More Bad News For Trump On Travel Ban, Russia Probe, And GOP Health Care Plan

There was yet another round of bad news for Donald Trump the last couple of days. This includes a federal appeals court refusing to reinstate Trump’s travel ban. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond ruled that this was a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion:

“Then-candidate Trump’s campaign statements reveal that on numerous occasions, he expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, as well as his intent, if elected, to ban Muslims from the United States,” Judge Gregory wrote. He cited, as an example, a 2015 statement calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what is going on.”

The travel ban is far more about prejudice than effective defense against terrorism. Donald Trump continues to show that his policies are counterproductive, most recently with police in the U.K. not wanting to share information with the United States due to leaks. Of course the biggest leaker of intelligence information in the Trump administration is probably Donald Trump himself.

There was additional bad news. Jared Kushner is reportedly under scrutiny by the FBI in the Russia probe. There are no specifics as to what his role was but the inclusion of Kushner is consistent with my suspicions that any misconduct by high administration officials will most likely turn out to be financial. Despite partisan claims, those involved with the investigation have consistently stated that there is no evidence of any collusion between Trump and the Russians with regards to meddling in the 2016 election. Without such collusion, any Russian meddling becomes of far less significance, representing the type of activity which both the United States and Russia has engaged in for decades. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign showed how the Clinton campaign initiated a strategy to blame Clinton’s loss on others, such as Russia, within twenty-four hours of her loss. 

While no crimes have been proven on Trump’s part before being elected, there has been a suspicious pattern of cover-up–and most likely obstruction of justice with the firing of James Comey. Evidence of this was further increased this week when news came out that Trump had attempted to get two top intelligence officials to help him block the FBI investigation. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.

Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans also received bad news this week when the Congressional Budget Office released their scoring of the House health care bill. Their report indicated that repealing ObamaCare in this nature would result in twenty-three million people losing health care coverage over ten years, and that many people with pre-existing conditions would find health insurance either unavailable or affordable.

Do Not Reward Trump For Looking Presidential In Unilaterally Going To War

Our history of military intervention in the middle east has consistently failed to provide the desired results, and has repeatedly added to further destabilize the region and produce results contrary to our national security interests, including fueling terrorism. Intervention in Syria is even harder to justify when there is no favorable goal even being proposed, or sides worthy of supporting. Despite this, far too many people who should know better, both in the media and on the left, have been applauding Trump’s bombing in Syria, which appears far more impulsive than based on any coherent strategy to reduce deaths.

There are some who we would expect to be cheering Trump on. As Jack Shafer notes, “Nobody projects network war delight better than CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.”  He showed that MSNBC is no better:

If cable news is just a fancy talk show about the news, then the hoarse hollering of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews is an hour-long news monologue. Almost gleeful about the war, which has temporarily lifted him from the slog of the Trump-Russia and Gorsuch stories, Matthews battled Blitzer Friday night for the title for Cable News’ Most Unbearable.

Unfortunately, far more journalists have fallen for the appeal of war. Margaret Sullivan has chastised those in the media who have become excited over the attack, giving a few examples:

“I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night,” declared Fareed Zakaria on CNN, after the firing of 59 missiles at a Syrian military airfield late Thursday night. (His words sounded familiar, since CNN’s Van Jones made a nearly identical pronouncement after Trump’s first address to Congress.)

“On Syria attack, Trump’s heart came first,” read a New York Times headline.

“President Trump has done the right thing and I salute him for it,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens — a frequent Trump critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist. He added: “Now destroy the Assad regime for good.”

Brian Williams, on MSNBC, seemed mesmerized by the images of the strikes provided by the Pentagon. He used the word “beautiful” three times and alluded to a Leonard Cohen lyric — “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons” — without apparent irony.

She further discussed the media coverage in general:

Why do so many in the news media love a show of force?

“There is no faster way to bring public support than to pursue military action,” said Ken Paulson, head of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center.

“It’s a pattern not only in American history, but in world history. We rally around the commander in chief — and that’s understandable.”

Paulson noted that the news media also “seem to get bored with their own narrative” about Trump’s failings, and they welcome a chance to switch it up.

But that’s not good enough, he said: “The watchdog has to have clear vision and not just a sporadic bark.”
Clara Jeffery, editor in chief of Mother Jones, offered a simple explanation: “It’s dramatic. It’s good for TV, reporters get caught up in the moment, or, worse, jingoism.”
She added: “Military action is viewed as inherently nonpartisan, opposition or skepticism as partisan. News organizations that are fearful of looking partisan can fall into the trap of failing to provide context.”

Dan Rather once again put matters in perspective, and showed what we have lost in journalism over the last few decades:

The President of the United States is the Commander in Chief. It is an awesome responsibility. Committing the use of force and American men and women in uniform is about as serious as it gets. But the truly great presidents understand that knowing when NOT to act is as important as knowing when to act.

It is a whole lot easier starting wars than finishing them. And there are many historical examples of where a promise of limited engagement quickly metastasized into something much bigger.

There is a tendency to rally around the flag, and a President who takes on a war footing can see a boost of support. It is often transitory. There are arguments to be made that President Assad in Syria has crossed a line that demands U.S. military interference. Whether this should have been a unilateral action is something we all must consider. Whether President Trump has a plan for what comes next must be debated. Whether there is a coherence to this missile strike fitting into a larger foreign policy strategy is a question that should give us all pause.

The role of the press is to ask hard questions. There is ample evidence that this Administration needs to face deep scrutiny. The lies we have heard, the chaos in governance, and the looming questions about ties with Russia – itself a major player in Syria – demand that the press treat this latest action with healthy skepticism. Perhaps it was the right thing to do. Perhaps a strong and wise policy will emerge. But that judgement is still definitely hanging in the balance.

