Signing Statement on Defense Act

Upon signing the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018”, POTUS 45 issued a signing statement (now his seventh) that identifies concerns with the Congress’ attempts to limit or usurp executive authority.

This is not a new concern with Defense authorization bills. A year ago, President Obama also issued a strongly worded signing statement identifying several items as unconstitutionally attempting to control the executive branch.

While I have not taken the time to fully read and analyze the bill (and, at this point, I have no inclination to do so), based on some media reports earlier about what some members of Congress were trying to do, I suspect as least some of the provisions POTUS 45 objects to are related to putting some restraints on preemptive war, and, in particular, preemptive use of nuclear weapons. If that is the case, I applaud Congress’ efforts.

Official Title and Link: Statement by President Donald J. Trump on H.R. 2810

Signing Statement dated December 12, 2017



All over the news the last few days in anticipation, this now official act recognizes the capital of Israel as Jerusalem and declares the U.S. embassy will be moved there. Because it is getting so much coverage, I will make only brief comments this time.

Some have questioned the timing of the action. On the one hand, it may well be doing this now provides a needed distraction from other controversies, such as the Russian investigation and the tax bill, and that is why routine extension was not the chosen action. On the other hand, some kind of action was going to be needed under any circumstances, because every six months since the late 1990s presidents have delayed moving the embassy to Jerusalem for purposes of stability and peace negotiation in the middle-east.

I am in agreement with the majority of the world in believing this action is more likely to create conflict and bloodshed than aid in any peace agreement.

[Ed. Note: For a little more background, see what I wrote about this in June and also last December.]

Official Title and Link: Presidential Proclamation Recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of the State of Israel and Relocating the United States Embassy to Israel to Jerusalem

Proclamation dated December 6, 2017

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

New War Imminent?

Yesterday I read the latest executive order, but decided to wait a day to comment because I wanted a little more time to try to understand the implications.

After researching the sections of the statutes it refers to (sections 688 and 690 of title 10, United States Code), I am pretty sure I understand this correctly. This brief order authorizes the Secretaries of the various military services (e.g. Army, Navy, etc.) to recall retired military personnel. As best I can tell, it means any retired military, not just those most recently retired.

The order is an amendment to the original order by G.W. Bush done September 14, 2011 that ultimately allowed for the military build-up that preceded the 2nd Iraq war. Following is the language of the new amendment:

Amendment to Executive Order 13223. Section 1 of Executive Order 13223 is amended by adding at the end: “The authorities available for use during a national emergency under sections 688 and 690 of title 10, United States Code, are also invoked and made available, according to their terms, to the Secretary concerned, subject in the case of the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, to the direction of the Secretary of Defense.”

There is some evidence that action is already being taken as a result of this order. An Air Force Times article yesterday refers to a “shortage, retention crisis”. USA Today also posted a story on this yesterday.

The only explanation that makes sense to me is POTUS 45 is about to take us into war again. I hope I am wrong – on both, a. interpretation of the amendment language, and b. that a new war is imminent.

Official Title and Link:

Presidential Executive Order Amending Executive Order 13223

Executive Order signed October 20, 3017

Healthcare Changes

Hearing about this then pending executive order yesterday in the media, it sounded like a major change that would gut the Affordable Care Act. My reading of it is far less ominous, at least at this stage.

For example, this interesting phrase used three times in this order: “Within 60 (or 120) days of this order…shall consider proposing regulations or revising guidance…”.

This appears to me to be a very weak order. Just consider making changes? Far more bluster than action here.

The only clear result of this order will be a report to the president in 180 days and every two years thereafter.

Like so many other of this POTUS’ orders, this is for the optics. The pattern I have noticed is whenever the administration hypes up a soon-t0-be-signed executive order, it turns out to be an order to produce a report rather than any real action.

We shall have to wait and see just what changes are proposed by the various cabinet secretaries after the 60 or 120 days has past, before we can judge any serious impact on the healthcare insurance markets. That will be the middle of December and February.

Official Title and Link: Presidential Executive Order Promoting Healthcare Choice and Competition Across the United States

Executive order dated October 12, 2017

Immigration Again

Either I missed it yesterday in my timing of a daily check of presidential actions, or the most recent memorandum was not posted in a very timely manner. Anyway, in a lengthy letter to congress, POTUS 45 detailed the policy expectations for immigration reform that must accompany any change to the DACA policy. Given that the policy changes were recommended by various cabinet members and immigration authorities, it is no surprise they are draconian.

There has been some media coverage of this, including the expected outrage ensuing. It is difficult to see how any agreement with Democrats on DACA will be possible with these stipulations.

Official Title and Link: President Donald J. Trump’s Letter to House and Senate Leaders & Immigration Principles and Policies

Memorandum dated October 8, 2017

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