Executive Order: ETHICS COMMITMENTS BY EXECUTIVE BRANCH APPOINTEES

Some in the news media were looking for the now expected ethics order and finally it appeared Sunday.

It consists of a pledge all newly appointed administration officials will sign. Two notable points are: 1) when an official leaves this administration, he/she may not become a lobbyist for 5 years, and 2) any official coming from being a lobbyist may not act on anything related to that lobbying effort for at least 2 years. It also includes the typical “no gifts” clause. Other sections of the lengthy order include definitions of terms used.

Somewhat alarming:

Sec. 3.  Waiver.  (a)  The President or his designee may grant to any person a waiver of any restrictions contained in the pledge signed by such person.

(b)  A waiver shall take effect when the certification is signed by the President or his designee.

(c)  A copy of the waiver certification shall be furnished to the person covered by the waiver and provided to the head of the agency in which that person is or was appointed to serve.

This is a major loophole that allows for this whole order to be moot anytime the president wants to negate it!

Because this wording seemed to be so odd, and because I have so little trust this president will not abuse this power, I decided to research the previous presidential orders on ethics, and found an interesting NPR article about the similarities between this order and previous Democratic presidents’ orders. There is more similarity to Clinton’s and Obama’s, and much less similarity to the two Bushes’ orders.

Even though there are great similarities, there are significant differences when it comes to the waiver clauses. For example, the waiver clause in Obama’s order was far more restrictive and referred to current and past government employees not newly hired ones. Here is the corresponding Executive Order 13490 of January 21, 2009 by President Obama.

George W. Bush: Memorandum on Standards of Official Conduct

Interestingly, his is not an official executive order, but just a memorandum to department and agency heads. It contains no pledge requirements and no waiver clause.

William J. Clinton Executive Order 12834—Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees

The waiver clause requires a reason for each waiver. It also requires that waiver, including the reason for it, to be published in the Federal Register, an expectation not present in any of the three subsequent presidents’ orders.

George H. W. Bush Executive Order 12674—Principles of Ethical Conduct for Government Officers and Employees signed April 12, 1989.

I found it interesting that the date is substantially later than those by following presidents. His order also rescinds two previous orders – one by Reagan in 1986 and the other dating to 1965 – that are about financial disclosures for executive branch employees.

It appears that while this kind of ethics order has become more or less routine, the regularity of issuing it early in an administration did not begin until the 1990’s.

Would that ethical restrictions such as these also applied to the president.

Executive Order signed January 28,2017.

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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

Presidential Memorandum on Rebuilding the U.S. Armed Forces

Because the immigration executive order took up so much attention of the national news media this past weekend, this memorandum was almost lost in the flood of information. I saw some reports, but not much analysis of this memorandum.

From the title, one can insinuate the president does not believe the current status of the armed forces is adequate. While the action here does not do much specifically other than direct the Secretary of Defense and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to do some reviews of the status of various aspects of the military and provide reports to that effect, it does give some clues as to what he wants to be emphasized with regard to the military.

A 30-day Readiness Review is the first directive that includes review by the OMB to handle anticipated budget reallocations for the current fiscal year.

Under the title of “Rebuilding the U.S. Armed Forces” one section directs the Secretary of Defense to develop a National Defense Strategy (NDS) based on a new National Security Strategy upon its submission to the Congress. “The goal of the NDS shall be to give the President and the Secretary maximum strategic flexibility and to determine the force structure necessary to meet requirements.”

Part of this “Rebuilding” section includes two more reviews:

  • a new Nuclear Posture Review
  • a new Ballistic Missile Defense Review

On the one hand, this should order come as no surprise given the campaign promises to strengthen the military. On the other, it is a chilling reminder that this unhinged individual is in charge of the nuclear arsenal and has threatened to expand it and use it. I am not particularly comforted by the fact the primary Cabinet officer who might dissuade him from using nuclear weapons goes by the nickname “Mad Dog”.

Presidential Memorandum signed January 27, 2017.

