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Archive for May 14th, 2018

One Ohio School’s Quest to Rethink Bad Behavior

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Katherine Reynolds Lewis writes in the Atlantic:

In education, initiatives tend to roll down from above. A district buys a new curriculum, or gets funding for a new program, and principals receive their marching orders, which they in turn hand down to teachers below.

That’s not the case at Ohio Avenue Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio.

The 19th-century corniced brick building is perhaps an unlikely home for experimental methods of nurturing children’s developing brains. The surrounding streets are lined with abandoned buildings, pawn shops, cash-advance outlets, and dollar stores. A large house with a boarded-up door sits directly across from the school’s playground. In Ohio Avenue’s zip code, half of the families with children under 18 live in poverty, as compared with 25 percent across Columbus and 17 percent nationally, according to census data.

Many of Ohio Avenue’s children have brushed against violence and other traumatic experiences in their short lives—abuse and neglect, a household member addicted to drugs, homelessness, to name a few. At schools like this, a small dispute can easily turn into a scuffle that leads to an administrator or school-safety officer corralling the kids involved, if not suspending them. But Ohio Avenue is trying to find another way: Every adult in the building has received training on how children respond to trauma. They’ve come to understand how trauma can make kids emotionally volatile and prone to misinterpret accidental bumps or offhand remarks as hostile. They’ve learned how to de-escalate conflict, and to interpret misbehavior not as a personal attack or an act of defiance. And they’re perennially looking for new ways to help the kids manage their overwhelming feelings and control their impulses.

Ohio Avenue struggles at times with managing students’ behavior, and some teachers have embraced the schoolʻs approach more than others, which itself can cause some tension sometimes. Meanwhile, it’s impossible to draw conclusions about the direct relationship between these efforts and student results. But educators say the positive changes that have accompanied this model are encouraging enough to continue experimenting with it.

“If the focus is on what the adults are doing, that’s where you get the bang for your buck. We can control what the adults do,” explained Olympia Della Flora, the school’s principal, when I visited this spring. “How are [the children] going to learn a positive way of dealing with conflict if we’re not the ones showing it?”

We were standing in Ohio Avenue’s vestibule talking with Tony Schwab, a kindergarten teacher. Schwab had just told us about a disturbing incident: Three of his students had clustered on his classroom’s tile floor. One laced his hands behind his head and knelt; the other two then copied him. All three soon had their foreheads on the ground. They were, according to Schwab, practicing how to avoid getting shot in the event of a confrontation with police.

“Three 5-year-old boys teaching each other how to stay alive,” said Schwab, who’s been a teacher for 15 years. “I’m still shocked. It’s rough.”

Possible police aggression is just one of the realities that make life challenging for this group of kids. Della Flora cited one child whose mom was in the hospital having recently had a stroke; he kept fighting at the slightest provocation. Another had just arrived at Ohio Avenue after being placed in foster care. Not only was he attending a new school and living in an unfamiliar home, he was also being deprived of his usual medication because his biological mom still had his prescription. Lastly, Della Flora recounted two fifth-grade boys who’d recently gotten in a punching match in front of a girl. Instead of running for help, the girl—who’d witnessed domestic violence—froze.

Despite the poverty and violence students experience, Ohio Avenue is making academic strides. The school received an A for progress on most of its recent annual report cards, which measure students’ growth based on past performance as part of the state’s accountability system. Meanwhile, its nearest neighbor, Livingston Elementary, received F’s on its two most recent report cards. Ohio Avenue’s approach to helping children cope with trauma could help explain why its students have performed so well.America’s schools have long relied on punishment to handle discipline issues. In the 1990s, suspensions and expulsions soared due to the rise of “zero tolerance” policies that harshly punished students even for minor infractions such as swearing or chewing gum. Still, over the past decade, policymakers have started to sour on punitive discipline. Studies found that punishments fall disproportionately on African American children and those with disabilities—even when accounting for parents’ education, income, school climate, and other demographic factors. In recent years, districts have begun to discourage and even ban suspensions and expulsions, with at least 22 states and the District of Columbia changing their laws to this effect. These efforts led to guidance from the Obama administration in 2014 that compelled schools to minimize suspensions and ensure they don’t fall disproportionately on certain groups.