The number of members of the press who have lauded the actions last night as “presidential” is concerning. War must never be considered a public relations operation. It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative. It is a step into a dangerous unknown and its full impact is impossible to predict, especially in the immediate wake of the first strike.

Alex Pareene warned about the consequences of pundits praising Trump for the bombing:

You think Donald Trump noticed how the first thing he did that actually got the TV guys to like him was kill a troop?

Here are some things Donald Trump is famous for:

1) Noticing which things he does that elicit positive attention and then doing those things over and over and over again.

2) Craving the validation of the press, generally the sort of press a 70-year-old upper class New Yorker pays attention to, especially cable news.
If one dead American service member won him this much praise, just imagine how much they’ll respect him when he kills a couple hundred—or a couple thousand!

Now that Trump has learned that there is a direct relationship between a president’s body count and how “presidential” the mainstream political press considers him to be, the whole world is fucked.

Eric Levitz gave four reasons why it is “profoundly irresponsible to commend last night’s events without equivocation.”

(1) While eyewitness accounts strongly suggest that the Assad government was behind Tuesday’s attacks, Trump’s retaliation came before any thorough investigation confirmed that evidence. The speed of Trump’s reaction betrays a lack of caution that should be unnerving even to those who support confrontation with Assad.

(2) The strike reportedly killed 16 people, including four children. In the opinion of the White House’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster the strike did not eliminate Assad’s ability to deploy chemical weapons, but merely degraded it. What’s more, there are already signs that the attack might enrage Assad more than it deters him.

If our concern is minimizing the deaths of Syria’s beautiful babies, it is by no means certain that last night’s action will not, ultimately, prove counterproductive.

(3) Congress never gave Donald Trump the authority to commit an act of war against the Syrian government, and to claim otherwise is to give the executive unilateral authority to kill people anywhere in the world, in the name of our republic. It is astounding that more people aren’t perturbed by that prospect, given that:

(4) We know that our president is an ill-informed, obscenely incurious conspiracy theorist who routinely retreats into self-delusion when reality frustrates his ambitions. He is a demagogue who has attacked the judiciary as a threat to national security, and repeatedly insinuated that in times of war constitutional laws become mere suggestions. These sentences may sound polemical, but they aren’t. They merely describe a basic fact that much of the media is eager to forget: Donald Trump’s presidency is an ongoing national crisis.

Plus, if Trump truly has any concern for “Syria’s beautiful babies,” he should reverse his policies to both keep Syrian refugees from entering the country, and his reductions in spending in diplomacy.

Staying out of Syria was one of the few things which candidate Trump had right. Instead he has impulsively followed the lead of Hillary Clinton, who has been calling for far more extensive, and dangerous, intervention, along with the Republican hawks who previously opposed him on foreign policy.

Trump Rejects Facts When Intelligence Report Contradicts His Arguments For Travel Ban

Donald Trump’s travel bans aimed at Muslims are clear efforts to pander to the bigotry of his base and to encourage fear. He has tried to justify his actions based upon national security but the facts do not support him. The Wall Street Journal, hardly a left-wing publication, reports that intelligence reports contradict his claims:

An intelligence report by the Department of Homeland Security contradicts the White House’s assertion that immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries pose a particular risk of being terrorists and should be blocked from entering the U.S.

The report is the latest volley in a struggle between intelligence officials and the Trump administration that has rippled across several agencies. Some officials have critiqued administration policies, while the president and senior members of his staff have accused officials of leaking information to undermine his administration and the legitimacy of his election.

The report, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, came from Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis. It said that its staff “assesses that country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” The White House on Friday dismissed it as politically motivated and poorly researched…

Only two of the seven countries targeted by Mr. Trump—Iraq and Somalia—are among the top origins countries for foreign-born individuals who engaged in terrorism in the United States, the report found. Those countries, in order, are Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan.

The findings track similar studies by think tanks and news organization. The Wall Street Journal in January found that of 180 people charged with jihadist terrorism-related crimes or who died before being charged, 11 were identified as being from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan or Somalia, the countries specified in Mr. Trump’s order. No Americans were killed in any of the attacks by those 11 individuals.

The DHS report found that countries targeted in Mr. Trump’s immigration order already accounted for a small portion of total visas issued in the fiscal year 2015, with no country accounting for more than 7% of visas granted in the Middle East, North Africa or Sub Saharan Africa, the report found. The country accounting for the largest percentage of visas issued in those regions was Iran, the report found, which the U.S. designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984.

As is usual for Trump when the facts contradict his actions, Trump has decided to reject the facts. The Atlantic reminds us of what can go wrong when decisions are made based upon politics rather than the facts:

What is the cost of politicization? As of 2013, it was estimated that the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 cost an estimated $1.7 trillion, and saw over 4,000 Americans killed in action and over 30,000 wounded in action. Those numbers don’t include the families of the fallen; the innocent Iraqis killed or wounded during the conflict; or the insurgency that evolved into the extremist threat that we now know as ISIS.

The irony is that President Trump is a vocal critic of his predecessors’ decisions to invade, occupy, and ultimately withdraw from Iraq. In the run-up to that war, the Department of Defense formed an Office of Special Plans, conceived by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, which as Seymour Hersh argued in The New Yorker, “was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true” about Iraq the threat it posed to the world. By trying to shape analysis to support his administration’s world view, Trump is creating the conditions for committing our country to courses of action that have the potential to be as costly or disastrous.

