Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Fall of Icarus 1558
An excellent discussion to have. However, opinions and interpretations already vary enormously, and it’s Trump who will appoint the next Supreme Court judge(s) – first one today. That could well take it from a showdown to a constitutional crisis.
Did President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration ban Muslims from the country on the basis of their religion? That will be a central question when federal judges dig more deeply into the constitutionality of the order, signed on Jan. 27. If the answer is yes, it appears vulnerable to a First Amendment challenge. So far, four U.S. district judges – in Brooklyn, New York; Boston; Alexandria, Virginia; and Seattle – have issued temporary rulings blocking aspects of the order. These provisional, hastily granted judicial rulings didn’t delve into deep constitutional issues. Instead, they sought to prevent deportations or other government actions that would harm individuals affected by it. Lawyers for those individuals will return to court in coming days to flesh out their arguments. The Trump administration presumably will send attorneys from the Justice Department to defend the executive order, and the respective judges will subsequently issue more-thorough rulings.
[..] Strange as it may seem, Trump’s utterances on Twitter or elsewhere could become evidence in court of what he intended to accomplish with the executive order. Some possible examples include his original call during the presidential campaign for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and his modified demand for a ban targeting immigrants from majority-Muslim countries. Even some conservative Republicans expressed unease about the constitutionality of the Trump order. Focusing on the First Amendment issue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday: “It’s hopefully going to be decided in the courts as to whether or not this has gone too far.” “I think we need to be careful,” McConnell added. “We don’t have religious tests in this country.”
Roger Pilon, founding director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, predicted the debate over Trump’s immigration order would ultimately end up with the Supreme Court. “I don’t see President Trump backing down,” he said. “I do hope, however, that the stays the lower courts are issuing will allow for a measure of ‘business as usual,’ because the initial situation seems very chaotic.”
Yates did what she had to. Question arises how much longer Mattis and Tillerson will stand for being left in the dark about measures, but subsequently having to defend them.
Accusing her of betrayal and insubordination, President Donald Trump on Monday fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general of the United States and a Democratic appointee, after she publicly questioned the constitutionality of his controversial refugee and immigration ban and refused to defend it in court. The dramatic public clash between the new president and the nation’s top law enforcement officer laid bare the growing discord and dissent surrounding Trump’s executive order, which temporarily halted the entire U.S. refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days. The firing came hours after Yates directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend the executive order, saying she was not convinced it was lawful or consistent with the agency’s obligation “to stand for what is right.”
[..] Yates’s abrupt decision reflected the growing conflict over the executive order, with administration officials moving Monday to distance themselves from the policy. As protests erupted at airports over the weekend and confusion disrupted travel around the globe, even some of Trump’s top advisers and fellow Republicans made clear they were not involved in crafting the policy or consulted on its implementation. At least three top national security officials — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation to lead the State Department — have told associates they were not aware of details of the directive until around the time Trump signed it. Leading intelligence officials were also left largely in the dark, according to U.S. officials.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said that despite White House assurances that congressional leaders were consulted, he learned about the order in the media. Trump’s order pauses America’s entire refugee program for four months, indefinitely bans all those from war-ravaged Syria and temporarily freezes immigration from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Federal judges in New York and several other states issued orders that temporarily block the government from deporting people with valid visas who arrived after Trump’s travel ban took effect and found themselves in limbo. Yates, who was appointed deputy attorney general in 2015 and was the No. 2 Justice Department official under Loretta Lynch, declared Monday she was instructing department lawyers not to defend the order in court.
“I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Yates wrote in a letter announcing her position. “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.” [..] Mattis, who stood next to Trump during Friday’s signing ceremony, is said to be particularly incensed. A senior U.S. official said Mattis, along with Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford, was aware of the general concept of Trump’s order but not the details. Tillerson has told the president’s political advisers that he was baffled over not being consulted on the substance of the order.
“..wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”
In 2004, Philip Roth published “The Plot Against America.” The four main characters of the novel, which takes place between June, 1940, and October, 1942, are a family of American Jews, the Roths, of Newark—Bess, Herman, and their two sons, Philip and Sandy. They are ardent supporters of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but, in Roth’s reimagining, Roosevelt loses his bid for a third term to a surprise Republican candidate—the aviator Charles Lindbergh—whose victory upends not only politics in America but life itself. The historical Lindbergh was an isolationist who espoused a catchphrase that Donald Trump borrowed for his Presidential campaign, and for his Inaugural Address: “America First.” The fictional Lindbergh, like the actual Trump, expressed admiration for a murderous European dictator, and his election emboldened xenophobes.
