Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Letter to Trump

When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut.
Robindranath Tagore, Gitanjali (1913)

Dear Mr. Trump,
Forgive me for not addressing you as president but the words do not permit themselves to be formed when I think of that word and you. If you read my columns you have probably noticed that in order to overcome this shortcoming, I only refer to you as DJT. Notwithstanding my feelings, I have a suggestion I am imparting, because I think you would find it would eliminate the need for you, when attacking the press, to limit yourself to 140 characters. If you follow my suggestion, you will be able to bring the press to heel and free up your twitter account for other kinds of ad hominem attacks that you so obviously enjoy.

I am writing to tell you that you are not the first ruler of a country to be troubled by a meddlesome press. You, of course, know that there are countries today ruled by friends of yours, like Vladimir Putin in Russia or Recap Erdogan in Turkey, who deal with a press they perceive to be hostile by imprisoning or arranging for their members to have unfortunate encounters. Although that is efficient, you probably realize that, in the United States today, that is not possible. What you are less likely to know, given your aversion to matters of substance, is that that was not always the case in the United States. Proof of that can be found in the Alien and Sedition Acts that were passed by Congress and signed into law by President John Adams in 1798. They comprised four laws, and you’d have loved each of them. The first was the Naturalization Act. Talk about a winner! That law made it harder for immigrants to become citizens, extending the time they had to live here in order to get citizenship, from five to fourteen years. Two other laws you would have liked were the Alien Friends Act, that gave the president authority to deport non-citizens the president thought were dangerous, and the Alien Enemy Act that permitted the president to deport non-citizens from hostile nations. Talk about “Making America Safe Again!”

But I’m not referring you to the Alien and Sedition Acts because of those laws. It’s because of the Sedition Act of 1798. That Act criminalized speech.  Fines and imprisonment could be used against those who “write, print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing against the government of the United States or the President of the United States with intent to defame. . . or to bring them into contempt or disrepute.” Talk about dealing with “fake news” purveyors without having to rely on a tweet. The most famous example of the application of this law can be found in the case of a sitting United States Congressman, Vermont Representative Matthew Lyon. In 1798 Rep. Lyon wrote a letter critical of President John Adams that could easily be written today by a congressman speaking of you. In his letter he criticized President Adams for his “unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and self avarice.” For his comments Rep. Lyon was sent to prison for four months and, while imprisoned, re-elected to Congress.

My suggestion for you assumes that sending CNN and all its reporters to prison, would be far more gratifying for you than simply tweeting about them. Of course, tweeting offers more instant gratification and I know that is important for you. But I think a few front page pictures of CNN reporters entering a prison in handcuffs would ultimately prove to be far more gratifying for you than a tweet. My suggestion is that you send a 21st Century version of the Sedition Act to Congress ASAP.

I know that some of your advisors may counsel against trying to enact a new Sedition Act. They may tell you that in the case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court said: “Although the Sedition Act was never tested in this Court, the attack upon its validity has carried the day in the court of history.” In a concurring opinion in another case, Watts v. United States, Justice Douglas said: “The Alien and Sedition Laws constituted one of our sorriest chapters; and I had thought we had done with them forever. . . . Suppression of speech as an effective police measure is an old, old device, outlawed by our Constitution.” Your response to those advisors is a simple one. By the time you have convinced Congress to pass the Sedition Act of 2017, and it arrives at the U.S. Supreme Court, that Court will be, if it not already is, a Court that will see nothing wrong with such a law, and will gladly support the criminalization of free speech when applied to those speaking of you.

I hope this letter helps you as you continue to make America Great Again.

Very Truly Yours,
Christopher R. Brauchli

P.S. You may also find that someone who says the sorts of things about you that Mr. Lyons said about President Adams, can be sued by you for libel.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sons and Daughters

Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard.

It had to be an incredibly exciting day for her. Of course, “Take your daughter to work” days are always exciting for the children. They get to watch their mothers and fathers as they engage in the routines that, for the parents, are quite ordinary, but for the children not only fun, but informative. They may even get some ideas as to what they would like to do when they grow up.

Introduction of “Take your child to work” days began many years ago and has flourished. It can be found in all walks of life. As exciting as it is for all children, none can expect to have quite the experience that Ivanka Trump enjoyed on her first “Take your daughter to work” experience. Her daddy not only took her to work after he was sworn in. He gave her her very own office in the West Wing of the White House. And that’s not all. He gave her the authority to hire as many people as she needed to help her as she worked alongside her daddy, even though she had no idea what she was supposed to do or how to do it. She even has her very own chief of staff. As exciting as those early days were, nothing could compare with the excitement when her daddy told her he was going to take her on his very big airplane to Hamburg, Germany where she could participate in a meeting of the G-20. That happened in early July.

The whole time Ivanka was at the G-20 meeting, she was treated like an adult, following her daddy around to social events and meetings. But the high point of her visit was when her daddy was called away from the table at a meeting of the Group of 20, to have important discussions with other important people. At the table he had been sitting next to President Xi Jinping of China and British Prime Minister Theresa May. When Ivanka saw that her daddy’s seat was empty she went over and took his seat at the table. That placed her between two of the most important people in the world and was very exciting for Ivanka. It is not known whether she had anything to say while seated there, but if she had, everybody would certainly have listened. She reportedly sat in her daddy’s chair at two other meetings, but, reportedly, didn’t say anything. When some people asked her daddy about the protocol of having his daughter take his place at important events when he could not personally be present, he said it was “very standard.” Although Ivanka’s daddy didn’t say this, it’s unlikely that he would have permitted her to take his place at important meetings, like those at the G-20, had she only been a three or four-year-old, since she would have become fidgety.

