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Archive for April 4th, 2017

The “Grand Bargain” at Risk: What’s at Stake When the President Alleges Politics in Intelligence

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Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes write in Lawfare:

The U.S. intelligence community is on the verge of a crisis of confidence and legitimacy it has not experienced since the 1970s. Back then, the crisis was one of the community’s own behavior. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s the intelligence community used its secret powers of surveillance and other forms of government coercion—often but not always at the behest of its political superiors—to spy on and engage in operations against Americans for political ends. At that time, politicians really did use executive branch intelligence tools to seek to monitor and harm political enemies, and exposure of that reality nearly destroyed the intelligence community. The problem was Hoover’s illegal wiretaps, bugs, and break-ins, and his attempts to annihilate Martin Luther King and others; it was NSA’s and CIA’s domestic espionage and propaganda operations; it was Richard Nixon’s many dirty tricks.

The community survived because it entered a “grand bargain” with Congress and the American people in the 1970s. And it is that very grand bargain that today’s crisis now threatens.

Today’s crisis is sparked by allegations, both by President Trump and by some House Republicans, of political misuse of the intelligence community by the Obama administration. Whether the allegations are entirely false or turn out to have elements of truth, they put the intelligence community in the cross-hairs, since some of the institutions that are supposed to be key legitimators are now functioning as delegitimators. After all, entirely appropriate investigations of counterintelligence can easily look like inappropriate political meddling, and if the President the House Intelligence Committee chairman are not merely not defending the intelligence community but are actively raising questions about its integrity, the bargain itself risks unraveling.

The central elements of the grand bargain were these: the president and his intelligence bureaucracy were allowed to maintain robust surveillance and espionage capacities, including domestically. But in exchange, Congress subjected them significant legal restrictions on how they collected, analyzed, and disseminated intelligence information; a bevy of lawyers throughout the intelligence community and, over time, in the Justice Department monitored and enforced those restrictions; domestic surveillance required a court order, including a court order from a new court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, for foreign intelligence investigations; and two new committees, the Senate and House Intelligence committees, were to be kept “fully and currently informed” of all significant intelligence activities, and would have robust oversight authorities. The idea was that the use of these powers would be documented and watched by institutions that could be trusted to keep secrets but would act as credible surrogates for public oversight mechanisms.

These reforms proved vital. Intelligence collection, including in the homeland, is essential to our security. But it is also among the most dangerous of government powers because it is so consequential, so secret, and so easy and tempting to abuse. Its legitimacy is inherently fraught. So it is crucial not merely that the entire process be above board politically but that it be seen to be above board. If enough people believe that the intelligence community is a political instrument of those in power to be used against opponents, it actually doesn’t matter if it’s untrue. So the key function of the grand bargain was not merely keeping the intelligence community actually within the law but also validating it to a public conditioned by Watergate and COINTELPRO to believe the worst that the intelligence community was functioning within the law.

This system did not always work perfectly, and it has every so often required strengthening. Sometimes, as in Iran-Contra, it was because of real abuse. Sometimes, it was because of perceived abuses. Sometimes, it was the result of changed technology. Sometimes, it was the result of changed threat perception.

But on the whole, the system of overlapping internal and external checks, combined with massive changes in intelligence community culture, worked well. It gave the intelligence community legitimate operating space in the midst of a political culture obsessed with movies about intelligence community plots and rogue operations. Even as Hollywood made Minority Report and Enemy of the State, the intelligence community could carry on its business. That was a huge accomplishment.

Another achievement of the grand bargain was the actual elimination of the great evil of governmental use of its vast intelligence apparatus for politically-motivated surveillance. And while it did not eliminate the perception in the mass culture that this was going on, it did give the community a powerful response to suggestions of politically motivated misconduct. The response went like this: here are the rules; here are the bodies we report to on our operations; we did not violate the rules; and our many oversight bodies, who in the round are credible actors, were kept fully informed.

This basic system survived even the Snowden revelations. Many people found Snowden’s disclosures of vast intelligence collection shocking. But though Snowden disclosed many technical legal problems with this surveillance, as well as some controversial legal judgments signed off on by the executive oversight apparatus, it also showed that the the problem of politically motivated surveillance simply didn’t exist. None of the thousands of pages of NSA revelations pointed to anything like the venal activities of the 1970s and before.

