Wednesday, March 08, 2017
Historically speaking, Trump's foreign policy not all that radical
Although the administration of President Donald Trump is still new to its duties and has been somewhat erratic with its foreign policy plans, a historic comparison with past presidents shows that while Trump is indeed shaking things up with a few key ideas, he's largely following the usual route on international relations.
Leaving Russia's meddling in the recent election aside for a moment, it should be noted that Trump's long-running efforts to better relations with Russia are nothing new. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush both attempted but failed to carry out resets with our Cold War enemy. Their efforts fell short because they refused to empathize with Russia's intrinsically poor security situation.
Russia has been invaded across the North European Plain many times, including the Nazis' catastrophic attack during World War II that cost millions of Russian civilian lives. And although the United States is half a world away, in the wake of the Cold War, it advanced a hostile NATO alliance to Russia's borders and today still performs military maneuvers in Eastern European ally nations.
Russia is still weak and its meddling in Eastern Ukraine, including its annexation of Crimea, has primarily been aimed at keeping a vital country out of NATO.
While Trump may come across as more sympathetic than usual to Russia's perspective and has called NATO "obsolete," his vice president, secretary of defense, and secretary of homeland security all recently traveled to Europe to reiterate support for the alliance. While there, they reminded some of our wealthy allies of their financial obligations to the pact, something past administrations have failed to do.
That said, tough guy Trump needs to stiffen his spine and tell Russia bluntly and publicly that there will be hell to pay if it ever tries to meddle in American elections again. If China and other would-be meddlers hear the message too, even better.
In regards to immigration, while Trump's travel ban seems to have been based on a wildly exaggerated threat of terrorism, his plans to deport illegal immigrants en masse follow in the footsteps of Obama, whose administration did more than its fair share of deporting.
Even Trump's proposed wall isn't totally new. America's southern border is already sporadically fenced in some locations along its extensive course.
Trump has talked about reversing Obama's thawing of relations with Cuba and scrapping the international nuclear deal with Iran. But Michael Flynn, an anti-Iran hawk, is out as national security adviser, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, though he takes a dim view of Iran, has supported living with the deal. The agreement, which will therefore probably survive, will delay an Iranian nuclear weapon for at least 10 to 15 years, a positive outcome for the entire world and particularly Iran's primary adversaries - the Arab Gulf states and Israel.
The one area where significant change could occur is his ill-advised protectionist trade policies, a centerpiece of his campaign.
He has scrapped Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have further opened up trade with Asian nations but was politically dead even before Trump took office. In addition, he's threatened to increase tariffs on Mexico, China and on U.S. companies that manufacture products overseas and send them back to U.S. shores.
Such initiatives could cause worldwide trade war, as did the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff during Herbert Hoover's administration. The vast reduction in world trade caused by that measure, and adverse foreign reactions to it, deepened the Great Depression and helped cause the conditions leading to World War II. Hopefully, Trump's rhetoric in this area will turn out to be mostly bluster.
In the end, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly will probably end up taming Trump's foreign policy - for better or for worse.
Obama's Intelligence Chief Says `No Evidence' of Trump-Russian Collusion; Media Focus on Wiretap Denial
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Sunday denied knowledge of any wire-tapping of then-nominee or president-elect Donald Trump - but in an assertion receiving considerably less press attention also stated he had no knowledge of evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Clapper appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" a day after the president alleged on Twitter that President Obama had tapped Trump Tower before the election.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer in a series of subsequent tweets said Trump wanted congressional investigations into Russian activity to be broadened to probe "whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016." Spicer also said the White House would not comment further about the allegations until that happens.
Clapper made two key statements during Sunday's interview.
First, he said that the agencies he oversaw as DNI - which include the CIA, FBI Intelligence branch and National Security Agency - did not conduct any "wiretap activity" against Trump or his campaign and that to his knowledge no FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court order for such surveillance was issued.
He stressed that he could only speak for the intelligence community, not for state or local agencies or for government entities authorized under Title Three of the 1968 "Wiretap Act."
But Clapper then went on to say that to his knowledge there was "no evidence" of "collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians."
"We did not include any evidence in our report - and I say `our,' that's NSA, FBI and CIA, with my office, the Director of National Intelligence - that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report."
