Thursday, May 12, 2016

Rove: Trump vs. Clinton, Beyond The Cage Match

Her résumé scores with voters, but he wins on who can bring change.


By Karl Rove
The Wall Street Journal
May 12, 2016


This presidential campaign is good at producing attention-grabbing train wrecks. Last week Hillary Clinton attacked Donald Trump as “a loose cannon.” In turn, Mr. Trump called Mrs. Clinton “the total enabler” of her husband’s affairs, and then he suggested that America repudiate some of its national debt.

This kind of back-and-forth in the 25 weeks left before Election Day may draw attention. But what will largely decide the contest—what will sway voters in the end—is the candidates’ success in emphasizing their principal selling points and undermining each other’s.

Mrs. Clinton argues that experience and temperament make her more qualified. Mr. Trump only claims that he will bring about necessary change. Polling shows both narratives have traction.

In the April NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, 53% of voters rated Mrs. Clinton good or very good on “being knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency”; 26% graded her poor or very poor. By comparison, only 21% rated Mr. Trump good or very good, and 61% poor or very poor. When pollsters asked if Mrs. Clinton had the “right temperament” for the job, 41% rated her positively. Only 12% said that of Mr. Trump.

Team Clinton will attempt to depict Mr. Trump as ignorant and unbalanced. Mrs. Clinton pounced this week when John Dickerson asked her on “Face the Nation” about the “loose cannon” remark. She attacked Mr. Trump for saying Japan and South Korea should acquire nuclear weapons, for declaring NATO obsolete, and for arguing the U.S. should target the families of terrorists, “which would be a war crime.”

For good measure, she rapped him for his comments on abortion: “When he says women should be punished for having abortions, what does that mean?” She suggested his comments on the debt demonstrate that “he just doesn’t understand that running our government is not the same as making real estate deals.” One difficulty of this approach is that it further paints Mrs. Clinton as status quo, a third term for President Obama.

Mr. Trump’s appeal comes from a powerful desire for change. In the recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 24% of voters thought America was “generally headed in the right direction,” and 70% felt “that things are off on the wrong track.” These numbers are historically high and have been getting worse. Desire for change like this has led to defeat in six of the seven modern elections when a party was striving for a third White House term.

But the real-estate mogul has yet to convince enough people he is the man to set America back on track. When pollsters asked if Mr. Trump would bring “real change to the direction of the country,” 37% of voters responded positively, and 43% negatively. Mrs. Clinton’s numbers on the same question were 22% positive and 49% negative.

The reality-TV star’s problem is that voters don’t give him the overwhelming edge on change that Mrs. Clinton enjoys on experience and temperament. Not being Hillary is good, but insufficient. His challenge is twofold: He must show that his business experience better prepares him to be president than Mrs. Clinton’s years in government prepare her. And he must demonstrate a satisfactory grasp on what needs to be done, so that voters conclude he has what it takes to bring about change.

Mr. Trump rarely goes beyond applause lines. One of his best is a call to care for veterans. Why not couple this with an attack on Mrs. Clinton for claiming last fall that mismanagement at Veterans Affairs “has not been as widespread as it has been made out to be”? Hillary opposes the main alternative to the broken VA system, namely Sen. John McCain’s proposal to allow veterans to get care from private doctors at the government’s expense: Mr. Trump should extol this legislation at every opportunity.

The New York businessman could also attack efforts by government-employee unions to water down measures making it easier to fire or demote VA officials. He might offer up one of his patented slogans: “If you abuse a vet, you’re fired.”

But adding substance to his campaign requires preparation and discipline, traits Mr. Trump lacks. His team demonstrates little interest in fleshing out his agenda, apparently convinced that Mr. Trump can roll to the White House on tweets and personal attacks alone.

Maybe, but winning a general election is different than prevailing in a 17-way primary with 40% support. Unless Mr. Trump gets better at reassuring skeptical swing voters, Mrs. Clinton could overcome the strong desire for change afoot in the land.


Article Link to the Wall Street Journal:

Why the Ryan/Trump Thaw Will Fail

By Peter Wehner
Commentary
May 12, 2016


After their meeting today, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and de facto Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump released conciliatory statements. In his weekly press conference, Ryan spoke in glowing terms about Mr. Trump personally (Ryan says he found Trump to be a “very warm and genuine person”) and said he was “very encouraged” by what he heard from him. While admitting that they have “honest differences” on some key issues, Ryan indicated that he believed he and Trump could find agreement on “the common core principles that unite all of us.” While no endorsement was forthcoming, clearly strides in that direction were made.

It’s pretty clear, I think, what Ryan’s strategy is. He is trying to use his influence as Speaker of the House — and his non-endorsement of Trump last week — to move the former reality television star in a more conservative position; to take a man who is utterly unanchored philosophically and tie him to a conservative dock.

When Ryan said last week that he couldn’t endorse Trump — a stand I was delighted by — it got Trump’s attention. It made it clear to him that he and Ryan needed to meet and figure out how to make this relationship work. Speaker Ryan has some demands. Trump, Ryan clearly hopes, will meet some of them. Not all of them for sure, but enough that Trump will be in a better place philosophically and policy-wise because of Ryan’s intervention.

That’s not an insane or even an unreasonable strategy. Speaker Ryan, one of the brightest and most principled people I know, may be right. Perhaps he can move Trump in some important ways. Maybe he can act as the midwife of a New Trump — more conservative, less repulsive, more presidential.

But count me skeptical.

I believe a rapprochement with Trump is likely to fail for several reasons. The first is because Trump is far too erratic, too unprincipled, and too indifferent to philosophy to stay tied to the conservative dock, assuming Ryan can move him to that point to begin with. Trump is all over the map all the time.

Mr. Trump may say on Thursday that he’s open and even favorable to, say, reforming Medicare — but no one, and I mean no one, would be shocked if on the following Tuesday he suddenly reversed course and said he opposes it. This is a man, after all, who lives in his own world, makes up his own facts, denies his own previous words, and is an inveterate liar. So even if one could secure a commitment from him, what good is it?

Beyond that, there are collateral costs to embracing Trump, for reasons I’ve laid out many times before. I consider him to be a malicious and malignant figure on the American political landscape — cruel, crude, vindictive, obsessive, narcissistic, a nativist and xenophobe, a man who seems to relish demeaning and dehumanizing others. Mr. Trump has made it as clear as he can that he’s not going to change his approach. “You win the pennant and now you’re in the World Series — you gonna change?” Mr. Trump recently said. “People like the way I’m doing.” In this case, I think we should take Trump at his word. He’s not going to change his approach. And his approach is antithetical — and in some cases an offense — to what many of us believe.

I may be wrong, and I’d be delighted to be proven wrong. I’m sure of this: Paul Ryan has a good deal more faith in Donald Trump than do I. He’s trying to build a bridge to the man, which may be admirable. I’m trying to contain a person I consider to be a virulent virus, which may be necessary. Twenty-five weeks from now we’ll be able to assess who made the wiser judgment, my close friend Paul Ryan or me.


Article Link to Commentary:

Thursday, May 12, Night Wall Street Roundup: Wall St. Mixed As Apple Tumbles To Two-Year Low

By Noel Randewich
Reuters
May 12, 2016

U.S. stocks ended mixed on Thursday, with gains in telecommunications and consumer staples helping make up for a tumble in Apple to a two-year low.

The S&P 500 and Dow Jones swerved between gains and losses before ending virtually flat. Up 0.90 percent, Microsoft was the largest upward force in the S&P 500.

Apple Inc (AAPL.O), a mainstay in many portfolios, was the heaviest drag on the three major indexes, slumping 2.35 percent to $90.34, its lowest since June 2014, as worries festered about slowing demand for iPhones.

A rally in the S&P 500 from its February lows petered out in the last two weeks amid underwhelming corporate reports and economic data that clouded the path of interest rate increases this year. The index is now up about 1 percent in 2016.

On Thursday, two U.S. Federal Reserve officials said the central bank should raise rates if data points to an improving economy.

"I don't see any conviction on the part of buyers or sellers at this point," said Warren West, principal at Greentree Brokerage Services in Philadelphia. "It's a slow, grinding economy, so you're going to get slow, grinding stocks."

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI finished 0.05 percent higher at 17,720.5 points and the S&P 500 .SPX ended down 0.02 percent at 2,064.11.

Pinched by Apple's drop, the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC fell 0.49 percent to 4,737.33.

Seven of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors ended higher, led by a 0.72 percent gain in telecommunications .SPLRCL and a 0.54 percent rise in consumer staples .SPLRCS.

The health index .SPXHC lost 0.58 percent, with Allergan (AGN.N) down 3 percent.

Monsanto Co (MON.N) rose 8.39 percent after media reports said the seed company was a possible acquisition target.