Yet events of the last year have put the domestic political use of surveillance tools front and center once again. And ironically, today it’s the President of the United States and the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who are alleging precisely that which the Snowden revelations did not show. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. Trump is really doing serious damage to our government, and seriously weakening it. And the whole world sees it, including those who are hostile to our country.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2017 at 6:39 pm

How to Quantify (and Fight) Gerrymandering

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Gerrymandering is under strong attack on several fronts, and we may see the end of it by 2020 (when the next big redistricting will occur following the 2020 census). Erica Klarreich writes in Quanta:

Partisan gerrymandering — the practice of drawing voting districts to give one political party an unfair edge — is one of the few political issues that voters of all stripes find common cause in condemning. Voters should choose their elected officials, the thinking goes, rather than elected officials choosing their voters. The Supreme Court agrees, at least in theory: In 1986 it ruled that partisan gerrymandering, if extreme enough, is unconstitutional.

Yet in that same ruling, the court declined to strike down two Indiana maps under consideration, even though both “used every trick in the book,” according to a paper in the University of Chicago Law Review. And in the decades since then, the court has failed to throw out a single map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

“If you’re never going to declare a partisan gerrymander, what is it that’s unconstitutional?” said Wendy K. Tam Cho, a political scientist and statistician at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

The problem is that there is no such thing as a perfect map — every map will have some partisan effect. So how much is too much? In 2004, in a ruling that rejected nearly every available test for partisan gerrymandering, the Supreme Court called this an “unanswerable question.” Meanwhile, as the court wrestles with this issue, maps are growing increasingly biased, many experts say.

Even so, the current moment is perhaps the most auspicious one in decades for reining in partisan gerrymandering. New quantitative approaches — measures of how biased a map is, and algorithms that can create millions of alternative maps — could help set a concrete standard for how much gerrymandering is too much.

Last November, some of these new approaches helped convince a United States district court to invalidate the Wisconsin state assembly district map— the first time in more than 30 years that any federal court has struck down a map for being unconstitutionally partisan. That case is now bound for the Supreme Court.

“Will the Supreme Court say, ‘Here is a fairness standard that we’re willing to stand by?’” Cho said. “If it does, that’s a big statement by the court.”

So far, political and social scientists and lawyers have been leading the charge to bring quantitative measures of gerrymandering into the legal realm. But mathematicians may soon enter the fray. A workshop being held this summer at Tufts University on the “Geometry of Redistricting” will, among other things, train mathematicians to serve as expert witnesses in gerrymandering cases. The workshop has drawn more than 1,000 applicants.

“We have just been floored at the response that we’ve gotten,” said Moon Duchin, a mathematician at Tufts who is one of the workshop’s organizers.

Quantifying Bizarreness

Gerrymanderers rig maps by “packing” and “cracking” their opponents. In packing, you cram many of the opposing party’s supporters into a handful of districts, where they’ll win by a much larger margin than they need. In cracking, you spread your opponent’s remaining supporters across many districts, where they won’t muster enough votes to win.

For instance, suppose you’re drawing a 10-district map for a state with 1,000 residents, who are divided evenly between Party A and Party B. You could create one district that Party A will win, 95 to 5, and nine districts that it will lose, 45 to 55. Even though the parties have equal support, Party B will win 90 percent of the seats.

Such gerrymanders are sometimes easy to spot: To pick up the right combination of voters, cartographers may design districts that meander bizarrely. This was the case with the “salamander”-shaped district signed into law in 1812 by Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry — the incident that gave the practice its name. In an assortment of racial gerrymandering cases, the Supreme Court has “stated repeatedly … that crazy-looking shapes are an indicator of bad intent,” Duchin said.

Yet it’s one thing to say bizarre-looking districts are suspect, and another thing to say precisely what bizarre-looking means. Many states require that districts should be reasonably “compact” wherever possible, but there’s no one mathematical measure of compactness that fully captures what these shapes should look like. Instead, there are a variety of measures; some focus on a shape’s perimeter, others on how close the shape’s area is to that of the smallest circle around it, and still others on things like the average distance between residents.

The Supreme Court justices have “thrown up their hands,” Duchin said. “They just don’t know how to decide what shapes are too bad.”

The compactness problem will be a primary focus of the Tufts workshop. The goal is not to come up with a single compactness measure, but to bring order to the jostling crowd of contenders. The existing literature on compactness by nonmathematicians is filled with elementary errors and oversights, Duchin said, such as comparing two measures statistically without realizing that they are essentially the same measure in disguise.

