Trump’s offshore oil drilling push: Five essential reads

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Shell’s drilling rig destined for waters off Alaska met with problems in the Arctic and protesters in Seattle.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Martin LaMonica, The Conversation

This article is based on a collection of archival stories. The Conversation

When it comes to energy, perhaps the only thing President Trump loves more than coal is oil and gas. Just a day shy of 100 days into his presidency, Trump is expected on April 28 to sign an executive order to open more offshore oil drilling in U.S. waters.

The move is meant to spur the economy and reverse President Obama’s decision last December to ban drilling from large swaths of sensitive marine environments. Regardless of whether Trump succeeds in overturning Obama’s protections, it’s clear oil won’t be flowing from new offshore wells anytime soon. Why is that? And will Americans even support this promised offshore boom? Our academic experts offer some answers.

Legally protected?

Obama used an obscure provision of a 1953 law to “indefinitely” protect 120 million acres of marine environments in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. Environmental law professor Patrick Parenteau from the University of Vermont explains the legal justification for the ban and why Congress is a critical player in Trump’s plans to open up drilling.

The law “does not provide any authority for presidents to revoke actions by their predecessors. It delegates authority to presidents to withdraw land unconditionally. Once they take this step, only Congress can undo it,” Parenteau writes.

Lessons from Shell’s misadventures

Meanwhile, are oil and gas companies clamoring to get into the Arctic and other offshore sites? Two years ago, Royal Dutch Shell pulled out of the waters off Alaska, citing disappointing results from its exploratory well. It also ran into serious troubles, requiring help from the U.S. Coast Guard, after its offshore drilling rig broke loose and ran ashore. Despite all the technical challenges, though, oil majors have been eyeing the Arctic for decades – and facing opposition to their plans, writes historian Brian Black from Penn State.

“A dramatic emphasis on Arctic drilling reopens debate on the pros and cons of development, arguments that have remained largely unchanged since interest commenced in the 1960s. These include the challenges of technology and climate; impacts on wildlife and native peoples living in the region; and strong resistance from environmental organizations,” Black says.

When it comes to safety, Shell’s about-face in the Arctic was instructive, says Robert Bea, an expert on assessing and managing risk from the University of California, Berkeley. While guidelines for offshore drilling have been updated following the Deepwater Horizon blowout disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Department of Interior guidelines do not follow the best available safety processes, Bea says.

“Reliance is being placed on the Department of Interior best practices of experienced-based, ‘piece by piece’ prescriptive guidelines and regulations. These have not been proved or demonstrated to be adequate for the unique drilling systems, operations and environment involved in Shell’s operations in the Chukchi Sea this summer,” he wrote in reviewing Shell’s troubles.

Public opinion?

Even with these safety concerns and relatively low oil prices, the industry is moving ahead in the Arctic, in part because of fracking, the drilling technique that revolutionized the energy industry onshore, from Pennsylvania to North Dakota.

“Although it has gone largely unnoticed outside the industry, foreign firms are partnering with American companies to pursue these new possibilities. I expect this new wave of Arctic development will help increase U.S. oil production and influence in world oil markets for at least the next several decades,” Scott Montgomery from the University of Washington wrote recently.

Meanwhile, how does the U.S. public feel about offshore drilling overall? Certainly, few consumers will complain about cheaper gasoline – one of the justifications for boosting oil production. But support for offshore drilling dipped substantially after the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, according to an analysis of public polling by David Konisky from Indiana University.

“The fluctuating nature of recent public opinion suggests sensitivity to external factors such as accidents, oil prices, and Middle East politics. But more broadly, one can reasonably interpret the U.S. public as divided on how to achieve the right balance between energy development and environmental protection,” he wrote.

Martin LaMonica, Deputy Editor, Environment & Energy Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Is the US immigration court system broken?

A man has his fingerprints scanned by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while others wait their turn. Reuters/Jeff Topping
A man has his fingerprints scanned by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while others wait their turn. Reuters/Jeff Topping

Is the US immigration court system broken?