"I understand that," said interviewer Chuck Todd. "But does it exist?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"If it existed, it would have been in this report?"
"This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.," Clapper replied, "but at the time I - we had no evidence of such collusion."
Clapper stepped down on January 20, the day Obama's term ended.
The former DNI told Todd it was in the interests of the president Republicans and Democrats alike, and the country, to get to the bottom of the Russia allegations.
"Because it's such a distraction," he said. "And certainly the Russians have to be chortling about the success of their efforts to sow dissention in this country."
Clapper said towards the end of the interview he had little doubt he would be called upon to testify in congressional probes into the Russian activities.
A non-exhaustive review of media coverage in the hours after the NBC show aired found just a small handful of headlines that focused on Clapper's comments about no evidence having been found of Russia-Trump collusion.
In contrast, scores of news stories' headlines focused on Clapper's no-wiretapping remarks, ranging from straight "Clapper denies" to the liberal PoliticusUSA site's breathless, "Clapper Destroys Trump's Wild Accusations Saying There Was No Such Wiretap Activity."
Rare exceptions included a McClatchy report headlined "Obama's intel chief says he knows of no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion" and a Newsmax story headlined "Obama Intel Chief Clapper: Denies Wire Tap Claim, `No Evidence of Collusion' Between Trump, Russians."
NBCNews.com's own homepage on Sunday evening included five headlines linked to the wiretapping claim - and none to Clapper's no-Russia-Trump collusion claim.
EEOC's Budget Should Be Cut to Protect Free Speech and Jobs
Congress should cut the budget of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Doing so will help the economy and protect civil liberties. As legal scholars and journalists have noted, the EEOC's actions have often discouraged hiring and undermined free speech.
Under the Obama administration, the EEOC sued employers for using hiring criteria required by state law, demanding that they violate health and safety codes. It even pressured employers to hire felons as armed guards. The EEOC sued companies that quite reasonably refuse to employ truck drivers with a history of heavy drinking, even though companies that hire them will be sued under state personal-injury laws when they have an accident. The EEOC has also used costly lawsuits to pressure businesses into hiring or rehiring incompetent employees. In 2011, a hotel chain had to pay $132,500 for dismissing an autistic clerk who did not do his job properly, in order to get the EEOC to dismiss its lawsuit. In 2012, a caf‚ owner had to pay thousands of dollars for not selecting a hearing- and speech-impaired employee for a customer-service position that the employee was unqualified for.
The EEOC has also been criticized by free speech advocates and legal scholars. In 2016, the EEOC was criticized for ordering a racial harassment investigation simply because an agency employee repeatedly wore a harmless cap with the Gadsden flag on it (a flag whose imagery and origins are not racist at all).
Since the EEOC is an independent agency (it currently has three Democratic commissioners and only one Republican commissioner), this problem will likely persist even under the new administration. Last month, the EEOC angered free-speech advocates by using an erroneous definition of religious harassment to force an agency to pay over $20,000 to a lawyer and Labor Department employee because a supervisor used the word "Hebrew slave" to describe himself.
The EEOC sometimes exhibits contempt for the very laws it administers. The EEOC was found guilty of systematic, illegal, reverse discrimination in Jurgens v. Thomas (1982), which it continued to illegally engage in for years, even after being ordered to stop. (See Terry v. Gallegos, 926 F.Supp. 679 (W.D. Tenn. 1996)). EEOC officials have also frequently committed sexual misconduct. (See, e.g., Spain v. Gallegos, 26 F.3d 439 (3rd Cir.1994)). The Washington Post reported in 2009 that "the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, responsible for ensuring that the nation's workers are treated fairly, has itself willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act on a nationwide basis with its own employees."
Given the EEOC's contempt for the law, and its attacks on free speech, its budget should be cut substantially. Budget cuts would effectively force EEOC staff to focus more on its core areas of responsibility - such as processing valid federal employee discrimination claims-rather than suing private employers, or stretching the law to hold agencies liable for perfectly legal conduct. There are many overlapping legal remedies for discrimination and federal employee dismissal, so a smaller EEOC budget need not lead to valid discrimination or harassment claims going unaddressed. Most discrimination victims already sue without any help from the EEOC.
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Posted by JR at 1:31 AM