Mathematicians may be able to help, but to truly make a difference, they will have to go beyond the simple models they’ve used in past papers and consider the full complexity of real-world constraints, Duchin said. The workshop’s organizers “are absolutely, fundamentally motivated by being useful to this problem,” she said. Because of the flood of interest, plans are afoot for several satellite workshops, to be held across the country over the coming year.

Ultimately, the workshop organizers hope to develop a deep bench of mathematicians with expertise in gerrymandering, to “get persuasive, well-armed mathematicians into these court conversations,” Duchin said.

The Accidental Gerrymander

A compactness rule would limit the range of tactics available for drawing unfair maps, but it would be far from a panacea. For starters, there are a lot of legitimate reasons why some districts are not compact: In many states, district maps are supposed to try to preserve natural boundaries such as rivers and county lines as well as “communities of interest,” and they must also comply with the Voting Rights Act’s protections for racial minorities. These requirements can lead to strange-looking districts — and can give cartographers latitude to gerrymander under the cover of satisfying these other constraints. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2017 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Math, Politics

How Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper really feels about marijuana

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Alicia Wallace has an interesting article in the Cannabist:

In 2012, when Colorado voters wanted their state to legalize weed for adult recreational use, Gov. John Hickenlooper was thrust into an interesting predicament.

The moderate Democrat had stood in opposition to Amendment 64, a measure he felt would send the wrong message to kids, create public health risks, detract from Colorado’s desirability, and, not to mention, stoke the ire of the feds.

But voters’ will spoke and Hickenlooper became an extremely reluctant figurehead and participant in one of the most unique social and political experiments in recent years.

Nearly five years after that historic vote and a little more than three years since the regulated adult-use sales began, that experiment is ongoing and Colorado’s regulations are evolving. And on this front, the broader national landscape is flush with activity: While eight states, including Colorado, now have recreational marijuana laws, the federal government may no longer be a sleeping giant.

The experiment is headed toward a crossroads.

Hickenlooper this week sat down briefly with The Cannabist to address topics such as the looming threat of increased federal enforcement, how Colorado has fared thus far, 2017 state legislation to allow for the social use and home delivery of medical marijuana, his views as the parent of a teen and more.

(The following has been edited for clarity and length.)

Q: We’re three years into recreational marijuana sales in the state. How’s it going? What are your biggest concerns and priorities at this time — both in terms of the regulatory as well as industry development?

Hickenlooper: Always our primary focus has been public safety and to make sure that kids … we’re not going to see a big spike in teenagers using marijuana. I’d say in most circumstances, from most perspectives, our worst nightmares haven’t materialized.

We haven’t seen a spike in teenage use. We haven’t seen a giant increase in people’s consumption of marijuana. Seems like the people who were using marijuana before it was legal, still are. Seems like the people who weren’t using marijuana before it was legal, still aren’t.

Obviously now, (the) appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has added an additional level of complexity; but overall, I’d say that the experiment — as it continues to move forward — has gone better certainly than I anticipated and I think certainly better than many people anticipated. Doesn’t mean that we’re completely out of the woods. We don’t have sufficient data to say there aren’t still unintended consequences that we need to address. But it’s certainly not as bad as what most people thought.

Q: You referenced Attorney General Sessions and I know you’re well aware of the remarks that both he and White House spokesman Sean Spicer have made in regard to potential enforcement as it relates to state-based cannabis programs. What could be the most likely courses of action that the feds may take, and what would your responses be?

Hickenlooper: It’s hard to predict what the action will be. Most of the lawyers I talk to find no legal difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana as it relates to federal law. So to crack down on only recreational marijuana and leave medical marijuana untouched, seems unlikely – if you assume that people are going to approach it the same way.

But by the same token, more than 60 percent of the population of this country live in a state that has either medical or recreational marijuana legal. That’s almost two-thirds of the people of this country living in a state that has some sort of legalized marijuana. To roll that back would be very difficult. And President Trump repeatedly said on the campaign that he thought that states were the right place and this was an experiment being done at the state level, and he wasn’t sure the federal government should get in and disrupt something that seemed to be moving forward.

I don’t think there’s much question the old system was a disaster. We sent hundreds of thousands — millions — on a nationwide basis, millions of kids to jail for non-violent crimes. We inducted them into a high probability of a lifetime of crime, strictly by sending them to prison for something that was a non-violent crime.

This new system, where we may not be completely sure of (whether) we’ve solved all the problems and that we’re going to be successful in this grand experiment, it does offer certain advantages to the status quo of the previous system. Now we have tax revenues.