In Roth’s novel, a foreign power—Nazi Germany—meddles in an American election, leading to a theory that the President is being blackmailed. In real life, U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating Trump’s ties to Vladimir Putin and the possibility that a dossier of secret information—kompromat—gives Russia leverage with his regime. Roth wrote in the Times Book Review that “The Plot Against America” was not intended as a political roman à clef. Rather, he wanted to dramatize a series of what-ifs that never came to pass in America but were “somebody else’s reality”—i.e., that of the Jews of Europe. “All I do,” he wrote, “is to defatalize the past—if such a word exists—showing how it might have been different and might have happened here.”
Last week, Roth was asked, via e-mail, if it has happened here. He responded, “It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s ‘The Confidence-Man,’ the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’ ”
American reality, the “American berserk,” Roth has noted, makes it harder to write fiction. Does Donald Trump outstrip the novelist’s imagination? Roth replied, “It isn’t Trump as a character, a human type—the real-estate type, the callow and callous killer capitalist—that outstrips the imagination. It is Trump as President of the United States. “I was born in 1933,” he continued, “the year that F.D.R. was inaugurated. He was President until I was twelve years old. I’ve been a Roosevelt Democrat ever since. I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”
Excellent history lesson.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, when President Teddy Roosevelt governed the country on a platform of trust busting aimed at reducing corporate power, even he could not bring himself to bust up the banks. That was a mistake born of his collaboration with the financier J.P. Morgan to mitigate the effects of the Bank Panic of 1907. Roosevelt feared that if he didn’t enlist the influence of the country’s major banker, the crisis would be even longer and more disastrous. It’s an error he might not have made had he foreseen the effect that one particular investment bank would have on America’s economy and political system.
There have been hundreds of articles written about the “world’s most powerful investment bank,” or as journalist Matt Taibbi famously called it back in 2010, the “great vampire squid.” That squid is now about to wrap its tentacles around our world in a way previously not imagined by Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. No less than six Trump administration appointments already hail from that single banking outfit. Of those, two will impact your life strikingly: former Goldman partner and soon-to-be Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and incoming top economic adviser and National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn, former president and “number two” at Goldman. (The Council he will head has been responsible for “policy-making for domestic and international economic issues.”)
Now, let’s take a step into history to get the full Monty on why this matters more than you might imagine. In New York, circa 1932, then-Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced his bid for the presidency. At the time, our nation was in the throes of the Great Depression. Goldman Sachs had, in fact, been one of the banks at the core of the infamous crash of 1929 that crippled the financial system and nearly destroyed the economy. It was then run by a dynamic figure, Sidney Weinberg, dubbed “the Politician” by Roosevelt because of his smooth tongue and “Mr. Wall Street” by the New York Times because of his range of connections there. Weinberg quickly grasped that, to have a chance of redeeming his firm’s reputation from the ashes of public opinion, he would need to aim high indeed. So he made himself indispensable to Roosevelt’s campaign for the presidency, soon embedding himself on the Democratic National Campaign Executive Committee.
Goldman view: Bad for business.
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein became the first major Wall Street leader to speak out against President Donald Trump’s order to halt arrivals from several Muslim-majority countries. In a voicemail to employees on Sunday, Blankfein said diversity was a hallmark of Goldman’s success, and if the temporary freeze became permanent, it could create “disruption” for the bank and its staff. “This is not a policy we support, and I would note that it has already been challenged in federal court, and some of the order has been enjoined at least temporarily,” Blankfein said, according to a transcript seen by Reuters. In Silicon Valley, the heads of companies such as Apple and Facebook swiftly denounced Trump’s immigration ban.
But the rest of corporate America has been more circumspect in speaking out, underscoring the sensitivities around opposing policies that could provoke a backlash from the White House. Tepid responses from many of Blankfein’s peers made his comments all the more potent, especially because Goldman has gotten attention for the number of its alumni who have joined Trump’s administration. Top BlackRock executives including CEO Larry Fink, sent a memo to staff on Monday saying Trump’s order presented “challenges” to its goals of diversity and inclusion. BlackRock is examining the direct impact on its employees, as well as the broader implications of the order, they said. “We, of course, all want to promote security and combat terrorism, but we believe it needs to be done with respect for due process, individual rights and the principle of inclusion,” they wrote.’