Lindsay M. Harris, University of the District of Columbia

In the U.S. today, a single immigration case takes an average of 677 days simply to get to the initial scheduling hearing. The Conversation

There are more than half a million cases in the system, and just over 300 judges working on them. The Trump administration’s push to aggressively enforce immigration laws will make this backlog worse.

Since 2002, funding for immigration enforcement has more than quadrupled, from US$4.5 billion to $20.1 billion in 2016. During the same time period, resources for immigration courts have increased by much less – 74 percent.

President Donald Trump’s budget for fiscal 2018 and request for supplemental funds for fiscal 2017 indicate he will continue this trend of funding immigration enforcement but not adequately funding immigration courts.

His budget requests would add to the more than $40 billion that the Department of Homeland Security will receive this year. It would include $4.1 billion to start building a border wall and $2.65 billion to increase the number of immigration detention beds. In comparison, the fiscal 2018 budget requests $80 million to add 75 new immigration judges.

As a law professor, I have devoted my career to representing asylum seekers and studying our nation’s immigration courts. I witness the daily effects of the immigration court backlog on the lives of immigrants.

Backlogged immigration courts

The U.S. has 57 immigration courts nationwide. The judges in these courts preside over cases in which an individual is in the U.S. and the U.S. government alleges that they may be removable. This includes immigrants who have recently arrived and are seeking asylum protection, lawful permanent residents rendered potentially removable due to a criminal conviction and undocumented immigrants who may be allowed to stay in the U.S.

An asylum seeker outside immigration court with his lawyer in Los Angeles. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
An asylum seeker outside immigration court with his lawyer in Los Angeles. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

In 2015, the TRAC Immigration Project out of Syracuse University estimated that full resolution of cases in the backlog would take from 2 to 6 ½ years. Asylum applicants who are seeking U.S. protection from persecution in their home countries may wait five or more years simply for an interview to assess their claim.

The backlog has arisen largely because of an increase in the number of Central American women and children seeking asylum. Many families without authorization are sent to detention centers to be held while they undergo expedited removal.

The expedited removal process was created to bypass the immigration court system and allow for the swift removal of undocumented immigrants. However, if those immigrants say they’re afraid to return home, the Department of Homeland Security must give them a “credible fear interview” to determine if they are eligible for asylum. These individuals can then take their cases to immigration court.

Asylum officers are sent to detention centers to conduct credible fear interviews. Approximately 85 to 90 percent of families interviewed are granted the right to present their case in immigration court.

Asking asylum seekers to present their cases before both asylum officers and judges is repetitive and time consuming. It would be more efficient to either allow asylum officers to grant asylum after a credible fear interview when they see a strong case, or simply bypass this step and allow all asylum seekers to present their cases in court.

As of February 2017, there were only 527 asylum officers working in the nation’s eight asylum offices, even though the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has authorized hiring as many as 625. The nonprofit Human Rights First estimates that 272 of those officers are needed just to conduct credible fear interviews.

Effects of the backlog

As I have detailed in my work, delays in processing immigrants cause hardships for asylum seekers.

While an asylum seeker is awaiting a decision in their case, they often face financial instability, difficulty finding employment and prolonged separation from immediate family members. Years of delay also make it more difficult for immigrants to find pro bono legal representation.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has cited the “historic backlogs” in immigration courts to justify increasing expedited removals.

There’s evidence that such expedited removals circumvent due process for asylum seekers. In some cases, U.S. border officials have even failed to properly implement safeguards to protect asylum seekers from being returned to harm or death. Recently, the U.S. government did not attend a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding Customs and Border Patrol illegally turning asylum seekers away from our southern border.

The nonprofit Human Rights First estimates that the U.S. needs at least 524 judges working to address the immigration court backlog, in addition to more law clerks and administrative support.

More asylum officers are also needed. Human Rights First estimates that with 800 asylum officers on the job, we could get rid of the backlog by 2022.

Solving the problem of our nation’s backlogged immigration courts should be a priority for any administration to ensure that the system functions in a timely and efficient manner.

Lindsay M. Harris, Assistant Professor of Law, University of the District of Columbia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why can’t America just take out Assad?