First-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies have mostly beaten analysts' expectations, but are estimated to have fallen 5.4 percent from a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Kohl's Corp (KSS.N) tumbled 9.17 percent after posting an unexpected drop in quarterly comparable sales.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,533 to 1,449. On the Nasdaq, 1,912 issues fell and 909 advanced.

The S&P 500 index showed 28 new 52-week highs and 15 new lows, while the Nasdaq had 25 new highs and 104 new lows.

About 7.2 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, matching the daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.


Article Link to Reuters:

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I Saw Trump's Tax Returns. You Should, Too.

By Timothy L. O'Brien
The Bloomberg View
May 12, 2016


In January, Donald Trump had this to say when he was asked about whether he would release his tax returns: “I have very big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful and we’ll be working that over in the next period of time.”

Yet he held off on releasing his returns. And on Tuesday night, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee seemed to close the door for good on the matter. He told the Associated Press that he wouldn’t release his returns prior to the November elections unless what he described as Internal Revenue Service audit of his finances was complete.

“There’s nothing to learn from them,” Trump said of his tax returns.

That prompted Mitt Romney to take Trump to task late Wednesday afternoon.

“It is disqualifying for a modern-day presidential nominee to refuse to release tax returns to the voters, especially one who has not been subject to public scrutiny in either military or public service,” wrote the former GOP presidential nominee in a Facebook post. “While not a likely circumstance, the potential for hidden inappropriate associations with foreign entities, criminal organizations, or other unsavory groups is simply too great a risk to ignore for someone who is seeking to become commander-in-chief.”

Trump then stepped up with a surprise of his own and reversed course again last night, telling Fox News that he would, indeed, release his taxes before the elections. “I’ll release. Hopefully before the election I’ll release,” he said. “And I’d like to release.”

For anyone who had whiplash after all of this, Trump offered some comfort by reaffirming that whenever he might release his returns, there wouldn’t be anything of value to be discovered there anyway.

“You learn very little from a tax return,” he told Fox News.

Actually, as someone who saw Trump’s federal tax returns about a decade ago as part of a legal action in which he sued me for libel (the suit was later dismissed), I think there probably are some things to be learned from them.

The tax returns my lawyers and I reviewed were sealed, and a court order prevents me from speaking or writing about the specifics of what I saw. I can say that Trump routinely delayed -- for months on end -- producing those documents, and when they finally arrived they were so heavily redacted that they looked like crossword puzzles. The litigation ran on for five years, and during that time we had to petition the court to compel Trump to hand over unredacted versions of the tax returns -- which he ultimately did.

So despite Trump’s statements to the contrary, here are some general questions that a full release of at least several years of his tax returns might usefully answer:

1) Income: Trump has made the size of his fortune a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, implying that it’s a measure of his success as a businessman. He has also correctly noted that the income shown on his tax returns isn’t a reflection of his total wealth. Even so, income is a basis for assessing some of the foundations of any individual’s wealth -- and would certainly reflect the financial wherewithal of the businesses in which Trump is involved.

After Fortune’s Shawn Tully dug into Trump’s financial disclosures with the Federal Election Commission and an accompanying personal balance sheet his campaign released, he noted in March that Trump “appears to have overstated his income, by a lot, which could be the reason he has so far tried to avoid releasing his returns.” Tully said that Trump apparently boosted his income in the documents by conflating his various businesses’ revenue with his personal income. Trump didn’t respond to Tully’s assessment, but he could clear up all of that by releasing his tax returns.

2) Business Activities: Trump has long claimed that his company, the Trump Organization, employs thousands of people. He has also criticized Fortune 500 companies for operating businesses overseas at the expense of jobs for U.S. workers. Trump’s returns would show how active he and his businesses are globally -- and would help substantiate the actual size and scope of his operation.

3) Charitable Giving: Trump has said that he’s a generous benefactor to a variety of causes -- especially war veterans -- even though it’s been hard to find concrete evidence to support the assertion. Other examples of major philanthropic largess from Trump have also been elusive. Trump could release his tax returns and put the matter to rest.

4) Tax Planning: There’s been global attention focused on the issue of how politicians and the wealthy use tax havens and shell companies to possibly hide parts of their fortunes from authorities. If released, Trump’s returns would make clear whether or not he used such vehicles.

5) Transparency and Accountability: Trump is seeking the most powerful office in the world. Some of the potential conflicts of interest or financial pressures that may arise if he reaches the White House would get an early airing in a release of his tax returns.

For the last 40 years, presidential candidates have released their returns. Trump, of course, has portrayed himself as the un-candidate, the guy who bucks convention. But disclosing tax returns is a valuable political tradition that’s well worth preserving.


Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

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Bernie Putting Democrats Between A Rock And A Hard Place

By Carl Campanile
The New York Post
May 12, 2016

Democratic leaders went into damage-control mode Wednesday, insisting the party won’t be splintered by Bernie Sanders’ relentless leftist campaign against Hillary Clinton.

A day after Sanders trounced Clinton in the West Virginia presidential primary, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz tried to shift the focus to divisions among Republicans and Donald Trump.

But reporters weren’t buying the spin — peppering her with questions in a telephone press conference about the harsh tone of the Democratic contest, potential unrest at the party’s July convention, and Sanders’ complaints that the platform committees are rigged against him.

Wasserman Schultz said Sanders “misunderstood” the rules and noted most of the convention committee members will be chosen proportionally based on the delegates amassed by the candidates, not by party brass.

Sanders wants the party to adopt his agenda, which includes higher taxes on the rich.

Wasserman Schultz noted that the tone of any campaign gets nastiest toward the end.

“You will have pointed language. I advised the candidates and supporters to be mindful of the language,” she said. “We have passionate people on both sides. We don’t want to make it harder to reunify.”

That may be difficult. Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, on Wednesday predicted a “disaster” if Clinton is nominated.

“Our mission is to win as many pledged delegates as we can between now and June 14,” he said in a fund-raising e-mail, according to The Washington Times.

‘In every state that we have won, in 19 states, we have had to take on the entire Democratic establishment…so please do not moan to me about Hillary Clinton’s problems.’ - Bernie Sanders

“Then we’re going to have a contested convention where the Democratic Party must decide if they want the candidate with the momentum who is best positioned to beat [Donald] Trump, or if they are willing to roll the dice and court disaster simply to protect the status quo.”

Some of Sanders’ staffers and volunteers have even drawn up a plan for the Vermont senator to hold an alternate “convention” if he fails to win the nomination, Politico reported Wednesday night. The early draft notes, however, that Sanders’ ultimate goal would be to defeat Trump at all costs.

Meanwhile, Sanders chafed at a question about Clinton facing attacks both from him and Trump.

“Oh, really? . . . In every state that we have won, in 19 states, we have had to take on the entire Democratic establishment. We have had to take on senators and governors and mayors and members of Congress, so please do not moan to me about Hillary Clinton’s problems,” Sanders said in a MSNBC interview.

A DNC source said preliminary back-channel discussions are under way to make sure Sanders is taken care of — if he quickly backs Clinton when the primary season ends.

“He will give a good floor speech and some wording will be changed in the platform [to accommodate Sanders],” the insider predicted.

And New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the next likely minority leader, will make sure that Sanders gets a hero’s return to the Senate, sources said.


Article Link to the New York Post:

Donald Trump’s Constitution Of One

By Josh Blackman 
The National Review
May 12, 2016


On January 20, 2017, Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath of office to the 45th president: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Donald Trump is utterly unqualified to keep this solemn pledge to our most fundamental law. We know this because in winning the nomination, Trump has already promised that he will knowingly break the law and violate the Constitution.

Free speech? He will “open up the libel laws” to allow public officials to sue the media, and use the Federal Communications Commission to fine critics. Private property? To Trump, eminent domain is a “wonderful thing” and is not actually “taking property” because the owner can move “two blocks away.” Faithfully executing the law? His harebrained scheme to make Mexico pay for the border wall ignores the clear text of a statute and unilaterally prohibits foreign commerce. Serving as commander in chief? Trump has already pledged that he would violate international treaties and domestic law. The military “won’t refuse” his illegal orders. “Believe me,” he promised. Protecting our national security? Trump has lauded FDR’s internment of Japanese Americans, one of the darkest hours in the history of our Republic. And what about the Supreme Court? Assuming he keeps his promise to appoint conservative jurists — and that this promise is not merely a negotiating tactic — Trump’s approach would likely mirror that of George W. Bush: appoint justices who will defer to bold assertions of federal power. Judicial minimalist, thy name is John Roberts.