High risk pools. Holy mother. That’s sick.
As Republicans seek to carry out their promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they must keep an eye on their own political health. “Obamacare” may be unpopular, but its components are not. A celebrated part of the law bans insurers from turning away customers who have pre-existing medical conditions. Before the ACA, insurers would routinely deny coverage to those with even minor or old blots on their medical histories. At a recent question-and-answer session, Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, was confronted by a man who, thanks to a cancer diagnosis, owed his life to this Obamacare rule. Mr Ryan promised the voter that the GOP’s desired ACA overhaul would not have left him for dead. Instead, he could have joined a “high-risk pool”. Beloved by the right, these pools feature in almost every Obamacare alternative, including the one penned by Tom Price, Donald Trump’s pick to be health secretary.
The idea is to hive unhealthy people off into their own dedicated market and then subsidise their coverage. It reverses the logic of the ACA, which lumped everyone together to spread costs around. The law sent premiums skyrocketing for healthy folk who buy their insurance themselves, rather than through an employer. Whittling out higher-risk people from the market would bring those premiums back down. Middle-income earners too well-off to qualify for Obamacare’s tax credits, who have suffered the most from higher costs, would surely cheer such a reform. 35 states ran high-risk pools before the ACA. The biggest and most successful was the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA, or “em-sha”). Established in 1976, MCHA covered 27,000 Minnesotans with pre-existing conditions in 2011, about 10% of the relevant market. It offered a selection of plans, from near-total coverage to catastrophe-only insurance.
All provided good, though not unlimited, care. Separating high-risk people out does not make their costs disappear. Minnesota paid for MCHA in two ways. First, premiums were up to 25% higher than elsewhere. After those were collected, a levy on other health insurance plans covered its losses. This tax inflated healthy folks’ premiums much less than Obamacare does, partly because it applied to a broad base which included employer-provided coverage. MCHA helped create a stable market, argues Peter Nelson of the Centre of the American Experiment, a conservative think-tank. The ACA, by contrast, has led to something of a mess. In 2015 insurers’ costs were 16% higher than their revenue from premiums. Blue Cross Blue Shield, an insurer which covered 103,000 people, has left Minnesota’s market, blaming massive losses. The state is likely to hand out $300m to cushion the blow from huge premium increases for 2017, which by one measure reached 59%.
Why? They don’t have enough people to do the work: “..allowing the Fed to dedicate more of its staff to focusing on the biggest firms.”
Twenty U.S. banks with less than $250 billion in assets will be freed from the subjective portion of the Federal Reserve’s annual stress tests under changes the central bank laid out Monday. Banks including Northern Trust and American Express will no longer have to comply with the “qualitative” half of the Fed’s stress tests, which takes a deep dive into a firm’s risk-management systems. Last year, 33 banks participated in the annual exercise. The central bank said it would release scenarios and instructions for the 2017 test by the end of this week. Stress tests have become a centerpiece of the Fed’s postcrisis regulatory framework.
The exercise examines two critical aspects of the largest firms: first, whether banks hold enough capital—money raised from investors or earned through profit—to withstand severe economic stress in the financial system, and second, whether banks have the appropriate internal processes to identify and measure risk when considering their own capital planning. The Fed can reject a bank’s plan to pay out shareholders on either basis. To gain an exemption, a firm must have assets between $50 billion and $250 billion and not be identified as a globally systemically important bank. One important change made by regulators in the final rule was excluding a requirement to have less than $10 billion in foreign exposure.
Those firms will still be required to show regulators they could survive a hypothetical recession with enough capital to continue lending. The change is designed to make the tests less onerous, while allowing the Fed to dedicate more of its staff to focusing on the biggest firms. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law requires banks with more than $50 billion in assets to undergo the yearly stress tests. Fed officials have been looking for ways to ease requirements for regional banks while raising capital requirements for large, globally systemically important banks by adding a capital surcharge into the stress tests.
Yes. Actually, has been for a long time.