Trump Continues To Receive Criticism For His Attacks On The News Media

Donald Trump’s attack on the media as an enemy of the American people has received widespread criticism. Carl Bernstein has called Trump’s attacks on the media worse than those which came from Richard Nixon:

“Trump’s attacks on the American press as ‘enemies of the American people’ are more treacherous than Richard Nixon’s attacks on the press,” former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein said Sunday on CNN.

Trump’s comments — made publicly, whereas Nixon attacked his enemies in private — brought to mind “dictators and authoritarians, including Stalin, including Hitler,” Bernstein said.

He immediately walked back a comparison to the Nazi leader, while doubling down on the comparison to Nixon.

Bernstein — whose reporting of the Watergate break-in and coverup helped bring about Nixon’s resignation — said Trump’s rhetoric is potentially more dangerous than Nixon’s attacks on the news media.

“There is no civic consensus in this country like there was at the time of Watergate about acceptable presidential conduct,” Bernstein said on “Reliable Sources.”

“Trump is out there on his own, leading a demagogic attack on the institutions of free democracy,” he said. “We are into terrible authoritarian tendencies.”

“We’re not enemies of the American people,” Bernstein said on CNN. “In fact, we’re the last resort of the American people to a dictatorial and authoritarian-inclined president.”

Even Fox was critical of Trump, with Chris Wallace saying he crossed the line:

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace cautioned his colleagues and the network’s viewers Sunday that President Trump’s latest attack on the media had gone too far.

“Look, we’re big boys. We criticize presidents. They want to criticize us back, that’s fine,” Wallace said Sunday morning on “Fox & Friends.” “But when he said that the fake news media is not my enemy, it’s the enemy of the American people, I believe that crosses an important line.”

The “Fox & Friends” anchors had shown a clip of Trump recounting that past presidents, including Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, had fought with the press. They then asked Wallace whether Trump’s fraught relationship with the media was a big deal.

In response, Wallace told his colleagues that Jefferson had also once written the following: “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Context was important, Wallace said. All presidents fight with the media, but Trump had taken it a step further in making them out to be “the enemy,” he added.

“Yes, presidents have always had — and politicians have always had — problems with the press. They want good press. The press doesn’t always give it to them,” Wallace said. “But what Jefferson [was saying] is, despite all of our disputes, that to the functioning of a free and fair democracy, you must have an independent press.”

My previous post on this subject quoted John McCain in criticizing Trump, along with other comparisons to Richard Nixon.

John McCain isn’t the only Republican who has been critical of Donald Trump recently. The Wall Street Journal has a story on how Justin Amash, a libertarian-leaning Congressman from Michigan, has emerged as “Leading Critic of Fellow Republican Donald Trump.”

President Donald Trump’s “constant fear-mongering’’ about terrorism is “irresponsible and dangerous.’’ He needs to “stop attacking the legitimacy of the judiciary.’’ He picked an attorney general with “anti-liberty” positions on surveillance and police seizure of property…

Mr. Amash says his opposition is based on principle, as a libertarian concerned about government overreach and adherence to the Constitution. While many Republican lawmakers hold similar beliefs, Mr. Amash has been an especially outspoken proponent of smaller government, even on issues—such as reducing surveillance—where his views put him out of step with the more mainstream elements of the GOP.

Fact Checkers, Acting Attorney General, & Barack Obama Versus Trump’s Immigration Ban

Donald Trump’s immigration ban has resulted in massive protests, including from the acting attorney general who has refused to fight legal challenges to the executive action.

“I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Ms. Yates wrote in a letter to Justice Department lawyers. “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”

The decision is largely symbolic — Mr. Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, is likely to be confirmed soon — but it highlights the deep divide at the Justice Department and elsewhere in the government over Mr. Trump’s order…

“For as long as I am the acting attorney general, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so,” she wrote.

Now we just need the Democrats to hold up the confirmation of Jeff Sessions.

The Trump White House has tried to justify the executive action by falsely comparing it to previous actions of Barack Obama.  The fact check sites have debunked this claim, with Glenn Kessler giving it Three Pinocchios:

So what’s the difference with Trump’s action?

First, Obama responded to an actual threat — the discovery that two Iraqi refugees had been implicated in bombmaking in Iraq that had targeted U.S. troops. (Iraq, after all, was a war zone.) Under congressional pressure, officials decided to reexamine all previous refugees and impose new screening procedures, which led to a slowdown in processing new applications. Trump, by contrast, issued his executive order without any known triggering threat. (His staff has pointed to attacks unrelated to the countries named in his order.)

Second, Obama did not announce a ban on visa applications. In fact, as seen in Napolitano’s answer to Collins, administration officials danced around that question. There was certainly a lot of news reporting that visa applications had slowed to a trickle. But the Obama administration never said it had a policy to halt all applications. Indeed, it is now clear that no ban was put in place. Even so, the delays did not go unnoticed, so there was a lot of critical news reporting at the time about the angst of Iraqis waiting for approval.

Third, Obama’s policy did not prevent all citizens of that country, including green-card holders, from traveling to the United States. Trump’s policy is much more sweeping, though officials have appeared to pull back from barring permanent U.S. residents.

Jon Finer further debunked the Trump administration’s attempts to compare their actions to actions under Obama:

There are so many reasons to detest the Donald Trump administration’s executive order on “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” that it’s hard to know where to start.