But schools have in some cases struggled to adjust to this new direction. An analysis of Philadelphia’s ban on out-of-school suspensions by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, for example, highlighted the initiative’s mixed outcomes and concluded that top-down mandates that allow for little flexibility at the school level can have unintended consequences. In Philadelphia, researchers found that the new policies not only failed to improve achievement for previously suspended students and to reduce the number of low-level “conduct” suspensions in the long term, they also correlated with more racial disparities in punishment rates at the district level.

It’s in part because of experiences like this that discipline has become the subject of one of the most polarizing and entrenched debates in education: Opponents of the Obama guidance argue that it has handicapped schools from ensuring schools are safe and productive learning environments; proponents assert the rules promote equity and prevent educators from resorting to punitive discipline practices that are ineffective at best and pernicious at worst. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2018 at 5:47 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Medicaid Work Requirements and the Politics of Whiteness

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2018 at 5:36 pm

Impeachment has a new book

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Jennifer Rubin interviews the authors. From her column:

Can a president be impeached for exercising his ordinary executive powers (e.g. firing former FBI director James Comey)? 
Yes. In fact, the threat that a president might abuse his official power was a major reason for allowing impeachment in the first place. Otherwise, the Constitution would create a zone of absolute, unchecked and uncheckable power — in blatant defiance of the core principle that nobody is above the law. Thus, although the president is commander in chief of the military, he wouldn’t be shielded from impeachment if he deliberately ordered the massacre of innocent civilians. Similarly, the president could be removed if he promised to pardon anyone who attacked blacks, Jews or people who voted against him. And as Richard Nixon’s case shows, Congress could properly impeach a president for corruptly issuing orders to the FBI and CIA on the basis of a desire to obstruct justice. The notion that a president cannot be impeached for abusively or corruptly exercising his executive power is, quite frankly, one of [the] most indefensible claims in the whole field of constitutional law.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2018 at 3:57 pm

3 States Are Pushing Medicaid Reforms That Discriminate Against Black People

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Ed Kilgore writes in New York:

Frustrated in their congressional efforts to “reform” Medicaid by ending its status as a personal entitlement and rolling back the expanded coverage that 32 states have chosen under the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in many states are now seeking to pare back Medicaid eligibility through work requirements that they hope will discourage enrollment. They’ve largely been given a green light by the Trump administration via waivers. But a new wrinkle in the way these requirements are drawn up is driving concerns (and lawsuits) based on suspicion that the idea is to make urban minority folk work while exempting rural white beneficiaries.

Kentucky secured a waiver to introduce Medicaid work requirements back in January, and there the way the new rules are being phased in has already drawn negative attention, as Alice Ollstein explains:

The waiver in Kentucky, the first state to win federal approval for a Medicaid work requirement, will have the effect of exempting eight southeastern counties where the percentage of white residents is over 90 percent. The work requirements will be imposed first in Northern Kentucky, which includes Jefferson, the county with the highest concentration of black residents in the state.

In a pending waiver request from Ohio, and in a bill passed by the GOP-controlled legislature in Michigan, counties with high unemployment rates are exempted from the work requirements entirely. These tend to be heavily white rural areas. Meanwhile, low-income African-Americans tend to be concentrated in large counties where low unemployment in relatively wealthy suburbs keep the inner cities from qualifying for the exemption.

John Corlett, Ohio’s former Medicaid director and the president of Cleveland’s Center for Community Solutions, studied the 26 counties that qualify for an exemption from the proposed Medicaid work requirements and found they are, on average, 94 percent white. Meanwhile, his research found, “most of these non-exempted Ohio communities have either majority or significant African-American populations.”

The same is true in Michigan, where the discriminatory impact of the proposed work requirement has gotten significant national attention, and not in a good way. The Washington Post looked at Medicaid data from the state and found a pretty dramatic disparity:

African Americans make up about 23 percent of that [Medicaid] population, but they would make up only 1.2 percent of the people eligible for the unemployment exemption. White people make up 57 percent of the total potential affected population, but they make up 85 percent of the group eligible for the unemployment exemption, according to an analysis of the state’s data.

The bill is still awaiting action from Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder. If he signs it, Michigan will get in line for its own waiver from the Trump administration. Based on the Kentucky precedent, the odds are high they’ll get approval.

Writing in the New York Times, two law professors from the University of Michigan suggested that any such waiver could and would be challenged under civil-rights laws. But they go on to address the underlying issue that supporters of Medicaid work requirements keep dancing around:

There’s a deeper lesson here. If work requirements were a good idea, conservative Michigan legislators wouldn’t need to exempt their rural constituents. They’d just offer a tough-love message: If you want health insurance on the public dime, you should move to a place where you can find work.

