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The Dangers of Policy Learning

Via the New York Times:

Seizing on immigration as the cause of countless social and economic problems, Mr. Trump entered office with an agenda of symbolic but incompletely thought-out goals, the product not of rigorous policy debate but of emotionally charged personal interactions and an instinct for tapping into the nativist views of white working-class Americans.

Donald Trump isn’t so much tapping into ‘nativist’ views as, instead, exploiting citizens’ unawareness of the benefits of both immigration and trade. Immigrants contribute to the tax base, take less time off, and their direct descendants also contribute more to the tax base than ‘long-term’ citizens. Immigration is a net gain for ‘regular’ American workers but they haven’t been told just how, and why, their own lives and the social benefits they draw on are significantly improved by immigration into America.

Even as the administration was engaged in a court battle over the travel ban, it began to turn its attention to another way of tightening the border — by limiting the number of refugees admitted each year to the United States. And if there was one “deep state” stronghold of Obama holdovers that Mr. Trump and his allies suspected of undermining them on immigration, it was the State Department, which administers the refugee program.

The State Department is a core centre of American soft power; it’s programs, educational efforts, international outreach, and more are responsible for spreading American values around the world.1 That the administration is hollowing out the department is the truest evidence that the Trump administration is unaware of how, and why, America has managed to maintain its position in the world. While American military might is significantly responsible for the development and maintenance of its imperial stature in the world, this stature is solidified and extended through an adoption of American values. Such values are more than those associated with the military; they’re linked with those spread by staff from State who promote American values in more formal diplomatic efforts as well as the other range of activities undertaken by consular and embassy staff throughout the world.

It is incredibly hard to believe that the Trump administration is barely one year into a four year term. Given the lasting damage the administration has already done to America’s ability to project power around the world, it’s hard to imagine just what America’s stature will be in a few more years. But what’s most significant is that his administration has learned so quickly how to engage in the deliberate hollowing out of the institutions which have long been hallowed to Americans. This kind of learning is indicative that the administration might be successful on more of its more outrageous campaign promises, promises which are being supported by the Congress and Senate, and thus indicative of a broader series of values (or lack thereof) which are held by many American politicians.

  1. In the interests in disclosure: I will personally be enrolled in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program in the coming fall.
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From Salon:

But here’s the thing. Mnuchin’s shameless posturing about the administration’s tax plans—at one point he even promised there would be “no absolute tax cut for the upper class,” which was a laugher given every proposal Trump had ever backed—points to a deeper problem. The man regularly says things that just aren’t true. He’s been claiming that there was an analysis underway. There wasn’t. And while a lot of people may roll their eyes about that in the context of a wonky tax debate, his complete lack of credibility is going to be a problem if we ever run into a serious economic or financial crisis. Just ask yourself: If the markets were crashing and Steve Mnuchin held a press conference assuring everybody that the administration had an action plan in the works, would you believe him? His complete detachment from reality has mostly been an infuriating sideshow during this tax push. If stuff ever really hits the fan, though, his reputation for fibbing is going to make things even worse. Just like someone else we know.

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Evaluating the Buzzfeed dossier, by a former Intelligence Analyst

Individual details, like lawyer Michael Cohen’s trip to Prague or the spelling of a name or two, may indeed be disproven. Not everything in these reports is 100% accurate.

However, it is extremely important to emphasize that micro-level inaccuracies do not detract from the credibility of the two broad points that I establish above: that Trump’s organization has had a relationship with the Kremlin and that he is subject to blackmail.

This is one of the better analyses of how to understand the dossier that was released this week on Donald Trump’s activities in Russia and involvement with the Russian government.

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Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America

As a candidate, Trump’s gas lighting was manipulative, as President-elect it is a deliberate attempt to destabilize journalism as a check on the power of government.

To be clear, the “us” here is everyone living under Trump. It’s radical progressives, hardline Republicans, and Jill Stein’s weird cousin. The President of the United States cannot be lying to the American electorate with zero accountability. The threat of deception is not a partisan issue. Trump took advantage of the things that divide this country, pitting us against one another, while lying his way to the Oval Office. Yes, everything is painfully clear in hindsight, but let’s make sure Trump’s win was the Lasik eye surgery we all so desperately needed.

