s truly remarkable is that the leaking appears to be growing even more frequent and even more deleterious to President Trump’s image within just the last few days.
The first two leaks are of partial transcripts of phone calls between Trump and other world leaders. How many people have access to those transcripts? And who working for Trump could possibly think it’s a good idea to leak out transcripts that show Trump attempting to bully two staunch allies? This explanation, making the rounds on Twitter Thursday morning, doesn’t exactly help Trump, either.
“It was at the end of a long day & he was tired & fatigue was setting in.”
CNN on White House’s response to Trump’s hanging up on Aussie PM.
— Karen DaltonBeninato (@kbeninato) February 2, 2017
The third leak is, to me, perhaps the most baffling. White House press secretary Sean Spicer spent a decent chunk of his briefing on Wednesday disputing media reports that Hardiman and Gorsuch had both been encouraged to come to Washington in a sort of “Cannonball Run”-like competition to fill the vacant seat on the highest court in the country. Which makes this sentence — and its sourcing — from Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush all the more amazing:
Three administration officials who did not want to be identified said Judge Hardiman hit the road to Washington to help them maintain the illusion that the selection process was still competitive.
Three. Administration. Officials. These are not people opposed to Trump. This is not the loyal opposition. These are people who work within Trump’s administration, people he and his team hired to help him run the country. And this trio of people are confirming information that makes it very clear the president wanted to run his Supreme Court announcement like a cliffhanger episode of reality TV.
Why all the leaking? I’ve got two theories:
1. Trump only really listens to things once they are presented to him via the media. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway acknowledged in the campaign that the best way to get through to him was often to talk on cable TV or to other reporters. There’s no indication that Trump has changed his voracious media consumption habits since he formally entered the White House. So it’s uniquely possible that these leaks are aimed at reining him in, showing him that when he acts like this with, say, world leaders, it makes him look bad.
2. There are people at senior levels within the administration who have major concerns about Trump and his fitness for office. . .
Very interesting article by Erica Chenoweth in the Guardian:
Many people across the United States are despondent about the new president – and the threat to democracy his rise could represent. But they shouldn’t be. At no time in recorded history have people been more equipped to effectively resist injustice using civil resistance.
Today, those seeking knowledge about the theory and practice of civil resistance can find a wealth of information at their fingertips. In virtually any language, one can find training manuals, strategy-building tools, facilitation guides and documentation about successes and mistakes of past nonviolent campaigns.
Material is available in many formats, including graphic novels, e-classes, films and documentaries, scholarly books, novels, websites, research monographs, research inventories, and children’s books. And of course, the world is full of experienced activists with wisdom to share.
The United States has its own rich history – past and present – of effective uses of nonviolent resistance. The technique established alternative institutions like economic cooperatives, alternative courts and an underground constitutional convention in the American colonies resulting in the declaration of independence. In 20th century, strategic nonviolent resistance has won voting rights for women and for African Americans living in the Jim Crow south.
Nonviolent resistance has empowered the labor movement, closed down or cancelled dozens of nuclear plants, protected farm workers from abuse in California, motivated the recognition of Aids patients as worthy of access to life-saving treatment, protected free speech, put climate reform on the agenda, given reprieve to Dreamers, raised awareness about economic inequality, changed the conversation about systemic racism and black lives and stalled construction of an oil pipeline on indigenous lands in Standing Rock.
In fact, it is hard to identify a progressive cause in the United States that has advanced without a civil resistance movement behind it.
This does not mean nonviolent resistance always works. Of course it does not, and short-term setbacks are common too. But long-term change never comes with submission, resignation, or despair about the inevitability and intractability of the status quo.
This does not mean nonviolent resistance always works. Of course it does not, and short-term setbacks are common too. But long-term change never comes with submission, resignation, or despair about the inevitability and intractability of the status quo. . .
Continue reading. There’s a lot more.