That’s not the message, though. The message, instead, is that work requirements are good for people who live in hard-bitten cities and bad for those who live in hard-bitten counties. . .

Continue reading.

And to think that some people claim that the US is a racist country!

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2018 at 2:25 pm

The Results of a 100,000-Person Quantum Experiment Seem To Violate Einstein’s Theory of Local Realism

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Daniel Oberhaus writes in Motherboard:

When you close your eyes, you don’t assume that the world is no longer there simply because you can’t see it. Similarly, everything we know about the age of the Earth, Sun, and moon suggests that all these celestial bodies were doing their thing long before some mostly hairless monkeys evolved to appreciate them. But what if your observation of the world was actually creating it?

It’s a trippy and counterintuitive idea, but one of the largest ever participatory experiments in physics just gave this hypothesis a major boost. Known as the BIG Bell test, it involved over 100,000 people using their cell phones to contribute data to 12 quantum research institutes around the world. These volunteers—known as Bellsters—played a video game to instruct over 100 scientists how to perform measurements on entangled particles and superconducting devices.

The experiment was meant to close the “freedom-of-choice” loophole in quantum experiments, which basically amounts to the notion that particles may influence the way researchers choose to measure them. By having these measurements dictated by a diverse group of 100,000 strangers, however, it would be impossible to predict in advance how the measurements would be made. This would, in principle, give researchers insight into whether the world exists independently of our observations of whether our observations shape the world.

The first results from the study were published today in Nature, and suggest that our observation of the world strongly influences it.

EINSTEIN’S SPOOKY ACTION

The idea that the world exists independently of our observation of it is an integral part of Einstein’s theory of local realism, which states that not only do particles have values before we measure them, but that they are also bound by the speed of light. This last part is called the principle of locality, which means that objects can only be influenced by other objects in their vicinity and this link between cause and effect cannot happen faster than the speed of light. If objects could affect one another instantaneously, this would pose a serious problem for Einstein’s theory of relativity, which depends on effects following causes.

Local realism seems intuitively true, but it was a major point of contention between Einstein and his buddy Niels Bohr, a physicist whose work was foundational in quantum mechanics. Contrary to local realism, Bohr suggested that we effectively create—or at least alter—the world by measuring it. This means that not only do particles not have definite values before we measure them, but talking about things like the position of an atom is meaningless until it is measured.

In a famous paper published in 1935, Einstein and two other physicists disputed Bohr’s interpretation, and argued that it resulted in a paradox where information could be shared instantaneously by two particles. This “spooky action at a distance” would violate relativity insofar as the effect on a distant, entangled particle is not the result of a past cause. Einstein and his colleagues argued that this meant Bohr’s description of reality was insufficient to describe what was really going on. Instead, they chalked this up to some “local hidden variables” that were influencing the entangled particle. In other words, its not that the values of a particle don’t exist prior to being measured, its that we haven’t yet found all the hidden variables that would allow us to know the values associated with the particle, such as its position.

The Einstein-Bohr debate simmered on for another three decades until a physicist named John Stewart Bell claimed that Einstein’s classical physics, even allowing for hidden local variables, could never reproduce the predictions of quantum mechanics. And he designed a test to demonstrate why this is the case.

The Bell test basically involves generating a pair of entangled particles—usually photons—and sending them to different locations, where one of their properties—such as time of arrival, color, or spin—is measured. If the measurements of each particle are the same it implies one of two things: either the measurement of one particle instantly affected the property of the other particle, or that the measurement itself resulted in the particle having that property. If the measurements disagreed, this would validate Einstein’s theory of local hidden variables influencing the particles.

Over the past few decades, however, dozens of Bell tests have been performed and so far all of them support quantum mechanics rather than Einstein’s theory of hidden variables.

THE BIG BELL TEST

Although each of these Bell tests have strengthened the position of the quantum mechanical view of reality, none of them can definitively settle Einstein and Bohr’s disagreement. The reason for this is that so far, a perfect Bell test hasn’t been conducted. Instead, each Bell test has been subject to at least one loophole, which allows the result of the test to be interpreted in such a way that is still consistent with local realism.

One of the least addressed Bell test loopholes is the so-called “freedom-of-choice” loophole, which suggests that the way a researcher chooses to measure a quantum particle could influence the results of that measurement. According to Morgan Mitchell, the lead researcher for the Big Bell Test and a professor at the Institute for Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Spain, in past Bell tests a researchers would select some aspect of a quantum particle itself to determine how to measure the entangled particles.