 

A roll of pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri
A roll of pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri

David Alpher, George Mason University

The Trump administration has done an abrupt about-face on Syria, contradicting its own nascent foreign policy. Within 24 hours, it went from calling out the Assad regime for using chemical weapons to launching missiles at military targets. As limited as the strikes were, there are also statements that plans are in the works to target Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: It “would seem there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said of Assad on April 6.

As costly as inaction has been in the six years since the Arab Spring uprisings first took hold in Syria, recent history suggests that removing Assad in a hurry would be an even bigger mistake. In 16 years studying and working with complex conflicts like Syria, I have yet to see an exception to this rule.

We know where this goes next

Targeting Assad would likely give birth to the same kind of catastrophe we saw in Libya after Muammar Gaddafi’s fall. In Libya, with no true civil governance to hold the structure together, tribal alliances collapsed and a four-way fight for power emerged. It continues even now, accented by a growing presence of the Islamic State. The power vacuum that would follow the sudden and unwise removal of Assad could be worse than the current warfare, and nourish the already fertile growing conditions for violent extremist and paramilitary actors.

Assad shouldn’t remain in power – he’s been proving that for six years. The recent Sarin gas attack is only the most recent on a long list of other human rights violations. But he should be part of a political and legal process that removes him. That process must come from the Syrians themselves, not from the outside. His departure should be negotiated with Syrian civil society leadership to legitimize the claim to power of a civilian government. Justice for his crimes should be served by Syrian courts.

Here’s why:

Nature abhors a vacuum: Unlike in a game of chess, in war removing the king is not the end, but only another beginning. The idea that Syria still exists as it looks on the map is a fantasy. Part of its territory is held by the government, part is lost to the Islamic State, part of it is in rebel hands. It won’t come cleanly back together should the fighting suddenly end tomorrow. Tensions among rebel groups – which are already high – and between pro- and anti-IS forces will only increase with one combatant removed from the field. We can only attempt to predict where Assad’s loyalist forces will go with their leader removed.

In order for Assad’s withdrawal to be beneficial, it needs to come in the context of a sound Syrian-driven plan to move from immediate containment of violence to a return of civilian Syrian leadership and security. That plan currently doesn’t exist.

Outside solutions never work: In the international development world, it’s been repeatedly shown that solutions to complicated problems can’t be imposed from outside. They won’t be sustainable and often do harm. Solutions have to come from inside a country’s own civil society. Otherwise, the result is to undermine the legitimacy of the same systems of politics and justice that are necessary to hold a population together in the long term. At present there is little left of Syrian civil society, but local councils continue to provide the connective tissue that holds the country together in areas not held by Assad. These organizations can jump-start efforts to create new democratic institutions.

What’s the endgame? The classic underpinnings of our own strategic doctrine stress that military action should never be taken without a clear goal for a desired end-state. Of all the possible actions the U.S. could take, regime change is the most deceptively simple – but it doesn’t qualify as an end-state. In fact, it would usher in a more chaotic and violent environment that would be hard to contain even by several countries working together militarily.

Libya and Iraq both demonstrated this all too clearly. They fell into chaos despite the efforts – or perhaps because of the efforts – of multinational coalitions. Thursday’s strikes only increased the sense of crisis and confusion, as everyone from the Syrians to the Russians to America itself wonders what the next move will be. Most worrisome, it’s unclear whether Trump himself has a firm grasp on what he’s doing next or why.

Whither the ship of state? Most of America’s high-level diplomatic positions are still unfilled. These are positions that manage complex State Department processes, and which have the political heft to hold their own with the Department of Defense in fights over direction and leadership. They coordinate with international partners to ensure there are no miscommunications and that missteps are minimized. They provide much-needed analysis about dynamics and changes in conflict zones. They also help to mitigate the heightened probability of accidental clashes with international actors such as Russia in the confusion and increased tension that follows military action.

The infrastructure through which Assad mounts his offensives cannot be decisively destroyed by anything limited and quick. They are too dispersed and numerous. Unless the United States is willing to commit to a sustained and substantial campaign or to throw its weight behind a political end to the war, Thursday’s strikes are an empty gesture. At the same time, it’s also true that even a sustained and substantial military campaign would not bring about peace and security, and would put American troops on a battlefield that’s essentially one big crossfire. It’s a catch-22.