These are the unconstitutional things Trump has told us he will do. I shudder to think of the trump cards the boardwalk emperor is holding close to his vest. For Trump, courts are merely a venue to silence critics, seize property, and evade creditors through bankruptcy protections. At every juncture, Trump uses and abuses the legal process to aggrandize his own personal power, bragging that “on four occasions I have taken advantage of the [bankruptcy] laws of the country.” Taking advantage of the laws aptly summarizes his approach to the law. Perhaps this makes him a shrewd businessman, but this ethos — and his promises to continue such egregious behavior — renders him ineligible to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Donald Trump shows absolutely no awareness of the importance of the freedom of speech — especially as a means to shine a light on dark public figures. Throughout his career, he has repeatedly turned to the law to silence dissent. In 2006, Trump filed a $5 billion libel suit against author Timothy O’Brien who wrote that he wasn’t a billionaire. In 2012 he secured a $5 million defamation judgment against a Miss USA contestant who claimed the Miss USA pageant was “rigged.” (Sound familiar?) Even when he didn’t actually follow through with litigation, Trump has often threatened to sue critics — which has the effect of chilling speech. In 2013, an online petition was organized to persuade Macy’s to drop his clothing line. His lawyers threatened the organizer of the campaign, whom Trump called a “loser,” with a $25 million lawsuit claiming the petition “far exceeds anything protected by the Constitution.”

During the campaign, Ted Cruz aired a commercial including a clip from a 1999 episode of Meet the Press, where Trump said he was pro-choice. Trump’s response? His lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to Cruz, threatening to sue him for “intentionally disseminating libelous statements.” His attorney warned, we “will look forward to doing it.” Cruz, a former Supreme Court law clerk and advocate laughed off the suit and said, “any first year law student can tell you, in a defamation case, truth is an absolute defense.” After Cruz threatened to personally depose Trump, the threat dissipated.

It’s not surprising that Trump has promised to “open up the libel laws” to allow public figures to sue newspapers that write “purposely negative and horrible articles about him.” Luckily, the Constitution stands as a barrier to his ability to silence critics. Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace challenged Trump on this flatly unconstitutional standard, telling him “the Supreme Court ruled on this . . . so you’re going to have to win them [and] the Constitution.” Trump’s reply? “Well, in England, I can tell you it’s very much different and very much easier.” Trump seems entirely unaware that England lacks a First Amendment. He also seems unaware that libel laws are exclusively state laws, and the federal government would have no power to “open [them] up,” short of passing a federal seditious libel law. (The Adams administration did not have a good experience with the Alien & Sedition Act of 1798.) But more fundamentally, Trump’s response to criticism is to attempt to silence his critics. As the national strongman, he gets to determine what the grounds for debate are.

But a Trump administration wouldn’t need to alter laws to chill speech. After a September 2015 debate, where Carly Fiorina rebuked Donald Trump’s misogynistic attacks, National Review’s Rich Lowry rebuked him on Fox News: “Let’s be honest: Carly cut his balls off with the precision of a surgeon — and he knows it.” Moments later, the choleric Trump tweeted “Incompetent @RichLowry lost it tonight on @FoxNews. He should not be allowed on TV and the FCC should fine him!” Instead of sending frivolous cease-and-desist letters, the Trump administration could simply fine anyone who speaks ill of his policies — which I am sure will be hailed as terrific in the polls. Or, a U.S. attorney appointed by Trump can give special attention to media entities that are critical of the government. Or, a Trump IRS can look extra closely at the tax returns of groups that are disfavored. The panoptic powers of the federal government are pervasive.

Beyond libel laws, the serial-tweeter even said he would censor the Internet in the name of national security. In a speech in December, Trump urged shutting down parts of the Internet to stop ISIS — as if the Internet can be sectioned off like rooms in a casino. “We have to go see Bill Gates” and “people that really understand what’s happening,” Trump said, and “talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way.” What about the Constitution? In a mocking tone, Trump scorned, “Somebody will say, ‘Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.” Present company included.

In addition to using the courts as a tool to squelch speech, the real-estate mogul has cheerfully exploited the state’s power of eminent domain to aggrandize his personal wealth. During an October 2015 debate, Trump was asked about eminent domain. His answer: “So eminent domain, when it comes to jobs, roads, the public good, I think it’s a wonderful thing, I’ll be honest with you. And remember, you’re not taking property, you know, the way you asked the question, the way other people — you’re paying a fortune for that property. Those people can move two blocks away into a much nicer house.”

The very purpose of eminent domain powers is for taking a person’s private property! The Fifth Amendment expressly provides, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Further, victims of eminent-domain abuse seldom get fair-market value, let alone a “fortune.” That doesn’t even begin to compensate a property owner who values his home above market prices.

And Mr. Trump has personal history with this populist abuse: He attempted to use eminent domain to take the home of an elderly widow in Atlantic City in order to construct a parking lot for one of his casinos. For Trump, ample parking for limousines contribute to the “public good.” The New Jersey court ruled against him, finding that the “primary interest served here is a private” purpose — that is, benefiting Trump — “rather than a public one and as such the actions cannot be justified under the law.” The pattern is consistent — he uses power and the courts to promote his bottom line.

The Constitution imposes a duty on the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Unfortunately, President Obama has routinely delayed, suspended, and modified the laws in violation of this fundamental principle of the separation of powers. President Trump would up the ante. On Meet the Press, Trump was asked whether he would rely on executive action in the manner of President Obama. “I won’t refuse it. I’m going to do a lot of things,” Trump replied. “I mean, [President Obama] led the way, to be honest with you,” he added. But rest assured, Trump noted, “I’m going to use [executive actions] much better and they’re going to serve a much better purpose than he’s done.” The Constitution does not vest the unitary executive with this authority for good reason. Trump’s constitutionalism would, like his hair, comb over any limitations.

For a preview of how Trump will simply disregard the law when it is inconvenient, consider his signature proposal to make Mexico pay for the border wall. How would he do this? His legal team released a memo to the Washington Post detailing this audacious executive action. First, he would propose a regulation that would prohibit people in the United States without lawful presence from transferring money abroad. Second, President Trump would demand a “one time payment of $5-10 billion” from Mexico to ensure that wire payments continue to flow south of the border. Third, we build the wall. I will put aside for a moment the catastrophic implications this extortion racket would have on our diplomatic relations. More pressingly for our purposes, such a move would be flatly contrary to domestic and constitutional law.

The crux of Trump’s proposal revolves around Section 236 of the Patriot Act, which requires financial institutions to verify the identity of customers who “open[] an account.” Regulations issued by the Bush administration made clear that this provision does not apply to financial institutions where customers do not open accounts, such as “wire transfer” services. This is a sensible reading of the statute. In his legal memo, Trump announced the he would ignore the clear text of the statute, and apply the provision to “money transfer companies, like Western Union.” Even though these institutions do not require a person to open an account, which is what the statute requires. Like President Obama before him, a President Trump would simply ignore statutes that get in the way of his terrific goals.

Further, the statute makes absolutely no reference to excluding foreigners from U.S. financial institutions, unless they are on a “suspected terrorist” watch list. Under the Bush administration’s regulations, an alien only needs to provide a foreign “passport number and country of issuance.” Trump would change that too. Now, an alien who wants to send money abroad must “provide[] a document establishing his lawful presence in the United States.”

This executive action would not be limited to aliens sending money to Mexico, but would also prohibit investments by foreigners where funds are transferred abroad. As a result, foreign nationals will no longer be able to open accounts and invest in American banks. There is absolutely nothing in the tenor of the act — passed in the wake of 9/11 — that would remotely suggest that the president has the authority to limit investments with financial institutions to U.S. persons.

Billions of dollars already in American bank accounts held by foreign nationals could no longer be withdrawn. The money will effectively be seized, and impounded within our borders by the federal government, without any due process of law or statutory authority. More foundationally, Congress’s power over the regulation of foreign commerce would be ignored.

The most troubling aspect of this harebrained scheme — an apt phrase for anything from the mind of Donald J. Trump — is that his lawyers have already blessed this proposal. No doubt a Trump Justice Department would be staffed with attorneys who would continue the trend of rubber-stamping implausible assertions of power. This is the sort of illegal executive action that President Obama has made routine, with respect to the implementation of Obamacare. President Trump would continue down this dangerous path.

Under Article II of the Constitution, the civilian president is also the “Commander in Chief” of the armed forces. This is a solemn duty that Trump has already shown a complete lack of regard for. During a debate, he announced that in the fight against ISIS, the military would kill not only the terrorists, but also “take out their families.” However, as Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) pointed out, “if you are going to kill the families of terrorists, realize that there’s something called the Geneva Convention we’re going to have to pull out of. It would defy every norm that is America.” He’s right. Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions — which the United States Senate ratified, and is part of our “supreme law of the land” — mandates that people who are taking no active part in the hostilities “shall in all circumstances be treated humanely.” That means you can’t kill innocent family members. Perhaps Trump’s handlers didn’t coach him on this in advance — although frankly, it shocks the conscience that a presidential candidate could even propose this. But even more importantly, the military could not, and would not comply with such illegal bloodshed.