“So they’re trying to test whether these particles have some kind of connection, but at the same time they’re assuming there’s no connection between the particle that decides how to measure and the particle that gets measured,” Mitchell told me on the phone.

In other words, the freedom of choice becomes the ‘local hidden variable’ that explains the results obtained during the test. This would then invalidate the results of the experiment, since it’s kind of like allowing a student to write their own test questions.

Mitchell explained the problem to me by comparing it to a doctor studying the effects of a new medicine. For the trial of the medicine to be accurate there needs to be a control group, so trial participants would be divvied up into two groups, one of which will be administered the drug and the other which will not receive the drug. Some of these trial participants may have the disease the drug is meant to cure while the others are perfectly healthy.

When the doctor has to decide which participants to put in one group, they may end up unconsciously introducing bias into the selection, such as by placing all the sick participants in one group and all the healthy participants into the other. This would really skew the results of the experiment and result in a misleading picture of the drug’s effects. To eliminate this bias, the doctor might divide the groups using a source of randomness, such as flipping a coin or rolling dice.

The situation is similar for physicists measuring quantum systems in the sense that they may introduce bias into their measurements by choosing to measure a quantum system one way rather than another. To counter this bias, Mitchell told me, they must also introduce a source of randomness into their measurement selection. Yet unlike the doctor, the physicist can’t simply flip a coin to eliminate the freedom-of-choice loophole since that coin might physically influence the system being measured in ways not realized by the physicist. The source of randomness must be sought elsewhere. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2018 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Science

Trump vs. the “Deep State”

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Evan Osnos reports in the New Yorker:

Two months after Donald Trump’s Inauguration, the White House took a sudden interest in a civil servant named Sahar Nowrouzzadeh. At thirty-four, she was largely unknown outside a small community of national-security specialists. Nowrouzzadeh, born in Trumbull, Connecticut, grew up with no connection to Washington. Her parents had emigrated from Iran, so that her father could finish his training in obstetrics, and they hoped that she would become a doctor or, failing that, an engineer or a lawyer. But on September 11, 2001, Nowrouzzadeh was a freshman at George Washington University, which is close enough to the Pentagon that students could see plumes of smoke climb into the sky. She became interested in global affairs and did internships at the State Department and the National Iranian American Council, a Washington nonprofit. George W. Bush’s Administration appealed for help from Americans familiar with the culture of the Middle East, and, after graduation, Nowrouzzadeh became an analyst in the Department of Defense, using her command of Arabic, Persian, and Dari. (Her brother, a Navy doctor, served in Iraq.) For nearly a decade, Nowrouzzadeh worked mostly on secret programs, winning awards from the Departments of Defense and State, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the F.B.I.

In 2014, she was detailed to the National Security Council, as an Iran specialist, and helped to broker the nuclear deal. One of the most intensely debated questions among American negotiators was how far they could push Iran for concessions, and Nowrouzzadeh proved unusually able to identify, and exploit, subtle divides in Tehran. “She was aggressive,” Norman Roule, the C.I.A.’s highest-ranking Iran specialist at the time, told me. “She worked very hard to follow policymakers’ goals. She could speak Persian. She could understand culture. She is one of the most patriotic people I know.” In 2016, Nowrouzzadeh joined the policy-planning staff of the State Department, a team of experts who advised Secretary of State John Kerry. At times, she advocated a harsher approach to Iran than Kerry was pursuing, but he cherished Nowrouzzadeh’s “unvarnished judgment,” he told me. “I liked someone who relied on facts and could tell me when she disagreed with my interpretation. Give me that any day over a bunch of yes-men.”

On March 14, 2017, Conservative Review, a Web site that opposed the Iran deal, published an article portraying Nowrouzzadeh as a traitorous stooge. The story, titled “Iran Deal Architect Is Running Tehran Policy at the State Dept.,” derided her as a “trusted Obama aide,” whose work “resulted in an agreement that has done enormous damage to the security interests of the United States.” David Wurmser, who had been an adviser to Vice-President Dick Cheney, e-mailed the article to Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House. “I think a cleaning is in order here,” Wurmser wrote. Gingrich forwarded the message to an aide to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, with the subject line “i thought you should be aware of this.”