Others have already argued eloquently about its cruelty in singling out the most vulnerable in society; its strategic folly in insulting countries and individuals the United States needs to help it fight terrorism (the ostensible purpose of the order in the first place); its cynical incoherence in using the September 11 attacks as a rationale and then exempting the attackers’ countries of origin; its ham-handed implementation and ever-shifting explanations for how, and to whom, it applies; and, thankfully, its legal vulnerability on a slew of soon-to-be-litigated grounds, including that it may violate the Establishment and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Finer then discussed “five enormous differences between the executive order the White House issued on Friday and what the Obama administration did.” These can be reviewed in the full article, expanding upon what the fact check sites have posted. He concluded by debunking Trump’s claims that the list of seven countries came from the Obama administration:

Bonus: Obama’s “seven countries” taken out of context: Trump’s claim that the seven countries listed in the executive order came from the Obama administration is conveniently left unexplained. A bit of background: soon after the December 2015 terror attack in San Bernadino, President Obama signed an amendment to the Visa Waiver Program, a law that allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the United States without obtaining visas (and gives Americans reciprocal privileges in those countries). The amendment removed from the Visa Waiver Program dual nationals who were citizens of four countries (Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Syria), or anyone who had recently traveled to those countries. The Obama administration added three more to the list (Libya, Somalia, and Yemen), bringing the total to seven. But this law did not bar anyone from coming to the United States. It only required a relatively small percentage of people to obtain a visa first. And to avoid punishing people who clearly had good reasons to travel to the relevant countries, the Obama administration used a waiver provided by Congress for certain travelers, including journalists, aid workers, and officials from international organizations like the United Nations.

Barack Obama has also rejected Trump’s comparisons to his policies, and expressed support for the demonstration, saying “American values are at stake.”

Update: Donald Trump has fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she ordered DOJ  lawyers not to defend Trump’s ban.

Trump’s Immigration Ban Is Wrong, Counterproductive, Unnecessary, And Possibly Illegal

Donald Trump’s first week in office showed that we definitely need extreme vetting for presidential candidates, not immigrants. Trump’s immigration ban is already creating considerable harm to many people, as The New York Times reported:

President Trump’s executive order on immigration quickly reverberated through the United States and across the globe on Saturday, slamming the border shut for an Iranian scientist headed to a lab in Boston, an Iraqi who had worked as an interpreter for the United States Army, and a Syrian refugee family headed to a new life in Ohio, among countless others.

Around the nation, security officers at major international gateways had new rules to follow. Humanitarian organizations scrambled to cancel long-planned programs, delivering the bad news to families who were about to travel. Refugees who were airborne on flights when the order was signed were detained at airports.

Reports rapidly surfaced Saturday morning of students attending American universities who were blocked from getting back into the United States from visits abroad. One student said in a Twitter post that he would be unable to study at Yale. Another who attends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was refused permission to board a plane. Stanford University was reportedly working to help a Sudanese student return to California.

Human rights groups reported that legal permanent residents of the United States who hold green cards were being stopped in foreign airports as they sought to return from funerals, vacations or study abroad — a clear indication that Mr. Trump’s directive is being applied broadly.

This ban includes people with green cards who are legally U.S. residents.

These regulations are also unnecessary and counterproductive. This plays into arguments from ISIS that the United States is engaging in a war on Islam, and (like drone attacks) will likely help recruit future terrorists. Vox pointed out that the ban is not even directed towards the countries which have posed the greatest threat. The ban does exclude countries where Trump has done business. Besides, The United States already had a strict, and lengthy, vetting process for immigrants. PolitiFact wrote in 2015:

Before a refugee even faces U.S. vetting, he or she must first clear an eligibility hurdle. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees — or occasionally a U.S. embassy or another NGO — determines which refugees (about 1 percent) should be resettled through its own process, which can take four to 10 months.

As we noted in a previous fact-check, once a case is referred from the UNHCR to the United States, a refugee undergoes a security clearance check that could take several rounds, an in-person interview, approval by the Department of Homeland Security, medical screening, a match with a sponsor agency, “cultural orientation” classes, and one final security clearance. This all happens before a refugee ever gets onto American soil…

For refugees from Syria and similar countries, however, the process can span two years, a spokesperson for the State Department told the Voice of America in September. Experts confirmed that two years is the average review duration for Syrian refugees, which means that some wait even longer…

The length and thoroughness of the U.S. vetting system sets it apart from the “chaotic, dangerous process” for refugees fleeing into Europe by sea, said Geoffrey Mock, the Syrian country specialist for Amnesty International USA. Refugees enter European countries as asylum seekers and are granted access into the country without a thorough vetting from the UN. Scrutiny comes later.

“No vetting process can make guarantees, but the population identified by the UN and vetted by both organizations has worked successfully in alleviating crises in dozens of other countries, including Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and the Central African Republic,” Mock said. “There’s no reason to believe Syria will be any different.”

In other words, the process for admitting a Syrian asylum seeker into France is much simpler than the process for resettling a Syrian refugee into the United States.

“The U.S. refugee program is incredibly controlled. You can be 99.9 percent sure that guy wouldn’t have gotten here,” Limón said. “I understand the kneejerk reaction but you’re painting a very broad brush stroke. Refugees, by definition, are fleeing terrorism. What happened in Paris, they’ve experienced. They’ve seen family members slaughtered and their houses burnt and they’re running for their lives.”

There are questions as to whether this is even legal. David Bier of the Cato Institute wrote in The New York Times:

More than 50 years ago, Congress outlawed such discrimination against immigrants based on national origin.

…Mr. Trump asserts that he still has the power to discriminate, pointing to a 1952 law that allows the president the ability to “suspend the entry” of “any class of aliens” that he finds are detrimental to the interest of the United States.

