February 28, 2018

Crisis: Kushner, Xi Jinping's Powers, USA's Secret Services, U.S. Unions, Asylum Seekers


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from February 28, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, February 28, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a
crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last five years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from February 28, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. Jared Kushner’s Security Clearance Downgraded
2. Xi Jinping Dreams of World Power for Himself and China
3. Can the United States Search Data Overseas?
4. Will Supreme Court Side with Koch Brothers in Their War Against
     Organized Labor?

5. Refugee Asylum Seekers Can Be Jailed Indefinitely Without Bail Hearing
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Jared Kushner’s Security Clearance Downgraded

This article is by Michael D. Shear and Katie Rogers on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has been stripped of his top-secret security clearance after months of delays in completing his background check, and will now be limited in his ability to view highly classified information, a White House official and another person familiar with Mr. Kushner’s situation said on Tuesday.

Mr. Kushner’s clearance was reduced to the level of secret and his official portfolio inside the West Wing, especially with regard to his globe-trotting foreign affairs work on behalf of President Trump, is expected to be sharply reduced, as well, the people said.

I say. Then again, I don't disagree. In fact, I don't know what Trump's family is doing in the White House, for they certainly were not elected there, and the only proof of competence they have is that they are the daughters, sons or son in law of Trump.

And no, I do not think anyone of them is competent beyond being direct family of the Very Genius - his (His?) words - who now is president of the USA.

There is this in The NYT:

Since the beginning of the Trump administration, both Mr. Kushner, 37, and his wife, Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter, 36, have enjoyed a special status within the White House as both family members and assistants to the president. But the complicated finances surrounding Mr. Kushner’s family’s vast real estate empire and his qualifications for the foreign policy responsibilities given to him by his father-in-law invited scrutiny from the start.

This seems to me to be far too friendly to Jared and Ivanka Kushner. More precisely, I know they are the president's son in law and daughter, but where are their qualifications for having the posts and the responsibilies they did have? I do not see any, of any kind.

Then there is this:

The decision to reduce his access to classified information was made after John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, announced plans to overhaul the security clearance process at the White House after the resignation of Rob Porter, Mr. Trump’s staff secretary, amid allegations of spousal abuse. The change in Mr. Kushner’s clearance was first reported by Politico.

All of this seems correct, although I should add that Trump has been president for over a year now, and - to the best of my knowledge - his son in law and daughter got large responsibilities (without the least qualifications) nearly from the very start of his presidency.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Mr. Kushner’s business background, and the well-publicized financial woes of his family’s real estate empire, have long raised concerns in American security agencies that foreign governments might try to gain influence inside the Trump White House by trying to do business with the president’s son-in-law.

Possibly so, and it also seems to be the case that the president of the USA can - more or less - nominate whoever he wants in most positions, but my question remains: Where are the qualifications of Trump's children to do whatever he commands or asks them to do?

Anyway... I agree with the decision, though I do not know we have heard the last about it. And this is a recommended article.

2. Xi Jinping Dreams of World Power for Himself and China

This article is by The Editorial Board of The New York Times. It starts as follows:

President Xi Jinping of China has played his boldest political card yet, maneuvering to extend his rule indefinitely so that he can maintain control of the country’s complex system long enough to achieve the dream of great-power status, asserting economic and political influence across the globe.

Since China began to open to the West in the late 1970s, the United States and its allies have tried to integrate it into the political and economic system they built after World War II, hoping that economic progress would lead eventually to political liberalization.

Ahem. I agree that Xi Jinping has gotten a lot more power than he should have by getting the Communist Party to remove the limit of ten years on his presidential powers, but otherwise this sounds more like propaganda than like fact:

What Xi Jinping wants his personal power for does not seem to be "asserting economic and political influence across the globe" (he could have done that just as well without getting far more powers) but - more simply and more directly - simply to give him the supreme power in China (where this amount of power was frowned upon since the death of Mao Zedong).