Some people complain about the black market, “You’ve got this black market, this large black market. How do you address that?” Well, you know five years ago, it was a huge black market. Everything was black market, right? It was all illegal. Everything was being paid in cash and under the table. At least now we have some tax revenues that we can use to market to teenagers and make sure they understand that they could lose permanently a piece of their long-term memory.

Almost every brain doctor I’ve talked to feels there’s a very high probability — if your brain is still rapidly growing during your teenage years … there’s a high probability, it’s more than just risk, you’ll lose a sliver of your long-term memory every time you smoke this high-THC marijuana. Most kids don’t realize that. But we now have money we can advertise for that. We can provide more money to public safety to crack down on this gray market that turns into a black market. Each year we’re changing the regulatory structure to make it I think a little better.

Q: In terms of those changes, there are a couple of bills in this current session that you’ve said you’re not a big fan of — the marijuana delivery bill as well as the marijuana clubs bill. What are your biggest concerns about those respective pieces of legislation, and what fixes could be made, if any, to earn your signature?

Hickenlooper: The pot clubs, when the public voted on (Amendment 64), it was explicit in that initiative that it would not be for public consumption. So I’m just trying to defend the will of the voters in that.

In terms of delivery, that notion of having a delivery person go around house to house and dropping off potentially significant amounts of marijuana — any amount of marijuana — I think we look at that as just a hazard. And if we’re really serious about keeping marijuana out of the hands of teenagers, delivery service offers more opportunity for that marijuana to get into the hands of kids.

Q: And as they stand right now, would you veto them? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2017 at 11:37 am

Jerry Jones’s marijuana proposal could save NFL players’ lives

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I’m not really a sports fan and the NFL leaves me cold, especially since we now know the damage being done to the players, but Christopher Ingraham has a very good report on some reforms that could help the players (but since the reforms make no money for the owners, it will be an uphill struggle). He writes in the Washington Post:

The owner of the Dallas Cowboys said in a recent meeting of NFL owners that the league should “drop its prohibition on marijuana use,” according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio.

While recreational marijuana use is legal in eight states plus D.C., and medical marijuana is legal is about 20 more, NFL players are banned from using the drug for any purposes under the existing collective bargaining agreement, which expires in 2020. Under that agreement, players who test positive for marijuana must enter a substance abuse program. Subsequent violations lead to fines, 10-game suspensions, and, ultimately, banishment from the league.

Former NFL players have been increasingly vocal in their criticism of the ban in recent years, saying that medical marijuana is a safe alternative to the powerful prescription opiates routinely prescribed to NFL players for pain. Documents obtained by The Post earlier this yearshow that NFL teams are heavy users of prescription pain medications, averaging about “six to seven pain pills or injections a week per player over the course of a typical NFL season.”

Science, as it turns out, is on the players’ — and now Jones’s — side.

There’s little evidence that opiates work for the chronic aches and pains often suffered by football players. But there’s strong evidence that anyone, NFL pro or otherwise, who uses opiates on a long-term basis is putting themself at serious risk for drug dependency, overdose and death.

A 2014 review of 39 studies investigating the efficacy of opiate painkillers for chronic pain found that “evidence on long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain is very limited but suggests an increased risk of serious harms that appear to be dose-dependent.” In other words, there’s little evidence of benefit for treating chronic pain with opioids, but a there is a real risk of harm.

The implications of this finding shouldn’t be understated, for either NFL players or the public. Opiate painkillers, like the ones prescribed in bulk by the NFL, kill over 15,000 people a year via overdose. No death from a marijuana overdose has been reported, according to the DEA.

On the other hand, chronic pain is one of the conditions that marijuana has been shown to be effective at treating. Earlier this year the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published an expansive literature review, spanning decades of research, showing “substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.”

The NFL, in other words, is pumping its players full of highly addictive and deadly substances that are of dubious use for treating the long-term, chronic pain suffered by so many players — and fining and suspending players who choose instead to self-medicate with a less-addictive and nonlethal substance.

The disproportionality of the league’s substance abuse policy was put into stark relief in 2015, when the Browns’ Josh Gordon received a year-long suspension for multiple violations of the league’s marijuana ban. When Ravens running back Ray Rice was charged with aggravated assault for beating his then-fiancee, his initial suspension from the league was only two games. . .

Continue reading.

