Wednesday, March 01, 2017


I will be going in for surgery later today and then for more surgery tomorrow.  So I am not sure how much blogging I will be able to do for a few days.  You can't keep a good blogger down, however so I should be able to put up something.


Despite the Hysteria, Trump Is Trending Less Authoritarian Than Obama

Through personnel and policy, President Trump is limiting the executive branch

Lost in most of the coverage of President Trump's decision to rescind the Obama administration's transgender mandates is a fundamental legal reality - the Trump administration just relinquished federal authority over gender-identity policy in the nation's federally funded schools and colleges.

In other words, Trump was less authoritarian than Obama. And that's not the only case. Consider the following examples where his administration, through policy or personnel, appears to be signaling that the executive branch intends to become less intrusive in American life and more accountable to internal and external critique.

Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, a man known not just for his intellect and integrity but also for his powerful legal argument against executive-branch overreach. Based on his previous legal writings, if Gorsuch had his way, the federal bureaucracy could well face the most dramatic check on its authority since the early days of the New Deal. By overturning judicial precedents that currently require judicial deference to agency legal interpretations, the Court could put a stop to the current practice of presidents and bureaucrats steadily (and vastly) expanding their powers by constantly broadening their interpretations of existing legal statutes.

For example, the EPA has dramatically expanded its control over the American economy even without Congress passing significant new environmental legislation. Instead, the EPA keeps revising its interpretation of decades-old statutes like the Clean Air Act, using those new interpretations to enact a host of comprehensive new regulations. If Gorsuch's argument wins the day, the legislative branch would be forced to step up at the expense of the executive, no matter how "authoritarian" a president tried to be.

Trump nominated H. R. McMaster to replace Michael Flynn as his national-security adviser. McMaster made his name as a warrior on battlefields in the Gulf War and the Iraq War, but he made his name as a scholar by writing a book, Dereliction of Duty, that strongly condemned Vietnam-era generals for simply rolling over in the face of Johnson-administration blunders and excesses. In his view, military leaders owe their civilian commander in chief honest and courageous counsel - even when a president may not want to hear their words.

 When the Ninth Circuit blocked Trump's immigration executive order (which was certainly an aggressive assertion of presidential power), he responded differently from the Obama administration when it faced similar judicial setbacks. Rather than race to the Supreme Court in the attempt to expand presidential authority, it backed up (yes, amid considerable presidential bluster) and told the Ninth Circuit that it intends to rewrite and rework the order to address the most serious judicial concerns and roll back its scope.

Indeed, if you peel back the layer of leftist critiques of Trump's early actions and early hires, they contain a surprising amount of alarmism over the rollback of governmental power. Education activists are terrified that Betsy DeVos will take children out of government schools or roll back government mandates regarding campus sexual-assault tribunals. Environmentalists are terrified that Scott Pruitt will make the EPA less activist. Civil-rights lawyers are alarmed at the notion that Jeff Sessions will inject the federal government into fewer state and local disputes over everything from school bathrooms to police traffic stops.

A president is "authoritarian" not when he's angry or impulsive or incompetent or tweets too much. He's authoritarian when he seeks to expand his own power beyond constitutional limits. In this regard, the Obama administration - though far more polite and restrained in most of its public comments - was truly one of our more authoritarian.

Obama exercised his so-called prosecutorial discretion not just to waive compliance with laws passed by Congress (think of his numerous unilateral delays and waivers of Obamacare deadlines) but also to create entirely new immigration programs such as DACA and DAPA. He sought to roll back First Amendment protections for political speech (through his relentless attacks on Citizens United), tried to force nuns to facilitate access to birth control, and he even tried to inject federal agencies like the Equality Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) into the pastor-selection process, a move blocked by a unanimous Supreme Court. In foreign policy, he waged war without congressional approval and circumvented the Constitution's treaty provisions to strike a dreadful and consequential deal with Iran.

There's no doubt that Trump has expressed on occasion authoritarian desires or instincts. In the campaign, he expressed his own hostility for the First Amendment, his own love of expansive government eminent-domain takings (even to benefit private corporations), endorsed and encouraged violent responses against protesters, and declared that he alone would fix our nation's most pressing problems. But so far, not only has an authoritarian presidency not materialized, it's nowhere on the horizon.

Instead, he's facing a free press that has suddenly (and somewhat cynically) rediscovered its desire to "speak truth to power," an invigorated, activist judiciary, and a protest movement that's jamming congressional town halls from coast to coast. This tweet, from Sonny Bunch, is perfect:

"Donald Trump is such a terrifying fascist dictator that literally no one fears speaking out against him on literally any platform"

It was just three weeks ago that David Frum published a much-discussed essay in The Atlantic outlining how Trump could allegedly build an American autocracy. Over at Vox, Ezra Klein wrote at length about how the Founders' alleged failures laid the groundwork for a "partyocracy." And now? Trump's early struggles are leading pundits to ask, "Can Trump help Democrats take back the House?" In the American system, accountability comes at you fast.