But the president ignores the fact that Congress then restricted this power in 1965, stating plainly that no person could be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence.” The only exceptions are those provided for by Congress (such as the preference for Cuban asylum seekers)…

While courts rarely interfere in immigration matters, they have affirmed the discrimination ban. In the 1990s, for example, the government created a policy that required Vietnamese who had fled to Hong Kong to return to Vietnam if they wanted to apply for United States immigrant visas, hwile it allowed applicants from other countries to apply for visas wherever they wanted. A federal appeals court blocked the policy.

The Guardian also questions if this is constitutional:

Legal scholars have been divided for months about whether Trump’s proposals would hold under the constitution. Congress and the White House share authority to decide eligibility for citizenship and entry into the country, and the supreme court has never directly confronted whether religion could stand as a valid reason to exclude some people over others. Trump’s orders do not explicitly name Islam but clearly target Muslim-majority countries, meaning it could test the constitution’s guarantees of religion and due process, as well as the president’s authority over immigration in general.

Subsequently Trump has said that “Christians will be given priority over other refugees seeking to enter the United States,” making this look even more clearly like an act based upon religion.

Whether or not Trump’s actions are legal or Constitutional, they are certainly morally wrong, as well as counterproductive.

Update: Federal judge rules against Trump’s refugee ban.

Trump Executive Orders Include Expanding Global Gag Rule On Abortion & Reinstating Black Site Prisons Closed Under Obama

Donald Trump’s use of executive orders have confirmed the worst fears about what we would see from a Trump presidency. Everyone who is aware of the policy assumed Trump would reinstate the global gag rule which, since Reagan, has been in place under all Republicans and reversed when Clinton and Obama were in office. This prohibits American foreign aide to organizations involved in providing abortions. What we did not anticipate, and most did not even realize immediately, was that Trump expanded this policy considerably. Michelle Goldberg did notice this and wrote in Slate:

In the past, the global gag rule meant that foreign NGOs must disavow any involvement with abortion in order to receive U.S. family planning funding. Trump’s version of the global gag rule expands the policy to all global health funding. According to Ehlers, the new rule means that rather than impacting $600 million in U.S. foreign aid, the global gag rule will affect $9.5 billion. Organizations working on AIDS, malaria, or maternal and child health will have to make sure that none of their programs involves so much as an abortion referral. Geeta Rao Gupta, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation who previously served as deputy executive director of UNICEF, gives the example of HIV/AIDS clinics that get U.S. funding to provide antiretrovirals: “If they’re giving advice to women on what to do if they’re pregnant and HIV positive, giving them all the options that exist, they cannot now receive money from the U.S.”

This makes Trump significantly worse than George W. Bush regarding the gag rule. Bush at least did specifically exempt support for an AIDS program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) from the global gag rule:

Scott Evertz, who served as director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy under George W. Bush, tells me, “It would have been impossible to treat HIV/AIDS in the developing world as the emergency that PEPFAR said it was if the global gag rule were to be applied to the thousands of organizations with which those of us involved in PEPFAR would be working.” Evertz offers the example of a standalone health clinic in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Would the U.S. have to certify that it never referred any of its patients to an abortion provider before enlisting it in the fight against AIDS?  “The notion of applying the global gag rule to them would have made it impossible to implement the program,” he says.

Other executive orders involve building the border wall and curtailing immigration, limiting Obamacare, backing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, and Trump is now reportedly preparing an executive order which would reopen “black site” prisons closed under Obama. The New York Times reports on the later:

The Trump administration is preparing a sweeping executive order that would clear the way for the C.I.A. to reopen overseas “black site” prisons, like those where it detained and tortured terrorism suspects before former President Barack Obama shut them down.

President Trump’s three-page draft order, titled “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants” and obtained by The New York Times, would also undo many of the other restrictions on handling detainees that Mr. Obama put in place in response to policies of the George W. Bush administration.

If Mr. Trump signs the draft order, he would also revoke Mr. Obama’s directive to give the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees in American custody. That would be another step toward reopening secret prisons outside of the normal wartime rules established by the Geneva Conventions, although statutory obstacles would remain.

Mr. Obama tried to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and refused to send new detainees there, but the draft order directs the Pentagon to continue using the site “for the detention and trial of newly captured” detainees — including not just more people suspected of being members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, like the 41 remaining detainees, but also Islamic State detainees. It does not address legal problems that might raise…

Elisa Massimino, the director of Human Rights First, denounced the draft order as “flirting with a return to the ‘enhanced interrogation program’ and the environment that gave rise to it.” She noted that numerous retired military leaders have rejected torture as “illegal, immoral and damaging to national security,” and she said that many of Mr. Trump’s cabinet nominees had seemed to share that view in their confirmation testimony.

“It would be surprising and extremely troubling if the national security cabinet officials were to acquiesce in an order like that after the assurances that they gave in their confirmation hearings,” she said.

Trump Continues To Express Contradictory Views In New York Times Interview

trump-ny-times-interview

With Donald Trump often expressing contradictory views, sometimes in the same speech, we will not really know what a Trump administration will be like until we see what they actually do. In the meantime we continue to get some clues, such as in his interview with The New York Times (full transcript here).

Reading this, and other  recent statements from Trump, makes me believe he is non-ideological, has not thought very much about the issues, and often reflects the views of the last person he talked to. This provides hope that Trump can be persuaded to change his mind in areas where his statements have been contrary to fact, but also gives more reason to be worried about those he has appointed to his administration so far.

One area where he has altered his view to some degree is climate change:

JAMES BENNET, editorial page editor: When you say an open mind, you mean you’re just not sure whether human activity causes climate change? Do you think human activity is or isn’t connected?