As the article circulated inside the Administration, Sean Doocey, a White House aide overseeing personnel, e-mailed colleagues to ask for details of Nowrouzzadeh’s “appointment authority”—the rules by which a federal worker can be hired, moved, or fired. He received a reply from Julia Haller, a former Trump campaign worker, newly appointed to the State Department. Haller wrote that it would be “easy” to remove Nowrouzzadeh from the policy-planning staff. She had “worked on the Iran Deal,” Haller noted, “was born in Iran, and upon my understanding cried when the President won.” Nowrouzzadeh was unaware of these discussions. All she knew was that her experience at work started to change.

Every new President disturbs the disposition of power in Washington. Stars fade. Political appointees arrive, assuming control of a bureaucracy that encompasses 2.8 million civilian employees, across two hundred and fifty agencies—from Forest Service smoke jumpers in Alaska to C.I.A. code-breakers in Virginia. “It’s like taking over two hundred and fifty private corporations at one time,” David Lewis, the chair of the political-science department at Vanderbilt University, told me.

Typically, an incoming President seeks to charm, co-opt, and, when necessary, coerce the federal workforce into executing his vision. But Trump got to Washington by promising to unmake the political ecosystem, eradicating the existing species and populating it anew. This project has gone by various names: Stephen Bannon, the campaign chief, called it the “deconstruction of the administrative state”—the undoing of regulations, pacts, and taxes that he believed constrain American power. In Presidential tweets and on Fox News, the mission is described as a war on the “deep state,” the permanent power élite. Nancy McEldowney, who retired last July after thirty years in the Foreign Service, told me, “In the anatomy of a hostile takeover and occupation, there are textbook elements—you decapitate the leadership, you compartmentalize the power centers, you engender fear and suspicion. They did all those things.”

This idea, more than any other, has defined the Administration, which has greeted the federal government not as a machine that could implement its vision but as a vanquished foe. To control it, Trump would need the right help. “I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people,” he said, during the campaign. “We want top-of-the-line professionals.”

Every President expects devotion. Lyndon Johnson wished for an aide who would “kiss my ass in Macy’s window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses. I want his pecker in my pocket.” But Trump has elevated loyalty to the primary consideration. Since he has no fixed ideology, the White House cannot screen for ideas, so it seeks a more personal form of devotion. Kellyanne Conway, one of his most dedicated attendants, refers reverently to the “October 8th coalition,” the campaign stalwarts who remained at Trump’s side while the world listened to a recording of him boasting about grabbing women by the genitals.

Over time, Trump has rid himself of questioners. He dismissed James Comey, the head of the F.B.I., and then Andrew McCabe, his acting replacement. Gary Cohn, the head of the National Economic Council, resigned early this March, after months of private resistance to Trump’s plan for sweeping trade tariffs. A week later, Tillerson was fired by tweet, receiving notice by phone while he was on the toilet. Nine days after that, the national-security adviser, H. R. McMaster, who had pressed the President to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran, was asked to go, followed quickly by David Shulkin, the head of Veterans Affairs. John Kelly, the once assertive chief of staff, has lost control of access to the Oval Office and of the President’s phone calls; Trump has resumed using his personal cell phone for late-night calls to such confidants as Sean Hannity, of Fox News, who is known in the capital as his “unofficial chief of staff.”

In Washington, where only four per cent of residents voted for Trump, the President hews to a narrow patch of trusted terrain: he rarely ventures beyond his home, his hotel, his golf course, and his plane, taking Air Force One to Mar-a-Lago and to occasional appearances before devoted supporters. He has yet to attend a performance at the Kennedy Center or dine in a restaurant that is not on his own property. As a candidate, Trump rarely went a week without calling a news conference. But in office, as he contends with increasingly intense investigations, he has taken to answering only scattered questions, usually alongside visiting heads of state. He has now gone more than four hundred days without a solo press conference. (Obama held eleven in his first year.)

A culture of fealty compounds itself; conformists thrive, and dissenters depart or refuse to join. By May, the President was surrounded by advisers in name only, who competed to be the most explicitly quiescent. Peter Navarro, the head of the White House National Trade Council, told an interviewer, “My function, really, as an economist is to try to provide the underlying analytics that confirm his intuition. And his intuition is always right in these matters.” Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, remained in office despite the President’s descriptions of him as “weak,” “disgraceful,” and an “idiot.” Sessions has been forgiving, telling a radio show in his home state of Alabama, “That’s just his style. He says what’s on his mind at the time.” Trump has turned, more than ever, to those he knows, often to their detriment. On a whim, he nominated his White House physician, Ronny Jackson, to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. The White House reportedly had not bothered to vet Jackson, leaving it to Congress to discover allegations that he drank on the job and dispensed medication so freely that he had acquired the nickname Candyman. Jackson, who denied these allegations, withdrew his nomination, his reputation wrecked.