The fact that the U.S. has now literally fired its opening salvo limits the American government’s options – but the political process is a sustainable path that offers a way out of the catch, and there’s still time to put our weight behind that. It does neither the Syrian people nor our own security any good to find urgency overnight, only to make a bad situation worse.

David Alpher, Adjunct Professor at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Why states are pushing ahead with clean energy despite Trump’s embrace of coal

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Alamosa Photovoltaic Plan, south-central Colorado.
Energy.gov/Flickr

Bill Ritter, Jr., Colorado State University

On Tuesday, March 28, President Trump traveled to the Environmental Protection Agency to sign an executive order rolling back a number of climate-related regulations that have taken effect over the past eight years. The president’s team claims this effort will help bring our nation closer to energy independence, and that it will begin the process of resuscitating a coal industry that has experienced serious decline in the past decade.

In reality, it will do neither. We do not import coal into the United States. There are no jobs coming back from overseas. Moreover, and somewhat ironically, the chief reason for the decline in the coal industry is not Obama-era regulations, but a rapidly changing energy market.

Any energy market analyst will tell you that advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have provided us with cheap, abundant, natural gas. Add to that declining price curves in wind and solar generation, and one begins to appreciate that a difficult road lies ahead for coal. These are markets that are growing with rapid technological innovation.

USEIA

The shift is underway

The fact is that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan codified where the utility industry was already going. With publicly announced retirements, roughly 45 percent of the existing coal capacity in the western grid will be retired by 2030. According to utility integrated resource plans, by 2026, just shy of half of the total energy in the West will be generated from zero-emitting resources.

The 11 western states that my center had been convening around implementation of the Clean Power Plan are, collectively, in compliance with the plan’s 2026 targets under business as usual. Ironically, removing the Clean Power Plan just eliminates a potential for market-based emission trading that would lower costs to consumers and provide some states with a glide path to meet their targets.

This is not to say that the regulatory rollbacks in President Trump’s order will have no impact. The international community, which crafted the landmark Paris Accord, will not have the benefit of U.S. leadership on climate change. Other nations will fill that void – while reaping the economic rewards of serving a growing global market with low-carbon technologies. One of the most troubling long-term impacts of these actions will be a declining global view of America as a source of innovation and investment.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, holding his granddaughter, signs the Paris Agreement, April 22, 2016.
U.S. Department of State/Wikipedia

At home, should the Clean Power Plan expire, states that have been reticent to advance a clean energy agenda will no longer be required to plan for emissions reductions. The Clean Power Plan brought certainty to energy planning. If you talk to American utility executives and their investors, they crave certainty because it lowers the cost of capital and saves money for consumers. The executive order is a step away from stability in our energy markets and away from America’s leadership as an innovator developing the technologies that will serve a growing global market.

States, cities and businesses are moving forward

Attempts to roll back important environmental safeguards are being sold to the American people under the rubric of job creation. Let’s put this in the proper context: There were 65,971 jobs in coal mining nationwide in 2015. According to the Department of Energy, more than twice as many jobs – 133,000 – were created last year just in the energy efficiency industry. In 2016 the solar workforce grew by 25 percent to 374,000 and the wind workforce grew by 32 percent to 102,000. One in 50 new jobs in America is now in solar energy.

From 2007 to 2011, as Governor of Colorado, I signed 57 pieces of legislation intended to transition Colorado to a clean energy economy. After leaving office I founded the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University with the intention of working with governors, state legislators and utility regulators on clean and advanced energy policy. In our work at the center, my team and I have become confident that states, cities and private companies are taking the lead in the clean energy transition, even as the federal government flounders. Today 37 states, comprising two-thirds of the U.S. population, have renewable portfolio standards that require electric utilities to generate or purchase a percentage of their power from renewable energy.

Governors from both parties have led this transition. Seventeen governors have joined the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future, including the Republican Governors of Nevada, Iowa, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. In doing so, they have all committed to diversify their states’ energy generation with clean energy sources, modernizing energy infrastructure and encouraging clean transportation. In addition, 129 U.S. cities have signed the Compact of Mayors’ pledge to address climate change.

