Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Ethics? Trump?

Grub first: then ethics
— Bertolt Brecht, Three Penny Opera

It is a distinct pleasure to be the first columnist to disabuse a troubled American public of an easily understandable, but totally incorrect, belief in the meaning of a term that has entered the national conversation and caused consternation among political observers. The misunderstanding arises because of the use of the words “ethics,” and “Trump,” in the same sentence. That usage evokes, in the average citizen, a sense of disbelief that is difficult to set aside. Thus, it is not surprising that when there were headlines announcing the administration’s initial refusal to release dozens of “ethics waivers” for those serving in the administration, alarm bells were sounded by those who do not understand what is meant when an individual receives an “ethics waver.” The assumption made by those unfamiliar with the term, is that those who receive such waivers may, with impunity, act unethically whenever it suits them. That is, of course, not what such a waiver means, but the misunderstanding is understandable given the activities of the members of the Trump family since DJT assumed the throne. There are countless examples of DJT’s imperviousness to ethical matters and, citing the advice of his lawyers, he has consistently asserted that being president he can act unethically with complete impunity as well as immunity. Thus, as an example, DJT said that all profits received by his companies from foreign sources staying at his hotels, would be donated to charities so he would not profit from foreign governments patronizing his hotel. The Trump Organization has now said that for it to determine which guests’ payments would qualify as being from a foreign government would be impractical and violate the guests’ rights to privacy. As a result, DJT gets to keep the profits. With respect to DJT’s family, ethical questions are regularly posed by his daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, whose financial ties are of amazing complexity and pose all sorts of potential for conflicts of interest that, given their general insensitivity to such matters, are destined to remain in the news so long as they remain in the White House.

The important thing for readers to understand, is that an “ethical waiver” does not mean that those obtaining them are given license to behave in an unethical manner the way the Trump clan can. The use of the phrase must be understood in the context of the executive order that was signed by DJT on January 28, 2017, eight days after he assumed office. It was called “Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees.” It is an impressive document that contains more than 3100 words. The first three paragraphs address exactly the same thing three different ways, which proves how terribly important the obligations imposed by those three paragraphs are. The first and third paragraphs say anyone appointed to an executive agency agrees to a 5-year restriction on lobbying activities when that individual’s employment in that agency ends. The second paragraph says the employee agrees to do the things agreed to in the other two paragraphs, thus making it extra enforceable.  

With respect to those joining the administration, the appointee agrees that the appointee will not, for a period of 2 years from the date of the appointment, participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to a former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.

As important as the foregoing provisions are, none is more significant than the provision found in section 3. That provision might be called the “Allie allie outs in free” section of the executive order. Its formal designation is much simpler. It is simply entitled “waiver” and says in part: “(a) The President or his designee may grant to any person a waiver of any restrictions contained in the pledge signed by such person.    (b)  A waiver shall take effect when the certification is signed by the President or his designee.” A legal opinion issued in 2010 says ethics waivers cannot be made retroactive. Since DJT wanted some of the waivers to be retroactive because of the activities of some of his appointees following their appointment, and since the waivers cannot be made retroactive, DJT came up with a clever way of circumventing the rule. The waivers that were given to senior White House staff are undated and the administration has refused to say when they were issued. Thus, the white House has unethically managed to bless the actions of those receiving the waivers even though the waivers were not in force when the proscribed conduct took place.

Those reading about the foregoing and learning from headlines that more than two dozen ethics waivers were going to be released could be forgiven if they assumed that an ethics waiver meant that its recipient could, with impunity, and following in the footsteps of DJT and his Trump children and other family members, behave unethically. That is not, obviously, what use of those two words mean. All they mean is that an appointee is free to contact those that he or she could not have contacted without the waiver. It does not mean that any unethical behavior arising out of those contacts is sanctioned. That is why it differs from rules applying to the Trump family. Sad but not surprising. Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Immigrant as Criminal

Useless laws weaken the necessary laws.
—Charles de Secondat, De l’Espirit des Louis (1748)

As usual, the fake news people are trying to make a big deal out of the fact that it took DJT more than 48 hours to respond to the killing of two men on a Portland commuter train, and the serious injury of a third, by a United States citizen. The killings took place after two teenage girls, one of them wearing an hijab, were verbally attacked by the United States citizen. Three bystanders came to the defense of the girls and the United States citizen killed two of them and grievously wounded the third.