Liberals were blind to Obama's authoritarian tendencies in part because they agreed with his goals and in part because their adherence to "living Constitution" theories made the separation of powers far more conditional and situational. But authoritarianism is defined by how a president exercises power, not by the rightness of his goals. It's early, and things can obviously change, but one month into the new presidency, a trend is emerging - Trump is less authoritarian than the man he replaced.



Trump Administration Said to Be Mulling Withdrawal From UN Human Rights Council

Get America out of the UN and the UN out of America

The U.N. Human Rights Council opens a regular four-week session on Monday, amid reports that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing from a body which its predecessor chose to embrace despite acknowledging its many flaws.

Citing unnamed “sources in regular contact with former and current U.S. officials,” Politico reported Saturday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s office had initiated a series of requests suggesting “that he is questioning the value of the U.S. belonging to the Human Rights Council.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Mission in Geneva said he had no response to offer on the report, “beyond [the] fact that the U.S. is actively involved in the session that started today.”

President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the U.N., and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley questioned the council’s worth at her confirmation hearing last month.

“What is the goal of the Human Rights Council when they allow Cuba and China to serve on those?” she asked. “They are basically protecting their own interests, while they’re going after other countries to make sure they give them a hard time. And so, do we want to be a part of that?”

One of the criticisms most often raised by U.S. officials about the Geneva-based HRC since its creation in 2006 is the presence of rights-abusing governments on the U.N.’s top human rights body.

At no time over the past decade have more than 25 of the council’s 47 members (53 percent) been countries characterized by Freedom House as “free.” At its worst, last year, only 18 members (38 percent) were “free.”

This year, one in four of the elected members are rights-abusing autocracies.

A second major criticism is the council’s relentless focus on Israel, while some of the world’s most egregious abusive situations are often ignored.

In her Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony, Haley noted that over the past decade, the HRC “has passed 62 resolutions condemning the reasonable actions Israel takes to defend its security. Meanwhile the world’s worst human rights abusers in Syria, Iran, and North Korea received far fewer condemnations. This cannot continue.”

The actual number of HRC resolutions condemning Israel since 2006 is 67, according to data compiled by the NGO Human Rights Voices. Next comes Syria’s Assad regime, at 22, Burma at 15, Sudan at 14, Somalia at 11 and North Korea at 10.

In many cases countries with poor rights records have not faced a single critical HRC resolution. They include Cuba, China, Ethiopia, Laos, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

The two key criticisms were cited by the Bush administration when it decided not to join or cooperate with the HRC. Its successor, which came in pledging to deepen U.N. engagement in general, reversed course in 2009, still critical of the HRC but arguing that it could best achieve change from within.

The anti-Israel bias is driven largely by the fact that, out of 192 U.N. member-states, Israel alone is targeted with a permanent agenda item. Every time the council holds a regular session Israel stands to be examined and condemned, irrespective of crises elsewhere in the world. When the HRC held a review in 2011 of its first five years, the Obama administration tried but failed to have the Israel agenda item removed.

Still, it maintains that its HRC engagement was effective. In an “exit memo” last month, outgoing ambassador Samantha Power argued that U.S. leadership had eased some of the pressure on Israel.

“[T]hrough our leadership in the Council since 2009 we have succeeded in getting the body to expand its focus, reducing by half the share of country-specific resolutions on Israel,” she said.

Human Rights Voices data show that the proportion of total HRC resolutions targeting Israel did drop, although only in 2011 (from 40 percent in 2008, 43.7 percent in 2009, and 44.4 percent in 2010, to 29.1 percent in 2011.)

Despite concerns, one of the HRC’s most outspoken critics argued on Sunday for the U.S. not to walk away.

“Should the U.S. leave the morally corrupt U.N. Human Rights Council?” asked Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based NGO U.N. Watch. “Walking out would feel good – but probably only make things worse.

“There’s a reason that France, Russia, China and every other world power invests time, money and political capital to campaign for a seat at the U.N. Human Rights Council: to gain influence in a consequential world body,” he said.

“Like it or not, the UNHRC’s decisions, translated into every language, influence the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people around the globe.”

“If the U.S. wants to be a winner, it would be foolish to abandon the coveted 3-year term [2017-2019] that it just won a few months ago.”

“The Obama administration did become a cheerleader of the council. That was wrong,” Neuer hold the lawmakers. “But someone who would come to the council and take the floor as Moynihan did in the ‘Zionism is racism’ debate [in 1975], would actually be a contribution to human rights and to combating anti-Israel bias. So I would like to see the new administration send an ambassador of that nature.”



A photobomb?

Confidence: Kellyanne Conway relaxes on the couch in the Oval Office as President Trump poses for a group photo with leaders of historically black universities and college.  Who said she was "on the outer" these days?  She's a great gal.


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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