After sixteen months, Trump is on his third national-security adviser and his sixth communications director. Across the government, more than half of the six hundred and fifty-six most critical positions are still unfilled. “We’ve never seen vacancies at this scale,” Max Stier, the president and C.E.O. of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that works to make the government more effective, said. “Not anything close.”

Some of the vacancies are deliberate. As a candidate, Trump promised to “cut so much your head will spin.” Amid a strong economy, large numbers of employees are opting to leave the government rather than serve it. In Trump’s first nine months, more than seventy-nine thousand full-time workers quit or retired—a forty-two-per-cent increase over that period in Obama’s Presidency. To Trump and his allies, the departures have been liberating, a purge of obstructionists. “The President now has people around him who aren’t trying to subvert him,” Michael Caputo, a senior campaign adviser, told me. “The more real Trump supporters who pop up in the White House phone book, the better off our nation will be.”

Americans are inured to the personnel drama in the White House—the factions and flameouts and new blood and walking wounded. But the larger drama, Stier said, is unfolding “below the waterline,” far from the cameras and the West Wing, among little-known deputies and officers in the working ranks of government. A senior Administration official called them the “next-level-down guys.” These are the foot soldiers in the war over the “deep state.” “They’re not talked about,” he said. “But they’re huge.”

When Nowrouzzadeh saw the article about her in Conservative Review, she e-mailed her boss, a Trump appointee named Brian Hook. “I am very concerned as it is filled with misinformation,” she wrote. She pointed out that she had entered government under George W. Bush, and added, “I’ve adapted my work to the policy priorities of every administration I have worked for.” Hook didn’t reply. Instead, he forwarded her message to his deputy, Edward Lacey, who dismissed her complaint, writing that she was among the “Obama/Clinton loyalists not at all supportive of President Trump’s foreign policy agenda.”

In the 2013 novel “A Delicate Truth,” John le Carré presents the “deep state” as a moneyed, cultured élite—the “non-governmental insiders from banking, industry, and commerce” whose access to information allows them to rule in secret. Trump’s conception is quite different. A real-estate baron, with the wealthiest Cabinet in U.S. history, Trump is at peace with the plutocracy but at war with the clerks—the apparatchiks who, he claims, are seeking to nullify the election by denying the prerogatives of his Administration.

From the beginning, Americans have disagreed about how to balance partisan loyalty and nonpartisan expertise. When the populist Andrew Jackson reached the White House, in 1829, he packed the government with friends and loyalists, arguing that “more is lost by the long continuance of men in office than is generally to be gained by their experience.” A Jackson ally in the Senate, William Learned Marcy, said, famously, “To the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.” Thus began the “spoils system,” in which a winning candidate dispensed most government jobs as gifts. It lasted until 1881, when President James Garfield was shot by a man who believed that he was due a diplomatic post as a reward for supporting Garfield’s campaign. In response, Congress created a civil service in which hiring was based on merit, in the belief that only a workforce free from political interference could earn public trust.

To admirers, America’s civil service became the ballast in the ship of state, exemplified by the National Laboratories, Neil Armstrong, and generations of humble bureaucrats who banned unsafe medications, recalled defective motor vehicles, and monitored conditions at nursing homes. According to the Partnership for Public Service, the federal workforce has included at least sixty-nine winners of the Nobel Prize, most of them scientists with little public profile. All U.S. public servants are bound by an official code of ethics that demands “loyalty to . . . country above loyalty to persons, party or government department.” Ryan Crocker, a diplomat who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria, told me, “I was an Ambassador six times—three times for Republican Administrations, three times for Democratic Administrations. No one elects us. We will, obviously, give policy advice, but when policy is decided we do everything we can to carry it out. I didn’t think the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a spectacularly good idea, but once our troops crossed the line of departure that argument was over.”

But the old tension between loyalty and expertise never subsided. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and also an audio reading of the article.

Later in the article:

The Trump advisers who favored preserving it had been effectively silenced; McMaster and Tillerson were gone, and Mattis had given up making the case.