It seems obvious to me that there is something seriously wrong with the NFL, and the NFL is not going to look at it.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2017 at 11:00 am

Satire shows how to cover Trump: Use common sense to blow up the bullshit

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Vox has a very good explanation of how political satire comes into its own when politics becomes irrational.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2017 at 10:57 am

When a drug epidemic’s victims are white

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German Lopez has a good report in Vox, with video at the link:

When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie discusses his compassionate approach to the ongoing opioid epidemic, he frequently brings up a close friend from law school. He describes this friend as perfect — incredibly smart, with a successful law practice, with a beautiful and brilliant wife and kids, and both good looking and athletic. “So we loved him, but we hated him,” Christie joked at a 2015 town hall. “Because the guy had everything, right?”

This friend, however, had a drug problem. Starting with a back injury from running, he was prescribed opioid painkillers. That initial prescription eventually grew into a full-blown addiction. And despite Christie’s and others’ attempts to help, the addiction consumed his friend, who Christie has kept anonymous to protect the family from media attention. Over the next 10 years, despite some stints in rehab, his friend lost his wife, his home, his money, the ability to see his girls, his law practice, and even his driver’s license. Then, he overdosed and died at 52 years old.

“By every measure that we define success in this country, this guy had it,” Christie said. “He’s a drug addict. And he couldn’t get help. And he’s dead.” He added, “When I sat there as the governor of New Jersey at his funeral, and looked across the pew at his three daughters sobbing ’cause their dad is gone, there but for the grace of God go I. It can happen to anyone. And so we need to start treating people in this country, not jailing them. We need to give them the tools they need to recover, because every life is precious.”

This is the kind of story that not just Christie but countless lawmakers across the US have told in reaction to the opioid epidemic: how a close experience with a personal friend or family member drove them to understand drug addiction and the opioid crisis in a much more compassionate way — one that emphasizes treating drug misuse as a public health issue.

Similarly, President Donald Trump, who appointed Christie to a commission studying the opioid epidemic, often brings up the alcohol addiction that consumed and killed his brother. Businesswoman Carly Fiorina, who briefly ran for president in 2016, also mentionedher daughter’s death due to drugs on the campaign trail. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush wrote an article on his daughter’s drug struggles on Medium. And that doesn’t even begin to get into the many, many state lawmakers who have shared similar stories about husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, and coworkers who struggled with addiction.

This, they all say, has led them to believe in the need for better, comprehensive drug treatment.

These stories show how lived experiences and personal relationships can influence serious policy decisions. After all, politicians bring up the people in their lives who they saw needlessly suffer and die due to drugs for a specific purpose: to call for an approach to addiction focused on public health over criminal justice.

But in this way, these stories also expose the impact of another issue that may not seem related at first: race.

Even after decades of progress on racial issues, America remains a very segregated country. On a day to day basis, most Americans closely interact only with people of the same race. And that impacts our policies.

Consider the opioid epidemic, which contributed to the record 52,000 drug overdose deaths reported in 2015. Because the crisis has disproportionately affected white Americans, white lawmakers — who make up a disproportionate amount of all levels of government — are more likely to come into contact with people afflicted by the opioid epidemic than, say, the disproportionately black drug users who suffered during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s. And that means a lawmaker is perhaps more likely to have the kind of interaction that Christie, Trump, Bush, and Fiorina described — one that might lead them to support more compassionate drug policies — in the current crisis than the ones of old.

Is it any wonder, then, that the crack epidemic led to a “tough on crime” crackdown focused on harsher prison sentences and police tactics, while the current opioid crisis has led more to calls for legislation, including a measure Congress passed last year, that boosted spending on drug treatment to get people with substance use disorders help?

Ithaca, New York, Mayor Svante Myrick, who’s black, told me this has led to resentment in much of the black community in his predominantly white town. “It’s very real,” he acknowledged. The typical response from his black constituents, he said, goes something like this: “Oh, when it was happening in my neighborhood it was ‘lock ’em up.’ Now that it’s happening in the [largely white, wealthy] Heights, the answer is to use my tax dollars to fund treatment centers. Well, my son could have used a treatment center in 1989, and he didn’t get one.”

Still, Myrick added, “I’m as angry about this as anybody. But just because these are now white kids dying doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care, because these are still kids dying.”

Stories like Christie’s, Trump’s, Fiorina’s, and Bush’s show one of the many ways we got to this point, where a policy response can vary largely based on a victim’s race. They demonstrate that it’s not just personal racism that can lead to racially disparate policies, but structural factors like segregation as well. . .

Continue reading.