TRUMP: I think right now … well, I think there is some connectivity. There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies. You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now.

They’re really largely noncompetitive. About four weeks ago, I started adding a certain little sentence into a lot of my speeches, that we’ve lost 70,000 factories since W. Bush. 70,000. When I first looked at the number, I said: ‘That must be a typo. It can’t be 70, you can’t have 70,000, you wouldn’t think you have 70,000 factories here.’ And it wasn’t a typo, it’s right. We’ve lost 70,000 factories.

We’re not a competitive nation with other nations anymore. We have to make ourselves competitive. We’re not competitive for a lot of reasons.

That’s becoming more and more of the reason. Because a lot of these countries that we do business with, they make deals with our president, or whoever, and then they don’t adhere to the deals, you know that. And it’s much less expensive for their companies to produce products. So I’m going to be studying that very hard, and I think I have a very big voice in it. And I think my voice is listened to, especially by people that don’t believe in it. And we’ll let you know…

SHEAR: Just one quick clarification on the climate change, do you intend to, as you said, pull out of the Paris Climate …

TRUMP: I’m going to take a look at it.

On the one hand, he does admit to at least “some connectivity,” which is an improvement over his history of denial of the human role in climate change. He also shows what I believe is the bottom line for many Republicans. They choose to deny climate change as they see it as bad for business. To them, a change in their business models would be bad, while liberals are more encouraged by the prospects of stimulating the economy with measures to change to more environmentally sound processes. Advisors such as Myron Ebell and Bob Walker make it less likely that we will see action by Trump on climate change.

Trump appeared willing to soften his views in some areas, but not where it might jeopardize his business concerns:

SHEAR: You’ve talked about the impact of the wind farms on your golf course. People, experts who are lawyers and ethics experts, say that all of that is totally inappropriate, so I guess the question for you is, what do you see as the appropriate structure for keeping those two things separate, and are there any lines that you think you won’t want to cross once you’re in the White House?

TRUMP: O.K. First of all, on countries. I think that countries will not do that to us. I don’t think if they’re run by a person that understands leadership and negotiation they’re in no position to do that to us, no matter what I do. They’re in no position to do that to us, and that won’t happen, but I’m going to take a look at it. A very serious look. I want to also see how much this is costing, you know, what’s the cost to it, and I’ll be talking to you folks in the not-too-distant future about it, having to do with what just took place.

As far as the, you know, potential conflict of interests, though, I mean I know that from the standpoint, the law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest. That’s been reported very widely. Despite that, I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest anyway. And the laws, the president can’t. And I understand why the president can’t have a conflict of interest now because everything a president does in some ways is like a conflict of interest, but I have, I’ve built a very great company and it’s a big company and it’s all over the world. People are starting to see, when they look at all these different jobs, like in India and other things, number one, a job like that builds great relationships with the people of India, so it’s all good. But I have to say, the partners come in, they’re very, very successful people. They come in, they’d say, they said, ‘Would it be possible to have a picture?’ Actually, my children are working on that job. So I can say to them, Arthur, ‘I don’t want to have a picture,’ or, I can take a picture. I mean, I think it’s wonderful to take a picture. I’m fine with a picture. But if it were up to some people, I would never, ever see my daughter Ivanka again. That would be like you never seeing your son again. That wouldn’t be good. That wouldn’t be good. But I’d never, ever see my daughter Ivanka…

This is one of, if not the only, core belief which is likely to guide the actions of Donald Trump in office.

Trump was confronted with the charges of racism and anti-Semitism surrounding Steve Bannon in light of his work at Breitbart:

DAVIS: You hired Steve Bannon to be the chief strategist for you in the White House. He is a hero of the alt-right. He’s been described by some as racist and anti-Semitic. I wonder what message you think you have sent by elevating him to that position and what you would say to those who feel like that indicates something about the kind of country you prefer and the government you’ll run.

TRUMP: Um, I’ve known Steve Bannon a long time. If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right, or any of the things that we can, you know, the terms we can use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him. First of all, I’m the one that makes the decision, not Steve Bannon or anybody else. And Kellyanne will tell you that.

KELLYANE CONWAY: 100 percent.

TRUMP: And if he said something to me that, in terms of his views, or that I thought were inappropriate or bad, number one I wouldn’t do anything, and number two, he would have to be gone. But I know many people that know him, and in fact, he’s actually getting some very good press from a lot of the people that know him, and people that are on the left. But Steve went to Harvard, he was a, you know, he was very successful, he was a Naval officer, he’s, I think he’s very, very, you know, sadly, really, I think it’s very hard on him. I think he’s having a hard time with it. Because it’s not him. It’s not him.

I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a very, very smart guy. I think he was with Goldman Sachs on top of everything else…

He was also asked about his support from neo-Nazis:

UNKNOWN: Mr. President-elect, I wanted to ask you, there was a conference this past weekend in Washington of people who pledged their allegiance to Nazism.

TRUMP: Boy, you are really into this stuff, huh?

PRIEBUS: I think we answered that one right off the bat.

UNKNOWN: Are you going to condemn them?

TRUMP: Of course I did, of course I did.

PRIEBUS: He already did.

UNKNOWN: Are you going to do it right now?

TRUMP: Oh, I see, maybe you weren’t here. Sure. Would you like me to do it here? I’ll do it here. Of course I condemn. I disavow and condemn…

Trump will remain under close scrutiny in light of Steve Bannon’s past work, and others on the far right who support him. He is also being watched closely by several civil liberties organizations.

He also backed down slightly on torture:

HABERMAN: And on torture? Where are you — and waterboarding?