CIA Director Michael Hayden stated that if President Trump “were to order that once in government, the American armed forces would refuse to act.” Hayden added that he “would be incredibly concerned if a President Trump governed in a way that was consistent with the way that candidate Trump expressed during the campaign.” In a debate following Hayden’s comments, Trump was asked what he would do if the military disobeyed his illegal orders. His reply: “They won’t refuse. They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me.” Moderator Brett Baier shot back, “but they’re illegal [orders].” Trump brushed off the criticism: “I’m a leader, I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.” This is Trump’s modus operandi. The law is always subordinate to his leadership, and he will do whatever it takes to achieve his terrific goals.

The next day — after his handlers no doubt got to him — Trump issued a statement purporting to walk back his outrageous remarks: “[I would] use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies,” he said. “I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters. I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”

This statement is not reassuring. As George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin pointed out, “that is not the same thing as saying he will refrain from ordering the military to target civilians.” He only said he would obey the law. Trump did not state that ordering the execution of innocent family members would be illegal. But as president, he would have expansive authority to decide how the law and the Constitution ought to be interpreted. Compare President Bush’s interpretation of his Article II war powers with President Obama’s interpretation of his discretion to enforce immigration laws. “The really important question,” Professor Somin asks, “is what [Trump] think[s] the law is and how much it constrains presidential power.” The answer is: not much.

One of the strongest rejoinders to the #NeverTrump movement is that a President Hillary Clinton could appoint four Supreme Court justices, and radically alter the High Court for a generation. At a minimum, Trump supporters counter, the presumptive Republican nominee can be trusted to nominate the right kind of justice. Don’t be so sure.

For such a frequent litigant, Trump has a striking ignorance of how courts work. During an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, he was asked what kind of justice he would appoint to the High Court. “Well, I’d probably appoint people that would look very seriously at [Hillary Clinton’s] e-mail disaster because it’s a criminal activity, and I would appoint people that would look very seriously at that to start off with.” Trump’s muddled answer makes it difficult to understand exactly what he is getting at. However, in no sense should a justice-to-be care, at all, about Secretary Clinton’s e-mail situation. Monumental issues of constitutional law hang in the balance with these appointments.

Further, it is unclear if Trump even understands what courts do. During a February debate, Senator Cruz criticized Trump for suggesting he would nominate his sister to the Supreme Court, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who wrote a decision supporting partial-birth abortion. The real-estate tycoon displayed a stunning ignorance of the judicial function when he said Cruz was “criticizing my sister for signing a certain bill.” Huh? Judges don’t sign bills. They write opinions. Trump continued: “You know who else signed that bill? Justice Samuel Alito, a very conservative member of the Supreme Court, with my sister, signed that bill.” Again, Alito did not “sign the bill,” nor did he agree with Judge Trump Barry’s opinion. Alito’s opinion concurring in judgment stated in the very first sentence, “I do not join Judge Barry’s opinion, which was never necessary and is now obsolete.”

Trump doesn’t even seem to understand how justices decide issues of constitutional law. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly asked Trump if he would appoint a justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Trump replied, “I will appoint judges that will be pro-life.” He can’t even impose the correct litmus test. (Litmus tests are entirely inappropriate because they would force a justice to recuse himself after prejudging questions of law.) The question is not whether a justice, in his or her personal views is “pro-life.” The question is whether they view the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause as including a substantive right to abortion. It is entirely irrelevant what a nominee thinks about abortion. In 2012, Justice Scalia offered an answer that should give Trump some guidance: “The Constitution, in fact, says nothing at all about [abortions]. It is left to democratic choice. Now, regardless of what my views as a Catholic are, the Constitution says nothing about it.” It is not enough for Trump to promise to appoint justices in the mold of Scalia or Thomas — he must understand what that actually means.

During the primary process, Trump has shown signs that perhaps he will seek some outside advice for his Supreme Court nominations. In an interview with the Washington Post, Trump said “I’m getting names. The Federalist people. Some very good people. The Heritage Foundation.” (Trump was referring to the Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy.) During a debate in February — hours after Justice Scalia passed away — Trump announced that he would nominate someone like Diane Sykes of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals or Bill Pryor of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. (These are both judges whom I deeply respect, and think would make excellent Supreme Court justices.) Two months later, he promised to “announce [who] these judges” are that he would consider. “I’m going to guarantee it. I’m going to tell people,” Trump said. “Because people are worried that, oh, maybe he’ll put the wrong judge in.” With the nomination now secured, the clock is already ticking for him to fulfill his promise and announce this list.

I have no doubt that my colleagues at the Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation will make excellent recommendations to a Trump administration, including individuals like Judges Sykes and Pryor. However, I harbor serious doubts whether Trump will follow through. For example, within days of locking up the Republican nomination, Trump announced that his positions on income-tax rates for the wealthy, business taxes, and the minimum wage were evolving. On Meet the Press, he explained that whatever proposal he puts in his plan now “really is a floor,” but then he will “negotiate with senators and congressmen.” His campaign plans are only “where we’re starting.” If Trump can so easily buck conservative orthodoxy by floating raising taxes and increasing the minimum wage, why wouldn’t he do the same for the courts?

Moreover, experience has taught us that, ultimately, it is the president’s decision who to nominate. President Ronald Reagan was burned after the failed nominations of Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg, so he fell back on the “Sacramento Republican,” Anthony Kennedy. President George H. W. Bush didn’t want to wage a massive confirmation battle, so he nominated “stealth” candidate David Souter to replace Justice Brennan. For President George W. Bush’s second selection, against all conventional wisdom and advice from outside groups, Bush selected his White House counsel Harriet Miers. Fortunately, after a massive backlash from the sorts of people Bush should have listened to in the first place, Miers withdrew, and Judge Alito was appointed in her stead. (Perhaps Bush liked the fact that Alito signed Judge Trump Barry’s bill.)

Simply stated, no matter what advisers say, the president does what he wants for Supreme Court nominations. But the risk is much higher for a Trump presidency. A candidate who views the law as a means to an end, and has no grounding of constitutional limits, will be an absolute disasterwhen it comes time to picking a nominee. One can even imagine Trump striking a deal with Senate Democrats: swap a liberal Supreme Court justice for building a border wall. What a terrific deal! (In any event, the construction of the wall will be held up for years with waves of challenges based on environmental-impact statements and eminent-domain proceedings.) Or maybe Trump will appoint one his cronies to the Court, like Lyndon Johnson did with Abe Fortas.

More troublingly, to the extent that President Trump continues President Obama’s abuse of executive action, the sort of justice a President Trump will look for is a deferential jurist who will uphold his constitutional violations. For all of Trump’s ridicule of Chief Justice Roberts for upholding Obamacare, the unpresidential nominee would likely want to appoint a justice to uphold his agenda, and look away from all manners of his demagoguery. President George W. Bush was committed to “judicial minimalism,” and appointed a justice who would defer to government, and be supportive of his war on terror: John Roberts. In the last sentence of NFIB v. Sebelius, which rewrote the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate as a tax, Chief Justice Roberts explained that “the Court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act. Under the Constitution, that judgment is reserved to the people.” We may as well print that slogan on a red baseball cap.

***

The glue that holds our Republic together is the separation of powers — something the presumptive Republican nominee seems utterly unconcerned with. Perhaps I can illustrate the separation of powers with an image even Mr. Trump will understand: a wall. The separation of powers exist between the three branches to block one faction from abusing and exploiting the other. In the timeless words of James Madison in Federalist No. 10, “ambition must be made to counteract ambition. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

After eight years of an Obama presidency, there are no longer walls between our branches. Perhaps, there are what Mr. Trump would call small fences, or what Mr. Madison would call “parchment barriers.” The problem with these fences, as Mr. Trump has observed, is that ambitious people will trample over them. In such a regime, our most fundamental freedoms are in jeopardy. However, under Donald Trump’s constitution of one, there would be no wall. There would simply be a Boardwalk Emperor, unconstrained by the rule of law, who will do something terrific. Sad.

Instead of building a Mexican wall, we need to rebuild the Madison Wall, and reassert the defined spheres of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers. It is only a Republic, if we can keep it.


Article Link to the National Review:

Thursday, May 12, Morning Global Market Roundup: Europe Follows Asian Stocks Lower, Bond Yields Fall

By Nigel Stephenson
Reuters
May 12, 2016

European shares followed Asian stocks lower on Thursday, hit by sharp falls on Wall Street the previous day, while German government bond yields hit one-month lows as investors sought shelter in low-risk debt.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst stocks index .FTEU3 dropped 0.5 percent, led lower by financial shares, and is down about 9 percent so far this year. Germany's Dax index.GDAXI fell by 0.4 percent while Britain's FTSE 100 .FTSE lost 0.5 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS slipped 0.5 percent, moving back toward a two-month low touched on Tuesday.