In their place was John Bolton, a former State Department official who was recently appointed the national-security adviser after a long term as a Fox News backbencher. Bolton, known in Washington as a maximalist hawk, is arguably the most volatile addition to the Administration since its inception—an unrepentant advocate of the Iraq War who has also argued for regime change in Iran and in North Korea. “He lied repeatedly during his time at State,” Wilkerson told me. In 2002, when Bolton was the department’s top arms-control official, he planned to accuse Cuba of developing a secret biological-weapons program. When a lower-ranking intelligence official, Christian Westermann, spoke up to say that the accusation was unsupportable, Bolton tried to have him fired, telling his boss that he wouldn’t take orders from a “mid-level munchkin.”

To Wilkerson, Bolton’s arrival at the center of American national security is alarming. He recalled an encounter in 2002, when Bolton was publicly calling for Bush to confront North Korea. At the time, Wilkerson, who had served thirty-one years in the Army, cautioned Bolton that an attack on Seoul would result in enormous casualties. “John stops me mid-sentence and says, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t do casualties and things like that. That’s your bailiwick, ’ ” Wilkerson told me. “The man has no comprehension of the young men and women that have to carry out his goddam wars.” He continued, “He thinks it’s right to shape a narrative that’s false, so long as that narrative is leading to a ‘better’ purpose.”

During Trump’s march to Washington, he framed his mission as nothing less than regime change: America’s capital was a defeated empire in need of occupation. In the months after the Inauguration, as I watched that rhetoric turn to action, the tactics and personae started to remind me of another experience with regime change. As a reporter embedded with the Marines, I arrived in Baghdad in April, 2003, on the day that Saddam’s statue fell. I covered Iraq off and on for two years, a period in which the U.S. occupation was led from the Green Zone, a fortified enclave in the country’s capital, where Americans lived and worked in a sanctum of swimming pools and black-market Scotch. The Green Zone—officially, the home of the Coalition Provisional Authority—functioned as an extension of the White House, led by political appointees, staffed by civil servants, and attended by waiters in bow ties and paper hats. It was Iraq as the war planners had imagined it would be: orderly, on-message, and driven by the desire to remake the country in the name of capitalism and democracy.

After a year, the Green Zone had acquired another connotation, as a byword for disastrous flaws in the invasion: the failure to stop looters or to restore Iraq’s electricity; the decision to disband the Iraqi Army; the blindness to a growing resistance to the occupation. As the problems accumulated, so did the vacant offices in the Green Zone, because people in Washington were unwilling to join. The Administration turned, more than ever, to loyalists. Officials screening new American prospects sometimes asked whether they had voted for Bush and how they saw Roe v. Wade. A cohort of recent college grads, recruited because they had applied for jobs at the Heritage Foundation, were put in charge of Iraq’s national budget. The rebuilding of the stock market was entrusted to a twenty-four-year-old. “They wanted to insure lockstep political orientation,” Wilkerson recalled. “And what we got out of that was a lockstep-stupid political orientation.”

In the outside world, the mistakes were well documented. But inside the Green Zone the lights and air-conditioning were always on, there was no unemployment, and no one debated America’s role in Iraq. It was rhetoric over reality (“Mission Accomplished!”), and appearances mattered most: the press office distributed rosy, misleading statistics and obscured the dismal progress in restoring electricity and recruiting new police. The philosophy of governance—defined by loyalty, hostile to expertise, and comfortable with lies—created a disaster, even as its adherents extolled American values. Those who recognized the self-delusion and incompetence began referring to the Green Zone as the Emerald City.

The early mistakes in Iraq were like land mines sown in the soil. They continued erupting for years, in the form of division and decay. Similarly, the mistakes that the Trump Administration has made are likely to multiply: the dismantling of the State Department; the denigration of the civil service; the exclusion of experts on Iran and climate change; the fictional statistics about undocumented immigrants; and the effort to squelch dissent across the government. Absent a radical change, the Administration has no mechanism for self-correction. It will not get normal; it will get worse.