TRUMP: So, I met with General Mattis, who is a very respected guy. In fact, I met with a number of other generals, they say he’s the finest there is. He is being seriously, seriously considered for secretary of defense, which is — I think it’s time maybe, it’s time for a general. Look at what’s going on. We don’t win, we can’t beat anybody, we don’t win anymore. At anything. We don’t win on the border, we don’t win with trade, we certainly don’t win with the military. General Mattis is a strong, highly dignified man. I met with him at length and I asked him that question. I said, what do you think of waterboarding? He said — I was surprised — he said, ‘I’ve never found it to be useful.’ He said, ‘I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.’ And I was very impressed by that answer. I was surprised, because he’s known as being like the toughest guy. And when he said that, I’m not saying it changed my mind. Look, we have people that are chopping off heads and drowning people in steel cages and we’re not allowed to waterboard. But I’ll tell you what, I was impressed by that answer. It certainly does not — it’s not going to make the kind of a difference that maybe a lot of people think. If it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it. I would be guided by that. But General Mattis found it to be very less important, much less important than I thought he would say. I thought he would say — you know he’s known as Mad Dog Mattis, right? Mad Dog for a reason. I thought he’d say ‘It’s phenomenal, don’t lose it.’ He actually said, ‘No, give me some cigarettes and some drinks, and we’ll do better.’

It is good to see that he listened to the view that torture is not effective. It is discouraging to see that he then said, “If it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it.” Hardly a position which respects either the facts or ethics. Torturing prisoners because “the American people” want it, even if it is of no benefit, is hardly a defensible position.

Both Trump And Clinton Fail Commander-In-Chief Test

commander_in_chief_forum

There appears to be near universal agreement that Matt Lauer’s performance as moderator at the Commander In Chief Forum was a disaster. Lauer certainly failed to fact check multiple false statements from Donald Trump, who was once again confused and incoherent when trying to discuss matters of policy. He also did a poor job in fact checking Hillary Clinton, or at holding her responsible for her long history of poor decisions on foreign policy.

Trump had so many false statements it is difficult to list them all. Perhaps that is his strategy–make it hard to stay focused on any particular falsehood or foolish statement. Factcheck.org and PolitiFact have lists of falsehoods by both candidates. This doesn’t include matters of poor judgment from each candidate. The full text of the forum can be found here.

Among the lowlights from Trump was once again claiming to have opposed the Iraq war before it started, his false claims to have opposed the intervention in Libya at the time, his threat to get rid of the top generals, and his distortion of Clinton’s statements about the problems at the VA. Plus there’s his secret plan to defeat ISIS.

Matt Lauer spent a lot of time on Clinton’s email but did so poorly. He brought up some of the problems but allowed Clinton to get away with the same distortions she has used in the past. This provided nothing new on the issue, and wasted time which would have been better spent on Clinton’s dreadful foreign policy record.

Clinton tends to make lawyerly statements which on the surface are nearly true, but which skirt the real issue. During the forum she said:

“Classified material has a header which says ‘top-secret, secret, confidential.’ Nothing, and I will repeat this and this is verified in the report by the Department of Justice, none of the emails sent or received by me had such a header.”

There were a few emails which were found to have a designation of c, but Lauer really should have pointed out the more important problem as stated by James Comey:

There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.

As Reuters explained, some types of information are “born classified” and are classified regardless of whether there is a classified header. Clinton is just distorting the issue when concentrating on how the email was labeled.

Another problem for Clinton’s claim is that she was found to have instructed an aide to remove the “identifying heading” and send information trough non-secure channels.

Other falsehoods from Clinton include falsely claiming that Trump wants to privatize the VA when he has actually advocated allowing patient’s in the VA system to obtain care from physicians outside the VA system when necessary–an idea which even some Democrats have supported.

The bigger problem was the limited discussion of actual policy. As Alex Emmons has also pointed out, NBC’s Military Forum Was a Master Class on How Not to Hold Candidates Accountable. For example:

When Hillary Clinton explained her anti-ISIS plan by saying “we are not going to have ground troops in Iraq,” he failed to point out that we already do have those troops. When Donald Trump claimed to have opposed the wars in Iraq and Libya from the beginning, Lauer failed to correct him and tell the audience that wasn’t true…

Lauer chose to ask Trump about his preparedness and past remarks, rather than question his actual plans. “I’d like you to tell our veterans and our people at home why you are prepared for the role of commander in chief,” said Lauer. Lauer would go on to further question Trump about his “preparedness,” his “temperament,” and his receptiveness to intelligence briefings…

Lauer failed to raise many of the most controversial national security issues in the post-9/11 world. For Lauer, the issue was whether Clinton’s emails contained information on the covert drone program, not whether the covert drone program was legal or ethical. He never to pressed her about the surveillance implications of her “intelligence surge,” or what “working with experts in Silicon Valley” meant. Trump was never asked to defend his proposals to infiltrate American mosques and spy on predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. At no point was either candidate pressed for their stance on the drone war, torture, Guantánamo Bay, or mass surveillance.

Clinton avoided true accountability regarding her support for the Iraq war, even twisting this into a reason to support her over Trump, with some rather dubious logic and distortions of the facts:

CLINTON: Now, my opponent was for the war in Iraq. He says he wasn’t. You can go back and look at the record. He supported it. He told Howard Stern he supported it. So he supported it before it happened, he supported it as it was happening, and he is on record as supporting it after it happened. I have taken responsibility for my decision.

LAUER: Let me go to another…

CLINTON: He refuses to take responsibility for his support. That is a judgment issue.