But Japan's Nikkei stock index .N225 erased early losses and ended up 0.4 percent as the yen fell against the dollar.

The gloomy tone in stocks markets had been set in the U.S. markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 1.2 percent on Wednesday, its biggest one-day fall since Feb. 11, though this only reversed Tuesday's 1.2 percent rise.

Disney missed earnings targets (DIS.N) and department store Macy's (M.N) slashed forecasts, hammering the consumer sector. [.N]

"A slowdown in U.S. consumer spending is doubly concerning given how much the U.S. economy relies on consumers hitting the shops and spending their hard earned dollars," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in London.

At the same time, an auction of 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds saw strong demand with the highest indirect bids on record, which can come from governments, fund managers and insurance companies.

U.S. 10-year yields US10YT=RR fell 1 basis point to 1.72 percent. German 10-year yields DE10YT=TWEB, the benchmark for euro zone borrowing costs, hit a one-month low of 0.1 percent.

In currency markets, the dollar strengthened 0.2 against a basket or currencies .DXY and 0.3 percent against the yen JPY=after an academic seen to be close to Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the BOJ was likely to expand its monetary stimulus soon.

Takatoshi Ito, a former senior finance ministry official, said the BOJ, which introduced negative rates earlier this year, could act in June or July.

This follows a series of warnings from Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso that Tokyo would intervene to curb any excessive one-sided gains in the yen.

"With policy easing speculation gaining ground and the Finance Minister talking down the yen, it is clear they do not want a stronger currency," said Niels Christensen, FX strategist at Nordea.

The yen was last at 108.75 to the dollar, having touched an 18-month high of 105.55 on May 3.

The euro EUR= weakened 0.2 percent to $1.1406 and sterling GBP= fell a similar amount to $1.4413 before a Bank of England policy meeting and the release of new growth and inflation forecasts later on Thursday.

The British economy has shown signs of weakening recently, with money markets pricing in a chance of an interest rate cut by the end of the year, while economists polled by Reuters have said growth could be at risk if Britain votes to leave the European Union in a referendum in June.

Oil prices held on to most of Wednesday's sharp gains, unfazed by the gradual return of Canada's oil sands output. Brent crude LCOc1 was last down 5 cents a barrel at $47.56, having rise nearly $3 on Wednesday on a fall in U.S. crude inventories.

Copper prices CMCU3 pared earlier gains as the dollar found a firmer footing. The metal was last up 0.3 percent at $4,721 per ton.

Investors were also watching Brazil, where the Senate was poised to suspend President Dilma Rousseff prior to putting her on trial for breaking budget laws.

The real BRL= was 0.1 percent stronger at 3.45 per dollar.


Article Link to Reuters:

China's Crazy Anti-Spy Campaign

The Chinese Communist Party sees spies everywhere and is encouraging the masses to be vigilant, citing the threat posed by 007 and villains from Marvel Comics


By Brendon Hong
The Daily Beast
May 12, 2016


HONG KONG — The Chinese Communist Party is increasingly wary of a foreign footprint on Chinese soil, and the paranoid PR campaign it’s waging to raise public awareness of nefarious foreign plots has grown truly bizarre.

Last month, a man named Huang Yu faced judgment in a Chengdu courtroom. He was a computer scientist embedded in a research unit that worked for the Chinese government. The unit’s projects are related to national security.

Huang’s charge? Obtaining state secrets and selling them to a foreign intelligence agency. His sentence? Death.

Shortly after the conviction, party media aired a TV special that provided some details about his crimes, the consequences, and his trial. In the program, Huang was described as a man who went from being a “little employee” to a “big spy.”

The saga began in 2002, when, apparently, Huang reached out to “spy agencies” by contacting them online. It wasn’t long before he was being paid $5,000 per month by foreign elements, with occasional bonuses. Over a period of 13 years, Huang met with “foreign intelligence agents” 21 times to leak 150,000 documents, including 90 that contained “confidential state secrets.” His total compensation, according to the televised report, totaled $700,000.

The television program included testimony from Huang’s former colleagues, who suggested that he was never suitable for the job, that he was not dependable, that he was an average worker with a bad attitude. To complete the checklist of elements in current Chinese propaganda videos, Huang himself was placed before a camera to confess his crimes.

After Huang was arrested, 29 employees in his former unit also received varying degrees of punishment. His wife and brother-in-law are serving five-year and three-year prison sentences, respectively.

Huang’s case was aired as part of a media campaign rolled out for China’s first National Security Education Day on April 19 that often—though accidentally—turned comic.

In a video released online to educate the public about China’s Counter-Espionage Law, for instance, a narrator says, “Recently, our security sector has worked hard to arrest a group of strange people who clamored to be our friends, including James Bond, Tom Cruise, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Jason Bourne, and Mr. Bean!”

What? This joke isn’t just lost in translation. It’s perfectly flat in the original as well.

Another episode features Marvel and DC superheroes and villains as it demands that Chinese citizens identify potential foreign spies who may have infiltrated their communities and work places.

The medium did not match the message, however, and the intended viewers quickly pointed out the irony: if foreign influence is toxic and hostile, why use movie and comic characters created by Americans and Britons to draw in viewers?

Beijing’s Xicheng district, a financial center that is also home to many foreigners who work in the Chinese capital, saw a different kind of blitz.

A poster comic titled Dangerous Love uses 14 frames to trace the journey of a young, brown-haired civil servant named Xiao Li: She attends a dinner party hosted by an expat, falls in love with him, then, like Huang Yu, leaks confidential documents to him. Once the man of her dreams disappears, Xiao Li is arrested by the police for aiding a foreign spy.

In two final frames, police officers regurgitate paragraphs of legalese relevant to Xiao Li's circumstances, warning readers of lengthy jail sentences if they provide information to foreign groups.

In fact, last November, Chinese security officials set up a hotline for citizens to report the activities of potential foreign agents. Want to file a report? Dial 12339.

While it is rare for China to announce publicly the arrests of potential spies, a few high profile cases have been reported during the presidency of Xi Jinping. Last May, China detained two Japanese nationals—one near a military facility close to Shanghai, and another near China’s border with North Korea. A few months before that, a Canadian couple who operated a coffee shop in Dandong, a city along the northeastern border, were also detained on suspicion of stealing state secrets. The couple is affiliated with a Christian group that provides humanitarian aid to North Koreans.

Foreign businesses and non-governmental organizations are having a tougher time in China, too.

On March 10, new rules kicked in to regulate the online content of foreign firms. The language is hazy, and it is unclear how the policy will be enforced as its scope covers only servers located in China, but the rules did state that online media of all forms—text, video, audio, games—must serve the people, promote socialism, and do no harm to Chinese national interests. In particular, the “spreading of rumors,” an accusation often hurled at political dissidents, is banned.

In April, Chinese web censors blocked the iTunes movies and iBooks services offered by Apple Inc.

Later that month, the Chinese government passed a new law to allow security forces control over foreign NGOs operating within mainland China. Again, the law’s language is murky, stating that foreign NGOs are not allowed to engage in political or religious activities, or act in a way that damages Chinese ethnic unity. It will come into effect on the first day of 2017.

The paranoia extends to preparation for armed conflict with an unnamed foe.

This month, the Chinese military released a rap-rock recruitment video that states “war can break out at any time,” and that the armed forces are “waiting for the order to kill, kill, kill.” The CCP’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is featured prominently.

The Chinese navy’s latest recruits are fishermen based on Hainan Island. Reuters reports that the fishing fleet is receiving four months of military training, beginning in May. They are being drilled for search and rescue operations, and are developing skills to “safeguard Chinese sovereignty.” They will also receive subsidies for fuel and ice. In return, the fishermen are charged with the task of gathering information on foreign vessels that appear in waters near Chinese shores. Some Chinese fishing vessels carry small arms.

The same report quotes an advisor to the Hainan government: “The maritime militia is expanding because of the country’s need for it, and because of the desire of the fishermen to engage in national service, protecting our country’s interests.”

All of this does not suggest the Chinese public is on the same page as the CCP. Dangerous Love and the cartoons that were produced for Beijing's National Security Education Day were largely ignored, or even derided. The rap-rock military recruitment video likely won't lead to increased enlistment, as young Chinese citizens typically have no interest in joining the armed forces. And yet these productions, including Huang Yu's confession video, reflect how the CCP communicates its self-image: the party thinks it is constantly under attack, and it struggles against foreign infiltration. The implications may be unsettling, as China continues its military build-up in the South China Sea. To paraphrase a famous truism, even paranoids make enemies.