Also, to say that the USA was trying "to integrate" China "into the political and economic system" that the USA and the West "built after World War II" completely fails to mention that from Reagan onwards the policies of the USA were rather different than from Truman till Carter, inclusive.

But OK. Here is some more:

Mr. Xi’s move proves that policy has failed and that China will set its own path, challenging the liberal order based on the rule of law, human rights, open debate, free-market economics and a preference for elected leaders who leave office peacefully after a fixed period. Despite increasing concerns about China’s evolution, the West has yet to come to grips with this threat.

Since taking office in 2013, Mr. Xi has amassed power assiduously, taking control of not just the government but also of the Chinese Communist Party, the military and the press. He has imposed his views on the educational system and culture, hardening an already authoritarian system that ruthlessly controls social media and wields law enforcement to crush dissent. The obsession with control hints at a deeply insecure state, not a global power.

I think this is more or less correct, although I tend to disbelieve the last statement: I don't think that the Chinese state is "deeply insecure" after having had more or less absolute power for 70 years now, although indeed this also has varied with the leaders that the Chinese Communist Party anointed. But the power has been in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party since 1948, and I grant this has been quite totalitarian from the beginning.

Here is more on what Xi Jinping achieved:

Nevertheless, he has persuaded the party to effectively make him emperor for life by announcing plans to amend the Constitution to abolish term limits, which would have ended his presidency in 2023.

The changes seem to ensure that Mr. Xi will continue pursuing his agenda, which has begun to lift millions of people out of poverty, reformed state-owned enterprises, protected the environment and built strategic industries. If all goes according to plan, he could preside over the transition when China eclipses the United States as the world’s largest economy in absolute terms within two decades.

I think "Mr. Xi" is getting a rather good press from the NYT, indeed again because he could have done the same - "to lift millions of people out of poverty, [to] reform(..) state-owned enterprises, [to] protect(..) the environment and built strategic industries" - without making his personal powers far greater than they were before.

But there also is some criticism from the NYT:

But doubling down on the strongman model is risky. By moving from an autocratic collective to one-man rule, Mr. Xi has upset the political norms that were put in place to erase the personality cult of Mao and make political transitions more predictable.

The system Mr. Xi has created also makes it less likely he will receive sound policy advice or be challenged on decisions in ways that could avoid mistakes. That’s because he solidified his power base during the first term by waging an aggressive campaign against corruption and dissent, silencing political rivals and stacking the ruling Politburo with loyalists reluctant to speak up.

Yes indeed. And he did make a major change in the policies of the Chinese Communist Party, and this major change gave him much more power than he had already. And this is a recommended article.

3. Can the United States Search Data Overseas?

This article is by Craig A. Newman from The New York Times. It starts as follows:
Should the United States government be able to conduct a search of your emails if they are stored on a server in another country, or does the government’s right to examine digital evidence stop at the border?

That is a central question in United States v. Microsoft, a case scheduled to be argued on Tuesday before the Supreme Court.

Both sides in the case have legitimate concerns. If the court sides with Microsoft and declines to allow searches for data stored in another country, the government will be hampered in investigating crimes like terrorism, child pornography and fraud.

I say?! To the best of my meanwhile quite extensive knowledge, the factual situation since 9/11 is that the secret services of the USA, of which there seem to be no less than 17, have been gathering all e-mails from anyone living anywhere, and have been abled to do so by being shielded by laws that mostly kept what they did in secret, and by being overseen by a very special court, the FISA Court, that allows the secret services, usually in full or partial secrecy, to do whatever they please.

And I grant that I am going further than "the United States" allows it has gone, but I think that I am in good company, and that one cannot distrust the mostly secret businesses of any secret service from any country too much.

Next, while I grant that it might be true that the U.S. "government will be hampered in investigating crimes like terrorism, child pornography and fraud", there is a question that ought
to go before this factual question: What rights does any government have to investigate those they suspect of crimes-in-their-own-local-terms if those investigated are not inhabitants of their own country?!