Thirty-three U.S.-based companies, the likes of Coca-Cola, GM, Goldman Sachs, HP, Johnson & Johnson and Nike, have committed to a goal of using 100 percent renewable energy as part of the RE100 Initiative. Some 50 U.S. companies will need to purchase 17 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025 – enough to power the entire state of Colorado – in order to fulfill their existing corporate targets.

True leadership requires a vision that looks to new markets, new technologies and new solutions. Unfortunately, the president’s actions on Tuesday look backward toward a fading horizon, rather than forward toward a bright and promising future.

Bill Ritter, Jr., Director, Center for the New Energy Economy, Colorado State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate politics: Environmentalists need to think globally, but act locally

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The outdoor retail industry is moving its lucrative trade show out of Utah after disputes with state officials over land conservation.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Nives Dolsak, University of Washington and Aseem Prakash, University of Washington

As President Trump pivots from a failed attempt to overhaul health care to new orders rolling back controls on carbon pollution, environmentalists are preparing for an intense fight. We study environmental politics, and believe the health care debate holds an important lesson for green advocates: Policies that create concrete benefits for specific constituencies are hard to discontinue.

Opinion polls and hostile audiences at Republican legislators’ town hall meetings show that the Affordable Care Act won public support by extending health insurance to the uninsured. And this constituency is not shy about defending its gains.

The same lesson can be applied to environmental issues. In our view, environmentalists need to defend environmental regulations by emphasizing their concrete benefits for well-defined constituencies, and mobilize those groups to protect their gains.

Environmentalists should continue making broad, long-term arguments about addressing climate change. After all, there is an important political constituency that views climate change as the defining challenge for humanity and favors active advocacy on climate issues. At the same time, however, they need to find more ways to talk about local jobs and benefits from climate action so they can build constituencies that include both greens and workers.

Pork-barrel environmentalism?

Americans have a love-hate relationship with pork-barrel politics. Reformers decry it, but many legislators boast about the goodies they bring home. As former Texas Senator Phil Gramm once famously crowed, “I’m carrying so much pork, I’m beginning to get trichinosis.” And pragmatists assert that in moderate quantities, pork helps deals get made.

Classic studies of the politics of regulation by scholars such as Theodore Lowi and James Q. Wilson show that when benefits from a regulation are diffused across many people or large areas and costs are concentrated on specific constituencies, we can expect political resistance to the regulation. Groups who stand to lose have strong incentives to oppose it, while those who benefit form a more amorphous constituency that is harder to mobilize.

On Feb. 16, 2017, after signing legislation to repeal a rule regulating disposition of coal mining waste, President Trump celebrates with coal miners and legislators from Ohio and West Virginia.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

We can see this dynamic in climate change debates. President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt contend that undoing carbon pollution controls will promote job growth. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, argues that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan will destroy coal jobs and communities, and that “green jobs” in clean energy industries are unlikely to be located in coal country.

Climate change can be framed in many ways, and there has been much discussion about which approaches best engage the public. Environmental advocates can do a better job of emphasizing how climate regulations produce local benefits along with global benefits.

One promising initiative, the BlueGreen Alliance, is a coalition of major labor unions and environmental organizations. Before President Trump’s recent visit to Michigan, the alliance released data showing that nearly 70,000 workers in well over 200 factories and engineering facilities in Michigan alone were producing technologies that helped vehicle manufacturers meet current fuel efficiency standards. Regulations can be job creators, but this truth needs to be told effectively.

Pipelines: Local jobs or global environmental protection

President Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines demonstrates the difficulty of fighting locally beneficial programs with global arguments.

Environmentalists argue, correctly, that both pipelines are part of the infrastructure that supports the fossil fuel economy. For example, by some estimates the KXL pipeline could increase global carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 110 million tons annually by making possible increased oil production from Canadian tar sands.

