Potentially Massive Change in War Powers

[Ed. Note: I’m stepping a little out of my normal practice of reviewing and commenting only on official executive actions with this post, because when I saw the brief news report (see link below) it occurred to me if the bill passes as amended by the House Appropriations Committee, this president will have much less freedom to “authorize and fight wars” than either of his two most recent predecessors.]

What am I talking about?

Today, according to a report published by The Week (posted 12:30 p.m. ET), the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill of 2017 proposed by Rep. Barbara Lee, CA, that repeals the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) (Public Law 107-40) that was passed by Congress in the immediate wake of September 11, 2001. That law has been the basis for all war actions since it was enacted – used by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama to execute military actions in several places around the world. In effect, it was congressional authorization to use military force against terrorist activities, a.k.a. the “War on Terror”. Both the original law and the current amendment (photo of it is in The Week article cited above) are quite brief, so it does not take long to see what this is about.

Based on a Tweet by Rep. Lee, she appeared to be surprised it passed the full committee. The bill, along with this amendment, will be debated openly on the floor of the House of Representatives. Just getting this to the full House is a major change with enormous consequences.

At the time the AUMF passed, I believed it was a colossal overreaction to the 9-11 events and I am extremely pleased that at least the House Appropriations Committee is ready to reclaim the power of Congress to declare war instead of abdicating it to the president. It is long overdue to require a full, congressional debate before sending military forces into any kind of war.

The prospect of this law being repealed is so unexpected I’m having trouble wrapping my head around what the full ramifications would be.

What are the chances it will pass the full House? Will the Senate go along? If it reaches the president’s desk, will he veto the whole defense funding package just to keep that provision?

What precipitated the Appropriations Committee action to approve the repeal amendment? According to my count, the committee membership has 30 Republicans and 22 Democrats, (and of course, chaired by a Republican) which means the Republicans could easily have kept the amendment from passing. Does this mean even Republicans are concerned about this president having that level of power? Does the escalation in Syria have anything to do with this committee vote?

So far, I have not found online a breakdown of who on the committee voted for/against the amendment, but I hope it will be available at some point. It would be very interesting to see just who supports the repeal.

Needless to say, I will be watching for other news reports about this important amendment and its progress through the bill’s approval process.

Update June 30, 2017:

Two items to add: 1) Representative Lee was the only person to vote against the original AUMF in 2001, and 2) the vote by the Appropriations Committee yesterday was a voice vote and it passed nearly unanimously. From the video clip I saw of the vote, it sounded like one faint no vote voiced.


Comey Firing, Intel Leak and More

For several days I’ve been mulling over what I might say about this presidential action – the firing the FBI director. Although when I started this blog last November I did not think about hirings and firings as part of what I would review, now it seems obvious that this type of presidential action can be even more consequential than the other official acts such as executive orders, memoranda, or proclamations.

With this president, it is going to be important to pay some attention to nominations, hirings and firings. His consistent obeisance to autocratic governance demands close scrutiny of everything he does.

Needless to say, the firing of the FBI director has received voluminous media coverage. And, it will continue to be a central story for some time to come as part of the Russian hacking of the election investigations. What more is there to say than what is already being said? Maybe calling the firing of Comey a clear signal that autocratic rule is a real and present danger is not a completely original statement, but I do not think enough journalists are connecting the dots yet.

One of the best writers on authoritarianism I follow, Masha Gessen, has written another excellent article entitled The Autocrat’s Language. It is well worth reading for a better understanding of what we are encountering in this presidency.

I would also like to see more serious treatment of the total unfitness of this man to serve in any capacity of government. For some reason, the media are reluctant – too much so, in my opinion – to delve into the mental health issues. One reason seems to be they feel like they have to follow the ethics rules of the mental health profession (not diagnosing a person who is not a patient) or the “Goldwater Rule”. That is an utterly bogus argument. Journalists do not have to be professionals in another discipline to write about it. Even if more journalists would write about the psychologists and psychiatrists who have publicly declared POTUS 45 to be a malignant narcissist or otherwise mentally ill, it would help. It is important for more of the general public and especially more members of Congress to be better informed on the grave dangers we now face because of a mentally ill man in office.

I’ve written some earlier about this here, but I have kept a now three-week old article about mental health professionals’ comments at a Yale conference in my Pocket list so when I got back to writing about this topic I would have it available as a reference. It confirms my own observations from following election coverage last year and myriad journalists, writers, etc. since. This man is mentally incapable of any semblance of normal behavior.

Just yesterday a different speculation surfaced again. It is not the first time I have seen concern about POTUS 45 having advancing stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but maybe with this speculation we will finally see more journalists beginning to delve into the mental health angle.