Ever since the European Commission and ECB jointly decided that Italy’s government could bend EU banking rules out of all recognition in order to bail out the country’s third largest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Europe’s financial stocks have been on a tear. But the good times were brought to a grinding halt Monday after Italy’s largest bank, Unicredit, which employs 55,000 people in 17 countries, announced losses for 2016 of €11.8 billion. By the bank’s logic, it would have announced profits if it hadn’t had to write off €12.2 billion, including billions of euros of non-performing loans (NPLs) festering on its balance sheets. But it got worse. In the registration document for its pending recapitalization, published on its website today, Unicredit also announced that its capital ratios at the end of 2016 might fall short of ECB requirements.
It was enough to prompt a 5.45% slide in its shares. As detected in the ECB’s latest stress test, Unicredit already had the slimmest capital buffer of all Europe’s Global Systemically Important Banks (G-SIBs). And it just got slimmer. The reality today is not comforting: a bank that is officially too big to fail, with over €1 trillion of “assets” on its books, just admitted that things are even worse than initially feared. Somehow, Unicredit will need to raise €13 billion in new capital by the end of June. If successful, it would be the biggest capital expansion of Italian stock market history. Earlier this month, the bank has pushed through a 10:1 reverse stock split, cutting its shares outstanding by a factor of 10 and multiplying the share price by 10. So its shares today plunged 5.45% to €26.20 instead of to, say, €2.62.
It makes the shares look more palatable, but it does absolutely nothing to bank’s market capitalization, which is down to just €16.2 billion. The bank is also planning to cut 14,000 jobs by 2019, close 944 of its 3,800 branches, and offload almost €18 billion of bad loans — a gargantuan ask even at the best of times. And for Unicredit and Italy as a whole, these are most certainly not the best of times. The Italian government has so far pledged €20 billion of taxpayer funds to partially bail out the bondholders of Monte dei Paschi and of a clutch of other banks that will probably include Banca Popolare di Vicenza, Veneto Banca and Genoa-based Carige. That’s already four times the initial estimated outlay of €5 billion. Expect it to keep growing.
“Is everyone too busy hating to do anything sensible?”
The mindlessness is unbearable. Amnesty International tells us that we must “fight the Muslim ban” because Trump’s bigotry is wrecking lives. Anthony Dimaggio at CounterPunch says Trump should be impeached because his Islamophobia is a threat to the Constitution. This is not to single out these two as the mindlessness is everywhere among those whose worldview is defined by Identity Politics. One might think that Amnesty International should be fighting against the Bush/Cheney/Obama regime wars that have produced the refugees by killing and displacing millions of Muslims. For example, the ongoing war that Obama inflicted on Yemen results in the death of one Yemeni child every 10 minutes, according to UNICEF. Where is Amnesty International?
Clearly America’s wars on Muslims wreck far more lives than Trump’s ban on immigrants. Why the focus on an immigration ban and not on wars that produce refugees? Is it because Obama is responsible for war and Trump for the ban? Is the liberal/progressive/left projecting Obama’s monstrous crimes onto Trump? Is it that we must hate Trump and not Obama? Immigration is not a right protected by the US Constitution. Where was Dimaggio when in the name of “the war on terror” the Bush/Obama regime destroyed the civil liberties guaranteed by the US Constitution? If Dimaggio is an American citizen, he should try immigrating to the UK, Germany, or France and see how far he gets.
The easiest and surest way for the Trump administration to stop the refugee problem, not only for the US but also for Europe and the West in general, is to stop the wars against Muslim countries that his predecessors started. The enormous sums of money squandered on gratuitous wars could instead be given to the countries that the US and NATO have destroyed. The simplest way to end the refugee problem is to stop producing refugees. This should be the focus of Trump, Amnesty, and Dimaggio. Is everyone too busy hating to do anything sensible? It is very disturbing that the liberal/progressive/left prefers to oppose Trump than to oppose war. Indeed, they want a war on Trump. How does this differ from the Bush/Obama war on Muslims?
Just one week in office, President Trump is already following through on his pledge to address illegal immigration. His January 25th executive order called for the construction of a wall along the entire length of the US-Mexico border. While he is right to focus on the issue, there are several reasons why his proposed solution will unfortunately not lead us anywhere closer to solving the problem. First, the wall will not work. Texas already started building a border fence about ten years ago. It divided people from their own property across the border, it deprived people of their land through the use of eminent domain, and in the end the problem of drug and human smuggling was not solved.
