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Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Call

Mark Landler and David E. Sanger report at The New York Times:
President-elect Donald J. Trump spoke by telephone with Taiwan’s president on Friday, a striking break with nearly four decades of diplomatic practice that could precipitate a major rift with China even before Mr. Trump takes office.
Mr. Trump’s office said he had spoken with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, “who offered her congratulations.” He is believed to be the first president or president-elect who has spoken to a Taiwanese leader since at least 1979, when the United States severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan as part of its recognition of the People’s Republic of China.
In the statement, Mr. Trump’s office said the two leaders had noted “the close economic, political, and security ties” between Taiwan and the United States. Mr. Trump, it said, “also congratulated President Tsai on becoming President of Taiwan earlier this year.”
Mr. Trump’s motives in taking the call, which lasted more than 10 minutes, were not clear. In a Twitter message late Friday, he said Ms. Tsai “CALLED ME.
But diplomats with ties to Taiwan said it was highly unlikely that the Taiwanese leader would have made the call without arranging it in advance. Ms. Tsai’s office confirmed that it had taken place, saying the two had discussed promoting economic development and “strengthening defense.” Taiwan’s Central News Agency hailed the call as “historic.”
The Financial Times reports:
“It must be pointed out that there is only one China in the world,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday, adding that it had lodged “solemn representations with the US”.

In a barb directed at Mr Trump’s unprecedented pre-inauguration intervention in Sino-US relations, the foreign ministry urged “the relevant parties . . . to handle issues related to Taiwan with caution and care in order to avoid unnecessary interference with overall Sino-US relations”

Although it is not clear if the Trump transition team intended the conversation to signal a broader change in US policy towards Taiwan, the call has ruffled feathers in Beijing.
The formal protest marked an escalation from comments earlier on Saturday by China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, who appeared to blame Ms Tsai for the call. In an interview with a Hong Kong television station, Mr Wang dismissed the phone call as a “petty action” on Taiwan’s part.
And the conflict-of-interest presidency takes shape.Nicola Smith reports at The Guardian:
Weeks before President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial phone call with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, a businesswoman claiming to be associated with his conglomerate made inquiries about a major investment in building luxury hotels as part of the island’s new airport development.

The woman, known only as Ms Chen arrived from the US in September to meet the mayor of Taoyuan, Cheng Wen-tsan, one of the senior politicians involved in the Aerotropolis project, a large urban development being planned around the renovation of Taiwan’s main airport, Taoyuan International.
“She said she was associated with the Trump corporation and she would like to propose a possible investment project in the future, especially hotels,” said an official familiar with the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Friday, December 2, 2016

General Mattis, General Marshall, the Defense Department, and Partisan Politics.

Trump has said that he will nominate retired Marine General James Mattis to be Secretary of Defense. Congress must pass a special waiver for the nomination to go through.  The National Security Act of 1947 said that anyone “who has within ten years been on active duty as a commissioned officer in a Regular component of the armed services shall not be eligible as Secretary of Defense.”  In 2008, Congress reduced the period to seven years, but Mattis retired only three years ago.

Congress has waived the law once. From the 1950 CQ Almanac:
The House and Senate Sept. 15 gave final approval to a special bill (HR 9646) which would allow Gen. George C. Marshall to be appointed as Secretary of Defense. The President signed the bill Sept. 18 and submitted Marshall's appointment to the Senate for confirmation. The Senate confirmed Marshall Sept. 20 (see p. 355).
The bill set aside a provision in the National Security Act (Unification Act) of 1947 barring from the post of Secretary of Defense any person who had served as an officer in the Armed Forces during the past ten years. The exemption applies only to Marshall. The bill fixed Marshall's pay as his Army retirement pay plus the amount over that figure ordinarily paid a Cabinet member.
The bill passed, but of those GOP House members and senators who cast a yea or nay vote, a majority opposed the waiver.

In the Senate, Democrats supported the bill 37-1 while Republicans opposed it 10-20. 

In the House, Democrats supported the bill 192-5, while Republicans opposed it 27-100.

Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, "Mister Republican," explained:
The Secretary of Defense should be a civilian. No one even disputes the fact that this basic principle of the unification act [The National Security Act of 1947] is right ... General Marshall, like anyone who has served all his life in the Army, has certain definite views to which he is committed. Human nature being what it is, he must always be in the position of defending and justifying the policies he has supported in the past. An officer of one of the services, such as the Army, must inevitably be more interested in its operation than in that of the other two forces, such as the Navy and the Air Force. This is one of the reasons why the Secretary should be a civilian.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Mnuchin's Rent-a-Friends

Many posts have shown how interest groups cynically use charitable contributions to buy political support.  The latest example comes from the designee for Treasury Secretary, as Isaac Arnsdorf and Kenneth P. Vogel report at Politico:
Donald Trump’s choice for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, earned tens of millions of dollars from a 2015 bank sale that got a boost from an array of nonprofit groups that had one thing in common — they had received tens of thousands of dollars each from the bank’s foundation, which was run by Mnuchin.

The sale of OneWest, a bank that Mnuchin co-founded and chaired, to CIT Group for $3.4 billion drew significant opposition from public interest groups because OneWest had been accused of wrongful foreclosures and racial discrimination in its mortgages and small-business loans.

But a parade of community-based nonprofits stepped forward to testify to the federal regulators considering the merger about the good corporate citizenship of OneWest. All of the groups — ranging from a pair of local Boys Girls Clubs to a pair of Junior Achievement clubs — were beneficiaries of grants from the bank’s charitable arm, the OneWest Foundation, which Mnuchin chaired, according to a POLITICO review of filings with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Reserve.
In all, 14 groups that sent letters to the Fed in support of the merger received a combined total of $2.5 million from the OneWest Foundation in the four years leading up to the merger. In their letters, the groups lauded OneWest’s support for community groups. In seven of the letters, the groups acknowledged the dollar amounts they received from Mnuchin’s charity arm; in the other seven, they referenced only having enjoyed the support of the bank.
The Fed received 593 petitions in support of the banks’ request to forgo a public hearing on the merger, which could have slowed down the process. But all of the petitions came from Yahoo email accounts, even though Yahoo’s share of the email market at the time was 3 percent, according to a letter to regulators from the California Reinvestment Coalition, an advocacy group that opposed the merger.
The letter claimed that when attempts were made to contact those 593 petitioners about their support, 30 percent of the emails bounced back, and other petitioners replied saying they did not in fact support the merger, according to the letter. In addition, many of the messages were time-stamped around 2 a.m. on the night of Feb. 13, 2015.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dying Whites

A release from the University of New Hampshire:
More whites died than were born in a record high 17 states in 2014 compared to just four in 2004, according to new research from the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. Some 121 million people representing 38 percent of the U.S. population reside in these states: California, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Arkansas, Delaware, Nevada, Maine, Alabama, Connecticut, New Mexico, West Virginia and Rhode Island.
The research found that non-Hispanic white deaths now exceed births in a growing number of states because more whites are dying and fewer white babies are being born. These demographic changes in the white population result from a rising number of older adults, fewer women of childbearing age and lower fertility rates. Because these trends are difficult to reverse many of these states are likely to see white deaths continue to exceed births.
As white population increase has diminished it has been offset by minority population gains, the researchers found. In particular, births exceed deaths by a considerable margin among the Latino population because it is younger, has a larger proportion of women of childbearing age and higher fertility rates. The combination of these demographic trends is increasing the diversity of the U.S. population. According to Census Bureau projections, whites will make up less than half of the U.S. population (47 percent) by 2050. In contrast, the youthful Latino population is projected to be 29 percent of the U.S. population by 2060.
“These demographic trends have major policy implications,” the researchers said. “The largely white older population will grow rapidly as baby boomers continue to age, increasing demands on the healthcare and retirement systems. In addition, the youthful minority population will require major investments in education and training if the U.S. is to maintain a productive workforce in an increasingly competitive technological and global labor market. The competing demands will create considerable potential for disagreements regarding funding priorities.”
The full report can be found here:

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump, Flag-Burning and Citizenship

Charlie Savage reports at The New York Times:
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, politicians have periodically announced with fanfare that they would introduce a bill to strip the citizenship of Americans accused of terrorism. The idea tends to attract brief attention, but then fades away, in part because the Supreme Court long ago ruled that the Constitution does not permit the government to take a person’s citizenship against his or her will.
But on Tuesday, President-elect Donald J. Trump revived the idea and took it much further than the extreme case of a suspected terrorist. He proposed that Americans who protest government policies by burning the flag could lose their citizenship — meaning, among other things, their right to vote in future elections — as punishment.