It seems to me they should have no such rights, though indeed I also think I know that in real fact the secret services of any country can do more or less what they want, mostly for the reason that the secret services work in - strongly protected - secrecy in their own countries (that may vary a lot per country).

Here is some more:

If the court sides with the government and rules that it may demand data stored overseas by American companies, those companies will find it much harder to do business abroad. This is because many foreigners fear that United States warrants authorizing such searches will disregard privacy protections afforded by their country. The government of Germany, a country with stringent privacy laws, has already indicated it will not use any American company for its data services if the court decides to allow searches.

Well... this is more or less correct, but I am "a foreigner" (to the USA) who does fear that the "United States warrants authorizing such searches will disregard privacy protections afforded by their country".

In fact, I think that the laws that should have guided the doings and non-doings of any secret service anywhere are completely out of date, only partially known outside of the secret services, and seem to be in real fact mostly neglected by the secret services, from anywhere, indeed: It seems as if each and every secret service is tapping the internet as it pleases.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

At the center of this case is the Stored Communications Act, which was written when there was no modern global internet or cloud storage. It provides Fourth Amendment safeguards to prevent unreasonable searches of electronically stored communications — but says nothing about data held abroad.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the Stored Communications Act was not intended by Congress to allow searches outside the country. The ruling followed the well-established principle that American courts generally do not apply United States law beyond its borders unless Congress intended so.

Yes, but the Court of Appeals - that made the correct judgement from the point of view of this non-inhabitant of the USA - made a legal decision (which the U.S. government appeals) and did not say anything about the factual practices of the secret services of the USA.

And I am sorry, but the factual situation - wholly apart from whatever laws apply - seems to be that in practice the U.S. secret services can do for the most part just as they please, and especially as regards anyone who is not an inhabitant of the USA.

4. Will Supreme Court Side with Koch Brothers in Their War Against Organized Labor?

This article is by Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a key case that could deal a massive blow to public unions nationwide. The case, Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, deals with whether workers who benefit from union-negotiated contracts can avoid paying union dues if they opt not to join the union. The lead plaintiff, Mark Janus, is a child support specialist who argues that a state law in Illinois allowing the union to charge a fee for collective bargaining activities violates his First Amendment rights. Numerous right-wing groups have trumpeted his claim in their latest attempt to weaken the political power of public unions. The groups include the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, the State Policy Network, ALEC—American Legislative Exchange Council—and the Bradley Foundation. We speak to Amanda Shanor, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an amicus brief in Janus v. AFSCME in support of AFSCME.
Quite so, and here is Amy Goodman:

AMY GOODMAN: Over the weekend, union members gathered in cities across the country for a Working People’s Day of Action to speak out against the case. This is AFSCME President Lee Saunders speaking Saturday at a rally here in New York City.

LEE SAUNDERS: They are not making a legal argument in front of the Supreme Court. They’re making a political attack on all of you. That’s what this is about. It’s a political attack. They don’t care about the First Amendment. They all care about making more money and having more wealth, at the expense of all of you. And they’re not just going after unions. They’re coming for everyone who threatens their power, who threatens their privilege. All of us who want to unrig that economy so it’s fair, they’re coming after you.

AMY GOODMAN: Janus v. AFSCME follows a similar case the Supreme Court heard in 2016, Friedrichs v. the California Teachers Association. The court deadlocked 4 to 4 in the case, after conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly. It’s now expected that Trump appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch will break the tie. During Monday’s proceedings, Gorsuch did not ask any questions.