More Actions, More Time Needed

On January 28, 2017 POTUS 45 signed three executive actions, one of them highly controversial receiving significant media coverage. More have been signed since then.

In an effort to pace myself, I am going to review them one at a time and not worry about getting my reactions developed and posted here as soon after the actions are available for review as I was doing previously.

I have found reviewing even large numbers of non-controversial, routine, or positive actions was not as mentally taxing as doing the difficult, controversial ones. I’m going to take the liberty of conserving some mental energy, and being more methodical and deliberate in hopes of producing better reviews and comments.

As it turns out, at least for now, the news media are reporting virtually every executive action anyway. In fact, I may find myself not only reviewing and commenting on the executive actions themselves, but also doing some vetting of news reports of them. Not surprisingly, at least to me, some of those reports are not very accurate – even the ones that do not appear to be intentionally misleading or simply catering to their base of readers/viewers.

Finally, because I am a lone blogger editing my own work, I need to take time away from early drafts to catch typos, awkward phrasing, etc. Any readers here who find an item that should be corrected will help improve this blog by leaving a comment to that effect. I thank you in advance.

 

Executive Order: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States

Here we go again. As of Saturday (January 28) and well into Sunday (I didn’t check late Sunday), the White House website had not yet posted the executive order that had dominated the weekend news sparking wide-spread protests. Interestingly, by Sunday other executive actions taken after the infamous order of January 27, 2017 had been posted on the White House website, but for some reason the most controversial one had not. Monday, I saw it was finally there. Whoever is running that site has no sense of timeliness for communicating with the average citizen interested in seeing the full text unfiltered by the news media. I’m beginning to wonder if the site staff shut down operation early Friday afternoons for the weekend. I’ll have to monitor that over the next few weeks. If this White House is serious about circumventing the “mainstream media”, it should post all new items before, or at the very least same time, as they are released to the news media.

Fortunately, this time the New York Times published the full text the day of the order so it has been available for review. Beginning last Friday, I started review and drafting my thoughts about it, but it was not an easy one to read and more research was necessary to confirm what news reports were saying about its content. The wildness of the weekend events kept unfolding and I tried to make revisions of my thoughts as I learned more, but ultimately decided to just shut down for a few days.  So, I am finally now finishing this to get something posted and move on to other items.

In general, I see this executive order as the beginning of implementation of “extreme vetting” of foreign nationals seeking visas and immigrant or refugee status. It is a lengthy order that defies simple summary, so I am not even going to try to do that. Instead I will call attention to just a few, but certainly not all, of the most alarming parts.

It begins with what I consider to be typically “Bannon-esque” language to attempt to justify the action. It fails to justify anything, in my opinion.

On first reading, several thoughts crossed my mind. One, this order gives too much power to the collective group of the Secretary of State, Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence. By that I mean the order stipulating in several different sections the consensus (I read it as unanimity) of the three in carrying out some decisions and some exceptions to enforcement of this order. The practical application of this means anyone they deem is a ‘friend’ who otherwise would not qualify under this order to be admitted to this country, will in fact be admitted. By the same token, any person deemed not to receive an exemption or special treatment by any of the three officers stated can deny entry to that person. That is way too much power for one individual to hold in this volatile political world environment.

Two, this order effectively expands definition of acts that can lead to deportation. It is not only based on conviction of a crime, but also simply being charged with a crime. Beyond that, in the so called ‘interest of transparency’, several reports are to be published that include the numbers of foreign nationals who have been “…radicalized after entry into the United States and engaged in terrorism-related acts, or who have provided material support to terrorism-related organizations in countries that pose a threat to the United States…” How exactly such activities are going to be discovered and defined as such is not included in this executive order. Illegal surveillance may well become rampant.

Three, the provision requiring a review and potential change of visa reciprocity with other nations can only be seen as petty vindictiveness having nothing to do with the individual’s or our country’s best interest in visa approval decisions.