Trump is less impeded than ever, a fact that impresses even those he has mocked and spurned. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2018 at 1:11 pm

Trump is sometimes difficult to understand: Putting China first and letting sanction-breakers off the hook

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

The Wall Street Journal reports:

President Donald Trump said he was working with Chinese President Xi Jinping to keep ZTE Corp. in business, throwing an extraordinary lifeline to the stricken Chinese telecommunication giant that has been laid low by U.S. moves to cut off its suppliers.
The surprise intervention comes less than a month after ZTE was hit with an order banning U.S. companies from selling components to the Chinese firm. The U.S. Commerce Department directed companies to stop exporting to ZTE in mid-April, saying the Chinese firm violated the terms of a settlement resolving evasion of U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

One can only imagine the tirade Trump would have unleashed if another president had announced that he would bail out a Chinese firm that violated sanctions against two rogue states — one (Iran) against which the United States just reinstated sanctions (and is pleading for the European Union to do the same) and the other (North Korea) with whom we are heading into critical negotiations. Moreover, the Journal notes, “U.S. concerns about ZTE go beyond its evasion of sanctions. For years, the U.S. has accused equipment made by Shenzhen-based ZTE and its larger crosstown rival Huawei Technologies Co. of being a national security threat, an accusation that both companies have denied. The U.S. has largely blocked both companies from selling telecommunications gear in the U.S.”
The Post reports that relief for ZTE might be part of a grand bargain with China, but if so, it is a substantial concession (without yet receiving something equally substantial in return) that on its face contradicts Trump’s rhetoric on job losses to China and undercuts our stated goals in maintaining strict sanctions against rogue states (already damaged by a premature pullout from the Iran deal). You almost wonder what Trump family business might benefit, or what bit of flattery Xi used to extract this favor. Why give in to China on ZTE, of all things, especially now? One senior Senate aide told Right Turn, “Workers in Dearborn, Michigan, and Toledo, Ohio, are undoubtedly thrilled that the president has finally followed through on his campaign promise to put jobs in China first.”
Then again, it’s always possible that for the zillionth time the president botched the message. In a written statement, released after the president’s tweet, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters offered this: “The President’s tweet underscores the importance of a free, fair, balanced, and mutually beneficial economic, trade and investment relationship between the United States and China. The administration is in contact with China on this issue, among others in the bilateral relationship. President Trump expects [Commerce] Secretary [Wilbur] Ross to exercise his independent judgment, consistent with applicable laws and regulations, to resolve the regulatory action involving ZTE based on its facts.” In other words, maybe the president didn’t really mean to offer relief from sanctions in exchange for some modest gains. Who knows? Whatever the outcome, one is again struck by Trump’s jaw-dropping lack of discipline and precision. (The thought of Trump throwing out one idea after another in a one-on-one meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, only to be later corrected, fills many Americans with dread.)
The clarification, if that is what it was, followed a fierce blowback to Trump’s original comment. The move angered and perplexed Trump critics who favored a tougher line on China, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who mocked the move on Twitter: “How about helping some American companies first?” (On Monday morning, he added in a written statement, “The toughest thing we could do, the thing that will move China the most, is taking tough action against actors like ZTE. But before it’s even implemented, the president backs off. This leads to the greatest worry, which is that the president will back off on what China fears most – a crackdown on intellectual property theft – in exchange for buying some goods in the short run. That’s a bad deal if there ever was one.”)
The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), tweeted: “Our intelligence agencies have warned that ZTE technology and phones pose a major cyber security threat. You should care more about our national security than Chinese jobs.”
And Matthew Miller, Justice Department spokesman under President Barack Obama, tweeted, “The message of Trump’s ZTE tweet at the same time he is re-imposing Iran sanctions is that US companies who violate sanctions with Iran will be punished. Chinese companies who do will be let off the hook. America first!”
Republicans were all for coming down hard on ZTE when a Democrat was in the White House (“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who represented districts in Kansas and Montana, respectively, had asked senior Obama administration officials in a 2016 letter to reconsider their decision at the time to relieve ZTE of sanctions for selling technological goods to Iran.”) Likewise, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) (a Trump cheerleader), John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) previously sponsored legislation “that would ban the U.S. government from using ZTE’s products and would restrict the government from doing business with companies that use ZTE.”
Early Monday, Rubio tweeted that the “problem with ZTE isn’t jobs & trade, it’s national security & espionage. Any telecomm firm in China can be forced to act as tool of Chinese espionage without any court order or any other review process. We are crazy to allow them to operate in U.S. without tighter restrictions.” Maybe someone needs to offer Trump a refresher on our issues with China.
Indeed, Trump’s initial statement was so contrary to Trump’s own sentiments that one really does wonder whether he fully comprehends what he’s doing. Less than a week after announcing  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2018 at 12:54 pm

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