This is all quite correct, and in fact I agree with Lee Saunders. And here is Amanda Shanor:

AMANDA SHANOR: (..) So, Janus is a public sector worker in Illinois, and he has brought a First Amendment claim against an Illinois law that authorizes unions to collect dues not only from members, but from people who are nonmembers, but employees that the union must legally provide services to. So, for instance, if a nonunion employee has a grievance, the union still has to represent that person in grievance procedures. And so, what the Illinois law does is permit the union to charge those fees to the nonmember workers, but a lower fee called an agency fee or a fair-share fee. And what Janus has done is brought a First Amendment case, claiming that he has a First Amendment right not to pay for those services that the union is legally required to provide him.
So, what he’s looking for is essentially to get—under the First Amendment, to get something for nothing. So, he would like to have a First Amendment right to benefit from the union, but not to have to pay for the costs of the functions that the union performs on his behalf and on behalf of all the other workers.

I more or less agree with Shanor, although my own point of view probably is a bit more radical:
In fact, I guess it is not so much that Janus "
would like to have a First Amendment right to benefit from the union, but not to have to pay for the costs of the functions that the union performs on his behalf" but - much more simply - that he abuses the First Amendment to try to stop the unions from getting money from non-members.

And I fear that for the reasons stated by Amy Goodman in the previous quotation, Janus and his friends may very well succeed. There is more in the article, that is recommended.

5. Refugee Asylum Seekers Can Be Jailed Indefinitely Without Bail Hearing

This article is by Steven Rosenfeld on AlterNet. It starts as follows:

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued what may become one of the most consequential anti-immigrant rulings in the Trump era, declaring that asylum seekers—non-citizens—are not entitled to bail hearings and can languish in jail for years.

The majority’s ruling in Jennings v. Rodriguez, written by Justice Samuel Alito, reverses and remands a ruling by the California-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which said a non-citizen could not be held for longer than six months without a bail hearing.

“The noncitizens at issue are asylum seekers, persons who have finished serving a sentence of confinement (for a crime), or individuals who, while lacking a clear entitlement to enter the United States, claim to meet the criteria for admission,” wrote Alito, summarizing the case. The court’s majority concluded that several immigration statutes “do not give detained aliens the right to periodic bond hearings during the course of their detention. The Ninth Circuit misapplied the canon of constitutional avoidance in holding otherwise.”

I say?!?! This sounds completely crazy to me: If you are not a citizen of the United States, then the United States may lock you up for ever, without even allowing you to ask for bail.

That sounds utterly crazy, and not just to me:

In late 2017, federal immigration authorities held approximately 40,000 asylum seekers in various detention centers around the country, Human Rights First reported. Asylum seekers are a subset of the estimated 11 million visa-less immigrants in the U.S. 

Alito's conclusion was slammed in a dissent from the court’s more liberal justices as turning a blind eye to American legal history, from its founding documents to previous Supreme Court rulings dating to the 19th century. As Justice Stephen Breyer noted, the majority’s conclusion was at odds with the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the British Magna Carta—which influenced those founding documents—and centuries of subsequent American Supreme Court rulings.

Yes indeed: I completely agree with Breyer. Here is some more:

Breyer’s dissent, which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor signed (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself), said, “The Fifth Amendment says that ‘[n]o person shall be...deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.’ An alien is a ‘person.’ To hold him without bail is to deprive him of bodily ‘liberty.’ And, where there is no bail proceeding, there has been no bail-related ‘process’ at all. The Due Process Clause—itself reflecting the language of the Magna Carta—prevents arbitrary detention. Indeed, ‘[f]reedom from bodily restraint has always been at the core of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause from arbitrary governmental action.’”

Quite so. Here is yet more:

“The bail questions before us are technical but at heart they are simple. We need only recall the words of the Declaration of Independence, in particular its insistence that all men and women have ‘certain unalienable rights,’ and that among them is the right to ‘liberty.’ We need merely remember that the Constitution’s due process clause protects each person’s liberty from arbitrary deprivation. And we need just keep in mind the fact that, since Blackstone’s time and long before, liberty has included the right of a confined person to seek release on bail."

Yes indeed. And again I completely agree - although it seems as if the present Supreme Court can undo laws that go back to the 1200s in England.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

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