Four, there is reference to religious persecution as a basis for granting immigrant status, but only “…provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” This apparently is why some of the news reports I have seen or heard say only Christians will be admitted or calling this order a “Muslim ban”. The official language of the order does not mention any specific religion, but when the nations that fall under its provisions are majority Muslim, it is clear what the intent is. However, the language in this order reveals a lack of understanding, or perhaps even awareness, of the intra-Muslim conflicts that lead to religious persecution in several countries. I doubt the the vague language will consider Shia Muslims coming from a majority Sunni nation, or vice versa, as members of a minority religion. The many nuances of the Muslim world beyond Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Sufi, Wahabi, etc. are not likely recognized by the developers and signatory of this executive order, but regardless, this order does not make clear that sects would constitute minority religion status. If the president or his people would clarify this as the case, that clarification would go a long ways to dispelling the notion this is a “Muslin ban”.

Since first reading the order, one issue that has come to better light is what happens to Green Card holders. By law, they are legal residents of the United States with more or less permanent status in that regard. This is neither the time nor post to go into the detailed nuances of the Green Card law, so my comments will be limited to the fact that the order does allow exceptions to be made to the general order (as noted above) and the administration has attempted to clarify that Green Card holders will be treated as a class with less detailed vetting. Apparently there was disagreement as to how the order should be interpreted by the staff. While Homeland Security said Green Card holders were exempt from the order by virtue of that status alone, presidential advisor Steve Bannon’s view that they were not exempt and would need to be vetted won out. Although some news reports are saying there has been a change in policy due to the reaction in the public, I do not believe that is the case. It remains to be seen how the various law suits about this order in general and this issue in particular will play out.

One curious provision – to immediately expand the Consular Fellows Program – seems out of place in such a punitive executive order. This program is a means for developing future members of the State Department’s foreign service as diplomats, etc. It is a kind of internship/training program. As I recall, one of the actions of President Obama that I reviewed last year included some mention of expediting the hiring of fellows from this and other programs. My early conclusion on why this provision is placed in this order comes from the concurrent news about all the State Department senior staff being let go. This appears to be an attempt to rush replacements for the needed staff in embassies and other venues of action by the State Department. This provision seems to be getting lost in the controversy over other items, because I have seen nothing about this in news reports

There are so many progress and follow-up reports required in this order by various departments and on various timetables, that I cannot help but wonder if this president also expects each of those reports to be one page in length. His well documented short attention span could hardly handle anything more than that, it seems.

Much more could be said about this insideous attempt at appeasing a small minority of voters by “delivering on a campaign promise”, but the news media have covered and continue to cover this so extensively, that I will refrain from writing more here and now.

Apparent Executive Order reportedly signed January 27, 2017

President Trump Releases National School Choice Week Proclamation

Little comment is necessary for this proclamation. Apparently it was issued yesterday, but posted on the White House website today. The designated week is January 22-28, 2017.

It is a little odd to proclaim a week so late in that week instead of in advance. Enough said.

Proclamation issued January 25, 2017 and posted January 26, 2017.

Executive Order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements

As with the other executive order signed January 25, 2017, this one deals with illegal immigration. In this case it focuses exclusively on the southern border of the United States.

The whole order is fundamentally an authorization to build a wall (defined as: “…a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier.”) on the southern border and to manage the elements that go with that. It also authorizes building of detention facilities near the southern border, and item I have not seen in new reports about this order.

Significant components include assignment of asylum officers to handle review of detainees, immigration judges to review asylum requests, and hiring of 5,000 additional border patrol agents.

Nothing in this order is surprising, because it was such a high profile issue in the campaign. Unlike the other order issued on this date, I do not see any obvious abuse of authority or otherwise alarming elements. That does not mean there are none, nor does it mean I believe this action is necessary or prudent use of Federal funds.

I find it particularly interesting that all the references to the funding for compliance with this order are to appropriations by Congress. Absolutely nothing is said about reimbursement from Mexico.

Executive order signed and posted January 25, 2017