The recent blurting out by POTUS 45 of some “code-word” intelligence to the Russians in the Oval Office is a prime example of an unhealthy mind, whatever the illness, that is a serious danger to the nation and in fact to civilization. [Ed. note: It looks like I may need to add another category of presidential actions for monitoring – unilaterally declassifying classified information.]

POTUS 45 should never have been nominated, let alone elected. It is imperative that we as citizens continually contact our senators and representatives to urge their action to initiate proceedings for impeachment. Given that Republicans hold the power positions right now, they are the ones we need to keep reminding as forcefully as we are able that they are responsible to the nation as a whole not just their constituents or “base”. Nothing short of the survival of this democratic republic is at stake. We must not wait for the 2018 election to “sort things out”.

Malignant Narcissist

After yesterday’s post,  I had not expected to be following up on the topic of the president’s mental competence quite so soon, but today I ran across the most detailed and helpful explanation of POTUS 45’s mental illness I have seen to date in a blog post by Shane Snow. It states the case for why so many mental health professionals are publicly diagnosing POTUS 45 as a Malignant Narcissist in spite of their profession’s “Goldwater Rule”. A leading American psychologist, John D. Gartner, is quoted extensively in this fascinating, deep explanation of what a Malignant Narcissist is and how POTUS 45 fits.

Another article in this vein – actually it fits both the threads I’m following (mental health & impeachment) – appeared yesterday in the Independent. It is by Siobhan Fenton and is about the president’s erratic behavior causing concern enough in Congress that several members are looking more carefully at the 25th Amendment to see how it might be used to remove the president from office legally without impeachment.

[Ed. note: The rest of this post is a bit of a deviation from my blog’s stated purposes.]

For my own sanity, I need to read other takes on this president. Today I found a few helpful perspectives and I’ve decided to share them here.  The first one I offer as worth reading is by James S. Gordon published in the Guardian. In it he reminds us of the historically useful “fool” or “jester” and makes the case for considering POTUS 45 in that role. He could serve to call attention to our own failings.

A second, from the Huffington Post written by Jo Confino, is a “Zen Master’s Advice” on how to deal with the erratic president. I particularly like the focus on non-violence and mindfulness.

Finally, in the category of “what we can do about it”, an article by George Lakey in yes! magazine entitled How Norway Avoided Becoming a Fascist State provides historical perspective that might be useful for our responses to our current danger. Once again the focus on collective, non-violent actions as being key to success jumps out at me.

Well, that’s enough for today.

Mental Competence Questions

In honor of the presidential press conference today that several media sites have labeled a “meltdown”, I am posting this brief note.

What follows is a list of seven articles from different sources, more or less randomly selected, having something to do with the mental health and/or competence of POTUS 45. I have thought for a long time – even well before the primaries – there is reason to be concerned about his capacity to function rationally, and therefore he is not fit to serve. These more recent writings are only confirming my own, admittedly NON-mental-health-expert, opinion.

Unfortunately the world, not only the country, is at high risk as a result.

The articles are listed alphabetically by source:


Anything But Quiet

This is day six since the last posting of any presidential action on the White House website. In some respects, it was inevitable the orders, memoranda, etc. were going to appear less frequently, but this is a precipitous drop for this president. Could it be the president is otherwise occupied (distracted)?

I don’t intend to write about every sordid detail of this administrations’ bungling activities, so will simply mention the firing of Michael Flynn, now former National Security Advisor, and today’s news of the nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, withdrawing his name from consideration under fire from an increasing number of Republicans, as examples of the incompetence, corruption, and floundering of this administration. These are just two very recent examples of the chaos that has ensued. Today’s Non Sequitur comic by Wiley Miller seems particularly appropriate. Funny, but not funny.

Because the past few weeks have been such a disaster and it promises to get worse not better, I’ve decided to expand the topics of focus for this blog, at least for a while. In addition to writing about presidential executive actions (and in some cases consequences of them such as court cases) and a few of my own comments/observations/opinions, I intend to follow two threads of media attention that appear to be growing public concerns, or at least increasing in news coverage by many media outlets. One is the mental health or mental competence of the president. The other is the numerous calls for accountability of the president or calls for outright impeachment. Neither of these are new. In fact, both have been present in the press at least since the election, but there does seem to be greater frequency of stories being written or produced on these two topics.

While at this point much of this is speculation, ultimately either situation could lead to removal from office. The Constitution does allow for removal for incompetence, presumably including mental incompetence. The Constitution also has two Emoluments clauses that could be used to impeach the president.

In a future post, I will address some of what I have read and am following regarding the president’s mental health. It is an active topic with a number of mental health professionals taking public positions in spite of the long followed “Goldwater Rule” that basically prohibits such professionals from diagnosing anyone, particularly a public figure, without actually interviewing them personally.