Article Link to the Daily Beast:

Does The President Think His Own War Is illegal?

By Seth Lipsky
The New York Post
May 11, 2016


The lawsuit that a US Army captain just filed against President Obama, alleging that the war against ISIS is illegal, highlights a situation almost as absurd as Joseph Heller’s novel about World War II.

The hero of “Catch-22,” Capt. John Yossarian, is on a quest to get out of flying combat missions. He discovers that the only way an officer can get out of flying a bombing mission is if he’s crazy. Yet, by military logic, the fact that Yossarian wants to get out of flying combat is proof he’s sane.

That’s “Catch-22.” It was greeted with great hilarity after World War II, no doubt in part because we won the war.

The latest absurdity isn’t such a bundle of laughs. It’s underscored by that riveting new video showing the ferocity of the combat US forces are engaged in against the Islamic State — for all the president’s repeated claims that we have no ground troops in combat.

The video, turned up by the Guardian, makes all too real how serious are the questions in a constitutionally absurd situation. Heads up for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or whoever wins the election in November.

The officer suing Obama, US Army Capt. Michael Nathan Smith, isn’t exactly like Yossarian. He’s serving in Operation Inherent Resolve in Kuwait and says he’s gung-ho for the war.

Smith told the court he’s suing on a “matter of conscience.” He reckons that the war against ISIS is illegal, because it’s been going on for longer than is allowed by the War Powers Act Congress passed after Vietnam.

For years Obama has claimed he has all the authority he needs to levy the war against the Islamic State, citing the Authorization to Use Military Force passed after 9/11, and also the 2003 Iraq war resolution.

Obama opposed the Iraq war and announced in 2011 that the withdrawal of Yank troops would soon be done. He declared, “after nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” It may be the worst mistake of his presidency (although the competition is stiff).

By mid-2014, ISIS was growing dangerous enough that Obama sent US troops back to Iraq, albeit in tiny numbers; there are now reportedly more than 5,000 US military personnel in Iraq.

The challenge under the War Powers Act, which limits unauthorized fighting to 60 days, sets up an amazing situation — at least for those of us who covered the Reagan administration.

Back then, left-wing Democrats loved the War Powers Act, because they thought they could use it to stop Reagan’s battle against the Communists in Nicaragua.

What Smith really wants, he says, is for a federal court to declare the war illegal absent a new authorization passed by Congress and that if Congress fails to act, withdrawal is required.

Where it starts to get absurd is that Obama, the defendant, seems to agree with him. In February 2015, he asked Congress to pass a resolution authorizing the fight against the Islamic State, even while saying he already has such authority.

But Obama’s idea of a resolution turns out to be a poison pill. It authorizes only a “limited” war (if we’d bought into limitations in 1941, we’d all be speaking Japanese and German). And its authority would expire after only three years.

Meantime — wait for it — it repeals the unlimited war authority the president already claims. So the next president could soon be left with no permanent authority to fight this war and an expired authority to fight ISIS.

That’s what I call “Catch-23.” Joseph Heller couldn’t have thought of a plot so bizarre — a president who’d rather not get clear authority for the current conflict unless he gets to tie his successors’ hands.

Plus, Congress doesn’t really want to do anything, lest it take on ownership of either the war or a retreat. All in all, it’s an issue tailor-made for a Trump-Clinton contest.

The thing to remember in all of this is that there are two ways for America to get into a state of war. We can start it — or the enemy can. In the latter case, we’re at war whether Congress declares it or not.

In my book, that’s “Catch-1.”


Article Link the New York Post:

Facebook Dislikes Conservatives, And That's OK

By Megan McArdle
The Bloomberg View
May 11, 2016

It appears that stories in Facebook’s trending news module weren’t always quite as trending as they seemed. Stories that interested conservative readers on topics like CPAC and Mitt Romney were suppressed, while stories about Syria and Black Lives Matter were artificially injected into the stream. This wasn’t corporate policy so much as the editorial decisions of young staffers who leaned liberal, and chose stories accordingly.

As you can imagine, this created quite a stir among conservatives, and now Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune has sent a letter to Facebook asking questions about how these decisions were made. Conservative media figures like National Review’s Charles Cooke and the Washington Examiner’s Phil Klein have opined that the senator should lay off.

Wait. What?

It shouldn’t be so surprising. Principled conservatives generally believe that the government should restrain itself from interfering with corporate operations, and both men are deeply principled.

But we are headed for a clash of principles on the liberal side. On the one hand, the principle that the media must be free from government interference. (This principle is, of course, most deeply cherished by liberals who happen to be employed by the media, but it is a longstanding and widespread principle elsewhere on the left.) On the other hand, the principle that corporations that have acquired a great deal of market power must not be allowed to abuse that power, even inadvertently.

Facebook has indeed acquired a great deal of power. It dominates the news diet of millennials, and is becoming more and more important for the rest of us. Nor is it easy to argue that this market power somehow doesn’t matter as much as, say, Visa and MasterCard’s control of the credit card interchange market.

As Orwell noted in “1984”: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” He was speaking, of course, about control of written history, of what we know to have happened -- and thereby how we allocate our political support. It is not a small matter if the company that is coming to be the nation’s most significant source of news skews that news toward its own political preferences. In fact, it’s just a tiny bit chilling. Government censorship is, of course, terrible. But censorship by a small group of unelected young people is not all that much more appealing.

This problem existed already on another scale. The socioeconomic, racial and political homogeneity of the media is a problem, one that I have written about before. That said, those media were operating in a competitive landscape, and no one outlet really had all that much market power. In each medium there were outlets of different sorts of political leanings, and more of them with the rise of the Internet.

Facebook, on the other hand, dominates all other social media outlets for news to an extent that no print outlet ever dominated the American landscape. The only arguable parallel is the big television networks from the 1950s to the 1980s, and at least there were three of them, rather than one. Besides, for most of that time they operated under the Fairness Doctrine -- in other words, under heavy-handed government interference to limit their power to shape the national debate.

My own feeling is that yes, well, this sort of dominance is a problem, but like many problems, it is not one that will actually be improved by lawmakers’ intervention in the boardroom. But liberals who are fond of press freedom and vigorous antitrust enforcement are going to be forced into making one of two arguments, neither of them perfectly satisfying. The first is that while heavy-handed government smiting of monopoly (or quasi-monopoly) powers is necessary and justified, the media is a special exception where the government should allow powerful corporations to do whatever they want.

This is an argument that can plausibly be made, because the alternative -- politicians telling the media how they ought to cover political disputes -- is so obviously problematic. But it’s not entirely comfortable, either, because this argument (and similar ones about academia and the arts) so easily smacks of special pleading: Government regulation just happens to be necessary everywhere except for the handful of industries that lean most heavily liberal. This may be true, but my word, it certainly is convenient, isn’t it? Moreover, you end up simultaneously having to argue that the media is so important that the government mustn’t touch it, and also that its domination by a firm with a decidedly liberal viewpoint somehow doesn’t matter very much.

The greater danger is that liberals will end up falling back on an argument that is gaining more and more currency on the left: that this biasing of information is not merely an unfortunately insoluble problem, or so minor that it doesn’t make much difference in our politics, but that it is actually an affirmative good. These are the people who embrace Orwell’s dictum and say: “Yes, absolutely, the left should have control over what people are allowed to hear and know, because that’s how we’re going to build a better future.” The first argument may be unsatisfying. But the second is … downright Orwellian.


Article Link to the Bloomberg View:

Sanders Allies Plot Post-Primary War On Trump

Draft plan also proposes alternate 'convention' event for Bernie.


By Gabriel Debenedetti
Politico
May 12, 2016 


A group of Bernie Sanders staffers and volunteers is circulating a draft proposal calling on the senator to get out of the presidential race after the final burst of Democratic primaries on June 7, and concentrate on building a national progressive organization to stop Donald Trump.

Operating under the assumption that Sanders will win the California primary but still fall far short of amassing enough delegates to claim the Democratic nomination, the document calls for the Vermont senator to exit the race and launch an independent political group far larger than any other recent post-campaign political operations, such as those started by Howard Dean or Barack Obama.

The working title for the roughly 1,600-word document: “After Winning on June 7th Bernie Sanders Should Suspend his Campaign and Launch an Independent Organization to Defeat Donald Trump."

At the same time, people closer to Sanders and his campaign team have been holding their own big-picture conversations about the shape of the post-primary Sanders machine for months, zeroing in on specific questions in recent weeks about what the goals should be, and how it would work.

