Archive

February 6th, 2017

Ruling by Chaos

    As Donald Trump was sworn in, my inbox filled up with concerns about the future of the Environmental Protection Agency. Allegedly, scientists were being censored. References to climate change were being erased.

    But all that was just a warm-up act.

    Before we could really act on the EPA, down came Constitution-shredding executive orders against refugees and Muslim immigrants.

    The problem, for those of us who care about due process and the rule of law, is that it’s impossible to put out one fire before the next one begins — or to even keep track of everything.

    For instance, as lawyers worked to ensure that Iraqis who’d put their lives in danger working for the U.S. weren’t deported back to Iraq, Trump removed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence from his National Security Council.

    In their place, he installed the controversial white supremacist Steve Bannon (who’s stated that his goal is to “destroy the state”) and his own chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

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Trump's corporate bullying will only hurt Americans

    Friday is President Donald Trump's inaugural "jobs day," the first time that official employment figures will be released on his watch. While it is far too early to assess whether his economic policies work, we do know that his approach to job creation is unconventional. Trump seems to be implementing a form of coercive capitalism - in which the president publicly picks winners and losers and uses the power of the office to force corporate leaders to make specific business decisions.

    Early in the Obama administration, our economic team faced intense pressure to go down the road of coercive capitalism. As part of the team that restructured General Motors and Chrysler, we heard voices from all quarters recommending that we demand specific outcomes - from creating jobs only in the United States to building only certain types of vehicles to maintaining a set number of dealerships - in exchange for government financing.

    Ironically, while our actions were derided by many on the right as excessive government interference, we made an explicit decision to prioritize competitiveness over government-favored outcomes, and to leave business decisions to the companies themselves.

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How our incoming secretary of state helped to enrich one of Africa's nastiest dictatorships

    Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing for secretary of state on Jan. 11 was -- as anticipated -- saturated with hard-hitting questions about climate change and his cozy relationship with Russia's oligarchy. But several senators also raised incisive questions about ExxonMobil's role in my homeland, Equatorial Guinea, noting that Tillerson's company helped to sustain, enrich and embolden a dictator and the circle of family and sycophants who surround him. Tillerson feigned ignorance, danced around the questions, and even avoided mentioning the country by name.

    "I have no direct knowledge of that," Tillerson replied to a question from Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. To Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., he claimed: "I'd have to review for my memory the circumstance you're talking about." Why would Tillerson dodge questions about a nation where, just two years ago, his company pompously celebrated its 1-billion-barrel-production threshold?

    An inconvenient truth: Exxon enables kleptocracy in Equatorial Guinea.

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Remember Merrick Garland

    "What I would expect from our Democratic friends is that the nominee be handled similarly to Clinton's and Obama's first two nominees in their first terms," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Jan. 31. "They were given up-or-down votes."

    Is he kidding? How dumb does he think we are? Yes, we remember Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. But we also remember Merrick Garland.

    Named by President Obama to the Supreme Court one year ago to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the universally respected Garland did not get an up-or-down vote. Nor did he get the opportunity to make his case before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Several Republican senators did not even extend him the courtesy of a handshake or meeting.

    With Garland, Republicans argued there was no need to exercise their constitutional "advise and consent" responsibility because the court was functioning just fine with only eight members. And, besides, they said, totally rewriting the Constitution, the people, not the president, should decide who makes the Supreme Court appointment.

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How a 'chaos candidate' becomes a disaster president

    President Donald Trump has done an unexpected favor to former President Barack Obama's legacy. The bumpy rollout of Trump's travel ban makes the botched rollout of Obama's Affordable Care Act look smooth as silk.

    Putting aside for a moment the critical question of whether the ban will make Americans safer (spoiler alert: probably not), the too-hastily written order sparked global confusion over how it was to be implemented. As critics in both parties have said, Trump's order for "extreme vetting" needed a lot more vetting, too.

    As a result, the new president's signing of the executive order stranded travelers around the world, led to protests at airports across the country, touched off chaotic scenes across the immigration and national security bureaucracy.