The US really needs to look at how racism is baked into our institutions, social structures, and daily lives. Until we talk about how race matters a lot in daily life, and listen with empathy to those who endure the on-going impact of racism, we as a nation will continue to be weakened by fault lines the prevent us (as a nation) from reaching our full potential.

Read the full article. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2017 at 10:21 am

LA Times continues its editorial series with Part 3: “Trump’s Authoritarian Vision”

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The editors of the LA Times write:

Standing before the cheering throngs at the Republican National Convention last summer, Donald Trump bemoaned how special interests had rigged the country’s politics and its economy, leaving Americans victimized by unfair trade deals, incompetent bureaucrats and spineless leaders.

He swooped into politics, he declared, to subvert the powerful and rescue those who cannot defend themselves. “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

To Trump’s faithful, those words were a rallying cry. But his critics heard something far more menacing in them: a dangerously authoritarian vision of the presidency — one that would crop up time and again as he talked about overruling generals, disregarding international law, ordering soldiers to commit war crimes, jailing his opponent.

Trump has no experience in politics; he’s never previously run for office or held a government position. So perhaps he was unaware that one of the hallmarks of the American system of government is that the president’s power to “fix” things unilaterally is constrained by an array of strong institutions — including the courts, the media, the permanent federal bureaucracy and Congress. Combined, they provide an essential defense against an imperial presidency.

Yet in his first weeks at the White House, President Trump has already sought to undermine many of those institutions. Those that have displayed the temerity to throw some hurdle in the way of a Trump objective have quickly felt the heat.

Consider Trump’s feud with the courts.

He has repeatedly questioned the impartiality and the motives of judges. For example, he attacked the jurists who ruled against his order excluding travelers from seven majority Muslim nations, calling one a “so-called judge” and later tweeting:

It’s nothing new for presidents to disagree with court decisions. But Trump’s direct, personal attacks on judges’ integrity and on the legitimacy of the judicial system itself — and his irresponsible suggestion that the judiciary should be blamed for future terrorist attacks — go farther. They aim to undermine public faith in the third branch of government.

The courts are the last line of defense for the Constitution and the rule of law; that’s what makes them such a powerful buffer against an authoritarian leader. The president of the United States should understand that and respect it.

Other institutions under attack include:

The electoral process. Faced with certified election results showing that Hillary Clinton outpolled him by nearly 3 million votes, Trump repeated the unsubstantiated — and likely crackpot — assertion that Clinton’s supporters had duped local polling places with millions of fraudulent votes. In a democracy, the right to vote is the one check that the people themselves hold against their leaders; sowing distrust in elections is the kind of thing leaders do when they don’t want their power checked.

The intelligence community. After reports emerged that the Central Intelligence Agency believed Russia had tried to help Trump win, the president-elect’s transition team responded: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” It was a snarky, dismissive, undermining response — and the administration has continued to belittle the intelligence community and question its motives since then, while also leaking stories about possibly paring and restructuring its ranks. It is bizarre to watch Trump continue to tussle publicly with this particular part of the government, whose leaders he himself has appointed, as if he were still an outsider candidate raging against the machine. It’s unnerving too, given the intelligence services’ crucial role in protecting the country against hidden risks, assisting the U.S. military and helping inform Trump’s decisions.

The media. Trump has blistered the mainstream media for reporting that has cast him in a poor light, saying outlets concocted narratives based on nonexistent anonymous sources. In February he said that the “fake news” media will “never represent the people,” adding ominously: “And we’re going to do something about it.” His goal seems to be to defang the media watchdog by making the public doubt any coverage that accuses Trump of blundering or abusing his power.

Federal agencies. In addition to calling for agency budgets to be chopped by up to 30%, Trump appointed a string of Cabinet secretaries who were hostile to much of their agencies’ missions and the laws they’re responsible for enforcing. He has also proposed deep cuts in federal research programs, particularly in those related to climate change. It’s easier to argue that climate change isn’t real when you’re no longer collecting the data that documents it.


In a way, Trump represents a culmination of trends that have been years in the making.

Conservative talk radio hosts have long blasted federal judges as “activists” and regulators as meddlers in the economy, while advancing the myth of rampant election fraud. And gridlock in Washington has led previous presidents to try new ways to circumvent the checks on their power — witness President George W. Bush’s use of signing statements to invalidate parts of bills Congress passed, and President Obama’s aggressive use of executive orders when lawmakers balked at his proposals. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2017 at 10:01 am

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