Second, the wall will be expensive. The wall is estimated to cost between 12 and 15 billion dollars. You can bet it will be more than that. President Trump has claimed that if the Mexican government doesn’t pay for it, he will impose a 20% duty on products imported from Mexico. Who will pay this tax? Ultimately, the American consumer, as the additional costs will be passed on. This will of course hurt the poorest Americans the most. Third, building a wall ignores the real causes of illegal border crossings into the United States. Though President Trump is right to prioritize the problem of border security, he misses the point on how it can be done effectively and at an actual financial benefit to the country rather than a huge economic drain.
The solution to really addressing the problem of illegal immigration, drug smuggling, and the threat of cross-border terrorism is clear: remove the welfare magnet that attracts so many to cross the border illegally, stop the 25 year US war in the Middle East, and end the drug war that incentivizes smugglers to cross the border. [..] the threat of terrorists crossing into the United States from Mexico must be taken seriously, however once again we must soberly consider why they may seek to do us harm. We have been dropping bombs on the Middle East since at least 1990. Last year President Obama dropped more than 26,000 bombs. Thousands of civilians have been killed in US drone attacks. The grand US plan to “remake” the Middle East has produced only misery, bloodshed, and terrorism. Ending this senseless intervention will go a long way toward removing the incentive to attack the United States.
It’s like a different planet. Curious detail is that western Canada always felt very close to the US, something that comes up every time Québec separation is discussed. Those same people now actively sponsor refugees. Bless you.
After the success of last year’s resettlements in Calgary, another wave of refugees could be on its way as the federal government and immigration services monitor the impact of Donald Trump’s refugee ban. And while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already suggested Canada will welcome those the U.S. won’t take, immigration advocates say funding for services will have to keep up with rising demand. “There is a lot of confusion around the ban right now, it came down very fast and furious,” said Anoush Newman, community engagement coordinator for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. “But Canada is in a very respected position in the world. And people from a lot of countries will aspire to come here.”
Fariborz Birjandian, CEO with CCIS, added that while Calgary’s numbers will increase only if the federal government approves another wave of Syrian refugees similar to last year’s, the possibility is there amid the ban in the U.S. – a country that normally takes in 80,000 refugees a year. “There are hundreds of thousands of refugees in camps right now, dreaming of coming to Canada,” Birjandian said. “But that all depends on whether the federal government will raise its target numbers.” CCIS estimates up to 7,000 refugees arrived in Alberta over the past year, up to 3,400 of them to Calgary, after the Trudeau government announced a goal of taking at least 25,000 refugees last January.
[..] if Canadian cities will be expected to prepare for more refugees, Newman says the federal government also needs to ensure funding for new infrastructure and support services. “When they arrive here, they need schools, health services, language services. We need to make sure they get enough support,” she said. CCIS officials held a public forum Monday updating the community about its refugee resettlement program one year after the Trudeau government announced its 25,000 target. Birjandian commended local efforts, especially among private sponsors who took in up to 2,200 of Calgary’s 3,400 total refugees.
Words fail. A fourth man dies on Samos. Where is the urgency, Europe, where is the outrage?
The death Monday of a third migrant within a week at the Moria camp on Lesvos has increased concerns about the living conditions of thousands of people who continue to live in tents, and cast fresh doubts over a pledge by the Migration Ministry in early January to take the necessary precautions as heavy snowfall and subzero temperatures engulfed the country. However, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said Monday that the number of United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) employees at the camps has dropped, making a difficult situation even tougher. He also said a plan to move people to hotels while the so-called hot spots received a makeover fell through after local authorities and hoteliers disagreed. He vowed to reporters that steps will be taken “to make the situation more manageable,” while migrants, meanwhile, say they are at breaking point.
The latest incidents occurred as the UNHCR and other organizations have called on Greece to improve living conditions. The man who died Monday in his tent was a Pakistani national, aged between 18 and 20. Authorities have ruled out foul play while doctors blamed carbon monoxide poisoning. A 30-year-old Afghan man who shared the same tent was hospitalized but his condition was reportedly not life-threatening. The Pakistani man’s death follows that of an Egyptian man, 22, last Tuesday and a 46-year-old Syrian man on Saturday. A coroner has asked for more tests to ascertain the cause of death for the latter two. Initial assessments attributed their deaths to fume inhalations from stoves they had lit to keep warm. Two camps on Lesvos serve as temporary shelter for some 4,800 refugees and migrants.