Going Backwards?

Yesterday two proclamations were signed in Utah, both radically diminishing the size of National Monuments established by previous presidents – one in the mid-1990’s by President Clinton and the other just last year by President Obama.

Both proclamations are long, attempting to make the case the size should be reduced for various reasons, but fundamentally, the point is to allow for development of those lands. Already, law suits have been filed to block the actions.

There is no precedent for reversals such as these. Some have argued the President does not have authority to rescind a previous President’s actions.

We shall see as the legal process plays out.


Official Titles and Links:

Proclamations dated December 4, 2017

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National Security Memo

A couple of days ago a memorandum sent to a long list of administration officials was posted on the White House website. When I first saw it, I wondered what the implications of it might be, and decided to take more time to think about it before posting any comment here.

The subject of the memo is: Integration, Sharing, and Use of National Security Threat Actor Information to Protect Americans.

It is a directive for “…the development and implementation of appropriate technical architectures and corresponding policy frameworks to advance the integration, sharing, and use of identity attributes and associated derogatory information for each individual category of evaluated national security threat actor information described in the annex to this memorandum.”

So far, I have not seen the annex to this memorandum, but I expect it would provide helpful details.

My immediate reaction was two-fold. First, this action to consolidate and coordinate information among federal agencies seemed long overdue, but second, the potential for abuse of surveillance and data collection on American citizens is enormous. The following excerpt from the policy paragraph raised some concerns for me:

National security threat actor information comprises identity attributes and associated information about individuals, organizations, groups, or networks assessed to be a threat to the safety, security, or national interests of the United States that fall into one or more of the categories listed in the annex to this memorandum.

On the other hand, the last paragraph of the policy section (below) theoretically provides some caveats that ought to alleviate those concerns, but my lack of trust in this administration looms and I believe this whole process bears close watching.

This memorandum shall be implemented in a manner that is consistent with applicable law and Presidential guidance; safeguards intelligence sources, methods, and activities; protects otherwise sensitive information and preserves the integrity of sensitive operations and investigations; and appropriately protects privacy, civil rights, civil liberties, and other constitutional and statutory rights, including through compliance with applicable guidelines governing the collection, retention, and dissemination of personally identifiable information.

I did a brief online search to see if there was anything like this issued before and found a Federal Times article helpful.  This appears to be an initiative of the National Security Council, as an anonymous official from the Council is quoted in the article. One quote in particular strikes me as a useful result from this initiative:

The official elaborated that an objective of the memo was to come up with a system where one agency’s investigations and information can be deconflicted so that another agency doesn’t unintentionally take contradictory action.

The various agency heads have 270 days to submit the plan for implementation of this memorandum to the president. That means by early June 2018 we should be hearing more about this initiative.


Official Title and Link: National Security Presidential Memorandum

Memorandum dated October 4 and posted October 5, 2017

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”.

Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States

Stated in the guise of public safety, this is in fact an executive order aimed at immigration law enforcement, especially expediting deportation of illegal aliens. It appears to be an attempt to push enforcement of immigration law beyond any normal interpretation, limited only by the phrase “..to the fullest extent of the law..” (meaning limits by other laws, as well as immigration laws), which may well be the only way to keep this order from being an ominous, fear-producing unilateral act.

For example, along with various cited sections of immigration law that  identify those who should be deported, the following are listed as additional targets for deportation.

…removable aliens who:

(a)  Have been convicted of any criminal offense;

(b)  Have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved;

(c)  Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;

(d)  Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency;

(e)  Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;

(f)  Are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or

(g)  In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.

I find most of those to be far beyond what would normally be considered acceptable law. For example, to treat as guilty those who are merely charged, or more ominously by some zealous law enforcement official to be determined to have committed acts that could be chargeable criminal offense, whether or not a prosecutor has determined a reasonable amount of evidence to prosecute, is in my view significant overreach of law enforcement. This executive order would give individual immigration officers the power determine if an individual poses a risk without review by anyone – a recipe for disaster and rampant abuse.

The attempt to revoke Federal funding for so called “sanctuaries” is also very likely unconstitutional and would almost certainly be tested the first time this order is invoked to do that.

There is one interesting provision I had not seen reported in various news accounts of this action. It includes this: “…to take all appropriate action to hire 10,000 additional immigration officers…”. The focus intended appears to be enforcement rather than processing of status.

Although there are so many parts of this that are alarming, from a rule of law and legal rights point of view, I will cite just one more.

Sec. 14.  Privacy Act.  Agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.

It is difficult to believe many Americans would find elimination of rights of privacy as being acceptable for anyone.

This executive order is the first one I have seen that is, in my view, clearly an abuse of the authority of the office. Our best hope is that those charged with implementation are extremely careful to follow all existing law to effectively nullify many of the provisions here and not use this order as license to attempt to overreach those laws until caught and called to account for it.

Signed and posted January 25, 2017