Both efforts to sketch out the Sanders endgame are working under the premise that Hillary Clinton will likely be the party’s nominee — but a standard-bearer who will struggle to bring Sanders’ voters along with her. That’s led some of the discussions to focus on how best to use Sanders’ vaunted email list to energize his backers against Trump, and whether to help down-ballot candidates who share Sanders’ views.

For the moment, Sanders remains publicly focused on amassing delegates via the remaining primaries so he can reach the Democratic convention in July with a significant force that can shape the proceedings. But even as he racks up victories — most recently in Indiana and West Virginia — he’s faced repeated questions about his intentions, with some of his highest-profile supporters questioning his plan to stay in through July.

The group of over a dozen Sanders backers crafting the proposal — a collection of volunteers and current and former Sanders staff members, all veterans of other high-profile campaigns, including Barack Obama’s, who insist on anonymity — believes that leaving an imprint on the party platform is an overrated goal. They suggest that the Vermont senator should exit the race if it’s clear he cannot win — a call similar to the one made by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, his lone Senate endorser — rather than spend the five weeks before the convention in limbo.

That approach would allow Clinton to confront Trump more directly, and earlier than expected: Even Priorities USA Action, the main pro-Clinton super PAC, has signaled that it wishes to go on the offensive sooner than originally planned by revealing this week that it will move up the start time of its ads from June 8.

“Senator Sanders should proceed to lay out his plan to build an organization, completely independent of the Clinton campaign that will single-mindedly devote itself to educating Americans about the threat of right wing (some say fascist) takeover and the task of identifying and mobilizing voters to defend our democracy in November 2016 and beyond. Call it Revolution 2016 or another name that best speaks to base and message and its focused task over the next 5 months might be to mobilize voters under 30 (with likely positive impacts on Senate and Congressional races),” reads a copy of the draft proposal obtained by POLITICO.

While Sanders will likely speak at July’s official Democratic convention in Philadelphia, the document proposes that he and his aides host a ‘convention’ event of their own to spur excitement and launch this group: “The best organized independent expenditure organization in history [that will] give the vast (and deeply anti-establishment) base a vehicle into which they will whole heartedly pour their energy.”

Such an effort, they write, would help bridge the gap between Clinton and the “large cadre of young, newly political Sanders supporters [that] sees rejection of Hillary and the Democratic Party establishment as core to their identity.”

If the group at first focused primarily on combating Trump, the thinking goes, it would provide those Sanders fans with justification for eventually voting for Clinton.

“This is a populist year in American electoral politics with signs that it may mark the beginning of a populist era. It would be very unwise for the decidedly un-populist Hillary Clinton to move with too much confidence towards a full-on confrontation with Donald Trump,” they continue. “A Sanders-led (as opposed to Sanders-centered) independent entity could provide a much needed, articulate and energized economic populist voice to the anti-Trump effort without the intrinsic compromising effect posed by close association with Neoliberal Democratic elites, as well as weaning the volunteer base off total reliance on individual candidates during one-off election cycles.”
The still-circulating proposal — by far the most advanced version of a post-primary discussion to surface — acknowledges that there are significant kinks still to work out in the post-primary plan, first and foremost how to fund the proposed independent entity.

While Sanders has sustained his campaign with an online fundraising juggernaut, the pace of its donations has already slowed and it’s unlikely that he would be able to keep up a constant money flow beyond the campaign season. As a result, acknowledge the proposal drafters, he would be faced with the question of accepting big checks from individual donors — a direct contradiction with a central tenet of his current campaign.

“Bernie Sanders may either believe that it is a principle, even outside of a candidacy, or feel that he is boxed in by the rhetoric of the campaign,” they write. “Controls could easily be applied — such as an open process governed by a diverse panel of volunteers who could accept or reject large donations, e.g. in excess of $10,000 — but in the end Bernie Sanders himself would have to decide where his priorities lie."


Article Link to Politico:

Sanders allies plot post-primary war on Trump

Oil Prices Steady As Return Of Canadian Output Offsets Tighter Global Market

By Henning Gloystein and Osamu Tsukimori
Reuters
May 12, 2016

Oil prices were steady on Thursday, weighed by the gradual return of Canadian oil sands output but supported by a surprise drop in U.S. crude inventories and a tightening global market.

International Brent crude futures were trading at $47.63 per barrel at 0712 GMT on Thursday, up 3 cents from their last settlement. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 were 1 cents lower at $46.22.

Traders said an expected increase in Canadian oil sands crude output following disruptions to over 1 million barrels of daily production capacity due to wildfire was weighing on markets.

However, an unexpected fall in U.S. crude inventories along with a tightening global market were supporting prices, traders said.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday that U.S. crude inventories fell 3.4 million barrels to 540 million barrels last week, compared with analyst expectations for an increase of 714,000 barrels and the American Petroleum Institute's (API) reported build of 3.5 million barrels in preliminary data issued on Tuesday.

"With (refinery) runs recovering and production dropping, U.S. (crude) stocks should begin drawing steadily from now," consultancy Energy Aspects said on Thursday.

"We estimate that North American inventories can fall by as much as 12 million barrels across May and June," it added.

OPEC Talks, No Action

Globally, supply cuts and disruptions in the Americas, Asia and Africa have significantly tightened the market in recent weeks, virtually eliminating a global supply overhang which rose as high as 2 million barrels per day over the past year.

Middle East oil exporter Kuwait said that recent price rises were fundamentally justified.

"Based on the decrease in production that has been shown in the last three weeks, I assume fundamentally the price represents the fall of production," Kuwait's acting oil minister Anas al-Saleh told Reuters on Thursday.

He also said that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which Kuwait is a member, would not seek price supporting market intervention during its next scheduled meeting on June 2, and instead focus on dialogue among the producer cartel.

At an April producer meeting, OPEC rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran could not agree on deal terms, triggering criticism that the producers' cartel had lost its ability to act.


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U.S. To Activate $800 Million Missile Defense Site In Romania

By Robin Emmott
Reuters
May 12, 2016


The United States will switch on a $800 million missile shield in Romania on Thursday, part of an umbrella from Greenland to the Azores against Iranian rockets that Russia aims to knock out its nuclear weapons.

At the remote Deveselu air base in Romania, senior U.S. and NATO officials will declare operational the ballistic missile defense site capable of shooting down rockets from so-called rogue states that Washington says could one day reach major European cities.

"Iran continues to develop, test and deploy a full range of ballistic missile capabilities and those capabilities are increasing in range and accuracy," said Frank Rose, deputy U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control.

"Iran's systems can reach into parts of Europe, including Romania," Rose said, before heading to the site to join U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary Robert Work and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 0900 GMT.

On Friday, the United States will break ground on a final site in northern Poland that should be ready by the end of 2018, completing the shield first proposed almost a decade ago and that also includes ships and radars across Europe.

It will be handed over to NATO control in July.

Russia is incensed at such of show of force by its Cold War rival in formerly communist-ruled eastern Europe. Moscow says the U.S.-led alliance is trying to encircle it close to the strategically important Black Sea, home to a Russian naval fleet and where NATO is also considering increasing patrols.

The readying of the shield also comes as NATO prepares a new deterrent in Poland and the Baltics, following Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. In response, Russia is reinforcing its western and southern flanks with three new divisions.

The Kremlin says the shield's aim is to neutralize Moscow's nuclear arsenal long enough for the United States to strike Russia in the event of war. Washington denies that.

"We are not meddling in anything that could perceived as potentially destabilizing," said Douglas Lute, the United States' envoy to NATO.

However, Lute said NATO would press ahead with NATO's biggest modernization since the Cold War. "We are deploying at sea, on the ground and in the air across the eastern flanks of the alliance ... to deter any aggressor," he said.

Russian Warheads

At a cost of billions of dollars, the missile defense umbrella relies on radars to detect a ballistic missile launch into space. Sensors then measure the rocket's trajectory and destroy it in space before it re-enters the earth's atmosphere. The interceptors can be fired from ships or ground sites.

While U.S. and NATO officials are adamant that the shield is designed to counter threats from the Middle East and not Russia, they remained vague on whether the radars and interceptors could be reconfigured to defend against Russia in a conflict.

The United States says Russia has ballistic missiles, in breach of a treaty that agreed the two powers must not develop and deploy missiles with a range of 500 km (310.69 miles) to 5,500 km. The United States declared Russia in non-compliance of the treaty in July 2014.

The issue remains highly sensitive because the United States does not want to give any impression it would be able to shoot down Russian ballistic missiles that were carrying nuclear warheads, which is what Russia fears.


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A Repulsive Disrespect For The Presidency

By Noah Rothman
Commentary
May 11, 2016

By now, it is hard to begrudge anyone a healthy level of cynicism. Each and every political observer has earned whatever level of contempt they have for a process that has elevated two of history’s most mistrusted, unpopular, and ill-suited candidates for the White House to become their respective party’s presidential nominees. But perhaps we can put that cynicism and its associated flippancy aside for a moment to consider the stakes, the candidates’ repulsive disrespect for the office they are seeking to fill, and their disdain for the intelligence of the American voter.