Rally against the Keystone XL pipeline, Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 2014.
Rocky Kistner, NRDC/Flickr, CC BY

However, both the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters support the projects. They believe pipelines create jobs, although there is broad disagreement over how many jobs they generate over what time period.

By endorsing both pipelines, Trump is probably seeking to consolidate his support among midwestern working-class voters who believe, rightly or wrongly, that urban environmental elites are imposing job-killing regulations. But these pipelines also impose local costs, which have spurred Native American protests against DAPL and opposition to KXL from farmers, ranchers and citizens in Nebraska.

Local protests have not changed the Trump administration’s political calculus on DAPL or KXL, which is why opponents in both cases are turning to the courts. But in other instances environmental groups have successfully mobilized communities by highlighting local issues.

Conserving Utah’s public lands

Federal control of public lands is a sore issue for Republicans, particularly in western states. Utah offers a fascinating example. State politicians want to reverse President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument and reduce the amount of land included in the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument. But conservationists successfully blocked recent efforts by allying with the outdoor recreation industry.

By some estimates Utah’s outdoor recreation industry employs 122,000 people and brings US$12 billion into the state each year. Utah hosts the biannual Outdoor Retailer trade show, which brings about $45 million in annual direct spending.

In response to Utah officials’ efforts to roll back federal land protection, the outdoor retail industry has announced that it will move the prestigious trade show to another state after its contract with Salt Lake City expires in 2018. Patagonia is boycotting the 2017 summer show and asking supporters to contact Utah politicians and urge them to keep “public lands in public hands.” The bicycle industry is also planning to move its annual trade show to a location outside Utah.

Governor Gary Herbert has reacted by offering to negotiate with the industry. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill in January that called for selling off more than three million acres of federal land in Utah, but withdrew it after massive protests from hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. Hunters and gun owners are important constituents for Chaffetz and other conservative Republican politicians.

Wetland restoration project sponsored by the hunting and conservation organization Ducks Unlimited, Barron County, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin DNR/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Renewable energy means high-tech jobs

Environmentalists also successfully localized green regulations in Ohio, where Republican Governor John Kasich vetoed a bill in December 2016 that would have made the state’s renewable electricity targets voluntary instead of mandatory for two years.

As a politician with presidential ambitions who claims credit for his state’s economic success, Kasich knows that several high-tech companies in Ohio have committed to switching to renewable energy. As one example, Amazon is investing in local wind farms to power its energy-intensive data servers, in response to criticism from environmental groups.

Ohio froze its renewable energy standards for two years in 2014 after utilities and some large power customers argued that they were becoming expensive to meet. But when the legislature passed a bill in 2016 that extended the freeze for two more years, a coalition of renewable energy companies and environmental groups mobilized against it. In his veto message, Kasich noted that the measure might antagonize “companies poised to create many jobs in Ohio in the coming years, such as high-technology firms.”

In sum, environmental regulations have a better chance of surviving if there are mobilized constituencies willing to defend them. And in the longer term, a local and job-oriented focus could expand the blue-green alliance and move the working class closer to the environmental agenda.

Nives Dolsak, Professor of Environmental Policy, University of Washington and Aseem Prakash, Walker Family Professor and Founding Director, Center for Environmental Politics, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson: More in common than just populism

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in front of a portrait of former U.S. President Andrew Jackson. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in front of a portrait of former U.S. President Andrew Jackson. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Billy J. Stratton, University of Denver

At President Donald Trump’s request, a portrait of former President Andrew Jackson now hangs in the Oval Office. Commentators have cast Trump’s populist appeal and inaugural address as “Jacksonian,” while others have tried to emphasize their major differences. One writer lauded Jackson as “the president who, more than any other, secured the future of democracy in America.” The Conversation

However, these comparisons overlook experiences of marginalized people while defining history in terms of the ideologies of progress and American exceptionalism.

Jackson’s intolerant attitudes and harsh treatment of African-American and Native American peoples have not gone without mention. They are indeed inescapable. As a scholar who has written about Native American history and literature, I am aware of just how often the perspectives of native people are neglected in conventional historical discourse.

The criticisms Trump has directed against Indian casinos in the 1990s, along with his insult of calling Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” casts his veneration of Jackson in a particularly disturbing light.

Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears

Jackson was a staunch supporter of slavery and policies that forcibly removed Indians from their lands. The passage of the 1830 Indian Removal Act was aimed at isolating native peoples to prevent conflict over territory and allow increased settlement.

The solution, originally conceived by Thomas Jefferson, was to empower the government to evict native peoples living east of the Mississippi River from their lands. Those subjected to removal would be moved “beyond the white settlements” to distant reservations in the West, known at the time as “Indian territory.” It was a form of segregation.

R. Ridgway, engraving, c.1859, Muscogee Creek Chief William Weatherford surrenders to Andrew Jackson after the 1814 Battle of Horseshoe Bend. As a result, Jackson forced the Creek to cede over 20 million acres of land in Alabama and Georgia, including almost two million acres claimed by Cherokee Nation, allies who had fought in support of Jackson’s forces.
Library of Congress

In 1832, the Supreme Court struck down Georgia laws aimed at depriving the Cherokee people of their rights and property in Worchester v. Georgia. The court affirmed a degree of native political sovereignty and annulled state jurisdiction over native lands. It was the final case of the so-called Marshall trilogy, named for Chief Justice John Marshall – the author of the majority decisions – and established major precedents of federal Indian law.

The immediate effect of the decision was to grant protections to the Cherokee Nation, and by extension to other tribes. It could have prevented forced removals, but Jackson was reportedly indignant at the result. According to the famed journalist Horace Greeley, Jackson was said to have responded, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”

Whether Jackson spoke those words has been contested by historians ever since. But his strong support for removal policy and subsequent refusal to enforce the court’s decision made his position clear. The response was a stern rebuke of the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, the doctrine of the separation of powers, the rule of law and ultimately the Constitution.

The result was the Trail of Tears, in which Cherokee and other native peoples of the Southeast were forced at gunpoint to march 1,200 miles to “Indian territory.” Thousands of Cherokee died during the passage, while many who survived the trek lost their homes and most of their property. Ironically, much of the land on which the Cherokee and other removed tribes were settled was opened to homesteading and became the state of Oklahoma some 60 years later.

Yet, the violent manner by which removal was carried out had been ruled illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Worchester case.

New assault on native rights?

The new administration is showing similar malice toward the legal status and rights of native peoples secured in American law. For example, Trump recently lifted President Obama’s injunction halting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Last week’s eviction of pipeline opponents from Sacred Stone Camp, led by the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, under threats of arrest has led to renewed uncertainty about native rights.

Statements by Trump’s advisers and government officials calling for the privatization of native lands guaranteed by treaties to seize valuable natural resources have only heightened these concerns.

This rhetoric echos policies that oppressed native people in the past. These include allotment, extending from 1887 to the 1930s, which eliminated communal ownership and led to the taking of millions of acres of native land. This was followed by termination and relocation of the 1950s, aimed at eliminating the legal status of native people while sending individuals from reservations to urban areas, further depriving native peoples of their lands, liberty and culture.

Native treaties are unequivocally assured in Article 6, the Supremacy Clause, of the U.S. Constitution. It states: “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land…”

Tribal leaders negotiated treaties in good faith to reserve what amounts to a fraction of their original lands, with all attendant rights. Privatizing tribal lands would be a violation of these treaties.

The casual rejection of these covenants heighten the insecurity among native people evoked by Trump. His esteem for Jackson and their shared attitudes toward their legal rights and status should give us pause. That journalists and historians continue to offer positive views of Jackson’s presidency in light of this legacy underscores how the suffering of native people continues to be ignored.

Billy J. Stratton, Professor of contemporary American literature and culture; Native American studies, University of Denver

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump: Good for Israeli-Palestinian peace?