The good news about this boiling frog scenario is that we’re not boiling yet. Trump is not going to stop playing with the burner until America realizes that the temperature is too high. It’s on every single one of us to stop pretending it’s always been so hot in here.

Teen Vogue has one of the more biting analyses of Trump’s activities in the US media. Teen. Vogue.

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Privacy experts fear Donald Trump accessing global surveillance network

Thomas Drake, an NSA whistleblower who predated Snowden, offered an equally bleak assessment. He said: “The electronic infrastructure is fully in place – and ex post facto legalised by Congress and executive orders – and ripe for further abuse under an autocratic, power-obsessed president. History is just not kind here. Trump leans quite autocratic. The temptations to use secret NSA surveillance powers, some still not fully revealed, will present themselves to him as sirens.”

Bush and Cheney functionally authorized the NSA to undertake unlawful operations and actively sought to hinder authorizing courts from understanding what was going on. At the same time, that administration established black sites and novel detention rules for persons kidnapped by the CIA from around the world.

Obama and Biden developed legal theories that were accompanied by authorizing legislation to make the NSA’s previously unlawful activities lawful. The Obama presidency also failed to close Gitmo or convince the American public that torture should be forbidden or that criminal (as opposed to military) courts are the appropriate ways of dealing with suspected terror suspects. And thoughout the NSA deliberately misled and lied to its authorizing court, the CIA deliberately withheld documents from investigators and spied on those working for the intelligence oversight committees, and the FBI continued to conceal its own surveillance operations as best it could.

There are a lot of things to be worried about when it comes to the United States’ current trajectory. But one of the more significant items to note is that the most sophisticated and best financed surveillance and policing infrastructure in the world is going to be working at the behest of an entirely unproven, misogynistic, racist, and bigoted president.

It’s cause to be very, very nervous for the next few years.

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How sexism and bigotry won Donald Trump the presidency

This election is already being spun as “voter backlash,” as if the most widely touted legislative policies and court decisions over the last eight years – the Affordable Care Act, same-sex marriage, the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – don’t say something about the people who wish to reverse them. There will soon be conversations about the transformation of the American electoral landscape which dance around the deliberate naming of sexism and bigotry as the proximate cause for nearly causing President-elect Donald Trump. All of this misses the point unless that darker urge in American politics is finally identified and examined.

That urge to halt progress, to let people who traditionally have not held power know their proper place in the hierarchy, is a familiar one. That a man as unpopular, temperamental, and inexperienced as Donald Trump could pull this off speaks not only to the inevitability of this cycle, but to the fact that even the worst possible candidate can be the best possible President when the mood is right.

God help us all.

The implications of this election are entirely unknowable: America has done something that is practically unthinkable. Everyone who examines and advocates for policies, regardless of political stripe or interest, has no idea what is going to follow. And it’s not evident that the lack of stability is a problem given that a significant swathe of Americans have given a mandate to a man who possesses a resevoir of ideology and, at best, a thimble of policy prescriptions.

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Donald Trump’s companies destroyed or hid documents in defiance of court orders

Newsweek:

Trump’s use of deception and untruthful affidavits, as well as the hiding or improper destruction of documents, dates back to at least 1973, when the Republican nominee, his father and their real estate company battled the federal government over civil charges that they refused to rent apartments to African-Americans. The Trump strategy was simple: deny, impede and delay, while destroying documents the court had ordered them to hand over.

Shortly after the government filed its case in October, Trump attacked: He falsely declared to reporters that the feds had no evidence he and his father discriminated against minorities, but instead were attempting to force them to lease to welfare recipients who couldn’t pay their rent.

The debates about who had hidden the most, and the significance of such hiding, continues unabated in the American election…

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Imagine if Donald Trump Controlled the NSA

Wired:

And exactly what could a President Trump do with the NSA? First, Hennessey says, there’s the question of what he could undo: He could, for instance, rescind the executive actions of President Obama aimed at reforming the NSA after Snowden’s revelations. Presidential Policy Directive 28, for example, issued in 2014, was designed to ensure that the NSA’s signals intelligence branch wouldn’t use its powers to promote American business interests or suppress political dissent abroad, and that it would minimize its invasion of the privacy of not just Americans but also non-Americans whenever possible. Trump could also defang or coopt the executive branch’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which opposed and helped to end the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ cell phone records last year.