At the time of the incident, DJT had just returned from a triumphant trip abroad, his first as president, and he was, of course, focused on the success of that trip and other things that had happened in his absence. Between the time of the murder on May 26 and Memorial Day on May 29, DJT sent out more than a dozen tweets praising himself for the self-perceived success of his foreign travels, praising the newly elected member of Congress who successfully body slammed a reporter to the floor to teach the reporter not to ask questions, and tweetily slamming the media for publishing reports critical of DJT. But that in itself is not why DJT did not comment on actions of the United States citizen. He failed to comment because there are, on average, 23 gun homicides a day in the United States, most of them by United States citizens, and any number of non-gun murders. If DJT tweeted about every murder that takes place in the United States on a daily basis, he would have little time to tweet about anything else.

Nonetheless, “Fake news” sites such as the New York Times commented that DJT seemed not to have noticed the events that took place in Portland. A former prominent newscaster, Dan Rather, went so far as to send a letter to DJT, drawing DJT’s attention to what had happened in Portland. He concluded his letter saying, “Two Americans have died leaving family and friends behind. . . . I hope you can find it worthy of your time to take notice.” DJT did so the following day in a sympathy tweet.

The reason DJT did not respond without prompting, is that the murderer was a United States citizen. Had the murderer been an immigrant, DJT’s response would have been quite different. As he said in an interview on Fox news some weeks ago: “We’ve gotten tremendous criminals out of this country. I’m talking about illegal immigrants that were here that caused tremendous crime. That have murdered people, raped people – horrible things have happened. They’re getting the hell out or they’re going to prison.” And DJT has done more than just complain about those “tremendous criminals” who are immigrants. He has demonstrated his concern about crimes committed by immigrant criminals by creating a new office in the Department of Homeland Security that will help only those who are the victims of crimes committed by immigrants.

The new office is called “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement” or “Voice” for short. It gives voice to victims of crimes if they are lucky enough to have become victims because of the actions of immigrants. It does not help victims who achieved their status through the actions of United States citizens, such as the ones in Portland. The website for Voice says its mission is to “support victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens, through access to information and resources.” Describing voice, John F. Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, said: “All crime is terrible, but these victims are unique-and too often ignored. These are casualties of crimes that should never have taken place because the people who victimized them oftentimes should not have been in the country in the first place.”

Voice will be staffed by 27 specialists in victim assistance and 21 community relations officers who “will assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens.” The office will provide a hot line for victims to call to get information about the status of their criminal’s case and the criminal’s progress through the immigration system.

It would not be surprising to learn that readers who know of the existence of Voice will secretly entertain the hope that, if they are the victims of a criminal act, it will not be committed by a United States citizen, but by a removable criminal alien. Their hope would be inspired because of the benefits available through Voice. They should realize that it is unlikely that their hopes will be realized. Notwithstanding DJT’s comments to Fox news, immigrants are, in fact, less likely to engage in criminal conduct than United States citizens. Among men between 18 and 49, immigrants were only one-half to one-fifth as likely to find themselves incarcerated as native born Americans. Immigrants make up 7% of the population in the United States, but only 5% of prison population. That is not meant to suggest that Voice is useless. Its creation enables DJT to believe he is doing something worthwhile. Would that he were.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Don Trumpoté de la Torre

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where

madness lies? 

— Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote de la Mancha

In the novel, Don Quixote is remembered for, among other things, tilting at windmills he believed to be hostile giants, as he travelled through Spain in search of perceived evils he could remedy, or people he could help. Instead of tilting at windmills, believing them to be giants, our very own DonTrumpoté, has been tilting at windmills by insisting that voter fraud is rampant in the United States. To rid the country of this evil, he has appointed a commission to study this non-existent problem and recommend solutions. By creating a commission to investigate a non-existent problem, Don Trumpoté guarantees that the perceived, but nonexistent evil of voter fraud, will remain on the front burner of the stove on which Don Trumpoté cooks all his facts.

To accompany him on his travels, and help him accomplish the goals he had set for himself, Don Quixote enlisted the help of Sancho Panza, a simple man who, unlike Don Quixote, was not delusional. When Don Trumpoté decided to attack voter fraud and established the “Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” he asked Sancho Kobach, to serve as the vice chair of the commission. At this point, and in fairness to Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza, it should be noted that Sancho Panza did not share Don Quixote’s delusions and, recognized that Don Quixote did not see things as they were. Sancho Kobach, by contrast, is every bit as delusional as Don Trumpoté, and had established his credentials in tilting at voter fraud prior to his appointment to the commission.

Sancho Kobach aka Kris Kobach, is the Kansas Secretary of State, and in that capacity has actively sought to eliminate and then prevent non-existent voter fraud. A Kansas law known as the Secure and Fair Elections Law was passed by the Kansas legislature to protect the state from nonexistent voter fraud. It was struck down by a federal court, insofar as it pertained to federal elections, and in striking it down, the judge observed that: “There is evidence of only three instances where noncitizens actually voted in a federal election between 1995 and 2013.” The judge further observed that during that same period, only 14 non-citizens attempted to vote. Although Sancho intended to appeal, he feared no favorable ruling could be obtained before the 2016 general election. He prevailed on the Kansas Rules and Regulation board to issue a temporary regulation in July 2016, to make it more difficult for people to vote, hoping that would prevent fraud in Kansas in the upcoming elections.

In early February 2017, White House Policy Advisor, Stephen Miller, was interviewed on an ABC Sunday morning show. When asked about Don Trumpeto’s claims of massive voter fraud during the 2016 election, Mr. Miller suggested that Sancho Kobach should be invited on to the show “because he can walk you through some of the evidence of voter fraud in greater detail.” The next day Sancho Kobach was interviewed on CNN by Kate Boduan, and was unable to provide any evidence of millions of cases of voter fraud. He did, however, say that in Kansas alone, six people had pled guilty to the crime of voting in two states, an indication, in Sancho’s mind, of rampant voter fraud. He was unable to provide any other evidence of massive voter fraud, but promised it would be forthcoming. The country is still waiting.

In addition to the federal judge who ruled in the Kansas case, Sancho Kobach’s belief in voter fraud is belied by the number of federal court cases that have examined the question. In one case in the U.S. court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the court observed, in a voting rights case before it, that in Arizona and Kansas “only a tiny fraction of one percent of registered voters were non-citizens.” In a Washington Post article in early December 2016, the paper found that there were four documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election.

Vice president Pence is chairing the advisory commission, but it is almost certainly Sancho who will be the actual leader since he has nothing else to do with his time. Mr. Pence said the commission would “review ways to strengthen the integrity of elections in order to protect and preserve the principle of one person, one vote, because the integrity of the vote is the foundation of our democracy.”

Commenting on the appointment of Sancho to the advisory commission, Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said that Sancho “might use his position on the presidential commission to sow doubt about the integrity of elections and then push to amend federal voting law to require proof of citizenship. . . . I mean, he’s the king of voter suppression.” Marc Veasey, co-chair of the House Voting Rights Caucus said: “During Secretary Kobach’s term, the state of Kansas implemented a severely restrictive voter ID law designed to discourage and suppress voters rather than assure fair elections. We all have reason to be wary of his intentions in leading this commission.”

At the end of the novel, Sancho Panza accompanies Don Quixote back to his home where, restored to sanity, he developed a fever that led to his death. Don Quixote’s bout with madness had no effect on Spain. It affected only Don Quixote. It is too bad that cannot be said about the madness of Don Trumpoté and Sancho Kobach.