The number of Republicans who have embarked on a vision quest of self-delusion is mounting, and their ranks will only swell in the coming weeks. Those GOP officeholders who struggle to convince themselves that they can and, indeed, must support their party’s nominee are already legion. Some are having a harder time wrestling with the prospect than others. A perfunctory commitment by skeptical conservatives to back the likely presidential nominee over the Democratic nominee is compromising, but not irredeemably so. Others, however, have gone to great lengths to convince themselves of falsehoods so as to justify the logical contortions in which they feel they must engage.

“What if he wins,” they ask themselves, “and anyone capable of sober thought has been shut out of the White House?” Perhaps others convince themselves that Trump will need his hand held if he is to negotiate the Byzantine complexities of the Potomac’s reclaimed swampland. Maybe, they say, if Trump can be convinced to surround himself with traditional conservatives, he will defer the most momentous policy decisions as president to hawkish realists and supply-siders. Those are the self-affirmations associated with a Trump victory. If Trump loses, these poor souls tell themselves, a conventional conservative by his side will be well positioned to take up the banner and lead a restoration of the Republican Party status quo ante. These are all illusions.

Even if the Congress were to “tyranny-proof the White House,” as The Atlantic’s Connor Friedersdorf smartly suggested, the presidency is no clerkship. Moreover, Trump has given no indication throughout this campaign that he has any intention of staffing his team with anyone other than complacent and obedient submissives. There will be no Team of Rivals in a Trump administration. To contend otherwise is to buy into a misconception similar to that which held that his brash persona is all a performance — one that he will abandon when it becomes cumbersome and unnecessary. It’s no act; this is who he is. Donald Trump cannot moderate for the same reason that he cannot tolerate dissent. It is not in his character. Those Republicans who sign on to Team Trump only serve to legitimize him and shield him from criticism, after which their utility is spent and they are sidelined. This is an empirical pattern.

Yet the delusion that Trump can be molded persists. Occasionally, the celebrity’s team lets the veil slip, allowing those who have not yet fully committed to the comforting mirage of a reasonable Trump see the full scope of what they intend to embrace. Take for example Team Trump’s most prominent strategist and lobbyist for malefactors across the globe, Paul Manafort. His candor is, in fact, admirable. In a recent interview, Manafort revealed that the former reality television star not only has no intention of being tamed. Instead, he seeks to transform the noble process of selecting a civilian to serve as executive and commander-in-chief of the armed forces into a pageant.

“Donald Trump is going to give us an exciting convention,” Manafort told MSNBC. “This is the ultimate reality show; it’s the presidency of the United States.”

If we were to shed our cynicism for a moment, we’d recoil at this level of disrespect for the process of running to represent the executive branch of the longest enduring democratic republic on earth. This is not a game show, and those who would treat it as such deserve as much respect as they show the process. Lives and careers are at stake; financial futures are at risk; peace and stability throughout the globe are in the balance. The average voter might find Manafort’s metaphor appealing. Perhaps they truly do believe they are simply watching this season’s contestants get voted off the island. Responsible public officials with a career in politics are expected to display more reverence for the system and the people they serve. Neither Manafort nor his boss is so disciplined – they routinely live down to their expectations.

Manafort’s “reality show” comment was no gaffe. It was just weeks ago that Trump and his allies were threatening to turn Cleveland into Mogadishu if he did not get his way. Today, he’s promising to transform the process of nominating a prospective executive of the United States into “America’s Got Talent.” In an interview with the Associated Press, Trump (who has flirted with the prospect of addressing the convention on all four days) promised a circus complete with musical guests. What he didn’t promise, however, was a dedicated campaign team. The reality star insisted that his campaign strategy will orbit around his outsize personality. He denigrated the “data processing machines” — e.g. a sophisticated micro-targeting operation — that Barack Obama deployed to win the White House twice. He promised that the millions he intends to draw from donations will be primarily invested not in targeting voters or advertising reservations but in massive outdoor rallies, which will likely be staffed and vended by firms in which the Trump organization holds a stake.

How Republicans who would sign onto this spectacle intend to impose sobriety upon it is bewildering. This isn’t a movement that can be disciplined from within, but it may possibly be contained from without.

Serious times deserve serious leadership, and Republicans don’t seem inclined to deliver. Democrats, meanwhile, are providing the country with a choice between a circus and the cast of “Usual Suspects” arrayed in front of a police lineup. This week, longtime Clinton aide Cheryl Mills and her attorney abruptly left an FBI interview when the subject of Clinton’s infamous emails arose. Hillary Clinton, too, will be interviewed by federal investigators and, while criminal charges for her misconduct as secretary of state are still unlikely, the smoke arising from the scandal is indicative of a fire somewhere.

On Monday, the State Department revealed with a shrug that they could not locate any emails sent by Clinton’s IT staffer Bryan Pagliano (who has since been granted immunity for his testimony in the case) to the former secretary of state. “The Department has searched for Mr. Pagliano’s email PST file and has not located one that covers the time period of Secretary Clinton’s tenure,” State Department spokesman Elizabeth Trudeau said. Some correspondence from Pagliano was later discovered, but only as portions of conversations gleaned from other email accounts. All other correspondence from Pagliano have mysteriously disappeared.

The State Department’s explanation for the emails’ disappearance insults the nation’s intelligence, but they are only following Clinton’s lead in doing so. This is an agency molded for four years by a candidate who thought it witty and clever to pretend she was unaware of what it meant to “wipe” a server clean; who lied brazenly, repeatedly, and without a thought as to how easily her mendacity might be exposed. If Trump’s campaign plans to dazzle the American public by transforming the political process into lowbrow vaudeville, Clinton is doing her best to insult the cognitive faculties of the American people all the way to the White House.

Amid all this, the temptation to succumb to cynicism is strong. For those not steeped in the political process, the desire to drop out of it must be intense. It serves us, however, to put aside our revulsion for a few minutes to ponder the moment and ask how posterity will look upon it and us. We might be able to fool ourselves into believing that all of this is normal and within the bounds of normal American political behavior, but will our children or their children? What kind of politics will they be left with? And will they ask if any of this could have been averted? Some might be tempted to wash our hands of it all, sit back, and enjoy the “reality show.” But none of this is a game.


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Europe's Refugee Opportunity

By Editorial Board
The Bloomberg View
May 12, 2016


European Union bureaucrats are too fond of sticks. When it comes to the continent’s refugee crisis, they might want to try some carrots.

Under the European Commission's latest proposal, EU countries would have to accept their quota of refugees or pay a 250,000 euro ($285,000) fine per refugee if they don't. Quotas were a necessary emergency measure last year, when more than a million refugees were pouring into Europe. Now that the flow of refugees is slowing, Europe can and should take a more long-term approach.

For one thing, it would be difficult to enforce a quota system. Given the EU's open internal borders, asylum seekers can travel wherever they wish -- even if they don't have the right to work or claim government benefits outside their country of asylum. More important, the goal of EU refugee policy should be to reduce migration, not micromanage it.

The EU's tentative deal with Turkey offers the beginnings of a solution, sharply reducing the number of refugees trying to reach Greece and launching a resettlement program to allow at least some refugees to claim asylum in the EU directly from Turkey. The European Commission should focus on making that deal stick and expanding it.

That said, the agreement is not nearly enough. What else can Europe do? Better security along Europe's external borders and a shared database of asylum seekers, as the commission has proposed, are crucial. But the EU should also be using market forces to encourage its members to accept more refugees.

One idea is to expand and reconfigure the EU's refugee fund, creating a kind of voucher system for each asylum seeker: Instead of being fined for failing to accept refugees, countries would get money for hosting them. It would be expensive -- according to one estimate, some 35 billion euros per year, out of an annual EU budget of about 143 billion euros.

The fund would reduce governments' initial economic costs of accepting refugees. But it would not help them deal with the politics -- and for some governments, no amount of money would be enough to accept more refugees.

These countries should be able to help resolve the crisis in different ways. The U.K., for example, took just 3 percent of the EU's asylum applicants last year -- but it also provided nearly as much humanitarian aid for Syria as the other 27 EU nations combined. This kind of aid is also practical, as it could make some refugees less likely to flee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. In a similar way, countries could contribute by taking on more of the burden of peacekeeping in conflict zones such as Syria, protecting camps there.

The ubiquity of misery and technology -- refugees now commonly use their smartphones to help them find a way out of their suffering -- means that this crisis is not likely to end soon. As they struggle to meet the challenge, Europe's leaders have to be more flexible and resourceful.


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