More fundamentally, Hennessey and other former NSA staffers worry that Trump could redefine the priorities of the NSA’s foreign intelligence mission. He could, for instance, refocus American spying efforts to take the agency’s eyes off Russia and instead target that country’s adversaries, like Georgia, Ukraine, or even the European Union. Given Trump’s murky financial ties to Russia, it’s still not clear how he would approach its authoritarian government if he were to take power. “Trump has indicated he has unusual views about Vladimir Putin as an individual and Russian activity around the world that’s very problematic for the security interests of the US,” Hennessey says. “We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the intelligence community’s high level priorities and the ability of the president to shift them.”

Despite what people believe, the NSA is significantly restrained in some of its activities as compared to its compatriots. As an example, there is still no evidence that the NSA conducts economic espionage for the purpose of enhancing specific American business’ interests. The United States does conduct economic espionage for trading and global threat assessments, but not to share the collected information with domestic businesses. A Trump presidency could change that and, in the course, truly blend best-of-class government surveillance with nationalist economic policies. While that might sound appealing to Americans it could also initiate a full-scale trade war…and one where the people of the world would likely come out far poorer.

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Trump’s Empire: A Maze of Debts and Opaque Ties

New York Times:

Tracing the ownership of many of Mr. Trump’s buildings can be a complicated task. Sometimes he owns a building and the land underneath it; sometimes, he holds a partial interest or just the commercial portion of a property.

And in some cases, the identities of his business partners are obscured behind limited liability companies — raising the prospect of a president with unknown business ties.

A revealing analysis of Trump’s actual financial situation.

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This Man Is the Most Dangerous Political Operative in America

This Man Is the Most Dangerous Political Operative in America:

Breitbart’s genius was that he grasped better than anyone else what the early 20th century press barons understood—that most readers don’t approach the news as a clinical exercise in absorbing facts, but experience it viscerally as an ongoing drama, with distinct story lines, heroes, and villains. Breitbart excelled at creating these narratives, an editorial approach that’s lived on. “When we do an editorial call, I don’t even bring anything I feel like is only a one-off story, even if it’d be the best story on the site,” says Alex Marlow, the site’s editor in chief. “Our whole mindset is looking for these rolling narratives.” He rattles off the most popular ones, which Breitbart News covers intensively from a posture of aggrieved persecution. “The big ones won’t surprise you,” he says. “Immigration, ISIS, race riots, and what we call ‘the collapse of traditional values.’ But I’d say Hillary Clinton is tops.”

GAI is set up more like a Hollywood movie studio than a think tank. The creative mind through which all its research flows and is disseminated belongs to a beaming young Floridian named Wynton Hall, a celebrity ghostwriter who’s penned 18 books, six of them New York Times best-sellers, including Trump’s Time to Get Tough. Hall’s job is to transform dry think-tank research into vivid, viral-ready political dramas that can be unleashed on a set schedule, like summer blockbusters. “We work very long and hard to build a narrative, storyboarding it out months in advance,” he says. “I’m big on this: We’re not going public until we have something so tantalizing that any editor at a serious publication would be an idiot to pass it up and give a competitor the scoop. ”

To this end, Hall peppers his colleagues with slogans so familiar around the office that they’re known by their abbreviations. “ABBN — always be breaking news,” he says. Another slogan is “depth beats speed.” Time-strapped reporters squeezed for copy will gratefully accept original, fact-based research because most of what they’re inundated with is garbage. “The modern economics of the newsroom don’t support big investigative reporting staffs,” says Bannon. “You wouldn’t get a Watergate, a Pentagon Papers today, because nobody can afford to let a reporter spend seven months on a story. We can. We’re working as a support function.”

Given that the CEO of Breitbart is going to be the new CEO of Donald Trump’s campaign, it seems appropriate to read and reflect on how Bannon has successfully positioned both his news organization – Breitbart – and the thinktank – GAI – such that their news and investigations pervade the media.

The core takeaway is that Bannon understands the media in a more systematic (and arguably deeper) way than Trump. The question, however, is whether that understanding be sufficient to re-invigorate Trump’s campaign amongst traditional conservatives and undecided voters.