...The obstacles include the precedent that the Constitution does not allow the government to expatriate Americans against their will, through a landmark 1967 case, Afroyim v. Rusk. They also include a 1989 decision, Texas v. Johnson, in which the court struck down criminal laws banning flag burning, ruling that the act was a form of political expression protected by the First Amendment.
The 1967 case involving the stripping of citizenship traces back to a 1940 law that automatically revoked the citizenship of Americans who took actions like voting in a foreign country’s election or joining its military.
The case centered on a man who had been born in Poland, became a naturalized American citizen, and later went to Israel and voted in an election there. When he subsequently tried to renew his American passport, the State Department refused, saying he was no longer an American citizen, and he sued.
In a 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court called citizenship and the rights that stem from it “no light trifle to be jeopardized any moment” by politicians’ attempts to curtail it. The court said that the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process of law, does not empower the government to “rob” someone’s citizenship. Americans, the ruling explained, can only lose their citizenship by voluntarily renouncing it.
“The very nature of our free government makes it completely incongruous to have a rule of law under which a group of citizens temporarily in office can deprive another group of citizens of their citizenship,” Justice Hugo L. Black wrote.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Petraeus for Secretary of State

Disgraced former CIA Director David Petraeus is reportedly under consideration for secretary of state.

During a July 7 hearing, Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) asked FBI Director James Comey about Petraeus:
CUMMINGS: If I understand that case correctly, General Petraeus kept highly classified information in eight personal notebooks at his private residence. Is that correct?
COMEY: That is correct.
CUMMINGS: According to the filings on that case, his notebook included the identities of covert officers. He also included war strategy, intelligence capabilities, diplomatic discussions, quotes and (inaudible) discussions from high level national security council meetings and discussions with the president.
General Petraeus shared his information with his lover and then biographer. He was caught on audio tape telling her, and I quote, "I mean, they are highly classified, some of them. They don't have it -- it on -- on it, but I mean, there's code word stuff in there," end of quote.
Director Comey, what did General Petraeus mean when he said he intentionally shared, quote, "code word" information with her? What does that mean?
COMEY: The Petraeus case, to my mind, illustrates perfectly the kind of cases the Department of Justice is willing to prosecute. Even there, they prosecuted him for a misdemeanor. In that case, you had vast quantities of highly classified information, including special sensitive compartmented information. That's the reference to code words. Vast quantity of it. Not only shared with someone without authority to have it, but we found it in a search warrant hidden under the insulation in his attic and then he lied to us about it during the investigation.
So you have obstruction of justice, you have intentional misconduct and a vast quantity of information. He admitted he knew that was the wrong thing to do. That is a perfect illustration of the kind of cases that get prosecuted. In my mind, it illustrates importantly the distinction to this case.
CUMMINGS: And General Petraeus did not admit to these facts when the FBI investigators first interviewed him, did he?
COMEY: No, he lied about it.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

GOP v. Public Employees

At The Washington Post, Lisa Rein reports that Trump and the GOP Congress are aiming at federal bureaucracy by cutting back on job protections and benefits.
Hiring freezes, an end to automatic raises, a green light to fire poor performers, a ban on union business on the government’s dime and less generous pensions — these are the contours of the blueprint emerging under Republican control of Washington in January.
These changes were once unthinkable to federal employees, their unions and their supporters in Congress. But Trump’s election as an outsider promising to shake up a system he told voters is awash in “waste, fraud and abuse” has conservatives optimistic that they could do now what Republicans have been unable to do in the 133 years since the modern civil service was created.

Gingrich predicted that Stephen K. Bannon, a former Breitbart News chief who helped steer Trump’s campaign and is now one of his most influential advisers, would lead the effort. “It’s a big, big project,” he said.
The project aligns with Bannon’s long-stated warnings about the corrupting influence of government and a capital city rampant with “crony capitalism.”
Breitbart headlines also provide a possible insight into his views, with federal employees described as overpaid, too numerous and a “privileged class.”
“Number of Government Employees Now Surpasses Manufacturing Jobs by 9,977,000,” the website proclaimed in November. There are 2.1 million federal civilian employees.

Actually, there are fewer such employees than there were 20 years ago.  Data from the Office of Personnel Management:

Exec Civilian Uniform Mil Leg/Judic Total
1964 2,470 2,719 31 5,220
1974 2,847 2,198 46 5,091
1984 2,854 2,178 56 5,088
1994 2,908 1,648 63 4,620
2004 2,650 1,473 64 4,187
2014 2,663 1,459 63 4,185