Today, on the emoluments issue, I will point to an interesting article by Judd Legum of Think Progress on how POTUS 45 can be held accountable for violating the Constitution without the help of the Republican Congress that is currently a major road block. The gist of the article is a report on potential legal actions that could be taken by a state’s Attorney General. What the article points out is that public official has a much better case for proving “standing” as required by law than a private individual or corporation would. Legum also suggests the state of New York might be the ideal place for this to get done. Washington, D. C. might also be a likely success location.

I do not expect the Congress to do anything about this president’s myriad conflicts of interest anytime soon, so will be watching to see if any Attorney General decides to act on behalf of the people.


Inside This White House

The current lull in presidential actions is bound to end soon enough, but in the meantime I’ve been reading a number of interesting takes on what is really going on behind the scenes. I’ll cite three of them.*

There are other interesting articles he has written recently, but I found T. A. Frank’s February 6 article in Vanity Fair, Decoding Stephen Miller’s Nationalist Mind to be particularly helpful in understanding a key player in the drafting of presidential documents.

Likewise, Jamelle Bouie writing for Slate reviews several of the important top aides to POTUS 45 in his cover story dated February 6, Government By White Nationism Is Upon Us.  In it he makes a compelling case for how that ideology is going to be dominant with this presidency.

The day before (February 5), the New York Times published a bit of an expose written by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman entitled Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles that gives an insiders’ view of how the White House is adjusting to some of the negative reactions to the past two weeks. Today, Sean Spicer is reported to have pushed back on this as not being an accurate depiction, but so far apparently there has been no official request from the White House to the NY Times to correct anything in that story.

In some respects, as this administration plays out, it appears likely we will know more about the inner workings than any other in recent times. The unprecedented number of leaks seem to bear that out. I keep hoping it will be a short-lived presidency, but so far, the Republicans in Congress have shown few signs of anything but compliance so as to get their own conservative legislative agenda enacted.

* Tip of the hat to Ross Douthat who suggested via Twitter (@DouthatNYT) the first two articles cited here as a worthy “double header” reading on the issue.

Presidential Memorandum – Organization of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council

Over the past weekend, this memorandum was widely reported due to the highly controversial changes in the Principals Committee (PC) of the National Security Council apparatus. Many of the reports are not quite accurate – conflating the PC with the National Security Council (NSC) itself, when in fact they are different parts of the overall National Security structure that now includes a Homeland Security Council. In fairness, part of the confusion has to do with the fact that political appointees are now to attend all meetings of the NSC.

It took some research to learn about the overall structure that has evolved since its beginnings in the National Security Act of 1947 signed into law by President Harry Truman. Only a few cabinet members were statutory members of the NSC at its inception; others members of the NSC were to be named by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. Some news reports have subsequently indicated POTUS 45 was not aware of the advise and consent clause.

Since 1947 various changes have been made to update that law, some by new legislation and some by executive actions. Most prominent is the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and a then new Homeland Security Council (HSC).

Briefly stated: the Principles Committee (PC) now oversees the operations of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council, each of which has unique membership. Some individuals and offices are designated as “invited to attend all meetings” while others are invited to attend only when issues pertaining to their office are on the agenda. In the current memorandum, the PC “…shall continue to serve as the Cabinet-level senior interagency forum for considering policy issues that affect the national security interests of the United States.”

Each president since 1947, early in his tenure, has issued a memorandum to establish the official membership as provided for by the law. Thus, it should be no surprise that POTUS 45 would issue such a memorandum. What is surprising and controversial is the shifting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Director of National Intelligence from regular membership of PC membership to a lesser status and the removal completely of the Secretary of Energy and the U.S. Representative to the United Nations from any membership. Most alarming was the naming of two political advisors – Steve Bannon, Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist and Reince Priebus, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff – to the regular attending membership of the PC and NSC. All previous administrations studiously avoided mixing national security and politics by not having a chief political advisor in this role. Needless to say, this has sent Washington into a tizzy, and rightfully so.

So much has been written and reported about this order that I will provide no further comment other than to say Stephen Miller, Advisor to the President, appears to have been the author of the executive order. Over time we may learn he is the one writing the various presidential action documents after being given the general outlines by others. Whoever it is, I am not at all impressed.

In closing, I am going to add a strongly worded personal opinion (and that is why I have included ‘My Opinion’ as one of the categories for this post). In the George W. Bush presidency, the power of the office (or the ‘real president’) was Dick Cheney, it least until post 2006 election. In this presidency, the real president is emerging as Steve Bannon. I was hoping for what I thought was a best case scenario given all the bad options – one of his family members – to be the power behind this incompetent person, but that is not who is surfacing as having the most influence of and power over this president. Now that we know that, we need to be savvy in our resistance and act accordingly. We need to avoid being distracted by diversionary tactics and look for what is really happening or what is the longer term agenda not obvious in the immediate confusion.

Presidential Memorandum signed January 28, 2017