It is important not to forget that this new version of “take your daughter to work” day may have many repercussions in Washington, beyond Ivanka. And the purpose of this column is to give the reader an example of how this might work in a different branch of the government. Take for example, the United States Supreme Court.

Neil Gorsuch, the newest appointee to the United States Supreme Court, has two teen age daughters. They are probably every bit as proud of their father as Ivanka is of hers. Thus, just as Ivanka Trump was permitted to sit in for her father at a major international meeting, it does not tax the imagination to contemplate the possibility that the time will come when Justice Gorsuch takes one (or both) of his daughters to “take your daughter to work” day at the United States Supreme Court. If he decides to follow in the footsteps of Ivanka’s daddy, he may take them on a day when there is a case being heard by the Court that he thinks they would enjoy. He might even permit one of them to sit in his chair at the bench next to one of his colleagues. Were Justice Gorsuch to do that, he might explain a bit about the case to the daughter he permits to sit in his chair, so that she can ask intelligent questions of the lawyers who are making their appearances that day. It would unquestionably be a great learning experience for the daughter, and would make the day memorable, both for her, and the litigants who appear before her, just as it was a wonderful experience for Ivanka to get to sit with the important people who were at the G-20 meetings. The only people for whom such episodes were not, or would not be, great experiences, are the citizens of the United States. They used to think that United States citizens who participate in high level matters affecting the United States and the world, would actually know what they were talking about. Those days are gone forever.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

DeVos and Defrauding

“D’ye think th’ colledges has much to do with th’ progress iv th’ wurruld?” Asked Mr. Hennessey.
“D’ ye think ,” said Mr. Dooley, “tis the mill that makes th’ wather run?”
— Finley Peter Dunne [Mr. Dooley], Colleges and Degrees

The good news is that the DJT administration has finally come up with a plan to help businesses that does not benefit one of DJT’s enterprises and, therefore, does not represent a conflict of interest for DJT. That comes as a welcome surprise for those who have marveled at how DJT has transformed the White House from a policy center to a profit center. This was most recently demonstrated when the Republican National Committee selected the Trump International Hotel in Washington, to host a $10 million re-election fund raiser in that venue. According to the hotel, the Republican National Committee that put on the event paid “regular prices” for all the services and space provided by the hotel. That blatant conflict of interest made it all the more important to alert the public to the fact that, appearances notwithstanding, the most recent political decision made by the administration does not benefit DJT in any way. That is because, as far as can be determined, DJT no longer has any financial interest in making money by defrauding students. That was not always the case.

A while back, DJT was the poster child for an unethical enterprise that purported to offer training to its victims in get rich schemes. His fraud was called Trump University. It was a complete scam. It had no campus or classrooms. Although it touted the qualifications of its faculty when recruiting students, its faculty lacked academic credentials, the university granted no degrees, and most of its students discovered that promises of lucrative careers in the real estate world following completion of the program were illusory. Because of its palpable fraudulent conduct, it was subject to a class action lawsuit from those who had paid large sums of money in exchange for nothing of value, and the lawsuit was settled, following DJT’s election, for $25 million.

Even though DJT had a different fraud model from those for-profit colleges that are run unethically, there was a great sense of relief among all for-profit colleges, the good and the bad , when DJT was elected. The relief was palpable. The day following DJT’s election, the stock in Strayer Education, Inc. that owns the for-profit Strayer University, jumped almost 20%. Stock in other for-profit colleges also saw the value of their shares increase. There was a reason for the jump in stock prices. Those institutions had reason to hope that DJT, who had run a complete scam, might have residual sympathy for for-profit colleges that were subject to regulations that were destined to go into effect on July 1, 2017. They hoped that some of the Obama proposals that were directed at fraudulent for-profit colleges might go away or, at least, be delayed. The Trump administration did not disappoint.

Among the regulations imposed by the Obama administration that had been scheduled to be implemented on July 1, 2017, were two that were especially troubling to the for-profit colleges. One was a proposal that would expand and speed up a system that had been created to erase the student federal loan debt incurred by students who were cheated by for-profit colleges that engaged in fraudulent conduct. The other change was to the regulation known as the “gainful employment mandate.” That mandate provided that for-profit colleges whose students are unable to find jobs that pay them enough to retire their student debt, may, if the pattern continues for three years, be removed from the student loan program. (The actual rule is more complex but that description is adequate for our purposes.) The regulations that were to take effect on July 1 were imposed after many for-profit schools collapsed before their students graduated, leaving students with no degrees and no means to repay the student loans they’d incurred to attend them. Although the regulations were needed, thanks to the actions of Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, they may never become effective.

On June 14, 2017, Betsy’s Education Department announced that the proposed changes would not take place on July 1 as planned. The department said it would form a committee to examine the proposed rule changes, and would not implement them until the review was completed. The delay does not, however, suggest that Betsy DeVos is in favor of fraud. She made that plain when, in commenting on the delay, she said: “Fraud, especially fraud committed by a school, is simply unacceptable.” That was very reassuring. The rest of her remarks less so. She said the rules were produced as a “result of a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools, and puts taxpayers on the hook for significant costs.” What she overlooked, of course, was that the fraudulent for-profit colleges put the students “on the hook for significant costs.” Not surprisingly, in this administration, if a choice has to be made between taking steps to help the needy, in this case students, or the taxpayer, the taxpayer wins. So sad for the students. Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com