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variety 20180825

August 25, 2018

Super light today, 2 items only, as the end-of-summer feel is passing and it feels like fall sailing season may be starting 🙂


What to Make of Trump’s NDAA Signing Statement [Scott Anderson / Lawfare] – –

This is an in depth commentary on details in the so-called signing statement issued by the Trump administration upon signing the National Defense Authorization Act (where Congress establishes defense spending policy and specific policy limitations associated with it, which this year may be of importance).

Signing statements have been used with vigor by US presidents since Clinton, and this article sheds some light on how this is a form of policy communication by the executive branch that is in some ways the “living boundary” between where the authority of the Legislative branch and the authority of the Executive branch meet. This boundary between congressional and executive power over policy is often subject to ambiguous interpretation of the Constitution.  In cases where Congress puts something in to law, which the Executive branch feels encroaches on its own powers, the immediate response is the signing statement, which may or may not be followed by not enforcing the disputed part of the law, which then may or may not eventually result in a legal challenge taking the matter to the Judicial branch (quite rare, actually).

Sometimes there are tensions, other times Congress more or less rolls over and plays dead (such as declarations of war). Factoring in that the author was a State Dept. lawyer since the Bush administration, it is still very educational in terms of how this stuff works.

Although a big old pile of hair-splitting of the type you expect when discussing legal issues, the subject relevant to today’s politics and policy for a couple of reasons.

First of all, because much of the US government doesn’t trust the leadership of the Trump administration (nominally because of Russiagate, probably because of other power-and-influence conflicts covered up by that). Thus the NDAA contains provisions intended by Congress to limit Trump’s ability to make sudden changes to alliances (arguably, this kind of law is outside of the constitutional powers of Congress).

However, the distrust for Trump doesn’t mean distrust of everyone down the chain reporting to him. So the intention of his opponents, in my opinion, is to prevent him from giving orders and let the machinery of state run on autopilot until his term(s) is/are over. In this, the campaign to discredit Trump is successful. So in the sense of having or lacking power to make the entire federal government move as one, Trump is looking like relatively weak president.

So this goes to the second reason, which has to do with the intention of Trump’s opponents with respect to weak executive / strong executive. I’m pretty sure the intention of Trump’s opponents is NOT to make the presidency permanently weaker in favor of the legislative. I am 100% sure their intention is NOT to make the entire executive branch weaker. That is because the bulk of Trump’s effective opponents within government (and the institutional source of their continuing influence) are themselves living in the executive branch, whereas Congress is somewhat inclined to stay out of Trump’s way, rather than enthusiastically take up the mantle of the “resistance”.

So the “resistance” to Trump, from within the federal government, is careful in choosing their methods of disempowering him, in such a way, that the executive branch remains powerful (or maybe even increases in power for NatSec purposes!). I never appreciated how much detail goes into resolving this contradiction. Fortunately (for them), there is ample groundwork, laid by the Bush and Obama administrations, which were stronger presidencies (or I suppose strong vice presidency in the case of Bush/Cheney).

Anyway, reading the above article started me down that particular line of thought.

Tags: Trump, politics, law, balance of power, NDAA, signing statement

The second item is super duper light, it’s just that Elon Musk threw in the towel on taking Tesla private.

NPR news story –

Musk’s late night blog post announcement –

I’m actually kindof disappointed by how this story played out. I am interested in seeing Tesla the company succeed or fail on its merits. I don’t want to see Elon Musk falling apart in public. I actually kindof like a lot of what he represents. I can identify with the neurotic technical ambition. The optimism and drive to do stuff like SpaceX I admire with no reservations. The billionaire-VC-arrogance, and the wannabe Steve Jobs marketing hype, not so much. The twitter-addiction? Get it together, man! Go out and party, you earned the right, but don’t blurt out business announcements at the same time. Anyhow, the company he built is big enough that it will go on regardless. We’re just going to have to separate the merits of the personality and attention-seeking shananigans from the merits of the business. (both are uncertain yet full of possibilities, but I only find the latter interesting).

Tags: Tesla


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One Comment
  1. Very well-reasoned analysis of the agenda of the Trump resistance.

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