    Trump's executive order, unveiled last Friday at the end of his first full week in office, barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

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Donald the Menace

    For the past couple of months, thoughtful people have been quietly worrying that the Trump administration might get us into a foreign policy crisis, maybe even a war.

    Partly this worry reflected Donald Trump’s addiction to bombast and swagger, which plays fine in Breitbart and on Fox News but doesn’t go down well with foreign governments. But it also reflected a cold view of the incentives the new administration would face: as working-class voters began to realize that candidate Trump’s promises about jobs and health care were insincere, foreign distractions would look increasingly attractive.

    The most likely flashpoint seemed to be China, the subject of much Trumpist tough talk, where disputes over islands in the South China Sea could easily turn into shooting incidents.

    But the war with China will, it seems, have to wait. First comes Australia. And Mexico. And Iran. And the European Union. (But never Russia.)

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Dashed expectations are what's powering white anger

    A new theory that's gaining some ground in economics and finance is extrapolative expectations, which says that people tend to mistakenly think that recent trends are going to keep going. That theory could help explain financial bubbles. But I also believe it can help explain a lot of the anger we're now seeing in the political world -- especially the rage that led to the rise of Donald Trump.

    During the 2016 election, people often debated whether Trump's supporters were motivated by economic anxiety. Plenty of evidence showed that Trump voters weren't doing worse, economically speaking, than those who voted for Hillary Clinton. But that might not be the whole story.

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Pence’s Presidential Pet

    The world was a-swoon over Donald Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court. And the way Trump announced it.

    “How normal!” enthused a CNN commentator.

    Yes! Trump managed to introduce Judge Neil Gorsuch to an audience of supporters without bragging about the size of the crowd. However, he did suggest he’s “studied” Gorsuch’s work. Since the judge does not have a history of either tweeting or writing about Donald Trump, serious presidential perusal seems highly unlikely.

    Gorsuch is what they call an originalist, a judicial breed that cynics define as people who believe that if the founding fathers were around today, they would be best friends and agree on everything. He’s extremely conservative.

    Colleagues say he’s pleasant and thoughtful, which will do you no good whatsoever if you’re worried about reproductive rights or federal regulation to reduce climate change. But it had the Republicans in Congress doing happy dances all over the Capitol. Really, they were afraid Trump was going to nominate Don King.

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An Apology to Muslims

    Whenever an extremist in the Muslim world does something crazy, people demand that moderate Muslims step forward to condemn the extremism. So let’s take our own advice: We Americans should now condemn our own extremist.

    In that spirit, I hereby apologize to Muslims. The mindlessness and heartlessness of the travel ban should humiliate us, not you. Understand this: President Donald Trump is not America!

    I apologize to Nadia Murad, the brave young Yazidi woman from Iraq who was made a sex slave — but since escaping, has campaigned around the world against ISIS and sexual slavery. She has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize yet is now barred from the United States.

    I apologize to Edna Adan, a heroic Somali woman who has battled for decades for women’s health and led the fight against female genital mutilation. Edna speaks at U.S, universities, champions girls’ education and defies extremists — and she’s one of those inspiring me to do the same.

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Fruit of a Poison Tree

    So the “president,” who was “elected” under the fog of Russian interference (now under investigation by both houses of Congress) and with a boost from the director of the FBI (now under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general), has just made a nomination to the Supreme Court: Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Denver.

    Pundits have been applauding like a pod of trained seals in the hours since the announcement, gushing about how brilliant Donald Trump’s rollout of Gorsuch was, how immensely qualified he is and how difficult it would be for Democrats to block his nomination if they chose to do so.

    Let’s tackle each of these individually, but let’s do so under the umbrella of this ultimatum that I believe the liberal base is sending to the Democratic Party: Fight this, tooth and nail. Never give up and never give in.

    This seat on the Supreme Court was stolen from Barack Obama when Republicans refused to even hold hearings for his nominee, and the election was stolen from the American public by maleficent figures, foul of motive and moving in shadows.

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