Trump and Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference on Feb. 15, 2017. P Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Trump and Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference on Feb. 15, 2017. P Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Dov Waxman, Northeastern University

At their meeting at the White House today, U.S. President Donald Trump asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

There are now more than 400,000 Israelis living in over 100 settlements located in the West Bank. Another 300,000 or so are living in East Jerusalem, which Israel has officially annexed. Driven by a powerful combination of religious nationalism, economic incentives and security concerns, the continued expansion of Israeli settlements is one of the main reasons so many seasoned observers of the conflict, myself included, are increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

A source of tension

Israel’s settlement building has long been an irritant in U.S.-Israeli relations. Successive U.S. administrations have opposed it, viewing it as a provocation to Palestinians and an obstacle to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Obama administration was particularly vocal and unyielding in its opposition to settlement construction. It insisted that all Israeli settlement building had to stop, whether it was taking place in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, in large settlement blocs near Israel’s pre-1967 border or in remote outposts deep inside the West Bank. In fact, the Obama administration’s refusal to officially countenance any settlement building was a source of persistent tension in U.S.-Israeli relations over the past eight years.

The Israeli settlement of Maaleh Adumim looms over Arab Bedouin shacks in the West Bank, Jan. 22, 2017. AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean
The Israeli settlement of Maaleh Adumim looms over Arab Bedouin shacks in the West Bank, Jan. 22, 2017. AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean

The Trump administration, by contrast, looks likely to adopt a more permissive attitude toward Israeli settlements. To be sure, it will not be as tolerant as those on the Israeli right and some on the American right initially hoped it would be.

During the presidential election campaign and before taking office, Trump and some of his advisers indicated that he was supportive of Israeli settlement building. Trump had even given money to the settlement of Beit El, and his designated ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has raised millions of dollars for it. Buoyed by such high hopes, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right wing Jewish Home Party which draws much of its support from Israeli settlers, triumphantly declared after Trump’s election victory: “The era of a Palestinian state is over.”

A few weeks into his presidency, however, it is becoming clear that such triumphalism was premature. Trump has expressed a desire to make in his words “the ultimate deal” and broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. That will inevitably involve the establishment of a Palestinian state – even if the Trump administration doesn’t explicitly insist upon this. Trump has also stated in a recent interview with an Israeli newspaper that settlements are not “a good thing for peace,” and “every time you [Israel] take land for a settlement, there is less land left [for Palestinians].”

Trump will probably work out an agreement with Netanyahu that will allow Israel to build in the large blocs of settlements that it plans to keep in any peace deal and eventually annex. Such an agreement, similar to one reached in 2004 between President Bush and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, will benefit both Trump and Netanyahu, and remove a source of controversy and conflict in the relationship between the United States and Israel.

But although it will be good for U.S.-Israeli relations, it will do nothing to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations. If anything, it will only further damage an already destructive relationship. After all, the land on which Trump will allow Israel to expand its settlements is land that the Palestinians regard as rightfully theirs.

There is something seriously amiss when an Israeli leader is interested only in reaching an agreement with an American president, rather than with his Palestinian neighbor. While gaining American acquiescence for future Israeli settlement building is certainly useful for Netanyahu, it is ultimately the Palestinians who must consent to Israel’s plan to eventually annex the large settlements, probably in exchange for an equivalent amount of land from within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

The Trump administration cannot confer legitimacy on Israel’s settlements. Nor is it entitled to give Israel permission to build on land that the international community, international law and the Palestinians themselves regard as “occupied Palestinian territory,” that might eventually become part of a future Palestinian state.

Sadly for the Palestinians, they are in no position to stop Israel from building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They can only watch helplessly from afar as Israel and the United States decide on what happens to their land.

Nothing demonstrates more clearly the weakness of the Palestinians and the failure of their leadership to achieve their national aspirations. While the Palestinians and their leaders are no doubt partially responsible for their relative powerlessness, the Netanyahu government has done little, if anything, to bolster the Palestinian authority in the West Bank. While Netanyahu flatters and courts Trump, he largely ignores Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Surely, if Israel is ever to make peace with the Palestinians, the prime minister of Israel should also focus on trying to talk with his Palestinian counterpart, and overcoming the latter’s resistance to such talks.

Whatever agreement concerning settlements Trump and Netanyahu might reach, it will not help to move Israel and the Palestinians any closer to a peace agreement.

The Conversation

Dov Waxman, Professor of Political Science, International Affairs and Israel Studies, Northeastern University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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