While Trump’s claims of opposing the war before it started do not hold up, there is a huge difference between Trump sounding rather unsure and going along when asked about it, as opposed to Clinton actively promoting going to war based upon false claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. She was incorrect about Trump continuing to support the war.

While she admits Iraq was a mistake, she made the same mistakes on both Libya and Syria. That is the real judgment issue. Plus, on Libya, while both originally supported regime change, Clinton continues to defend that disastrous decision, while Trump has come out in opposition. To take Clinton’s own words, it was Clinton who supported it before it happened, supported it as it was happening, and is on record as supporting it after it happened.

Trump was again incoherent with regards to his man-crush on Putin, but I also wish that Lauer had asked Clinton about the danger that her belligerent views towards Russia risks getting us into a war with them. He might have also asked her about her threats to obliterate Iran, her past refusal to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against terrorists (a view similar to the view Trump has rightly been criticized for), her unwillingness to accept a diplomatic solution over war in Syria, and her siding with Republicans to oppose a ban on the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas.

While it was partially due to the candidates only wanting to face questions for a half hour, Lauer does deserve criticism for not taking advantage of the time to further probe the failings of both candidates on foreign policy. The real loser, however, is not Matt Lauer. It is the American people who will be stuck with one of these candidates as president. Neither has the judgment to be Commander In Chief, and both have serious difficulties with telling the truth.

Update: Late night comics on the forum.

Clinton Threatens War With Russia

Clinton bombs

Hillary Clinton’s speech to the American Legion this week raised eyebrows among some one the left with her jingoism and praise for American exceptionalism. One segment was particularly disturbing as she sounds like she is threatening military action against Russia:

We’ll invest in the next frontier of military engagement, protecting U.S. interests in outer space and cyberspace. You’ve seen reports. Russia’s hacked into a lot of things. China’s hacked into a lot of things. Russia even hacked into the Democratic National Committee, maybe even some state election systems. So, we’ve got to step up our game. Make sure we are well defended and able to take the fight to those who go after us.

As President, I will make it clear, that the United States will treat cyber attacks just like any other attack. We will be ready with serious political, economic and military responses. And we’re going to invest in protecting our governmental networks and our national infrastructure. I want us to lead the world in setting the rules of cyberspace.

Justin Raimondo responded at Antiwar.com:

If that isn’t a veiled threat to attack Russia in retaliation for their alleged “cyber-attacks” on the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton Foundation, then what is she trying to say?

This should scare the bejesus out of “liberals” and others on the left who have been scammed into jumping on the Clinton bandwagon in the name of stopping Trump. Are we really going to start World War III in order to avenge the honor of Debbie Wasserman Schultz? Given how problematic attribution is in the case of cyber-attacks, this threat of “military action” makes Dr. Strangelove look sane.

For all the yelping and screeching in the media about how Trump is “unstable,” and even crazy, this threat shows that Hillary in quite simply unhinged. Her major theme these days resembles something out of Joe McCarthy’s playbook: her campaign has come right out and said Trump is “Putin’s puppet.” And since she so clearly believes the Russians are actively disrupting her efforts to take the White House, it’s reasonable to assume her policy toward Russia will reflect this in a vindictive campaign of revenge.

And they tell us Trump is “scary”!

If Hillary Clinton doesn’t scare you, then you aren’t paying attention.

It is no surprise that the arms industry has been donating so much money to Hillary Clinton. There is a long history of bad blood between Clinton and  Putin, and neocons have long desired to try regime change in Russia. We saw how well that worked out in Iraq. Donald Trump’s naive man-crush on Putin in response to a compliment from Putin is also disturbing, but Clinton’s long history of belligerence towards Russia really should scare us.

The facts behind the DNC hack remain unclear, with the anti-Russia hysteria raised by the Clinton camp sounding remarkably like the both Cold War red-baiting and like the anti-Iraq hysteria during the run-up to that war (with Hillary Clinton falsely claiming that their were ties between Saddam and al Qaeda). While I would not exclude the possibility of Russian involvement, Putin has again denied responsibility.

The lack of a credible opponent this year is allowing Hillary Clinton to get a pass on her rather alarming views on foreign policy and military interventionism. Voters have forgotten that eight years ago Clinton was rejected by Democrats and found by many to be the scary one. This included alarm raised by many Democrats when Hillary Clinton criticized Barack Obama for ruling out the use of nuclear weapons against terrorists and for being willing to speak with our adversaries. From The Washington Post nine years ago:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton drew another distinction between herself and Sen. Barack Obama yesterday, refusing to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against Osama bin Laden or other terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Clinton’s comments came in response to Obama’s remarks earlier in the day that nuclear weapons are “not on the table” in dealing with ungoverned territories in the two countries, and they continued a steady tug of war among the Democratic presidential candidates over foreign policy…

“Presidents since the Cold War have used nuclear deterrents to keep the peace, and I don’t believe any president should make blanket statements with the regard to use or nonuse,” Clinton said.

At a debate last week in South Carolina, Clinton directly criticized Obama for saying he would meet with leaders traditionally hostile to the United States. Obama responded, and the sniping went on most of the week…

U.S. officials rarely rule out nuclear attacks as a matter of diplomacy, preferring to keep the threat as a deterrent. Yet several foreign policy experts said Obama was essentially right: It would be unwise to target an individual or a small group with nuclear weapons that could kill civilians and worsen the United States’ image around the world.

Michael O’Hanlon, a Brookings Institution scholar, said Obama “clearly gave the right answer.”

This year Donald Trump has been criticized for not taking nuclear weapons off the table in fighting ISIS. While he was wrong, his position was essentially the same as the position promoted by Hillary Clinton.